Sunday, June 20 is Father’s Day. We stay snuggled in our sleeping bag until 8 a.m. We have no where to be. Because it is supposed to rain today, we left the car last evening out at the end of the ½ mile trail to the yurt. I was able to walk back in ten minutes – not bad. That should be a doable hike on Monday morning carrying the rest of our belongings.
The day breaks with the sun shining before slowly sliding into cloudiness. After a light breakfast, we decide to go for a slow meander along the prairie path and down another track that ends at a stagnant marsh. Budding spring flowers line our path and stopping to photograph them is required. Mosquitos swarm us every time we stop moving. A wet splop lands on my nose. What was that?
“I just felt a rain drop,” I report, “Time to start back.”
We spy some moose tracks in the beaten path close to the yurt. That is probably as close to a moose as we will get. One last visit to the lakeshore and we head indoors.
A steady pitter patter on the canvas roof and sides of our abode meets our ears not more than fifteen minutes after getting back from our journey.
“It’s chilly in here. Can you see if you can start a fire in the stove?” is my next proposal.
Soon the fire is slowly burning emanating a toasty warmth. It has become a day for me to write and to read and for Dave to play solitaire while the rain pounds a steady rhythm of song on the canvas roof.
The wind howls in waves throughout the night while the rain continues its steady drumming. Just after midnight, I am awakened by an “Oh, no!” by Dave. His portable CPAP machine which I have bought for trips like this has died. I had bought a lithium battery to power it here due to no electricity but really had no idea how long it would last. We tried to do some recharging using the car cigarette lighter during the day on Saturday when we were driving around but apparently, it was not enough. The whole concept has worked beautifully up until now. But now I spend the rest of the night dozing off and on listening to my hubby stop breathing and then wake himself up over and over gasping.
By 6 a.m. on Monday, we decide it is time to get up and get ourselves together since we aren’t sleeping anyway. The temperature on the thermometer on the pole outside is 42 degrees. Time to hustle if one does not want to freeze while dressing. As I pack up our stuff and put away the rest of the food in the cooler, I notice that the trail mix bag has a semi-circular cut out of it and the mix is scattered all over the metal cart top. I think we had a visitor during the night.
The sleeping bag is rolled up and tied with rope so Dave can sling it over his shoulders while also carrying a small leather bag and a medium sized duffel bag. I throw a small backpack on my back and hoist up the cooler. We are ready. The ground is soggy with puddles which require skirting. My hands are freezing so I call for a stop to roll down the sleeves on Dave’s quilted shirt which I am wearing. Fifteen minutes of strolling through the cool morning sunshine brings us to our car. We are soon headed homeward. That planning ahead managed to work out splendidly for us. We have survived one more daring trip into the wilderness.
As daylight filters into the globe of the yurt on Saturday morning, the sky is heavy with clouds. Snuggled into our sleeping bag against the 52-degree chill, anxious thoughts flit though my mind. Is it going to rain today? How are we going to get out of here if it does? What about our plans for today? With my stomach all in a tizzy, we finally roll out. We can’t sleep anymore anyway. A quick visit to the car at 7 a.m. allows for listening to the weather forecast. It is the only way we have of knowing what is being predicted.
“Cloudy today,” says the announcer, “with a high of 65 and 90% chance of steady rain tomorrow, Sunday, with a high in the fifties.”
Ugh! That means today is probably going to be OK but what are we going to do about tomorrow. Will we be able to get out of here after it rains for a full day? Hubby and I make a decision to rearrange all of our belongings so that we are keeping only the bare essentials. The rest we will load in the car this evening and leave it at the beginning of this bumpy, rut and rock filled path so when it rains, we are not stranded in mud. I think I could probably mud my way out but don’t really want to do that to my car. What is left of our belongings we will hike the .5 mile with on Monday morning. As we begin reallocation of our belongings, it begins to rain. But it’s not supposed to rain today!! So should we go on our BWCA daytrip or forget it?
The plan for today has been to go pick up a Kevlar canoe from the yurt proprietor and haul it to the Duncan Lake BWCA entry put in site. Our car does not have a canoe rack, but our original plan was to pay the outfitter to haul it for us to the site entrance. But she was very hesitant when we requested this.
“You will have to help me lift the canoe and tie it on my car,” she said, “I don’t have any help this summer and my husband recently had a stroke.”
Feeling sorry for this lady and her unfortunate set of circumstances, our objective is to figure out a way to haul the canoe ourselves rather than burden her with our need. We wrack our brains for ideas. We have front to back bars on my Subaru but no crossbars to take the weight of the canoe. How do we prevent damage to the sunroof? By Friday evening, we still had no real good answer. Then after arriving back at the yurt on Friday, I glanced at the front tire on the driver’s side of the car. The tire appeared low. We do not need a flat tire out here in the middle of nowhere. I wondered if we have any kind of a spare. To calm my apprehensions, I decided to check the trunk to see if we had an acceptable spare should that become necessary. As I pulled up the carpet board covering the “trunk” and spare tire, I discovered a treasure. The “trunk” is fitted with three pieces of molded foam. Wow! Just what is needed to place on each side of the canoe and support it. We had brought along ratchet straps, so we are all set. It struck me as amazing how one potential problem has led to the solution to another.
By 9:30 a.m. on this Saturday, it has stopped raining and we set out for the home of the outfitter to pick up our canoe. Our devised plan for canoe transport works like a charm and by 10:30 a.m., we have set our canoe in the water at the Duncan and Daniel’s Lake entry portage. I have also come up with a plan to wear sandals for launching the canoe and then change to tennis shoes and socks for hiking and portaging. That way, I can wade out into the water without worrying about getting my shoes and socks wet. Getting into the canoe without capsizing is always the first struggle for Dave and I as we age. Canoes are notoriously tippy anyway and we are stiff and not very nimble anymore. Dave struggles to get his feet up and over the side when entering the canoe and even more so when exiting.
Finally, we make it safely into the canoe and we are off and paddling across Bearskin Lake toward the Duncan Lake BWCA entry point. The wind is steady making slightly rolling waves that are at an angle to our direction of travel. This makes for a vessel that wants to rock back and forth. Maybe it is the operators and not the conditions. It has been a long time since we last paddled a canoe. It is still cloudy but not an unpleasant day. The personal flotation devices add just the right amount of warmth to a mildly chilly day. Before we know it, we have paddled across the lake and glided into a shallow smooth rock-covered-bottom portage. There are quite a few people backed up at the portage, so we move our canoe off to the side to rest and catch our breath. Because of neck and back issues for Dave, we agree that I will carry the canoe and Dave will bring the rest of our gear. After a few minutes, Dave helps me hoist the 17.5-foot Kevlar canoe to my shoulders and I am off. The trail begins with a steep upward climb before heading back down onto a more level area. I am puffing with the exertion, but the load is easy to handle. Watching my stumbling feet is the challenge with roots and rocks and gullies to traverse. Slow and steady I trod the 81 rods or about ¼ mile. The last portion of the trail heads steeply downhill again to Duncan Lake. It is not that far of a distance, but it seems like miles. I need a breather and a drink before putting into the water again. Our final destination is Staircase Portage that leads to Rose Lake. Along this portage is a spectacular fall, Staircase Falls, that we wish to see.
