Posts by: Caribou

North Shore Haunts

As October draws to its close,the North Shore reveals its true colors. Yes, the reds and oranges were beautiful, but the patchy golds and bare browns seem to lend themselves perfectly to the haunted feel of the season. Jack O’ Lanterns pop up in windows, witches huddle in the corners of yards, and fun-size candy bars appear on every store shelf…only to disappear seconds later!

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday. Sure, Christmas has presents, but Halloween has tales of ghosts. When this time of year rolls around, it seems like people lose that chip on their shoulder; they want to be scared. They want to believe in the supernatural, even for just a few weeks.

I’m a superfan of the paranormal (shocker) and the North Shore is perfect place to tap into Minnesota’s spooky pipeline. Think about it: you have the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth–mansions are always haunted, right?–then miles and miles of small towns and old ports, downtown Lutsen which just screams pioneer days, and then Grand Marais, a quaint li’l town with decades of history literally carved into the rocks in the harbor. Pick a house in Grand Marais. Chances are it’s over a hundred years old. Some of them have to be haunted, right? I mean, that’s just simple mathematics.

Okay, okay, maybe I’m taking the ghost thing a little too seriously, but it’s in my nature. About this time of year 8 years ago, my buddy, Kell, and I decided we were going to clear up the rumors regarding a haunted building on our college campus. As a writer and photographer for the university newspaper, we owed it to the student body to get to the bottom of this mystery. So we got special permission to stay over in the supposedly haunted Riverview Hall.

Let’s just say we got results. Big time. And ever since then I can’t help but root out ghost stories in every town–nay, every house–I visit.

So I had to wonder: just what is this area hiding, ghost-wise?

If you do a simple Google search for hauntings in the area, you get next to nothing. You might stumble on the clearly very credible Ghostsofamerica.com. The few stories shared there seem to point to the Maple Hill Cemetery as Grand Marais’ spook central. Believe it or not, I don’t make a habit of snooping around graveyards, but admittedly, I’ve done more than one double take as I come over the hill into town at the end of a late shift, thinking I see a flash of light or hazy glow.

But when it comes to ghost stories, website fodder is kid stuff. If you want to know where the ghosts are hiding, you gotta shake up the locals.

So I shook.

The first thing I noticed was nobody had a spooky story that happened to them, but redirected me to a friend or acquaintance. Odd.

Come on, guys, it’s Halloween, I thought. Live a little.

I kept digging. Something spooky had to have happened to somebody in this town, right?! Otherwise about a billion horror movies set in remote locations have been lying to me.

A fellow coworker told me about the Grand Marais Art Colony, easily one of the oldest institutions in the “Big Marsh.” Once upon a time, this friend of mine experienced a phenomena ranging from the feeling of “not being alone” to wildly spinning clock hands. This was the good stuff. This is what I wanted to hear.

The Art Colony building was once a church, built in 1916. I wouldn’t be surprised at all with a history like that, that it might have a paranormal presence or two. Just the age alone would almost guarantee that.

But what about a building that wasn’t so old?

While discussing the Art Colony incidents, another coworker told me snippets of another story from the area, one far more recent–of course, it didn’t happen to him.

Obviously.

So, I tracked down the source of the new story, a real skeptic that I’ll call “Sam.”

Hey, this ain’t a newspaper, I’ll use all the aliases I want, buddy!

As I sat down with my trusted notepad, Sam made it clear he didn’t really believe in this crap–he just…experienced something.

Yeah, yeah, got it. Get to the ghosts already!

Sam was setting up for the Lutsen Fire Dept’s annual pancake breakfast fundraiser around 6 a.m. The Lutsen Fire Hall was recently expanded–there’s an old section and a new. Once upon a time, it was a very small schoolhouse. Anyway, Sam was getting the coffee ready in the newer section of the hall when he heard something. A commotion, he described it. Coming from the older section of the building.

Sam assumed it was a female volunteer that is usually the first person in every year. He would assume this all the way up until the very end of his experience that morning.

Though Sam thought it strange that this volunteer would be in the old part of the building, it was far from impossible. Blocked by towering firetrucks, he couldn’t actually see who was over there.

Then, a heavy door clicks shut audibly. She must’ve left, Sam figures.

Shortly thereafter, a sound Sam could only describe as ‘a large piece of furniture moving’ erupts from the old section. Surely the volunteer has returned, and apparently doing some heavy rearranging for the event. Finally, Sam investigates the old building.

