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Archive for the ‘recreation’ Category

It took the 11 years and four treks, but I’ve made friends with the North Shore of Minnesota – a stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, highway, infamous landmarks, and seasonal resorts.

Up until now, my travels that direction epitomized the word miserable. Few other places in the country boast about bad weather to attract tourists, but for those in Duluth and points north along the treacherous northwest shore of Lake Superior, bad weather is a piece of nearly every historical moment worth noting. For me, one late summer trip several years ago featured horizontal rain and high winds for two straight days. A second venture resulted in a foot of snow and high winds. The third trip, a late April getaway, included some sun, but the wind blew so fierce it might as well have been the Antarctic. This pattern seems to be the norm.

The vistas and opportunities to hike, bike and relax in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota are too numerous to ignore…and so away we went on Saturday to kick off Labor Day weekend 2010.

And brother, we hit the weather jackpot.

Two full days of “sunny and mid- to upper-60s farenheit” ruled our short getaway. On Day One, the lofty cotton-ball-esque dotted skies served as a personal tour guide as we hiked miles and miles of the Superior Hiking Trail – enough steps to make our feet, calves, knees and thighs tell us “enough.” If you haven’t stepped onto a piece of the 270-plus miles of this trail, add it to your bucket list. And while you’re at it, make sure to take the Lookout Mountain trail section for a scene unlike any other you’ll find in Minnesota.

That evening we ate and slept in Grand Marais. Our dinner bell rang at The Crooked Spoon, a crowded cafe on Wisconsin Street where the chef served up a wicked lamb tenderloin and the most beautiful leafy green salad I’ve ever seen. And while very much a tourist town, for a Saturday night, Grand Marais seemed very quaint and quiet overlooking a calm Lake Superior.

On a cloudless Day Two, Cheri and I biked the Pincushion Mountain trail, just a couple miles from Grand Marais off the Gunflint Trail highway. Leaving the town, this highway rises over 1,000 feet in just 2.5 miles or so. After completely wasting our legs peddling the mountain bike trail, I coasted back in to Grand Marais – nearing 40 mph on two wheels and barely turning the crank.

Another hike on the Superior Hiking Trail to take in Devil’s Kettle gave new meaning to late summer in Northern Minnesota. As we sat on the rocks of the Brule River watching the falls the color was unbelievable. From the rocks to the sharp dark walls of the river’s gorge to the green chlorophyl-laden shrubs and trees to a clear blue sky. Now that’s what being outdoors is suppose to be about.

Lesson learned. The North Shore may be unforgiving at times with its wind, driving rain and lake effect snows, but pick your moment and place and you can be pleasantly surprised by the gift of such a place. And you may, like me, make friends with a piece of America that you had for awhile given up on.

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Today was the last day of the Great Minnesota Get Together. My son and I ventured out to the fair for a few hours. You can view the photographic results  here…

Fun Haus
Since part of my last name is included in this sign from a Midway exhibit at the state fair, I was compelled to include it. No, we didn’t venture inside.

Godzilla

The Reptile exhibit entrance.  Here my son shows who’s bigger.  The snakes inside the booth, however, could have eaten both of us whole and not even burped.

Pronto Pup

Our first stop for fair food. This vendor calls them “pronto pups.”  They’re more commonly known as corn dogs. With mustard and ketchup they are fantastic!

Slide

We didn’t slide down the super slide, but we ate our cheese fries at the red picnic table in the lower right corner. It was reported that Fergie, who performed earlier in the week at the Grandstand, promptly puked after sliding down this attraction. The owner/operator, however, said that was only a rumor.

Cheese

Cheese curds. It’s basically deep fried cheese pieces. Probably colby. We passed on the curds this year.

Skyride

Ahhh, the Sky Ride. It’s a gondola ride that travels east/west across the length of the fair grounds. It delivered us to the entrance to the Midway where we promptly blew $40 on tickets to toss balls and rings resulting in several prizes, including a Family Guy “Stewie” stuffed doll.

Taco

I’ll end with this taco stand. Taco King has been at the state fair for almost as long as I’ve been on earth. I imagine their shells are a little dry.

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The Great Minnesota Get Together starts on Thursday and runs through Sept. 3. This year I’ll find myself at the fair. Last time I strolled the Fairgrounds along Snelling Avenue in St. Paul was 2005 and my head wasn’t in the game, so to speak. I’ve always liked a good fair. The sights and sounds — the carnies, the corn dogs, the cacophony from the inaudible loudspeaker systems — take me back to my hometown, which was host to the World’s Greatest County Fair.

I grew up on The Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa. Each year, this rural fair draws CCFhundreds of thousands to a town of less than 12,000. It was the main event – the one thing every resident planned for and participated in either as an attendee, a worker, a consumer or people watcher.

Several moments from my fair days as a kid still mark my brain (maybe scar it).

The first and most dominant scar caused by the fair happened when my Uncle Earl took me there to wander the grounds. Uncle Earl was my “rich” uncle. He was rich in a way that surpassed money. And while he always drove a nice new Buick and made half dollars fall out of my pockets when he lifted me by the ankles, he never bragged. His presence in a room, advice, spirit and belief in God made Uncle Earl revered.

So on that day when we wandered the fair grounds, Uncle Earl was most interested in poking through the cow barns and striking up lengthy conversations with livestock owners who were showing off their best Holsteins or Herefords. I was 10. Bored with conversation and wanting for the Midway where I could quickly blow the half dollars that had magically appeared from my pants pockets. Naturally, when I spied I large pile of hay I had to take a running leap into it. Mistake. As I later learned when Uncle Earl smelled me and realized I’d jumped into a pile of used hay – manure filled.

