There is no shortage of requests for her time. Although “me time” is very important, most young mothers forgo such time to themselves, because – well, they don’t have time. The kids are calling, the clothes dryer buzzer is going off, dinner needs to go on and she can’t remember the last time she got to vacuum the floors, let alone dust the house. Between the kids, (who always come first) a full-time job and for many, night classes too, there’s just no time to decompress. Whew! She is tired.
Our oldest daughter called wanting to come visit alone. She needed, and deserved, a little “me time.” She picked a date in October to visit the north shore. It would be a late birthday present to herself. The fall colors, Lake Superior and mild weather conditions make for a very serene setting. I imagined things could arise, causing her to postpone or cancel her trip, but she seemed determined to come.
A few days before her trip, I asked what she wanted to do while here. Sydney replied with a text, “Go to Grand Marais. Hike, go out to eat, shop, get coffee and go sit on the beach with my book.” Simple enough requests. We could make all that happen.
A couple days before she was to head this way, the weather service issued a winter storm warning for North and South Dakota and parts of Minnesota. “It isn’t going to reach the north shore.” I assured her. Determined to make this trip, that was good enough for her. Thursday after work, she headed out, driving in rain most of the way – no snow, but also no sunshine. We needed the sun to light up the fall colors.
My wife had to work on Friday, so Sydney and I headed to Grand Marais on our own. It was cloudy, rainy and windy. Driving north on Highway 61, we talked about how the wind pushed and rocked the van, as it came gusting in from the lake. That same wind provided spectacular conditions on the water.
The strong winds tried to yank the van door from Sydney’s grip when we stopped at a viewing area. The water was steely grey with white caps that emphasized the turbulence. Lake Superior seemed angry; relentlessly she threw one big wave after another to the shore. Crashing against the rocks, the swells sent large white plumes of water billowing into the air. The wind carried sprays and mist splashing on any sightseers she could reach. I wondered if we might see some surfers out on the water playing with the big waves. The feel of the air warned, winter is coming.
On the ride to Grand Marais, the overcast sky were thin. Diffused sunlight was enough to make the trees glow. It really was a pretty drive for such a cold cloudy day.
Our first stop in Grand Marais was Sven and Ole’s Pizza. Sydney ordered the Ufda – a great choice. She was surprised there were seats available in the dining room on a Friday afternoon at one-o-clock. She’d never been to Grand Marais on a quiet day.
After lunch we went next door to White Pine North. They always have coffee brewing and the store smells awesome, plus they have a great selection of candies and chocolate covered coffee beans. Yum!
Our next stop was the Lake Superior Trading Post, only a few blocks away, but I was going to drive because of the cold wind.
Turning onto First Ave West, I was surprised there were so many open parking spaces right in front of the store. That’s when it occurred to me the waves coming in off the bay were pushing right over the beach and into the street. There was about eight inches of water standing in the road and spilling into the alley on the north side of the building. The sidewalks were islands surrounded by water.
Cars couldn’t pass through the water, but we were in the van (it sits higher) and I was determined to get to the Trading Post. I drove slowly down the road so as not to create a wake. “Dad! What are you doing?” Sydney asked. I told her I was going shopping; I had an idea.
I backed into a parking space right in front of the store. “We can’t get out of the van. Our feet will get soaked.” I got out of the seat and walked to the back of the van, opened the rear door and stepped out onto the dry sidewalk. “Oh my gosh Dad. This is ridiculous.”
“Are you coming with me or not?” I asked. Sydney laughed and joined me. People standing on the walk up the street were watching with disbelief. I’ll bet they were all wishing they had a van! We shopped for a bit, then returned to the van, climbing in the back door. People watched, still amused.
As we left the street a Toyota Prius was driving toward the water. “Don’t do it buddy.” I said to him through my windshield, “The water is too deep for you. You might short out your electric motor.” I chuckled over that.
Sydney questioned if it was too windy to go hiking. I told her, “The trail is in the woods. The trees will block the wind.” We were determined to go for a hike. I wanted to take her to Devil’s Kettle at Judge Magney State Park, to the waterfall where the Brule River splits. Half the water runs over the falls, dropping fifty feet into the pool below. The other half flows into a pit – the Devil’s Kettle. It is said that no one knows where the water in the kettle goes. I think people smarter than me know, but I’ve never researched it - sometimes it’s best to let folklore be.
We enjoyed the two-and-a-half mile hike to the falls. The trail was a little muddy in spots and the 200 plus steps (each way) were wet and a little slippery, but, oh, the sights and sounds. The view of the river in the gorge below was beautiful and the sky lightened from time to time, showing off the beautiful fall colors. It was a rigorous walk, yet peaceful. When we came out of the woods, the wind was right there to greet us.
