I should start off this story by saying this: It rained. And it rained. And it rained some more. It got to the point where my best friend and I were feeling concerned: she has three cats, and I have three dogs, and (as we understood it) only two of each would be allowed on the ark.
But did that downpour stop us from heading to the North Shore of Lake Superior for a much-needed girlfriend getaway? Absolutely not! Diane had her knitting, we reasoned, I had a good book, the place where we were staying had in-room gas fireplaces and a two-person hot tub, and we could look at the lake, even if we couldn’t wade in it or kayak on it. In fact, ask a North Shore native whether it’s a good idea to take a dip in frosty Lake Superior in July, and she’ll laugh you out of town. Swimming wasn’t going to be an option no matter what.
I should add that the rain was not the only wrench in our long-anticipated lake shore getaway. No, the state of Minnesota government was impolite enough to schedule its shutdown right in the middle of our vacation. While it might not seem like a big deal that the legislature was going toe to toe to the governor over the state budget, the ramifications were none too pretty for tourists like us. Yes, the state tourism board was closed, as were all of the rest stops and state parks. We did see people crawling over barricades to walk through the woods and get a glimpse of the famed Split Rock Lighthouse, but to us that seemed insane – did I mention it was raining?
So, we decided, we’ll just drive straight through, with a stop at Tobie’s donuts along the way (apple fritters = total yum). I don’t know why, but I was expecting the drive to be long and arduous, even if it was with my best friend in the car. Not so – about two hours after we left the comfort of Diane’s North Minneapolis bungalow, we pulled into Duluth and got our first glimpse of the lake Minnesotans make so much fuss about.
After that, Two Harbors was only another half hour or so, and the scenery was stunning – or it would have been, I guess, if we could have seen Lake Superior through all that rain.
Luckily for us, we’d booked a one-bedroom lakefront suite at Superior Shores, a lodge-style hotel right on the banks of the lake. The suite was really more like a condo, with a full (and fully-stocked) kitchen, a huge living room with a fireplace (more on that in a minute), a large balcony, a king bedroom with another fireplace, a gigantic hot tub, and a full bath. If we were going to be stuck in the rain on our North Shore vacation, this was definitely the place to be – we thanked our lucky stars that we weren’t in a regular 300 square-foot hotel room where we’d undoubtedly go stir crazy within an hour.
The food was excellent, too – the hotel’s restaurant, Kamloops, created a pretty memorable bruschetta (think capers and red onions and blue cheese and mozzarella and tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, all on a platter so we could assemble our own) and an even more memorable grasshopper (which they even let us take back to the room!). Sitting in front of a fire with bruschetta and grasshoppers and knitting and some good reads? That’s a vacation.
The next morning, we looked at each other. Rain or no rain, we were going out. We first fortified ourselves with good coffee and homemade pecan rolls at Kamloops, then sprinted to the car for an ninety-minute drive to Grand Marais, an artsy shoreside town where Diane promised me we’d get the best fish fry we’d had in a long time.
Looking back, I wish we’d had ponchos. The town really was cute, and there were a lot of little boutique-y type shops I wanted to browse, but by this point we were seriously anticipating flash floods. We did pop into a tiny but cute independent bookstore (don’t even get me started on how much I love independent bookstores) and a nice gallery with woodcuts from local artists . . . but it was the Angry Trout that made the drive worth it.
The restaurant’s one of those local places that makes everything from its own bread and jam to some of the best blueberry pie around. Even the salads are unusual, topped with beets and cheeses and whitefish and other goodies. My fish and chips weren’t the typical English pub fare; instead, I got a thin filet of whitefish, coated with cornmeal and herbs and lightly fried. Because the restaurant was right on the lake, we had a great view while we ate our pie and coffee – we only wished we were out on the deck hanging over the water.
That night, back at the hotel, we looked through the souvenirs that various lovers had left on the mantel in our room. Some went way back – some folks had honeymooned there in the 90s – and some were recent and poignant (like the couple celebrating a husband’s two-day leave from deployment in Iraq). Folks left tiny canoes, rocks, sticks, all inscribed with their celebrations in this lovely place. I could totally picture returning with my husband (we’ll be celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary this year) and cooking up some tiny souvenir of our own to leave on the mantel – a tiny wiener dog, perhaps?
For now, my best friend and I were well-rested, well-fed, even well-soaked (boy, was that hot tub excellent). So, yes, even though it rained, this weekend on the North Shore of Lake Superior was a celebration of sorts, a time when my best friend and I could reconnect, kick back, talk, and drink grasshoppers. And isn’t that what a weekend getaway should be all about?