Friday, August 21, 2020

Derecho Getaway

The Aerial Life Bridge in Duluth, MN. 

Mid-week, after the Iowa hurricane came through, we had finished the yard work, I couldn't re-open daycare because we didn't have power, we were informed we wouldn't have power back until that weekend, our house was a sauna, all of the smells were coming out of the walls, and I was lost as to what to do. My first thought was to do day trips around Iowa, but many parts of Iowa were dealing with the storm aftermath and I was unsure of where we could or couldn't go (because, keep in mind, we had limited cell reception, so I couldn't easily look these things up). I had planned to take significant time off in September when the minis started at-home learning, but here I was with an unexpected week off and that surely impacts what time I can take off later on. With all of that in mind, I decided my best bet, especially for my own sanity, was to skip town.

So, we did. I packed us up Thursday morning, ran a few needed errands, and headed north to Duluth, Minnesota. I had actually been thinking of taking this trip on a weekend in September, so it didn't really take a lot of planning on my part. The hardest part of the entire trip was that it was just me. Matt had to stay behind and work, so it was me, the minis, and the dog. Honestly, the minis were WONDERFUL and make traveling an enjoyable piece of cake. Zeus on the other hand, well, it was apparent this was his first road trip. The first night was rough (when he gets stressed he gets "stress poops," so he was up a lot all night), but after that, he realized we were doing everything he loved and was good to go.

Yard work done meant hit the road time.

Minnesota has the best rest areas. Nearly every one we stopped at had a playground for the kids, a short hiking trails, and separate pet area. Our stops were quick, but we took time to play and exercise a bit before continuint the drive up north. The kids and Zeus were so tired from not sleeping well all week that they slept in the car most of the drive!

Masks are required in Minnesota, indoors and when social distancing isn't possible. We kept our masks on or handy at all times during our trip.

When you've been in the car for five hours and you just want mom and to get out. Luckily, we were pulling into the hotel at this time.

By dinner time we were checked into our hotel and then out the door on our first adventure: to the Aerial Life Bridge, the lighthouse, and area around the bridge.

We drove over the bridge and I had hoped to walk over it, but Zeus was scared so we skipped that. Even though it was chilly, they kept their shorts and tank tops on, then complained about being cold once the cold waves hit them. It was one of those nights that will forever be etched in my mind.



Zeus likes to chase after the kids and then bite their bottoms. Eye roll.

I was so very impressed with our hotel's new procedures during Covid. Masks are required in all communal areas, only one person or family in the elevator at a time, and everything was extremely clean. They also had a breakfast "buffet." We couldn't serve ourselves, but they had the food, served it for you, and had many pre-packaged choices as well. Food was to be taken back to the hotel rooms to eat. 
As for traveling with the dog, this folding kennel was a miracle! He went in easily, slept well, and it is VERY compact for an XL size. It fit perfectly, tucked away in part of the room. I am so happy I made that purchase the day we left because it will definitely be used in the future!

Traveling was a bit tricky. We had the dog, who couldn't be left alone in the hotel room and then the kids who were starving in the morning. Luckily, the minis are independent and went for breakfast themselves....and even brought me back a plate! I was touched by their thoughtfulness.

Since I was in a room full of early risers, we got an early start to our day. We made a stop at a nearby Caribou Coffee, that happened to be in an old car wash! The kids thought it was the coolest thing ever. Once the caffeine in take was sufficient, we set out on our adventure for the day: the North Shore Scenic Drive.

While I had done some reading on the North Shore drive, all of our stops for the day were if we felt like stopping someplace. I highly recommend buying a Minnesota State Park pass, rather than pay park by park (I will share, I failed to pay at two parks before I realized I was supposed to). It's a self pay/honor system pay at each park because visitor centers and stations are currently closed. I knew this ahead of time, but I was very disappointed because we didn't buy any souviners since those places were closed. 

Our stops included Pebble Beach, a few lookout areas, Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park (we didn't see the Lighthouse), and Tettegouche State Park. We got out at lookout points and walked around Grand Marquis when we made it. While Grand Marquis itself was very busy, the further North we traveled, the less busy the parks and trails were. Also, earlier in the day is much less busy than later in the day.

Pebble Beach was gorgeous! We didn't do much here other than enjoy the views, snap pictures, and rock scramble.

Beautiful, forest views all day long. The trail systems up north remind me a lot of Big Sky, MT and Gallatin National Forest. So many trail heads along the highway and so many trails to choose from. It was not uncommon to see hikers with large packs step onto the highway from the Superior National Forest trail to get to the next part of the trail. 

Kids and fur kids got really good at napping in the car and slept quite a bit of our drives. Those few days without power really kicked their behinds!

One negative about being the only adult on the trip (and the designated picture taker) is that we missed a lot of action pictures. As we drove through these cliffside tunnels, all I could think about is that I wanted a picture of that tunnel. In order to get some of the pictures I desired, we had to completely pull over and stop. The minis were great sports about this, but it definitely added time onto our day.

Gooseberry Falls State Park was BUSY. We had to wear our masks on the trails down to the Falls, but there was plenty of room to move around once at the Falls. I would definitely do this stop early (before 9 a.m.) or on the off season. The Falls were a short hike from the main parking lots and visitors center (bathrooms were open, shop, and interactive area were closed). We chose not to hike all the way around the Falls because it would require a lot of climbing out of Zeus, so we played in the water and hiked the Middle and Lower Falls area.

