Lure of the Road (Part 1)

Lure of the Road (Part 1)

Duluth Pack Backpack with Patches
Duluth Pack Backpack with Patches from places traveled.

Now and again, I go venturing.  Some times by train, sometimes by plane, but more often, automobile. West coast, east coast, the Bible belt, back to the Iron Range, northern Europe, Canada, Japan or Vietnam.  I tacitly wander.  It feels good to have a place to call home, though.  But, for short periods of time – I like to wander.  As a kid, our family would drive from Hibbing, Minnesota, to Longmont or Boulder, Colorado, now and again.  My mother’s sister and her family lived there.  The drive seemed impossibly long.  Spread-out of two days, we would spend the night in Nebraska – Grand Island or North Platte.  My father was, and often still is, impossibly impatient.  In the 1980s, with the National Maximum Speed Law (NMSL) still in place, being in a vehicle as my father pushed it – a Chrysler minivan or Ford Bronco II – up past 70 mile per hour seemed fun and exciting.  He was beyond irritated when he was pulled over for speeding.

Traveling, as a child, with the exception of a circle tour around Lake Superior in the early 1990s, always involved traveling to family.  In 1998, a month before my 18th birthday, my mother’s brother, Mike, needed to get a 1997 Toyota Camry from Hibbing to Portland, Oregon.  The car had been my grandfather’s.  It was still traveling with family, but it felt different.  One way or another, I convinced my mother that I should be allowed to go with Mike.  I’d be helping by being able to drive.  To add to the how the hell did I manage that category, I secured a one way ticket back to Minnesota from Portland.  I’m not certain who actually paid for the ticket.

Montana Highway 200

Using MapQuest to plot our route, we printed off our travel plans, packed a bit of food and headed west.  Hibbing to Glendive, Montana, is about a nine hour drive.  No cellphone – we used pay phones along the way if needed or a phone card.  Mike and I switched off driving midway in North Dakota.  For a seventeen year old who had never done any long-haul drives before, four and half hours behind the wheel was tough.  Glendive to Wallace, Idaho (where there is a Bordello Museum and a silver nugget “as big as a steering wheel”).  Similarly, we switched driving midway.  From Wallace, thru the the Columbia River Gorge into Portland.

Four years earlier, NMSL had been fully repealed.  A boon for states’ rights proponents.  Montana, shortly there after, enacted a during-daylight speed limit of “Reasonable and Prudent” (little did I know that “Reasonable and Prudent” would be struck down later that year by the Montana Supreme Court for being “unconstitutionally vague”).  A seventeen year old me, no parents, and an uncle with a known wild streak riding shotgun — hell yes, I was going to see what that Camry could do on the open roads of Big Sky country.  I nearly panicked when I passed a Montana highway patrol.  He was clipping along at 90 miles per hour; I was doing 105.  He did not care, 105 must have been Reasonable and Prudent enough for him.  On this trip, I saw an ocean for the first time in my life.  The waves and tide around Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach.  Seattle with Pike’s Place Market, the Monorail, and the Space Needle.  It was a cornucopia of things-Pacific Northwest.

No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes

Yukon Territory, May 2013

Two years later, my sister had just finished her undergraduate academic career, and would be starting her doctoral academic career in the fall.  She wanted a road trip.  Replace wild-streak-uncle with high-energy sister, and replace 1997 Camry with a 1998 Dodge Stratus (“forest green” no less), and needing to drive back to Minnesota instead of flying – the trip was exactly the same, just different.   Even with “Reasonable and Prudent” no longer in play, we still drove fast.  Meghann, tells the story of slowly waking up from napping in the passenger seat, having the sensation that we were “moving quickly,” realizing that I had a cassette tape in the tape deck – playing Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” – in her version of the story, I’m singing along with the music; she glanced at the speedometer – 100 – and calmly asked me, “Are we going 100 miles per hour?”  Putting on a thick layer of bullshit and likely channeling our late grandfather, Charlie, I quickly dismissed the question with, “No, no, it must be the angle that you’re looking at the speedometer.”

