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The big lake they call Gitchie Gumee

Agriculture.com Staff 08/07/2006 @ 9:17pm

There are times when a person is overcome by the urge to "get out of Dodge", to break away from it all, to see some different country and recharge the proverbial batteries.

Many accomplish this by going to the lake. My wife and I don't get out very much and decided to make up for it by going to the largest lake we could find.

This line of thought is what recently landed us in Daloot, which, we learned, is how the locals pronounce "Duluth".

The city of Duluth is strung out over many miles, is just a few blocks wide, and is perched hard up against a hard rock bluff. What attracted us and most everyone else to Duluth is the world's largest body of freshwater, the big lake they call Gitchie Gumee.

It seems improbable to find a bustling seaport in the Upper Midwest, but there it is, complete with enormous ocean-going freighters laying at anchor near the harbor. We were on hand to witness the arrival of a truly leviathan freighter called the American Century. At a thousand feet long and a hundred feet wide, she is among the largest boats to ply the waters of the Great Lakes.

I don't know what sort of tonnage the American Century can haul, but bet it could easily transport Roseanne Barr.

My wife and I followed the paths of numerous tourists and boarded a tourist boat for a harbor tour. Our vessel was perhaps a hundred feet long, but it seemed like a puny little bath tub toy when we sailed past the cetacean belly of the American Century.

The harbor cruise was very pleasant. We got to see the titanic facilities that handle mass quantities of such raw industrial products as iron ore, grain, coal, and Coca-Cola. It put the words "industrial might" into perspective.

Remember how, in Social Studies, you had to learn about all the Important Exports of our nation? Instead of feeding kids a bunch of boring facts, they should be taken to Duluth to see these awe-inspiring things first-hand. Such a trip would have certainly piqued MY interest in Social Studies.

After a couple of days in Duluth, we decided to tool up the North Shore to more fully experience Lake Superior. The trouble is, the North Shore is also part of the Great North Woods. There were times when the Largest Lake In The World was completely hidden from view by trees.

I am from a part of the world where nearly every tree has been planted. I therefore couldn't help but think, "I wish they hadn't put all these trees here. It makes so I can hardly see the lake and the woods!"

In the midst of our North Shore sojourn, somewhere near Two Harbors, we came across a man-made wonder that begged to be examined more closely. This marvel has been given the iconic name of Betty's Pies.

As with the fabled Paul Bunyan, Betty's Pies has a reputation that's as big as the North Woods. As if to drive this point home, we had to wait 15 minutes for a table -- in the middle of a weekday afternoon!

While we waited for our table we struck up a conversation with a friendly couple who had just arrived.

When our table became available, we asked them to join us.

The couple turned out to be Verna Joel and her son Roy. Verna is from New Ulm, while Roy lives in Chicago.

Roy is a former nursing home administrator. "I didn't really retire," he said. "I just got tired and quit."

Verna is... well, "spry" doesn't quite do her justice. "Roy and I have been riding the North Shore bike trails," she said. "We've put on 300 miles during this trip."

To honor Verna's recent 84th birthday, her seven children purchased a bicycle rack that is now mounted on the rear of her Pontiac convertible. "Mom needed a better car a couple of years ago," said Roy, "And she asked 'Is it OK if I get a convertible?' I said 'Mom, you're 82 years old! You can get whatever you want!'"

As we said our good-byes to Roy and Verna, I asked if I could snap a photo to commemorate our pleasant visit. Posing beside the Betty's Pies billboard, Verna joked, "Maybe I should climb up on the sign so you can see me better!"

Roy, a note of mock exasperation in his voice, admonished, "Mom! Act your age!"

It suddenly dawned on me: the Bob Dylan song "Forever Young" is perhaps what best describes Verna. But I'm out of space for now; Dylan will have to wait for next time.

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