Sea Smoke

George Ilstrup


A winter on the North Shore is not for the faint of heart, as the temperature often drops below 0 degrees and stepping foot outside can be a chore. If you can deal with your car not starting 100% of the time, or not feeling your toes when you take your dog for a walk, the shore boasts some unbelievable phenomena’s. One of them being Sea Smoke. If the air is still and cold enough, wisps of “smoke” will appear, which is actually water vapor that forms when really cold air moves over relatively warmer water. The “warmer” water below generally sits at a frigid 33-35 degrees. When the water vapor rises, the cold air above can only hold so much moisture which forces the water to condense into a fog. The fog then rises like smoke from the lake’s surface. The term fog is somewhat ironic when describing the “Sea Smoke” as fog occurs when warm air moves over cold water. On some days, when the smoke is paired with a heavy dose of cold wind from the north, “Steam Devils” may form, which are tornado-esk looking rising clouds.

The smoke draws in hundreds of visitors, and many of them have a camera in their hand, all in search of the perfect photo. The cliffs along the shore of Superior offer a perfect spot for viewing the smoke if you are willing to endure the sub-zero temps. We recommend finding a spot about 700 feet above Lake Superior, which will give you the best angle to capture the smoke rolling over the water. And if you are lucky, you might even be able to capture a ship looming in the background.

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Destination Duluth Survey Results

Rich Hoeg

We asked, and you answered. Thank you!

Our board was curious whether Destination Duluth was accomplishing its purpose. Simply put, are we communicating our message that not only is Duluth a great place to visit, but more importantly, our city is a great place to move. The answer was yes. Over 55% of you are now planning a visit to our city due to Destination Duluth's influence! Many of you have actually moved here.

However, rather than take our word for how great is Duluth, read what you said / think:

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From Pavement and Heels to Flats and Pine Needle Paths

My loyalty for this cool city was born on a blustery March day in 1990, literally. On March 28th, 1990, I burst into this world at St. Luke's hospital in Duluth. Ultimately, I would grow up in the Twin Cities. But the story doesn’t stop here.

Moving away from Duluth didn’t diminish the warm fuzzies I felt every time the car crested over the hill to reveal the mighty Lake Superior and city below. Like many young families from the Twin Cities, we would make annual summer trips up for family vacations and hockey tournaments.

When it was time for me to choose a college, University of Minnesota Duluth was my top pick. The memories of family vacations and the gigantic body of fresh water comforted me at the thought of the big change. Unfortunately, when graduation rolled around, like many other soon-to-graduate students looking for a job, I was looking outside of Duluth. At the time, I felt I had exhausted Duluth of what it had to offer and was ready to move back to, what seemed like, the greener pastures of the Twin Cities. Little did I know I would wind right back in Duluth in due time.

In Minneapolis, I would spend the next year and a half, hustling companies across the state for copy paper and slinging staplers. Think: the tenured version of The Office’s Pam Beasley. Despite the promise of financial security and excitement of the downtown hustle and bustle, something was missing.

Lake Superior and the relaxed attitude of Duluthians was what I missed the most. Thanks to the relationships I built as a student employee at UMD, I was told about an opportunity at Glensheen Mansion. There was a newly created position that ended up being the golden ticket to make my return to Duluth.

Outside magazine’s Best Town was everything that I remembered but…. better. I am embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until I lived in the city as a young professional that I began to discover all that Duluth had to offer. The countless parks, the short commute, the people, the embrace of creativity, and the slower pace of life all helped me feel right at home.

However, the icing on the cake was Leadership Duluth, a 10-month program put on by the Duluth Area Chamber. I met amazing people who are leaders in the community and learned about the different industries and facets of Duluth. As beneficial as it was to learn about my city and the leaders around me, the intangible gift was that of some truly great friendships. Since moving back, I had met new people and connected with college acquaintances, but still didn’t have a group of friends I could call my own. Leadership Duluth gave me that.

