How to Pack for A Ski Trip

It’s ski season! Are you ready? Whether you’re going to Lutsen for a whole week with the whole family or just a weekend with a friend, packing can be the hardest part. What you’ll pack depends on who’s coming, where you’re staying, and what kind of gear you already own.

If you’ve skiied before, here’s the simplest approach: Before you go, lay everything out on your bead. Now, close your eyes and visualize that you are completely ready to go down the hill. Imagine being fully dressed and fully equipped. Now, starting at the top of your head and going down to the soles of your feet, slowly check for each item. Hat? Goggles? Scarf? You’ll know what to do.

Now, to get a little more specific:

Skis and Poles

If you already own skis, bring two pairs just in case. If not, kids who stay with us get free rentals! And for the adults, Lutsen Mountains rents skis.

Socks, Gloves, and Hats

You can never have enough, especially if they get wet. Bring several pairs of socks and at least two pairs of gloves. Bring an extra hat, too—if you don’t end up needing it, someone else will.

Goggles and Helmet

Easy to forget. Hard to do without.

Lift Tickets

What goes down, must come up! We offer our guests special rates on lift tickets and kids 6-12 ski free, stay free, and rent free with a family package.

Extra Washer Fluid, Fix a Flat, and Jumper Cables

Trust us. You’re driving to a northwoods ski resort, and honestly you just never know. Plus, maybe you’ll be the hero that gives someone else a jump.


Everyone has a different opinion on this, so go with what works for you. Just remember to dress in layers. Unless it’s 20 below and windy, it’s better to wear an undershirt, a shirt, a fleece jacket, and a windbreaker than one massive parka. Remember if you overheat, you can start to sweat, which will actually chill you faster.

The Little Extras

Advil, sunscreen, Chapstick, sunglasses in a hard case, cough drops, mini candy bars …and a tough ziploc bag to carry it on the slope! Off the hill, you’ll want camera batteries, phone charger, playing cards, and duct tape, because this is life and things happen!

Best Spring Break Ski Vacation Ever

As far as we’re concerned Spring Break exists for one reason: to party on (and off) the slopes with your friends while leaving your worries and troubles at home. That’s why we’ve put together the Best Spring Break Ski Vacation Special Ever! And we’re not shy about it.


5 nights for $160 per person

Boom. All you have to do is round up five of your best friends and book our Spring Break Stay More Save More package in an Alpine Condo for 5 nights. Don’t have that much time? That’s ok it’s only a few bucks more. Have too many friends? We’ve got town-homes that sleep 12!




Lutsen Mountains’ most popular resort

Skiers and boarders in the know always choose Caribou Highlands when booking their Lutsen Mountains vacation. We’ve got an indoor pool, two whirlpools, two saunas, free s’mores, complimentary movies, and the area’s most talented massage therapists – our competition isn’t even competition! And this year, as you know by now, guests at Caribou Highlands will have the Best Spring Break Ski Vacation Ever!


Cherry Fired Prime Rib + Shot-Ski + Mountain Nightlife
= Good Times and Great Memories

Whether you’re staying in at Moguls Grille and Tap Room or hitting up the area’s biggest music venue, Papa Charlie’s – end your day skiing and start your night off right with hearty slice of our famous Cherry Fired Prime Rib and a Shot-Ski!



A Mountain of Gratitude: Thanksgiving on the North Shore

Thanksgiving is close. You can always tell the nearness of this holiday by the cold weather, the flurries of snow, the grocery store ads for cranberries, and by the endless Facebook posts about thankfulness.



Yeah, you know who I’m talking about. It’s probably you! And, in all honesty, it should probably be me too. Sure, some of these posts make you roll your eyes, but it can’t really hurt to make an extra effort to give thanks. While I’m a little late to the gratitude party, I decided to compile a list of my own.

What I discovered was that a lot of the things I’m thankful for correlate with the North Shore.

For starters, I’m thankful for family. Holidays are particularly tough for me since my mom passed away. Our family had the smallest house, but for some reason we were always the hosts for get-togethers. That tradition dissolved with my mother’s health unfortunately. But the simple fact that it is Thanksgiving reminds me of family I haven’t seen in a long while, and seems to bring them closer even though (with the exception of my cousin, Wally, and his family) are all at least 5 hours away. Seeing Wally was always my personal favorite part of Thanksgiving, and now I’m practically his neighbor. I wish I could see the rest of the fam as much as I see him now, but I’m grateful for their understanding. When I moved to the North Shore there was a lot of people that thought I was nuts, and have lost touch with me over the years. But not my dad and grandma. They understood how good of an opportunity this was for me. And adventure. And though they miss me (and are missed dearly in return) I’m thankful for their trust. And the occasional baked good via the US Postal Service. :)

I’m also very thankful to be able to say I’m a published author. No matter what happens to me tomorrow, next week, or 50 years from now, I can say that I fulfilled one of my major goals in life. I suppose a certain amount of thanks is due to North Star Press for trusting in a quirky wizard story set in the 80s, but a lot of thanks is due to this area as well. As I said in an interview, I instantly fell in love with the North Shore when I moved here. I suddenly wanted everything I ever wrote to be set in this surreal, magical place. Inspiring? Yes. But also serene. Peaceful. QUIET. I started and failed many projects living down in the Cities. In the five years after college, I had nothing to show for it, book-wise. Yet my first full summer on the Shore, I was able to hash out the skeleton of Coming of Mage, and spent the following year fleshing it out for publication. Proof’s in the pudding, as they say.

