07.30.2014Personal Tech

#VZGreatLakes Roadtreking Tour: Final Loop Around Lake Michigan

Of all the eight states that touch the Great Lakes, Michigan (with 2,147 miles) has the most coastline. So as we rounded the bottom of Lake Michigan from the Indiana border and made our way into southwest Michigan on the last leg of our 10-segment #VZGreatLakes Roadtreking Tour adventure, there was a sense of déjà vu about it all.

Around us were beautiful blue waters, sand dunes, lush green agricultural fields and even a wine trail, much like we have seen to different degrees on all the lake shorelines we’ve visited over the past month on our tour.

Here’s part 10 in our video series:

And yet, there was an entirely different feel to this stretch of shoreline.

Seemingly every few miles were broad, sugar sand swimming beaches that put anything in California to shame. A series of welcoming beach towns - Grand Haven, South Haven, Saugatuck - are right on the shore, with trendy shops and restaurants just a couple blocks east of the lake.


The pier at Grand Haven


Warren Dunes State Park on Lake Michigan

Southwest Michigan and the lakeshore are also known for their vineyards. Acre after acre… so many, there’s even a shoreline wine trail that draws fans from across the country.

But then, along I-94 we saw a billboard promoting a place called The Chocolate Garden, a place the Food Network has raved about, a place voted as the #1 chocolatier in America, located in the town of Coloma, a mile off the interstate.

The best?

How could that be, especially in a, well, an obscure place like Coloma.

Turns out it is a technology story.

Tina Buck, the owner, is a former advertising and marketing exec who started a small online business from her home making chocolate truffles. Not just any chocolate truffles, mind you. She has some secret ingredients and a way of cooking them that made her chocolates to die for.


Tina Buck at The Chocolate Garden

People slowly started ordering them off the Internet. Then the Food Network found out about them, and blown away by Tina’s chocolates, did a story praising them. Then came the Best of America Award as the best chocolatier in America, and The Chocolate Garden was on the map.

People started showing up in Coloma, looking for her. But she had no building. She handled it all in the kitchen of her home. Because of the demand, she built a small store and that’s where we found her, selling the best chocolates I have ever sampled. We liked them so much we spent $130 and walked off with a shopping bag of them.

“Technology has been crucial to our success, especially the Internet,” Tina said. “That’s what made all this possible. That’s how we got our start.”

She relies on Verizon's 4G LTE network and an air card to provide redundancy to her network. “Verizon is actually our most stable connection,” she said.

The shoreline tour came to an end just south of Ludington, MI. We had come down that far on an earlier leg, before crossing over to Wisconsin on a car ferry.

In all, we drove the coastline of all five Great Lakes, traveled 4,062 miles and visited eight states across two time zones!

I invite you to follow in our tire tracks. Here’s a link to all 10 reports.

Tweet me (@roadtreking) using the #VZGreatLakes hashtag to share feedback on the places I visited and stories I shared!

See you out there...

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*Disclosure: Verizon has compensated Mike for partnering with us on the Great Lakes Tour, but all opinions are his own.