Posts by: Caribou

episode 1.14 – cold snaps, warm fuzzies

I think sometimes we in the North Country forget there is more to do up here than just ski/snowboard/repeat.  I know I did.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the season, especially around a ski resort.  The constant clack of bindings on staircases, the telltale trail of snow behind everyone’s boots, the red cheeks and frozen eyelashes–all signs that the slopes are prime.

But there is more.  Much more.  And it took the winter-version of an old favorite to remind me.

Monday morning, blurry-eyed and head aching from Super Bowl festivities, I made my way to the mouth of Devil Track River just a hair norheasterly of Grand Marais.

location

There I met my good buddy Carl (of Grand Marais Fusion fame) for a little hiking action.  It was an ‘everybody’s welcome’ activity to get locals out and about for exercise, but apparently I was the only one in town that was feeling guilty about my Big Game Day consumption.  The small turnout was just fine by me, as it lent itself to the quiet calm of the morning.

If it’s not clear by now:  I was about to hike a frozen river.

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Was I a little nervous?  Yes.  Of course.  First of all, it’s me.  Second of all, how many movies have you seen where a character walking on frozen water actually stays above said water?

But as I got a few strides into the trek, I got used to the hollow sounds of my footfalls, the gurgling of a flowing river beneath a sheet of ice–a sound both soothing and unsettling.

As I followed Carl up the river, he pointed out otter and beaver tracks, the prints of what might’ve been a big cat.  We sidestepped gaping maws of open water.  Places where dark currents flowed past daggers of ice like jagged fangs.

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Over mounds of frozen rapids and around fallen logs, we trekked deeper and deeper into the canyons, feeling smaller and smaller as the walls of the chasm grew higher and higher.  We came upon a waterfall whose cascades had seemingly been flash-frozen into a slope of yellow, translucent curdles of ice.

I didn’t even realize its true height until I saw Carl’s picture of me taking a picture of it.

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Insignificant, was all that I could think of myself when I saw that picture.  And I didn’t mean it in the usual self-deprecating, writer-y way I usually do.  On the contrary, it made me feel better.  Suddenly all my worries, problems, and fears seemed so tiny.  For the first time in a long time I wasn’t the egotistical star of a reality show with a captive audience of one…I was just a speck of a guy staring up at a massive, raging rush of water that had been frozen into silence by nature.

What really struck me, as the hike continued, was the confluence of events that had brought me there.  I realized we were following tracks–lots of’em–from snowshoes to cross-country skis.  Carl and I weren’t the first ones to brave this river, not by a long shot.  I found myself asking him about others who had done this, or if he’d done it before.  He said he hadn’t for a couple years; that the conditions hadn’t been right.  Seems the river needed a just the right amount of pre-season rain so as not to be raging, but also not shallow.  It needed a couple cold snaps and then some fresh powder and–most of all, in my opinion–a warm day to bring out adventurous trekkers to pack down a trail.

Confluence of events.

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Round-trip, the hike ended up being about 4 miles, an hour in and an hour out.  Too short, if you ask me.  So I hiked a different river the next day.  A familiar river that I hike many times a summer, but which now I could see from a different vantage because of those ultra-cold Minnesota elements that I often thought of as a hassle.

So, yeah, I think you should hike up a frozen river.  Definitely.  I mean, bring a friend, of course, and watch where you step.  But also remember not to take your “setting” for granted.  Lutsen and the surrounding towns are more than just a place to catch some primo powder, slam a PBR, and call it a day in the hot tub.

There are hidden gems around every bend.

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episode 1.13 – stay calm and give thanks

Well, the unimaginable has happened:  Fall has found its way to the North Shore.  I haven’t worn shorts in weeks, people.  WEEKS!

I know, right?  Who could’ve possibly seen that coming?  I don’t blame anyone though–it’s not like you can predict when a season arrives, right?  It’s–

What’s that?  

That’s literally the definition of season?  

Huh.  

Well, don’t I feel sheepish.

But it’s not all bad.  In fact, it’s not too bad at all!  I always do this thing where I dread Summer ending and Autumn taking its place.  Like it’s the end of the world or something.  But really, it’s not the end of anything.

It’s the start epic kickoff of some of the best holidays!  Holidays such as Halloween, my birthday (arguably the most important), and Thanksgiving!  And holidays–like everything else–are just better up here.

Need proof?  Here’s what I did on Halloween:

You’re probably asking, Mikel, how is that in any way proof that North Shore Halloweens are better than anything? 

My answer is two-fold:

1) It took place on the North Shore, so–there’s that.

2) They are SCARY MINI PIZZAS!  What more do you need?!