All of the portage landings today have been what I call “nice” landings. They all have a fairly shallow water level with a rock or hard sand base. There is no need to worry about disappearing into the mud or drowning if one falls in.
Paddling is a little tricky in Duncan Lake but once we adjust our direction to face the swells, the canoe is more stable. Methodically we make our way over the lake. Three or four canoes are ahead of us making it easy to spot the portage opening. As we glide into the small cove leading to the portage, two swans glide silently along just a few feet from us. Paddling behind the leading swan are two little signets. They seem unperturbed by our presence. I count four or five canoes stacked side by side at various locations around the portage opening. We plan to do the same thing as all these other people – leave our canoe and hike the portage only to see the falls.
We decide to first spread out the lunch we have brought along on a large rock. We will relax and eat until some of the people return to lessen the congestion in the area at the falls. Bread, a salmon spread, chips and trail mix make up our luncheon while we wait.
It is a fairly short trek to the falls once we get started. Staircase Falls tumbles and turns several times on its way to Rose Lake. We descend a set of fifty or so steps to the base of the main falls and then decide to explore the portage a little further. Soon we come to another set of steps that disappears into the foliage on its way down to the lake shore. It is time to turn back. I can see why one would not want to portage this particular crossing. It looks like the portage from hell especially carrying a canoe.
After spending fifteen minutes or so photographing this hidden beauty and enjoying its splendor of cascading water, it is time to head back. By now, it is around 2:30 in the afternoon and the sun has appeared to add its warmth to the day. We wonder aloud if this trek might be our last canoe adventure into the BWCAW. Our stiffness and waning balance have become a safety hazard. Not only that, rowing and portaging is physical torture for these aging bodies.
“It starts to get more fun,” declares Dave, “after I have forgotten all the pain.”
Friday morning, June 18, dawns with the sun shining brightly throwing rays of daylight through our clear dome on the yurt. Last evening in the light of the ½ moon, the dome threw out the impression of being a round bubble with domes extending down as well as up. We peer at it intently in the morning light. No, it only extends up. I wonder what gives it that illusion.
Our plan is to launch the canoe onto Hooker Lake this morning and tootle around. But I am extremely anxious and struggling with our plan. The lake is a dying lake; it is not very big, and it is shallow. One can see the algae and lake grass growing just below the surface across most of the lake.
“Don’t try to swim in it,” voiced our proprietor, “or you could get stuck in the mud.”
When asked about moose using this lake, she responded, “If a moose goes in there, he won’t come out.” To this she added, “But it’s fine to canoe in.”
By now, I am doubtful about the “fine to canoe in” part of that statement and I am totally freaked out about even trying to canoe. I can see us getting stuck in the mud and disappearing forever. One such experience occurred for us on a prior BWCA trip and probably has scarred me forever. It was a year in which the water was low, leaving many of the portages with receding landing areas. As we approached this one particular portage, the water had receded approximately 100 feet from it’s original, leaving an extremely muddy landing. Previous travelers had placed a series of tree trunks through the mud out to the water to hop out upon. We came in further to the right with the idea of getting our canoe as close as possible to shore and then dragging it over the rest of the wet muddy spot. This technique resulted in us becoming hopelessly mired in sucking mud. There was only one choice. Someone had to get out and make their way to dry land and that someone was me as I was in the front of the canoe. I took rope with me and jumped as far as I could. Of course, that was when I could still jump. Down into the mud I sank to a level above my knees. I knew I had to keep the momentum going or I was in real trouble. I pushed off with my right leg followed by the left, leaving my shoes in a miry grave. Fear of being sucked to China filled my soul and provided the energy for the onward plunge. Thirty seconds later, I was safely on dry land but covered in dark goo as high as my thighs.
An hour of exhausting pulling and slowly inching the canoe forward finally resulted in Kaitlyn being able to reach over the side of the stuck vessel and retrieve my shoes. Finally, the rest of my family was able to make their way safely to shore and we finished retrieving the canoe. Our daughter has never wanted to go BWCA canoeing again, and I now realize I have a permanent fear as a result.
Instead of canoeing this lake, we decide to go hiking. I have found a pamphlet titled, “Hiking On The Gunflint Trail Scenic Bypass.” There are twenty different hikes to choose from along the 56.6-mile Gunflint Trail from Grand Marias to the Canadian border. We decide to start on the Moose Viewing Trail. It is listed as “easy” in difficulty and is only a mile round trip. The path ascends at a thirty-degree angle. If this is easy, what is difficult? I guess it all depends on your perspective. Butterflies of various colors flitter around, and the way is bordered by little yellow flowers and white petaled ones backdropped by green leaves. A few stops are made for photographic opportunities and then we trudge onward. Soon we veer off onto a narrow trail that leads down to the viewing platform. The air is warm, but the wind is chilly here in the canopy of trees. One hundred yards through the pines is the perfect spot for moose to feed. A small pond is visible with cattails and lily pads scattered about. It is a tranquil scene, but no one has put out the moose today. Soon we make our way back to the car and plan for our next stop.
Daniel’s Lake looks like a good option for hiking as well. It is actually in the BWCAW and requires a permit. It is also listed as “easy” and is a 3.75-mile trip along an old railroad grade which was once used to acquire white pine lumber on Rose and Clearwater Lakes. This looks promising. We follow the directions without a problem down Clearwater Road to the West Bearskin Lake boat landing where the trail is supposed to begin. There is a self-permitting station to pick up a permit, but we can find no entrance or head to any trail. OK, this is frustrating. We drive several miles further on this road before we give up and turn around.
“How about Crab Lake Trail then?” mentions Dave, “It says it is ‘easy’ too. It’s eight miles to Crab Lake but we don’t have to go that far.”
It’s decided. We return to the Gunflint Trail and head north another eleven miles. “Turn right on the road to Loon Lake Lodge and drive .9 mile. The trail head is just past the lodge,” says the brochure. As we drive past the lodge, there is a small parking lot for “guests.” We assume that means lodge guests but no trailhead to be seen.
“Let’s go on just a little further,” Dave suggests.
Soon, I am creeping down a narrow rocky road. Still no trail head. We are having terrible luck today finding our targets.