Montana State Highway 200
Montana Highway 200

Wallace, Idaho, the Columbia River Gorge, Seattle – Pike’s Place Market and the Space Needle – all the places that Mike and I had ventured – Meghann and I were now seeing these same places.  Speeding through Montana on the way back to the Midwest, we passed through clouds of birds with the Stratus.  Stopping in Fargo to drop Meghann off at her apartment also afforded a trip through a car wash to remove bird bits.

Between the time Meghann and I ventured out to the west coast and the near present, there was plenty of travel.  Melissa and I drove several times to New Hampshire and the East Coast when my sister was residing there.  A drive to North Carolina over a long weekend to pickup a dog.  Train trips to both coasts – Melissa was able to see Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock in person.  And of course, the somewhat epic trip that Andy B. and I took to the Arctic Circle (or Andy’s version).  That trip took a similar path as previous westward trajectories but took a hard right in Bozeman, Montana and nearly 2,500 miles to the northwest into Canada.

Aside from driving up to the Iron Range to visit my parents and work on things on the familial land, road trips have been sparse since the Canadian & North Carolinian venturing.  In April, I made the drive from New Bern to Chapel Hill, NC (and back) – but this had a similar distance and time to that of the drive from St. Paul to the Iron Range.

Earlier in 2016, word from Andy B. (now living outside Seattle) was he and his long time girlfriend were going to be getting married.  I looked at plane tickets – it would have been the sensible thing to do, but that perennial itch to drive somewhere crept into my consciousness. Maybe I should drive solo to Seattle?  I started to look at routes.  I will reiterate that the sensible thing to do would have been fly, spend nearly six days in the Seattle/Portland area and split the remaining single-day’s amount of time for sensible, efficient air travel.

I did not do that.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Painted Canyon

I set my sights on Great Falls, Montana for the first night, and Federal Way, Washington (just outside Seattle, where the wedding would take place) the next day.  I left St. Paul at 4:00am on a Thursday.  The first four hours to Fargo, North Dakota, seemed to go quick enough.  SiriusXM in the car, ample music on my iPhone.  Entertainment options were covered.  No using MapQuest this time, either.  I believe I had at least three GPS enabled devices with me.  Jamestown, Bismarck, Dickinson, a stop near Belfield and Medora at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and its Painted Canyon.

Heading west, you gain an hour for each new time zone.  Great Falls, like the rest of Montana, is in Mountain Time.  I rolled into Great Falls around 8:30pm local time.  Getting to Great Falls involved taking Montana Highway 200 for 350 miles, starting from Glendive.  Two lanes stretching out in front of you, just a ribbon of road dropping off the horizon miles ahead of you.  This road reminded me of the Dempster Highway in Yukon.  A lonely strip of road, few if any roads that crossed it.  Very few other vehicles.  Unlike the Dempster, there were a few towns along the road.  Circle and Lewistown.  Little towns that reminded me of the Iron Range.  Pickup trucks, four-wheelers and abandoned gas stations.  Great Falls had the feeling of Jacksonville, North Carolina.  A military town – Malmstrom Air Force Base to the east.  Jacked up trucks with out of state license plates, pawn, tobacco and vape shops.  It was still a nice little city.  There was a festival of some kind going on in Broadwater Bay Park.

Up and out and on the road by 6:30am the following day.  Great Falls was waking up.  Traffic was light.  Instead of the predominate direction – west – that I had been taking, it would be south for a short time.  Helena, the state capitol of Montana was my first stop of the day.  I needed to pickup Andy & Jen a card – something from Montana, as Montana is where they both went for their undergraduate degrees (in Bozeman, but I was not headed through that city) as well as that’s where they met each other.

