All Things Lake Superior

There are plenty of commercial websites and publications about the Lake Superior region. But sometimes personal accounts, photos and tips are more interesting and entertaining. This is information provided by people enthusiastic about the lake and with no incentive to sell you anything. Now there is a website that has been created to lead you to just such a collection. The Lake Superior Waves website is a repository of personal, non-commercial resources about Lake Superior.

Need some examples?

  • Photography – there are numerous amateur photographers who share their Lake Superior area pictures on the web
  • Blogs – personal accounts that focus on our beloved lake, ranging from weather to outdoor activities
  • History and Information – educational resources on various lake themes

In addition, the site is searchable. So if you have an interest in cycling, a search on this site will render results for cycling out of all the material linked to the site. And by definition, it will be information on cycling in the Lake Superior area.

If you have a blog, website, photos or other material that would fit this category, there is a form to submit to be included on the site. The more material included, the richer this site will be.

My SuperiorFootprints blog is included. But then – truth be told – the site was created by my husband. We’re both Lake Superior lovers. With this site he hopes to create a growing repository to appeal to like-minded lake enthusiasts.

Check it out!  Lakes Superior Waves

Bicycle Maintenance 101

It started with a squeaky chain. My bike is still new, so it should purr and whir not rattle and clank, right? But I admit that I’ve been neglecting it. I knew virtually noting about bicycle maintenance. But I wanted to take care of my bike, so I returned to Erik’s Bike Shop where I bought it and was entitled to minor adjustments. It didn’t take them long to confirm that my chain was indeed dry and in need of lubricating. Nor did it escape them how dirty my bike was, and how low my tires were. My negligence was pretty obvious. I admitted not only my lack of care but also my desire to learn and improve. While they graciously restored my bike to its former glory, I received kindly advice and patient answers to my questions.

I’d already been thinking about taking a class in bicycle maintenence. Finding out that Erik’s offered such classes sealed it. I immediately signed up for the Novice Class. This past week I devoted my Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to this endeavor, and it was just what I needed.

My bike ready for maintenance

Although the class held up to ten students, there were only five of us, which made for a great ratio with the two instructors. We brought our own bikes to work on, and each had our own bike stand, work bench and extensive set of tools. Not only were we taught for the advertised 6 hours of class, but the instructors made themselves available before and after each class for as long as we liked. I’m sure I availed myself of at least 8 hours.

Since I’m not exactly handy with tools and mechanics, I had no illusions about coming out of the class able to do my own repairs. My goal was to understand the major components of my bike, how they worked, and just what the issue might be if something went wrong with it. That and how to repair a flat – while I’d been lucky to date, I knew the day would come when I found myself in trouble out on a bike ride far from home. Due to the diligence and patience of the instructors, I exceeded my objectives. We covered basic bike cleaning and daily maintenance, tubes and tires, wheel truing, chains, deraillers and brakes. I got advice on types of biking shoes and pedals, and an adjustment on my seat height. I changed my front tire three times… admittedly it took that many times to get it right, but all in the name of good practice. I confess to getting somewhat lost in the intricacies of the two derailler systems, but I did glean enough to make a necessary adjustment to the limit screws at home this weekend. What a coup that was!

Even though my husband is capable of making most of the repairs we might need on our upcoming Trans-Superior Bike Tour, I feel a lot better knowing I am more self-sufficient than before. And truth be told, when he was frustrated by having multiple flat tires this past week, I was able to give him some good advice on his repair process. And it worked!

A Not-Quite Century Ride

My friend has been a cyclist for ages. Now that I have taken up cycling, we've been talking all summer about going for a ride together, and today we finally made it happen. Our first hurdle was the start time. She informed me that my proposed time of 6:30am was the middle of the night. I retorted that her 9:00am suggestion was the middle of the day. We compromised on 7:30.

We chose to ride on the Munger Trail. Since the start of the trail was closed due to the flood damage, we drove to Carlton to start there. Numerous times I tried to pin her down on the distance. She was interested in a long ride, but I didn't know what that meant in the context of her cycling experience. So we set off and decided to just see how it went.

Munger Trail

While the start of the Munger Trail climbs out of Duluth, by Carlton it flattens out. We cycled for miles and miles in a long, straight, flat and smooth trajectory. There were few other cyclists on the trail, making it easy to ride side by side and talk the whole way. We have never been known to run out of material to talk about and today was no exception. And as we talked, the miles flew by. It turned out that our paces were perfectly matched, and we were loving the beautiful sunny day which was perfect for flying down the trail.