We stopped by an ice cream stand and I wiped myself down with napkins. But the cloud of manure hung over me, not to mention the embarrassment of having to take off my pants before my uncle would let me into his Buick sedan. This story continues to get much laughter at family events, so I can proudly tell it here. Rest assured, I have not ventured back into hay pile jumping since that famed day at the fair.

Part Two of my fair remembrance deals with my dad’s booth at the fair that he managed and staffed until I was in my early teens. Dad owned his own business called Spencer Radiator Works. We called it “The Shop” and it blossomed as a business in my pre-school years. He worked it hard and expanded it, selling anything with a small engine as well – primarily lawnmowers but including chainsaws, generators and other two- and four-cycle things.

The Clay County Fair was the perfect demo ground for the latest in riding lawnmower design and Dad cleaned up during fair week. It was like getting an extra month’s income each year. But the hours were long and sometimes frustrating. By the time I was four or five, Dad would take me with him, usually in the afternoons, to hang at his booth outside and watch him sell lawnmowers. It was exciting just to be on the grounds, but watching Dad in action as a salesman was riveting, too. He was engaging, knowledgeable and could tell a looker from a buyer almost immediately – a critical skill when investing time in a sale.

I’d help him in the booth, serving as “runner.”

“Butch,” (his nickname for me and I have no idea why), “run and get me a coffee.” Or, “Butch, why don’t you go get yourself a corn dog and bring back a turkey drumstick for me.” Sometimes he’d leave me alone at the booth while he went to the bathroom or found a pay phone to check with the boys at the Shop. When he returned he’d bring a treat – a slushy lemonade or ice cream bar.

Those days in Dad’s booth at the fair were bonding days for the two of us. He probably didn’t know that he was giving me some of my greatest and fondest memories by taking me along. But thinking about those afternoons I spent with him during a week each September always make me pause. For a father-son relationship that was far from perfect, we shared many perfect days — common ground on the grounds of The Worlds Greatest County Fair.

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Every now and then my work group lets its collective hairs down for fun. Thursday afternoon was one of those days. The lot of us found ourselves in downtown Minneapolis at Brits Pub – one of the coolest, most happening places in the city. We were there for a buffet of food and an afternoon of lawn bowling.

Imagine walking out of the second floor of a downtown bar on a beautiful July afternoon. The temperature hovers around 80 degrees. The Stella Artois, bootleggers or Long Island ice teas quench all thirsts. Out on the patio we sit next to a field of closely clipped green grass. There must be an acre of it. Jealous employees working at Target’s corporate headquarters look down on the bar patrons from their bright red painted cubicles wishing it was Friday at 5, but it’s not. Too bad for them.

I’ve never lawn bowled before, but I have played bocce ball. Lawn bowling is kinda like that, butBrits with different scoring rules. Participants divide into teams of two or four and square off by first throwing a small billiards-sized cue ball looking ball, the “jack,” out onto the grass. The goal then is to get all four of your team’s larger, weighted balls closest to the jack. One point is awarded if you have one ball closer than your competitors. Two points if you have two of your four balls closer to the jack than your opponent, and so on. Hitting your opponent’s balls out of play is encouraged and considered strategic. At least this is how we were instructed to play and score our single-elimination tournament.

Lawn bowlers who are communicators by profession tend to get a little catty after a beer or two. Trash talk ensues. “Im’ma boot your ass clear to Stillwater with this toss!” Cheating happens. A measureing tape becomes necessity to determine who’s balls are closer in to the jack because our obviously blurred keen eyes can no longer discern distance.

The first teams out of the tournament, including my own, won the benefit of sitting in the shade and drinking even more. But over the course of two hours, a winner was decided in the great Medtronic Lawn Bowling Festival hosted by Brits Pub. Of course the winners did so by hook and by crook. What else would you expect?!

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Before Lance Armstrong ever won his second Tour de France, I picked up road biking as a hobby. Yeah, I got a little bolder with my biking habits when the Lance phenomena took off in the early 2000s. But I was still ahead of the band wagon joiners.

The year the Live Strong craze took off, I ordered 20 bracelets from the LA Foundation and took them with me to Ragbrai. Ragbrai, for those of you not from Iowa, is an annual ride lasting seven days across the state, west to east, in July. As soon as I showed up for the ride sporting my yellow bracelet, riders circled around asking me where I got it. I promptly handed 15 bracelets to those asking about it and felt good about my donation to cancer research.

So cycling has been part of my life for a while. I’m not a racer and I’m not obsessive about riding. I enjoy riding. It’s not just exercise, it’s mental rehab and I love that feeling when I click my shoes into my peddles and ride out into the country.

This past year I helped plan and coordinate a pro bike race called the Great River Energy Bike Festival and Nature Valley Grand Prix. On the first night of the race (it’s a five-day stage ordeal), I was standing alongside the course in downtown St. Paul feeling the vortex of wind created by 140 pro riders flying by as they rode for an hour straight. Disbelief and admiration. These guys ranging from 18 to 40-plus years old were hammering that course at 30 miles an hour and faster. Perhaps, back when I was younger, I’d have had a chance to hang with em for a lap, but I doubt it.

And now the Tour de France is underway. Scandals aside, you gotta’ marvel at these athletes who train all year for a three-week ride up and down mountains.

Every now and then the biking gods will smile on me and I’ll have a really great ride. I’ll go faster, feel stronger, pass a few cyclists along the way and life is even better than normal.

The best part about biking? It’s just like riding a bike and once you know how, you never forget

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This weekend marked the kick0ff to the annual Aquatennial held in Minneapolis every July. Today, the milk carton boat races took to Lake Calhoun with the city as the backdrop. The boats, all in their splendid milk carton, glue and clear tape construction, stayed floating.

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