Lingering in Lanesboro

The town of Lanesboro, MN, as viewed from the hill in town.

Russ and I meandered with our Scamp trailer to Lanesboro, Minnesota, a small town not far from the Iowa border. I almost lived in Lanesboro, once, back when I was working for Mayo Clinic, which is a bit north of it. (But then Duluth and the call of Lake Superior won out and my family stayed in Duluth.)

Lanesboro is set in a limestone valley cut by the Root River. It hosts live theater, art galleries, and museums — as if all the creative people from the surrounding flat farmland tumbled into the valley and decided to stay. Had I lived there, I’m sure I would have felt at home. As it is, at least I get to visit it occasionally.

What attracted us weren’t the numerous bed and breakfast inns (Lanesboro is known as Minnesota’s Bed and Breakfast Capitol) or the rhubarb (also known as Minnesota’s Rhubarb Capitol), but Lanesboro’s bike trail.

The Root River Bike Trail runs right through the community. The forty-two-mile-long trail saved this little town from becoming a ghost of itself over thirty years ago when the trail was built by the state on an abandoned railroad bed.

We Scamped just outside of town at the Eagle Cliff Campground. As we drove to the campground in the evening, fireflies were out in full force, lighting up the roadside ditches and the forest edges. When we arrived, the campground hosts moved us to an upgraded site (pull-through with full hook-ups to water/electric/sewer) at no extra cost because a family reunion was going on in the site next to the one we originally signed up for. With that, we could already tell it was a well-run facility and the rest of our trip confirmed that good first impression.

That first night, we ate a quick and simple meal of scrambled eggs and Spam. In case you’re not aware, the home of Spam (a ground pork canned meat product) is not far away from Lanesboro, in Austin, Minnesota. We like to use it when camping because it’s tasty and easy. Since we were so close to its birthplace, we had to make sure we brought it along on this particular trip. Someday, I’d love to go to the Spam Museum, but we didn’t have time on this trip.

We stayed at the campground for four nights. Our first day, we bicycled from the town of Whalen to Peterson. Access to the Root River trail in Whalen was available via a short bike ride through the campground and down the quiet local highway. It was twenty miles from the campground to Peterson and back.

The Root River Bike Trail

One thing I love about the Root River Trail is that it’s well shaded. Trees line most of it, providing welcome relief, especially when temps were in the 80s like they were for us. The trail is also in good shape. Hardly any potholes or tree root bumps were to be found. The trail follows the river and is relatively flat. Quaint farms and cornfields line the parts that aren’t forested. Yet another thing I like is that the trail is free to use, unlike some of the trails Russ and I bike up north.

A variety of birds flitted across in front of us or called from the trees. We saw orioles and cardinals, heard catbirds, cowbirds and house wrens. At our campground, a pair of eagles were nesting nearby, and we watched black vultures circle around the bluffs that surround the valley. We also heard a rooster or two as we biked past farmsteads.

The area must have had a good amount of rain this season – everything was green and smelled verdant – like a newly mowed lawn.

A barn seen along the trail.

A note of caution: wild parsnip plants line the trail – you don’t want to come in contact with those. I also found out the hard way that stinging nettles can be found along the trail. My legs got a brief dose while I was taking the photo of the barn found in this post. Dedicated photographer that I am, I stood in them just long enough to get the photo. My legs stung, but not for long. The movement of biking and the fact that I wasn’t in the nettles long helped, I think. I just gritted my teeth and ignored the pain!

When we reached Peterson, we rested at a picnic table set up for bikers in town. We took the requisite tourist photos next to the town’s large welcome sign gnome. As we rehydrated, we were treated to the sight of a man driving a motorcycle with his German shepherd in the sidecar. They drove past us twice before we decided it was time to bike back to our campground.

