Highway 61 Remastered: Driving Along the North Minnesota Coast
If you go when the snowflake storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see if she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howling winds
– Bob Dylan, “Girl from the North of the country”
I had forgotten that sense of violence that rises through the ancient volcanic rock of the north Minnesota coast, where Highway 61 carves a thin stream of asphalt against a dead mountain range that descends into deep water. and dangerous.
REVER Route – MN North Shore: Duluth to Gunflint Trail via Route 61
The sun had not yet risen. The air was cold but there was no frost. Brightly lit cars and noisy trucks with loads of lumber drive through the darkness en route to the Canadian border. My mind wandered from Bob Dylan’s youth on the geologic timescale to the warm, plush bed my wife and I had just left.
My wife was curled up, bundled up, hiding from the wind in a pocket of basalt carved by the waves. Other than a flashlight and the hot embers of my Newport, it was pitch dark. Slowly the sun rose, turning purple, red, orange, and finally yellow. The lake became blue again and behind the lodge, the forest that covered the mountain came alive with colors. It has been over 10 years since I looked at the horizon above Lake Superior.
“It’s hard to believe this place is real,” Sahlee said.
It was day three of a four-day motorcycle trip along Lake Superior to capture maximum fall colors before the harsh Minnesota winter tightened its grip. And it was our first long ride together in many years. We started our trip at St. Paul Harley-Davidson, where we borrowed an Ultra Limited in Vivid Black – a machine beast in both weight and power, a 900-pound workhorse designed for royal riding. It turned heads and with a Milwaukee-Eight 114ci V-twin it drove miles without hesitation.
We had checked into the historic Cascade Lodge, located between Lutsen and Grand Marais – a ski resort and bohemian art enclave, respectively – shortly before dark the night before, after a quick 160km run north of Duluth. The lodge was established in 1927 to serve the wealthy Duluthians and the wealthy socialites. Profiting from fishing, forestry, mining, and trade along the Great Lakes, some had predicted that Duluth would compete with Chicago. F. Scott Fitzgerald, originally from Minnesota, would have fitted in well. Thom McAleer, who has run the Cascade Lodge with his wife since 2017, said business was good year round, with lots of riders in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter.
The geology of Lake Superior has always fascinated me. It is a story of violence that is still felt today. Long before human barnacles – from ghostly white Scandinavians to soiled French fur trappers to the spirits that guided the Ojibwa – clung to life on this rocky and inhospitable shore, billions of years of primitive and mighty forces created, shaped and sculpted what we see today: the world’s largest freshwater lake that claimed the lives of thousands of sailors and at least 550 ships, including the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in 1975 .
As we entered the Grand Marais, we followed the advice we received the day before from Andy Goldfine, founder of the legendary Aerostich riding apparel company, and scanned the sky, hoping to see a congregation of seagulls s ‘dash towards a skiff loaded with fresh herring.
“If you sneak behind the Angry Trout Cafe, you can find fishermen cutting up the day’s catch and freezing it to send to a rabbi in Chicago to make it kosher,” Goldfine told us.
When we met Goldfine the day before at his factory in West Duluth, we were greeted by a short, thoughtful, bald, bespectacled man. Andy and I complained about our time at Duluth University, albeit decades apart, him majoring in Philosophy and minor in English, and I with the exact opposite. As our conversation shifted from topic to topic, from technology and its effects on society (good and bad), to the absurdity of the global fashion industry as satirized in the movie “Zoolander To the history of Duluth’s economy after WWII, to global commerce and how America became a disposable society focused on consumerism and finally motorcycle trends, it became clear that Goldfine was not only an inventor, but a sage.
He started Aerostich in 1983, when Duluth was in an economic recession and on the verge of becoming another empty Rustbelt town. US Steel closed its coking plant in 1979. A decade earlier, the Air Force had closed the base that housed the 11th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, a secret Cold War defense outpost that housed 2,500 to 3,500 military personnel. loaded with planes that would be deployed in the event of a Soviet invasion.
When I lived in Duluth 16 years ago the west side of town was run down and largely abandoned. Tourism, college kids with bar money, and gentrification have revived the neighborhood, with artisans, brewers, and restaurateurs operating in clean, modern industrial spaces like you’ll find in Brooklyn. Goldfine has observed all the changes in this historic part of town. What hasn’t changed is his philosophy regarding Aerostich’s Roadcrafter suits, which have been an integral part of the cycling community for decades.
“Our customers are everyday cyclists because Aerostich makes equipment. Much like a farmer’s overalls, carpenter’s pants, a lawyer or banker suit, this is the equipment these professions invest in, not the fashion, ”Goldfine said. “Our logic is that our products are sacrificial. [A Roadcrafter] shield you from the elements, and say you break down at 60 and everything is fine, it did its job.
We toured the Goldfine factory, met with its tailors, and checked out its leak test equipment and impact armor manufacturing setup. When we left he wished us a happy marriage and I felt better knowing that guys like Andy Goldfine are so dedicated to their craft.
From Grand Marais we drove north, then northwest, about ten miles to the beautiful Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway which further north ends at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness – an expanse of 150 miles of pristine lakes that are difficult to access along the Canada-U.S. Border that runs along the Laurentian divide, which separates the flow of water either to the Gulf of Mexico or to the Bay of ‘Hudson. From the 1600s, travelers stopped here specifically to collect flint from flint deposits for their rifles.
A loaded timber truck with two punctured wheels partially blocked our way to the Gunflint, so we turned around and headed back to the lake, speeding down the road on the mighty Ultra Limited as a kaleidoscope of fall color was getting blurry.
“The Lake Superior basin… is at the center of an ancient fault [that] was active 1.1 billion years ago when Minnesota was truly the center of the North American continent, ”geologist Ron Morton wrote in his 2011 book A road guide: The north shore of Lake Superior on Route 61. “The hot molten magma rose from the depths of the earth and as it neared the surface caused the crust to arch or curve upward and then split like a sausage. overcooked, ”he added. A heavy pancake of basaltic lava several miles deep spread through the area, with larger eruptions piling pyroclastic rocks on the edges of what is today the rugged shore of Lake Superior. When the volcanic activity stopped, the weight of the lava began to flow down to the earth.
But long before that, a massive mountain range – larger than the Alps or the Rockies today – had formed. As the mountain range eroded over eons, the sinking basin filled with sediment, creating a swampy plain. Then came what is known as the Last Ice Age, beginning just 115,000 years ago. Thick patches of ice covered the land and pushed south, violently digging the basin like excavators. The land warmed, glaciers melted, and a lake formed – the world’s largest in area, third in volume. Geological instability causes the southern and southwestern shores of Lake Superior to rise a few inches each year, raising the waterline on the Canadian side.
From Grand Marais, we drove to the Lutsen Mountains Ski and Summer Resort, where we paid $ 24 each to take the gondola to the top for an impressive and expansive view of the landscape. Looking west hundreds of feet above the valley floor the trees were dead brown and red a few days after peak, while to the east the yellows, oranges and reds stood out. mingled with green evergreens hardened by winter.
Our last sightseeing stop was Tettegouche State Park to see Palisade Head, a large rock formation with sheer 300 foot cliffs that end in a jumble of jagged boulders along the shore. I remember coming here when I was in college. The wind was whipping so hard it seemed to be blowing you off the top of the cliff, creating a mixture of fear and excitement. Palisade Head and I have both aged. He looks and feels the same. I can’t say the same about myself.
The freezing wind meant Old Man Winter would arrive soon. It’s time to head back down to St. Paul to return the Harley and squat down.