My last day of work was Friday, June 20th. There were no goodbyes or well-wishes. No cake. That’s alright. I don’t mind. When it comes to leaving Leech Lake Gaming I would have much rather gone in a whisper. Gossiping maraud they are. Stories get turned from the simplest, most innocent thing to so-and-so is cheating on so-and-so’s brother and cousin, pregnant with the neighbor’s baby, on meth, and stole a mustang.
So it’s okay to be done with there. And I haven’t missed it since.
That weekend I moved the last of my things to my parent’s lake home and said my goodbyes to those I held most dear in Bemidji. I find I miss my friends.
In the week to follow I attended my eleven year high school reunion in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Brief highlights include:
I was fortunate and grateful to stay with my best of friends, Cathy (we have the same first AND middle name!), whom I hadn’t seen in several years. Being able to enjoy her company once again gave me great strength for leaving home behind. I won’t lie when I say I had been staying awake at night feeling scared, alone, and unsure of my future plans. Is this the right move? What if I fail? What if Izzy and I don’t make it? What if Izzy gets hurt? Cathy always has a way with making me strong again. She knows the right words. I wish I possessed that gift. The best part of seeing her? After we spent time with her mother and father and were making plans to meet up with her sister, when I said it was alright if we weren’t able to (see her sister), she said, “You spent a great number of years being a part of this family, of course we need to try and get Andrea to come and see you.” She stopped me dead in my tracks. It was just a quick comment, but they are the kindest words ever spoken to me. Cathy, my other sister. I miss her every day.
I spent a week and a half at my parent’s house. I didn’t want to stay that long but I was having a hard time leaving. I was to head South to be with my second oldest sister and youngest brother in Sioux Falls, South Dakota – my home as a young child, before I met school. This time it was to leave for good. Goodbye to Minnesota. How could I ever abandon such a marvelous state?
I’ve hungered for adventure too long. I was now past the point of no return and having to force myself to continue on with this trip. Not let fear stop me from seeing something unfamiliar and possibly wondrous. My nights have now been spent second guessing myself. Seeking the answer to my question. Did I make a mistake? Nearly a decade working on the reservation it’s the longest job I’ve ever had. I spent my twenties there. Before that it was nothing but peddily jobs to make a buck to spend for the weekend. Who could I possibly be now? So much experience I have yes, accounting, training, hospitality, entertainment, law enforcement, emergency medical services, tutoring, administration, minority leadership, tradition, culture, Ojibwe, Sioux, Malaysian, Hmong, German, Chinese, Caucasian, all that I have taught, trained, tutored, guided, built up, who could I possibly be now? What connections do I still have?
(I fear the link above may not work. Please inform me if so.)
Being under the impression Thelma was completely fixed, the time had come to drive it a long distance. I intended to go from Bemidji (top of the state) to the Iowa boarder and back. I changed my mind and, felt taking advantage of some of the most spectacular views this state has to offer, I chose to go East and up the North Shore.
Thought my mom might want to tag along so at 6am I met her in Grand Rapids (it would have been out of the way to come get her at home). I love driving the North Shore. Highway 61 will take you from Duluth along Lake Superior where you will encounter some of the most breath-taking views, to Grand Portage, cross the boarder and HWY 61 will eventually end at Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. If you’re a camper and hiker like myself you’ll thoroughly enjoy the dozen or so state parks that make up the Superior National Forest. If you’re more into canoeing or kayaking like I wish I was you’ll still fall in love with this gem in the world, but you’ll also more enjoy the BWCA – Boundary Waters Canoe Area which is 1703 square miles and covers 1,090,000 acres. Just to say, us Northern Minnesotans love our forests, love our waters, and love to keep it preserved for all to enjoy.
My pictures can’t even do justice to the absolute purest heaven that is the North Shore. Mom and I arrived in Duluth around 9. We stopped for just a minute down in Canal Park. I love this part of Duluth the most. It’s at the mouth of the harbor and you can sit all day if you want watching big barges coming and going underneath Duluth’s famous Lift Bridge while dining at Grandma’s, Old Chicago, Bellisio’s Italian Restaurant, or grab a brew at Canal Park Brewery. That time of day nothing but the little gas station was open. I was meeting a man about a cooler, pottied, and we were on our way.
