Sunday, December 28, 2014

Adieu, 2014.

2014 started off great with with fireworks at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia.  It seemed like it'd be a pretty good year, and in many ways it was.  In other ways...not so much.  

BOOM sparkle!

I saw the Winter Carnival Torchlight Parade in St. Paul for the first time, despite living in the city for a total of 13 years.  It was, as promised, filled with fire!

Fire and lights make us feel like winter isn't so dark and depressing. 

In sad news my last remaining grandparent passed away in February, but it wasn't altogether too sad.  Her last 6 months were rough.  I'm thankful that she had 91.5 pretty solid years before that.  

For the first time in several years, the ice on Lake Superior was good enough for the ice caves at the Apostle Islands to be accessible!  So of course I selected a weekend when the winchill was -30ºF to make the 5-mile roundtrip trek to the caves.  It was definitely worth it.  

Behold the cold vastness of a frozen Lake Superior.
Icicly goodness!

I also summoned up the courage to drive across the ice road to Madeline Island for the first (and very definitely the last) time.  Glad I did it.  I don't ever need to do it again.  

White-knuckle driving at its finest.

In super tragic news (what was it with winter 2014??), my friend Jenn died suddenly and unexpectedly in March.  I made a trip out to North Carolina for her memorial in April, enjoying a Reese's Peanut Butter egg on the beach in Hatteras Village at sunset. 
This was, appropriately enough, the topic of our last conversation.

During that same trip to NC, I took the opportunity to visit the college I was attending as a distance student for the first time!  

It's an obelisk. That's how you know it's important. 

While in Raleigh, I became acquainted with what is possibly the most delightful food that I have ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth.  Vegan Chicken and Waffles from Fiction Kitchen.  Don't let the lack of meat, eggs, and dairy scare you off.  It was a culinary masterpiece.  I'm totally a chicken and waffles convert now.  I get it.  
What sorcery is this??

I also saw ALL the Outer Banks lighthouses, because lighthouses are cool. 

Yes, they still make them. 
At the Wright Brothers Memorial, the person staffing the gate questioned whether I wanted to pay the entrance fee when they closed in 35 minutes.  I only needed 32.  :^)
First flight, just as the state quarter promises!

Because I could, I drove 7 hours from the Outer Banks to meet up with some friends in SC and eat everything waffle-y and play CAH.  Worth every minute of driving!  Bonus: they live near Congaree National Park, so I was able to check another park off my list! 

The most beautiful swampland!
Back in MSP, I went to the Opera for the first time!  It was magical! And flutey!

I participated in the MS150 for the 7th time this year.  Or, rather, the MS37, as that's when I fell and sprained my ankle and was out for the remainder of the ride.  

But the tape-job was super impressive!
Work took me back to NC the week after I sprained my ankle, so, of course I took the opportunity to visit the Outer Banks again.  Definitely one of my favorite places now.  

Is it possible for this place to get prettier? Because it keeps getting prettier!
This time in the Outer Banks, I visited the dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park.  Absolutely gorgeous.  Absolutely would not recommend walking up dunes with a freshly sprained ankle! 
Worth it.  Would hobble up dunes again. 

There was some bizarre summer flooding of the Mississippi River.  

Apparently the bike path is now for fishing!
Minnehaha Falls was in rare form due to the flooding!
Due to the flooding, the 4th of July fireworks were moved to the state capitol, which made for a scenic show!

Ooh!  Aah!
In July, I sailed to Isle Royale with my parents and oldest sister.  It was a once in a lifetime trip (which my parents are now going to take again this summer, because once just wasn't enough...)  The crossing from the Apostle Islands took about 16 hours, which we did overnight.  I slept through most of it because bed was much warmer than the outside.  The water temp was 38ºF and the wind was frigid.  But the sights that greeted us on the island were worth it! 

This cannot possibly be a real place. 

By September, I met my ankle-recovery-goal and was able to ride my bike in the Minneapolis Bike Tour!  36 miles!

Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened for me this year is that I finally (FINALLY!) graduated with my masters in materials science and engineering after 5 years.  
Hear that, school? NO MORE OF YOU!

After the end of the semester, I went all out with Christmas-y Christmas stuff, so it was convenient that, the evening after I took my final exam, the Candian-Pacific Holiday Train stopped in St. Paul for the first time! 

Choo choo!

It's been a big year.  A busy year.  A lot to be thankful for this year.  But for now, I kind of feel like this. 

This is mostly what Sydney did this year. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The most beautiful place I don't think I'll visit again

Approximate map of the trip!
At the end of July I took a sailing trip to Isle Royale, located in the northern part of Lake Superior, with my parents and oldest sister.  Basically one surveying error from being in Canada, it's one of the least visited national parks, though, to be fair, Alaska kind of skews things, what with their penchant for national parks accessible only by private aircraft.  Isle Royale is accessible via boat or seaplane, and they even have ferry service from Minnesota, Michigan, and Canada.  So now there are no excuses for not visiting!

