Now that’s Service

It's really hit or miss. When bike touring, we don't plan very far ahead. A day or so for lodging and hours or minutes prior to looking for a meal. Google reviews or consulting TripAdvisor is sometimes helpful, but nothing is guaranteed to be accurate. So finding those hidden gems with folks who deliver exceptional service is often pure happenstance. And we've had a run of good luck recently.

Take The Cake Lady. Her bakery café in Mt. Vernon was the only place we found open, so our breakfast decision was made for us. The spotlessly clean and spare room bore no hint of the quality of the meal to come. Everything was simple but home made, down to the freshly chopped and cooked potatoes which Rich declared the “best ever.” I gratefully accepted the healthy alternative of fresh tomatoes, which was a nice touch. But the best was yet to come. With our large, moist biscuits hot out of the oven, she brought out a large canning jar of strawberry jam – from freshly picked berries and made just the night before. It was like spreadable sweet sunshine atop those tasty biscuits. I just had to request a second one.

Just outside of Clarksville, we came upon yet another Historical Marker. But this one was unlike all the other anonymous plaques. Flanked by both US and Texas flags, and adorned with the bountiful rose trees we have been admiring, we had to stop and check it out. This one was dedicated to Police Officer Tippet, who was gunned down by Lee Harvey Oswald when he stopped him for questioning after JFK was shot. The sight was near the farm where he grew up. This man who gave his life in the line of service was well worth commemorating.

Approaching our last night in Texas, we found little to recommend the motel on the outskirts of Clarksville, and independently we each mentally justified the alternative of staying in the town's B&B. It was conveniently located in town and we looked forward to the splurge after some grim motel rooms. We were greeted with great enthusiasm by Perry, the owner of the Courthouse Inn B&B and instantly knew we'd made the right choice. It was more like being welcomed into his home than a formal guest scenario, as he heartily encouraged us to bring our bikes right on inside and saw to our every need.

When dinner time approached, Perry came through with a wonderful recommendation for the Italian Bistro down the street. There the young owners not only served up a delicious meal, but provided the best service we've ever had. In fact, they colluded with Perry to make it an extra special meal for us. It was such a mild evening that I returned to the front porch of the inn to read until bedtime, while Rich captured the inn, courthouse and me in some fantastic night time photography.

It was a luxury indeed to relax the next day while the overnight rains continued into the morning hours. Perry doled out equal amounts of entertaining conversation and story telling with his cooking, and assured us we could hang out as long as needed.

They say good service is hard to find these days. We've certainly gotten our share lately. Thanks, folks!



Campus Life

It's been a long time since I lived on a college campus, sharing a small room, eating in the dining hall and meandering all over the sprawling grounds to the various buildings I frequented. But it all came flooding back as I settled into life at Snow Mountain Ranch as a volunteer.

SMR, as we call it, covers over 5,000 acres in a valley in the Colorado Rockies. As a family and conference center, it has a wide variety of facilities, as well as the usual lodging and dining halls. Being run by the YMCA of the Rockies, there is a big focus on outdoor, athletic and family activities, spawning a pool building, gym, yoga center, riding stables and craft shop as well as the Nordic Center for cross-country skiing, tubing, sledding and ice skating venues. And I'm sure I haven't discovered many of the offerings.

My own world revolves around a few select sites. Home is in Pinewood. It's the residence hall for us “seniors” and is the usual long hall lined with doors and small motel-like rooms. Doors slam, footsteps echo down the hall, but late night parties are not an issue. And this time I got to pick my roommate! After almost 31 years together, I knew Rich and I would be compatible.

Moving into Pinewood

Two connected rooms have been converted to a lounge for us, and is frequently filled in the evenings by those interested in watching TV and playing games. My first week here, I made it a nightly habit to wander down to watch the Olympics with those gathered there. It also happens to house the notebook entitled “Senior Trips.” There we can sign up for various planned activities or post suggestions for group outings. It's worth keeping up with the list, as the Y often provides free and convenient transportation for the events.

Pinewood is connected to the main lobby for SMR, with a two-sided gas fireplace, comfy chairs and a good internet connection. It's a very pleasant place to sit and read or visit. In the evenings it is frequently overrun by us seniors.

The Craft Shop, where I work, is on the far end of the campus from Pinewood. Lacking plowed sidewalks, and with roads that are narrow and slippery, walking is not as easy an option as I'd like. Unlike college days when I walked everywhere, I frequently end up having to drive for safety sake. For someone as committed to a healthy life style as I am, it goes against my grain. I'm sure it would be different in the other seasons. But for winter, a car is fairly essential.

