Magnetic North August 5, 2009: Tripping the Shore

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Welcome back to Magnetic North. Far from the madding crowd, and just about everyplace else. 

Of late, my husband Paul and I have made the 240-mile round trip trek to Duluth almost weekly. Medical specialists are the draw. Oh, we’re both fine. We just want to keep it that way.

Of course, the scenery along the way is sensational. To think that people make driving the North Shore their entire holiday and we get to do it regularly….a little too regularly for some family members.

“I can’t believe you’ve hit only ONE deer in almost 19 years up there,” says my daughter, Gretchen. Gretchen, the Los Angeles soccer mom, who averages a collision almost yearly on L.A.’s freaky freeways.

But I digress. Paul and I usually set off on our Duluth runs with our yellow Lab, Scout, on the back seat, a backpack full of snacks and a to-do list that would take at least two days to do.
Always, always the very first to-do is stop at Dan’s Feed Bin in Superior, Wisconsin. Dan’s is a legend among northlanders. For, as the sign out front under a life-size painted statue of a steer says, “If we can’t feed it, you don’t need it.”
Over the years Dan’s has supplied me with lay mash, scratch, goat chow, hay, straw, duckling and chick starter, bunny bits, buckets, heated watering pails, a pair of geese, crates, leashes, medicines, useless pet toys and fox urine to scare away skunks.
A visit to Dan’s never disappoints. There are the cages of rescue cats up for adoption, heartbreakers all. And in early summer there’s always at least one tub full of baby birds. Last week it was bobwhite quail and pheasant chicks. Around the corner from the chicks expect baby bunnies, assorted juvenile songbirds and often, a huge parrot sitting atop a cage looking down on customers.

After taking all this in, I wander to the counter and order my 50-pound bags of feed for the week, get a slip of paper to hand the bruiser on the loading dock and then make sure the back of the car is ready to be filled to the ceiling with critter food.

Which pretty much cancels out everything else on our to-do list except those pesky doctor appointments because there simply isn’t any room left in our vehicle for stuff.
There is, however, room in the day left for play: A picnic up at Enger Tower on Skyline Drive overlooking the harbor and bridges of Duluth-Superior. And, always, always, always, a stop at Brighton Beach for Scout.
Paul and I love the little park running the length of an old road and rocky shoreline. We all three boil out of the car, towels in hand for the dog, and stumble onto the cobblestone beach. Scout wades and drinks down a gallon of good Lake Superior water while we people-watch and finally, either a snarly dog or a blast of chilly wind off the lake sends us back to the car and up the shore once more.
But the best part of road trips, be they on the scenic shore or inland highways, is conversation. The more inane the better, I say. Like, were those awful little shrunken heads they had when we were kids real? Or, remember those little rock cairns someone used to stick on top of bluffs all along the shore a few years back? So, do you suppose the guy who made them moved?
Soon enough, the Gunflint Ranger Station hoves into view and we are within minutes of home. Home, where chores await. Where messages clog the machine. So we skip dinner. Return calls. Check all the critters. Unload the car and hit the sack.
It’s a long slog to Duluth and back. And yet, as tired as we are after a trip up and down the shore, we never tire of the trip itself. Just another of life’s mysteries, I guess.
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