After my first week
of work at Microsoft I took off from Fargo at . I hit the Interstate Highway less than 1/2 mile away from the office
campus. Then I pretty much set the cruise control to 70 mph and spent the next
4 hours straight going East across Minnesota...
Now that I had just
relocated last weekend to Fargo-Moorhead I am new to the area. From looking at
the Minnesota state map I figured there is plenty of
interesting things to see East of the state line: Minnesota - land of 10.000 lakes (license plate
slogan) - offers a variety of attractions in the northern part. Mostly lakes,
one of them is the origin of the mighty Mississippi river, and above all the Lake Superior, the western-most of the Great Lakes.
Superior has a
very scenic shoreline at its NorthShore all the way up to Canada; this shore drive is my real destination
for the upcoming weekend.
My goal for the day
was Duluth, the harbour town at the western most tip
of Lake Superior. I made it to Duluth just after sunset. The sky was still bright
and slowly transitioning from yellow to light-blue to dark-blue to black.
Following some instinct I found the harbour area (CanalPark) right away and parked the car: I had covered
253 miles nonstop in almost exactly 253 minutes!
The harbour has a
nice boardwalk with several signs indicating some of the 150 year history of
this harbour. Lake
Superior has the
largest surface of all fresh water bodies on this planet. There is enough water
in this lake to cover all of the North and South American continents with 1
foot of water! The Lake offers many superlatives, with 200 rivers
flowing in it and all sorts of shore, mostly wild with forest, some of it sandy
beaches, some rugged cliffs etc. The bottom of one of the plates on the
boardwalk states: "It is quite possibly the most beautiful lake in the
When I got here,
there were plenty of people lined up along the canal leading to the inner
sheltered harbour area. There are three large bridges connecting Duluth on the Minnesota and Superior on the Wisconsin side. One of them is the Aerial Lift bridge
built in 1905. It is a huge steel bridge across this canal, which has a unique
mechanism to lift the entire 393 ft wide structure up to 135 ft above the water
to let big ships pass underneath. Most people actually waited to see a big 600+
ft container ship pass under the bridge. Or did they wait to see the
spectacular full moon rise out of the water to the East over Wisconsin into the crystal-clear night sky? Or was it
the fireworks they displayed at a few miles to the South? Or was it just
the beautiful scenic view from the canal light-house back to the city of Duluth perched up against the hills to the
North-East of the Lake harbour? Probably it was a combination of
all the above - and I considered myself lucky to have arrived just in time for
I decided to check
into one of the restaurants with my Laptop to write these lines while the
memory was still fresh. (And later there would probably not be enough time
anyway...) It was past when I finished my diary and the late
mexican dinner with huge icecream - uff...
I decided to just
park in Duluth up top on the Skyline Parkway and call it a day. This spot offers a
wonderful view of the harbour town - reminds me of Vancouver, except it's much smaller here. I did not
bring a sleeping bag, but since it was so late and warm outside I could easily
sleep a couple of hours with open windows.
Saturday, August 24:
I first drove up to
a scenic lookout tower on top of the hills north of Duluth. This is dedicated in honor of Norwegian
Bert Enger, who lived and contributed to this community in the early 19th
century. There are many Scandinavian buildings here - the cultural heritage is
quite evident here. The morning sun painted the Lake and Duluth in a beautiful yellow light. I hit the road
again heading north up the shoreline... There are plenty of State Parks up the
north shore of Lake Superior. Mostly little river creeks or State
Forests, nothing too exciting, but still worth a drive.
My first lenghty stop was at Gooseberry Falls State Park. A little
stream cascades down over several waterfalls - it looks really nice. They have
a fancy visitor center and sidewalks, but all in all quite nice. The signs
educate about the history of how this shoreline was developed to tourism in the
early part of the 19th century. Prior to tourism, this area was mostly reached
by boat over the Lake. I walk some trails for about one hour, see
one snake, wonder when the first of the local tourists will plunge into the
water as they climb all over the rocks and then head on up the northshore
The next stop is Split-Rock Lighthouse Historic Monument.