He finds it empty. The door is open. The light is on. Weird, sure, but possible. Sam instinctively shuts the open door. The second the latch clicks, an impossibly close voice whispers directly into his ear:

“Go.”

When I asked Sam if it was the woman’s voice, he shook his head. Definitely a man’s voice. Deep.

Go.

For a moment, everyone in Mogul’s tap room listening to this tale is struck silent. Goose bumps run the length of our arms and eventually we all laugh away the moment, shaking away the shivers.

After that, the proverbial fingers really start to point. Suddenly, everybody has a story. Most of them have to do with another former church-turned-art-studio down the street from my place. So I start digging.

That’s when the stories really start flowing…

Pumpkin This, Oktoberfest That…

This is by far my favorite time of year. October. That time of year when everyone wears an extra sweater, houses are decked out in spooky decor, and all you want to do is wrap yourself up in a blanket made out of hearty Oktoberfest beer.  Now that would be a blanket!

I’ve never been to Germany, but they seem to have this October thing figured out.  Good food, like the Huhn Bier Mushroom Spatzl I’ve been drooling over on Moguls seasonal menu, and good beer, like Spaten–the lager, the Oktoberfest, and the way-too-fun-to-say Optimator.

While Oktoberfest is all the rage in the States, another trend has taken October by storm: pumpkin! Seriously, a guy can’t go to his mail box without seeing something pumpkin-flavored. And (fortunately) the North Shore is no exception.

So, in honor of this season, I present the 5 greatest pumpkin-flavored things on the North Shore!

BEER! - Moguls, Lutsen  Raise your hand if you knew I was going to start with this one. Okay, put your hands down everybody. I like beer, deal with it. And it’s undeniable that October brings out the best in brewers. Not only for Oktoberfest brews–Great Lakes and Lake Superior get high marks for sure–but for the beermakers trying their hand at pumpkin spice ales. For sheer drinkability, you can’t deny the crisp, subtle taste of Third Street‘s Jack’d Up Autumn Ale. However, if you’re looking for a piece of pumpkin pie in a glass that will really knock you on your…bottom, try Southern Tier Pumpking–but make sure you have a ride!

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Pumpkin PIe Blizzard – Dairy Queen, Grand Marais  Back when I worked for a certain ice creamery that was kept very cold, and used a stone, everybody went absolutely nuts for our seasonal Pumpkin Pie ice cream. Finally, Dairy Queen has jumped on the bandwagon too with a Pumpkin Pie Blizzard that is absolutely to die for. Cold as it is, there’s something about those hints of nutmeg that warms your soul, blocking out any chill as you trapse around the Grand Marais harbor, staring at the epic waves Superior throws against the lighthouse.

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Pumpkin-White Chocolate Mocha – Moondance, Lutsen  A lot of coffee shops offer a pumpkin-something-something latte, but–after rigorous experimentation and sampling–I’ve discovered that Moondance Coffee House does it best. Just in case you need that extra kick of caffeine before trekking the Oberg lookout to spot those breathtaking reds and yellows of the fall.

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Pumpkin-White Chocolate Mocha Shake – Grand Marais Fusion, Grand Marais  Feeling guilty about that blizzard? Overdo it with the whip cream on that latte? Maybe the healthy protein shake version is more your cup of tea. Fusion in Grand Marais loves trying out new fall flavors like this one–maybe you’ll discover the next! Or at the very least take in their awesome view of the harbor.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup – Gunflint Tavern, Grand Marais  Though it’s hard to catch it, this soup will get your revved up for that brisk walk around Grand Marais, where the local haunts are just starting to show their fall colors. But be warned…it’s really spicy!

Can you get these things elsewhere? Maybe. Can you enjoy them while taking in the view of Lake Superior in the greatest corner of Minnesota ever? Doubt it. So, quick, get up here before that white stuff starts flying–

You’re talking about the whip cream again, right?

–and take in the North Shore in all its October glory. The Oktoberfest menu items at Moguls will run throughout the month–oh my lord, you have to try the bacon-glazed rindermedallions–and the seasonal brews will keep flowing right into your mug.

With that, I leave you to your own devices. The food and drink of October is great, but next week things are going to get a little…spooky.

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Stay tuned.

 

The Perfect Fall Colors Hike

Until I moved to the North Shore, I hadn’t heard the term “Fall Colors.”  Well, that’s not entirely true–but I hadn’t heard it used in the way that it’s used up here.  The word isn’t so much a visual description of autumn foliage, as much as it is a 5th season.  There’s Summer, there’s Fall Colors, then there’s Autumn.  But in an area that thrives so much on vacationing visitors, this isn’t a surprising term.