“Water crossing ahead,” flashes the yellow sign on the side of the road. Ugh, I am not doing any water crossing. I think it is time to turn around. On this small one lane path, I do just that.
We decide to make one more attempt at finding another trail before throwing in the towel for today. Topper Lake Trail head is just four miles south from here on the Gunflint on our way back to the yurt. It is also listed as “easy” and only 1 ½ mile round trip to the lake and back. The directions actually lead us to a trailhead. Hurrah! Uphill we saunter for ten minutes until we are puffing mightily and then back down again. Finally, the lake comes into view. Ah, an actual BWCA lake. The sky has clouded over, and the wind causes one to shiver.
“We are going to get wet before we get back,” announces Dave.
“I hope not.”
I look around for a couple of rocks to sit upon and hoist a flat rock into place to spread our picnic lunch upon. Tuna salad is mixed for sandwiches and some chips and trail mix are thrown in for our dining by the lake. Soon it is time to head back before we do get wet. A stop at the store for some ice on the return trip is in order. Thankfully, it never does rain on us.
We build a roaring fire in the fire pit at the yurt on our arrival to our home away from home. The smoke chases away the swarming mosquitos and allows us to treasure a few smores while listening to the repeating songs of the various birds.
I arise at 6:30 a.m. to start the day. We are headed off today for a vacation of camping in a yurt by Hooker Lake in far northern Minnesota. The yurt is located right on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) so our hope is to also make a day trip by canoe into the BWCA. My hubby loves the solitude of the wilderness.
“Moo, moo” is the sound that reaches my ears as I exit the house. “Why, little one, are you standing in that pasture all by yourself?” I question the wayward bovine out loud. I sigh! I am in my pajamas, and this is how the day begins. I scan the fence line but do not see any wire on the ground – just a calf stuck on the wrong side. I shuffle out into the pasture, drop down the fence opening and shoo the wayward animal back to the others. I call to Claire, the dog, to get her to continue on with me to the barn to feed the cattle but she just sits on the sidewalk and gazes after me. Oh well, she will have to do her business at the kennel.
A ping and a plunk echoes through the air as we pull away from the garage, on time, no less. What was that? I step out to investigate. The tennis ball that dangles from a cord and descends when the garage door opens has caught on the bike rack on the back of the car. It has been catapulted across the garage as the cord popped with the tension. This is not the first time this has happened, but all is well otherwise and we are off.
Our drive to Grand Marias up Hwy 52, then I35, and State 61 goes without incident. We arrive around 3 p.m. We turn north on the Gunflint Trail and wind our way 28 miles until we arrive at Lime Grade Drive, a narrow gravel road through the forest. After a couple of miles, the GPS tells us to turn right on Little Ollie Drive. I thought we were already on it. After wandering onward for a few more miles down this shale path, we arrive at Little Ollie Bed & Breakfast tucked back in a pine and birch forest. It reminds me of the enchanted forest with trails coursing through the yard. We approach an enclosed porch that seems unoccupied, and our knock goes unanswered. Since silence is the only response we receive, the front door of the Bed & Breakfast seems like it might be a better choice. At least it has a doorbell. I push the button a couple of times before I hear a soft sound of footsteps.
A slightly bowed elderly lady pushes open the door, “If you had come around to the back it would have been so much easier,” she says.
There wasn’t any sign directing customers to the back and I would never have guessed that I was supposed to go down the hill and around the back of the house but OK. She leads us through the first level of the house and slowly down the basement stairs into the company office.
“I have no help this year,” she shares, “and I can’t afford to hire anyone with Covid shutting us down last year. We have no money, and my husband had a stroke recently. But you don’t need to know all that,” she finishes.
What a bummer! I am perplexed. Why is this elderly woman trying to run a Boundary Waters Canoe outfitting company in this situation especially when the internet advertising seems to indicate a host of services available? It just seems rather sad. It is a good thing we didn’t plan on hiring a guide to accompany us on our adventure into the Boundary Waters. Oh well! Our primary goal is to rent her yurt in the woods by Hooker Lake and we were hoping, maybe, to have her haul a canoe for us – not guide or supply us for a BWCA venture.
After we settle our bill, discuss weather, and plans, we climb back into our Subaru and head out to the yurt. A yurt is a round canvas structure much like a tent but large enough to stand up in and move around comfortably. It was often used as a primary residence by nomads in Mongolia, Russia, and Turkey.
“I don’t know if you can drive to the yurt,” she informs us. “It’s really rocky and muddy since we had lots of rain.”
Hmmm… I really don’t want to walk in and out a ½ mile every time we want to leave.
“I will take you and your things with the pickup, and you can see what you think,” she continues.
We follow the diminutive lady who can hardly see over the steering wheel in her pickup with our car as we turn down a beaten path. It doesn’t look so bad to me – a little rough, a few rocks to dodge – that’s all. Finally, she pulls over at a bend in the path.
“I think we should stop here and see what you think.” As she and I stroll along the barren wheel track path with foot high grass growing in the middle, she points out the mud puddles, the rocks and the rough terrain. It only looks like a normal farm field drive to me, but we agree to ride in with her to test it out. She seems so worried for us. The old battered pickup bounces over the obstacles and we are jerked this way and that. Soon through the trees, we spy a small wood shack that is identified as the sauna. Just a little farther in tucked into the birch and pines is the yurt. And to the southwest just visible in the distance is Hooker Lake.
Our guide gives Dave some instructions on firing the woodstove for heat, lighting the gas cooking stove, and the use of the water and then she roars away in her pickup that has seen better days. I am getting the very distinct feeling that she is not really prepared for us to be using the facilities.
“I’m going to walk out and get the car,” I holler to hubby. My walk provides a chance to survey the rocky route up close. I am pretty confident that I can traverse this with limited difficulty. My car has a smaller wheelbase than her truck allowing for sneaking between some of the rocks that she has been bouncing over. I think I maybe have some better springs and shocks as well as the road is not nearly as rough in my vehicle and soon, I am back at the yurt. That was a piece of cake!
Our temporary home has two sets of bunk beds and a futon with a bunk over it along one circular side. There is a table and chairs in the middle of the structure. The wood cast iron stove, the gas cook stove, and a stainless-steel cart for holding water containers and dishes lines the other ½ circular side. The center top sports a clear dome through which the sky is visible, and the lighting always seems to give the impression that the light is on.
Soon, it is time for supper. The menu is brats and mashed potatoes rehydrated from dry flakes. Neither one of us is into making a fire outside tonight so we decide to heat things on the stove. Dave turns on the gas to the burner marked RF and holds a match over the circle. Several matches burn themselves out or try to burn his fingers without the burner lighting. All of a sudden, there is a huge whoosh and a ball of flame shoots up. Both of us jump back startled.