Passing the Kadunce River on the way home, Sydney pointed out a man in a wetsuit in the parking lot. We turned around and went back. I struck up a conversation with two girls standing by a car with Ontario license plates. They were all surfers, but the girls didn’t have their boards or suits with them. They surf on Lake Erie, and were amazed by the big waves on Lake Superior.
The guy was down by the lake, sitting on a rock, putting on his flippers. He walked backwards into the water; I assume to keep the waves from catching his flippers and tossing him over. He looked to be about six feet and the waves were higher than he was tall. About waist deep in water, he turned around, laying on his boogie board. He paddled with his hands and kicked with his feet.
Charging into each swell, riding up the front of the wave, going almost vertical, he got on top of the wave. The water seemed to engulf him and he would disappear behind the wall of water. I’ll admit my anxiety was running high. I felt relief each time he reappeared on the backside of a wave, only to be met by another. The waves were so big and powerful, I wondered which one would swallow and devour him.
There he was; a tiny speck on the surface of the largest fresh water lake in the world. He challenged and defied the powerful waves. The whole scene reminded me of David and Goliath. He was determined to slay one giant wave after another in his battle. I lost sight of him.
Just when I thought he had met his demise, he surfaced about thirty feet to the left, riding his boogie board on top of a big wave, charging to the shore. The wind carried his voice ahead of him. “Woohoo!” Victory was his. Like a cowboy who wrestled the calf to the ground in a rodeo, the surfer dominated this wave, for the moment until her fury diminished as she leveled on the shore.
Meanwhile, Sydney walked the water’s edge looking for rocks - Lake Superior offers a great selection. She spotted a stone she wanted to take home to her girls. She carefully timed the waves rolling to the shore. At a calculated moment, when the wave returned to the lake, she took a couple steps closer to the water, bent down to grab her chosen rock and run back inland. At the same time a new wave came in, crashing into another wave. It sprayed into the air, soaking Sydney’s backside from the waist down. “Gah!” She cried out, “That water is COLD!” In her soaked britches, we made our way back to the van. It was hard not to laugh at her.
We started back toward home. “I guess I misjudged that wave.” Sydney shivered as she cranked the temperature all the way up and turned the fan on high. It was pretty warm in the van. I popped a chocolate covered coffee bean in my mouth and offered her one. She declined, “I need something hot. Real coffee to warm me up.” In Grand Marais, we turned into the Java Moose. There are a lot of great coffee houses along the north shore, the Moose is one of them.
We sat sipping our coffee. Outside waves from the bay had splashed up halfway across Wisconsin Street. The beach was still under water. “I guess you’re not reading your book on the beach today.” I said with a smile.
She wrapped her hands around her warm cup, embracing the heat, “I’ve scratched that activity from my list. I just want to go home and soak in a hot bath.” We took our coffee to the van. Outside, Sydney shivered again, “I’m still freezing.”
When we walked in the front door, Melissa had a fire in the woodstove. The house was warm. “What happened to you?” She asked Sydney, who walked by in her wet jeans.
“I misjudged a wave.” Sydney answered over her shoulder while continuing toward her room. We all shared a good laugh about that. I went to the bathroom, put the stopper in the tub drain and turned on the hot water. A few minutes later Sydney came from her room, headed for the bathroom with a book in hand.
Melissa was determined to help Sydney find that warm atmosphere to relax with a good book – even if it wasn’t on the beach. She met Sydney in the hallway, handing her a bottle of wine and a glass, “Here, you might want this.” Sydney took the bottle, the glass and her book and entered paradise, closing the door behind her.
Later that evening, Sydney brought her rock collection to the kitchen to show us. Now, keep in mind, rocks look different, and prettier, wet than when they’re dry. She presented the rock. “I risked my life and got soaked over this piece of gravel?” We all shared a good laugh about that.
On Sunday, Melissa was going back to Grand Marais with Sydney. I asked if I could go. “Why don’t you stay here and finish cutting the firewood. This is going to be a girl’s day out.” Hmph.
I pulled the cord, starting the motor, determined to finish splitting and stacking the pile of wood today. As they backed out of the driveway, I muttered, “Girls day out my foot.” I know my wife, “If it means sorting through every rock from Duluth to Grand Portage, she’s bound and determined to help Sydney find the perfect rocks for our granddaughters.” Thankfully, Lake Superior was calmer today.
I pulled the lever forward. The hydraulic cylinder groaned as it pushed the steel wedge into a big log, determined to break it in half.