As the miles mounted, so did our ambition. It was an out and back ride, so we had to judge when we felt we'd gone half way and turn around. That's always tricky – how do you know when you are half spent? Should we set a max, I suggested? Nah, let's just go a little further. There's one hilly spot that's fun to ride – let's not stop before that. As the 40 mile mark loomed, a bigger question presented itself… Should we make this a Century Ride? It suddenly became soooo tempting!

Now I am rarely the one to hesitate when it comes to a challenge. But I have to own up to being the voice of reason this time. It was hot, we'd gotten a late start (!), and I had a husband expecting me back before dinner. So pledging to return for the full century ride soon, we did an about face at around 41 miles. It did give us time to take in a town festival at Willow River, and make the requisite stop at the Dairy Queen in Moose Lake. And neither of us complained when we reached the car at the end of 83 miles.

But next time we won't let that century mark elude us. Even if we have to start earlier to make it.

Dividing Mom’s treasures

We just weren’t ready to do it right after the funeral.  We knew we’d have to divide up Mom’s worldly goods among us four children, but emotions were high and the loss was too recent to do it then.  There were plenty of other arrangements to make, practical matters to attend to, and a house to sell.  We put it off until later.

Nobody really wanted to face the task.  There was too much at risk, and family relationships at stake if it did not go well.  But with two siblings coming from far reaches of the country at the same time this summer, we all knew it was inevitable.

I mentally set aside three days for the task.  Being the family organizer, I set the meeting time for the first day at 9:00am with dire warnings not to be late.  “Do we really need to start so early?” my sister asked.  “How long do you think this will take?”  How I wanted to share in her optimism!  I generously allowed everyone an extra half hour in the morning, but we didn’t have any spare days.

We had family heirlooms handed down through multiple generations, and favorite items that meant a lot to each of us.  All of it was treasured, used and cared for lovingly by our parents.  And memories were wrapped around everything.  How ever could we respectfully divide these things among us?  But time is a great healer.  The tempers that flared in the aftermath of losing Mom had mellowed and been replaced by a generous spirit.  “I want” became “who would like this?” and “I think you should have it.”  Even the few items with the strongest contention were ultimately resolved gracefully.

While it was a herculean job, and the hours of identifying, hunting, sorting and deciding were tiring, we also managed to have fun.  We were easily sidetracked, lured off task by the items we discovered that led to stories, questions and often a lot of laughs.  There were things whose purpose totally escaped us.  We learned some new terms – nappie, compote, candlewick, fretted.  We delved into old books, and sifted through memorable record albums (yes, the old vinyl variety).  We played with the wind-up toys we’d given Mom over the years.

We did manage to get through all the main stuff.  And best of all, nearly everything of importance found a new home.  Just knowing that the family treasures were staying in the family made me happy.  My oldest sister walked away with her “take” in one shopping bag.  My brother will have to come back with a U-Haul.  A big one.  My kids will have some furniture to flesh out a new apartment, china and silver to remind them of Grandma’s love for entertaining.

Everyone is happy with their selections and we’re all still talking to each other.  Mom would be proud of us.

Cycle Touring

I admit I tend to be a bit hard core. Put a goal out in front of me and I develop tunnel vision.  It becomes a mission.  I push to the max to reach that target or higher.

Preparing for our Trans-Superior Cycling Tour has been a bit like that. I’d never done long distance cycling before, but as soon as the snow melted I was out there training day after day, increasing my distances in rapid succession. Just like in marathon training, I like to press on. Mile after mile, no stops.

So when my husband, Rich, and I set out for a bike ride this weekend, I found my style challenged. Why does he keep stopping, I kept asking myself? Time for a photograph. Time for water. Time to take in a nice view. Time to slow down and look around while we cycle. Harumph – let’s get going!

We had selected a new route that would take us over roads we’d never traveled before. It’s always nice to see new territory, and we had a gorgeous sunny day on which to do so. We cycled inland from Two Harbors and around to Beaver Bay surrounded by beautiful farms and forest. Road surfaces were good, and the lack of cars made any lack of shoulder a non-issue. Not even the eight miles of unexpected dirt road in the middle could spoil the route. If only we could just keeping going. But I was informed in no uncertain terms that on our upcoming cycling trip, Rich had every intention of sightseeing and stopping along the way. Just get used to it.

Upon our arrival in Beaver Bay, Rich headed straight for The Big Dipper. Ice cream in the middle of the morning? Didn’t seem too outrageous to me – weren’t we cycling 50 miles on a hot day? The smoothies on the menu instantly appealed to us, and they were the best tasting ever! Hmmm, I began to feel my attitude shifting slightly. Perhaps this stopping thing had some merit? The remaining miles took us down the North Shore, largely on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail which kept us blissfully separate from the car traffic. Lake Superior was at its best, brilliant blue and sparkling in the sunshine. It was a glorious sight and eased my resistance to this new leisurely pace. Silver Cliffs provided a terrific view, and yes, we stopped, got off our bikes and took pictures. I even took the time to read the information boards. And enjoyed it.