“Are you OK? The back burner just lit,” I repeat several times to Dave.
“It couldn’t have,” he keeps reiterating.
Finally, he decides to test my theory and turns the handle marked RF but holds the match over the back burner. It lights instantly. He does the reverse with the RR and the front burner lights. Well, that’s a wee bit of a safety hazard.
The wind dies down to a perfect calm by 9 p.m. A loon’s call echoes in the distance. In the stillness, we read by the light of the lantern.
Raindrops splatter on the windowpane and slide down the glass. The sky is dark and lowering. I sigh. Not another rainy day. Yesterday, the water poured from the sky all day leaving an inch of water in the rain gauge. I was hoping for a better day today, Friday, as the lawn is growing lush and green heralding the need for a mowing. I wanted to get the mowing done before Saturday as we are going into the Memorial Day weekend. Oh well, it may just have to wait until tomorrow.
Surprisingly, by noon, patches of blue sky with peaks of sunshine begin to appear and a renewed hope rises within me. I know the yard is slightly damp yet and our trails through the woods are probably soggy, but I am going to give it a try. With a roar of the engine, I am off and soon going around and around shaving that lush green grass into a mat of fresh smelling clippings.
The last part of the task is to clip the overgrown trail through the woods. I make my first pass from the house winding through the trees down to the gravel road. The last fifty feet of the trail is downhill and culminates in a steep headfirst dive to the road ditch. Sliding down the hill sideways is not my idea of fun so the wise thing to do is to avoid that. My plan is to turn around and go back the way I came before the steep descent. Even then, I am uncertain of being able to ascend back up the incline I came down. The X540 John Deere that we own has rear tires with lug tread but even with them, I have learned it tends to be extremely helpless on an upslope. I hold my breath as I back around and head out of my precarious position. Just a few spins of the tires and I am wheeling along back towards the house. Whew! Made that one.
The next section of trail winds through the forest on the north side of the gravel road. Hubby and I have built a 20-foot bridge over the road ditch which extends from the ditch to the woodland opening. The bridge is just wide enough for the tractor, so precision is required with a little speed to make the slight incline at the other end. The hope is to not end up in the ditch here either. Traveling this portion goes off without a hitch. I do have a little problem with spinning on the trail which should have been my first clue that this whole operation is not a good idea today but hey, I am not one to give up what I have started. Use of the differential lock seems to overcome most of my difficulty. About ½ mile along this trail, we have installed another bridge that straddles a large washout. It lies at the bottom of a V slope in the trail. I know that if I descend into the V that I will not get out either way with it being as wet as it is so I turn around and head back. Without a problem, I am able to mow back to the road at the beginning. Now all that is left to do is mow the last section of trail that comes in from the opposite way to the V.
My confidence growing, I speed to the opposite end and begin again. I can do this. As I approach the treacherous section again, I am apprehensive. I have to be careful and not let myself get down into the valley or I am done. Falling into the wash would be disastrous as well. I roar up a little incline and position myself to turn around but there is not much room, and the terrain is inclined. Turning around requires backing uphill with the tractor. Not only do the back tires want to spin, the front tires do not want to turn the machine to bring it back around to the path. They just slide further off the trail. Between accidently hitting the forward foot pedal instead of the reverse more than once, I am soon helplessly positioned off the path and stuck against a tree with the mower. I have dug a big hole with the back tires and wedged the front against a log. Oh No! Frustrated, I sit there. I am in the middle of the woods. No one else is around and we have no other vehicle to pull with that will fit down the path. I have no idea how we are ever going to get this out of here. I might just as well walk home. It is 3:30 in the afternoon. I was doing so well and now I am dead in the water.
“How late r u going to be?” I text Dave.
“Not late. Around 4:10.”
“I will wait for you then. I got the tractor royally stuck in the woods.”
Right on time, Dave’s white pickup rolls up the drive.
“How are we going to do this?” I question him.
Confident, he replies, “We will take the tow rope and a Come-Along. Hopefully, we can find a tree nearby to pull from.”
This is a solution that has not ever even occurred to me. It infuses me with optimism.
Soon we are hiking up the path carrying two sets of tow rope and the Come-Along. My heart sinks just a little when I realize how few sturdy trees there are close to our predicament spot. There is no tree to be able to pull backward or forward from. The only available tree is about 25 feet away and off at a 45-degree angle. We come up with a plan to hook onto the front frame of the little tractor and to try and pull the front end around onto the trail. Within just a few minutes, my competent Hubby is slowly ratcheting the front around to face the trail.
“Now get on it and see if you can drive it out,” is the command.
I have my doubts, but I stomp on the differential lock and push the gas pedal to the floor. With a roar, it rises up out of its hole. Hurrah! I am off.
Since, I was almost done anyway, I decide to finish that last pass on the path and make a couple of passes along the side of the gravel road. That should only take fifteen minutes or so. I have just about reached the hardtop road when the mower abruptly and unexpectedly stops and the engine stalls out. The engine starts without a problem but each time I try to engage the mower, the tractor stalls. So now what’s wrong? I might as well give up. I turn around and head the tractor for the house. But on one last thought, at the end of the drive, I stop, get off and peer under the mower. Ah! There is the problem. A 5-6” diameter rock is wedged between the mower blade and the deck. I knock it out and climb back into the seat. With a screech, the mower whirls to life without killing the engine. Soon I am done.
Dave is laying on the lawn soaking in the sunshine when I return. Claire dances around him waiting for flying toys.
I sprawl beside him and kiss him on the cheek, “What would I do without you? I had no idea how we were ever going to get that tractor out of there.”
“Oh, I had time to think about it on the way home,” he responds.
Life is so much easier to tackle when one has someone to help shoulder the challenges. This year we will have spent thirty years helping each other deal with life. It reminds me of the Bible verse, “Two people are better than one because together they have a good reward for their hard work. If one falls, the other can help his friend get up. But how tragic it is for the one who is all alone when he falls. There is no one to help him get up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
“We should re-stain the deck,” comments my hubby while gazing out the large bay window at the birdfeed cluttered deck. It has been a few years and the green-treated boards are becoming dark and mildew coated.
Staining the deck is not a job I have ever desired to do. In the past, I have always hired someone for deck maintenance, but it cost us $800 to $1000 each time. Now I do not have that kind of money. Being retired has its perks but having lots of money is not one of them. As I think about this prospect, I begin to relent. Maybe I could do the job. I could rent a high-pressure washer to clean and prepare the wood and buy a paint sprayer to stain it. That doesn’t seem so difficult. I begin to search on-line researching the products needed to clean the wood, exploring the various stains available, and investigating the many different choices in paint sprayers. I decide on a specific sprayer and order it.
