Picture this: It’s July 2017. That’s it. Just imagine that we wrote this blog post in July 2017, because that’s when we were speeding through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Keeping with the most recent theme, we’re not going to do these states any justice with our hectic pace — but just remember our original plan had zero of these states on the agenda. This is all bonus material folks! You gonna complain about bonus material?!
Welcome to the land of 10,000 lakes. Tis a modest place, exemplified by the fact that there are actually 11,842 lakes here.
Once we’d diverted our path to see some fine folks in the Iowa area, it wasn’t much of a stretch to get ourselves into yet another near-stranger’s bedroom; this one having shared bridesmaid duties with Hailey in a wedding several years back. Man, the Midwest’s hospitality is so thick, you could cut it with a knife! Welcome to New Prague’s Spelbrink Farm, home of Kristen Spelbrink and her wonderful fam for Pit Stop #25:
We showed up on their doorstep bearing the gift of hot pizza, and received a warm welcome that included the full tour from Kristen, her husband Jessie, their daughter Josie, and wee baby Henry.
We enjoyed delicious gooseberries and kohlrabi straight from their garden, but the highlight of our visit was watching Josie love up on a kitten that had recently wandered onto the farm.
Six toes per paw? Just more to love!
What a great string of local color Pit Stops we’ve enjoyed lately… thanks again Kristen, family, and kitty too!
Now, to head north and make the jarring transition from farmland to urban jungle. The cruel streets of… Minneapolis.
First up: the highly recommended dive, Matt’s Bar — known for its Jucy Lucy burger. There’s no “i” in the Jucy Lucy, but there is something inside the burger: cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese.
Turns out cheese inside the burger isn’t a whole lot different from cheese outside the burger, but hey, it was tasty enough. The best part was the fries on top, though we can’t recall whether it came dressed that way, or whether Mitch executed that classic Pittsburgh maneuver himself.
Hey, do you guys remember Nicole? The friend who wouldn’t stop helping us during our SoCal leg, serving up Pit Stops with her mom and her best buddies? Well, she’s at it again, introducing us to Minnesota locals Gilliane and Jesse:
This is the look of new friendships emerging, but it’s also the look of four people who chugged some craft beer and poutine at Lake Monster Brewing, then wandered over to Izzy’s Ice Cream in the rain. These two have the travel bug as well, and we’re eager to cross paths with them somewhere new in the future!
Next up: BUSINESS TIME. Let’s get this A/C fixed, five months later than we should’ve. The loaner car illustrates the urgency; yes, that says 110 degrees. Of course, it’s a Volvo, so it’s wrong, but the heat wave was still in effect to the tune of the upper 90s.
Props to Alexander’s Import Auto Repair — it’s not often you get a loaner car from an independent mechanic, and even less often that they find a way to save you money. We had to drop $700 on the repair, but that’s $500 less than we were quoted elsewhere. If you ever get stranded in Minneapolis, drag your ride over to their shop!
With Odie beginning life anew, we headed to the uber-famous Mall Of America. They say some mall walkers here disappear into the vast commercial landscape, never to be seen again. Ooh, a roller coaster!
A few other sights recommended by Gilliane and/or Kristen: Minnehaha Falls Park
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (at the Walker Art Center). You know it, you love it… it’s Cherry on a Spoon! With Blue Chicken making a cameo appearance in the background.
Lake Calhoun. This is a great little spot to take a dip, as it’s just a few blocks off one of the hippest strips in the city — the Uptown/Lowery Hill area. The water felt great, and our safety was assured by a lifeguard on duty who was spending most of his time deflating the illegal blow-up water wings kids were using. WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?!
One last thing about Minneapolis: we don’t remember what establishment this was, but behold: the best-designed public bathroom fixtures in America. Soap on the left, water in the middle, hand dryer on the right. Immediately obvious as to how you should use them all. Even some extra soap on the side in case the employees don’t get around to refilling the dispenser. We’ve spent many a restroom trip tapping on things that should be push, or pushing on things that should be wave, or waving at things that should be pull… enough! Design it right!
Alright, we’re on to the first of our Great Lakes, starting with the greatest of all: Lake Superior. It’s the largest lake in the world by surface area, and is known for making its own weather. Like this, maybe?
Once the weather broke, we headed up the west side of the lake to Two Harbors, Minnesota, where we checked out Split Rock Lighthouse from both above and below:
At the end of our short but steep hike to the lake, we heard what sounded like a small child falling through the trees above. Turned out it was this seven-foot-wingspanned golden eagle, who took a spill right in front of us. Hailey’s nightmare, you say? Almost. Coming in from the other end of the trail in this video would be Hailey’s nightmare. And come on, anyone’s nightmare really.
Who wouldn’t need a slice of pie after that?? Betty’s Pies to the rescue, one of many recommendations from ex-pat Jamie Keeler.
