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Boreal Community Media

Generational road trips along Highway 61

Oct 23, 2019 03:30PM ● By Editor
A view of the Beaver River, in Beaver Bay, Minn. Photo: Loren Else

By Loren Else from the Rochester Post Bulletin - October 23, 2019

There’s something extraordinary about enjoying a cup of coffee as you watch dawn break over Lake Superior. The sounds of the lake and the emerging light bring forth the day.

I’m one of those people who periodically need to get up to the North Shore. Living in Rochester, I miss the beauty and the feel of the North Country.

Unfortunately this trip my wife and I caught some lousy, cold, wet weather. With rain pounding down, snow flurries starting and the Lake with 18-foot wave warnings, we headed home a day early. The first couple of days were spectacular with the fall colors.

Road trip

Our second day along the North Shore, my wife and I headed out on Minnesota State Highway 61 from Tofte to the Naniboujou Restaurant, north of Grand Marais, to have lunch. On the trip we talked about a family vacation we took to Thunder Bay in the late 1980s. We traveled the same road, but with our two young kids sitting in the back.

How different the vacation world was then. I don’t even remember if we had hotel reservations. You never were sure about the weather or what eating establishments you would find along the way. Radio stations would drift in and out. With poor reception, most of the trip was conversation. We had a fold-out paper map of Minnesota and Canada. No passport needed for the trip across the border.

What a difference today -- radar gives you the up-to-the-minute weather as well as what conditions are on the way. For every restaurant along the North Shore you can examine the menu as well as reviews. Reservations for a place to stay are made online, normally months ahead, and usually you’ve already paid before you arrive.

Today when I glance at my truck dashboard, it is showing exactly where we are and where we are heading. It shows how many miles we have to travel to our destination and time of arrival. It displays the big blue Lake Superior frighteningly close to my immediate right.

The magic dashboard will inform me of where gas stations, restaurants, stores, and state parks are located along the way. A lot of information right in front of me every minute. I can even tell my magic dashboard to call someone on the phone. It’s all quite unbelievable. On road trips today there are generally no surprises.

Old-time trips

My parents would round us kids up, pile us in the family car next to a metal cooler chest filled with cheese, bologna and Wonder bread. Off we went, and we had better like it. Everyone took a swig out of one water jug when we were thirsty.

We took many road trips when I was young. Stopping at restaurants was rare. We didn’t ask if we were there yet, as we needed Dad in a good mood; more chance of ice cream along the way.

When my siblings and I got hungry, we would quietly communicate to Mom in sign language, knowing that she would start to work on Dad to pull over soon at a picnic area.

I remember one road trip in particular. It was 1968 when, on this same road, Highway 61, my dad drove north on a trip around Lake Superior for our summer vacation. Besides my dad, it was my mom, myself and my little brother and sister. How life has changed, as I’ve gone from the kid in the back seat to the parent and now grandparent.

Lakeside lodge

The Naniboujou Lodge & Restaurant where my wife and I had lunch opened in 1929 as a private club. According to the website, charter members included Yankees baseball star Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight champion.

Over the years, the lodge has gone through many owners and many missions, in a sense. It is a beautiful place. The website stated that guests of today come to Naniboujou to seek a quiet, peaceful and natural environment. Guests come to gather their senses and to replenish both body and spirit. After listening to Lake Superior for a few nights, I’d have to agree.

I wish I could travel old-school, but if I did I might be traveling alone. You remember: a road atlas, a thermos of coffee, a cooler of sandwiches and no particular hotel or destination you have to get to that day. Most certainly, no cell phone.

Back in the day you hit the road with “a wing and a prayer.” The phrase means something is being done with the hope of success, yet the chance of success is low. The situation is dire or bleak.

I don’t know about you, but I liked those odds. It was always good to have a few surprises along the way -- and maybe ice cream -- with Mom’s help.

Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s Day in History column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at [email protected].

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Rochester Post- Bulletin.

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