Okay, okay, still not convinced of North Shore holiday awesomeness?  Then explain this photo from my birthday:

You know what?  Let’s just move right along to….

THANKSGIVING!

The North Shore was practically built for Thanksgiving.  I mean, we already have the colors taken care of–big time.  Okay, granted it’s more an alternative destination, there’s still plenty of good reasons to make it your Thanksgiving getaway.  Need proof?

I mean good proof this time.  Sheesh.  One mini pizza picture and a guy loses all credibility….

I know you folks love you some Top 5 lists, so, let me break it down…

The TOP 5 BEST REASONS TO NORTH SHORE IT UP FOR TURKEY DAY WEEKEND

#5) The Traffic is Infinitely Preferable

Picture this:  Thanksgiving Day.  You’re on your way to pick up Aunt Brian (don’t ask).  The backseat is filled to the brim with screaming kids, sleeping bags, and pajamas.  The candied yams in your lap are somehow getting hotter.  And, guess what, the dog is starting to get carsick.  Would you rather:

A.  Get stuck at another red light behind an equally kid-infested station wagon or…

B.  At the very least, have this as your commute:

Your choice.  I’ll wait while you pick.  By the way, you’re looking at a shot of “Lutsen Rush Hour.”

#4) Get Stuffed!

No, that’s not an insult!  I’m talking about the traditional Thanksgiving meal.  When it comes to eating on T-Day, you know the rules:  Go big or go home.  Except you can’t go home, remember?  You’re stuck at Grandma Vicki’s, stuffed to the gills with turkey and cranberry sauce, and all you want in the world is a nap!  But guess what?  Uncle Kevin’s got dibs on the spare bedroom, so you’ll just have to curl up on the sofa between “Nana” and two 7-year-olds fighting over a wishbone.

If only there was a cozy lodge that had an all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving Day buffet with room after room of comfy, full-sized beds for your post-binge napping needs.

Oh, wait…there is.

I, for one, will be spending my Turkey Day at Moguls.  Granted, I’ll be in uniform, but I’ll still be staying true to my new Thanksgiving tradition:  go where there’s turkey and Parmesan-encrusted Walleye topped with Tomato-Basil Compote.

Just sayin’.

#3) No Black Friday

No-brainer.  There’s plenty of other chances to get trampled at a shopping mall.  Or just wait for Cyber Monday like the rest of the world and, in the meantime, enjoy a cozy weekend in front of a fireplace in the quietest vacation destination in all of Minnesota.

Like I said:  no-brainer.

#2) BYOF (Build-Your-Own-Family)

And for once, I’m not talking about robots.

Not in the traditional sense, anyway.

Look, family is great.  But sometimes the relatives can get a little…grinding, right?  Don’t deny it.  You’re in the tree of trust here–let it all out.  Your sister’s just going to talk about her parking tickets and you know it only takes one glass of champagne to get your great uncle talking about “politics.”

So why don’t you get a little selective.  Grab your favorite brother, and the great-aunt you’ve always loved, and bring’em up here!  Or, skip the in-laws altogether and have on of those “Friendsgivings” I’ve been hearing so much about.  You’ll have some great photo ops with that mountain in the background and you can keep in touch with second-cousin Charlie the old fashioned way:  Facebook.

#1) Downhill Thanksgiving

I bet I can think of something that my Thanksgiving’s going to have that yours won’t.  Here’s a hint:  it requires special boots.

I bet you haven’t seen much snow down there.  But up here, snowmakers have been hard at work, round the clock getting those slopes up to par…

Well, Your Honor, I think I’ve proven my case.  North Shore.  Thanksgiving.  2012.  You don’t want to miss this.  And jokes about relatives aside, Thanksgiving can be anywhere as long as you’re surrounded by your favorite people–even if that’s just you, yourself, and I.

So how ’bout a new tradition–one that’s a little less…traditional?

Just remember, wherever you go, be safe.  Be thankful.  And please don’t drive if you’ve had too much to eat.

– Mikel

episode 1.12 – the north shore summer bucket list and other adventures

A blurb from my other blog…which is a Camaro.

 

Oh, don’t get all riled up–it’s not that close!  There’s still plenty of t-shirt weather left for the ol’ Shore.

Or ‘light hoodie weather’ as we call it up here.

But this time of year does hold a special place in my heart.  Not only does life slow down and everything seems a little quieter, but it’s about the time last year that I up and decided to move to the Twin Cites…..

…and subsequently realized after 3 months that there’s no place I’d rather be than up here!

But before that it was a time when I was saying goodbye to all my favorite things, getting weepy when I looked at Superior, and trying to hike every last trail I could.