Tubers on the Root River

The temperatures climbed into the 90s the next two days, so we opted for cooler forms of entertainment. One day, we visited Niagara Cave in Harmony, Minnesota, about fifteen miles south of Lanesboro. I’ll write more about that in a separate post. The next day we went tubing down the river. The campground offered a shuttle service and tubes at a reasonable cost. They drove us to a drop-off spot, and it took us about two hours to tube back to the campground. We just hopped out of the river at the campground landing and brought our tubes back to the office. It worked out pretty slick. The only thing that gave me pause is the lack of instruction by the shuttle driver. He just made some joke about hoping we all had our wills updated and then dropped us off. (!!)

There’s really not much to tubing other than avoiding strainers (trees that lean into the river – you can get stuck in them) and to wear sunscreen. I was so hot and sweaty when I applied my sunscreen, it must not have worked. I looked like a lobster the next day and am in the delightful peeling process now.

The river was murky but cool and refreshing. I enjoyed getting to know the river better. I saw three fish jump, lots of red-winged blackbirds and vultures, and we passed a Canada goose nesting area complete with goose families.

The final morning of our trip, the temps dropped into the 80s again, so we hit the bike trail. We drove into Lanesboro and began from the trailhead near the bass pond. We pedaled west toward the town of Fountain, turning back at the trail junction (where it joins the Harmony-Preston Trail). On our return, we stopped at the Old Barn Resort for lunch – an interesting historical site connected to the Allis Chalmers Machinery Company. Lots of cliff swallows nest under the barn’s eves.

The shrimp mango rice bowl from Pedal Pushers Cafe in Lanesboro.

Another great place to eat is Pedal Pushers Café in Lanesboro. We stopped there on one of the hot days after hitting the gift shops and walking around the town. The food at the café is locally sourced and very good!

If you’re ever looking for a quaint Minnesota getaway, put the Lanesboro area on your list. You’ll be glad you did. We came home refreshed and sunburnt, but happy.

A bridge on the trail between Lanesboro and Fountain.

Marie Does Kickboxing

I’m not sure what got into me last week. I saw an ad on Facebook and signed up for a free kickboxing lesson at a gym within walking distance of my house.

Well, I do sort of know what got into me. At the beginning of this year, I grew aghast at the post-menopausal weight that had crept upon my thighs (and butt!) with little pig’s feet, so, I signed up for Noom, an app that helps you track your food intake, exercise, steps taken, and thought processes around food.

The program has been very helpful and effective. I’ve lost eighteen pounds so far and still have a few more to go. I can tighten my belt three or four more notches than before. Pretty soon I’ll need to buy smaller jeans!

I noticed the gym when it opened a few years ago and joked with my girlfriends that we should try it, but in my mind, I figured the sport was for people younger than those in their late (ahem) fifties. But since losing weight, I’ve been feeling a bit feisty and ready to try something new. Plus, the more weight that comes off, the harder it is to lose because your body becomes more efficient using calories. One of the things Noom suggests to counteract this is to up the intensity of your workouts. Kickboxing would certainly be more intense than walking, biking, and elliptical striding, which is what I’ve been doing.

My main goal with this lesson was not to get broken. Having fun would be a plus.

I just returned from my lesson and I *think* I’m still intact (I’ll know better tomorrow after the stiffness sets in). And, it was FUN. I enjoyed punching the crap out of something without any social consequences. I must have subterranean anger that needs an outlet! Plus, the music was good.

Here’s how it works: The instructor interviews you about your fitness goals, motivations and any injuries you may have. Then it’s time to get moving. There are nine stations. You exercise alone at a station for three minutes. Then there’s a thirty-second interlude where the staff call out different exercises for everyone to do, like holding a plank position or doing mountain-climbers. Then everyone moves to the next station. Instructions for what to do are written on placards at each station. Time is kept by a lighted box on the wall.

Station exercises include sit-ups, kicking a heavy bag, doing uppercut punches on a wrecking ball-type heavy bag, and practicing traditional punches on a speed bag. The exercise I failed miserably at was jump roping. Apparently, jumping is not in my adult repertoire of activities. The activity I was surprised I could do fairly well were sit-ups while holding a medicine ball.

I like that, even though you work out at a station alone, you’re with other people who are working out in the same room. It’s rather like weight-lifting that way. But on the thirty-second interludes between stations, everyone works together doing whatever torture, er… exercise the instructors call out.