On a beautiful summer day in July, I motor over to the local hardware store to rent the high-pressure gas-powered washer. The temperature is predicted to be in the mid-80s with fairly low humidity. It should be a great day for this job. I am hoping I can fit the piece of equipment into my Subaru SUV.
“How do you start this?” I ask the store employee who is helping me with the rental.
“Well here is the throttle. Here is the choke. And here is the on/off button,” she reiterates and instructs me. “And then of course, you pull the start cord.”
No problem. I get it. I have started many a gas engine before. I am sure I can do this. We do struggle to get the washer to fit into the back of my vehicle. It is just a few inches too tall. Laying it down would result in all the gas leaking out so we prop it up tentatively on the wheel well projection – maybe it will stay there for six miles.
I arrive home with only one stop to re-prop my unsteady piece of equipment. Once home, I check the gas tank. Looks good. Then I hook up the water hose. The water seems to run all over out another hose that extends from the side, so I shut off the spigot again – just until I can get it started. Now to pull the rope. At first, it sticks, and the wheel doesn’t want to spin the engine. But then, it lets loose, and I pull the rope over and over and over. The heat begins to rise up the back of my neck and I begin to sweat. I fiddle with the throttle. I fiddle with the choke. I turn the on/off button the opposite way until I no longer know which way is on and which way is off. I will be exhausted before I even get this started.
“Where are you working today,” I finally text Hubby. I don’t want to bother him, but I am at my wits end.
“Elgin,” he answers, “I can come.”
“I just can’t start this stupid thing,” I text emphatically if that is possible. “Doesn’t even sputter.”
“Be there soon.”
I sit down to wait and collect my wits. Why did I think this project was a good do it yourself one? Ten minutes roll by before that familiar white pickup comes roaring up the drive with Alex, our employee at the wheel.
Gordon and Alex walk with me around to the back of the house while I expound on my situation. Hubby looks at all the start mechanisms with me while Alex observes from the other side.
“What’s this on/off switch over here?” questions Alex. He is looking at the opposite side of the motor at a small round red knob that is labeled with those words of on and off. He reaches down and turns the knob to on and then grabs the pull rope and gives it a tug. Putt, Putt, Putt goes the engine – just like that.
Now I feel really stupid. And to top it off, I remember that I have forgotten to buy the deck wash when I picked up the washer. That is what that hose is for that is leaking water all over the lawn. It is supposed to go into the cleaning solution. Uggh! Well, time to make a trip back to town. Not only will I be exhausted, but my day will be half gone before I even get started.
A half hour later, I am back with the solution. I decide to start on the outside deck railing. Our deck is twelve to fifteen feet in the air. This means I need to climb a step ladder to direct the high-powered flow of water onto the weathered wood on the outside of the railing. A pull of the trigger and I am jerked backwards by the force of 3000 pounds per square inch of pressure. The water stream splatters specks of dirt in all directions, but this works like a charm. I can see the mildew and dirt peeling off, leaving a bright looking new wood surface.
I move the ladder a few feet each time as I progress around the deck. My knees begin to protest the repetitive bending and my leg muscles tremble with fatigue as I traverse up and down the ladder over and over. It is also a continual balancing act to counteract the force of the water gun. Balance is not something I have a lot of anyway. During one move, I catch my feet on each other and tumble off the second rung of my structure into the mud I have created. I land with a thud on my left hip and left hand. Great! I have added to the already present wrist sprain from two earlier falls this summer but nothing else other than my pride seems injured.
Once I move to the upper level of the deck, the challenges become less, and I soon have a sparkling clean platform ready to stain once it is dry. I am ready to return my borrowed piece of equipment. I look at myself. For just a second, I contemplate taking a selfie, then reject that idea. I have dirt and mud in my hair and all over my clothes. I look like I rolled in the mud – well technically I did. Even if I have to pay more for the use of the washer because of the extra time, I have to take a shower and change clothes before I make my trip to town.
My plan is to allow the wood to dry for three or four days until next week before doing the staining. I have asked my hubby to accompany me to Menards to buy the stain needed on Saturday. But while waiting for the weekend, I get an e-mail notice, “We’re writing to inform you that your order … has been canceled because the item you purchased is out of stock.” The paint sprayer I have so carefully researched and ordered is not coming. Now what am I going to do? There is not enough time to order another one or from a different company. I add “buy a paint sprayer” to the list of items needed from Menards.
Our shopping trip on Saturday reveals limited choices of paint sprayers at Menards. One type of sprayer includes a long wand. That would work great for what I am trying to do but the price is high considering this may never be used again. We finally settle on a middle-of-the-road cost sprayer. It is small and light but will need to be filled frequently. We also acquire three gallons of new-cedar colored stain, a 100-foot roll of plastic sheeting, and a full jump suit to keep me from becoming a brown mummy. Now I am ready.
The next week is predicted to be a sunny beautiful week with no rain and temperatures in the low 80s. This should be perfect. Tuesday is the day set aside to tackle the task. Saturday afternoon, we string several ten-foot-wide strips of plastic sheeting down the side of the house under the deck and over the patio floor. Monday evening, we finish our protective measures by covering the house siding above the deck with the same sheeting. Afterall, we have no idea how wild I will be with a paint sprayer. I have never tried this before.
Imagine my sinking heart when I hear rain pouring on the house roof at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning. Noooo! Wednesday it will have to be as I am starting a new job on Thursday.
“Could I have one of your taller ladders,” I question Gordon on Tuesday evening. I think that if I can climb a little higher without running out of ladder, I will be able to more safely reach the outside deck railings.
“I need to go downtown and get you one of my old ones,” He consents, “I need the ones on the truck tomorrow and I don’t want brown stain all over my good ones.”
“Good Grief. OK, whatever works for you.”
Wednesday morning dawns pleasant and warm but not too hot. I am glad I asked for that taller ladder. I gather all my paint supplies together – more plastic sheeting for the garage floor where I plan to do all my reloading, the paint, the sprayer, a paint brush, a mixing stick, and protective gear. First, I need to read the directions on the paint sprayer. It has a very flexible holding container and the most important requirement for the sprayer to work apparently is to get all the air out of that holding tank by squishing the air to the top port hole.
I pry off the paint can lid and stir the stain. I am ready to pour. But pouring paint is not the simple process I envision it to be. The stain runs down the side of the can and splashes in a spreading pool on the plastic before I can get it aimed into the sprayer receptacle. Oh dear! This is distressing. Finally, the sprayer cup is full and I have a stain covered container to screw onto the sprayer. I have more paint on me and the floor, I think, than in the sprayer. I have purposely waited to don my clothing protector gear until I had the sprayer ready to go. As I step into the coverall, I realize this is not a simple paper coverup but more of a rubberized hazmat suit. Next comes the N95 mask to keep me from breathing in the paint mist and some old safety prescription glasses I have found to protect my eyes. It even has a hood to protect one’s hair. Now I am sufficiently encased and protected from all hazards.