Hence the the deep, deep blog post.

One thing the move did do last year was force me to prioritize and assemble a list of some of my favorite things to do.  Things that were still doable even in the twilight of summer.

Behold!  The origin of the North Shore Summer Bucket List!  Proof that there’s still stuff to do before the season is over!

So, if for no other reason than to reminisce, I’m going to break down my list of things I wanted to do.

1.  Make it to “the other lighthouse.”

There, off in the distance…

Okay, sarcastic newsflash:  Grand Marais has a beautiful, majestic lighthouse.  Duh.  Everyone knows that.  Just off of Artist Point, it is a well-trafficked on-foot destination for tourists and locals of all ages.

But one thing always drove me crazy:  every time I got to the end of the lighthouse, I could see “the other lighthouse” looming in the distance.  Mocking me.  Daring me to come find her.  So one day I just up and went searching for it.  It wasn’t hard to find, but it was a lot more daunting of a trek to reaching the ivory-and-emerald beacon.  Not for all ages.  But an enjoyable mini-adventure all the same.

 

2.  Make it to the casino at Grand Portage one last time.

Okay, nobody said it was some kind of holy quest I was on.  The casino is a lot of fun, but it’s also a very beautiful trip to get there.  And for a guy who’s never been to Canada, it was exciting to get that close.  And there’s plenty of other things to do in Portage than pretend you’re a high roller.

 

3.  Take the ferry to Isle Royale.

See?  Another awesome thing to do up in Grand Portage.  When I first moved up here I heard “Isle Royale” thrown about quite a bit, but I didn’t realize it was the big island in Superior.  I always thought of it as “The Eye of the Wolf” (if you’re thinking about Superior as a wolf head, of course).  But it was this mysterious, cool island that has intrigued and inspired me since I was young.  And suddenly, I’m living just a short drive from it.  A short drive and a ferry ride, I mean.

But tragically, this was one of the items that is still in my bucket.  Maybe there’s still time!

 

4.  Hike Cascade, Devil’s Kettle, and Kadunce.

Did it then, and I’ll do it again!  Those are easily my 3 favorite hikes.  Not only did I scale Cascade to it’s highest point, but I also walked to Devil’s Kettle (about 10 miles round trip) just to make it a little trickier, and the Kadunce, well, we all know that’s my infamous waterfall climb!

 

5.  Walk from my house to Cutface Creek.

Nope!  This one didn’t happen either.  I used to live right in town in GM, making this about a 6-miler to get to the scenic wayside spot.  Great for a picnic!  6 miles?  Totally doable.  Just, uh, you know, didn’t do it.

Say it with me now:  THERE’S STILL TIME!!

 

6.  Drink one last Anne Bonny at the Tav.

As I told you before, it’s my favorite cocktail.  Ever.  Did you try one yet?

Let’s just say I managed to complete this one.

A few times….

 

7.  Buy a bottle of HP Sauce.

Do you know what HP Sauce is?  I didn’t.  Apparently it’s like the Canadian version of A1 Steak Sauce.

It’s delicious.  And hard to find.

One of the greatest couples in the world that frequents my resort would always come to the restaurant when I was working.  And they’d bring me a bottle of HP Sauce, straight outta Thunder Bay.  What a deal!  But as I was leaving the area, I realized at the last second, I was going to have to search out a bottle on my own and take it with me to the Big City.

Not as easy as you might think.

 

8.  Eat all my favorite entrees at Moguls.

I’m not just biased; our little restaurant has dang-good food.  I couldn’t go without having my favorites:  the Shore Lunch Benedict, the Beef-and-Blue Flatbread, and our signature Prime Rib (good with or without HP Sauce, btw.)

 

9.  See what lies at the end of the Gunflint Trail.

This one burns me a bit.  I never made it.  I’ve been up there a good distance–and I go a little further each time.  But I’ve never been to the proverbial end.  Probably correlates to me never seeing a moose (I hear that’s where they hang out).

I did get pretty far one time.  The last time.  I don’t want to talk about it.  Let’s just say a tow truck was involved.

Heck of a view though!

Alright, I’d say that about wraps things up.  Long story short, there’s still plenty of stuff to do up in this neck of the woods. Just last weekend the little lady and I visited Temperance River State Park….

And had adventure…

…after adventure…

…after tree-related adventure…

Seriously, how the heck did I even….

Ah, forget it. Nap it is!

 

So, fear not, summer-lovers!  There’s still plenty to do before the Fall, well….falls.

…still, Autumn does have its perks.

 

Cheers!

