Monday, July 10, 2006

Back to the flatlands

With the race completed, it was time to make the 400+ mile journey home. In an effort to do a little more sightseeing, I took Highway 26 west of Copper Harbor to see the north coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The road follows the lakeshore and offers stunning views. To my surprise, there does not appear to be an overabundance of development here. There were only a handful of luxury homes and condos that I saw. In fact, most of the homes seemed modest at best, some of which were quite old and were located right on the lake with prime views of Superior. It just seemed strange. Perhaps the Keweenaw Peninsula is resisting development? Whatever the case, it is kind of refreshing to see that not every place in America that is pretty has to be turned into a housing subdivision.

Also, I am astonished at the lack of traffic in the U.P. Is there anyone up here? I had this whole scenic drive practically to myself and saw no more than a handful of cars in the 20 miles or so. On a Saturday morning, even! Not that I was complaining. This enabled me to stop and gawk all I wanted, and allowed me to pretend I was Tony Stewart practicing my cornering on the curvy roads. :)

Lake Superior has always scared me, even to this day. I think it is a downright frightening body of water, not so much because of the size, but more because of its lore and the mystique surrounding it. The winds coming out of the northwest were strong, the waves were large, and the skies were getting gray and ominous. Lake Superior had a sinister look this day. A couple of enormous ore boats were out on the horizon in the shipping lanes, both battling the winds as they headed towards Duluth. I thought of the Edmund Fitzgerald. What a terrifying lake.

Ore boat on Lake Superior

I stopped for a picture at Great Sand Bay near Eagle River. What a view! This area is essentially a sand dune that has been formed from centuries of winds off of Lake Superior. In fact, the wind was almost knocking me down as I tried to snap the photo. Just up the road (and true to form), sand was drifting over the road in an effort to increase the dune's size. Can you imagine what must this place must look like in a snow storm?

Great Sand Bay, and a frothing Lake Superior

With the Keweenaw Peninsula behind me, I headed into Houghton. Starving, I made a quick stop at McDonald's for the #2 value meal (two cheeseburgers, fries, diet Coke…man, I don't think food from the Golden Arches has ever tasted this good!). Then I was back on the road and soon it began to rain. Correction; soon it began to pour!

It rained hard from Houghton all the way to the Wisconsin border, so hard in some areas that I had to slow down to around 45 MPH. This was really unfortunate, because I went through Watersmeet, MI, which I did not realize until I got there that it was the Home of the Nimrods! Sports fans might recall that ESPN did an advertising campaign a couple of years ago featuring this small Michigan high school. It garnered them a lot of national attention for their unusual mascot name. I can't tell you how badly I wanted to stop and take a picture of the school, which had "Home of the Nimrods" written in huge letters on the side of the building. But it was raining so hard I could barely see. Another time, hopefully!

I headed south towards Rhinelander and eventually outdrove the rain. From Rhinelander, I hopped on US Highway 8. As with my Green Bay trip, I avoided all freeways to see a little bit of the countryside. Not that I had much of a choice. There are very few freeways in this neck of the woods!

Highway 8 was a rather desolate stretch of road in western Wisconsin, so desolate that there is barely an incorporated town, much less a gas station. I was getting a little nervous.

About 50 miles west of Rhinelander, I stumbled into this little village called Prentice that had a BP truck stop. This was a strange and seedy little town, with lots of strange and seedy people out and about. We were definitely in rural America here! After I fueled up, I was waiting to turn back onto the road, and someone who looked suspiciously like Larry the Cable Guy (but with fewer teeth) was slowly driving by in his pickup truck, staring at me and my little foreign car. I couldn't wait to get out of Prentice.

Back on the road and a safe distance from what was potentially "Deliverance" country, I drove through Tony, WI, home of Wisconsin walk-on All-American football player, Jim Leonhard! I know, I had never heard of him either, but this town of 105 people had a huge billboard announcing this, as well as a street named after him, so I thought it was worth noting.

Eventually I made it to the flatlands of Wisconsin farm country, crossed the Minnesota border, and then back home to the apartment. This day I spent 8 1/2 hours in the car. From my parents' place to Copper Harbor and back to the Cities was 775 miles. A total of 234 songs played on my iPod during the journey.

I had quite an adventure last week. Trips like this really invigorate me, spark my wanderlust, and make me want to visit other areas. Which state should I run in next? Only time will tell.

Until next time,

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