Exploring North Shore

We’re supposed to attend a wedding in Canada this summer. Besides seeing relatives and friends we’ve planned to explore some places there as well. But COVID-19 changed our plans. US residents are not allowed to cross the border. Well, the wedding still happened, albeit without us in attendance.

Though I did not cancel my vacation altogether, for I needed to get away. The stress of this pandemic to us, healthcare workers, is wearing me down. I needed a break.

So my family and I drove up North.

View from our lodge

Since Canada is still close to visitors, we stayed within the US border for our vacation. Yet we ventured really close to the northern border. We explored Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive, which is Lake Superior’s rugged westside coastline through Highway 61.

Highway 61 stretches from Duluth, Minnesota up to the Canadian border. Photo below is the aerial lift bridge at the Canal Park in Duluth.

We passed some lighthouses along the scenic drive and went down to check them out. Lighthouses nowadays don’t serve the same importance as it used to, as ships and boats usually navigate now with the GPS instead of just relying on visual cues. Yet lighthouses are still of iconic beauty.

Since we don’t have a tight schedule we had time to stop at a beach on a whim and just enjoy the scenery. Or also skip some rocks.

Skipping rocks requires both skill and knowledge of basic physics. Having the right spin, speed, shape and angle is needed in order for the stone to “skip” on top of the water. It may seem impossible at first to have a stone jump on water, but it can be done. Maybe life is like skipping rocks. We need to have the right elements in order for us to have our heads stay above water.

Here’s my son skipping rocks: (How many skips did you count? It was about 10.)

Although we were near the water, we spent much of our time in the mountains. The mountain resort where we stayed is a known ski destination but it has a different appeal during the summer months.

We rode the gondola up to the mountain peak. The view on the top was something to die for.

Then we rode down the mountain via the Alpine slide. This was half a mile of exhilarating ride.

This was a first-time experience for us. You can control your speed with a brake as you slide down the track. You can go slow (if you’re cautious) and enjoy the view, or go really fast and everything is a blur. My wife was so slow that it spoiled the fun of the kid behind her on the slide. I overheard the dad asking the boy if he had fun after the ride and he vehemently said no. Poor kid.

We like it so much that we did a second run. I thought of offering that poor kid a free ride but I couldn’t find them anymore. My wife did much faster on her second run. Maybe we should try bobsledding for our next adventure.

We also did some not-so-serious 2-mile hike up the mountain. Most of our activities were staying away from crowds as we practiced social distancing. We chased water falls while we also chased our breaths.

We followed up the river where it has less turbulent rapids and rested there. We ate our pack lunch while watching the river flow.

The morning we did the hike I received a phone call from our office informing me that one of my partners died. It was sudden and unexpected. Our life is in such a precarious balance that it could topple any moment. We should always be thankful for every precious time we have. (I’ll write a tribute for him later.)

We drove further up towards the Canadian border which was a little more than an hour drive from where we were staying. Again stopping along the way to enjoy the road-side view.

There was a last rest stop just before the border. Since it was in a state park, there were hiking trails in that area. So we hiked again.

We followed the trail that leads to the Canadian border, where at the end of that specific trail, we found this marker stating, “International Boundary Commission.”

We can’t get any further so we headed back. While we were hiking to this international boundary marker, we were interrogated not by Customs agents but by insects. And all we took back as souvenirs from the border were bug bites from friendly Canadian insects. At least they were duty-free.

From the North Shore,

Pinoytransplant (with my signature jump shot).

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Multiple Personalities

You have met the Black Ninja before. He is a fearless runner and is not afraid of rain, cold, or snow. But is scared of “black ice,” for he is not fond of slipping and sliding on icy road. He does not know how to use a samurai sword.

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Then you met the Lone…..ah….er….. the Wrong Ranger. He loves to take a hike and climb mountains. He does not have a horse, and does not know how to ride one. He’ll appear for a photo shoot, only to disappear in the shadows.

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And now, I introduce you to Lance (under)Armstrong. A cyclist wannabe. A slow rider. But is not afraid to get sweaty. The only thing that is “strong” is the “underarm.” He really needs to take his shower.