Entering Idaho from Montana

The distance of Hibbing to Duluth, Great Falls to Helena is about an hour and twenty minutes.  It was still early, but prior to my departure, I had looked up gift shops in Helena.  General Mercantile.  It markets itself as a Gift Emporium, Espresso Bar & Tea Room.  It opens at 8:00am on weekdays.  It fit the bill for me.  I perused the many shelves of chotskies and eventually found my way back to the cards.  I picked out a nice card, printed in Missoula, with a print of Monte Dolack’s “Mirage” on the front side.  An Americano from the espresso bar for me, a card for to-be-weds, and I was on the road once again.  Helena and part of the city that General Mercantile was located in, felt sort of like a Minnesota river town.  A larger version of Cannon Falls, Hastings, or even Lanesboro.  Onto the Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana and Idaho.

The panhandle of Idaho is just mountains.  The interstate is a series of curves, inclines and declivities.  The exit for Wallace zipped by, as did Kellogg and Smelterville, Coeur d’Alene with the lake that shares the same name.  Post Falls where the northern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene drains into the Spokane River.

Comparing eastern Washington and the part west of the Cascades is a juxtaposition of both climate and way of life.  Eastern Washington could only be more different if they decided drive on the left side of the road and go full-metric.  But, they will not.  Eastern Washington is ranch land with near desert conditions.  The politics of the region fit more with that of the panhandle of Idaho than that of the western part of the state.  West of Spokane, and you will find vast, open stretches of country and road.  Along the sides of the, you will see hay bales stacked high – covered with tarps.  I passed numerous Trump for President signs, as well.

About eights hours from Great Falls by way of Helena, the landscape starts to change over from browns and tans of the rain shadow of the Cascades into the greener foothills and slopes of the Cascades.  Thru Snoqualmie Pass, and the interstate widens out to three lanes then four lanes heading west.

Onto Washington Highway 18 near Snoqualmie, WA, heading southwest to Federal Way.  Melissa had called me earlier in the day to say that the hotel in Federal Way that I would be staying at had called and informed her that they had upgraded my room to a king suite; I guessed they needed my original room for a block of rooms for large grouping of people.

I checked into the hotel and dragged my camera equipment, backpack + laptop, food cooler, and suitcase up to my room.  A quick shower, a change of cloths – I had been wearing the same thing for the past two days – and I was off to the rehearsal dinner in Issaquah, Washington.

The highlight of the evening, aside from seeing Andy’s parents (who no longer live in Hibbing, but instead, live in South Carolina) and watching people play Kubb, was watching Jen & Andy saw off a log with a two person saw.  It was symbolic of what a marriage will be – two people, working in tandem, trying to tackle life’s challenges.  Two days, 1,700 miles of road, driven solo, and I had made it to my destination.  The wedding would be the next day, in the evening, at the Pacific Bonsai Museum.

Jen & Andy (working the saw), Andy’s father (standing), and Andy’s uncle (sitting)

Pumpkin Bars

Pumpkin Bars
Print Recipe
Pumpkin Bars
Print Recipe
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Mix together in a large mixing bowl the eggs, canola oil and pumpkin
  3. Mix together in another mixing bowl the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until blended
  5. Pour into a greased 10x15 jelly roll pan and spread evenly
  6. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean
Share this Recipe
Powered byWP Ultimate Recipe
1961 Crestliner Restomod (Update) – Bench Seats

1961 Crestliner Restomod (Update) – Bench Seats

It has been a while since I have worked on the Crestliner.  Since moving from Proctor, the boat had sat in the unfinished part of the basement.  With the purchase of a boat cover and acquirement of a boat trailer, it moved into the backyard.  It has been there for a year now.

Earlier in the spring, I decided to put some time into the project.  I has actually been eight year since I last worked on the project.  In 2008, I had rebuilt the bow with new aluminum and fiberglass reinforcement, new paint on the outside and Grizzly Grip on the inside.

One of the things that I first noticed when I started to get back into the project was the Grizzly Grip and fiberglass at the stern of the boat, on the inside, had cracked and detached from the aluminum body.  Removing all the detached material, I sanded, cleaned, primed and reapplied Grizzly Grip to the area.