A Superior Sandwich is something we just made up, and it’s two lighthouses with a slice of pie in the middle. So here’s the last part of the sandwich: Two Harbors Lighthouse. The pre-thunderstorm (yep, again) breeze here was fantastic.
At this point, we’re in Duluth, a cool little city at the hub of Lake Superior’s commercial activity. Highlights around Duluth:
Enger Park, containing Enger Tower and Enger Japanese Garden.
Give that peace bell a gong, will ya?
A not-so-healthy fox trying to get away with a not-so-alive snake:
Electric Fetus. You tell us.
And hey there ho there, we’ve crossed another border.
‘Scahnsin cheese curds, ‘Scahnsin beer, ‘Scahnsin ice cream… loosen up those belts! Rogue Trip stopped wearing belts a long time ago, for the record.
This cone from Bayfield’s Candy Shoppe got Mitch’s vote for most memorable ice cream of our trip: almond flavor with Pop Rocks. Chocolate peanut butter is the bottom scoop, of course… you wouldn’t build a house without a foundation, would you?
Bayfield is a small but bustling tourism destination, and the perfect place to spend a sunny July day. The Great Lakes have quite a few gems like these.
Mitch’s ice cream adventure notwithstanding, Bayfield was even more memorable for Hailey. Exhibit A: her first Junior Ranger badge, in the flesh!
Exhibit B: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE BEAR KIND.
Here’s your window into the odd couple script that often unfolds between Mitch and Hailey.
H: “I’m gonna go for a jog around the block.”
M: “Ok, I’m gonna work. I’ll park here so I can see you.”
(Sun goes down)
M: (wondering where H went)
H: (calls M on phone) “There’s a bear. There’s a bear in front of me.”
M: “Uhhhh… what? In town?”
H: “No I’m on a trail somewhere. What do I do?”
M: “Make yourself look big, talk calmly to it, and back away slowly. Where are you??”
H: “I’m gonna run.”
M: “DO NOT DO THAT. WHERE ARE YOU.”
Good times for everyone, eh? Hailey snapped the pic above before calling Mitch, and thankfully the black bear seemed disinterested in her.
Now, with hindsight, many of you might be tempted to see yourself as more of a Mitch in this case. Perhaps even more so when we tell you Hailey wanted to return to the trail the next morning to see if she could come across the bear again. But about a half-mile after Mitch agreed as reluctantly as he’s ever agreed to anything, we came across this: a cat.
To which Mitch exclaimed, “forget it. That’s enough for me. Take the bear spray, I’m going back to the van. Good luck.”
In our next blog post, we’ll confess our rather haphazard August route, which for several reasons spanned many states and is sure to cause even more confusion than our current “posting from the future” approach. Let’s just say for now that there was some time travel involved, allowing us to tell you here that we also saw Wisconsin’s only two big boy cities: Milwaukee and Madison.
Madison is of course the state capitol, as well as the main campus for the University Of Wisconsin. Lovely little college town with a peppering of business time. We kept up the trend of eating disgusting stuff our friends had recommended.
Milwaukee merely involved a brief moment of consumption, grabbing a beer and buying some funky sunglasses in the Third Ward district. Here’s a pleasant if predictable multi-use setup, with apartments and shops butting up against a marina and the Milwaukee River.
Of course, one can’t pilot a vehicle through the state of Wisconsin without going to the Cheese Castle. Unlike South Dakota’s Corn Palace, this regal structure is not made of food. But one can dream… one can certainly dream.
Ok, enough excitement for one state. On to Michigan!
There’s an entire chunk of Michigan most human beings never experience — a place disconnected from civilization, both from a geographic standpoint and an internet standpoint. It’s the Upper Peninsula, or U.P., or Yoop, and it could’ve easily been part of Wisconsin, or Ohio, or Canada, or become its own U.S. state. But here it is, in Michigan. Why not.
Because we’ve become horrible travelers at this point, what you see above is all you get of both Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands and Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshores. They’re very similar from afar — cavernous, colorful rock formations rubbing elbows with Lake Superior for who knows how long.
You really get the best of it by kayaking through the arches and caves… which we did not do because we had to get to internet access by Monday, and this data-deprived Sunday drive through the Yoop was going to take us nearly 8 hours. Plus, the itch to get out and explore was often tempered by sights like these… a spray painted sign informing you that this ramshackle building is indeed The Museum Of Darkness And Tunnel Of Doom.
The U.P. spits you out around Macinaw City — the base for ferry trips out to lovely Mackinac Island (same pronunciation, different spelling. Again, why not.) You can think of that island as perhaps a Martha’s Vineyard injected with a lot more nature. But hey, we wouldn’t know, because we didn’t have time for no ferry. We only had time for this Italian restaurant dubbed Nonna Lisa’s, the design for which could only have been drawn by a nine-year-old Ted Nugent on the back of a Cracker Barrel napkin.
