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Well, that was fun...

Well, that was fun.

It was a productive summer, but a long one. I had twelve things on my to-do list, and I ended up crossing off eleven. The only problem was that we hadn't done much goofing off, which started to feel like a real problem. We had a long weekend come up with nothing on the calendar, so we decided to take a trip to the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior.

After I finished my last meeting of the week about 2:00 Friday, we put a quick 300 miles on, checked into our hotel, dropped off our luggage and went to find something to eat. My wife said, “What would you like?” and what I thought was, “Man, if I could find a place that serves beer AND ice cream, life would be perfect.” We wandered into a brew pub and in addition to five pages of beer for sale, I saw a little glass-front refrigerator in the corner packed full of locally made ice cream.

Be still my heart.

The next morning, we found a bakery that sold fantastic chocolate croissants. The only downside was that when I was done, my face looked like a toddler who'd overdosed on mud pies. In my defense, the croissants contained more chocolate than many people would consider reasonable, but we were in the north woods. Maybe they'd had too many lumberjack complaints. “And don't skimp on the chocolate, Sport.”

The boat to the islands left from Bayfield, WI, a sleepy little town of about 500 people. We unknowingly arrived in the middle of their Applefest, which brought the population to 20,500 people, and as it turned out, about 19,000 of them were looking for a parking spot. Luckily, we have a small car. After half an hour, we found a small place to park and set out for the boat, working our way past stands selling apple bratwursts, apple cider, apple pie, apple dumplings, and caramel apples.

It was a beautiful, sunny fall day, but Lake Superior at its warmest is around 50 degrees, and there was a hearty breeze blowing. “Beautiful fall day” is relative. When packing for the trip, my wife wondered out loud which clothes to take.

I said, “All of them, baby. I think you should pack all of them.”

She didn't quite empty her closet, but we both had three or four layers on, and we needed them all. We stuck it out on the top deck of the big catamaran going twenty mph into the wind. Some folks would call it brisk, but we were happy to get some great photos.

I'm always amazed at how much I don't know about so many things. Part of the scenic appeal of the Apostle Islands are the lighthouses. Lake Superior's average depth is almost 500 feet, but we cruised nearby one area about a mile from shore where the depth was only two feet. A thousand ships a year used to sail on these waters, so it was important to keep track of the shallow bits. They hauled timber and stone to build cities like Chicago and shipped lake trout and whitefish to feed half the Midwest. But then the Eiffel Tower was built, proving there were easier ways to construct buildings than stacking rocks, and that killed the quarry business. The newly discovered Iron Range in Minnesota shifted most of the shipping to Duluth-Superior, and invasive lampreys killed off most of the lake trout, which killed the commercial fishing business. Now tourism is a main economic driver.

I've often thought that the most important thing for a community and a culture is a spirit of resilience. My father often talked about being Europe at the tail end of WWII and seeing town after town reduced to nothing more than piles of shattered bricks. He went back thirty years later and was amazed to see everything rebuilt better than ever. I'm sure there are people in Bayfield whose great-grandparents worked in a brownstone quarry, whose grandparents were loggers, and parents commercial fisherman. All those jobs went away and now they sell apple cider to tourists and run boat tours to the islands. Times change, but the town is still a lovely place to live.

It was after the boat tour that we did a truly radical thing. We stayed another day, with nothing planned.

Yeah, I know, but every now and then you need to be a rebel. We didn't do anything special – just walked along the lake for a couple miles, found a few fancy rocks, and poked through the twisted piles of driftwood. Late in the day we debated whether to go to a chocolate shop or an ice cream store. In the end, we did both.

Because, you know, goofing off.

We’re home now, and I’ve started a new to-do list. I’ll go back to work tomorrow. Just as soon as I get the last of the chocolate out of my beard.

Copyright 2023 Brent Olson

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