IMG_3378Next on the list, bench seats.  The original seats in the boat were removed in 2008.  The aluminum floats set aside.  At the time, a friend of mine was restoring a sail boat.  He told me about ipê.  It’s a tropical hardwood that has similar properties to teak, but costs much less.  He was using this wood on parts of his boat’s deck.  It was set, I’d use ipê, too.

When I set the project aside in 2008, I had built one of the benches.  Going with yacht or sail boat theme, the ipê pieces are spaced with caulking in the gap between.  The caulking, teak decking caulk, is strange.  It cleans up like a silicone caulk, but sands like a latex window and door caulk.

In addition to the caulking being available online (it was in 2008, as well), ipê lumber is also now available for purchase over the internet.  From Buffalo, NY, no less, with reasonable (in my opinion) shipping costs.  I ordered eight, 1″ x 4″ x 5′ boards.  The bundle arrived within a week, wrapped in cardboard and a dozen or so layers of plastic wrap.

I had forgotten the distinct smell of ipê when cut, as well as color of sawdust – yellow.  A new blade on the radial saw, and I was business.  The slats of wood were produced quickly – just ripping 1.¼” pieces.  The substrate, marine grade plywood, was assembled in 2008, and put aside.  A ¼” gap (or there abouts) between each slat, a bead of Gorilla glue, a lot of clamps, and within a day, the second bench seat came together.  Caulking filled the spaces between slats.

And that’s where we are at with the project at the moment.  The second seat needs to be cut to the correct length.  Final sanding is also required. Aluminum floats need installing, and then we can mount the seats in the boat.  A piece of ipê is also needed for the transom.  A handle of some kind is needed at the bow, and a bit of electrical work is still to be done in the boat, too.


The Path We Take

I heard Henry whine-harumph.  I did not open my eyes.  I could sense, from the warm breath on my face, that he was likely an inch from me.  He was awake, having heard my early-waking father upstairs making coffee.  With my eyes still closed, I asked Henry if I could get 15 more minutes of sleep; he wanted nothing to do with that desire.  He licked my face.

Henry, my five-year-old basset, and I had traveled up to Hibbing the day before.  I had waffled on the heading north for a while.  Melissa was heading the opposite direction with a load of puppies and plans to work with her horse, Victor.  In the ended, Melissa said she could take, in addition to puppies, the other dogs with her to the kennel; Henry and I could venture north for a long weekend.

I rolled off the couch, put on pants and socks, walked up stairs.  Henry happily followed.  Even though there is a guest room at my parent’s, I have always have chosen to sleep in the basement on the couch.  Henry takes a chair that once resided in grandparent’s house.  The guest room in my parent’s house is actually the room that my sister and I once shared when we were in the low-to-mid-single-digits of age.  Later, the room would become just my sister’s.   Since that time, has been remodeled.  New wall-covering, new hardwood flooring; it’s a different room from the room my sister claimed as hers in the early-to-mid-90s.  Henry is a wanderer and harumpher.  Any detectable motion on the part of the parents, and I feel Henry would want to investigate.  It works best if Henry and I just stay elsewhere in the house.

Coffee and toast was had while my mother discussed with me a recent study she had read that involved the efficacy of placebos.  I brought up a question that had been rolling around in my head that involved charter schools and success of public education systems.  An email arrived, it was from my good friend Pete.  In addition to sitting in on a hearing or two today, did I want to have lunch, too – maybe noon?  Yes, I did.  I needed to get going then; it would be at least an hour and half drive to Two Harbors, and it was 9:45am.

With a reassuring pat on Henry’s head that I would return later, I headed out for Two Harbors.