– Mikel

episode 1.11 – the trail less hiked

The North Shore in the summer is notoriously awesome for hikes.  Trails of all types abound:  toughies, easy-peasies, uphillsies, downhillsies, grassies, rockies, wetties, drysies, crittervilles, root-boots, and other definitely real, totally not made up at all classes of hikes.

Okay, busted.  Full disclosure, guys:  I don’t know anything about hiking trail classification.

But I know who does….

Official Superior hiking trails are a dime a dozen up here.  I’ve tried to get out and about on all of them, but you know, it’s tough not to pick favorites.

For example, a guy never forgets his first trail.  And for me, that was the Cascade River hike.  It’s a heck of a climb, almost completely uphill, but the soothing river sounds and the waterfall glimpses definitely help with the ascent.  And what a view!

Then there’s the good ol’ Devil’s Kettle in Judge CR Magney State Park.  A bit of a drive up 61 from Lutsen, past Grand Marais, but oh-so worth it.  Conquer the “Steps of Doom” and you’ll catch a glimpse of the Kettle itself:  a phenomenal split waterfall; where one stream continues down the river to Superior, and the other disappears into a cauldron of rock that nobody can determine where it ends up!  Muy Mysterioso!

A sweet shot down the barrel of the Kettle itself–where does it all go?!

 

And if you’re looking for a good trail run, well, look no further than the Kadunce River hike, a well-rounded little trail that I find myself barreling down on a daily basis.  Trail Running is great because it’s constantly changing terrain keeps things fresh, plus you feel like a ninja.  Or like you’re in a video game.  Maybe a ninja video game.

Want some actual info on local hikes?  Like tips and stuff?  Click here.

While these trails will always be go-to favorites and memorable jaunts, I’ve taken to finding unusual hikes. The “Trail Less Hiked” if you will.

It started with river hiking.  Find a trail, look to the left, and you’ll usually find a corresponding river riddled with rocks and stepping stones.  Sure it takes a little balance, and you might not want to try it if the river is a ragin’, but if you’re not afraid to get a little wet, check out the Devil’s Kettle River.  You can go nearly the whole on river rocks alone.

See? If you squint, there’s a trail there. Totally.

And if you do make that trek, eventually you’ll come across a waterfall.  Last summer, I climbed a waterfall after hiking the river.  Once you do that, you’ll never go back!

Recently, I discovered SHTA’s Lakewalk.

No, it’s not an ability in Magic: The Gathering.

Right, Mikel, because that’s what everyone was thinking…

But I never even thought of it as a hike possibility before.  But I’ve really been digging the Lakewalk lately.  Just an amazing trek right along the shore of Superior.

Hopefully, you won’t mind if I bring you along with me–via photos, of course.

Gotta keep your eyes peeled for this one.

 The beaches up here are made up of perfectly-tumbled stones, giving the Lakewalk a satisfying, stress-ball-esque feel with every step.

 The view is pretty good too, I guess.

I’m big-time into finding functional things in nature (as you might remember from my coaster set).  The Lakewalk is a goldmine for furnishing your home with authentic North Shore gear, gadgets, and gimmicks of all kinds.  Driftwood is a remarkable substance that hasn’t been utilized properly, in my opinion.  Proof?  See below!

All-natural Certified-Organic North Shore Incense Holder

 

Totally Green for the Environment North Shore luggage tag!

Nothing but step after step of pure serenity.

 

Kate has discovered that exercising is way more fun on a lone beach, surrounding by nothing but gentle waves, relaxing bird calls, and maybe a pesky boyfriend with a camera.

There are plenty of large rocks that act as weights if you’re looking to add a little oomph to your Lakewalk Workout.

I also discovered agreat workout in which I see a tiny piece of driftwood, try desperately to pull it out of the ground, break a sweat, then dig down into the rocks only to discover it’s basically a giant drifttree.

I regret nothing.

Ideally, I would have spent the idea day unearthing this little gem.

It’s tough to say goodbye to the Lakewalk, but I always know where to find it.  I hope you find it too.

Nothing like getting up close and personal with a Great Lake.

 –Mikel

episode 1.10 – the reclusive moose

To quoth Unca Lou’s great line in one of the greatest films of all time, Indian Summer:

“There’s nothing like a good moose.”

I’ve seen a ton of moose living up here:  the Mangy Moose, the Java Moose, the Blue Moose.

Clearly Google Maps will not help you see a moose.

Oh.  You mean a real moose?  No, I’ve never seen one.

Gasp!  Swoon!  Surely you jest!

Truthfully, I came up here with no preconceived notions of seeing a moose.  Or any animal, to be honest.  That is until every human being I had ever known asked me if I’d seen a moose.  In the restaurant, sure, people are curious.  But my friends?  They just assume herds of moose are crisscrossing my backyard on a daily basis.