While not 100% “local” yet, I still think in these terms–it’s hard not to!  But sometimes I like to take a step back and see my setting from the standpoint of a visitor.  Take in the North Shore through the eyes of my friends that visit, of the returning families I see year after year.

That’s one of the perks of writing this blog.

Thus, I couldn’t help but want to experience this Fall Colors business I hear so much about.  I mean, I’ve experienced the flip side of it as a server.  I can go a whole day shift in the restaurant flipping the

SAME.    FOUR.   TABLES.

You’d be surprised how long people will wait for a booth so they can eat lunch with a view of the sunset-colored mountain.

Additionally, as a server, if there’s fog or clouds or anything that obstructs the view of the leaves, I’m the first one who hears about it.  Two days ago, on a particularly foggy day, I waited on more than one couple that cancelled outings because they wouldn’t be able to see anything.

That’s when I really got interested in the Fall Colors.  I wanted to have this experience that people seek out by visiting the North Shore this time of year.  So I vowed that my next day off, I would be come a “Fall Colors Guy.”  I even lined up a day that would work with my buddy/hiking guru, Josh.

I awoke early that day to the sounds of birds chirping.  I could feel daylight on my eyelids.  I opened my eyes, looked out the bedroom window and saw….and saw….

FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG            FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG           FOG FOG FOG                   FOG  FOG  FOG FOG                   FOG FOG FOG     FOG FOG                       FOG FOG FOG FOG             FOG FOG FOG    FOG FOG          FOG FOG FOG

And this wasn’t “lazy fog” either.  You know, the few wispy strands that cling to the morning.  No, this was thick, London-caliber pea soup.

Perfect.  Now my brain is filling with backup plans.  Do I call Josh and cancel the hike? Do I power through and sully the experience? I was even picturing that scene in Jurassic Park when they use the goat as bait to lure the T-Rex.

The Fall Colors had become my T-Rex.  I wanted to see them.  Bad.

But Josh hadn’t cancelled, so neither would I.  Plus, I never miss a chance to grumble and groan about a not-ideal situation.  I’m a comedian at heart.  Ruined days are what we live for.

So I met up with Josh at the local coffee shop in Lutsen.  The owner asked what I was up to.  With an over-theatrical shrug I explained that this was my one day off to take a Fall Colors hike and–gesturing to the hazy mess outside–this was going to be my view.

“Oh, you’ll see’em,” the owner promised. “Don’t worry.”

Yeah, right.  That might cheer up a bummed tourist, but I’m a different breed, baby!

“Where you headed?” she asked.

“Oberg,” I told her.  The word on everybody’s lips.  The ultimate Fall Colors hike.

“Everyone does Oberg,” she told me.  ”Try Leveaux.”

This peaked my interest.  The “trail less hiked” is my passion.  That was something I wanted a piece of.  So I was back on the hunt, so to speak.  Of course, I needed a little fuel first.

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Step 1

 

So, we headed out.  I didn’t have much juice left on my camera phone, but I also wasn’t expecting to get much use out of it.  We hooked a right onto Onion River Road.

 

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Yeah, yeah, don’t rub it in…

 

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Looks like the right spot.

We ventured inward.  It truly was the trail less hiked–a parking lot full of cars and everyone one of them headed to the right.  We headed left.  As we walked, Josh and I traded our usual banter.  Work something-something.  So-and-so did this-and-that.  The small talk that coworkers can’t avoid, day off or not.  Eventually, we were distracted by a sheen of slime.  It was like someone had decorated the moss with tinsel.  We took a knee.  Pulling back a leaf, Josh showed me a mushroom stump beneath the slime.

Yep, he said, nodding.  Slugs.

Evidently, the stump was once a very edible, very delicious mushroom that was incredibly hard to beat the slugs to.  Gotta get up pretty early in the morning to beat a slug apparently.  We followed the slugs trail, studying the ground like Mr. Magoo.  CSI: Forest Floor.

When I finally looked up, I saw this:

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What was this?  My first sign of Fall Colors….and I could actually see it!!  Venturing deeper, I discovered I could see a lot of those reds and oranges.  If anything, the foggy veil creeping through the woods made the colors pop even more.  It was truly unlike any hike I’d hiked on the North Shore.  A little bit haunting, and a lotta bit beautiful.  Different.  Refreshing.