I expel the air, prime the pump, and turn the nozzle to spray. I am pleased that when I press the trigger, the stain ejects in a wide spray. With the taller ladder and a little coordinated reaching, I am able to nicely distribute the stain onto the railings. However, within three minutes, my paint gun container is empty, I am feeling smothered, and my glasses are steamed up. Down the ladder I go to fill up again. By the third fill-up in less than fifteen minutes, I am sweating profusely, my mask is wet inside, and I can no longer see out of my fogged glasses. My hearing aid begins its high-pitched squeal indicating it is shorted out from being too damp. Off comes the hearing aid and the glasses. I will just have to do this without being able to hear and see. I do realize that I need to drink if I am not going to faint before this is done – something I don’t normally do much of. Therefore, I make frequent stops at the refrigerator for glass after glass of ice water.
By the time I reach the last section of railing on the outside, my moving has slowed down to a crawl. Each trip up the ladder takes another ounce of strength out of me until I am gasping for air, feeling lightheaded, weak and with trembling knees. I have to get out of this getup. I cannot stand this any longer. A massive heat wave emanates from me as I unzip the coverall. I pour water out of the sleeves as I slide my arms out and my clothes look like someone poured a bucket of water on me. I am on the verge of a heat stroke and the day is not even particularly hot. My regular clothes are just going to have to get stained if need be. Ah, it feels so good to not be encased in plastic.
A little chocolate and a few cups of milk restore my energy and I am able to slowly complete the upper deck. I see that it pretty much got a first coat from all the spray shooting through the spindle slats. Now I just need to give it one finishing coat. I survey my work as I make the last spray strokes. It looks really good – just like a new deck. But next time, it is going to be a hired job. I’m not doing that again no matter how much the cost savings.
“Eight to ten inches of snow for southeastern Minnesota,” predicts the weather lady on the Saturday evening news, “followed by 45-50 mile per hour winds. There is a blizzard warning from 6 p.m. Saturday evening until 6 p.m. Sunday evening.”
groan. Not again! We have already
received almost 40 inches of snow in the month of February. It is piled high
along the sides of our driveway. More snow is the last thing we need. But like
all Minnesotans we take the prediction with a grain of salt and hope for the
Mother Nature has started to shake clusters of fat fluffy snowflakes past our security camera before we crawl into our warm bed. The storm has begun. Church has already been cancelled for tomorrow so it remains to be seen what the landscape will look like in the morning. I awaken several times during the night. The wind howls around the corners of the house. At least we don’t have to go anywhere being it is a Sunday.
peak outside in the early dawn of morning. The sky is blue, and the sun shines brightly.
Judging by the stacked pile of white peaked on the deck railing, it looks like
we might have gotten around seven to eight inches. The trees are whipping back
and forth but otherwise, it is a winter wonderland out the bay window in the
back of the house. It is a different scene from the front door. The wind drives
sheets of white across what was once our lawn and hurdles them down the drive.
Our snow fence and garden fence have disappeared beneath the ocean of blinding
brightness. Only the tops of posts with specks of orange webbing peak out. So much for the snow fence effectiveness.
The stone bench by the apple tree is no longer visible while the apple tree trunk
has gotten significantly shorter.
ventures outdoors to steal a few pictures and I follow him in a few minutes. Just how bad is this situation anyway? I
step into his footprints as I trudge after him seeking to avoid making new
tracks in the mid-thigh drifts. I am soon out of breath with this balancing
act. Our whole driveway is covered to this depth. Neither of us go far in this labor-intensive
march and turn back towards the house. The wind blasts us in the face and hubby
disappears into the snow. “Help me up?” is the request thrown my way as I look
back to see if he is coming.
you really can’t get up, I am not strong enough to pull you out.” I worry out loud.
This could be a life-threatening situation if one fell out here alone. The tracks
we have made only a few moments before are almost filled back in already. I
extend my hand and he is soon back on his feet. Together, we return to our warm
have a plow truck, but an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness engulfs me.
There is no way that we will be able to push these kinds of drifts. I make
several calls to different neighbors looking for someone who has a large
tractor snowblower or a tractor and bucket. Everyone is in the same predicament
and not willing to venture out in this weather. There is not much we can do in
this wind anyway. We both finally make the decision to wait until Monday
morning when the wind has died down to tackle this impossible project. I am
supposed to work at 9 a.m. but maybe I can negotiate a later time.
same white landscape with even deeper drifts greets us in the morning. Now the
drifts are solid and unmovable. Thankfully, the wind has retreated, and the air
is still in the almost zero-degree weather.
going to see what I can do,” Hubby announces. My stomach is tight, and I am
tense. I know how this will end – being stuck. I watch the movement of the
truck on the security cameras. Back and forth. Back and forth. I am constantly
watching for a lack of movement. He needs to drag the snow backwards with the
plow in small amounts and deposit it out of the way. He does this over and over
because it is too hard and too deep to plow forward. I am just putting my boots
on to go out and check on the progress when I hear the garage door slam. Uh Oh! That is a bad sign. Hubby has
come to retrieve the shovel. I stomp heavily in his footsteps to the stranded truck.
you stuck?” I ask the obvious. The front wheels have dropped over the edge of
the driveway in his effort to push the massive pile back from the edge. The
plow is buried in the snow drift. Soon we have the wedged snow dug out from
under the plow and the truck frame. But the attempt to back up only results in
two deeper holes for the front tires and the back tires spin. The chains
usually work wonderfully for traction but now are digging only deeper holes.
done for!” pronounces Hubby. We stand and stare at our hopeless situation. But
my ever-creative husband has an idea. He gathers all the tow rope that we own
and ties the truck off to the other truck in the shed. Then he attaches his
come-along. Neither of us are optimistic that this is going to work but we have
nothing to lose. While he is doing that, I struggle back through the snow for a
½ full pail of sand and salt for the back wheels.
in the truck,” he directs, “and put it in reverse while I ratchet.”
out the clutch and apply the gas until the wheels begin to spin. Then I stop. We
do this a couple of times while Hubby tightens the rope with the come-along.
Finally, he says, “That is all I can pull it. I think we are done. Try it one
out the clutch and step on the gas – this time like I really mean business.
Amazingly, the truck rises up out of the hole. I am almost shocked by our
success. The extra tension and the pulling downward on the rear bumper were the
ticket to triumph. My husband is a genius.
retreat to the warmth of the house while I wait for the next call for help.
Another hour goes by before I hear the house door bang again. “I need your assistance.”