…My mom is an odd lady. She’s old, as most mothers are, married for 47 years, but she’s constantly flirting with the young guys. Had to pry her away from the cashier….
Our next stop was Betty’s Pies – a ma n’ pa-type diner with tasty hot food, coffee that hits all the right spots, and you guessed it, PIES!
They have around 20 pies to choose from and have great big boards posted at various corners of the restaurant listing what pies are still available and what has sold out. Order your slice first before someone else gets it!
Betty’s Pies is outside of Two Harbors and my own tradition to stop when I’m in the area. My mom had never been there so it was an even more special treat. We filled up on a hot breakfast, early morning pie, couple cups of coffee with just the right amount of flavored cream and sugar to make you go, “Mmm” with every sip, and thanked goodness they had just run out of bread pudding because that would have been coming with us.
After Betty’s Pies came Gooseberry Falls. Mom twisted her knee a couple weeks back so we couldn’t get a whole lot of good hiking in, but I was still able to show her the shoreline and the falls. In 1900 the Nester Logging Company set up shop at the mouth of Gooseberry and built a logging railroad inland to reach the standing pine. Remnants of this can still be found at the beach.
After Gooseberry was Split Rock Lighthouse. I love lighthouses. I love this lighthouse because of the story of The Edmund Fitzgerald. Lake Superior boasts some wicked stories of sinking ships; the Edmund Fitzgerald is it’s most famous.
Minnesota state parks are great in that if you want to get a day pass to see a park it’s $5, good for all day, and good for all parks within the state. An annual pass is only $25. I can tell you Wisconsin gives hour passes for $5. One hour. Just sayin’…
After Split Rock was the place I dreaded most on this trip. The Palisade Head. Rising over 300 feet above Lake Superior, one of the North Shore’s tallest views is a must see. And I like seeing it, I just didn’t want to drive up there. The road up is an extremely steep service road, barely fitting one car one way. The speed limit is 10mph. Thelma sputtered to its opening…and thought about dying. I had to stop and say a prayer. When I did Thelma attempted dying again and I felt God was trying to tell me something. Mom wouldn’t let me listen. This is why we came this way – to see if we could make it up a steep hill. How would I know if I could get over the Rockies? Up the windy road we went. I kept asking God, “Please let there be no one coming down. Please let there be no one coming down. I can’t stop or move over. I don’t want to die…” I had to go 25mph or Thelma would have stalled out. Around a bend she went, I focused on not going over the left side and failed to see on the right was a gigantic boulder. SMASH!, wreeeeEEEEEEE, I scratched Thelma all along the side of the boulder. My mom yelled and screamed, “Cathy! CATHY! Watch out!” I had no idea it was coming! It’s such a large vehicle. While I was trying not to fall off one side I was missing a large rock-like protrusion on the other. I slowed and Thelma almost died. Couldn’t stop. Had to continue to the top.
The only damage Thelma sustained was bending this little bit of metal in the tire well. I took on no other damage points. She’s amazing! Yes!
Mom had never been to the Palisade and she’s nervous about heights. Not that she’s afraid to be up high, but that one could so easily fall off of such a tall place.
There were two men preparing for a climb. We waited a bit – Mom was excited to get a picture of them going down, but they were taking awhile and we had to keep driving. We still have a few more hours to our destination.
After Palisade was a quick stop into my most favorite sate park, Tettegouche located in the town of Silver Bay. If you ever desire a visit, I highly, highly, highly suggest reserving a cart-in site. They’re all along the lake shore. H, I, and J are fabulous. They have easy beach access, J having the best spot for a secluded spot on the rocks to watch the sunset or enjoy a full moon with a bottle of wine and your honey. I’m a Cab Sav man myself, but you bring the wine that suits your mood. I has it’s own private beach inlet with a good collection of flat rocks for stacking or skipping stones. Keep in mind these cart-in spots book fast so reserve early. H especially. If you want H plan to book 8 or more months ahead of visiting.