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What? Who are you calling Dr. Jekyll?

Call of the Wild

I grew up in a city.  I spent the first 27 years of my life thriving in the crowded city of Manila. I also lived for more than three years in New York City, the ultimate urban jungle. Not to mention also my short stint in Los Angeles. In spite of the fact that I am a city kid, I do love the wild. No, I don’t mean the crazy things people find in the city. What I mean is the wilderness.

Camping and mountaineering may not be a big cultural thing among Filipinos, but it has become a tradition in our family. In the school where I went to, camping is a yearly event. And I went to each one of them starting from 4th grade in elementary up until I finished high school. We had church camping as well. Going mountain climbing was also part of these trips. I have climbed to the peak Mt. Makiling, Mt. Makulot and Mt. Banahaw in the Philippines, and they were enchanting. A far cry from Smokey Mountain of Manila.

It is not surprising that I continued this camping and mountain hiking tradition with my own family here in the US. We went camping, almost every year, when we were living in New Jersey, New York, Florida, and now here in Iowa. It does not matter what season, for we camped in the spring, summer, fall and even early winter. Last weekend, my family, together with three other families (total of 11 kids) went for our spring camping.

Camping may not be appealing to many people. Who in their right mind would leave the comfort of their home, and their warm bed, and go and sleep in a tent with bugs and all, and freeze in the cold night? And call it fun? We do.

The weather was perfect during our camping, for it did not rain, though it dip down in the 40’s Fahrenheit in the early morning when we were out in the wild. But we were prepared and well-equipt.

We have a big and spacious tent, and I would not say that it is not without comfort.

our big tent, which can sleep 6 people comfortably

it can be cozy inside, especially when the campfire is near

We have air mattresses, so we don’t have to feel the rocks and uneveness of the dirt when we lay down. Our kids have warm sleeping bags that can be toasty inside even when the temperature is down in the 40’s.

plenty of room for our family of four

We even have a lantern inside the tent.

How about food and preparation of food? I would say that we are far from cooking like the cavemen did. Of course we can cook our food the old fashion way in the open fire.

roasting hotdogs

grilling in the open fire

Cooking in the open fire is fun, but it can take long and laborious. So for good measure we also brought a portable propane gas stove. The modern conveniences of camping!

our trusted propane stove

heating up water for the hot chocolate in the cold morning

We also brought lots of prepared food that we don’t have to cook, like adobo, brownies, cookies, and even cake. I know, I know, not your typical camping meal. So we have bountiful food that we are far from going hungry.

plenty of food on our table

What is camping without taking a hike through the forest and mountain? This year we went to the Backbone State Park near Lamont Iowa. It is Iowa’s oldest state park, dedicated in 1919. The park is more than 2000 acres and has 21 miles trail for hiking. It also has cliffs that climbers and rappellers can find challenging.

me and the trail sign

walking through the woods (“diwata ng gubat”- that’s actually my wife)

hiking under the shadow of a huge rock

open spaces overlooking a cliff

tight spaces between rocks

my best impression of Spiderman

conquering the rock

jumping from rock to rock

The trail even has a cave. It was not a big cavernous cave though. It was small and tight that you have to bend and crawl in the dark most of the way. Too claustrophobic and muddy for me. And it has bats. Yes, a bat cave! But no bat mobile in there.

climbing the trail leading to the cave

bending low to enter the cave

After crawling in the cave and getting dirty, we headed down the nearby creek to clean up. The water is clear and cold.

refreshing stream

We did not encounter much wild animals, just swarm of insects and birds flying around that filled the trail with their bird calls. No cougar, no elk, no bear (yes, there have been reports of black bear in Iowa), and no beaver that we spotted. (Though there are a lot of cows grazing in the prairie just outside the State Park.) But we did see sign of beaver marks around.

This tree was definitely chomped by a beaver.

After all the walking, climbing, jumping, and crouching, we needed some break time.

This type of break? (Don’t worry its all for effects. No fauna nor flora were endangered)

No. This type of break.

I know these camping trips and hiking can be exhausting, but they are also rejuvenating. Until the next call of the wild.

heeding the call of the wild