Not exactly the case.

Plenty of other animals though.  I see several creatures on a weekly, if not daily, basis that I didn’t see living closer to the Cities.  My favorite all-time critter has to be the Red Fox.

A stunning flash of fire and obsidian, I often spot the fox on my late night drive home.  It’s usually fleeting; just a quick glimpse as it ducks into the forest or tall grass between the road and Lake Superior–but what a sight!  I consider a fox sighting good luck.

If you see a fox?  Probably just keep heading to the nearest Casino.  That’s my rule of thumb.

I also see a lot of coyote.  At least I think they’re coyote.  Most people that see coyote think it’s a wolf, but wolves are a little more rare.

A good way to tell is the size–wolves are bigger. 

Another good way?  This website

I guess if you’re really in the mood to discuss wolves while you’re visiting the area is to stop at the International Wolf Center in Ely on your way.

But if you’re looking for a glimpse of nature in the raw, there’s no shortage up here.  Bears, wolves, bobcats–we’ve got a nice array.

As for the moose?  Well, I can’t give you any tips there.  Never seen one, remember?  (Don’t rub it in.)  If you ask any of the locals, you’ll get some sighting spots or at least a story or two.  As I mentioned in a previous post, my pal and first-rate chef Justen saw one while he was fishing on Northern Light Lake.

That’s up the Gunflint.  I think most people will agree that your best bet to see a moose in this neck of the woods is to travel up the Gunflint Trail.

I think another good bet would a Moose Scouting Tour courtesy of Skydan.  A birds’ eye view ought to reveal one of the elusive beasts.

Truthfully, even though it wasn’t my intent, I want to see a moose the longer I live up here.  It just seems like a thing I have to do, you know?  I rite of passage, so to speak.

In the meantime, however, I guess I’ll stick to my usual moose sightings….

Not exactly what I had in mind. Nice shirt, though.

 

Later, cats!

 –Mikel 

photo credits:  fox, everything else

episode 1.9 – the picnic cometh!

Finishing up my shift, I took in a burrito and brew at the Tav in Grand Marais and watched the sunniest, hottest day of the summer cloud-over and into one of the swiftest storms I’ve ever seen pass over the small town.

Lightning crackled behind gray tufts of cloud and thunder rocked the foundations of the coffee shop in which I took shelter.  (Everyone knows the first thing to do in a storm emergency is to seek Iced Mochas, right?)

The wall cloud was an unusual sight.  Since the town is so infrequently hit by big storms, the streets didn’t clear–instead, they filled with spectators snapping shots with cameras and smartphones.

Clearly, I did too.

GM had plenty of witnesses to the event too, considering this weekend was the kickoff to a big week for the small town.

On Saturday, the harbor was all about Dragon Boat Racing.  Teams paddling their little hearts out in beautifully-crafted dragon-inspired boats has drawn quite a crowd in recent years.

Dragons are very in this season, or so I’ve been told.

But after that, Grand Marais rolls right into one of the biggest–and oldest–festivals of all time:  Fisherman’s Picnic.

What is Fisherman’s Picnic?  Oh, man.

Every summer, when America is gearing up for fireworks and parades on the 4th of July, Grand Marais is sitting back, relaxing.

Relatively, of course–obviously the town still does its part to put on a heck of an Independence Day show.

But GM saves itself for Fisherman’s Picnic, the 83-year-old tradition that’s all about fishing, food, and fun.  Think of it as the “really cool Grandpa” of local festivals.

What began as a modest fundraiser for the local Lions Club chapter has evolved into an all-out celebration, complete with carnival rides and games, amazing food, a parade, and….log-rolling?!  Seriously?!

Perusing the official agenda, I found a number of stand-alone events that sound promising.  Do I know what they are exactly?  No.  Am I going to check them out?  Duh.  Let’s look at some of these hidden gems, shall we?

“Library Friends Annual Book Sale” 

That sounds promising.  Good deals on used books that benefit the local library?  Slam dunk.

 “Kids Rides Open”

Okay…it says Kids Rides–but nobody keeps Mikel off a Scrambler!  Keep it on the list!

“World’s Best Donut Bingo”

Well, that’s 2 of my favorite things right there...

“Cutest Puppy Contest”

So I’m a sucker for cute puppies–who isn’t?

“Pizza Eating Contest”

Let’s be clear:  I will win this.  And after I eat the required amount of pizza, I will also eat your pizza.

“Fishburger Stand Opens”

Not entirely sure what a “Fishburger” is…but that’s never stopped me before!

Well, now I have my agenda–let’s not dwell on the fact that half of them have to do with food.  

