Duluth Vacation

August 2005

So we packed the kids in the car with enough snacks and drinks to serve the Union Army for a week and head for Duluth. 

In the interest of speed we took the interstate and headed north.  State Highway 52 until we pick up I35 Northbound in St. Paul and then it was all new to all of us.  Passed through a bunch of Twin Cities suburbs I'd heard of but never been in. Passed the exit to Wyoming which triggered some memories of a car ride with my parents when I couldn't have been more than 10 and I didn't know where we were going then either but I remember mom and dad joking with me about driving so far we almost made it to Wyoming. I guess it wasn't totally new to me but this time I know of our destination anyway.


Drove through those places where there are trees on both sides of the road. Took a series of pictures showing the diminishing distance to Duluth



until finally got a picture of the Duluth City Limits just before the road curves around on top of the hill and the entire harbor and city opens up on your right.

pretty cool!

Made our way to the hotel down on Canal Park with the lake outside our window, aerial lift bridge just outside the front door of the place and got settled in the room about supper time. Checked out what we have for cable TV (only one TV so have to share!) and went to find some supper. Watched the bridge go up and down and some ships pass under it and walked around a bit then back to the hotel room and crashed for the night.

Got up early on Thursday (early for us on vacation) and went to the hotel's complimentary breakfast. And this is the day I started drinking French Vanilla Cappuccino. Maybe even got hooked on the stuff. 

There’s a place right behind the hotel next to the boardwalk that rents bicycles; two, three or four wheelers; two seaters, four seaters, recumbent bikes; red, yellow or blue bikes. We saw them Wednesday night and Preston really wanted to do that. So he got a bike and Kelly, Amelia, and I all piled into another. You have to stay on the path along the waterfront and you’re due back in an hour, but it’s a nice ride of maybe a mile. Switched off on who was on which bike and who was driving which Preston really enjoyed until the next day when we rented again and he was told the driver has to be 16. (Says so right on the bike but he didn’t see that.)


Preston is 13 now…starting to wonder just who made all these rules about being an ‘adult’? What’s so special about 16? I’m tempted to sum up his whole trip by saying simply, “He’s 13.” As if that explains it all; kinda yes, kinda no; it’s not that simple...


He really liked seeing the cargo ships coming into the Duluth Harbor. We toured the William A. Irving oar ship and he didn’t say much about it, but he ran to the docks to see a ship coming in. Then it was back to the hotel for another cappuccino.


-Saw ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ at the OmniMax theater with lunch being nachos & cheese and popcorn.


-Raining Friday morning (sounds like a good reason to have two cappuccino’s) so drove to the aquarium and toured that; petted stingrays, saw otters and a bald eagle. Played with the plastic boats in the big display of the Great Lakes with realistic working locks (after chasing the two 15 year olds out of it…). Had lunch at a Taco Johns with a very slippery tile floor and a staff that had trouble getting the basics of a meal order correct. Went to see our friend Amy Abts with her incredible sardonic wit that I always forget she has until we talk again. Then back to the hotel for more cappuccino.


Saturday morning we head out (after the free breakfast and cappuccino) for Two Harbors and the Split Rock Light house. Drove through the towns of Castle Dragon and Silver Creek, drove through two tunnels on the way there and we took the gravel road that Amy told us about that goes right next to the lake. The gravel roads are reddish brown up there as opposed to the light brown / off white we have down here because our gravel comes from limestone and theirs comes mostly from granite.


But we saw the lighthouse—which for some reason I called the ‘Split Light Rock House’ all day—and walked the 177 steps down to the beach.

Drove to Gooseberry Falls Park, walked to the falls and the kids enjoyed walking in the water with the other 400 tourists and one wedding party.  I did too.


This picture is before I fell in the water.

Making our way back to the hotel we stop for supper at Betty's Pies.