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Trekking deeper still, we finally came to a lookout point.  I was almost afraid to look.  No, not because of my fear of heights–but my fear that of what I would see in the valley.  Or rather, wouldn’t see.  This was my moment.  My last chance to have the true Fall Colors experience or, well, start work on the Slug Slime blog.

I parted the trees…

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There they were.  Fall Colors.  Josh and I went right to the edge, planted or bottoms, and took in the valley.  The fog was there, sure.  It rolled over the canopy in waves, but the colors burned right through it, like they really were the sun.  And ten minutes of silence later, I realized I was having my moment.  My experience.

“Josh,” I said.  ”I wish you’d brought your fancy camera, man.”

“I almost did,” he replied.  ”But I did bring this.”

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Upgrade!

The perfect hike.  The perfect day off.

No.  The perfect day.

And I had almost missed it.

I guess that’s what I’ll remember most about my “Fall Colors” experience.  I almost missed it.  All because I banked an entire trip on one thing.  That’s not what an experience should be about.  Too many people live for that well-liked Facebook post, or that favorited Instagram pic.

If you’re really worried about what Fall Colors you’ll see on your North Shore visit, I can assure you:

There’s a pumpkin ale that’s got all of’em.

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Cheers!  – Mikel

A North Shore Story

September is upon us, folks.  Kids go back to school, there’s a refreshingly crisp coolness to the air, and the North Shore becomes just a little bit quieter.  While many adventures are just beginning, for some of us, stories are coming to close.

This time last year I was writing feverishly to finish up my manuscript for Coming of Mage.  Hopping around coffee shops, shake shops, pretty much anything ending in “shops,” I was tapping away at my keyboard every second that I wasn’t working.

It was interesting writing Mage during the summer because the story takes place all in one summer on the North Shore–so the progression of the novel was virtually synced with my days.  When my main character, Quinn, was experiencing that first taste of the season–the feeling that the longer, warmer days would last forever–so was I.

And when he was feeling the summer slipping away too quickly, so was I.

I was writing the finale about autumn setting in right up until the leaves started changing.

Did I think this was going to be my first book?  Not exactly.  I had dozens of ideas in the can, different tales I was working on.  But when I first moved to the North Shore, it wormed its way into every aspect of my life.  And writing was no exception.  As I said in a recent interview, I suddenly wanted everything I ever wrote to be set here.  There’s something truly magical about the North Shore, which probably triggered my desire to write a fantasy.

Obviously a lot of the spells, creatures, and locations featured in Mage were straight outta my wild imagination.  It’s a fantasy at the end of the day.  And though the story takes place in an “alternate” Minnesota town called Alkamee Heights–where wizards are a dime a dozen–a lot of the places and landmarks are based on real North Shore places that inspired me when I first moved out of the city and into this new world.

So…how ’bout a tour?

Devil’s Kettle / The Book Cover

“Shaking it off—for now—I continued leading my pack of Basilisk Hunters deep into the trees. The forest was a paint splash of greens and yellows. The foliage was dense and very little sunlight trickled through. The air was muggy and thick and the ground would suckle at every step I took.” – Quinn Sullivan, 1986

cover in the wild

 

When my publisher said I could submit my own cover design, I knew the perfect guy to ask was Kell Sanders.  Not only is he an award-winning former photojournalist, a phenomenal photographer, and a frequent return visitor to the North Shore, he’s also my best friend.  When he and I hiked the Devil’s Kettle a couple years ago, he snagged a pic towards a peak that just screamed fantasy.  It was spring and the combo of vivid green moss coupled with the scarceness of leaves on the trees made for an absolutely epic shot–perfectly encompassing both the fantastical setting of my book and the real North Shore.

Fiction aside, Devil’s Kettle itself is a pretty fantastical setting.

Alkamee Heights / Lutsen

“It was my third summer—and Emma’s fourth—at Alkamee Heights Lodge. We were both fresh from our first year of college, but she’d found out about Alkamee Heights a year before me. And, no, I’m not spelling it wrong: Alkamee is the Native American spelling of alchemy. Apparently the Brits had a strong presence there in the 1800s, or so I’d heard. Don’t know why—it was probably the last presence there that could be described as strong. Now the population kind of changed with the seasons.” – Quinn Sullivan, 1986

old cover smaller

The basic story of Coming of Mage revolves around Quinn returning for work at Alkamee Heights Lodge and trying to win over the girl of his dreams, Emma, by getting her a very rare–and very magical–stone.  In between shifts, he tries to crack the mystery of the stone.  Though, he’s also trying to crack the mysteries of the neighboring town and the creature he finds in the woods, culminating in the wildest summer of his life.