Anyway, hope to see you guys around my neck of the woods this weekend!  Grand Marais is always a blast, festival or not.  But why wouldn’t you choose “festival” in that situation?

Ahh, look at that.  The storm has passed.  Man, I love this town.

Cheers!

–Mikel

Fish-Pic Veterans:  Don’t be afraid to sound off in the comments section with your favorite FP events.  What are you guys looking forward to?

episode 1.8 – life in the "big marsh"

Let’s be clear:  I work in Lutsen, but I play in Grand Marais.

(I guess it’s kind of a win-win because my work usually consists of stuff like this.)  

Don’t get me wrong, all of the North Shore is the royal crown of Minnesota.  But for me, Grand Marais is the biggest gem.  It’s the town I fell in love with when I helped my cousin move there a few years ago.  I had no idea then that I would be living there within six months, but that was exactly the case.

So what’s so great about the little harbor that early French traders called “the big marsh?” (Title!  Relevance!)

Answer:  Fudge shoppes.

Just kidding.  Sort of.  We do have two of them.  But there is much more to Grand Marais than just fudge–there’s also doughnuts!

No, Mikel, no!  Never blog on an empty stomach, people.

While the food is divine, I think the real draw of the quaint, artsy little town is the juxtaposition of culture and nature.  Nowhere else can you find such a perfect clash of Americana sidling right up to the Northwoods.

Seriously.  It’s like look left and see this:

Look right, and it’s this:

One minute, you’re enjoying a mason jar of wine at My Sister’s Place….

…the next, you’re scouting locales for Season 2 of Lost!

There’s fine dining.

There’s hiking.

There’s microbrews on draft.

There’s a skatepark.

There’s art.

There’s Artists’ Point.

There’s frozen custard.

And there’s a thousand little places

where you can pull up a corner of serenity

and call it your own for hours at a time.

Two years later, and I still spend my days off walking up and down the streets of Grand Marais, taking it all in.  Trekking out to the edge of the lighthouse to read a book.  Hoofing it until the roads turn into shoreline.  Skipping perfectly water-smoothed stones into the big blue until the sun sets.

I tell all my guests the same thing:  if you’ve made it all the way to Lutsen for vacation, you have to visit Grand Marais.  It’s condensed relaxation.  A vacation within a vacation.

In honor of my favorite little town–and how much I love food–I decided to put together a little awards show.  Presenting The First Annual “Marshies.”  The best-of-the-best Grand Marais has to offer:

Best View:  Grand Marais Fusion

Wait, this one isn’t about food, is it?  Yes, it is.  GM Fusion, run by two of the greatest people you’ll ever meet, Carl and Beth, is technically an Herbalife shake shoppe.  But it is also a great hangout with a great view of the harbor.  Ask for the “Mikey Special” shake.

Best Pizza: Sven and Ole’s / My Sister’s Place

Two winners for best pizza?  Them’s fightin’ words!  But I couldn’t help but giving the Marshie to both of these places.  Sven and Ole’s pretty much has the market cornered on ‘za in Grand Marais.  It’s hard to contend with their thick crusts and unique toppings–and their dedication to being an uber-traditional pizzeria is admirable.

But you gotta try Sisters’ BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger–it’s a gamechanger.  Don’t forget the extra pickles!

Best Burger:  My Sister’s Place

Geez, Mikel, are you running PR for these guys or what?

Look, I just really like this place okay?  (Mason Jars!  Hello!)  But the burger menu does leave the others in the dust.  From the “Anna Banana” to the “Goober Burger,” there’s something for every palette.  Seriously, peanut-butter-and-mayo…try it!

Best Cocktail:  Gunflint Tavern

Live music, an amazing menu, and a bar on the roof make this the nightlife hot spot in Grand Marais.  I could’ve made an offshoot award for Best Nachos, and the Tav would hold the title on that one too.

But I digress (It’s a problem):  the best cocktail in town is the Anne Bonny; a sweet, citrusy twist on a Long Island.  You have to try it.  Great wine and beer selection as well!

Best Place to get a Mocha/Best Cookie:  The Java Moose

The quintessential coffee shop:  WiFi, chalkboards, muffin tops, artsy folk like me–the whole nine yards.  They also keep a lock on the recipe for the Thunder Cookie.

There’s definitely more to come from me on the topic of Grand Marais.  This weekend, the harbor is hosting the Dragon Boat Races.

Need a room?  I know a great little place.

Check it out for yourself.  Bonus points if you can find this spot:

episode 1.8 – life in the “big marsh”

Let’s be clear:  I work in Lutsen, but I play in Grand Marais.

