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Michigan – Tuesday, November 12

I was a little slow to get going this morning after my late arrival last night, and the first thing on my agenda was to meet my brother-in-law Greg at his police station, and we were going to go over to Willow Farm – a stable owned by some good friends of his, where I was going to make a donation to their therapeutic horseback riding program. I met Annie, who is one of the therapeutic riding instructors and she told me about their program. They have 4 full-time horses to participate in the program, and are able to lease others when the need arises. I met the horses, and saw the large indoor arena where the sessions take place. They have anywhere from 30-70 students who participate in their various programs during a regular season, and have many dedicated volunteers and sidewalkers to help out. Their big fundraiser was earlier in the year, but they are happy for a donation any time! I’ve driven past this stable many times, and it was fun to be able to go inside and see it.

Then I got a mile of walking in downtown (running across a niece and another brother-in-law along the way!) before taking my mother-in-law Joan out for lunch. Myra, another sister-in-law, joined us for lunch too, and it was really nice to be able to enjoy a hot lunch in the middle of the day overlooking Lake Superior.  I took Joan back home and visited for a short while, but I had miles to cover, and Myra had taken the afternoon off work to be able to do some walking with me. We headed out for Presque Isle and walked all the way around. The footing was a bit slippery so we had to watch our step, but the icy beauty of Lake Superior’s shoreline was captivating. We saw entire shrubs and other plants shrouded in ice. And it’s only mid-November! From there, Tula and I walked along the lakeshore path outside of town and covered nearly 2 more miles. We passed a coast guard base, and another lighthouse built out on the rocks, and watched the lights blink on at the ore dock. That was enough for her in the snow and ice. Even though the sun had set, I was game for a little more walking, and covered 3 more miles through some of the old historic neighborhoods with their old lumber baron mansions. I think it was good to have a day in Marquette to help ease the transition back into a more civilized life!

I made the hour drive to Munising in the dark because I was going to be out in the boonies tomorrow, and didn’t want to waste an hour of daylight while making the drive in the morning. I stayed at one more cute little mom-and-pop motel that was kind of empty – I think they’re getting ready to close up for the season!

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Vets on a Lake

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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Boundary Waters and Wolves

Minnesota – Sunday, November 10

Before heading out into some more remote parts of Minnesota, I went out for another 2 1/2 mile walk around International Falls. We stopped by Smokey Bear park to admire yet another large 26 foot tall statue! Tula walked part of the way with me but it was kind of slippery so I put her back in the van. Even though I was paying careful attention to where I walked, I still slipped on an icy part of the sidewalk and fell. No harm done though, other than a scraped knee, but it was time to end that walk!  As I left International Falls, I passed the rail yard where there were mountains of sawdust and woodchips. Lots of wood comes into this town since it’s the home of the Boise Cascade Paper Mill.  I decided to take a relatively short drive  out to the end of the road, through the little villages of Ranier and Island View. The road ended at the western entrance to Voyageurs National Park, which I look forward to visiting sometime when the boat tours are running. The town of Ranier had another statue – this one was a 30 foot tall statue of Big Vic, a French-Canadian fur trapper which is also known as a voyageur. The drive out to Island View was gorgeous, even in snow. I drove along part of the shore of Rainy Lake – another giant lake that forms part of the border between Minnesota and Canada. There were  little islands in the water; some with just a couple trees on them, and it was wonderfully scenic – just like I had imagined this part of the state.


Then I continued driving southeast. This whole part of the state is either state forest land, national forest land or Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness. It’s wild and beautiful and I was headed for the town of Ely. Along the way I stopped in Cook and Tula and I walked a little over a mile. We continued on to Ely, where I had read about the International Wolf Center. The wolf center allows visitors to see wolves in their northwoods habitat, and it is also an educational facility. At different times of the year they offer programs like treks into the forest to howl at wolves, and dog-sledding trips. Their visiting hours are limited this time of year and the information I had indicated the Wolf Center wasn’t open on Sundays.  But I drove there anyway, and discovered they were open for a few hours on Sundays, although I had missed it. That was a bit disappointing, but I wanted to make a donation there anyway, because it just seemed like such an appropriate thing to do in this northwoods part of the state. The relationship between wolf life and human life is complicated, and education helps, so I mailed in a donation.