Periodically, I notice that people cycle back into my life.  Sometimes, the person runs parallel with me for years only to disappear and then reappear a couple years later, or reappear just for lunch once every six months.  Some, through happenstance, who have been absent thirty-years, come into contact, maybe via email or text message, only to have emails and text never returned.  Others, after a year or two, disappear all together.  Life sometimes has hard turns where you jettison individuals who were not hanging on tight enough.  I wrote about this idea a while ago.  The idea of hard inflection points in ones path that sends two friends in different directions.  The idea that individuals cycle back, even just for the briefest of moments, is phenomenon that sometimes bewilders me and sometimes amazes me.

I have known Pete for thirty years.  It was not until college, however, that we became great friends. Maybe we connected because of our hard times; I was coming off of having been ill and out of school for my entire senior year of school; Pete was mentally digesting a death of a parent.  In 2003, Pete was best man in my wedding, and eleven years later, I returned the favor by being best man in his wedding.  Throughout grade school and high school, Pete and I were always in the same mathematics and science focused courses and after school programs.  I remember making an text-based animation of a race car hitting a wall – all in BASIC on an Apple IIe – in an after-school science program.  After two years at the community college in Hibbing, I followed the woman I had been dating to Duluth; Pete stayed on at the community college one more year.  We drifted apart for a few years.
IMG_2810The road to Two Harbors is almost mind-numbingly straight.  There are a couple turns or twists, but from a turn around the Makinen area up to Bassett Lake, the road is without a curve.  There are a few turns and bends around Bassett Lake, a final ninety-degree right turn south, and then more straight road into Two Harbors.  Even on an overcast day with a bit of moisture in the air, Lake Superior can been seen in the distance as you drive south, descending in elevation as you approach the town and lake.

The woman that I followed to Duluth had already been at the university in Duluth for a year.  In the overlap time of my attendance at the community college and her living in Duluth and attending university there, too, I had made traveling to Duluth for weekends a routine.  From time to time, the weekend visits would involve meeting other university friends of hers.  One such friend was Belissa.

I arrived at the courthouse in Two Harbors.  I had visited Pete and his place of work one other time, a number of years but the potential location of his office was not coming back to me.  The courthouse, however, has one courtroom.  The placard on the main entrance to the courtroom said, “Quiet, In Session”; Pete was in court at the moment.  I took a seat outside the courtroom.

Several months after I moved to Duluth, the relationship with the woman whom I had followed ended.  Belissa would become a person I saw now and again in the hallways at the university.  Pete was off in North Dakota causing mischief under the guise of “going to school.”  Everyone’s paths diverged.

The hearing Pete was reporting for ended, and the courtroom opened up.  I slipped into the back of the gallery and took a seat.  The next hearing started.  A mea culpa from the public defenders office for dropping the ball on the matter at the hand, a testy prosecution because of the dropped ball, a tentative rescheduling of the matter by the judge, and the hearing was over.  A short time later, Pete and I were heading to place a bit up the shore for lunch.

Visiting with Pete and sitting in on hearings in a rural courthouse was the plan for the day.  The evening, however, would involve attending a wedding reception.  Adam and Belissa’s wedding reception.

This is the strange sort of cycling back that I refer to.  I have known Adam since shortly after meeting Melissa.  He and I formed a software consulting business in the mid-2000s.  I knew him before he had kids with his to-be first wife.  Somehow, two individuals from two different areas of my past met, and are forging forward with a new path – together.

I left the reception after a couple hours.  I was exhausted, but still had the hour and half drive back to Hibbing.

Cyser, Mead and Cider

Cyser, Mead and Cider


Cyser.  It is a form of mead made with the addition of apple juice.  The word, cyser, is possibly a derivative of sicera.  It’s of latin origins and means an intoxicating drink or liquor.  Or so the Internet is telling me.

I have been interested in brewing and fermentation for while.  In the mid-part of the first decade in the 2000s, I picked up a few books on brewing beer or making cider and wine.  I never followed through with the creation of anything fermented and palatable — with the exception of sourdough bread.

At the old house, near Duluth, we grew grapes among many different fruits.  The hope was to some day grow enough grapes to make small amounts of wine.  The Frontenac vines grew and produced small crops, but not enough for wine.