(I guess it’s kind of a win-win because my work usually consists of stuff like this.)  

Don’t get me wrong, all of the North Shore is the royal crown of Minnesota.  But for me, Grand Marais is the biggest gem.  It’s the town I fell in love with when I helped my cousin move there a few years ago.  I had no idea then that I would be living there within six months, but that was exactly the case.

So what’s so great about the little harbor that early French traders called “the big marsh?” (Title!  Relevance!)

Answer:  Fudge shoppes.

Just kidding.  Sort of.  We do have two of them.  But there is much more to Grand Marais than just fudge–there’s also doughnuts!

No, Mikel, no!  Never blog on an empty stomach, people.

While the food is divine, I think the real draw of the quaint, artsy little town is the juxtaposition of culture and nature.  Nowhere else can you find such a perfect clash of Americana sidling right up to the Northwoods.

Seriously.  It’s like look left and see this:

Look right, and it’s this:

One minute, you’re enjoying a mason jar of wine at My Sister’s Place….

…the next, you’re scouting locales for Season 2 of Lost!

There’s fine dining.

There’s hiking.

There’s microbrews on draft.

There’s a skatepark.

There’s art.

There’s Artists’ Point.

There’s frozen custard.

And there’s a thousand little places

where you can pull up a corner of serenity

and call it your own for hours at a time.

Two years later, and I still spend my days off walking up and down the streets of Grand Marais, taking it all in.  Trekking out to the edge of the lighthouse to read a book.  Hoofing it until the roads turn into shoreline.  Skipping perfectly water-smoothed stones into the big blue until the sun sets.

I tell all my guests the same thing:  if you’ve made it all the way to Lutsen for vacation, you have to visit Grand Marais.  It’s condensed relaxation.  A vacation within a vacation.

In honor of my favorite little town–and how much I love food–I decided to put together a little awards show.  Presenting The First Annual “Marshies.”  The best-of-the-best Grand Marais has to offer:

Best View:  Grand Marais Fusion

Wait, this one isn’t about food, is it?  Yes, it is.  GM Fusion, run by two of the greatest people you’ll ever meet, Carl and Beth, is technically an Herbalife shake shoppe.  But it is also a great hangout with a great view of the harbor.  Ask for the “Mikey Special” shake.

Best Pizza: Sven and Ole’s / My Sister’s Place

Two winners for best pizza?  Them’s fightin’ words!  But I couldn’t help but giving the Marshie to both of these places.  Sven and Ole’s pretty much has the market cornered on ‘za in Grand Marais.  It’s hard to contend with their thick crusts and unique toppings–and their dedication to being an uber-traditional pizzeria is admirable.

But you gotta try Sisters’ BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger–it’s a gamechanger.  Don’t forget the extra pickles!

Best Burger:  My Sister’s Place

Geez, Mikel, are you running PR for these guys or what?

Look, I just really like this place okay?  (Mason Jars!  Hello!)  But the burger menu does leave the others in the dust.  From the “Anna Banana” to the “Goober Burger,” there’s something for every palette.  Seriously, peanut-butter-and-mayo…try it!

Best Cocktail:  Gunflint Tavern

Live music, an amazing menu, and a bar on the roof make this the nightlife hot spot in Grand Marais.  I could’ve made an offshoot award for Best Nachos, and the Tav would hold the title on that one too.

But I digress (It’s a problem):  the best cocktail in town is the Anne Bonny; a sweet, citrusy twist on a Long Island.  You have to try it.  Great wine and beer selection as well!

Best Place to get a Mocha/Best Cookie:  The Java Moose

The quintessential coffee shop:  WiFi, chalkboards, muffin tops, artsy folk like me–the whole nine yards.  They also keep a lock on the recipe for the Thunder Cookie.

There’s definitely more to come from me on the topic of Grand Marais.  This weekend, the harbor is hosting the Dragon Boat Races.

Need a room?  I know a great little place.

Check it out for yourself.  Bonus points if you can find this spot:

episode 1.7 – mikel vs. beer (post-Hop)

Queue up Eye of the Tiger, everybody.  That’s what I did mentally (and maybe a little vocally) as I set foot into the Hopped Up beer garden on Saturday.

For me, Beer O’ Clock was literally 3 p.m.  After a long morning of pouring 200+ Bloody Marys at the Build-Your-Own Bloody Breakfast Buffet, I was pretty thirsty.

This year’s beer festival boasted nearly double the brewers as last year, so I had some work to do.  I wasted no time, jumping right in and filling my commemorative cup with last year’s crowd favorite, Fitger’s Apricot Wheat.  Sure, it’s the big dog, but damn if it ain’t one of the tastiest, easy-drinking brews in the land.