At the end, the instructor had me step on a machine that calibrates body composition. It basically said what I already knew – I’m doing pretty good for my age but could lose a few more pounds.

Then, the instructor outlined the three monthly exercise plan options they offer. I chose the cheapest one (because I’m cheap) and was issued my VERY OWN boxing gloves (I chose pink and black), wrapping tape, and heart monitor. I was also able to choose my own boxing superhero name, which will be shown on the public monitor display in the workout room. I chose “Magma” because it starts with M like Marie, plus cuz I’m so hot.

I may regret all this tomorrow when I can’t get out of bed, but for now, I’m feeling pretty darn good, and for a Minnesotan, that’s saying a lot.

Biskey Beauty

Russ and I meandered north to the Biskey Ponds Nordic Ski Trails on Fish Lake last weekend for the first time.

All I can say is that these cross-country ski trails are terrible. They were noisy and crowded. The other skiers scowled at us and muttered oaths most foul. The snow was coated with soot, the scenery filled with skyscrapers. The forest was mangled and misshapen. The grooming was awful – tracks all over the place. And the air held a lingering stench, reminiscent of dried pickles.

If you enjoy the Korkki Nordic Ski Trails near Duluth, you’ll intensely dislike these ski trails because they are like Korkki but with frozen ponds everywhere.

By all means, you should never ever go on these classic-only ski trails. Really, don’t go.

We want them all to ourselves.

Biskey Ponds Ski Trails

Superior Skiing

Marie skiing on one of the trails in the Superior Municipal Forest.

If, like me, you live in Duluth and you’ve cross-country skiied every trail and want something new, consider meandering across the bridge to the Superior Municipal Forest for some “superior” skiing in Superior, Wisconsin.

Russ and I tried the ski trails there for the first time this weekend. Since Russ doesn’t quite have his ski legs back yet (after not skiing last season due to an injury) we stuck to the easy red trail, going around both the out and inner loops for a total of 4.1 kilometers.

The trail lives up to its beginner status. It’s fairly flat the whole way, sporting both classic and skating tracks. The trail winds through a forest filled with big ol’ white pines and birch/aspens. The views are inspiring, especially as the sun starts to slant through the trees in the late afternoon.

One thing to note is that you’ll need a ski pass to go on these trails. You can either purchase a seasonal one or a day pass. We purchased a day pass at the self-service kiosk at the trailhead for $5. See the web link in the first paragraph of this post for details. I hear that the city grooms the trails every day, so they are usually in good condition.

And, if you need a dog fix, this is the place for you. The city dog park is right at the trailhead, so you can visit with the dogs as you come and go. You don’t get that with just any old ski trail. Truly superior!

SUP Yoga: Combining Two Great Pastimes

Doing a sitting spinal twist yoga pose in the Duluth-Superior Harbor. I’m on the left. Willowy younger person is on the right. (Image courtesy of North Shore SUP.)

You probably already know that I love doing yoga. I also love paddle boarding. Well, I finally had the chance to combine both these pastimes by taking a standup paddleboard yoga class the other day.

The opportunity was offered by North Shore SUP (also known as Duluth SUP even though they are located in Superior). Their business is run out of Barker’s Island in the Duluth-Superior Harbor. Owners Heather and Garrett are great – so enthusiastic about sharing their love of paddle boarding with everyone. I first learned how to paddleboard with their help eight years ago, when I began this blog.

My main fear was that I would fall off the board and make a fool of myself in front of the other students. Because keeping my fear to myself is boring and not blog-worthy, I broadcast it to everyone else by alerting my Facebook friends that I planned to do SUP yoga and then asked how many times they thought I would fall. They had much more faith in me than I had myself. They didn’t think I would fall, or that if I did, the water would be refreshing.

The evening was warm and fairly calm, with a haze of smoke in the air from the wildfires in Canada and northern Minnesota. Two younger women joined me in the class. After some conversation, I discovered it was their first time SUP yoga-ing, too, which made me feel better. The 1-1/2-hour class costs $30, which includes the board rental. I thought that was a good deal. It’s offered every Tuesday and Thursday evening, weather permitting.

