[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]
Day 5: Wednesday, July 26th (continued)
After the aquarium and our glimpses of the Aerial Lift Bridge, we walked a few blocks along the bay to the quaint mom-‘n’-pop business section of Duluth, on the isthmus between Superior Bay and Lake Superior.
We grabbed lunch at a basement-dwelling joint called the Amazing Grace Bakery and Cafe. They had a full coffee bar and their staffers sliced our sandwich bread fresh — at least I assume it was fresh, although our server felt compelled to sniff the dill bread before proceeding with my sandwich request. A dozen of their clientele sat outside, all wearing Hot Topic shades of black and defying the classic brooding-Goth stereotype by basking in the sunshine. The sandwiches were great, and my latté — my first after a week of abstinence — was just what I needed.
We perused a few gift shops and other locally owned businesses sharing the same three-story building as the Amazing Grace, including a children’s bookshop that tempted me with a deeply discounted hardcover copy of Clive Barker’s Ararat and some old Tintin graphic novels. Beyond the stores was the official entrance to the Lake Superior coastline, the walkway to which was fronted by a few statues and a monument celebrating the Ten Commandments.
Once you climb down a barrier of enormous piled rocks, an uncomfortable gravel bed grants all-access to the lake. Whereas Lake Erie and Lake Ontario were freezing cold when we saw them in 2004, and whereas Lake Michigan threatens all comers with promises of riptides and killjoy lifeguards, Lake Superior — by contrast the largest, and the northernmost of the Great Lakes we’ve seen — was the warmest, the most scenic, and the most inviting.
On that hot afternoon, we and several other tourists enjoyed dipping our toes in and even a bit of swimming without paid supervision. One family even brought their dog out for some choice paddling.
A good deal of time was spent wading and basking and just enjoying the ambiance. My son then decided he wanted a picture of a live seagull in flight. The seagulls were plentiful but camera-shy. He was nonetheless undeterred as he borrowed Anne’s 35mm camera and spent half an hour trying to capture the perfect seagull pic.
Best of show: the bird blends in at left. Not bad for an 11-year-old with zero camera experience.
This one was all me.
There was also a small lighthouse nearby, but it didn’t do much for him.
Its landing was a nice vantage point for viewing Superior. Points for that.
To kill time and quell my impatience, I indulged in a nearby snack bar called Crabby Bill’s. No relation to the Crabby’s in Wisconsin Dells (much to my relief), it did achieve a different sort of promise-breaking in that none of their staff were the least bit crabby. Crabby Bill’s offered a fair selection of fried or smoked snacks in an assortment of fish breeds. Not one to settle for anything less than apropos, I bought and savored a basket of fried walleye, the state fish of Minnesota. If only Indiana would follow suit and open a chain of scrumptious cardinal-on-a-stick stands.
Once we were finally done reveling and cavorting, we trekked back to the SUV, still in the aquarium parking lot, and headed to the far end of I-35 North to track down a couple of other attractions, but were stymied in our efforts. Glensheen Mansion — reportedly a beauteous manor fit for touring, but more infamous as a MURDER HOUSE — was already closed by this time, plus my wife had been the only one really initially interested in stopping there. (In hindsight, I’ve changed my mind now, for all the good it does her.) The real viking ship that Roadside America claimed to be in this direction was out of our line of sight. Despite these last-minute disappointments, we still consider this our favorite day of the trip. Lake Superior was just that relaxing and magnificent.
The monotony two-hour drive back to Minneapolis was punctuated with a stop in a now-forgotten small town for cheap dinner at a McDonald’s that offered DVD rentals. We had a moment of near-excitement as we passed a stretch of I-35 lined by fire engines because the median had somehow caught fire. I didn’t think the weather had been dry or hot enough to achieve a magnifying-glass effect, but I’m not sure a single ignorant cigarette butt would’ve been enough to ignite the few blocks’ worth of median we saw scorched and still smoking.
I briefly contemplated a drive through Circle Pines, unremarkable except in its fifteen seconds of fame as an impenetrable running-gag reference in a few Joel-era episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, the value of being able to brag, “I’ve been to the REAL Circle Pines!” was outweighed both by our fatigue and by the likelihood of that idea impressing or amusing no one on Earth except me and a handful of MSTies. I passed its exit and returned us to the hotel for the evening, with maybe a little regret.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]