A lot of the book takes place at Quinn’s lodge, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say most of that was based on my experiences at Caribou Highlands Lodge.  But there’s plenty of other locations in Alkamee Heights that relate to spots in real-life Lutsen.  Moondance Coffee, for example, was the inspiration for Quinn and Emma’s favorite haunt, the Space and Thyme Cafe.  Fictional Wind Elk Mountain and the Antimoni River are based on real nearby landmarks–can you guess which ones?

Willow Bay / Grand Marais

“Willow Bay wasn’t so much a town as it was a splotch of houses and shoppes at the first big bend on Superior’s northern bank. To say it was rural was an understatement. Still, coming over that hill and seeing the big blue nothing that was the Great Lake was always a humbling experience. A vision that couldn’t be replaced by a thousand memories or million spells.” – Quinn Sullivan, 1986

downtownWhile Coming of Mage‘s version of Grand Marais gives Quinn the creeps because of its mysterious past, to me it’s the town that I fell in love with.  Changed my whole perspective on things.  I tried to pour as much of Grand Marais into “Willow Bay” as I could.  From the fudge shops to the library, even the lighthouse, my goal was to pay homage to all my favorite spots.  Can you tell which real restaurant “Svengali’s Pizza” is based on?  Or where I got the Willow Bay’s annual “Magus Market” celebration from?

Paladin’s Face / Palisade Head

“Paladin’s Face? Nobody knew where that was. I’d only been asked—or told—its location about a billion times. And if I marked each one of those on a map, well, there would be a billion different dots along Highway 61 between Willow Bay and Sailfin Cove. In fact, three years deep, I was starting to doubt the place even existed. Just an urban—and I use that term loosely—myth. I’d seen the alleged cliff depicted in many a painting adorning the walls of Space And Thyme, although most of those were overly fantastical.” — Quinn Sullivan, 1986

Another great photo by my main man Kell.

Another great photo by my main man Kell.

In the book, “Paladin’s Face” is a legendary rock formation that Quinn believes nobody will ever find.  In reality, Palisade Head–just outside of Silver Bay, MN–is one of the most breathtaking vistas the North Shore has to offer.  I’ll never forget my first visit there; the fog was so thick I could barely see the lake let alone two feet in front of me.  Later, when I returned on a much sunnier day, I couldn’t bring myself to the edge knowing how close I’d been to it in the fog…

The Lakewalk / The Island

 ”Waves lapped at the remains of tangled steel, leaking from between crevices and flowing over jagged slopes of brick. It was difficult to tell since the ruins had been polished by years of water erosion, but I could still make out the general foundation of a large house—or many smaller houses. Near the far coast, remnants of lighthouse stood stoically like a single finger torn off at the knuckle.” — Quinn Sullivan, 1986

A watercolor I did based on a favorite scene.

A watercolor I did based on a favorite scene.

The infamous walk out to “the island” in which Emma and Quinn discover that something very sinister is afoot in Willow Bay stems from the very relaxing Lakewalk hike just beyond Grand Marais.  I’ve mentioned this hike before, but it is truly something awe-inspiring (and just regular inspiring, especially to writers).  The shores of Lake Superior are truly unique, as they are not sandy, but rocky.  Millions of naturally-polished basalt stones (or, as Quinn calls them, “perfect rocks”) skitter across each other with each step. That moment I first rounded the bend and saw the beautiful little “island” just off the edge of shore, I knew it had to be in my book.  And the sound of the water along the rocks is entrancing.

I guess when it comes right down to it, I feel like I owe the North Shore something.  Truly inspiring, and truly life-changing, there is just something honestly magical about this area.  Something I tried to do justice in my book, but I know you can never duplicate it in words.  It needs to be experienced.

Although, I’ve been told Coming of Mage comes pretty close.  :)


the most versatile beer

Oh, wondering where I’ve been, huh?  Missing the Mike Man, eh?  Developed a Vitamin M deficiency, have we?

Okay, okay, forget I said that last one and I’ll fill you in.  Deal?

I’ve been a busy guy.  You know, hanging out, drinking coffee, becoming a famous author….you know, the usual.  Wait, what?!  Did you say famous author?!  I did.  And I have the photo to prove it:

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I mean, how famous do I look there, right?  Pretty famous.  Okay, okay, full disclosure:  I’m not totally famous yet.  YET!  But I did finish my very first novel, Coming of Mage, set right here on the good ol’ North Shore of Minnesota.

