Duluth, MN

After months of preparation, and one false start, my AuditTrack software was finally ready for its beta installation in Duluth, MN. Since Minnesota also holds the 'northernmost point in the contiguous US' (due to a mapmaking error), I was keen to go, and to include Bob, my loving travel companion. XBR agreed to pick up his ticket, and we were set.

Tuesday, Oct 27th
Tuesday was a very hectic day at work. Data still wasn't loaded for my app, the app itself had not been fully tested there (since there was of course no 'real' data there!). We did a lot of last minute loading and setting, then Bob picked me up at 2:15 and we were off! We listened to the end of Second Foundation by Asimov on the way out to Logan, finishing exactly as we parked the truck. Light traffic this time ... got our tickets, grabbed some food, and got to the gate. I tried to call XBR to check on status, but there was no answer either at the main desk or at Gregg's phone! Bizarre. Off we went.

It was dark already when we left at 5, even darker coming into the HUGE grid of St Paul/Minneapolis. I was sort of annoyed by the family next to us - the infant sat on the lap and wandered around during the flight. In a car this would be known to be unsafe, but despite the knowledge that planes do bump and even crash, this is somehow safe on a plane? People just don't think. We got in 1/2 hr early so I played Caesar III on my laptop in the waiting area. We then went on a pretty small plane (compared to the 9-aisle monstrosity we'd just left) and headed up to Duluth.

What a difference! Duluth airport is like Worcester airport - maybe 3 gates, sort of two levels, their vending services come out of machines. The airport is at the top of a "bowl" that dips down to the lake which is its entire eastern side. We got our car and headed into the bowl.

The sky was sort of dark - apparently planes couldn't come in the past two days because of fog, and it showed. Everywhere were huge stands of birch and, as we came down the hill, also a huge proliferation of red blinking tv antennae to one side. In front of us, the waterfront sparkled like a series of necklaces. The bridges were all spectacular, especially the aerial lift to the left. Lake Superior goes through a "channel" there, were huge boats can get in to their docks. The water was brilliant blue.

We got in to the Holiday Inn. "Sorry, your reservations have been cancelled," they said. I panicked in amusement - had they cancelled my training? Is that why I couldn't find anyone when I called? They gave me a room anyway, with free unlimited calling (so we could keep up with our Internet email messages and work correspondence of course) and I promptly called my contact at Maurice's.

Erp! She was quite worried about the state of things and I promised to call Gregg. I did so for over 1/2 hr and hashed out what had to be done. Then I dialed in for a while and worked on the code. Exhausted, I set the 7am (blech) wakeup and went to sleep.

Wednesday, Oct 28th
I actually woke up bright and early (stress, perhaps?), showerd, and prepared to head out. Downstairs, Gary met me in the lobby and led me through the glass hallways that make up the "Skyway". Because of the frigid cold, many buildings downtown are connected with glass tunnels! There are stores along the sides, even people working, as people walk within these warmer hallways. Maurice's was only a few 'blocks' away.

The day was a blur. I didn't get any training done, but we did finally get data loaded well, the application then started to work almost perfectly. I spent the day testing and refining data. When we were done for the day, I headed back to the hotel to fetch Bob, who had spent all day working quite merrily on his laptop.

Aerial Lift Bridge
First we headed east for one guitar store. We didn't find it, but we did find this nice, classy section of town - and got to go over the aerial bridge! There were wine bars and pretty restaurants, very nicely done. Next we headed more northerly, into a "grunge" section. "Electric Fetus" was one store, next to a garish casino (don't ask me how they have one there ...), and all sorts of run down shops.

Finally we headed up the hill towards the airport, towards the big "mall" in this section, where it looked like "typical US". Somehow we were again pointing at those giant antennaes!! Everybody at Maurice's had been surprised at my curiosity, and had a vague sense that they were TV towers. We theorized that they were the alien communication devices and that the town had been brainwashed into ignoring them.

On to the mall. All the stores were there, and we even went into a Maurice's! We looked for a belt for me (I'd forgotten mine) but couldn't find one. Just lots of parkas and such. Strange, they had models of the Quoddy Head lighthouse from Maine! We were hungry, so I saw this place called Grizzly's and decided it was "local food". In we went.