While the minis were off rock climbing and exploring (as I yelled out at them a few times to NOT walk over the edge), I attempted a selfie with Z-man. He was more interested in all of the dogs around us and played with them all, as the owners and I spoke. This trip really was one big playdate for him!

My sweet doggie. We've been mindful about the hikes we take him on because of his growing bones. We want him to hike in the years to come, so we've been taking it easy with him, even though it was torture to watch "his kids" climbing and playing without him!

The sky and Lake Superior blended together. The pictures clearly don't do it justice. It was amazing--and our toes were cold from dipping them in!

Zeus hated the waves. We're not sure if he just didn't like the waves or how cold the water was. He enjoyed how warm the water was in the river that ran into Lake Superior though, so we spent ample time there swimming and playing.

We got used to eating in the car. Unlike other road trips, we didn't enjoy any local favorites. We hit a lot of drive thrus, since it was just me plus a dog in tow (that limits the restaurant choices greatly). I'm hoping to not see the golden arches for a loooonnnngggg time.

After a long day sight seeing and being in the car, we decided to get treats and go back to the hotel to relax since the night was stormy. Good news: no one was scared of the storm (I was concerned about this because of the derecho).

Now, there's plenty to do in northern Minnesota that we could have stayed one more night and found plenty to do. I wouldn't have minded another Voyageurs National Park visit. However, we got word late Friday night that our power was back on AND our air conditioner was working. I knew I had a busy week of work ahead, so we decided to come home Saturday night. But late Saturday night because I had one more adventure in mind.

Check out mornings are usually hectic because we have to pack up, get ourselves ready, and pack up the car again. This check out went smoothly (mostly because we were up really early again) and we got on the road for Bayfield, WI to visit the Apostle Island National Seashore. Visiting the Apostle Islands has long been on my bucket list (particularly the sea caves), so when I looked up the distance from Duluth and discovered it was only an hour and a half drive, I couldn't pass it up.

I also knew, since I was going with kids and a dog, that this visit would be drastically different than what I had envisioned for my first visit. I saw my sea caves after a beautiful and (a bit) challenging hike and Zeus had playdates along the way with fellow dog hikers. We didn't go to any of the islands (because the ferries don't allow dogs), but we saw them from the mainland/seashore. By far not a full visit, but I can say we came, we saw, we conquered Zeus' hardest and longest trail to date, and then we left for home.

Zeus snuggled with me after waking up for the day. It didn't last long as he attempted to jump onto the other bed and get the sleeping kids.

My greatest moment during the hike: I was telling the kids about the ice caves (in the winter these caves freeze over and if conditions are just right, you can hike to them in snow shoes and cross country skiis. The kids weren't fans of that idea, but at the end of our hike, Elizabeth spotted a guided kayak tour getting ready to leave. She asked me what they were doing and said, "I want to do that instead of the ice caves mom." Hopefully (fingers crossed), once Zeus is older, we can come back and kayak to the sea caves, since no one is on board with my ice caves idea (or I may just make them do it some day).

Pausing and taking in the view and sea caves. We rested for a while, drank water, and caught our breath.

Harrison is my 'let's see how close I can get to the edge' kid.

One of the first things we noticed was the red tint to Lake Superior close to the shore. We had to look that one up (read about it here). We incorporated learning whenever we could this trip (as we usually do).

After the Apostle Islands, we pulled over to this beach parking lot in Cornicopia, WI so I could map out our way home (cell reception). We got to see ships that were wrecked in Lake Superior long ago and checked out the beach area. If we're ever up this way again, I want to come to this beach! It seemed very laid back. Most people were out on tubes, floating in the lake, having fun on the beach. I nearly had us stay a while, but after hiking 4 miles, the minis and pup were beat and ready for car naps.

I had to get a picture of her hair that she "styled when we were driving." They didn't bring anything to keep them occupied during our drive (first time ever) other than a book, a notebook, and pencils. At least she found something to keep her busy and quiet!

The drive to and from Duluth is easy. I decided that once we hit Clear Lake, Ia (about 1 1/2 hours from home) that we'd stop for a late dinner and head to Clear Lake State Park (a favorite of our's). Naturally, the kids ran to the beach right away, but it wasn't dog friendly. Instead, Zeus sat on the shore and cried until we went to the dog beach area. He hopped right into the water and started swimming in the tame, warm water! 

Howling at the kids. He does not like to be left out.

Out of everything we could have been doing last week, I am soooo happy we decided to do this. Traveling solo with kids (+ dog) isn't easy, but our short getaway worked out perfectly! For those worried about traveling during Covid, rest assured that there are many precautions you can take. We had a hefty supply of clean masks (all reusable, so we washed them all when we returned home), hand sanitizer, and even our own cleaning products. Most places are (and should be) cleaning more and it definitely showed in the places we visited (hotels, rest areas, bathrooms, etc.). I'm not quite ready to hop on a plane anytime soon, but road trips are good right now. Overall, I can't believe we haven't been to Duluth area before. The drive is extremely easy and enjoyable, plus there's sooo many outdoor activities to enjoy. I definitely see us returning to this area soon!
Exhausted from all of our fun.