In this last hour, Hubby has been able to clear out by the house garage. This
leaves us with the access to his 4-wheel drive work truck, a significant
improvement from our previous predicament. I drive the plow truck while he
pulls with the other truck. Soon, I have been dragged backwards out of the
snowbank and planted firmly on the drive again.
I glance at my watch. 10:00. If I am going to arrive at work by noon which was my re-negotiated start time for today, I will need to leave in an hour. The drive is only ½ cleared after three hours of plowing. My decision is made. I need to let go of my guilt and life-long instilled drive to always meet my obligations. I will make my first road call ever. I am already stressed to the max over this situation and the sheriff’s department is saying many roads are still closed with huge drifts in places.
One more episode of needing to be dragged backward out of the snowdrift on the side of the drive occurs in the next hour before Hubby announces, “I’m through. I can get out. I need to go on a service call though. One of my customer’s barns collapsed. You can try to widen the path a little if you want while I am gone.”
I have no desire to get stuck while he is gone, and I have no one to pull me out. However, I have this bright idea that I can go to town with the snowplow and fill the truck with gas. The roads are snow covered so the chains won’t be so hard on the blacktop and it will give me a chance to see what the roads are like. I switch over to 4-wheel high gear and off we go. The chains do make for significantly more chattering of the tires, so I drive slowly. Several spots in the road are one-lane only but otherwise, the road is in fair condition. One mile out of town, I notice that the “Coolant Low” light is on followed by the “Engine-Overheated” light. Great! Just great! I am frustrated as to why the truck should be overheating. We have plowed all morning without a problem. I pull over, turn the key off, and pull the hood lever. I do have extra coolant with me. I know that one is not supposed to open the radiator lid when the engine is hot, but I think that I can turn the cap just enough to let off some of that pressure slowly. I stand back and slowly turn the cap, allowing the scalding coolant to sizzle gradually around the cap. But the boiling liquid has other intentions. Like a volcano, the cap shoots into the air following by the trapped geyser like those found at Yellowstone National Park. I stand there in horror and watch the spouting liquid cover the plow, the engine and the front of my coat. It does not stop until most of the coolant has been spewed into the air.
“Can I help you? Do you need a ride?” the voice is that of a gentleman who has stopped.
“I’m good,” I say, “it just overheated, and I wanted to add more anti-freeze.” I am not about to admit that I am a total idiot for taking off the cap while hot but I’m sure it is obvious from the state of my truck. The engine is steaming, and the plow is covered in orange-yellowish liquid. He wishes me well and drives away. I am left to dump what remaining anti-freeze I have with me into the holding tank. It does not begin to fill it. If I can only make it to town, I can buy more. Now to find the missing cap. I look under the truck and all through the engine compartment. No cap! “Lord, help me,” I breathe. This is an utterly ridiculous pickle. I turn around and look up the road. There it lays on the shoulder of the road six feet in front of the plow. “Thank you.”
The temperature gauge has dropped back into the safe range when I restart the truck. If I can just make it this last 1 ½ miles to the gas station. No sooner have I started out again than the temperature begins its climb and the “Coolant Low” light comes on. I barely make the city limit before the “Engine Overheated” begins flashing again too. Frickit! This is not going at all like I planned. There is nothing to do but stop and walk to the gas station to buy coolant. Walking down the icy street because the sidewalks aren’t cleared makes me feel totally conspicuous. The middle of the street is piled high with the remnants of the storm making me an even more likely target for unwary motorists. Soon I am able to buy more coolant and stroll back to the truck. This does allow me to reach the gas station where I buy another container of coolant to empty into the bottomless hole. A full tank of gas and a full container of coolant later, I am ready to begin my journey home. The temperature stays in the acceptable range. Thank you, Lord. But as I make the last turn into the drive, that pesky “Coolant Low” light comes on again. Ugh!
The drive is passable, the truck is gassed, and blizzard 2019 is over. I am so done with this storm. And we are left with memories of a lifetime.
As my husband and I lay in the darkness of our bedroom, just as we are drifting off to sleep, I hear this scratching noise like when our white cat, Snowflake, uses her paws on a door to open it. Scritch, scratch, thump, bang seem to be coming from the bathroom or so I think. Often Snowflake will sneak into the bathroom closet by opening the folding door. She does this by placing her little paw in the opening underneath the door and pulling until it squeaks open just a crack. Her owners then give doors such as this one all over the house that compulsory push to close them again. Once Snowflake is done snoozing away in the soft blankets and towels, she must find her way out. It keeps her entertained. The thought occurs to me that I should get up and let her out but I am nicely snuggled down in my bed so I sink into my world of dreams. Around 11:30 p.m., I hear my hubby get up to go to the bathroom. I can still hear the scritch, scratching noise so when he comes back, I sleepily mumble, “Did you let the cat out of the closet?”
“She is not in the closet,” he replies. “Both cats are laying with the dog in the hall.”
OK, so what is that persistent scratching noise that I hear? And where is it coming from?
My 6’4” hubby reaches up and bangs on the ceiling. Instant silence follows. Apparently, we have some kind of visitors making their home in our crawl space above the ceiling. Mice? Rats? Raccoons? Squirrels? And what do we do about it? There is no entrance from inside the house to the crawl space in order to set a trap. Hubby crawls back in bed and we settle back down to sleep. Only a few minutes go by and the scurrying, scratching noise begins again. Ugh… How are we supposed to sleep like this?
Over the course of the next few weeks, there are nights when we hear no noises and nights when the frantic scurrying awakens us. We discuss many times what to do. Our house roof is very steep, 30 feet in the air, and covered with snow so neither one of us wants to go on the roof to see if one of the attic vents is allowing access to our happy housemate.
“We have a live trap boxed up in the basement from when we caught that squirrel running around in our first house,” I inform Hubby after he decides he will go buy a live trap and cut a hole in the bathroom closet wall. Soon our trap is baited with peanut butter and set just outside the new hole our closet wall sports. Hopefully, the cat doesn’t find this hole or she will be gone into oblivion.
Several weeks go by. There are some nights during which the scurrying persists and many nights when there are no sounds. The trap sits empty, always at the ready to receive the offender who seems not the least bit enticed by what we are offering. We have given up hope of ever catching anything and don’t know what our next step should be.
One morning, as I am sitting on the commode, I hear this commotion in the bathroom closet (scratching, scurrying, banging). What is that noise? Finally, it dawns on me. I pull open the closet door and peer into the depths. Two shining eyes and bared teeth glare back at me. Hello, my not-so-innocent little friend. We have just caught a squirrel. Now the question is, what do I do with him? Our son-in-law had suggested that we make squirrel soup if we ever caught the critter. But to my soft-hearted Hubby, that is just not an option. So, I load my very unhappy catch into the car and drive him 7 miles down by the river and watch him scamper off into the woods there.
