Monday, July 10, 2006

Off to "Yooper" Country!

On Friday, I left my folks' place. I always feel a great pang of sadness when I go, because I have to say goodbye to the family and leave the North Shore, my favorite place on earth. But my return to the metro would be delayed as I hung a left in Duluth and headed for the U.P. The destination was Copper Harbor, MI, for the Keweenaw Trail Running Festival.

I had never been to Michigan before, and the drive through the southern U.P. was beautiful, kind of like northern Minnesota on steroids; a lot of the same trees, but a few more hills!

As you get to Houghton, you start to notice a change. Lots of depressed, boarded up mining towns with homes that haven't seen a coat of paint in 30 years or more, and barely a sign of commerce or industry. Kind of sad. You get the impression that life is harsh here.

Adding to that harshness would be the winters. "Yooper" (U.P. locals refer to themselves as "Yoopers") country receives a ridiculous amount of snow, largely due to geography and the "lake effect" snow that comes off of Lake Superior. Get a strong northwest wind here in January and you are measuring snow not in inches, but rather in feet. We are talking about a couple of hundred inches every winter on average. In fact, they have even erected a giant measuring stick of sorts at a roadside rest stop on Highway 41 to illustrate and track how much snow they get. Crazy!

Fire up the snow blower!

As you get closer to Copper Harbor, the old mining towns disappear and you begin to enter God's country. The road slows to 45 MPH and winds through the forests and hills. The trees form a canopy over the road, and you can barely see the sky. It is quite impressive.

I stayed at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, a resort just above Copper Harbor. This was a rustic and locally historic facility, complete with a golf course, restaurant, and a bar. A really pretty location, and they were also the host of the KTRF races, so I was glad to be staying on site.

A picture of the main lodge

I envisioned it being kind of like Grand Marais, MN, but Copper Harbor is much smaller. There are a few resorts and really old hotels, a handful of restaurants, and some tacky gift shops. The sidestreets are dirt roads, and there are no sidewalks, either. My guess is if you weren't into hiking, biking, boating, or sightseeing, you wouldn't find a lot to do here.

I ate dinner at the Tamarack Inn, a small, family-style restaurant. Eerily, I was the only diner in the restaurant early on a Friday night, and the two waitresses working were so bored that they spent most of their time talking to me! According to them, it is really hit or miss as to how busy Copper Harbor gets. Very strange. Why wouldn't this scenic area be just jam packed with people every weekend?

I ordered a pasty at the restaurant (pronounced "pass-tee"). This is a U.P. specialty food item that was made popular by the local miners back in the day. It is basically meat, gravy, and root vegetables stuffed inside of a pastry crust. Think of it as one of those frozen, microwavable "Hot Pockets," only much better. The pasty was quite tasty and filling. It, along with some fries, split pea soup, and the salad bar, truly hit the spot after a long day of travel. The meal only set me back $12.

Playing the tourist in Copper Harbor

After a little more sightseeing in the harbor, I retired to bar at the lodge for a quick nightcap to unwind before bedtime. This place has the old "supper club" feel to it, and they serve classic drinks from the 70's like Brandy Alexanders and Pink Squirrels (good grief, when is the last time you have seen those on a menu?). I did not partake in any of the specialty drinks, but I do know for a fact that a glass of beer costs a mere $2! :)

Tomorrow would be my 10k race. What would I be getting myself into?
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