September 25, 2022
The flight into Duluth from Michigan was quick, and when I stepped off the plane on a grey, windy day, the drop in temperature was noticeable. This first day of my Superior Trail Journey was a peek of temperatures to come. The headwaters of Lake Superior were going to be a little colder than planned.
The Duluth airport was tiny. There was one terminal and four gates with bunker-like buildings squatted down beside the long runway. I like small airports. They are easy to get in and out of, and there are not a lot of questions or bureaucracy.
My shuttle rider texted to say they were closed, so I waited inside the glass terminal doors with my puffy jacket on. It was too cold to wait outside.
Heidi and Sandy picked me up in Heidi’s jeep for the two-hour ride up to Grand Marais. The first question was if I wanted breakfast, and then they peppered me with questions about my hike. They had both grown up around Grand Marais and Two Harbors and knew the area well. Heidi was my age, and Sandy was probably in her early 60’s. They both now lived in Grand Marais.
Listening to their stories and asking questions was fun as they gave me a local tour on the shoreside route up to Grand Marais, MN. Next, we stopped at Perkins for breakfast. The restaurant had stellar views of Lake Superior and was packed. I ordered the loaded breakfast burger. The chains were officially off my appetite, and I would eat what I wanted until the hike was over. I did have a salad.
The next stop was Two Harbors, where I got some fudge before we drove up to Palisade Head for some incredible views out over Lake Superior. I climbed large flat rock formations to look over Lake Superior under a bright blue sky with large white puffs of cloud floating past. The weather was beautiful – perfect for a Fall hike.
The drive up the shore of Lake Superior was rather like driving through the rural south. Home were scattered along the shoreline between small towns. I had arrived in prime tourist season, but other than prices being extremely elevated, you would not have known. Traffic was moderate and there were no real crowds anywhere we stopped.
As we drove, I had the sense I was traveling a narrow corridor along the shore, with the wilderness just over my shoulder. It felt like the northern woods were waiting – if I drove one mile west in to the dark, dense woods I could see beyond the road, I would leave behind the comfort and security of what I knew – people, traffic, civilization.
The weather changed abruptly as we drove into Grand Marais with low dark crowds hanging ominously over the small cluster of buildings running alongside the main route. As we passed into town the skies opened up and sheets of rain poured down in a brief deluge. Heidi and Sandy appeared not to even notice, and gave me a tour of the town, starting at Aspen Lodge, where I was staying. They pointed out the post office, restaurants, and any other points of interest.
The lodge would not let me check-in before 3PM so I waited in the lobby until my room was finally ready at 4PM. The room was a standard hotel room with two double beds and 1980’s motief and feel, but the views of Lake Superior were great.
I wrapped up my chores, whiching included unpacking my duffle bag and organizing my gear. I had some things to do tomorrow, including grocery shopping and mailing home duffle bag, and would not be leaving for the hike until Tuesday morning.
The rest of the evening was spent eating dinner, walking around town, and admiring the things that always make small towns unique. Each one has it’s own character and Grand Marais, MN was no exception.