Over the last several years, I’ve watched the city grow economically and blossom into a full-blown outdoor lover’s paradise that many Duluthians enjoy all while sipping on a beer brewed from the waters of Lake Superior. I couldn’t be happier living and working in this great city.

--- Jane Pederson
Glensheen Marketing Manager

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5 North Shore Trail Running Tips

Peter Frank Edwards


Tired of running in the concrete jungle? Yea, me too! And I’m sure your joints are as well! Northern Minnesota offers some of the best train running routes in the Midwest. The fall colors will distract you from the burning sensation in your legs, and the bear chasing you will make you run your fastest mile ever! But in all seriousness, trail running is a great way to get your exercise in without the monotonous view of concrete. Although trail running does bring with it some added danger, by having the proper gear and mapping out your running route, you can be sure to stay safe. Besides, potholes in the road and crazy drivers in the city aren’t any safer than roots in the trail or maybe a moose on the bridge.

Here are 5 tips for anybody wanting to get started:

  1. Trail Shoes

If you're going to start incorporating trail running into your exercise regimen it is wise to invest in a pair of trail running shoes. They differ from regular road-running shoes in the fact that they have a lower profile (lower to the ground), which will help reduce your chance of rolling an ankle. Trail shoes also offer rugged tread, which will also help you get better traction on muddy, wet trails. To avoid losing your toenails, your shoes should also be about a half size bigger than normal. You want the shoe to remain snug on your heel, but the added room in the toe box will allow for your toes to shift forward without hitting the shoe cap.

2. Be the Hill

When running the trails, take on the mindset that you are mountain and that in certain terrain you have to adjust your running style. When going up steep hills, take short, quick steps and use your arms. This will ensure optimal footing and leverage up the hill. When running down steep hills it is better to use a stair-stepping motion; move in a similar motion as you would be running down a flight of stairs, keeping your torso tall and letting your legs take all the impact.

3. Know the rules of the trail

On most trails, you will rarely see other runners, as there are so many trails in the area, but when you do, it is good to know the rules. You should yield to other trail users, such as hikers and mountain bikers. Uphill runners should yield to downhill runners. And sorry for your new pair of shoes, but when there is a puddle, run through it not around it to avoid making the trail wider.

4. Keep your eyes on the trail

It is extremely hard not to gaze off into the distance at the beauty of the woods, but it is very important that you focus on looking 3-4 feet ahead, at all times, to create a line of travel. If you want to enjoy the sights, walk it out or stop. As you become more comfortable running on trails, your instincts will kick in, and the focus that comes with trail running will become second nature to you.

5. Keep it safe

When heading out to the trails, be sure to run with a buddy or a dog, tell someone where you will be running, and take your cell phone with you for safety. If you are concerned about wildlife, wearing pepper spray is never a bad option and make sure to always bring with fluids and fuel.

Most importantly, have fun on the trails, but be careful!

“Once you get on the dirt, you never want to go back on the roads”

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The Art of Skipping a Rock

Andrew Achter


The key to a good skip lies in the spinning of the stone, and by using a flat round stone, you are able to add a lot of spins. Throw the stone hard, with a lot of linear and angular momentum, at a 20-degree angle.  On the water, a stone's spin keeps it poised on its trailing edge, rather than somersaulting. In the air, spin provides stability, like Frisbee. With each skip, gravity pulls the stone deeper under the surface, and the water creates more drag on the stone. A skipped stone spends 100 times longer in the air than it does on the water. When choosing a stone, chose something in the range of four to six inches in diameter. The flow of water around the rock lifts it up, propelling the next hop. The more surface area, the more lift. Calm water and a thin, roundish rock are ideal, but with enough velocity, you can skip almost anything. The world record is 88 bounces, so good luck!!

Best Spots to find skipping rocks:

Brighton Beach

Located on the east end of Duluth, and at the beginning of HWY 61, this beach offers some of the best skipping stones on the north shore. Enjoy skipping rocks into the abyss that is Lake Superior, or go to the mouth of the Lester River and skip rocks under the Lester River Bridge where the water is usually dead calm.