It was quite nice! A pub-style place only up in MN, WI and ND. I had delicious bourbon BBQ salmon, Bob had a burger. We watched the "World's Strongest Man" competition on TV. Then we went to get some reading material at Barnes & Noble, and then fridge supplies for the next few days at a Cubs market. Home again, home again for a lot more testing and programming for me!

Thursday Oct 29th
I woke early, ate the eggs that had magically (hotel fairy) appeared at my door, and kept programming. At 8 I sprinted out the door and over two blocks to Maurice's, where I finished up some testing. I was down in the training room just after 9, and we began.

Most of the screens worked perfectly, with the sad exception of the edit window. For some reason, it couldn't find the matching row for an error to edit it! I went through everything else, though, and we wrapped up that section at 11:15 or so. I went back up to keep working on the edit window, with a planned regroup time of 1pm.

At 12:50 I was still working on things (my machine I dialed into kept crashing) so we went to the hotel restaurant to watch the shuttle with John Glenn launch. It was 'held' when we got there - some airplane had ventured too close for sightseeing. We stayed until it finally made it up safely, then headed back (again via the Skyway of course) to the office.

I worked on the code until 6, with partial success. I finally put further testing off and went home to the hotel. We jumped in the car and headed out. First we went south a bit, then decided we'd missed the way to Wisconsin and turned around. We headed east across a long, low bridge, the lights of the harbor all around us. Into Wisconsin!

The city of Superior was very close-packed, with each house being very small and having a steeply slanted roof. We drove along to their "big mall", set alongside some low income apartment housing. Young northern punks roamed the halls, pilfering items. We didn't find any of our "state-related" items, so we left. Next on to a few other stores, with the same lack of luck in each. There were a lot of tall pine trees, and small, grungy streets. It was more like an outpost town than anything else.

Everyone was friendly and sadly apologetic that none of them had even the slightest amount of state-related items! Most had a strong 'Canadian-ish' accent, which apparently has some Wisconsonian differences that I couldn't pick out. Hmmmmmm.

We went into a Godfather's pizza - Bob had liked them in St Paul - but this one had completely awful beer and soda, and just OK cheese sticks and pizza. Refueled, we found Globe News on our way back over the bridge which did indeed have the thimble, shotglass, and state-shaped magnet that I was searching for! Success - 27 states conquered.

We went over the oft-photographed lighted bridge, and headed back to the Holiday Inn. There, after a quick try at Caeser III (level 3 - the peasants kept revolting and burning down my town) I went back to programming. Around 1am I called it quits and turned in.

Friday, Oct 30th
Friday I got the wake up call at 7am and then promptly fell asleep again. Bob woke me up at 7:45, and I hurried to get ready. I was at Maurices at 8:30, and started in again.

I made much more progress - the edit screen was working, and I had most of the other requested changes finished as well. Unfortunately, the time for training had run out. We had a quick meeting, then many of them left at noon. I hung around quite late, finishing up the programming and documenting it. Then I headed back to the hotel.

This was our last night in Duluth, so we thought about several things to do, but ended up playing Caesar III (still unsuccessfully) until 8. Then we headed out and around, up to the mall area again, and decided to eat at the Ground Round. Delicious food, and unfortunately we couldn't really take the leftovers home. Back home to sleep.

Saturday, Oct 31st
Halloween! We woke up around 10am, and I went down to the pool to see if I could get a picture of the bridges. Nope, they were blocked by buildings. We left the hotel and drove up out of the "bowl", and on the ridge we stopped and I got my bridge pictures.


On to 53 and north. We listened to Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand along the way ... the book talked about mines in Minnesota and Wisconsin as we drove along past dark green pine and white, leaveless birch stands. There were many groups of bald eagles - up to four circling in one area - and another sitting quietly on a tree by the road. There were also gray jays, magipes, crows and raven - the same kinds of birds as Alaska. Even their landscape was the same - tall pines, bright white birch, and the shorter, reddish scrub bushes. Heavy, furry cows watched us from pastures. Only the land itself was different - no mountains at all, just long, flat stretches.


stock photo of Voyageurs NP
The weather was gorgeous - a pale blue sky, with wisps of clouds floating across it. We came up near Voyageurs National Park, with various turnoffs for lakes indicated. Some were numbered instead of named. I guess with 10,000 lakes it's hard to name them all! (Actually Minnesota has more like 20,000 lakes...) Around 1:45 we came into the squat squalor and white-smoke-spouting smokestakes of International Falls, against the Canadian border. This had the "world's largest paper making machine" and a bridge across into Canada. There isn't actually any falls any more - they were dammed long ago.

