A Visiting Loon

It's one of my favorite things at the cabin – seeing loons and hearing their plaintive cry. Sometimes I can get fairly close to them when out in the kayak. But ultimately they always dive and swim away, surfacing far off in any direction. So imagine my surprise this morning when we saw a loon paddling languidly at the end of our dock.

Knowing how skittish they are, I set up my camera and monopod on the deck of the cabin. I was afraid that getting any closer was likely to drive him away. But after snapping a multitude of photos, I ventured halfway down to the lake, and eventually right onto the dock. Still Mr. Loon lingered. Swimming slowly back and forth, he seemed to accept our presence, even when Katie and Erik joined me. He wasn't fazed by us in the slightest.

Eventually the loon swam away. But he left us knowing we'd seen something special. Thanks for the visit, Mr. Loon!


What Summer?

This post was inevitable.  There is only so long I can be a good sport about the lack of warmth and sunshine on this side of Lake Superior before I too succumb to whining about it.  I think my outdoor thermometer is permanently stuck on 46 degrees.  That’s what it says every morning.  Without fail.  And we’re lucky if it climbs past the mid-50s during the day.  Sigh.  We love you, Lake Superior, but even now that the ice has melted your frigid waters continue to have an ice box effect on what used to be summer.

I may have to stop listening to Minnesota Public Radio.  The weather forecasts are just too depressing.  I begin to get hopeful when I hear the temperatures climbing into the 70s and 80s, only to have my hopes dashed when the inevitable “cooler by the lake” phrase creeps in.

Not only is Lake Superior thwarting our attempt at summer, it has disappeared.  The cold water continually spawns thick fog which blankets the lake and creeps into town, rendering Lake Superior invisible even when standing on the shore.  Our recent cyclist guests were convinced the lake was a myth – after all, they couldn’t see it.  Duluth was no more appealing to them than any other Midwestern town.

Our CabinFortunately, we have an escape.  Our cabin Up North.  Despite being closer to the Canadian border, the secret is that it is inland, 100 miles away from Lake Superior.  Far from the reaches of that cold, cold water.

When we lived in the Twin Cities, I always thought there was something backwards about going to a cabin where the weather was always cooler than home.  Spending time on the lake was wonderful, and it was the best retreat ever, but it was always on the chilly side.  Now that we have moved to Duluth, it appears that nature has righted itself.  A trip to the cabin now means summer and warm weather.  Thankfully.  I can’t wait to get there for our annual 4th of July week with the family – for many reasons, weather included.

IMG_0862We had a wonderful time there over Memorial Day.  It was hot and sunny, and we played with the grandkids in the water on the beach.  It really felt like summer, including the nights that were too warm to allow a good night’s sleep, even with fans.  The only blemish on that weekend were the plumbing problems we encountered.  Lest you think this is an unrelated side track, wait until you hear the cause.  Just yesterday, June 26, we hired a plumber to come out to fix the problem.  Which he did.  By thawing the ice that was plugging the pipes underground!

It’s no wonder I fear that summer is going to pass us by this year.

Tri Training – Doing Doubles

lifetimetri-sq-logoIt’s just over two weeks until my first triathlon.  I am such a novice at this, and I am making up my own training plan as I go.  If you can even call it a plan.  But I kind of like it that way.  I’m not out to break any records, I just want to feel good in each leg of the race, stay safe and finish.

So far my training has consisted of making sure I get in ample amounts of swimming, cycling and running.  One at a time.  I have no problem over-achieving on the distances for each sport.  But this is a 3-sport race.  That’s a whole lot different.

So now I’m into doing doubles.  Apparently in triathlon lingo this is called a “brick.”  The logic of that name escapes me.  I’ve been cycling to the swimming pool, doing my laps then taking a long bike ride.  Granted, there’s quite a gap while I navigate the locker room, get back to my locked bike in the parking ramp and head out again.  But at least there is some semblance of a 2-sport combo.  Doing a bike/run sequence is better.  My changeover in the garage is more race-like, but I’m not very speedy.  Even so, I get the idea.  Legs really don’t want to stride after circular pedaling.  They wobble perceptively and I feel like I’m going nowhere.  But miraculously, things seem to straighten out after the first 1/2 mile.  Once the runner in me takes over, I don’t even feel the bike ride.  I think I may be making some progress.