Grand Marais Harbor

Located in downtown Grand Marais, this beach features a plethora of flat, smooth red stones are perfect for skipping. This is a great spot to release some built up aggression or burn off some calories, and just get lost in time skipping rocks.

Any beach along the North Shore

Pretty much any beach along the shores of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota will feature numerous rocks that you can skip. Basalt and rhyolite are the most common, and you can recognize these by their bluish black colors with very small crystals. These are the best stones for skipping.


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Rock Climbing the North Shore

Parker Hoen


Rock climbing can be a daunting and scary activity but there are routes along the North Shore for all ages and skill levels. Climbing is a great way to get some adrenaline pumping and can be done in a relatively safe manner. It is a great way to test your strength and endurance, along with your mental control. Rock Climbing attracts many daredevils, but it is also enjoyed by many everyday adventurous, just like golf! If you have moderate strength and the proper equipment and or instruction, rock climbing can be a very enjoyable experience. To get started we recommend first identifying the type of climbing that you want to do. This includes mountaineering, trad, sport, top roping, bouldering, and free solo. Along the North Shore, most of the routes are “Top Roping” which means you, the climber, is securely attached to a rope which then passes up, through an anchor system at the top of the cliff, and down to a belayer at the bottom. The second step is to properly gear up. We recommend stopping by a climbing store such as REI to talk to an expert and make sure you are getting the right gear. Most climbers’ arsenals include rope, cord and webbing, carabineers, quickdraws, harnesses, belay devices, rappel devices (descenders), ascenders, and slings. The final step is to locate your route. This can vary, depending on your skill level. Below we have highlighted some of our favorite routes on the North Shore. Tettoguche State Park has over 100 different routes, and we shared some popular spots from Palisade Head and Shovel Point, both of which are a bit more advanced. We also identified the new North Shore Adventure Park for climbers who are just getting started. Overall climbing is a great way to experience the beauty of the North Shore while incorporating some fitness and adrenaline.


Tettoguche State Park

Shovel Point- This is the easier of the two cliffs on the shores of Lake Superior. Shovel Point is popular with many novice top ropers but you can also find a few classics for the enjoyment of all skill types. This spot is popular with tourists, and they will most likely watch you climb and ask questions, so if you want some cheerleaders, this is a good spot. Many climbers recommend “The Great Yawn” and “Dance of the Sugar-Plump Faeries” along with making sure you bring a lot of webbing!

Palisade Head- The flagship of Minnesota climbing, Palisade Head boasts over 100 routes in itself. The cliff is breathtaking and offers jaw-dropping views of Lake Superior. Climbers will be sure to get some adrenaline pumping as this cliff stands some 300 feet over the shore. All of the climbs here must be rapped into the lead or top-roped from above. There is a strict no-chalk ethic in the area but nailing/bolting is prohibited. A free permit to climb is required by the state park and can be picked up at the park headquarters. Some routes we recommend are “Phantom Crack” and “Gun Fight”.

Temperance River State Park

Carlton Peak

This peak is an Anorthosite, which is a very strong but abrasive rock, so experts recommend bringing some old carpet to protect your rope. This is a top-roping route, but you are not allowed to bring your own bolts. All of the climbs names are numbers, and they all climb the right facing corner of the rock. We recommend route “16”.

Directions: From Tofte (HWY 61) go North onto Cook County Road 2 for about 2.5 miles and follow signs to the Britton Peak parking lot. Hike about 30 minutes to Carlton Peak.

North Shore Adventure Park

This relatively new park features a 30-foot cliff named “Eleanor”, after Eleanor Roosevelt, and is the first installment of the privately-funded North Shore Adventure Park. “Eleanor” is perfect for beginners and other climbers who want to either perfect their technique and or work on speed. The second phase of the park will include an Olympic-sanctioned climbing tower, an aerial ropes course and a zip line, which will hopefully be complete by June of 2020.