Additionally, my cousin Wally and I started a podcast called 2 Dudes in the Woods.  Mostly beer reviews and local stuff, with a few movie reviews thrown in for good measure.  Mostly we just love to hear ourselves talk.  Especially about beer.  And food.

But, now I’m back at the whole blogging venture thing.  So, forget all that other stuff for now, because today’s topic is a totally new experience.

Today, my cousin Wally and I are going to be talking about beer!  And food!  I mean…that’s….I just…

Okay, listen, folks, my wheelhouse ain’t that big, alright?  Plus the number one rule of writing is write what you know.  And, in our ‘extensive research’ on 2 Dudes in the Woods, Wally and I have become quite a pair of beer aficionados (i.e. beer snobs) and, well, he is the head chef at Moguls so….pretty much a no-brainer that we discuss a beer pairing.  Although, our definition of beer pairing is a little…different.

Beer Pairing (n)

1) A suggested beverage choice to compliment a dish, based on similar and/or accentuating flavor profiles. 2) Stuffy 3) Boring

Wally Beer Pairing (n)

1) The process by which my cousin and I infuse normally awesome foods with beer making them double (sometimes triple) awesome. 2) Genius 3) Slightly arrogant 4) Delicious

Let’s start with a classic Moguls dinner: Bourbon-Planked Sockeye Salmon.

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Simple, elegant.  Can’t go wrong with salmon. Grilled expertly on a plank of cedar that has been soaked in bourbon.  Now, right off the bat, can you imagine the flavors coming from that?  Game over, man!  Throw in a little brown sugar glaze to accentuate those flavors and you’ve got one of our most popular entrees….

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….or, you hit up the taproom and pour a pint of the most versatile beer of all time: South Shore Nut Brown.  This beer is our “Old Reliable” if you will.  Though we’re always trying out new taps, Nut Brown is a staple.  A favorite all along the Shore, this easy-drinking, brownish-amber ale is surprisingly smooth with a kiss of toasted nut.

Additionally, we use it for beer batter, in beer cheese soup, in desserts (like at our beer fest), I personally use it in “beer blends” (it goes great half-and-half with a coffee stout), or, my most recent favorite, drop a piece of extra dark chocolate right in the bottle for a gamechanger taste explosion.

Frankly, I know very little about cheffing–that’s what it’s called, right?–so I’m all, like, Oh, man, what’s Wally going to do with this?  But Wally just immediately tosses it in a saucepan with a little honey and starts reducing it.  Classic cheffing.

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So, in the words of Matthew McConaughey, he gets the beer a-bubblin’ and while that’s, uh, turning into a sauce, I guess, Wally goes for a side of Minnesota wild rice–which, in my opinion, is the perfect side for a fish–and a light bulb clicks on above our heads.  Why stop there?  We’re already experimenting with crazy beer uses, why not really push the envelope, right?

So Wally sends me back to the taproom for another beer.  For cooking purposes, of course.  Obviously.

Something dark, he says ominously.

So I don’t just go dark.  I go the darkest.  Third Street’s “Bitter Neighbor” Black IPA.  And trust me, with a strong coffee bite and an extreme blast of hops, this ain’t just a clever name.

And then Wally throws it right in with the wild rice.  I mean, right in there, man!  Reality Check: he’s cooking wild rice with BEER!  We’re in the thick of it now.  Then, like a father waiting for his first child to be delivered, I’m sent out of the kitchen.  I pace back and forth nervously.  This was all my idea.  Is this going to be any good?  What’s it going to turn out like?  Is there any of that beer left?

Pretty soon, Wally plates up a real beauty.

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Embers of red still burn at the edge of the cedar plank.  The salmon sizzles.  My mouth waters.  Where do I even begin?  I go with the Golden Rule: Fish First.

The salmon flakes apart and sings the moment it touches my tongue.  The Nut Brown glaze is just a little bit sweet, but that signature nuttiness compliments the hint of bourbon perfectly.  Dynamite.

Now for the rice.  This one I’m honestly nervous about.  But the Bitter Neighbor has sweetened up, releasing it’s caramel malts in full flavor, while retaining that smoky, oaky quality that makes the beer such a hit.  It tenderizes the wild rice, imbuing it with a flavor I never thought possible.  A triumph.

Now that’s a beer pairing.  Cheers.

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

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