Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day Two

Campsite No. 1, Zippel Bay, morning of Day 2
One of the things I regret about this vacation a little bit is how many times we told the kids they’d be able to swim "in the morning" where we were going, and then they weren’t able to because we had to hit the road so quickly. Or if they’d just wait until we got to that night’s campground, then they’d be able to swim -- only to pull in at 8:30 and then it’s suddenly bedtime.

The other thing about coming in late to your campsite is that you don’t really have a chance to explore it until the next morning when you’re getting ready to head out. But because this was the first morning on the road, we didn’t really feel any urgency to get going too quickly, and so the kids were able to swim in the (very cold) Lake of the Woods, which is the big lake up in the “chimney” of Minnesota.

John’s technique of acclimating to cold water involves holding his nose and then leaping around in a silly way in the water, trying to trip himself up. Maia walks in slowly, then slides in, bravely putting
I feel like this looks like a movie still.
her head under on purpose. Soon they were running and splashing as if it were warmer than it was.

As we sat there watching the kids, someone came up behind and said, “Excuss pliss” in a way instantly familiar to anyone who has spent any time in Russia. “Not so good English.” This was startling, as no one else had been at the campground all night. The man had driven up in a mud-spattered Jeep Cherokee (of course!) held up his camera apologetically. I said, “Well, I speak Russian” rather grandly and he switched to Russian and told us he was touring national parks in the United States and he wanted me to take a picture of him with the blah-blahs.

Lady slippers, as discovered by Pavel the Muscovite
He was holding a shovel and I took the camera and he began walking me over to where the blah-blahs were, with Matt following along behind -- the guy did have a shovel, after all. But when we got to the blah-blahs, which turned out to be a gorgeous mass of lady slippers I had totally missed on my morning run past the area, all he wanted was a picture of him posing next to the flowers “like Hamlet” with the shovel shoved into the dirt, as if he were pondering digging them up.

I got all Minnesotan here and said that of course he wasn’t going to take the flowers themselves, because that wasn’t allowed, and he said of course he wasn’t going to do that. I took the picture, he thanked me and drove off to International Falls and "the big lake." That wrapped up our dose of random for the day.

Maia searches in vain for the exit to the Big Bog. 
After an hour or two of driving, the first stop of the day was the Big Bog, which is pretty much what it sounds like -- a giant undeveloped area that is pristine bog-ness. A mile-long boardwalk with interpretive information stretches out into the bog, and while it was hot and windy, it was very interesting. What I learned here is that a bog doesn’t look like a swamp or a marsh. We didn’t see any water, because it was all held underground. I saw pitcher plants for the first time, but no sundews.

We had lunch on the shores of Red Lake.

Back to the van again for another couple hours of driving. The next stop, the Lost 40, was a fun place to go because we all had completely different expectations about. The Lost 40 is 40 acres that was in the middle of an area plotted by a lumber company more than 100 years ago, but it was never logged because of a map-making error. So it’s untouched, which is highly unusual in this state.

A tree the lumber company forgot.
Matt was surprised it was a “living" forest -- one that had developed past what it had been when everything else was logged. John expected it to be a tall stand of pines in the middle of some grassland. I couldn’t understand how 40 acres could be “lost” -- but once I saw the map and the area, it made sense (it was originally plotted as a lake, but the middle of the lake pinches in a lot, which makes me think the surveyor got lazy).

In any case, these were some seriously large trees, and it made for a beautiful walk.

Back to the van, the map and the (out of range) iPhone to find Camp Rabideau. Many years ago, before Matt and I met, he and a friend drove out near Blackduck to do some work on some CCC buildings at Camp Rabideau. Like all CCC buildings, they were not meant to be permanent but had found a second life in the 1960s as a university research station, but since 1967 had been abandoned and were very close to unsalvageable. Matt and his friend did what work they could to shore up one of the buildings by reroofing it.

The roof is still there!
More than 20 years later, Matt wanted to see how the camp was fairing, and to his delight he found that the site has been declared a National Historic Landmark and the buildings are being fully rehabilitated for use as vacation cabins and research. We got a private tour from the caretaker and learned a different side of the CCC than the one we know from up by Gooseberry Falls.

As you can imagine, by now we were hot, tired, hungry and owly. We had seen four significant state sites, walked more than five miles and driven what felt like 500 miles in less than eight hours. Time for a real supper in a real restaurant, instead of crackers and cheese out of the cooler.

St. Bridget’s Cross in Bemidji came to our rescue. It prides itself on featuring local produce when possible, pours a good Guinness and is family-friendly. One is reminded, however, that it’s in Bemidji, as Matt had this conversation with our waiter.

Matt: I’d like the fish’n’chips, please.

Waiter: OK, now. I just want to make sure, because we’ve had some confusion.
John, thinking in the Lost 40

Matt: Oh?

Waiter: Yes. I’m going to ask you if you want chips, or --

Matt: Or?

Waiter: Or if you want fries.

Matt: I want what I would get when I order fish’n’chips.

Waiter: Well, sometimes people expect something. What you will be getting is actually fries, not potato chips.

Matt: I understand what you are saying and I’m ordering the fish’n’chips. Some people really are surprised?


Waiter: Well...I don’t think Bemidji was really ready for us.

Marilyn Hagerty had a review up on the wall, too, which was awesome.

Fortified with good humor, we made it to Itasca, which was packed (we reserved every site on this trip, because we were never sure when we’d be coming in to the campsite). Another quick tent-staking and notes-in-journal-making, and then the day was over. We fell asleep to the sound of loons on the lake and geese flying overhead.

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