Directions: From Two Harbors, travel north on HWY 61 for 28 miles and the park is at the intersection of HWY 61 and Outer Drive on the left.

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O'ganic's Farmer's Market

Way 2 Wellness


O’ganics Farmers Market, ran and owned by Mark Howard, is the nation’s first $1 organic foods store.  Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, this storefront offers a variety of produce such as carrots, kale, red beets, potatoes, melons, and much more.  Mark takes pride in being the largest produce farmer north of Brainerd with 300 acres of land dedicated to his non-toxic produce.

Mark comes from a long line of farmers originating from Ireland who moved to Duluth years ago.  Growing up he commercially fished, but being in Duluth, quality fish can be limited in the summer months.  He decided to go the produce route for his career, giving locals quality food.  His lower prices for organic produce stem from growing local.  There is a limited cost of transportation and no money spent on fertilizers and chemicals on the plants.  He manages the weeds in his fields with “a date with a hoe” and hard work.

At O’ganics they believe that everyone should have the right to eat healthy at an affordable cost.  Money should not be an issue in getting healthy foods, this is why their produce is not sold to other grocery stores.  O’ganics wants their prices to be fair and not raised by bigger corporations.  The storefront itself is sourced with reusable and recycled materials, and Mark building everything by hand.

They run on a customer supported agriculture system or CSA.  CSA members pay a flat fee of $50 a year to be able to purchase all their needed produce.  Stay up to date on hours of operation on the O’ganics Facebook page.  Mark is also looking for summer help and offers possible internship opportunities.  Living simply, so others may simply live is a motto Mark lives by that transfers into his company.  If you agree with this, support locally grown foods, or want affordable produce check O'ganics out!

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Top 4 Northern Lights Viewing Spots on the North Shore

Rich Hoeg


One of the Earth's natural wonders, the Northern Lights cast a radiant bright green glow over the northern landscape for your viewing pleasure. Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, form when charged particles from the sun enter earth's atmosphere and collide with earth's gaseous particles. The result is usually a bright green glow, but every so often viewers will get to see a bright red glow as a result of the particles colliding higher up in the atmosphere. The Northern Lights most commonly appear between 60-75-degree Longitude, making the North Shore a hot spot for seeing the lights. Visitors on the North Shore can check the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center website for the daily Aurora forecast, to see if any clear nights are on the horizon, which provides for the best viewing conditions. To increase your odds of seeing brighter lights, it helps to get out of town as many cities are “polluted” by light, and the shield of street light can hide your view of the atmosphere lights. Look out your window, or hike to one of our favorite spots we have highlighted below, between 11-3am on any given night, and you have the opportunity to see these magnificent lights.

Top 4:

White Sky Rock

Just outside of outside of Lutsen, White Sky Rock offers 360-degree views over Caribou Lake. At 1400 feet above sea level, you almost feel as if you are apart of the lights. To get to the rock overlook, it is a .15-mile hike and you gain about 230 feet of elevation. Be cautious when hiking here at night, but overall we rate this as a great spot to view the Northern Lights.

Little Stone Lake

Located 25 miles north of Two Harbors in Ault Township, Little Stone Lake offers Northern Light viewers the opportunity to steer clear of city lights and see the full effect of Aurora Borealis. Take County Hwy 2 north of out Two Harbors for about 25 miles and then take a left on Wales Rd into Ault Township. Drummond Road offers great views to the North / Northeast if you want to pull over on the side of the road and view the lights from the comfort of your car.

Artist Point

This Point in Grand Marais offers tremendous views during the day and an even better spot to view the Northern Lights at night. The east side of the point shields viewers from most of the “polluted” lights from downtown Grand Marais and provides a great spot to view the lights to the north over the abyss that is Lake Superior. For easy viewing, visitors are able to drive right up to the beach and park near the Coast Guard Station.