We began by paddling our boards around the tip of Barker’s Island to a spot sheltered by trees from prying eyes. That also made me feel better because fewer people would see me fall. We anchored our boards in the shallows with a five-pound weight wrapped around the ankle leashes.

Katie, our instructor, started us off with some basic poses, including tips on techniques to maintain our balance. I would say the poses were Level One difficulty (which equals easy), but when you do them on a floating board, that automatically makes them Level Two. Combined with some boat wakes, the poses reach Level Two-Point-Five.

The other women were taller than I am, with long limbs that looked so elegant with each pose. Then there’s me, with short arms and legs. I looked like a yoga blob (see photo), but at least I didn’t fall!

Actually, I wouldn’t have minded falling. The air temps were hot and cooling off would have been nice. But big chunks of algae were floating in the water, along with dead bugs. It did not look appetizing for swimming. The water quality issues are only temporary, though, so don’t let that turn you off from trying SUP yoga.

My favorite part was the final resting pose, where you lay on your back, looking up to the sky. Although traffic noise from the nearby highway was audible, blissing out was still possible.

Class over, I asked the others what they thought. They all said they enjoyed it and would try it again. I agreed. It was wonderful!

Biking the Mesabi Trail from Hibbing to Chisholm

In our continuing quest to familiarize ourselves with the Mesabi Trail in northern Minnesota, Russ and I recently biked an 8.5-mile section right in the middle between the towns of Hibbing and Chisholm. This section runs by iron ore mine pits and a spur that leads to the Discovery Center, a cultural museum about the Iron Range.

The trail offers a good mix of ups and downs, shade and sun. In Hibbing, the trailhead parking lot is the same one that serves the Greyhound Bus Museum. We had time to visit the museum, which I’ll feature in my next post.

We rode out and back for a total of 17 miles. Not every bike trail offers sights like the Bruce Mine Headframe (pictured). A nearby sign said this structure was originally underground and it hoisted low-grade iron ore 300 feet to the surface. It’s the last standing headframe on the Mesabi Range.

The Bruce Mine Headframe — one of the sights along the Mesabi Trail between Hibbing and Chisholm.

The sign also goes onto to relate an incident that happened in the Bruce Mine. “In July 1927, Nick Bosanich was reported to have died in a rockslide in the mine. Forty-six hours later, he was found alive in a 10-foot-square room. His first request was for a cigarette.”

Ironic that upon his “resurrection” he probably shortened his life by resuming smoking!

On the way into Chisholm, the trail follows a city park along a lake. At our turnaround point, we could view downtown one way and in the other direction, the “Bridge of Peace” causeway across the lake. The bridge showcases flags from all 50 states as well as flags from around the world, which gives this small town a touch of the cosmopolitan.

Ever watch “Field of Dreams?” (One of my faves.) Chisholm’s other claim to fame is as the home of the legendary baseball player, Doc “Moonlight” Graham, who is featured in the movie.

So, this section of the trail offers mines, museums, and movie heroes. If you want a good introduction to the Iron Range, this is the right section of trail for you!

A Review of the Lungplus Device

The first time I cross-country ski each year, my lungs revolt in the form of tightness while skiing and coughing afterwards. I have allergies and have had pneumonia a couple times in the past. I think my lungs just don’t like the stress of breathing in all that cold air while I am working hard skiing. I guess you could call it exercise asthma, but does it count as asthma if it only happens once per year?

This year, among the “joys” of the pandemic (she said sarcastically), I realized that my lungs did not seem to be adjusting to cross-country skiing. I was coughing afterward every time, not just the first time. And I’ve been skiing a lot this year since the snow conditions and temps have been good.

So, it was with interest that I watched a TV news story about a local lady who is the U.S. distributor for Lungplus, a mouth-worn humidity and heat exchanger you can use while skiing to make your lungs happier.

I want happy lungs, so I ordered the Lungplus Sport ($50), which is for use with high-intensity activities like cross-country skiing.

