A Soo-thing Day

On the 13th day we rest. After 551 miles of pedaling, the bikes sit dormant in our motel room. Today instead of cycling past scenery, the sights are moving right in front of us. And it's mesmerizing.

We are in Sault Ste. Marie, on the opposite end of Lake Superior from our home in Duluth. I've heard about the fabled Soo Locks all my life, but never seen them before. So I was all for scheduling a full day here.

I vaguely knew that the motel Rich picked out was near the locks. The full reality only struck me as we cycled up to the modest lodgings. There, practically on top of us was the Saginaw. A beautiful classic ore boat. Bigger than life. Right across the street. Moving at a snail's pace. Awestruck, that sight set the stage for our visit.

The Saginaw enters the locks

Racing over to the viewing station, we were able to get above the ship and peer down onto its deck. Hardly believing our good luck, we were thrilled to see two more ships approaching.

Saginaw leaving the lock

Ship watching soon absorbs us completely. Staying so close by allows us to pop over to the park any time a ship comes through. This morning the first thing we did upon waking was to check the maritime ship locator app. Sure enough, the Wagenborg was about to arrive. So off we went. The early morning light lent a golden glow to that beautiful ship.

Wagenborg arriving

It has been easy to spend the day watching the ship traffic. Unlike Canal Park, ships come and go frequently. And there is plenty of viewing time. With the skill and precision needed to thread those enormous vessels into the narrow lock, they move at an incredibly slow pace. Even when we spot them out in the St. Mary's River, they have already reduced their speed for the entry. Inching through the water, they gradually assume their position in the lock and halt for being raised or lowered by the water.

Many of the ships passing through are familiar from their frequent visits to Duluth. We are pleased to think that some may have just come from our home town.

The Visitor Center helps me review the geography of the locks – the smaller MacArthur lock being the closest, and the large Poe lock the next one over. Hopes and plans for building another lock to back up the Poe are detailed as well. Adding that redundancy is critical since it is the only lock that can accommodate the Great Lakes 1000-foot vessels. Unfortunately, it is still years away from getting government funding, then likely 10 years more for construction.

The Tower of History provides a birds-eye view of the whole operation. Originally built to be a church bell tower, it now serves as an observation deck offering panoramic views. We time our visit for a period when we know that several ships will be in close proximity. From the viewing platform 210 feet above the city we can see both up river and down, and spot boats in the distance as well as nearing the locks. Although the leafy trees in the lock-side park block our view of the locks themselves, it is still an astonishing overview of the city and its river.

View from the Tower
View from the tower 2

The locks operate around the clock, so following a ship in the dark of evening is a must-do. Lights illuminate the ship's outline and the rear superstructure is brillliantly lit with white lights. As it retreats into the darkness we can see lights outside each cabin door.

With unseasonably warm and sunny weather for our ship watching, it has been a most satisfying rest day. The sum total of our exercise has been walking back and forth between motel room and viewing platform. We even nixed climbing the 292 steps to the top of the tower in favor of the elevator. Our bodies tell us that it has been a most soothing day indeed.


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