This lighthouse perches up on a 60 ft near vertical rock cliff. It offers
exciting views of the shoreline. There are plenty of historic documents
relating to desastrous storms and the many ship-wrecks they caused. Today, many
of these offer fine wreck-diving. The fresh water of Lake Superior is very clear, but on average only about 40
Fahrenheit (4 Celsius). So you need a good wetsuite to handle that cold under
water! Another point of interest is the technology used for the light and the
immensly loud fog-horn!
It is a loooong drive all the way up to the
Canadian border at Grand Portage near Thunder Bay. From Grand Portage there is a ferry
connection over to Isle
Royale, a long
strechted island about 20 miles off shore. It belongs to Michigan and is a National Park. Unfortunately you
have to be at the dock in the morning at to catch the ferry for a daytrip. Overnight
trips are also available. This will have to wait for another time...
is an Indian reservation like down in the Everglades in Florida. Whereever there is one of them, you can
almost bet there is also a casino, as the gambling is illegal in most states,
but allowed in Indian reservations! Quite a stark contrast to the otherwise
pristine and wild nature all around.
Spontaneously I figure I have a cup of
coffee in Canada. Upon entry however, there isquite a long wait, since they are processing
vehicles at a speed of about 1 every 5 minutes. So I run out of patience and
turn around in between the US and Canadian border posts. Consequently, I
have to reenter the US! They give me a bit of a run-around, as my
story doesn't sound quite plausible to them. Florida license plate, North Dakota rental car, says is working in Fargo, coming from Canada? No, from Duluth, just turned around... - they probably think,
what is he up to? I am afraid they will search my trunk, as I have the brandnew
PC from Microsoft with me - wouldn't sound too plausible either... But when
they see my passport and greencard, they let me pass ...
On the return trip
I stop at the Lutsen Ski Mountains!
Yes, there are some 200m hills with several ski slopes cut out of the forest
and a couple of skilifts. They even have a summer alpine slide
("Rodelbahn") and a ski-resort at the bottom. Hard to imagine, but
people come here in spring like we go to the French alps for 1 week of skiing!
The top of the mountain offers the best view of the Lake and the forest back country.
Down at the
skiresort, I check out a restaurant and they have such a beautiful deck out
towards the west, I just decide to have dinner a bit early and right there on
the sunny patio outside. What a marvellous view and mood! I think by myself,
what the best dinners out on decks with vistas like this have been?
I don't immediately
remember locations more beautiful than this. But then, there were the Virgin
Islands with Tannaz in 2000, there was Fes in Morocco with Frank in 1999, there
was the harbour dinner in Seattle with family in 1998, there were some evenings
in the Pinzgau in Austria in the ealry 90’s, and even longer ago there were
some nice lunch stops at ski resorts in Austria and France in the 80’s… I
thought you just have to remind yourself of the many beautiful things you were
lucky enough to experience in the past.
As much as I would have liked to stay a bit
longer, I want to finish the return drive to Duluth with daylight, so I have to get going. The
return trip is uneventful, the smooth jazz of Nelson Rangell's album
"always" (I bought the CD since I couldn't bring any CDs or my stereo
last weekend) paints the quiet lake waters with the evening sun into a very
peaceful setting - what a wonderful day it has been with perfect clear skies
and everything worked out perfect!
I return to Duluth and talk to the owner of a wilderness shop
about the price of sea-going kayaks (very expensive - about $2000 - $3000). I
figure I will need one of these to explore the many lakes of Minnesota via the water.
Then I return to
the same pattern as yesterday and check into a restaurant / bar with my Laptop
to write down the events of the day and transfer the pictures from my Kodak
camera to the PC. Let's get ready for tomorrow!
Sunday, August 25:
Like the day
before, I went up to the Enger scenic lookout tower: Today the weather is even
better than yesterday - absolutely clear and almost no wind, temperatures will
be around 80 F. With new batteries in the camera I take a couple of pictures of
Duluth in the crisp morning light.
After a quick
refill of the car's and my own tank I head over to the Wisconsin side and the south shore. My goal for today
are the Apostle Island National
Shoreline - a protected wilderness area, similar in status to a National
Park. Much of this area is owned by Indian tribes with French sounding names.