Hawk Ridge

Known as a spot to view migrating birds, this Duluth ridge offers magnificent views over the entirety of Duluth, Lake Superior, and a great spot to see the Northern Lights. Hawk Ridge is located on East Skyline Parkway on the North Eastern Side of Duluth and features a tremendous overlook when viewers can park to see lights from their car.

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Spring Skiing with Glen


One of the joys of living in a world class outdoor city is the people you meet along the trails. I had the privilege of meeting cross country skiing trail pioneer Glen Nelson several weeks ago. He agreed to share his story on camera, which meant I got to ski Peidmont Trail with one of its founders.

Before I go further, Glen wants EVERYONE to know he wasn’t the original trail visionary. That belongs to his friend and trail building buddy Jerry Nowak.

Glen met Jerry in the early 60’s, and learned about a fledgling trail that could serve the high school ski team he was coaching. The rest is local lore that showcases the best of volunteerism in our beloved city. Now, Piedmont Trail is the centerpiece of a year-round trail destination for biking, XC skiing, hiking, trail running, birding, family picnics and array of other activities. The dedication and innovation of Jerry and Glen is but another expression of love for the outdoors coupled with a pioneering spirit that continues to inspire the creation of new trail experiences. These trails (The Superior Hiking Trail, COGGS Duluth Traverse, and Snowflake to name a few) attract people from all over the world to come here and venture outwards.

I hope you enjoy the accompanying short film of my time spent with Glen. It puts a grin on my face every time I watch it. In fact, I’m headed back to Peidmont for another spring ski when I finish this story.

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Hop into Spring

Missy Setter


Looking for something to do in the Duluth area this Spring?

Get the full Duluth Experience and sign up for Duluth’s Brewery Tours to enjoy the high quality tasty brews and become part of Duluth’s amazing craft beer scene. Hop on a bus and go behind the scenes and explore the breweries, meet the brewers, sample flavorful brews, and have a good time!

Variety of Beer Selections

Each brewery tour is unique and is designed to showcase a select group of local breweries in Duluth. Below is a selection of the brews you might taste during your brewery tour experience.

An Assortment of Tours

Interested in a brewery tour, but are unsure which one to choose? Luckily, I have listed each of the five tours to help determine one suitable for you.

The Thirsty Thursday Brewery Tour

If you’re looking to get a head start on the weekend, then I suggest hopping on board The Thirsty Thursday Brewery Tour. A few of the breweries you’ll visit during this tour include: Lake Superior Brewing Company, Earth Rider, and Blacklist Ales.

The TGI Friday Brewery Tour

Enjoy a fun-filled Friday enjoying tasty brews during The Thank Goodness It’s Friday Brewery Tour. During this journey, you will explore three foundational breweries, Bent Paddle, Fitgers Brewhouse, and Hoops Brewing, all of which have catapulted Duluth to the forefront of Minnesota’s craft beer community.

The Twin Ports Brewery Tour

Experience great brews from Earth Rider Brewing, Hoops Brewing, and Castle Danger while enjoying a scenic ride up the North Shore.

The Saturday Night Brewery Tour

Make your Saturday night a memorable one by hopping The Saturday Night Brewery Tour to discover a few of Duluth’s craft beers from local breweries.

The Huskies Pregame Experience Brewery Tour

Learn about the historic Wade Stadium before hopping on a bus to explore the Lincoln Park Craft District. Then head back to the stadium to finish off the day with some Huskies baseball.


You must be 21 years of age and older to attend the brewery tours. Each tour costs $80 per person and will take approximately four hours to complete. More details can be found at the website:


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MakerSpace: Create, Contribute, Collaborate.


Create. Contribute. Collaborate.


These are a few buzzwords that accurately describe the inclusive atmosphere Duluth MakerSpace maintains. The mission? To offer the best sustainable multi-field cooperative workshop possible for Duluth’s local artists, inventors, experimenters, teachers, & learners.

Simply put, MakerSpace provides inventive people with the tools and the space to create whatever comes to mind.