That still leaves the open swim factor.  All my swimming miles have been in a pool, and I know the smooth water, designated lane with a line on the bottom and stealing a rest at the turns are a far cry from swimming in a lake.  That has me worried.  I’m hoping to remedy that next week, swimming in our lake at the cabin.  If I can stand the cold water, that is.  This darn cold summer just isn’t helping matters.

Having gotten this close to the race, I decided it was time to figure out just how one does a triathlon.  There is a plethora of material on the internet on the subject, and my head is already spinning from all the advice.  The lists of things to bring and the tips for transitions are enough to scare me away.  Until I remember my goal – feel good, stay safe and finish.  My transitions may be inefficient, but all that matters is that I get from one sport to the next.  Right?swimbikerunThis really is a whole lot more complicated than running a marathon.  Maybe next I’ll have to move things up a notch, and try a triple.


To Give is to Receive

Ever since joining WarmShowers, we have been on the receiving end of innumerable heart warming personal experiences. The organization exists to facilitate long distance cyclists who host other traveling cyclists.  So when others welcomed us into their homes throughout our previous cycling tours, we were overwhelmed by their extraordinary hospitality and the friendships that ensued.

But opening up our home to cyclists has proven to be equally rewarding.  When that hosting request comes in we never know the full story of those cycling through Duluth.  Reading their profiles gives us a little background.  But it isn’t until they arrive and the cyclists’ stories unfold that we truly begin to understand the personal stories behind our guests.  And it’s not always about the cycling.

This weekend we had the privilege of hosting Derek.  We knew from his website that he had terminal cancer and that in the face of that news he chose to fulfill a life-long dream of cycling around the world.  But that didn’t begin to prepare us for the enriching experience of sharing four days with Derek.

IMG_4765 trimmedDespite a house already bulging with kids and noisy grandkids who came for Grandma’s Marathon, Derek slipped right in and joined the festivities.  When we learned that it was also his birthday, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to celebrate the occasion with a bicycle-topped cake.  But it was in the quieter moments that we gradually got to know Derek.

The doctors IMG_4766 trimedhad given him 12 months to live, but Derek has already spent 19 months on his world cycling tour.  As it turns out, this is only his most recent bout with cancer, having faced it at least twice before and losing his wife to breast cancer.  Despite having traveled 4 continents and 44 countries to date, including some hair raising experiences in Asia, he admitted to slowing down, knowing he can’t do as much as he could when he started and needing more rest days.  Given that knowledge along with enjoying his company, we heartily encouraged him to prolong his stay with us.

Derek’s purpose in his trip is to inspire others.  In the face of devastating news, he didn’t accept defeat and wait for the cancer to overtake him.  He plans to fight it right to the end.  To help spread the word, Fox 21 News came out to interview Derek, featuring his story on the evening news and on their website.  It didn’t take a newscast to convince us, however.  In his quiet way, Derek exuded a confidence and determination that was impossible to ignore.

IMG_4784During Derek’s stay, another cyclist joined us.  Bala is soon to be a high school junior and is cycling from his home in Ohio to California this summer.  The picture of youth, yet with the plans and determination beyond his years, Bala embodies all that is good about young people. His trip blog is aptly named “Hey Mom, can I ride my bike to California?”

Since the two cyclists were traveling in opposite directions, it was the perfect opportunity to trade notes on the routes they covered to reach Duluth.  And we enjoyed eavesdropping when they shared anecdotes about stealth camping, eating on the cheap and other aspects of seasoned cycle touring.  It was easy to slip into the camaraderie of long distance cyclists, sharing a passion.

The house seems strangely quiet now, with our guests cycling on to their next destination.  But we are richer for getting to know them.  We thought hosting other cyclists was providing a service.  Instead, we have been truly blessed by those passing through our lives on two wheels.