As I took it out of the package, I was pleasantly surprised by how small it was – it had looked larger on the people using it on TV. It comes with a long piece of embroidery string that you can use to hang it around your neck, so don’t throw it away like I almost did!

The device works by trapping the heat and humidity of your breath inside an aluminum mesh as you breath out. When you breathe in, the air passes through the mesh, which is already warmed and humidified, and makes lungs happy.

I did a test-ski recently and am here to report that my lungs were about 80% happier. I still had a little tightness and coughing, but nowhere near as much as usual. Another pleasant surprise was how light and easy to use the Lungplus was. You just stick it in your mouth in the space between your lips and teeth. Yes, you look like a dork doing this, but hey, it’s worth it to breathe easy.

Excess condensation collects inside it. The Lungplus lady says the embroidery string will catch the “drool” so it doesn’t end up on your chest, or you can blow out the water or suck it in and swallow. That last suggestion grossed me out, but that’s what I ended up doing. The condensation seemed to naturally collect in my mouth, so swallowing it was really no big deal.

The string is also handy if you want to remove the device. You can just take the Lungplus out and it will hang like some space-age necklace pendant around your neck, handy for when you want to put it back in.

Besides allowing me to breathe easier, I found the Lungplus had the side benefit of discouraging conversation by passing skiers. This is handy for introverts. Nobody wants to talk to someone with a strange white gadget sticking out of their mouth.

Lungplus is easy to clean. Just rinse it with warm water or stick it in the dishwasher.

So, I’m here to say that it works! And no, I have not been paid to say this.

Biking Along the Giant’s Ridge

Russ biking across the 3/4-mile floating bridge on the Mesabi Trail.

The Mesabi Bike Trail website offers a rather hokey legend about how this part of northern Minnesota came to be named “Mesabi.” Basically, it describes how native peoples thought of the glacier(s) that covered the far north during the Ice Age. The story says the area was “guarded by this great white giant, so large that he could not be seen over. He could not be walked around.” The early people named him Mesabi, which means “a great and stout giant man.”

When the weather warmed and the giant grew weak, he retreated, uncovering a land of abundant forests, lakes, and farmland. The Mesabi Bike Trail traverses 135 miles (of a planned 155 miles) through this terrain.

Russ and I had the opportunity to bike several sections of the trail this summer. Thanks to unseasonably warm weather on a weekend earlier this month, we had the chance to pull on our biking shorts and explore more. We took the Giant’s Ridge Spur, which we reached from the parking lot of the Giant’s Ridge Recreation Area near Biwabik, Minnesota.

Our goal was to make it across an extensive floating bridge that crosses a bog near the end of the spur, a 16-mile round trip. This goal was no big deal to Russ, a retiree who routinely bikes 50 miles at a pop, but for me, a person whose life is still ruled by working for a living, it would be the longest trip of the season.

I’ll cut to the chase: we made it! The trail runs through remote country, passing regrown timber lands and beaver ponds, and crossing cabin driveways. A relatively new section climbs up a rather large ridge – high enough that it sports cell phone towers on top. The trail on other side of the ridge features at least a half-mile downhill stretch that you can just blast down. The metal floating bridge is at the bottom; it runs ¾ of a mile through a wetlands in the Darwin Myers State Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The trail turns to gravel at the end of the bridge for a short stretch through the rest of the WMA.

Of course, going downhill means you have to go uphill on the way back. I needed to walk my bike a couple of times, but the fun I had during the downhill runs on the way out were totally worth it.

Soon after our bike trip, Old Man Winter returned with snow, so we put our bike shorts away for the season. Unlike those who lived during the Ice Age, at least we can look forward to taking them out again on the other side of winter.

Seeing snow on the runs at Giant’s Ridge while we were biking in shorts was strange.

Biking the DWP

20200815_151705If you are a Duluthian or just want to be Duluthy, and you are tired of biking the Munger Trail, try its wild, more adventurous twin, the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific Railroad Corridor Trail. I call it a twin because, like the Munger Trail, it follows an abandoned railroad line and passes over a similar geography. But the DWP is wilder and more adventurous because it’s gravel, less developed, and fewer people use it.