Ely is called the Gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and the town was fun to walk through – there were lots of places to sign up for canoe trips and fishing trips into the wilderness, and when I look at all the rivers and lakes in the whole area on a map, I don’t know how anyone finds their way back to the exact place they started! This was fur-trading country 200 years ago, and the rivers and lakes were the means of transportation up into the Canadian Northwest. I walked over 3 miles in town in the falling darkness.


I needed to put on some more miles tonight – I had been dawdling and I only had one day left in Minnesota. I made a reservation at a little motel in Silver Bay and I thought I was headed in that direction. But I had missed a turn, and was so mesmerized by the peace and beauty of the snowy evening in the woods that it didn’t occur to me to wonder why the road was kind of narrow and why there was no other traffic. There was an undisturbed layer of snow on the road that shimmered like crystals in the moonlight and I felt like I was in some kind of magical land, or a snow globe. I’m pretty sure it cast a spell on me and I just kept driving through the forest. I was jolted back into reality when I saw a sign that said the road was ending and something else about territorial waters.  It dawned on me I was not on the road I thought I was, and I had to backtrack a bit to figure out where I was. It turned out I had driven as far into the Boundary Waters area as one can drive. The only way to have continued in was in a boat! It had been a slow drive because of the snow and I had to retrace all the miles, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on that little drive! I passed a sign that said I was in a moose area and to drive with care, but I didn’t see any moose.  I got myself on the correct road, and when I was in phone range again, I called the motel, which was just a small place, to let them know I’d be late, and they just left the key in the door of my room.  Most of the remaining drive was still snowy, so it took a while, and when I got to the motel I saw that the wheel wells of the van were caked full of snow, and the back of it it was covered in ice, and none of the other cars that were parked there had any snow on them. The van looked like it had really been on an adventure!  The motel was another cute little mom-and-pop place called Whispering Pines, and the rooms were decorated in a northwoods motif that suited the day. I slept like a rock!

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Waters of the Dancing Sky Scenic Byway

Minnesota – Saturday, November 9

I enjoyed some lefse for breakfast, then loaded up in another wet, snowy morning. Tula and I walked almost 2 miles around the town of Warroad, then I found a park by Lake of the Woods with a long trail.  Despite the weather, people were out fishing, and I bundled up to take a 3+ mile walk by this huge northern lake. Lots of the shoreline was covered with reeds, grasses and cattails, or maybe some of the vegetation was where  the wild rice grows that the Indians used to battle over. The trail I was walking on mostly followed the shoreline of a small bay. When I finished my walk, I went over to look out across the mighty lake, but of course it was too big to see across to the other side.

I finally left Warroad and continued east to the town of Baudette which had another 40 foot statue – this one was Willy the Walleye, because Baudette was the walleye capital of the world. There was also a sign stating Lake of the Woods had the best fishing in the world. The people here take their outdoor activities seriously! Tula and I did a little walking here too – and the sidewalks were still icy and snowy. I was thinking about making a donation to a church youth group that was sponsoring a hunter’s lunch as a fundraiser, because it was opening day of hunting season. The lunch was supposed to last until 2:00, and I got to the community center about 1:50, and there was no one around. The front door was open, and I poked my head in, and even though no one was there, I could smell barbecue and other good smells from a hot meal. I must have just missed them – they sure got out in a hurry! I was still in good shape donation-wise since I had made 2 donations on a couple of consecutive days, and I knew I could always mail them a donation, but I thought I’d wait to see if I ran across any other interesting donation opportunities in the next day or two.