I think I get it. The Tour in Trans-Superior Cycling Tour. I hope the scenery is good.

Trans-Superior Cycling Tour Update

It’s just one month away! After all these months of planning and training, we are in the final countdown to the Trans-Superior Cycling Tour. Mentally, I’m ready – I’d be happy if we were leaving tomorrow. Well, except for the packing. I haven’t even started that list yet. The trick there will be what not to bring, as we have only 2 paniers each to fill for 9 days’ worth of travel. But since we are not camping, we need only fit in our clothes and a few personal items. Simple enough, right?

I’m feeling good about my preparations so far. I’ve logged over 2,000 miles of cycling this year. I cycle nearly every day of the week (okay, I still consider myself a runner and can’t resist running now and then). I’ve done a number of 50+ mile distance rides, and have been out in cold and rain as well as hot humid weather.

As far as logistics go, our itinerary is set and we have made all of our lodging reservations. We did discover one important detail – the ferries between Isle Royale and Grand Portage only run on certain days of the week. So we had to shift our start date by one day in order to make it work. It pays to do one’s homework on these things. There is no wiggle room on this trip – hotel rooms and ferries are not flexible! We’re in for the distance each day, no matter what the conditions.

So, what’s next? I think it’s time to attach and fill my paniers to get used to riding with the extra weight on my back wheel. That will be entirely new to me. And I have signed up for a bicycle maintenance class at Erik’s bike shop. This week I will spend two evenings in the Novice Class working on my own bike learning to do basic repairs. I figured it was time I learned more about my bike and how to take care of it. Not to mention recovering from the inevitable breakdown on one of my rides.

The only thing remaining between now and our trip is time. And more training miles!

Life Comes Full Circle

All families have their own way of doing things.  It needn’t be formal traditions, simply the everyday activities, customs and favorite pastimes that make up the uniqueness of family life.  We are no exception.  But when we were raising our young family, little did we realize how those customs would become embedded in the lives of our children, and that we were laying the groundwork for future generations.

Now that we have grandchildren, we are seeing our children delight in revitalizing those family activities.  Suddenly, old toys take on new lives, perhaps enjoyed the most by their original owners the second time around.  The huge bubble maker came out again recently.  It still works as well as it did before, and brings the same smiles.

Each of our children had a “playak” at the cabin.  They provided hours of fun, going beyond a simple floating boat to becoming pirate ships and swimming platforms.  For now, they have been renamed “yellow boat.”

Birthdays meant picking a theme for the party, and then creating a shape cake to complement the decorations.  We had great fun planning and decorating them together.  Not only has my daughter carried on that custom, but has shown great prowess in her designs!

I think one of my favorites is a true tradition.  When my father was baptized, someone hand made his baptismal gown, complete with tucks, lace and a matching under garment.  I and my sisters all wore the gown, as did all of my children.  98 years later, it is now on its fourth generation.

What a joy to watch the great circle of life, and see just what family customs have been treasured enough to repeat.

Experiencing Habitat for Humanity

It was my first time volunteering to help build a house. I know nothing about construction, but I was warmly welcomed and put to work. In this case, the project was nearing completion – after only 8 “volunteer weeks” the house was ready for indoor finishing work. I spent two and a half days wielding a paint brush, coating countless feet of trim and interior doors with coat after coat of semi-gloss paint. It was not exactly challenging, but it was work that needed to be done and it was a task that felt safe and comfortable for me. On my final afternoon, however, that changed. Without doubting my capabilities, the site supervisor assigned me and a young partner to trim the doorways. In no time, we were measuring, cutting, mitering corners and hefting powerful nail guns powered by compressed air. What looked so simple when he demonstrated for us took a lot more thinking on our parts, but we mastered it! And the result was not bad. I may have felt timid at first, but the resulting sense of accomplishment was the highlight of my tenure on that project.

But I gained a whole lot more than that out of the experience. I learned that Habitat for Humanity is as much about the humanity as the habitat. Like most people, I did not really know how the organization operated. It’s not just building affordable houses, it’s setting up new homeowners to succeed. Habitat families must put in 300-500 hours of sweat equity, helping build their own home and other Habitat houses. They must meet specific income requirements, and qualify for their mortgage. They attend classes on managing their finances and home maintenance. It put the homes in a whole new perspective.