The very next evening, Hubby hears the very same crashing going on in the closet. Squirrel #2 in custody. Has the first squirrel already made his way back? Or is this his mate? Now, it is hubby’s turn to drive 7 miles, this time in the dark, and to release our catch. Another decision is made. On the next Saturday, the bucket truck comes home and all the branches on the tree next to the house that must be totally tempting for squirrels to use as a bridge to the house roof come off and go into a heap. Hopefully, this is the last visit from the busy bodies. I guess we shall see as the trap remains at the ready.
“A major ice storm is moving across the Midwest,” the weather forecaster pronounces during the Sunday evening weather report.
I groan inwardly and outwardly. “Not again. I hope it stays south of us. Maybe they will be wrong this time,” I lament to my husband before we head for bed. Just in case he is not wrong, I gather a small bag of personal toiletries and clothes to take along to work in case I get stuck in town tomorrow.
The waning moon still lights the western sky as I cruise down the driveway headed for work in the morning. Hope that the weatherman is wrong springs up again. I shudder to think about if he is right. Our driveway will be a perfectly prepared skating rink with the winter snow pack and ice already currently on it.
“How is the weather outdoors,” I inquire of OR staff as they come in for later shifts.
“Not bad,” is the response, “It’s just raining some.”
By the time I am relieved early at 6:30 p.m., I make the decision to drive home. No one seems too worried and my employer has not called a “weather emergency” so any hotel room would not be paid for. Huge steady drops of rain pound the pavement as I drive out of the parking ramp. This is not what is supposed to happen in January. I glance at my car’s outdoor thermometer. “34 degrees,” it declares – just above the freezing mark. As I creep out of town, frozen slush on the payment hails me. Any touch of the brakes rewards me with a flashing “dynamics control system activated” light on the dashboard and a sliding of tires on the pavement. This is going to be a two-hands-on-the-wheel 30 mile per hour drive.
I press “2” on my phone to call my hubby and alert him that I am coming home.
“No, you’re not,” he says, “I slid down the hill sideways on the gravel road and then got stuck in the driveway.”
“Well, I am on my way, so I will see what is like when I get there and decide what to do,” I inform him.
This will be interesting. I toss different scenarios around in my head. Should I park in the field drive and try to walk home? Should I go to the neighbors and ask for a 4-wheeler ride home? Or maybe I can slide down the hill on the gravel road and at least, park in the driveway. But I need to go to work tomorrow again so that doesn’t seem like a wise choice.
The Subaru high beams reflect off the shiny sparkling surface as I park at the top of the hill and gingerly step out of the car. Cold water cascades from the sky. I slide my shoe around on the smoothness testing its potential to send my feet in different directions. Hanging on to the car for stability, I slip back in and decide to park it right there by the side of the road under the stop sign. I pray that no one hits it and that it will still be there in the morning. I turn the ignition off and pull the key. I am thrown into pitch black darkness as I sit and try to gather up my courage to set out on foot. I don’t even have any boots.
It looks like there is some grass sticking out of the ice along the side of the road. I will make that my path down the hill. Water soon trickles down my glasses and drips off my nose as I carefully set one foot ahead of the other as I feel for the side of the snow pack in the blackness. Breaking a leg out here alone seems like an outcome I should attempt to avoid. Once I have safely reached the beginning of the driveway, I transition to stomping through the two-foot-high snowbank along the drive as I trudge uphill, puffing away towards that warm glow of home. This is a nice ¼ mile walk in the sunshine but a daunting trek in these conditions. Just as I open the garage door, my feet attempt to escape from under me. Just what I need to do – fall down at the last moment. In the bright sweet light of home, I hang my drenched coat and set my shoes by the heat register. Time for a sleep in my warm toasty bed. At least, no plow truck is needed for this kind of precipitation.
I start out early on my walk to the car in the morning. The rain has stopped and a light coating of snow covers the ice. I walk down the middle of the drive as if the previous evening was only a dream.
We leave the house on this sunny but cool September morning around 8 a.m. The trees are just starting to display the bright reds and yellows of autumn as we begin our 250-mile drive. We are headed for New York Mills, MN, a small town located in northwestern Minnesota. So what is the attraction about New York Mills and why do we wish to travel there, you might ask? Situated there is the Whistle Stop Bed and Breakfast. It is a unique bed and breakfast in that the owners have purchased and refurbished four old rail cars into sleeping quarters for guests. My hubby has always been in love with trains and as a special weekend to celebrate our 25th anniversary month, this seems like a cool adventure.
We decide to deviate from the printed Google directions which direct us towards all four-lane, high-speed freeways. Who wants to see the same old stuff while distracted by the mass of humanity that crowds the expressways? We begin our journey, instead, by winding our way north on Hwy 63 and then somewhat westward on the twisting Hwy 60 to Mazeppa. As we continue our journey westward on MN 19, we soon come to a detour. It seems that we drive ever further south instead of north and west. After going a fair number of miles out of the way, we are headed, at least, back in the right direction but on a different road than was our original plan. We can get where we want to go using this road too, we reason so we might as well go this way. We haven’t gone more than 10 miles or so and we come to another detour sign. You have got to be kidding. We repeat the going out of our way process all over again. By noon and after the appearance of the fourth detour in a little under 100 miles, I am starting to become paranoid every time I see an orange sign. Frustration is mounting and our progress towards our destination has been slow.
This whole driving experience reminds me of our 25 years of married life. As a young (relatively at 34 and 36 years old) couple, we set out on our life adventure with an image of our years together. And then there are detours – side trips that take us places we would rather not go. I think our first major detour was 3 years into our marriage when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Our dream of having more than one child was delegated to the file of “wishes only.” The “maybe we can adopt” six-year second detour ended up on the road to nurse anesthesia school instead. There is some beautiful country along this road. Our latest bumpy side trip has taken us on a spiritual detour that is confusing, lonely and seems like it has no road that returns to the one that leads to our destination. We can only cling to each other and faithfully attempt to search for the road signs of God’s leading hand. So our life is mirroring this road trip.
A little after noon, we get back on our original planned route and do make our way to the quaint town of New York Mills by 2:30 p.m. Just 100 feet behind the Imperial Car that welcomes us is a modern-day railroad tracks hidden behind the trees. This feature presents us with authentic shrill whistles and the clacking of speeding wheels approximately every ½ hour. This is a thrilling treat for hubby but creates a problem for restful sleep. I lay there in bed several hours into the night and wonder, “Why did I think that coming to a bed and breakfast would be relaxing and restful?” I guess it is all in how one looks at the experience just like married life. After all, an adventure is supposed to be exciting, terrifying, and exhilarating; it is not supposed to be a relaxing, restful journey.