The drive is
through rolling hills and farms with lots of open space. My first stop is at a
nice little restauarant, the kind of old town "we-cook-like-mom"
breakfast place with friendly people and huge breakfasts. I have two fresh,
larger than my plate pancakes with strawberries and coffee, all for $3.50
Carrying on I
finally reach Bayfield, the touristic center for the ApostleIslands. There is a visitor center here and plenty
of tourist information. In the back of my mind I recall a cover story of the
Outside magazine several months ago featuring the ApostleIslands as a Kayak wilderness paradise.
Consequently, I check out the facilities to rent a Kayak.
Unfortunately, I am
turned away by the first two big places I go to, because they require you to do
a safety class with them prior to renting their kayaks. They say conditions on Lake Superior are unpredictable and due to the rather
cold water, it can be dangerous when winds whip up big waves in a hurry. I am
here at , but they are either out on a day trip or
just about finished with their morning safety class out on the water. They just
offer to come back the next day or weekend! Here I am, on this perfect day, and
there are all these kayaks waiting to be rented and put out to the waters
around those beautiful islands, but no can do - What a pity!
Just before I turn to investigate for a
3-hour ferry sightseeing trip, I check out one more small adventure outfitter (www.glaciervalley.com ) next to a
campground. I walk in and meet with the adventure business owner Ken; apparently
he is on his day off and is just there chatting to the campground manager! No
rentals today! I explain my story to him and that I do have some experience
with Kayaks from the Atlantic in Florida and the Pacific on Vancouver Island. After a quick discussion he changes his
mind along the lines: What is a Kayak expert to do on a perfect day like this:
Well, he goes kayaking!
So he agrees to do
a guided tour with me as the only client to his favorite island. What a change
of fortune: From a near miss just momemts ago I am now facing a tour in one of
the most scenic areas around, ona day with perfect conditions, in a
custom-built wooden kayak ("the best you will ever paddle in"), with
an expert guide just for myself going to his favorite spot, Sand Island,
featuring sea caves, white sand beaches and a beautiful light house on top.
It takes a bit of practice to get used to
the small, but nimble and agile boat. For the next 4 hours or so we confine
ourselves to the narrow bodies of these two wooden kayaks. Ken says that his
boat has been featured in the Kayaking magazine for its special design and
qualities. I learn quite a bit about the Greenland paddles and some advanced techniques and
safety equipment. We set out across a 3 1/2 mile stretch of open water to reach
the island in about 1 hour. There we arrive to some sandstone cliffs. Erosion
has created a series of overhangs and sea caves here, which can be safely
explored today for the lack of any waves. It's magnificent, a true highlight of
any Kayaker's career! I take some pictures and follow Ken through some very
shallow, dark enclosures. Amazing, where you can go with these small boats!
We carry on forward
halfway around the island and pass a beautiful light-house. From the beach I
hike back a short trail to the light-house, which has been built in 1881 to
support the shipping industry some 120 years ago. It's operation has been
automated around 1950, but it has been very well conserved and is shown to
tourists, who arrive here on larger boats and walking across the island. After
a few scenic photos from the top of the light-house I head back to the beach.
It's about 1 mile long, we are the only people here, and the sand is almost
white and very fine - except for the different trees (no palms here!) and the
fresh water it could just as well be on a lonely beach anywhere in the
On the way back we once again float by the caves and have a good time. The sun
is beating down, it's warm but with a gentle, cool breeze and crystal clear
waters all around. This has got to be one
of the finest days of kayaking, even Ken is excited. The only little
problem I have is that the boat is a bit too small for me, so I cram my feet in
there and almost cramp from having to stretch the legs in so tight. When we
finally get back around , I take a swim in the wetsuite provided by
Ken against the cold waters (my guess on water temperature: mid 50's). Opening
the eyes under waters reveals some of the splendor of this lake, crystal-clear
and no salty burn in the eyes...
Even though this is a great area and the
afternoon sun paints a glorious mood onto the shores, I have to go: 300 miles
and 5 hours of driving lay ahead of me to get back to Fargo tonight. I just head West going back to Duluth and then crossing Minnesota back all the way I came on Friday evening.
Watching the setting sun in front of me and listening to my CDs in the car I am
thinking about the marvellous experience I just had kayaking the ApostleIslands. What a perfect day it was!
When I finally get
back after my trip odometer in the car shows a bit
over 1.000 miles for the weekend. Falling in my bed I am still feeling the
gentle rocking movement of the kayak around the sea caves of SandIsland...