Mom and I didn’t do any hiking in Tett, I only wanted to show her where I enjoy my fall camping. That’s the thing about camping in Minnesota. We boast the largest, thirstiest mosquitoes known to man so if you want to camp, I suggest doing it in September. Oh beautiful September. It’s cool nights, warm days, and no bother from our blood-sucking friends. Ticks aren’t so bad either!
We took in the sights along the drive, stopped at scenic outlooks when we desired, but until our destination there weren’t anymore scheduled stops. We passed Temperance River State Park, another beautiful place to camp and snapped a few photos of their littler falls, but besides that, we drove until we were done.
Our final destination, the most unique and historical resort you will find on the North Shore, was Lutsen Resort in Lutsen, MN. I will admit, I discovered this with my former boyfriend. We wanted a romantic getaway and instead of our usual camping we decided to spice it up and stay at a resort. Lutsen’s main lodge has a Scandinavian design with hand-hewn beams and stone fireplaces. The rooms are your typical “lodge” rooms – bed, bath, television, and not much else. I love it, personally. But if you like something more spacious, more modern, with a fridge and not so rustic, they also have log cabins, villas, condos, and townhomes.They also have a salon and spa if you want that couple’s massage package.
Lutsen has a fine dining restaurant overlooking the lake, it is beautiful, but the price is high and the food only okay for the price. I will always tell everyone I know, go to the pub instead! You don’t need the fancy sea bass with wild rice dish, get a burger, couple pints, and split some fries.
My favorite memory of Lutsen was coming up the week after Valentine’s Day 2014. There was a blizzard (another thing Minnesota is famous for) and we were stuck there. We ate at the pub every night along with the five other couples staying in the lodge and watched the Olympics. It was the best! The other guests, bartender, and myself talked over beers about downhill skiing and which country was doing better than the other in warm Sochi.
A brief history of Lutsen: In 1885 a Swedish man, Charles Axel Nelson, built his homestead on this most beautiful piece of land and called it Lutsen. Fishing, logging, and trapping were the main sources of money and Nelson’s home was a common spot for these type of men to stop along their path northward. Where the lodge is today is where Nelson’s house used to be. The home expanded to accommodate so many visitors and eventually turned into the Lutsen we know and love today. The Swedish-style hewn pine timber lodge was designed by renowned architect Edwin Lunde for which he received an architectural award; pretty neat!
Mom and I had the fortunate opportunity to be staying at Lutsen during a wedding. It was a rainy, gloomy day, but the clouds parted for a brief moment, letting warmth and sun through, just when the bride and groom were saying their vows down by the beach. Precious and perfect…didn’t get a glass of champagne though. 😀
Our breakfast was at the CoHo Cafe in Tofte, MN, next to the BlueFin Bay Resort (mentioning it to those of you who don’t do “rustic”). The little cafe has a nice, woodsy view, and at the moment was pretty empty so pleasant. We both ordered granola pancakes. Crazy. Good too! Funny, while there the lights went out! So we ate by morning light. It was spectacular!
It was a wonderful and magical weekend away. My mother hasn’t seen much of the North Shore and I was very excited to be the one to show it to her. I wish we would have had more time so I could have taken her to Grand Marais (pronounced mah-ray) and all the way up to Grand Portage on the Canadian boarder. That will be another trip for another time!
Our trip ended at Lutsen. I was able to share with my mother the place I love to go to the most, all the special stops, and we made it there in one piece. The next day Thelma didn’t want to move. It took a half dozen tries to keep her on and running and any stop we made was a struggle. It was clear there was more wrong with her, but what I didn’t know.
It took three weeks, a few hundred dollars, lots of cursing, tears, several rusty cuts, and fears of contracting tetanus to get to a seven hour trip…
The trouble with being novice with vehicles and owning an older one is finding the right person to tinker with it and get it done right the first time.