Max Elfelt, chairman of the board, stresses the importance creativity has on our day-to-day. After all, who would want to spend time in a world where ingenuity and originality takes a back seat to the monotonous drone of our every day lives? This non-profit has a unique model that insures one thing; members are put above all else. Keeping membership costs affordable is achieved through a collaborative effort between the business and the community in the Lincoln Park area.


A broad array of projects have been planned, created, and tinkered with in the MakerSpace workshop. Classes are offered for the curious, too! Try your hand at pottery, 3D printing, welding and metal shop, glass engraving, lapidary, and trust me – so much more. There’s no other place in Duluth that offers access to industrial machinery and technology that covers the needs for every project under the sun.

Find out more about memberships, classes, and events going on with Duluth MakerSpace at, and tours are made available by request at 3001 West Superior Street. Go out and create something today!

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Oink, Moo, Cluck


Running out of places to eat in the Duluth area? Well, I suggest you stop by the outstanding OMC Smokehouse, located in the Lincoln Park District.

OMC Smokehouse is an upbeat environment serving elevated BBQ with a global twist, along with local craft brews and patio seating, giving customers a dining experience they will never forget.

What's on the Menu?

OMC prides themselves on delivering the best quality food for all customers to enjoy. Although, everything on the menu is flavorful, the most popular items on the menu include the Brisket, ribs, and the chicken, along with incredible sides too. I suggest ordering the macaroni and cheese, because it’s truly the best I have ever tasted. Employees are up bright and early smokin' the food to ensure customers receive a fresh meal. What makes OMC unique is the fact that they give customers the option of building their own s’mores outside (when the weather is nice) on their patio that includes a large fire pit.

The Setting

OMC Smokehouse, established by the founders of Duluth Grill, is located in the neighborhood of Lincoln Park and is surrounded by other businesses including, Bent Paddle Brewing Company and Frost River. As you enter the Smokehouse, you are struck with the compelling aroma of the amazing food from the kitchen. The staff is very friendly, making it their duty to give their guests the best high quality service possible during their time spent at OMC. The Smokehouse is a family-friendly environment that welcomes guests of all ages. Meaning, you can bring your kids or simply have a romantic night out. In addition, there is an outdoor seating area with a fire-pit for visitors to relax and hangout. They offer catering services that are easy and delicious as well. Overall, OMC is compelled to give visitors a taste of their Upper Midwestern barbecue.


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Taking It Outside

Lucie Amundsen


I’ve overbooked myself lately.

A common problem and in this case, it’s completely my fault — taking on more foolishness than hours in the day. So, like most of us, I cut corners by eliminating “extra” stuff, like exercise and staring into middle space.

My near daily walk in Chester Bowl or less frequent craning-of-neck views of the bluffs at Tischer Creek has been put on hiatus. (Even though I live near one park and drive past the other daily.)  I’ll ’fess up to only one, maybe two visits to Canal Park and Park Point beach this winter. I mean, I’ll be back, you know, just after the due date passes, that class ends, oh – and, that other thing.

I’m embarrassed to say that recently I’ve seen more Duluth landscape on Perfect Duluth Day and Destination Duluth these days than actually experienced.

And I’m worse for it.

I need to take a Sharpie and write, “I’m happier when I play outside” backward, then slap it on my forehead so I can read it in the mirror in the morning. Plan accordingly.

The truth of the matter is I moved to this place to be more connected to the outside world. And there have been periods where I’ve succeeded, jogging my less-than-athletic self through the pine needle paths of Upper Chester — a place so green and alive, it’s like I’ve stumbled into Tolkien’s Shire. Thoughts of hobbits distract me from my clunky footfalls that, while not graceful, still manage to pop the tension bubbles growing in my chest. Set me back to neutral.

But it’s the swimming hole that I love best. In the summer heat, my family will walk down the rock steps of Lower Chester, feeling the history of the CCC under our feet. Following the noisy creek on the west side, some 200 feet down there’s a small widening deep enough for swimming. Truly, it’s easy to cruise on by. There the water is well circulated from a tiny waterfall above and honestly, I feel like I’m on the Northland version of the 1970’s TV show Fantasy Island.