At the Nordic Center

When I'm not working, the Nordic Center is my favorite haunt. There I get my free ski passes, rent any equipment I like, gratis, and check the latest grooming reports. It happens to be the most sought after place for volunteers to work, helping skiers, selling ski clothing and equipment and handling rentals. Perhaps one day I can work my way up the ladder to a position there! For the meantime, it's the hub of the 60k of ski trails on SMR property and starting point for any day's ski.

And finally, the Commons where we eat. It is the central cafeteria that feeds all the lodge guests at SMR as well as its staff members and volunteers. It definitely brings back memories of the old cafeteria lines in college. This is no newfangled, upscale food station style cafeteria which some of my kids enjoyed in college. It's the old food line with trays, steam tables and mass produced food. In its defense, some of the dishes are pretty good. And I regularly hunt down the healthy offerings – an abundance of fresh fruit at breakfast, seedy bread for sandwiches and the fruit bowl at lunch, and build your own salad ingredients at dinner. Fortunately, their desserts aren't at all tempting, but I still wish for some ice cream now and again.

The Commons - our dining hall
A table of Senior Volunteers

The main attraction of the Commons, though, is social. The senior volunteers always sit in about the same spot, gathering around the tables in random order as we arrive. It's the best place to meet others and get to know everyone better, or find out what's going on. It's a retreat between work hours, or a leisurely visit on our time off. It's easy to spot our group – we're the gray haired folks with SMR fleece vests and badges hanging on colorful lanyards around our necks.

I wouldn't want to do it year-round, but for a brieft winter stint when we can enjoy the mountain views and endless opportunities to ski the trails, it's a good life. I'm quite enjoying being back on campus.


Cycling – It’s all about the Food

We certainly ate our way around the Trans-Superior Cycling Tour, but with all the cycling I still lost weight!  And each night, we stayed in a different motel or B&B.  So I thought it would be fun to put together reviews of each of the places we ate or stayed.

The lodgings were all booked well in advance.  My husband, Rich, poured hours into researching motels and making the reservations, and deserves huge kudos for his excellent choices.  Our criteria included reasonable cost, nice but not fancy, and convenient location to both our route and to places to eat.  That last one was critical – who wants to cycle additional miles at the end of the day to find dinner?  We also allowed ourselves a couple of splurges on more special places to stay.

The restaurants and ice cream venues were all chosen en route.  Some just jumped out of us and we made spontaneous stops.  For others we’d often get recommendations from other travelers, motel staff or other restaurants.  No one steered us wrong.

So here they are – enjoy!

Ruxy’s Cottage Cafe, Port Wing WI – A spontaneous mid-morning break.  I don’t know why Rich talked me into splitting a cinnamon roll. Big mistake. They were wonderful. Fresh, soft, just sweet enough and not oversized. I should have insisted on having one all to myself.

Big Water Coffee Roasters, Bayfield WI – The sign outside said “Smooth Move.”. That’s all it took to get me inside to find out I had correctly interpreted the message. We enjoyed Lake Berry Breeze smoothies at the end of our day’s 80 mile ride. Oh, did they taste good! The food delivered to the other customers at their outside tables looked mighty fine too.

Ethel’s at 250, Bayfield WI – Hungry for a good dinner, we took the recommendation of a local who sent us here and it did not disappoint. The ambiance and the food were both fresh and tasteful. We sat outside on the balcony and enjoyed the sliver of lake view as well as the balmy evening. My pesto pasta with fresh whitefish was excellent, and Rich enjoyed a juicy burger.

Seagull Bay Motel, Bayfield WI – Not in the center of town, but at a better price than the lodgings that are. We had a beautiful lake view from our room, and there was a lovely yard and garden out back. A nice garden path took us right into town, just five blocks and no hills. The opposite direction offered 2 miles along the water. Our room was simple but clean and comfortable and included a refrigerator and microwave. (And enough room for our bikes.) It was an excellent value.

Tap Roots Coffee Shop, Ashland WI – We didn’t go here but I wanted to. It was my kind of place – lattes and other espresso drinks, yummy looking scones and other baked goods, and an eclectic interior. But Rich needed a “real breakfast” and I couldn’t argue with that given all our cycling. But I’d stop here in a heartbeat if I were on my own.

