Connecting Experiences

It’s been super cool to randomly run into people I’ve met on the road, and now I was getting to purposely rendezvous with some new friends from much earlier in my trip.

When I was traveling along the Maine coast back in June, I had a Bunk-a-Biker stay with Christine on Orr’s Island.  I posted about the experience (link to post HERE) when I was graciously wrapped into the girl’s vacation happening at her house at the same time as my stay.  It was there that I met Tracey, Kerry, and Sandra- all Christine’s friends from her college days back in Minnesota.  During my stay, I shared my itinerary with them, and they had commented about my planned stay in Duluth; it was only a few hours away from each of their respective homes.  How cool would it be if they happened to be there at the same time?  We all agreed it would be fun, but with it being a couple months away, I didn’t think it would materialize.  Then I got a few texts over the intervening weeks, and guess what?  The three of them were actually meeting me in Duluth! 

Reunited with my non-biker Bunk-a-Biker friends!!  How awesome is a network for bikers that connects you with new friends that don’t even ride motorcycles?! Me with Kerry, Sandra, and Tracey along the lakeshore in Duluth.

Once we had decided to meet up, I was nervous about holding up my end of the bargain.  Weather, mechanical issues, road conditions, and so many other things can throw off the best laid itinerary for a long-distance motorcycle trip.  But I was determined!  With the slight detour to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin along the way, it was just a little over a 300-mile journey.  In light of my ongoing experiences with road construction, I left early to make sure I could make it to Duluth in time to meet the girls for dinner.

I made it out of Michigan without too many construction delays.  Once in Wisconsin, I picked up Hwy 13 to make a ring around Bayfield Peninsula on the northern-most point of Wisconsin.  The actual Apostle Islands are only accessible by boat, but the visitors centers and beaches along the lakeshore can be reached by wheeled vehicles.  The National Lakeshore encompasses over 69K acres, about 40% of which are submerged in Lake Superior.  I couldn’t find a definitive answer of how the 21 islands came to be named “Apostle,” but the NPS website states “it is reasonable to presume that the “Apostles” name was applied by early Jesuits who drew up the first maps of the region in the early 18th century, as they had the habit of giving holy names to new places.” 

View of Point Detour from Little Sand Bay Visitors Center recreation area.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to take a boat tour of the islands, so I had to be content with riding out to the Little Sand Bay Visitors Center to walk a bit of the beaches along the Lakeshore and to view Sand Island.  There were dozens of people camping right by the boat launch and kayaking the islands- it seemed to be a kayaker’s paradise!

View of Sand Island, one of the Apostle Islands, from Little Sand Bay Visitors Center.

At one point during my circle tour of the lakeshore, I got a text from Kerry that they were getting rained on during their harbor cruise.  Hmm, that’s funny, I thought, the skies have been beautiful all day for me.  As soon as I had that thought, I looked to the west and saw the storm clouds closing in.  Sure enough, within 30 minutes, I was waiting out a deluge with a half dozen other bikers under the awning of a gas station.  It only lasted about 45 minutes or so, then the skies cleared and we were back on the roads. 

When I was planning my road trip last winter, I hadn’t had experience with towing the camper yet, so I hadn’t learned to avoid downtown hotels with limited parking options.  No reverse means no parallel parking, which rules out streetside parking for the most part.  And if you’ve ever had to navigate a parking garage towing a trailer, then you know that parking towers are not usually a viable option.  You can imagine my dismay when I pulled up to the very swanky, and very historic Fitgers Hotel right in downtown Duluth and realized that those two parking options were my only choices.  The valet parking guy finally walked down to the parking garage with me so I could develop a game plan for getting my rig in and out.  It was stressful, and technically challenging, but I got it done, and in time to meet the girls for dinner and sightseeing!

The Fitger’s Brewery produced beer for 115 years before closing its doors in 1972.  What was once the Fitger’s Brewery Complex, right on Lake Superior, is now a 48-room hotel, with three restaurants, and retail stores.

After a great dinner at Fitger’s Brewhouse, we walked along the lakeshore to the iconic Portland Malt Shoppe for, you guessed it, malts!  

This area used to be known as Portland before it was merged with the larger Dultuh.  The building where the Malt Shoppe now resides was built in 1921 as a gas station for Northwestern Oil Company.  The inlaid stonework above the neon sign in the window still spells out “Northwest Oil Co.” 
Sandra opted for an ice cream cone, but Kerry and I went with the house specialty- malts!

As the sun was setting, we headed towards the girls’ hotel across the lift bridge, and did a little sightseeing to walk off all that dinner and dessert!

The Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, built in 1905, spans 386 feet and connects the Minnesota “mainland” with Minnesota Point (or Park).  When raised, it has a clearance of 180 feet, allowing ships of all sizes to pass underneath.  Apparently you could walk across it while it was being lifted all the way up until the 1980s, when a woman was crushed and the practice was stopped.   –GoDuluthMn website
The Duluth Harbor South Breakwater Outer Lighthouse dates back to the 1870s.  It’s iconic red and white color scheme makes a stunning contrast against Lake Superior sunsets.
Sunset over Lake Superior framed by Army Corps of Engineers building, built in 1906, and the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge.

After walking out to the lighthouse and strolling through Grandma’s Saloon and Grill (sponsor of the annual Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth), we went back to their hotel and hung out around the fire pit enjoying a little more visiting before parting ways for the evening.  I’m so grateful to not only have met these fantastic women, but also for the time out of their busy lives to meet me for a few hours during my journey.  It truly was a special treat!

With such a swanky room, in a historic hotel, overlooking Lake Superior, I thought it was only fitting to order room service.  So, for the first time on this trip, I ate breakfast in bed!  Who knew steamed whitefish went so well with scrambled eggs, wilted spinach and sauteed mushrooms?  A truly decadent way to end my meet-up with the girls!  

After a sketchy descent and maneuvering through the parking garage, I was again headed north, this time to the North Shore of Minnesota!

6 thoughts on “Connecting Experiences

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  1. You saw exactly all the right things with the time you had! And how incredible to make such fun friends and reconnect again. Can’t wait to see/hear what happens at the North shore it holds a special place in my heart from my childhood. I can’t even imagine how dicey the parking was with the camper, but you crossed that hurdle like a BOSS🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Karen! It was so fun to be able to connect! Next time we (with Chris!) will all head to your neck of the woods, once you wrap up this particular adventure

    Liked by 1 person

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