20200815_154215We accessed the DWP from Spirit Mountain’s Grand Avenue chalet. If you go up the ski hill about 200 yards from the chalet, you will run into the trail, which crosses the hill. You can also access it from a gravel road and trail system to the right of the chalet, but those are technically closed this season due to COVID-19.

Take a left, and you are on your way to new vistas, a couple of updated trestle bridges, and a tunnel. The 10-mile trail will take you to Ely’s Peak, Becks Road, and eventually to Proctor. When we arrived at Ely’s Peak tunnel, rock climbers were scaling the outside walls, testing their nerve and equipment.

We turned back at the tunnel. Later, while resting on a bridge, we had the chance to speak to a family who said they biked to the Buffalo House and had lunch before biking back to the parking lot at the chalet.

We hope to do the rest of the trail next time!


Paddling into Deep Summer

DSC05846FixedI awaken at 6 a.m., roll over and look at the lake outside the window. The water is smooth as a scrying mirror. The sun peeks over the spruces, encouraging a lake mist to form.

If I were more ambitious, I’d be out paddle boarding right now. Instead, I roll over and shut my eyes, lulled into a doze by the trills of hermit thrushes deep in the forest.

An hour later, I open my eyes to the same scene — the lake still calm, mist still rising.

Although in my book, 7 a.m. is still early to rise, I succumb to the siren call of my standup paddle board. It is early July and the temperature is already 70 degrees outside – one of those days that Minnesotans dream of during February. It would be criminal not to enjoy it.

Russ and the dog are still sleeping, so I quietly get out of bed and don my swimsuit. I tiptoe out into the dew-wet grass toward the boat house – feeling like a teenager headed for an illicit rendezvous. However, I am responsible enough to leave a note on the kitchen table: “Gone paddleboarding!”

DSC05814Opening the boathouse door, I inhale. There’s nothing like that old boathouse smell – decades of damp, mixed with a little mustiness and a hint of worn wood.

I heft my board and paddle, carefully closing the door so I won’t wake those in the cabin. On my way to the dock, I pass a bunch of blueberry plants covered with small blue sapphires – berries ready for picking. I can’t be distracted, though. They’ll have to wait.

As I settle my board into the water, I giggle inwardly. Hardly typical behavior for someone nearing retirement age, but a quick glance at the lake has told me it will only be me and the loons out there this morning. Life cannot get much better.

I head out in a clockwise direction around the lake. This just seems natural. The night before, a small parade of pontoon boats were all going counterclockwise. We’re living in the northern hemisphere. The toilet water spins clockwise. I figure it’s better not to go against the spin.

My board skims the surface easily. In the clear water below, bluegills rush to hide in the reeds. Water plants stand still and straight as trees. As I paddle, the mist seems an elusive dream. I know I’m in it, but I can’t see it when I arrive. The mist is always just out of reach ahead, playing tricks with my senses.

All of the other cabins are silent, still shuttered for the night. I only see a couple of other ladies, each sitting on shore, enjoying their morning coffee. I wave and they wave back.

My morning idyll is shattered by a pain in the middle of my back, between my shoulder blades. A horse fly or deer fly has found me! As I struggle to paddle into position so that I can safely use my paddle to scratch it off my back, I marvel at how these flies know exactly where to bite where they can’t easily be swatted. It’s like all the babies attend Fly Biting School were the teachers point out the safest places on people and animals to chomp.

Board in position, I carefully balance while lifting my paddle to scratch my back. Success! I don’t fall off my board and the pain disappears, along with the fly. Although a nuisance, these flies need clean water to live. Their presence is an indicator of a healthy environment.

The rest of my paddle is uneventful, if you can call relishing every summer sight and sound uneventful. I arrive back at the dock feeling like I’ve paddled into deep summer.

I am so thankful to be able to enjoy this morning, especially since there are so many people gone from this Earth due to the coronavirus, who will never have the chance to experience such things again. It was worth getting out of bed early.

Now, where are those blueberries?