Unfortunately, much of Minnesota's northern forest has actually been logged. Damn Paul! Goddamn lumberjack! Legend has it that he is the one who cleared all the land to the west all the way to California to make room for farms and cities. In this modern day of tree huggers and the trend of being "green," Paul would have gotten his ass kicked and then ground up in the wood chipper for more fertilizer.
You should stop at the halfway point in the National Forest at Big Fish Restaurant in Bena, Minnesota. The once snack joint shaped like a fish gained fame when it appeared in the opening credits of the 1983 classic National Lampoon's Vacation with Chevy Chase. In bad need of preservation for years, the muskie finally got a facelift and is now a full-service restaurant with cabins (218-665-2299 for reservations).
Duluth was my next stop and soon Dacia was hugging me tightly as we crossed the border into Wisconsin. I was excited to be part of a team again, but at the same time I now had to take into consideration her needs. I was no longer a free bird as they say. I had to consult with someone on when to eat, when to sleep, and when to pee. Bringing Dacia onboard changed the whole dichotomy of the trip. Regardless, feeling her little fingers wrapped around me on my rib cage made me smile into the wind.
Crossing the border, we had the rare opportunity to ride along the shortest Interstate Highway connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin. I-535 is 2.8 miles long and crosses the Blatnik Bridge, aka the "High Bridge." Just south is the Richard I. Bong Bridge, or simply the "Bong Bridge" for short, which also connects Duluth, Minnesota, with Superior, Wisconsin. Hmmm, I wonder what these northerners have been up to, eh?
The further we got into Wisconsin, the bumpier the earth got. The roads started to twist and wind. It was like getting on the children's roller coaster before you try the real one-the roads of the UP, which you will learn a lot more about if you pay a little coin for the next issue.
I have to back up for a second, though, and tell you one more thing about this part of the journey. I make it a habit to stop at tourist information centers whenever I enter a new state. It's a great place to meet other travelers, get info on road conditions and find out must-see places. I've always, and I repeat always, been surprised by something I find, whether it's a roadside attraction I didn't know about, a great place to stop and eat, or just a friendly face willing to chat me up for a while.
Rest stops always remind me to push my comfort zones and introduce myself to people I would normally ignore back home in Chicago: bums, addicts, Latin King gangsters, large groups of tough looking black guys, or any culture that I am not used to. When I do, I find out that pretty much everyone in the world is nice. I realize that life can be magical without owning anything. I learn humility. I was once offered heroin from a junkie after he invited me to sleep in his tent for the night because he saw me crying under a tree in the rain. Addicts will do anything to get their fix. Yet here was this guy on the streets offering me his very life to help cheer me up. He made me dinner and shared his smoke with me, as well. Yep, the road does that to you. Not only are you crossing state and country borders, you're pushing your own rigid boundaries, too.