Tending the Light

We knew that Crisp Point Lighthouse was remote yet charming, but nothing prepared us for the beautiful sight that greeted us upon our arrival. Not only was the tower in good repair – having been brought back from the brink of endangerment in 1997 – but it’s supporters have rebuilt it’s service building, constructed a visitor center and landscaped the area with boardwalks and plantings to protect the dunes. It’s truly a testament to a dedicated group of individuals in the Crisp Point Light Historical Society. Along with a thorough orientation by the volunteers who preceded us on site, we knew we were off to a good start for our 5-day stint as lighthouse hosts.
wpid-Photo-20140618171941.jpgWe have easily settled into our job of manning the visitor center. There we are surrounded by an impressive array of lighthouse souvenirs to sell, along with displays of historical items. It is easy to linger and read the various pieces of literature in our downtime, absorbing more lighthouse history. With plenty of slow periods, we can easily take turns minding the shop and wandering the grounds.Greeting visitors is the best part of our duties. At times the whole parking lot is full, and at others we have a slow flow of customers who dribble in one vehicle at a time. Some even come by dirt bike or ATV. But they are all unique and come for different reasons. For those new to the lighthouse, just surviving the road to reach it feels like an achievement, but invariably worth it. And there are those who have been coming for years. They have great stories to tell, having seen the place before it’s recent improvements. Or when they could walk the beach in front of the lighthouse – land which has since been reclaimed by Lake Superior. We even met a man who once spent hours in the cold October Lake Superior waters to help build barriers to protect the lighthouse – all done by hand. And then there are the avid lighthouse collectors, on a quest to visit as many lighthouses as possible. Finally, those who come for a different reason entirely – rock hunting on the beach. All have something to share, enriching our own experience while on duty.
Outside our lighthouse obligations our life is pretty simple here. We have a campsite in a tidy enclosure, surrounded by the sturdy boardwalks leading to the lighthouse, beach and viewing areas. It has everything we need – a grill, fire ring, picnic table and soft sand under our tent for comfortable sleeping.

The longer we are here, the easier it is to surrender to this existence. Our world is small, but the beaches and the horizon stretch forever. Our options are limited, but I have little need for much besides a good book to read. Our technology is rendered useless, but I don’t really miss it. In fact, it’s quite liberating not being a slave to the internet.We were lucky to see this beautiful rainbow!This place is a photographer’s dream. At this time of year we can see both sunrises and sunsets, with the lighthouse adding a dramatic setting. Even I tend to carry my camera around wherever I go. Somehow the lighthouse takes on a different appearance throughout the day, and we never tire of looking for new angles or shots to take. Theoretically we have pure dark for vivid stars and night skies, although the clouds have not obliged on that front. But a short cloudburst this evening delivered a stunning rainbow – an unexpected gift.

Being able to go up in the lighthouse tower is a treat, particularly in the off- hours. From there we can survey our surroundings, seeing it from a new vantage point. A perk of the job. And the visitor center has proven to be a godsend. Numerous times we have sought shelter there, whether it be from the wind, the rain or the ravenous mosquitoes. A haven for hassled campers.

Rich out on the catwalk at the top of the lighthouseYes, it’s a good gig we have here. Definitely worth repeating. We’ll be back again next year to tend the light.

Crisp Point’s Many Faces

In the four days we've been at Crisp Point Lighthouse so far, this coastline of Lake Superior has served up a varied selection of weather. While tent camping here we are naturally tied to the elements, and all that Mother Nature brings our way. So far, she continues to entertain us with her many moods.

We arrived on a foggy, misty and brooding morning. The wind was howling, blowing off the lake and seemed to strip away every ounce of warmth I could muster. I spent that day shivering, piling on layers of clothes I'd packed for just such circumstances, including my winter jacket. But I did wonder how I'd survive five days huddled in those same layers.

Despite the conditions, the lighthouse grounds fascinated us. The tower stood tall against the elements, claiming its place as safeguard for the coast. Even when the skies cleared, the waves continued to crash furiously against the shore providing an angry display of power, and a constant sound that lulled us to sleep that night.