Maple Creek Restaurant, Ashland WI – It wasn’t the humble local cafe we were seeking, but it turned out to be better than that. Not usually a lover of buffets, I could see the value in this breakfast buffet. They had a nice selection of fresh fruits and yogurt in addition to the cooked foods. Rich could fill up on the eggs and bacon he craved, and I could add a couple pancakes and a sliver of coffee cake to my healthier choices. It hit the spot for both of us and the quality was good, particularly for a buffet.

Black River Crossing B&B, Bessemer MI – Truth be told, we were return customers. We had stayed there last winter and been thoroughly charmed by both the B&B and our hosts, Sue and Stan. Returning in the summer, it was great fun to see the yard in full bloom. The flowers, multiple decks and patios, waterfalls and ponds were gorgeous and provided a peaceful afternoon’s rest. They had stocked the fridge for any post-cycling food we might need, and included us in their evening barbecue with friends. It was like returning to stay with old friends. And the jacuzzi room on the second floor was luxuriously appointed and comfortable.

Syl’s Cafe, Ontonagon MI – They specialize in pasties, so since we were famished after the day’s cycling, we split one for an appetizer. It was hot, flavorful and moist. We each had grilled sandwiches on homemade sourdough bread, which were nice and crisp on the outside and had generous portions of fillings. Everything was freshly prepared and the cafe was typically appointed for a Mom and Pop place, but sparkling clean with friendly wait staff.

Scott’s Superior Inn, Ontonogan MI – They have both motel units and cabins near the lake. Our motel room was plain but functional, if a bit dated and tired looking.. It had only one outlet, which presented a challenge for today’s array of rechargeable electronic devices. They did have access to the lake, with a section of the beautiful sand beach. The price was very reasonable, it was quiet and our tired bodies had a good nights sleep.

Grandma Myrt’s Cafe, Mass City MI – This was recommended to us as the only real option for a full breakfast on our route from Ontonagon. But it more than fit the bill. There were loads of cars outside, and the plain interior was filled with locals as well as motorcyclist travelers. The cook/waitress was a busy young woman filling dual roles, but she delivered the most delicious food. Rich had a Farmer Omlette filled with sausage and peppers along with all the side trimmings, which he said was excellent. I had divine Cinnamon French Toast made with homemade cinnamon bread – it had a crisp eggy exterior and a firm but soft interior.

Treats Ice Cream, Chassell MI – We had the most enormous smoothies here. They must have been 16 oz. There were numerous flavors to choose from, including the option of mixing them. I had blackberry-raspberry, and Rich went with straight blackberry. They were so thick, it was hard to suck them up through our straws, but we managed. The big waffle cones that others walked away with looked good too.

The Library Restaurant and Brew Pub, Houghton MI – My son reminded me that we had eaten here when on a college visit five years ago, and I agreed that it was worth repeating. We were able to get seats with a view of the water in the setting sun in the pleasant dining room. The food was as good as I remembered. Rich had a good steak, and I enjoyed a salmon topped with grilled salmon.

Super 8 Motel, Houghton MI – This has to be the best Super 8 I’ve ever stayed in. It is located right down on the water, and in fact the bike trail that we took into town led us right there. In addition to nice rooms, it has a large deck outside by the water, as well as a pool, sauna and hot tub. They even had a coin laundry for guests. Their “Super Starter” breakfast was not as complete as others, but it covered the basics pretty well.

Jampot Bakery, Eagle Harbor MI – This bakery is a bit of a local legend. It is the outlet for the labors of the Society of St. John Monastery, which was founded on the nearby shore by a small group of monks in 1983. Their initial penchant for picking wild berries and baking soon turned into a venture able to support their little community. We were served by a pleasant monk who happily described the plethora of decadent flavors of muffins, and left with a heavy bag of muffins. They also sell jams, breads and cookies. We consumed two muffins immediately at a nearby picnic table in the woods, rich and delicious. Be sure to notice their monastery building just down the shore – unique architecture with beautiful gardens.

Harbor Haus Restaurant, Copper Harbor MI – Another guest at our motel recommended this restaurant as having the best food in town. Although we had no frame of reference, we were sure our dinners were proof. They had an extensive menu, which looked expensive, but when we considered all the courses it included, we felt it was justified. Rich’s flank steak and my Lake Superior trout were cooked to perfection, and the sides were fresh and outside the ordinary offerings.