We swung left and headed west along the river, past an indian mound, Atlas Shrugged going strong. There were a few horses, lots of cows, fishermen in the rivers, and telephone poles practically embedded down into the earth and surrounded by dirt mounds. We went through the Walleye Capital of the World, complete with a huge fish statue. Towns got smaller - population, 1600. One house had special windbreak trees - quite obvious in this two-tree land. A granary from Land of Lakes feed was the highlight of one town. Soon we curved north around the Lake of the Woods, and hit customs for the Canadian border. We didn't even have to show our licenses - just a quick question or two, and we were across.

All of our maps stopped here. 'Manitoba Province' brought up visions of mounties and cold. We drove north alongside a railroad track, which carried a huge train. We curved west, and got suspicious when a sign said we were about to cross back into the US. Ooops! We backtracked and found the turnoff. We went past Moose Lake, and the road turned into a dirt road while the pine forest pressed in closer. This was really just one lane, with a shoulder for passing. We hit a sign for the NorthWest Angle Provincial Forest, which I knew was right against the angle itself. We stopped here for a picture, since the light was fading. Then we went onwards.


Sure enough, a short while later we hit the actual border. Not that you'd know it. A small sign said this was now the NorthWest Angle State Forest, but there wasn't a customs booth or anything else to indicate we were back in "The States". We went on still, found speed limit signs (all one of them) were now in MPH. The pine forest surrounded us, and above was a clear moon and dark starry sky. The 'W' of Andromeda was off to the left, very little else was visible. We stopped, I grabbed a NWA rock, and we turned around (quite a trick on the narrow road).

The sign in the other direction was equally simple - "Entering Canada". We drove back down to the "real" border, chatted quickly with the guard and passed through. It was dark now, with the shapes of trees zooming past. We did see a huge turkey constructed out of hay bales. We came back into International Falls hungry.

We came through main street - the factory on the left, fronted by the much-photographed glowing thermometer (32F, currently). The short, squat buildings were all closed - and it was only 8pm! I tried to convince Bob that "Insectopia" lay across the bridge in Canada (trying to get Ontario province in addition to Manitoba that we'd just gotten), but he remained unconvinced. We went to McDs and then back to the hotel.

We played Caesar III again (unsuccessfully), level 3 still eluding us. A Halloween party blared in the ballroom, but somehow we got to sleep anyway.

Sunday, Nov 1st
We woke at 5:30am, and watched Spaceballs as we dressed. Somehow I got the song "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" (by Wierd Al) stuck in our heads. We headed out into low clouds and lots of fog, so no thermometer picture. There were four more eagles and tons of sparrow-like birds out, and soon the fog burned off and it was a gorgeous day. The lakes were lovely, teh birches glowed white alongside them. To the left, I saw a huge, pileated woodpecker! We got into tiny Duluth Airport, where there is an Air Wing stationed. Hmmmmm. We caught an earlier flight, and managed to get back into Boston by 3pm. At home, I finally managed to successfully keep my Caesar III city running! A final note of triumph for the trip.

What did I think of Minnesota and Wisconsin? I have tons of respect for people who endure the cold and dreariness of the winters here. The maps we saw all had snowmobile trails across the state, much as in Mass we have bike trails for crossing from town to town. Nature was gorgeous - a solid, steady force, heavy greens, branching whites, deep blue pools. The night sky was gorgeous and starry. The northern area was very pretty, but it was sad to then see the run down towns, the collapsed buildings on the sides of the road. There were few creatues, but lots of eagles and other "typical northern" birds. When we go back, I'll give in to Bob and see the Biggest Mall in America in Minneapolis, but in trade I'd like to roam around southern Minnesota and see how it differs.

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