The place we have now in St. Paul has no grapes worth turning into wine.  The grapes on our property tend to be Vitis riparia, or riverbank grapes.  Riverbank grapes are of little use on their own for wine.  High acid and planty-taste make for crappy wine; not to mention, the fruits tend to be in the tree canopy – up in the air, fifty or more feet.  Vitis riparia, is an important component in the burgeoning cold-climate wine industry here in Minnesota.  The Frontenac variety, for example, is a hybrid cross of Vitis riparia and Landot noir.  We will, though, be getting back to having vines that might some day produce a wine.  The first go at it will be with Maréchal Foch this spring.  Wine to follow in a few years.

Apple pulp wrapped in cheesecloth.

We do, however, have a few very old apple and pear trees.  The dogs like the apple trees as the branches tend to bow down far enough for them to pluck apples right off.  The pear trees are enormous and would take planning to harvest fruit.  The apple trees with their low branches pose an easier harvest opportunity.

During the mid-fall of this last year, I picked a 5 gallon bucket of apples from the two trees.  It was late in the apple season, and most of the good apples had fallen to their demise on the ground: quickly into a hound’s stomach after the fall.  This bucket of apples was not destine to be passed through a hound, it would first sit in the freezer in our basement.  Spread out in what could be a stainless steel steamer tray, the apples slumbered in the freezer until late January.

While looking in the freezer for any remaining chickens, I noticed the steamer tray of now slightly wrinkled apples.  I should do something with these, I thought.

Sometime in the spring of last year, we had a honey-related mishap.  Several (many) jars in storage blew their lids.  Nothing violent, these were more likely slow motion eruptions of a sticky mess.  It was brought to our attention when the dogs were licking the floor.  A few grains of wild yeast had remained in the jars, and with the right conditions, some unwanted fermentation occurred.  We filled half-gallon canning jars with the remains of the unfermented honey, and then pasteurized them in the oven.

IMG_2468-1What does one do with thirty pounds of honey that you do not want to sell because it is no longer raw?

You give some away.  A co-worker used a bit in homemade ice cream.  I chose to ferment some.

Friends of ours, Alex and Larissa, helped out.  They are experienced home-brew-beer makers.

We started with a recipe from The Meadery, and then, did not follow it exactly.

Even though Alex and Larissa are experienced beer brewers, making mead, making cider, or making cyser was new to them, as well.

The Recipe (of sorts).

The apples ended up juicing out to about ¾ of gallon. In addition to the juice, we add 2.¼ gallons of water to a large, stainless stock pot.  We heated this until it was about 120° F.  The end goal was to make five gallons, and we stuck with the meadery’s suggestioof using a pound of honey to a gallon of liquid.  Five pounds of honey (a bit over one half-gallon jar) went into the stock pot to be heated.

January 29, 2016 — Primary Fermenter

Transferring the three gallons of juice, water and dissolved honey in a six gallon carboy, we topped the carboy with an addition two gallons of water to bring our total up to five.

IMG_2533The Meadery’s recipe mentioned using champaign yeast, and that is what we did.  Earlier in the week, I had ordered WLP715 Champagne Yeast along with some yeast nutrient.

We had to wait for the carboy of liquid to cool.  It took a while, but when it was below 85° F, we pitched the yeast along with the nutrient.  With a clean air-lock in place, we set the carboy next to a heat register in the kitchen.  And, we waited.

The air lock bubbled for days as the yeast did its yeasty thing.  By day ten or so, the bubbling was noticeably less frequent.

February 13, 2016 — Secondary Fermenter

Alex and Larissa swung by on a Saturday to transfer the goodness from the six gallon primary fermentation carboy into a five gallon secondary fermentation carboy.  There may have been telltale signs of a slight infection on the top of the liquid.  Even though we did heat much of the liquid enough to dissolve the honey, it was not high enough to kill bacteria or wild yeasts that might have been tagging along with the apples.