Swimming hole

And the kicker is — I never see anyone else there. Ever.

We make a point of going often, maybe two, three times a week during heat waves. It’s usually when my husband is “fresh” from farm labor or I’ve made a sloppy attempt at mowing our hill of a lawn. I’ll admit there’s an urge to slip inside the house, get online and look at pictures of other people doing interesting things. Certainly, that would be less caloric.

But we goad one another; reminding ourselves how great it will feel after, how it’s Just. Right. There – if we only put in the barest amount of effort. An easy 5-minute drive to the Chester Bowl parking lot via the heights of Skyline Parkway, then it’s no more than a 6-minute hike down besides the rocks, the current, the tree roots. We slip on our grubby “creek sneakers,” footwear deemed poor enough for the job and wade in – tucking our one can of beer on a rock ledge that seems built for it.

Typically, half an hour disappears while we play in the water with the kids, ducking under the mini waterfall, letting the static sound of water rushing on rock clear our heads. We laugh, talk about nothing. Hoisting our wet and relaxed selves back on the trail we’ve returned home: cooler, steadier. Not even a full hour has past and there’s still plenty of Netflix left for us.

Later, feeling the cool tingle of creek water on my skin, I feel like I’ve bested life – at least for that one afternoon. It’s been a holiday without taking vacation, packing a suitcase or even filling up the gas tank. And that’s the brilliant part of living here. Duluth has some of the best access to green space of any city in the nation.

With summer coming, I humbly suggest you find your own special spot of Duluth. Maybe it’s the often-empty beach at Park Point, some forgotten length of the Superior Hiking Trail or the trails beyond Hartley Nature Center. Heck, I’ll even share mine. Come treat yourself to a dip. If I happen to be there when you arrive, I’ll make room for you under the waterfall.

Then we can all slap enviable pictures all over the Internet, too.

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Moving North

Lucie Amundsen


I left a good life in the city.

My husband and I had established careers and moved our young family out of our Minneapolis duplex and into our forever house in a first-ring suburb. An Atomic rambler with thick plaster walls, on a corner lot in an award-winning school district, it was lovely. Add in large, southern-exposed windows, a fireplace and a finished basement large enough to raise Shetland ponies, well, it was the “Beige Rambler of my Dreams.” Jason and I planned to watch our children grow up in their award-winning school district, as we grew old in the safety of one-floor living.

And though my husband had truly wanted this house and all its middle-class trappings, our suburban lifestyle had Jason on the verge of a boredom aneurysm.

That’s when a Duluth headhunter found him; a vulnerable adult constricted by a place where lawn maintenance was competitive sport. Given we lived on the boulevard (a term invoked with a disturbing reverence) there was pressure to perform to Olympic levels with chemical sprays, lawn services and street-long coordinated Christmas light displays. In contrast, curb appeal in the Northland is scarcely an intramural.

But lawns and houses aside, Jason believed that given I would be the most disrupted by a move 150 miles north (I mean, no one was headhunting me), the choice to make the leap was completely mine.

Big life decisions do not come easily, but I’ve developed a non-coping coping strategy. I don’t think about it. Like at all. So for clarity’s sake, I ordered all six seasons of HBO’s Sex and the City from the library. And I watched them on my Mac laptop — propped up on the kids’ step stool — where I could see the screen from the bathtub while drinking a glass of wine.

While deep in my therapeutic media coma, watching the bonus feature commentary, I heard it. A screenwriter asserted that the series had to be in New York because it’s so alive, so vibrant…and (I paraphrase here) “Who would watch a series called Sex and Duluth?

I nearly dropped my wine.