First thing first, I knew Thelma needed a tune up. There’s an O’Reilly Auto Store next to where I worked so during lunch a couple days after acquiring her I went over and bought spark plugs and wires, a distributor cap and rotor, an air filter, fuel filter, oil and filter for an oil change, carburetor cleaner, and new headlights. When I was there I told the man behind the counter, David, about my newest vehicle and the trip I wanted to make with it. We spoke of Montana, the Rockies, and how beautiful Washington is. I told him how I couldn’t figure out if the high beams worked or not. When I drove it around previously I kept tugging on the lever where most switches for high beams are and nothing was happening. He laughed at me and said, “Come with me,” and went outside. He opened the driver door and pointed to a silver box with a button on top on the floor under the gas pedal. “See that? That’s your brights.” He asked for the key, turned the engine over and pressed the button. Sure enough, high beams! I squealed and wrapped my arms around his neck. I would have kissed him if it weren’t for the fact it would have made our new-found friendship awkward. How cool is that? Pressing a button with your foot to turn on the bright lights! I jumped in and did it over and over. Thing is I’m 5’2″ and can just reach the button. The seat is as far forward as it will go. I asked David if he knew a mechanic who had knowledge of old Econos. He gave me the number to a man named Eloy. I’ve never mat anyone with that name before. I called when I got back to the office, it was Thursday, and Eloy said to bring it in first thing Monday morning. That evening I cleaned the carburetor and got a new battery. The one in there was from 2003!
Monday came and Thelma wouldn’t start. Eloy was in Cass Lake while I was in Bemidji – 20 miles away. I told him my dilemma and he told me to bring it in Wednesday. Later that day my boss let me know I had to attend training in a town 30 miles south Wednesday and needed to be there all day. I couldn’t drive the van and drop it off to Eloy because I wouldn’t have had a ride to the training and back. I told him that and he said to bring it in next week.That night I replaced the starter solenoid. I’ve been so proud of myself about all that I was learning by being hands-on!
Now, at this point I haven’t been driving the van much because it has been unreliable. It had a bad habit of dying upon turning or slowing down, in intersections, parking lot isles, and I didn’t want to get into an accident while I waited for the title to be transferred to me, insurance to kick in, and tabs to arrive in the mail. But I knew this could be a problem so left an hour before I had to be to work in case I was to be met with trouble.
*Side Note: It’s funny being in such a retro vehicle dressed to the 9s for work. I think people expect to roll up to an older person and then they see a cuteish brunette in a form-fitting dress and high heels.
I treated myself to a caramely coffee on my little walk to Thelma three blocks away. It was such a beautiful morning, warm, and hardly any bustle on the streets. I smiled and waved to people driving by and hummed a tune while I shimmied up into the van and got myself situated in the tall seat. She started, sputtered, and died, started, sputtered, and died three times, OCD-3, and finally stayed running the fourth. Down the road we roared, stop at stop sign, sssstrugggled through the intersection and…die. “Thelma!” I tried starting her again as a horn honked and nothing. She wouldn’t turn over. There would be a click and then the click was gone. I unhooked the battery and hooked it back up. Now it whined when I turned the key, but still didn’t start. I abandoned the van mid-intersection, walked down to my car, brought it around, and tried jumping it. Had to jump it in the night before so hoped it would work again. Still nothing. Did it again and let it run for 20 minutes. Nothing, so I parked my car and came back to the van. At this point a man on his way to work at an auto electric store stopped and asked if I needed a jump. I explained all that I had done that so he got out and took a look. He said it was probably my starter – that it might be stuck open. Great.
I called USAA, where I have my auto insurance, to ask for roadside assistance. I wasn’t going to be able to get towed to Eloy, it was too far away, so I opted to go to the dealership.
