Tuesday, October 04, 2005

St Paul to Thunder Bay, October 1

I don’t know how long it might take to get from St Paul to Thunder Bay if you were in a hurry. Seems like Yahoo Driving Directions told me it was seven hours, but of course Yahoo threw in a side trip to the moon.

All I know is that on a sunny autumn Saturday, there’s no reason to go from St Paul to Thunder Bay in a hurry. I must have stopped fifteen times to take pictures, and passed up that many chances and more. The North Shore of Lake Superior is indescribably beautiful, as I hope the pictures in the following post will attest.

The North Shore combines two of my favorite things, two natural substances that strike a chord in my soul: rocks and water. There’s a beach down below the visitors information center at the beginning of the North Shore Scenic Route, and it’s full of flat little round skipping rocks and big chunky boulder fragments—and since they’re all being pounded by the steady waves of Lake Superior, it was like heaven for me.

Big wet rocks. Gotta love ‘em.

Three questions I always want to ask these big rocks: (1) How did you get here? (2) How long have you been here? (3) What’s it like being a rock?

Back on the route (Highway 61, for my fellow Dylan fans), there was no shortage of rocks, water, and convenient places to pull off and take pictures of them—and that was true all the way to Canada. From Two Harbors to Temperance River to Grand Marais and everything in between, the North Shore Scenic Route in a non-stop sensory thrill. It’s one breathtaking photo-op after another.

It was approaching 3:00 Eastern time when I pulled into Thunder Bay. I exchanged 120 American dollars for 137 of the Canadian kind, then asked for directions to the Take A Hike Store, where I’d been corresponding with a hiking enthusiast/salesperson who were going to make sure I was set for my trip to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park on Sunday.

The directions were slightly better than the ones Yahoo gave me for the hotel in St Paul. And in fact, a woman at the money exchange even drew me a map: Go down Arthur to Simpson (believe me, I was tempted to say “Simpson, eh?”, which works on more than one level), take a left on Simpson, then take another left on Victoria East. She was very specific about writing “Victoria East,” so when I turned left on Simpson and saw a street sign for Victoria, I didn’t turn. The word “East” was nowhere on the sign.

It was fifteen minutes later that I realized I’d been given too much fictional information.

At the Take A Hike store, a lovely young woman of Asian ancestry greeted me in that wonderful Canadian accent: “Beautiful day, eh?” I asked for Susan, the person I’d exchanged emails with, and two other people said “You must be John Donovan.” These people were store owner Diane Petryna and a young salesman named Jeremy, who proceeded to go over the map of Sleeping Giant with me, and to sell me a bear bell (on the theory that if bears know you’re coming, they’ll stay away from you) and a little aerosol-type tube that emits a piercing screech when pressed. Whether that was to call for help or frighten away an approaching bear, I still don’t know. I frankly think I could come up with a pretty effective piercing screech on my own, if approached by a bear.

I checked in at my bed-and-breakfast short after this, and honestly it wasn’t what I expected. I won’t mention the name because my hosts have been nothing but friendly, but the place is a tad cluttered. And here’s a tip: If a B&B says it’s okay for you to bring your dog, that might well mean the place already smells like one.

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