One of our family traditions is to play ‘I Spy’ while waiting for the food to come. We started playing an alphabet version while on vacation; “I” is always ‘ice’ and ‘U’ generally becomes ‘underwear’…’X’ and ‘Z’ are generally a pass. For ‘G’ Amelia came up with ‘I spy a Grumpy Preston’ which made us all laugh…


After I got my cappuccino the kids and I went swimming in the hotel pool. Mostly I carried Amelia around in the pool (she DOES NOT like getting her head wet or getting water in her eyes. Or getting splashed…makes it a challenge in a small hotel pool full of kids -and a couple adults- doing cannonballs but we manage). It’s been a long time since I’ve been swimming and I guess I have forgotten the feeling of chlorine in my eyes and nose and the pressure in the ears because all this immediately surprised me. I try it again and try to swallow underwater to equalize the pressure in my ears and that just gets chlorine up my nose. And I can’t see anything underwater never mind the fact that I’m blind without my glasses anyway… Why don’t I remember any of this?


Just a word on the cappuccino here…it isn’t the real stuff; I’m not getting any sort of buzz from it. And it is free in the hotel lobby after all. I’m not going to go home and invest in Starbucks or anything.


Sunday morning Kelly and I leave the kids watching cartoons on cable and we go to a place called Amazing Grace for breakfast. A very earthy place that emphasizes organic foods, sandwiches, omelets and such with a wait staff that is very ‘Mother Earth’. I have a luke warm cup of ‘real’ cappuccino and I’m still not impressed…


We leave Duluth over the big bridge on Hwy 53 into Superior Wisconsin, past Holly Luscious Drive and over the Totagatic River down to Eau Claire and then veer off to Mondovi. Half way to Durand --according to Google Maps-- there’s an unnamed road that will take us right into Nelson for ice cream and garlic cheese curds. Too bad we didn’t really take that road…turned a quarter mile too soon.


Kelly learned to travel in a manner different from me. Her Uncle Bill had trip tix made up for all their vacations with routes mapped out and the exact mileage between places and all that kinda stuff. I learned to just head the direction you want to go; eventually you’ll hit a road you want, like I90 or I35.


So we’re on these narrow winding roads through the Wisconsin farm land and it’s very pretty and there’s lots of valley’s and by now I’m just kinda guessing on which way to go and the kids think we’re lost in the wilderness to which I reply, “No we’re not. We’re lost in Wisconsin.”

And then I’d see something that looked familiar and I’d say “Nelson will be at the bottom of this hill”…nothing but farmland…”Nelson will be at the top of this hill.”…more cows…” Nelson will be just around this corner.” …nothing but trees. Part of the charm of Wisconsin is their wooden sign posts and roads with letter names. Good thing we found a sign pointing to Nelson or we’d still be driving around.


Makes Kelly crazy that I do this. Good thing she loves me and puts up with me as much as she does.


Got ice cream and plain cheese curds (they were out of the garlic ones). Got home about 6:30 PM Sunday night. The kids got out above the house and ran to meet the dogs. Our new puppy Zoe has been busy shredding things since we left. Evidence indicates the ducks and geese spent way too much time hanging out in the garage in our absence.


And now it’s two days of laundry.


It’s always nice to get home.

A couple final words on coffee / cappuccino and my learning experiences…

It’s a week after we get home and I have a big day of trouble shooting out at the college theater; the lightboard is acting up, I have a show that night, a replacement board coming down from the cities in half an hour and I think *this* would be a good day for a ‘real’ cappuccino! I go to Dunn Brothers and order a large French Vanilla Cappuccino and BOY, is it coffee! I put some sugar in it. Then I put more sugar in. Then more still. And it still tastes like coffee and I don’t like coffee but I’m not going to dump this out because I paid $4.00 for it. So I force it down and I get a good coffee buzz going so that by 2:30 when the replacement lightboard doesn’t fit our system and I’m back to the old funky lightboard and the day is crashing my coffee buzz is also wearing off. Aarrgh!

Now… two weeks after that I’m in Minneapolis for a rehearsal for a show and I haven’t had supper yet and right around the corner is a convenience store with the VERY SAME CAPPUCCINO MACHINE AS THE HOTEL HAD! And I get my good old large cup of hot chocolate with just the spritz of coffee in it and it is GOOD!


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