I waited. In a van. In the heat. In the middle of an intersection. Door opened and waving traffic around. For an hour for a tow truck to arrive. Pretty polka-dot dress. Comfy high heels. Hair curled and up elegantly. Hands black as tar and broken fingernails. I slurped my caramely caffeinated beverage as kind people stopped asking if I needed a jump and rude people honked and flipped the bird. One and only one cop stopped. She came up cautiously with her hand on her holster. I furrowed my brow and said, “The only way you’re in danger is if I choose to throw my drink at you and right now that’s what’s keepin me together at this very embarrassing moment.” We talked awhile, I explained my situation…again, and she was off.
The gentleman who came to my rescue was very sweet. And very patient. And I think just a child. So young! He was quite good at what he did and the commotion caused a small crowd to gather. I felt more embarrassed, but joined in and took pictures. After all, it’s not every day you see your vehicle up on a tow.
It’s not every day you get to follow it down the road either! At the dealership the technicians said I had a bad battery and they were going to keep the van for the day and charge it. One of the guys there, I think he had a bit of a crush on me, I used to see him in the casino when I was a guard years ago and we were always making eye contact and smiling at one another. He said he would make sure Thelma was looked over and the problem fixed. He’s so sweet. And so tall! Mmm, tall… Cute smile…ahem, too bad he’s married now…and likes the huntin’, fishin’, country music listenin’ lifestyle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….
I was two hours late to work, wasn’t able to get the van to Eloy, and to top it off Ford kept her overnight. The next day after work they gave me the run around about the battery being a “bad battery” and I had to take it back to where I got it to exchange for a new one. In my very nice, not-so-expensive-dress-because-I-got-it-on-clearance, I lugged a heavy and incredibly dirty (yes, it’s new and dirty all at the same time! I poured Coca Cola all over it trying to clean off the connectors and it did NOT work like everyone said it would!) across town to Napa where I purchased it days ago. They said the battery was good and in the end we all discovered that Ford is either a little less intelligent with this vehicle and/or their equipment, or they were giving me the runaround. I scolded my gorgeous technician causing him to slouch into a much smaller man.
Then he charged me $30 for having him men pretty much do nothing to my van. That was the last time I went to Ford.
The next day Eloy had Thelma. Ford had managed to break my starter solenoid by tightening it so tight it cracked. Doing that caused her to go out of whack briefly and melted the positive wire to the battery. Eloy kept Thelma for five days. He was “too busy” to get her done in two and propositioned me twice to get her back earlier and cheaper. First he suggested we do some “over time” together and several days later, when I was to get her back, he suggested I “massage” him for part of the payment. Yup. Neither happened. He asked for more money and I gave him what we first agreed upon. When he said he wouldn’t give me the keys unless I paid the rest I said I brought a spare and left. Now that I had challenged him and stood up for myself he was kinder to me and I’ve been able to turn to him when I have had questions.
So, at this point Thelma has been given new spark plugs and wires, distributor cap and rotors, air filter, fuel filter, battery, starter solenoid, starter, new headlights, oil leak fixed, fluids checked and replaced as needed, tires and breaks inspected, carburetor inspected and cleaned, and middle captain’s chair posts removed. Next came replacing the rusted pile that was the muffler.
I fretted a great deal as I was first told it was the catalytic converter that needed to be replaced. Having a shop do that would have cost me a couple more hundred dollars. To save money I intended to do it myself. Once under there I saw the cat was in great shape, but I could see end to end from the holes eating through the muffler. Good thing mufflers are FAR cheaper than cat converters! Rusted mufflers, however, are hardly worth the DIY money-saving-scheme. OI!
I worked in a parking lot behind one of the more popular bar and grills in Bemidji. Poor patrons. While they attempted to enjoy the nice evening and their tasty beverages they had to endure bag fulls of the garbage that spewed from my mouth as I used all my weight, lifting my entire body off the ground, to loosen one nut after another. It took all the strength of two people, a blow torch, metal saw, a can of WD-40, and the rest of the daylight to get the old muffler off. Unfortunately what came with it was the tailpipe, but they had fuzed together and were impossible to separate.
I threw them into the dumpster with gusto and a new muffler and pipe was installed! The next day the trip would begin!