But there was another side of the humanity. Working alongside other volunteers, I met people from a variety of backgrounds. We were encouraged to talk, take breaks and eat lunch together. Each day I partnered with different individuals, learning more about them through the course of our work day and I was inspired by their stories. I worked alongside a young woman who was just diagnosed with MS. Despite dealing with the side effects of her new medications and the lurking uncertainty over her future health, she worked tirelessly and eagerly. A young architecture student was putting in 8 weeks at Habitat this summer, gaining practical knowledge for her future profession. Retired folks were there for the entire week, some lending expertise from their former careers. One of them put in over 60 days on Habitat houses last year. One man took a day of vacation from his job to work with us. A Hmong brother and sister, college students, chipped in for a day. We were a motley crew, but made to feel appreciated.

I wonder what I’ll learn next time?

Nature Lessons

Being at the cabin is not like home.  There is so much more to experience, particularly outdoors.  This past week we were able to indulge our love of nature in many different ways.

Watching the loons and hearing their hauntingly beautiful cry was one of them. Seeing baby loons in early summer is always a treat. Looking for the bald eagles is a favorite. Going over to inspect the eagles’ nest in the next section of the lake is a ritual. Over the years we have watched numerous baby eagles peering over the edge of the enormous nest, and seen some of their earliest flights. Sadly, this year the tree that was home to their nest has finally succumbed to its awkward angle and fallen into the lake. But fortunately, they are not the only nesting pair on this lake. One evening, I saw an eagle in the distance swoop down and catch a fish. He brought it to a tree not far away from where I was kayaking, and I was able to get close enough to watch him devour his meal.

This cabin week we were treated to one of the sunniest and warmest ever. Every morning but one, as I gradually gained consciousness I could peer out our bedroom window to see the sun coming up over the glassy calm lake. Sometimes I caught a beautiful red sunrise. The sunsets were equally spectacular, particularly when I had enough energy left at the end of the day to kayak out to see it from a better vantage point.

On one of our bike rides around the area, my husband and I cycled through a swarm of butterflies!  Shortly after we turned onto a little used road, there were thousands of Red Admiral butterflies perched on and along the side of the road.  Most of them were lined up just to the right of the white line.  As we approached, each one took flight until they filled the air around us and occasionally careened into us.  It went on for well over a mile, and then ended as abruptly as it began.

It’s the nature of a cabin to bring the outdoors into close proximity.  And we love the first-hand lessons that come along with it.

Cabin Time

At the beginning of the week the days stretch out luxuriously. The vacation seems endless and each day feels like there is ample time for everything. Plenty of opportunity to swim, go fishing, take out the kayak, go for boat rides, play yard games, and sit on the dock reading and soaking up the sun. But as soon as midweek arrives, time speeds up. The days feel shorter, and there is an increasing urgency to fit everything in. Even though by definition there is no “to do list” at the cabin, there is still the litany of favorite activities that define time at the cabin. And we wouldn’t want to miss out on any of them.

The cabin is timeless. The things we enjoyed years ago are still the things we come back for year after year. The undeveloped nature of the lake, the wildlife, the feeling of remoteness are all key ingredients. Our self-powered boats often get more use than our motorboat, and our original little fishing boat still has its appeal. When the lake feels inhospitably cold, a hot sauna will coax anyone into the water. Evening bonfires, hanging out in the hammock, reading books and watching sunsets never change over time.

Time seems to stand still at the cabin. We occasionally pick up the morning paper, but the outside world encroaches little on our slice of paradise. The important focuses are the weather forecast and the latest local news gleaned from the regulars at the bait shop. And some might add the Fishing Hall of Fame board posting the latest catches – large and small.

At the cabin we live by sun time. Life is simple and there is no reason to make elaborate plans or live by the clock. My watch (yes, I’m of the age that I still wear one) stays at home. We don’t set alarms. The exact time doesn’t really matter. In summer we easily slip into a later dinner hour, savoring the long days, reluctant to stop to eat while there is lingering sunshine. In winter the evening meal comes sooner, as darkness defines an earlier end to the day.

The cabin is made for family time. There is no better place for it. Sharing unstructured, stress-free time and playing in the outdoors allows plenty of opportunity to build lasting memories. Our children have grown up coming to the cabin, and have now begun making cabin trips on their own as well as with us. And we’ve now added a third generation to the cabin family. What a joy to spend extended time together with them at our special place.

All too soon, however, it is time to go home. What seemed endless at first did in fact have an end date. Packing up and loading the car while the sunshine and the lake beckon feels like torture. But we all cling to the knowledge that we will be back. And we can’t wait for next time.