This went quickly, and soon we had slightly smaller carboy filled with much less opaque liquid then what we started with a over two weeks prior.

And now, we wait, more.  Around the time taxes are due, we will likely be bottling the cyser.  At which point, we wait more.  Mid-October is about the soonest we will get to find if the running joke of making five gallons of diarrhea is true, or if we have actually made something slightly more drinkable.  We sampled a shot-glass-worth of the yeasty smelling liquid: it was not terrible, but very rare tasting.  We plan to back-sugar just prior to bottling.  We should end up with sparking something.

Devil’s Kettle Revisited

Devil’s Kettle Revisited

Alex J. Upper Falls, Brule River, Dec 31, 2010

Five years ago, around this time of year, my friend Andy and I ventured up the north shore of Lake Superior.  Andy is the fellow that I ventured and adventured with, to the Canadian arctic.  In the time since my first snowshoeing of Judge C.R. Magney State Park and then the arctic wandering with Andy, we both have physically moved.  Melissa and I are now in the metro region of Minnesota and we have been here for what is now approaching four years.  Andy now lives near Seattle and has moved a few times — each time more westward — in the in-between time.

I have stayed in contact with Andy since the arctic undertaking;  I last visited him on a pass-thru Seattle on the way to Tokyo.  He has since moved from his apartment in Kent, Washington, to a more permanent place: he and his girlfriend bought a house in Puyallup.  Needless to say, my past compatriot for wanderings in North America is no longer readily available.

Melissa is not one to green-light my wanderings by my lone self.  She much _DSC1196prefers that I wander and adventure with a willing associate.  She is not available for venturing, however.  She has been spending nearly all of her time away at a friend’s kennel in southern Minnesota raising her first litter of basset hounds.  She has been home to Saint Paul for only three days in the last month.

It was a bit of a whim and bit of a wanting to get back to Duluth and North Shore that I thought of snowshoeing to the Devil’s Kettle once again.  A friend from the office, who is somewhat new to Minnesota, seemed keen to the idea of snowshoeing.  He and I share similar interests – chickens, bees and gardening.  We also happened to have the same first name: Alex.   It was an easy sell, and we picked a weekend.

From St. Paul to Grand Marais, and then on to Judge Magney State Park, is just shy of a five hour drive.  After a stop in Duluth at Duluth Grill for breakfast, we continued up the shore.  Alex had been up to the Iron Range with me in fall of 2015, but he had never been up the shore of Lake Superior.  He liked it – having lived in Boston and Vermont prior to moving to Minnesota, he was missing hilly landscapes.

_DSC1123Judge Magney park is about fifteen to twenty minutes up the shore from Grand Marais; we made a stop in Grand Marais for snacks and bottled water.  A swing thru the Coast Guard Lighthouse parking lot where the sound of ice crushing against the breakwall was the dominate feature.  A collective effort on our parts, we pushed an enormous ice hunk back into the harbor, had a good laugh and were on way to the park.

The park was how I remembered it, with the exception of the road being completely plowed back to the parking area this time.

I had read the air temperature reading in the car several times on the drive to the park from Grand Marais, but it did not register: 42° F.   Very warm for January, very for January in this park of Minnesota.  I left my outer jacket in the car and opted for just a heavy sweatshirt.

Alex J, Upper Falls, Brule River, January 30, 2016

With camera, tripod, snacks and water in my backpack, we strapped on snowshoes and began the trip in.  It’s about a mile hike back to the Devil’s Kettle.  It’s nearly all up hill, until you get to the Upper Falls, at which it is nearly all down a very steep set of wooden stairs.

It was a fantastic day for snowshoeing and hiking.  Perfect weather, perfect temperature, and only a few people on the trail.

Even though we snowshoed in to the falls and to the Devil’s Kettle, which was nearly completely frozen over with ice, we ended up carrying the snowshoes on the way out.  The above freezing temperature meant the snow had started to melt and collapse a bit.  Besides, the hike out was all down hill.