After my new tradition was finished, I was like Pavlov’s dog wondering which beer to try first.  I took a moment just to take it all in.  All the grins, all the rosy cheeks, all the, uh, aviator sunglasses.  Pure bliss.

I found my way over to the Bells station and rounded the bend to check out what Duluth-favorite Carmody was packing–Black Pepper IPA?!  Get Out!–but I was really excited to try the Loch Leech Monster Scottish Ale from Leech Lake Brewing Company out of Walker, MN.

Sidenote about me:  If you put “Monster” in the title of your beer, I will be powerfully drawn to it.

All of Leech Lake’s beers were dynamite, but it was the brewer’s enthusiasm that kept me coming back for pours.  As I mentioned last week, talking shop with these guys and seeing their passion shine through is one of the best things about this beer fest.

And sure it was a blast trying all these delicious, unique beers that I’d never heard of, but surprisingly the real joy came from sharing favorites with my pals that came and visited.  After all the hype I talked up about Kayak Kolsch, it was nice for my buds to get to sample it and (not surprisingly) love it.

Not to go completely Sesame Street on you, but that’s really what this beer fest is about:  sharing with friends.  After all, nobody likes drinking alone, right?

Well, enough out of me, I’m going to let the pictures do the talking.  I’ll post more as I get them, but I’ll leave you with some of the gems.  And my top 5 favorite brews from the big show, of course!  Cheers!

 

 

 

Mikel’s Top 5

5.  Apricot Wheat (Fitger’s Brewhouse)

4.  Loch Leech Monster (Leech Lake Brewing Company)

3.  Mango Belggggggian Wheat (Carmody)

2.  Tie:  Hell Hath No Fury Ale/Black Note (Bells Brewery)

1.  Castle Cream Ale (Castle Danger Brewery)

Honorable Mention:  WATER!!!

photos by kell sanders

episode 1.6 – gettin' all hopped up

FYI, you guys, I LOVE BEER.  That’s an understatement.  That’s why I’m so pumped it’s here.

It’s finally here.

The Hopped Up Caribou Beer Festival is THIS WEEKEND!   This is the Oscars of beer tastings..  It’s the beer-makers beer fest.  Like an art exhibit for Van Gogh to attend.

Okay, okay, I think you get it.  So what else can I say about Hopped Up?  Well, it’s singlehandedly the most chillax learning experience of all time.  Seriously, I have never learned so much about beer in one afternoon, while keeping cool off the sweet mountain breeze with Lake Superior looming in the distance.

Please note the official dress code of the Hopped Up Caribou Beer Festival.

From tasting notes to finally finding out what the heck hops are, it was truly a day to remember.  Great people having great conversations about great beers.

The perfect afternoon.

It’s been quite the year since the original beer fest.  That one fateful day back in July changed how I saw–and drank!–beer forever.  When you meet the people behind the beers, you really gain a new respect for the craft.

It’s an art.  And Hopped Up is a chance to meet the artists.

I guess when I pictured a beer fest, i imagined bunch of beer reps in fancy polo shirts trying to get you to buy their product in a stuffy auditorium somewhere.  But maybe that’s what sets Hopped Up apart.  Craft Beer Heroes, both local and from afar, are there for the ‘love of the game,’ if you will.  A meet-and-greet mixer of epic proportions.

Speaking of, one of the major highlights of my beer fest experience was meeting the faces behind my favorite beer of all-time, Kayak Kolsch:  Lake Superior Brewing Company out of Duluth.  It’s quite a treat to hear the origin story of your favorite brew, secret ingredients, all while sipping it, ice-cold.

And then moving onto the ones you haven’t tried.

Oh, yeah, that’s another highlight.  These brewers are bringing up some crafts that you might never have heard of…and that you may never hear of again.

Take a first-person POV tour of last year’s beer festival!

 Couple that with all the great food, perfectly paired for the brews by our Executive Chef, and you have a weekend like no other in the entire beer-niverse.

Our elite staff have been training for this day since their 21st b-day.

 

The key to any successful beer fest. Got it covered.

Check out the itinerary!

It’s never too late to plan a trip up to the North Shore–especially when there is beer involved.  I’ll be attending once again, and reporting all the pertinent info to you on Monday…but wouldn’t you rather experience it yourself?

Blogs are great, but they don’t have samples, now do they.

Seriously, though, don’t miss this.  You’ll enjoy every drop of it.  Promise

And did I mention the unlimited pours?  Cheers, guys–in the most literal since.  See you when we’re ‘all Hopped Up’  this weekend!

– Mikel

 

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