The wind abated on our second day, and left mosquitoes in swarming its wake. Not everything can be perfect here, and these pests let us know it. I'm usually fairly tolerant, but I've never seen such hungry hoards before. It was enough to drive me to wear a dorky hat smothered in bug spray or seek refuge in the visitors center. At night they swarmed between our inner screen tent and rain fly in noisy frustration at being unable to reach us for their next meal. Only then did we feel we had won the battle, temporarily.

Yesterday afternoon a storm appeared to be brewing. Fortunately, it didn't materialize but it did bring huge gusts of wind that persisted for the remainder of the day. Our tent blew over three times before we finally gave up and collapsed it, anchoring it with rocks. And our screen tent pulled up its stakes and blew right off Rich who was sitting in it at the time. Sleep was hard to come by that night as the tent pulsated in the wind, the sides alternately collapsing in toward us and flapping away. I'm sure it was only our bodies that anchored it to the ground.

Today, in contrast, it's hot and sunny. The light wind is out of the south and the lake calmly laps the beach. We can see out into the water, with it's varying colors. It's a perfect day for walking the beach, which seems to be a bigger attraction to our visitors than the lighthouse today. I'm happy to sit by the water's edge and read in between the slow flow of guests.

My favorite times of the day are morning and evening. We have the place to ourselves then, a powerful feeling of good fortune to be surrounded by this natural beauty. Mornings are magical. Emerging from the tent in time to catch the sunrise leaves hours to enjoy the golden colors of the low sun as the shoreline awakens. It's peaceful, quiet and different every day.

Sunset comes late here. And we've had some beauties. By the time the light fades, I'm already thinking about a campfire – a camping requirement, in my opinion. Once the fire is established and roaring, I love watching the glow of the red-hot coals underneath. To add to the allure, the crackling of the fire is accompanied by the rhythmic flow of the waves on the beach in close proximity. The other night I could see a distinct line of red in the distance marking the sun's departure over the horizon, and the rhythmic repetition of the lighthouse's signal light. A pleasing combination.

Tomorrow is guaranteed to be different from today. I'm looking forward to what Crisp Point will deliver for us.



Lighthouse Keeping

For the second time this year, we are setting out on a working vacation, retirement style. The deal involves trading volunteer hours for lodging in a unique setting. Last winter we worked at Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado. This time our destination is Crisp Point Lighthouse in Michigan’s UP near Whitefish Bay.

This lighthouse is one of five positioned between Grand Island and Whitefish Point. It’s only a distance of about 50 miles, but Lake Superior claimed numerous ships in this stretch in the 1800s, leading to its moniker as “The Shipwreck Coast.” Pressure to build lighthouses began in the 1850s but it was 1904 before Crisp Point finally received funding and became operational. It remained in service until 1993. After nearly falling into disrepair with Lake Superior encroaching on its shoreline and lapping at its base, the lighthouse was saved by some enterprising folks who ultimately founded the Crisp Point Light Historical Society. That group has done extensive restoration and preservation work, ensuring the survival of the lighthouse for future generations to enjoy.

Lighthouse and attached service building, years ago

Crisp Point Lighthouse is said to be a beauty. Its remoteness enhances the appeal of the site, with Lake Superior’s unspoiled shoreline providing a dramatic backdrop. Only the lighthouse remains of the multiple buildings that comprised the orginal complex. The attached service building was recently rebuilt, and a new visitor center resembles the old fog signal structure.

Our gig is to man the visitor center and keep the buildings and grounds clean. We are expected to greet visitors and open the tower and gift shop from 10-5. Our instructions tell us we must “maintain the high standards of friendliness, neatness and cleanliness” in carrying out our duties. Just how many guests we will entertain is uncertain. Given that the lighthouse is located at the end of an 18-mile dirt road in an already sparsely populated area, it is not a sight to attract casual tourists. But the true lighthouse affectionados will find their way there.

Our accomodations on site will be a rustic campsite perched on the edge of Lake Superior. Devoid of running water, electricity and other amenities including cell reception, we will have to be self-sufficient for our 5-day stint. While it’s not required to stay overnight on the lighthouse grounds, to us that is the whole appeal. We even upsized to a 3-man pup tent for more elbow room, a luxury of car camping. Having our own slice of Lake Superior shoreline, sitting by a crackling campfire, reveling in the super dark night skies and the ever-hopeful possibility of Northern Lights are the draw for us.