And, as hectic as it can be sometimes, I’m thankful to have a job. A job that allows flexibility to write, a job that has given me the chance to prove my skills in many areas outside of just bringing food to someone’s table, a job that allows me to mingle with people on vacation–and maybe help me feel like I’m a little on vacation myself, even when I’m on the clock. I’m thankful for my shift on Thanksgiving, where I’ll get to recapture some of that feeling of get-togetherness with many families. I’m thankful that my shift ends when most retail folks’ shifts begin. I’m thankful the trend of “Black Thursday” hasn’t bled to the North Shore, and that folk up here have no problem hanging “Closed” signs to spend a day with family.

Speaking of my shift, I’m thankful that I’ll get to take part in the epic feast at Moguls–and that Wild Game Meatloaf is going to be included in the spread. I love ya, Turkey, but you ain’t got nothin’ on buffalo, elk, and beef wrapped in bacon and smothered with mushroom gravy. (Okay, easy, everybody–of course there’s going to be turkey too.)

I’m thankful I won’t be stuck in traffic this holiday season. Or any season. For me, traffic is a thing of the past. Do you know what it’s like to go to work and rarely see a car on your commute? I only have one stoplight to worry about…and miles and miles of mountainside views and lakeside vistas. Now that’s something to be grateful for.

And lastly, I’m thankful for snow. Yes, I said it. I’m shocked enough to hear myself say it. But snow in Lutsen means skiing and snowboarding. To be honest, I’ve never once been on a slope, but even I realize skiing and ‘boarding is the lifeblood of this area. People will flock to this area this winter and I will serve them drinks, make them happy, and they’ll fill my pockets with their gratitude. It’s a long draught between summer and ski seasons and all of my friends up here rely on the dutiful adrenaline junkies that we see this time of year. So, thank you, Snow, for cresting those runs with fresh powder and breathing some life into my little world up here. Maybe I’ll even strap on a snowboard this winter to show my appreciation.


I could go on and on and will for the rest of the day….to myself. I’ll spare you all the nostalgic niceties I’ve kept bottled up all year. But, long story short, Thanksgiving is more than Turkey (or Meatloaf) and stuffing. It’s more than how close you live to your loved ones, or how far. It’s more than the sweet deal you’re going to get on that flatscreen TV at 3 in the morning.

Thanksgiving is remembering why you get to have these things, and who–or where–to thank for it all.

What are your Thanksgiving plans? Got some wild traditions to share?

- Mikel




Remember, Remember the Gales of November

“Time sure flies” and all the rest that follows the cliched adage. But it certainly does fly, doesn’t it? Especially this time of year. My favorite time of all. That precious rent in the fabric of reality that is the week between Halloween and my birthday.  How lucky I am that each year my favorite holiday kicks off a one-week lead-up to my second favorite holiday.

Surprisingly, this was the first time since moving to the North Shore, that I was actually here for my birthday. I usually spend it road-tripping, returning to civilization for a few nights to remind all my family and friends that I’m still alive in the savage wild of the North Woods.

I get to live in the hub of tranquility and peace, and my dad thinks I’m the wildly brave lumberjack type. It’s sort of cute in a way.

Either way, I’ve always been curious what the Shore could offer me as a birthday gift (as if it could offer more than it’s given already). Halloween was awesome–we actually got Trick-or-Treaters. Like 10. That’s probably all the kids in town, right? Still, it was a thrill, bringing me back to the fond memories of the small town I grew up in, handing out candy at my grandparents’ house.

Best Halloween yet.

After that, I resolved to spend my actual birthday at Moguls, where my new family–my coworkers–would be, either for work or for play. I, of course, was there for the ‘play’ option.

And play I did.

While my birthday did bring out a few friends, the place was packed with the locals of Lutsen. I could tell you they were there for me, but, in actuality, it was the monthly Mug Club meeting. Convenient, no?

There was food and drink….and drink, and drink, and drink. I definitely underestimated the, er….generosity of the locals when it came to buying a fellow a birthday pint. That generosity, coupled with the Club’s complimentary “Birthday Das Boot“–which is exactly what you think it is–meant that I was royally…not parched.

It was a grand time. Or so I’ve been told.

In fact, it was so grand it made history! Okay, my birthday didn’t make history, per se, but the day itself did. November 7th was the kickoff of a bold, new tradition here on the North Shore: the Lake Superior Storm Festival.

You heard me. A new festival. Is there anything better? The Storm Festival celebrates the infamous Gales of November, the wild winds that stir up Lake Superior this time of year, which led to both the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald and all those awesome photos you see of waves crashing up over lighthouses and roadways. For years, these winds have brought intrepid stormchasers to the North Shore, inspiring art and battening hatches.

And the Gales are no joke. It’s like someone flips a cosmic switch at midnight on Halloween and triggers the angriest waters Superior has ever drudged up. Icy whiteheads crash against the rocks of the shore, unleashing their fury at being awakened after a summer of sleep.

See? I told you: it inspires art.

And now it has its own festival. A weekend-long celebration, complete with a ‘polar plunge’ into Superior, themed radio programming, and ‘Boreal Cyclone Pie’ crafted by the masters at The Pie Place–which I can assure you was devoured to the last crumb, as my friend and I discovered the next day when we tried to buy a slice. Perhaps next year I can find out what’s in it.

Is it another excuse for a festival? Maybe. But when have Minnesotans ever needed an excuse for a festival?

Maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s a badge of courage. Leave it to the North Star State to celebrate the brisk baby cousin of a hurricane, right? But that’s what so great about it. Instead of whining about the chill in the air, we grab it by the horns, wrestle it to the ground, and make a coat out of it. One we wear proudly.

Have you ever been up to the Shore this time of year? What do you remember most?

- Mikel




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.


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:


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


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!


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.


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.


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.



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


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….


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.


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.



Yeah, yeah, don’t rub it in…



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:


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.


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…



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.”



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.


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:

photo crop

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.


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….


….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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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