Alright, let’s redeem ourselves a bit: Traverse City.
While you wouldn’t want to be near any part of Michigan during winter, we were shocked at how much we enjoyed Traverse City in July. It felt a bit mediterranean, with Lake Michigan bouncing a light blue into your eyeballs, the water warmer than anything our toes had touched all year, and a bunch of beachy nooks that let you choose how crowded you wanted to be. There’s even a lazy river meandering right inside the lake’s coast for boaters and kayakers to get a different seafaring experience. Lookin’ at a good summer life right here!
Despite being a vacation destination, the weekend warriors were just as friendly as the locals. This kid, perhaps a bit too friendly.
Aaaaand from another perspective:
Traverse City also hosts an annual Film Festival, which is… oh crap, it starts tonight! Awesome. Would you believe the first movie was Talking Heads’ seminal 1984 performance, Stop Making Sense? Well it was, and many people danced a joyous summer dance to it.
We whiffed on the past few national lakeshores, so there’s no way we’re gonna miss Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Just a few minutes from Traverse City, you’ll find these gargantuan sand dunes in the middle of the northern U.S., and climbing them is a calf-exploding task. Going down is more fun, and most folks employ one of two tactics:
1. The Frolic
2. The Frantic
All in all, the Traverse City area is one of Rogue Trip’s faves, albeit with the blaring caveat that you only go there in the summer.
Back on the road. Hey, you might be wondering — how’s Flint doing? That place with all the water problems that was already America’s poster child for post-industrial plight? Welp, we drove through it. Things actually looked better than we imagined. That’s all we got.
Ann Arbor was next — a college town for the great University Of Michigan. We walked into one of the buildings surrounding UM’s historic Law Quadrangle: the area of the university where they prime all the great attorneys we normal folk will grow to hate later.
Some noteworthy eating experiences in Ann Arbor:
Zingerman’s. Awesome deli/sandwich/other spot, very much in the style of a bustling italian food market but with a lot more coordination going on. It’s a must to eat here if you’re in the area; the Dr. Brown’s Celery Soda is certainly not part of that recommendation, but somehow Mitch keeps finding ways to gulp down that flavor. It’s possible he’s hiding a six-pack in the van.
Another fun food foray: Eric, a.k.a. the only guy Mitch follows on Twitter, a.k.a. “Internet Boyfriend” as Hailey calls him on account of the fact that Mitch and Eric have never met. Upon hearing that Mitch was planning to visit this guy’s house alone, she advised that he bring some mace along, in the event the dude turned out to be a nut job. Bah! He instead turned out to be an awesome cook, following a plate of backyard garden veggies with homemade jalapeno burgers and basement beer.
Hey, different strokes for different folks. Some of us will walk up to a bear for a picture, and some of us will eat dinner at an internet stranger’s house.
On to Detroit, and our latest Pit Stop with people we’ve actually met in person before. It’s Nick and Katie Pavlak (and Puppington) for #26!
Mitch met Nick and Katie in Cleveland, where they and a bunch of other enterprising chaps had converged to build startup companies. The couple now has a house in the D, and welcomed us in the Midwestern tradition that never gets old: BBQ! Literally awesome sauce.
Nick wanted to show us what a good time looked like in Detroit, and while it involved drinking more whiskey than we previously had through the entire trip combined, we can say in the hindsight of sobriety that he did indeed show us a good time.
The first stop on the bar hop was The Oakland Art Novelty Company, boasting huge wingback chairs and a drink Mitch had to assemble himself in a human skull mug, oozing smoke out onto the entire floor of the establishment. And then he digested it, naturally.
Continuing our jaunt down storied Woodward Ave, we played darts, talked about how dogs are the secret to the universe, and found out Nick is a master juggler. “I have juggling machetes back at my house right now!”, he exclaimed and motioned towards the exit, spilling his drink.
Here are some pictures from the following day, reassuring you that we didn’t leave the bar to juggle machetes.
Belle Isle Park:
Belle Isle is a large island owned by the U.S., forking the Detroit River and giving Americans a peek at our Canadian buddies in Windsor, Ontario (pictured above.) The park, like much of Detroit, has long passed its heyday, but was still an expansive, tranquil spot sandwiched between industrial lands.
Speaking of which, we know what you really want to see. Post-industrial decay, right? You guys are so predictable. You know, at some point, showing folks the gratuitous rust and ruin they want to see has to be more of a call to arms than a Jerry Springer-esque reassurance that other people are worse off than us. But, as long as the subject of the photo is a result of bad corporate management, we’re ok with it. Enjoy the Packard plant:
And that’s a wrap for Michigan! We’re off to… well, the next blog post will be our most befuddling to date. Just stay tuned. Or, as always, jump ahead to real-time with our Instagram feed. For now, ponder this: they say every time Michigan State Troopers pull someone over, their sirens get bigger.