We should arrive at Crisp Point tomorrow morning about 8:00, in time to talk to the volunteers who are preceding us and get some pointers before assuming our duties at 10am. After that we will be out there on our own with little connection to the outside world, just like lighthouse keepers of old. Check back with us in about a week to see if we find ourselves fit for the job.



Finding Family in St. Louis

Hailing from 3 widely flung states, I only manage to get together with my siblings – two sisters and a brother – about once a year. Normally it's a family reunion in Minnesota. But this summer the occasion of a family wedding has brought us all to St. Louis for an extended weekend.

With the Laumeier Sculpture Park nearby, it was a natural destination for a walk with my sisters yesterday morning. The park has beautiful grounds and, well, “interesting” sculptures. We failed to see the art in some of them, and could only laugh at the creative descriptions of others. But it made for an entertaining and humorous walk.

The signature sculpture in the park is made of huge steel barrels. It's quite eye-catching due to its huge size and brilliant color. We enjoyed wandering around its base, inspecting it at close range.


I rather liked this piece. It even looks like a sculpture. From afar it resembles children dancing or animals swimming. Yet on closer inspection it is largely abstract. The sense movement is obvious, though, and inspired Betsy and me to add our own interpretation to the piece.



Susie found her own niche in another sculpture. This one features a pumpkin face in the center of a small amphitheater. She found the nose to be particularly comfy.



But perhaps the best of all was the Tree Womb. It even invited visitors to come on up and enter its lofty space. So we did. There was a wooden floor inside and several windows. It would make a great place to camp out, although I rather suspect park officials would frown on that.



Today we went to the St. Louis Zoo with more family members. It's an amazing place with extensive animal exhibits, and all free to the public. There's nothing like a zoo to bring out the kid in all of us, including this all-adult group. I loved the big cats with their powerful lean bodies and beautiful colors. But it was the baby animals that captured our hearts.

No family gathering would be complete without sampling the local ice cream. We visited the liveliest place in town, Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. The place was packed, with throngs of people out front. But service was quick and the frozen custard worthy of the crowd. A most fitting way to bond with family members.

There is a lot to be said for reconnecting with extended family. I forget how much we laugh when we are together, and how good that feels. This trip has the added bonus of bringing us back together with our cousins and getting to know their children as adults. It reinforces how much much family means to me, and how fortunate I am to be related to these wonderful people. I'm so very glad I made this trip to St. Louis. With family.



Should I Tri?

I’ve been asking myself that question for several years now.   Having added cycling to my arsenal of sports activities, which already included swimming and running, I just couldn’t ignore the idea that I should do a triathlon.

Molly diving in poolMost people fear the swimming portion the most.  But in my case, that was my first entry into distance sports.  It goes way back to the days of a country club swimming pool, being a little squirt on the swim team, and spending years doing laps to get my 100 mile trophy.  When I put on the Freshman 10 (or so) in college, I turned to swimming to slim down again.  And I’ve kept it up ever since.  So in theory, I have that bit licked, as I regularly swim IMG_59661 3/4 miles for my workout.  But those are laps in the pool.  A whole lot different from open water swimming in a lake surrounded by a lot of flailing arms and legs.  Hmmm.

On to running.  I took that up when the kids were little and I could squeeze in a run on my lunch hour without giving up family time.  Naturally 10Ks quickly led to a half-marathon, and on to marathons.  Running has become my primary sport.  So I’m not at all worried about that.IMG_1482 trimmed

That leaves cycling.  Since taking up cycle touring a couple of years ago, I have logged many a mile on my bike.  And on our trips I tote 26 pounds or more of gear for days (sometimes months) on end.  Yeah, I can manage the distance on a bike.

The components are all there.  I just haven’t taken the plunge to put them all together.  Yet.

That’s all about to change.  I might have procrastinated forever, but my son, Erik, called my bluff when he gave me the “entry to the triathlon of my choice” for Mothers’ Day.  So come July 12, I will be out there swimming-biking-running at the Lifetime Tri in Minneapolis.  Wish me luck. I’m going to Tri my best.