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Vets on a Lake

November 26, 2013

Minnesota – Monday, November 11

I stayed in Silver Harbor last night and woke up to a sparkling cold, sunny day. Today was Veterans Day, and a couple days ago, I had been happy to discover that one of Minnesota’s Veterans Home was located in this small northern town on Silver Harbor. So I knew that was going to be my donation of the day! They had many different donation opportunities, and I chose the “vets on a lake” program, which is a multi-day trip that a group of vets take once a year out on Lake Superior. The base for their trip is back in Ely, where I had been yesterday. So Tula and I headed over to the veterans home, and most of their administrative staff had the day off since it was a holiday, but I met Ward, who was able to help me with my donation. He was very interested in my story, and we chatted for a while as I wrote out the check, and he told me about the lake trips. The staffs at the Minnesota Veterans Homes consider it an honor to help those veterans who answered the nation’s call. Ward showed me around the facility a bit, and introduced me to some more people, and invited me to stay for their Veterans Day program, which coincidentally was due to start in about 15 minutes. So I took my place among the veterans and visiting families, and enjoyed the short program. He even included my visit in his opening remarks. An Air Force woman did a touching display to honor all the P.O.W./M.I.A. soldiers – she set up a single place setting at a table (the single setting symbolized the frailty of one prisoner alone against his/her oppressors); a white tablecloth (to symbolize the purity of the soldiers’ actions to respond to their country’s call to serve); a single rose ( to remind us of their loved ones awaiting their return); a lemon wedge on the plate (to symbolize their bitter fate); salt (to remind us of their family’s tears); an inverted glass (because the soldier is not able to toast with family); and a candle (burning brightly to portray their strength and endurance while they await liberation). She looked very elegant in her dress uniform with a floor-length skirt. And there were lots of people with flags lining the halls. I was happy to be there.


When the ceremony was over, Tula and I took a short walk in the cold, brisk wind in the little town. Silver Harbor is located on the north shore of Lake Superior, where there is a lot of iron ore mining. The ore is somehow smashed up, and some of the elements are removed, and the remnants are formed into little iron pellets, and that is roughly how the taconite is processed. There is a statue of Rocky Taconite in town. The pellets are shipped in the many freighters that ply the waters of Lake Superior and beyond.  Most of the towns along Lake Superior have big ore docks for the freighters. When Tula was back in the car, I took another walk to overlook one of the plants that processes the taconite. It was billowing clouds of white steam – at first I thought it was smoke, but the informational signs say it’s just steam from the processing.

I meandered along the north shore ( a beautiful drive) until I came to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Tula and I got out for some more walking and admired the lighthouse, which was perched up on a bluff and we saw the big foghorns on one of the buildings. I think if they went off unexpectedly right by me, I would have fallen right off the bluff – the noise must be overwhelming! But then again, I’m not sure who would be poking around that close in the fog!  Then we walked down to the actual shore to see the lighthouse from the water’s edge, and I also walked a bit on the Gitchi-Gami state bike trail.

From there I drove to the little town of Two Harbors, where we walked all the way out on the breakwater and saw another little lighthouse. The water is already icy cold, and some of the metal fittings on the breakwater were covered in ice. It made me think of the “gales of November” on Lake Superior. There were more tall ore docks in town, and although I had seen numerous freighters out on the water, I didn’t see any right at the docks. But I could see the mine cars that come out on railroad tracks along the tops of the docks to load and maybe unload.

I enjoyed watching the sun begin to set as I continued toward Duluth, and once I was there, I found the boardwalk along Lake Superior to finish my last mile of walking in Minnesota. By now it was dark, even though it was barely 5:00, but the boardwalk was well-lit and there were a surprising number of people out jogging in the cold wind. I sort of wished it was daylight and that I could have enjoyed more of the boardwalk, but I’ll just have to come back sometime. There was just too much to see in northern Minnesota!

Duluth was the end of the road as far as my Minnesota week. I had finished all 56 miles of walking, and all 7 donations were done – the Dorothy Day food pantry in Moorhead, the Roses for Rotary literacy fundraiser and  the Boys and Girls Club in Detroit Lakes, the Bemidji Soup Kitchen, the First Lutheran Women’s Club in Bemidji that supports several community programs, the International Wolf Center, and the Vets on a Lake program at the Silver Harbor Veterans Home.

From Duluth I drove uneventfully through northern Wisconsin, and entered Michigan, the 56th and final state of my journey. I had very mixed feelings crossing into Michigan – excited to be back in my home state, and sad the big journey was winding down. But I couldn’t stew for long, because almost as soon as I crossed into Michigan, I ran into a lot of snow, and the winds were swirling it all around and covering the road. I had to really concentrate because it was hard to see the road, and I was happy for the rumble strips in the center of the road and at the sides. It was a very long drive into Marquette, but I made it safely, even though it was 2:30am when I arrived!

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  1. I have so enjoyed your journey since you stopped in our little food pantry in Redwood, NY. It has been an experience I will never forget. You have been such a blessing .

  2. Hi Jan – it hasn’t sunk in yet that the journey is over. I have vivid memories of Redwood – all the way back to Week #2 at the beginning of the adventure! I loved that part of New York! And I hadn’t figured out yet that most food pantries weren’t open on weekends, so I’m happy I was able to track you down!

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