Despite the writer’s dim view of my erotic prospects (or maybe to spite them) I got up, threw on a towel and padded my wet feet across our magazine-perfect hardwood floors. Looking at Jason, despondent in his leather chair, I assessed his rate of wither and cocked my head north to better hear its siren song. Maybe it was partly to spite that impertinent writer, but it was then I agreed to put all my worldly possessions on a truck headed to a big lake.

As I exhaled, having finally made the tough decision to leave, we planted our “For Sale” sign in front of our dreamy Beige Rambler. And at that exact moment, just as the post struck dirt, the sub-prime mortgage calamity popped the market.

Our house wasn’t selling. Nothing was selling.

Jason moved North without us to start his new position. I was left with two small children and a big dog living in a real estate staged house, which isn’t really living at all. After nearly seven months and 43 house showings, we started brainstorming ways to reunite our family.

Jason walked through many rough apartments, but was suddenly looking at a house within our rental budget. On the beach of Park Point, no less. He phoned while the children and I were hiding in a PetSmart during another fruitless Realtor walkthrough.

“It’s a three-bedroom rambler! With first-floor laundry! And an attached garage!” he enthused. It was like a suburban housewife mating call. “Clothesline! Fenced-in yard! Master bath!”

“But,” he continued, “Just a couple things.”

I held my breath.

“There’s a life-size statue of the Virgin Mary in the yard.”

“Oh,” I hesitated, “I’m down with Mary.”

“Well, it has this life-size Virgin because it’s… it’s actually a church rectory,” he spit out.

“That’s … really different,” I managed.

“And the church has no running water,” and this is where he started talking fast, “so per the lease agreement, on Sunday mornings from 8:30 to ten in the morning, parishioners can use the bathroom.”

Which gives meaning to the thought, “Holy Shit: The economic downturn is driving us into a semi-public restroom situation.”

But I heard myself say, “That’s okay” and made a mental note to get the really big container of Clorex wipes.

We moved into the rectory, complete with a giant print of the Last Supper in the dining room. Surely, our beautiful Minneapolis home would sell in a few weeks, and we’d join the heady buyer’s market. We lived at that rectory with the Mother of God and her full-bladdered parishioners for nearly two years.

Life on the point, a seven-mile spit of land jutting into the world’s largest freshwater lake, was charmingly peculiar. I kept a marine radio set to channel 16 to gauge when to leave for carpool, lest I get caught on the wrong side of Duluth’s iconic aerial bridge. It’s roadway often lifted for vessels to access the Saint Lawrence Seaway and Superior Bay. And per safety protocol, the bridge would raise a good ten minutes before a freighter could be clearly seen on the horizon. This took time and, for me, planning.

Though if “bridged,” I could always go to our neighborhood market, a place where you put a $20 down in the ledger then send the kids back for milk and eggs as needed.

But it seemed that just as I’d start to relax into this new, off-kilter norm, I’d wake up, amble down the hallway seeking coffee and meet someone not the right size or shape as anyone in my family in our hallway. Then I’d remember. It was open bathroom Sunday at the rectory — and I should find my glasses, probably pants, too.

It seemed this quirky place would never feel like home.

But just shy of our one-year move-a-versary, before school let out that early June, there was a lone hot day that sent the children swimming in the Lake. Off the snow-rimmed beach, they bobbed like otters, passing broken ice chunks to one another. My friend Deb and I scrunched our toes in the sand, Coronas in hand and I remember thinking there should be a word, like a 32-letter German one, for the guilty pleasure of enjoying climate change.

However, my lexigraphic thoughts were interrupted as I looked out at the kids. As numbness and bravery set in, they’d swum further towards the remaining slabs of thick ice. It was then that I bolted up and shouted one of my all-time favorite parenting lines to date: “Hey! Kids! No playing on the ice shelf!”

As the words left my mouth, I started to giggle, hands to my face. Then I bent with a laughter that emanated from deep inside. Something shifted inside me. A slightly urbane, more conventional part of me succumbed to this ridiculous, beautiful, offbeat and liberating place — defined by experiences, if not ceremony. And that day, I became a little more Duluthian.

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