From there I continued east  to International Falls, right along the border of Minnesota and Canada on the “Waters of the Dancing Sky Scenic Byway.”  It was misting /snowing out, but I still walked 2 1/4 miles throughout the downtown area and a nice neighborhood along the river. Then I used one of my free nights and stayed at a Comfort Inn, which was one of the nicest motels I had stayed in. They had lots of little extra things, including a popcorn cart with good fresh popcorn, and a cute little restaurant called the Chocolate Moose  shared the parking lot, so I actually went over there and enjoyed a walleye dinner. I figured I couldn’t be around this northwoods fishing country and not have some fresh fish!

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Rainy, Icy Northern Minnesota

Minnesota – Friday, November 8

I woke up to a pretty dreary day, and the forecast was not very promising for the next few days. But I just bundled up and headed out into my day. I couldn’t even take many pictures because it was just too wet out! I had to keep the camera and case in a plastic bag in my pocket, and Tula wasn’t very interested in spending too much time outside!

Despite the weather I wanted to head up near the Minnesota/Canadian border, but my first stop was is Crookston. There was a little food pantry there, but they were closed even though the website said they were open a little longer. No one was there to talk to about a donation, so it would be my backup plan if I didn’t find other good donation opportunities over the weekend. I’m ahead with donations, so it wasn’t crucial to make one today. As long as I was in town, Tula and I got out and walked about a mile and a half in the drizzle – it was chilly and windy and not very pleasant, but I just turned the heat on high when I got back in the van.

I drove up to Red Lake, where Tula and I started on another walk, but we only covered a little over a half mile – the rain started coming down harder and it wasn’t nice out. I drove up to Thief River Falls, which was one of the towns I wanted to see in this part of the state. Even though it was still drizzling/misting, I got out for a couple hours and covered about 6 miles. Tula came with me for part of the time, but I put her back in the van before she got totally drenched. I walked along the river walk and the river had a layer of ice on it – it was pretty chilly out. I walked through the downtown area and out into the adjoining neighborhoods. I was kind of a soggy mess when I got back to the van and I turned the heat up high again.


I continued heading north, and the drizzly mess turned into snow, and the driving got a bit slow. I stopped in the town of Roseau for a snowy half mile walk with Tula. It was dark, but the little downtown area had a number of people out and about. Roseau was a former Hudson Bay Fur Trading post, but I didn’t really see anything about fur trading in my short walk through town. It’s now a big snowmobiling town and the home of Polaris Industries, where they make a lot of snowmobiles. In the winter, there are many miles of snowmobile trails connecting some of these northern towns, and Lake of the Woods is nearby too. I’m sure the snowmobilers  are happy to see the snow!


From Roseau I continued another half hour up to Warroad where I stopped for the night. Warroad is the only U.S. town on the enormous Lake of the Woods – most of the lake towns are in Canada. Chippewa Indians used to live in the area, and there were many battles between them and the Sioux Indians over the rice fields in the lake, and that’s how the town of Warroad got its name.

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Bemidji Soup Kitchen and Lutheran Women’s Club

Minnesota – Thursday, November 7


I ended up in Blackduck last night and stayed in a cute little mom-and-pop motel last night called the Drake Motel. I’m in hunting and fishing country and there was a big sign by the sink asking people not to clean fish in their rooms (no worries about me doing that – ha!). But they do provide a heated fish cleaning room and freezer storage for people who need those services! I’ve stayed in several little motels along the way, and many of the older ones probably shouldn’t still be in the motel business – some of them seem like they’re trying to milk every last dollar out of it that they can. But the Drake Motel still had character and cleanliness to it, and all of the rooms were decorated in a different theme, with little crafty decorations (I had the tractor room) – places like this still offer a bit of travel charm from the 60s!


Tula and I set off for a little walking in Blackduck, and I was to discover in the next few days that northern Minnesotans seem to be fond of large sculptures – and Blackduck had a couple big black duck sculptures to memorialize their town. They also were advertising a hunters dinner (which I saw more than once – deer hunting season apparently starts Saturday, so places offer free meals, sometimes followed by a church service!)