Bella Vista Motel, Copper Harbor MI – This was a well maintained little motel perfectly situated right on the edge of the harbor. Our room was tastefully decorated and included a deck with chairs in a garden setting overlooking the harbor. Not only could we watch the harbor activity, but we could see lake freighters beyond the break front. The price was reasonable, and it was just a short walk from there to the ferry.

Rock Harbor Lodge, Isle Royale MI – This is the only lodging available on Isle Royale, and while it is pricey, it is a worthwhile splurge if you are not the camping type, or just care to indulge yourself. The rooms are in a set of 2-story buildings along the edge of the harbor, with Lake Superior’s water lapping at the harbor shore just outside the windows. Furnishings are a simple modern style and the rooms feel recently updated. No TV, no Internet, no cell phone reception. This is a wilderness park after all.

Greenstone Grill, Isle Royale MI – There are two restaurant choices at Rock Harbor, and they share the same building.  This one is the more informal of the two, although how formal can you get on a wilderness island?  They serve simple fare which is pretty good  considering everything has to be brought over by ferry.  We had tastefully prepared sandwiches and burger, although the portions were not huge. They also make box lunches for the ferry which you can request the night before.  It’s not well advertised, just ask the wait staff.

My Sister’s Place, Grand Marais MN – It wasn’t my choice of restaurant. (For the record, my personal favorite in Grand Marais is the Angry Trout, but Rich thinks their food is too “weird” for his more plain tastes.) It did have the advantage of being just a block from our motel. And it was full, had lively and friendly wait staff, and fairly quick service. It’s definitely a bar/restaurant with a menu to match. My wild rice salad was undistinguished, and the dressing too syrupy for my taste. But Rich had a good burger and fries, so he was happy, and he’s more the type of customer they seek to please.

Mangy Moose Motel, Grand Marais MN – This hotel has been under new ownership for a year, and they have done a wonderful job of renovating a deteriorating older motel. It is conveniently located on the highway near the center of town. The units are a bit back from the road, and all have been completely remodeled. Our room was small, but they made efficient use of the space using modern materials with simple clean lines. We were most impressed by the power strip that easily accommodated all our chargers – a brilliant addition on their part. The price was very reasonable, especially for this artsy and often expensive town.

Coho Cafe, Tofte MN – This is an old favorite of mine. I’ve been stopping here for latte and baked goods for years, and have had the occasional lunch. Everything is fresh and artfully presented, and menu options are unique and flavorful. Rich had a hearty breakfast sandwich and I had the Trail Mix breakfast with yogurt and granola as well as a sinful cinnamon twist. I’m only disappointed that I haven’t seen scones there for some time – my personal favorite. Their breads are well worth purchasing to take home.

Big Dipper, Beaver Bay MN – We already knew that they made great smoothies from a prior visit. And they did not disappoint. The perfect ending to our hottest day of cycling.

Camp 61 Motel, Beaver Bay MN – This is another renovated motel. These owners have resurrected not only an old motel but a restaurant as well. The interior has been completed refurbished, and they have a wonderful lobby furnished with lodge style furniture, old photographs and memorabilia. It was a very pleasant place to sit in the evening. Our room was small but freshly remodeled, clean and comfortable.

Camp 61 Restaurant, Beaver Bay MN – This was a big surprise to me. I expected the usual burger or sandwiches and fries fare. Instead, we found a broad menu with tasteful dinner options. I had a delicious walleye, wrapped in leaves and marinated with an Asian flair, served on a wild rice pilaf. Rich enjoyed one of their specials, a thick pork chop with hearty camp potatoes. Due to a slight mix-up, they insisted on serving us complimentary desserts, which we otherwise would have declined. Both the mixed berry pie and decadent chocolate cake, both with ice cream, were heavenly.

Mocha Moose, Two Harbors MN – We’ve been here many times, and love the eclectic interior, the gregarious and lively owner, and the pastries as well as the latte. We both had hearty breakfast turnovers, mine vegetarian, Rich’s with ham and cheese. Light and fluffy as well as ample fillings fed us well. This is a favorite cycling destination or mid-ride stop, not only for us but other cyclists from Duluth.

Grandma’s Box Car, Duluth MN – Our finale ice cream cones!  It was pricey but convenient to our finishing destination in the heart of Canal Park.  And who was going to argue?  The ice cream was good, although the only choices were huge waffle cones or cake cones sold as “kid’s cones”  but in reality were a perfectly adequate adult sized cone.