Then I drove a half hour or so to Bemidji, on the shores of Bemidji Lake, which the Mississippi River flows through. Bemidji is actually a Chippewa word that means “lake with river flowing through.” It is also the home of the big statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox – good lumberman lore! Bemidji is also the curling capital of the world. I had found out that there was a Community Soup Kitchen in Bemidji which served meals 3 nights a week at a couple different churches. Thursday was one of their days, and I left a couple messages to find out how to go about making a donation. Tula and I took a walk along the lake, and then I put her in the car while I set off for about 2 1/2 hours – did a  long 8 mile walk along the lakeside and through some parks, a neighborhood and around the campus of Bemidji State University. It was a gorgeous day out and a wonderful walk. I could have just kept going and going! Along the way I passed a big banner advertising a Lutefisk and Meatball Dinner at the local Lutheran church and it was for tonight. Lutefisk is one of those weird things that Scandinavians eat around the holidays, but it is not really a popular dish. But in Lutheran country like Minnesota, different churches start offering lutefisk dinners in November, and I knew I would come back later today and get my fill of lutefisk for the year. It was also going to be my fallback donation for today since this was the First Lutheran Church Women’s Club biggest fundraiser of the year. They in turn help provide food for food pantries and soup kitchens and other services for the needy.


By the time I got back to the van, I still hadn’t heard back from the Soup Kitchen people, but I was also happy with making a donation to the Lutheran Women’s Club. I got Tula out and we walked almost another mile in the historic part of downtown Bemidji and ran across a yellow submarine.  By then I had discovered the church that was sponsoring the soup kitchen meal was only a couple blocks away from the lutefisk church, so I decided to stop by to see if anyone was there. Not only were the volunteers there, but they were shorthanded for serving the meal, and roped me in to help! They were very happy with the donation, and I helped them set up some tables and then we sat around and visited for a while til the doors opened at 5:00 (the soup kitchen meals are prepared at the churches since they have big commercial kitchens.) They had put table coverings and fall decorations on all the community tables to make things look nice. Dinner tonight was pork gravy or beef stew over biscuits, pasta salad, fresh carrots and cucumbers, juice or milk and a variety of donated desserts. I served the carrots and cucumbers and poured the drinks. Everyone had to wear either a hat or a hair net, so I went back to the car for one of my hats. There was a busy rush right at 5 (there had been a line outside the door) – families with kids, and other people coming in by themselves or small groups. There were maybe about 80 people or so – the numbers fluctuate of course which makes it challenging to know how much food to prepare. People continued to trickle in, but it got pretty quiet by 5:30. The guests were allowed to come back for seconds around 5:30 when the initial line was gone, and at 6:00 when the dinner was over, they could pick up meals to go if they wanted. There was a volunteer group from the local juvenile detention home that came in for a meal, and then they were responsible for doing all the dishes and mopping floors and all. The other volunteers invited me to stay for dinner, but I had my heart set on a big lutefisk dinner, so I said goodbye, and drove the couple blocks over to the other church.


The first Lutheran church was packed, and people had be seated in shifts. I made a donation to the Women’s Club when I bought my dinner ticket, and they were also pleased, and a couple of them went out of their way to thank me during the dinner. Several of the ladies were dressed in traditional Norwegian dress and it was fun to listen to where the different parts of the outfits came from. There were different musical groups in church to entertain the people who were waiting. My number was called after about a half hour and we sat family style at big tables. It was truly a feast. Hot lutefisk with pitchers of melted butter (the same guy has cooked the lutefisk for 50 years), meatballs, boiled potatoes, carrots, lefse, and pumpkin pie for dessert. They would bring out as much food as people wanted (mostly older folks – the young ‘uns don’t like the lutefisk!) and I had seconds. It was a wonderful meal. My table mates were a young couple expecting their first baby, and the wife was game to try the lutefisk – she had heard eating a whole variety of food was good for the baby, so I give her credit for that – but she did not have seconds!


I had packed a lot into today – 2 fun donations and serving a dinner, and walking a little over 10 miles. I was happy to get in the car and drive about an hour northwest to Fosston, where I stopped for the night.


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I should be able to start adding some posts tomorrow – haven’t had any power for a couple days!