We departed from Bayfield, WI (gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, which everybody should see if they haven't already; no, I'm not even close to being done shilling for the NPS).  

We anticipated about a 20-hour crossing to the southern tip of Isle Royale, so we left at 3 PM to ensure that we arrived under daylight.  Hitting big rocks is an important thing to not do. 

Foreshadowing: I wasn't particularly judicious when packing, so I packed three sweatshirts.  Much scoffing was had at my excess.  You only need one sweatshirt, right?

The trip started off with a wonderful sail through the Apostle Islands.  We made it out of the islands in only a couple hours. 
That gold thing is so that our little boat shows up on radar.
Sunset as we enter the vastness of the lake beyond the Apostles think you want to go on an epic sailing voyage.  Have you tried staring at nothing for hours on end in the pitch dark with 20mph winds blowing at your back off of 38ºF water?  I wore all three of my sweatshirts and my rain jacket.  I didn't even last an hour in the cockpit in the middle of the night before I needed to head down below where it was a toasty warm 56ºF. 

Pretty sure we found this water's source.  Glacier Mist indeed.
At least one good thing came from that windy overnight...we made it to Isle Royale in a mere 16 hours.  Our first stop was Windigo, where one of the two visitor centers on the island resides.  

And apparently a warning to moose.
A rare shot of the boat from not on it. 
There's a per person per night fee regardless of whether you are staying on land or water.   The Windigo visitor center is really nicely done.  There's an informative exhibit about the island, including the original fresnel lens from Rock of Ages, the most fantastically named of all the lighthouses I've been to.  We passed Rock of Ages on the way in but it wasn't visible due to the Lake Superior Fog of Legend. Hopefully it would be visible on the way out! [/foreshadowing]

Be mesmerized by the shiny of the 2nd order Fresnel lens! 
I was really excited about the possibility of seeing moose.  I'd never seen a moose in real life before. Possibly relatedly, I have never been to Canada. I was thrilled that within minutes of arriving at Windigo, we saw a mom and two calves frolicking in the water.  Unfortunately they were binoculars-distance away, so this the best I could do with my camera. 

I promise those brown spots are moose.
We overnighted at the dock in Windigo, providing access to both the nature trails and the unexpected surprise of flush toilets.  Hooray!  It's the little things, really.  After availing ourselves of the wonders of indoor plumbing (it had been less than a day without-- goodness this is going to be a long week), we embarked on a hike that promised a scenic view of Washington Harbor from inland.  

Twisted bark is twisted.
I think we lasted about 1.5 miles before turning around.  It turns out that inland is really hot and sticky and also steep.  My recently injured ankle was starting to ache, so I decided to ice it when we got back. Luckily for me, we were on an island in an ice bucket!  

We settled in for our nightly ritual of wine and snacks before dinner.  I could get used to this.  

Non-skid plastic wine glasses, of course!
There were three other sailboats at the dock with us, all of them groups of guys.  One man from the boat behind us decided to jump in to the lake.  I normally have no qualms about taking a dip in Lake Superior, but this far north?  No thanks!

Sleep that night was a bit rough.  Washington Harbor is only partially protected and there were moderate winds.  Fortunately we were on the side of the dock such that we were being blown away from the dock. The people on the other side were being slammed into the dock all night. 

The next morning we departed for our next stop: Siskiwit Bay, or, more specifically, Malone Bay, which is near Siskiwit Lake, the largest lake on the island.  There's a small dock in Malone Bay and we found ourselves in the company of one other sailboat and a fishing boat.  The guys on the fishing boat had been coming to Isle Royale for over 50 years.  They hauled their dinghy across to Siskiwit Lake, which is overpopulated with lake trout.   We opted for the hike without a boat.  

It's us!
Beautiful fields of wildflowers all over the island!
The hike to the lake was short and scenic.  Thick forest opened up into a wildflower-covered meadow, which led us to the shore of Siskiwit Lake. 

Paddling on Sisiwit Lake
The stream that feeds the lake with water from Lake Superior was tempting to wade in. 

When we returned from our hike, the fishermen were busy filleting and frying their catch.  They made sure nobody in any of the boats was allergic to peanut oil (charmingly sweet of them) before frying up their surplus trout and offering it up. 

I didn't partake, but I have to admit I was a little tempted. 
There was a no-longer-staffed ranger hut near the dock in Malone Bay that had ample reading material about the island, including the diary of a school teacher who lived and taught on Isle Royale in the 30s.  We read a little bit of it.  She seemed like a fiery and strong lady, but I suppose you had to be to survive a winter here.

Next stop: Chippewa Harbor. Supposedly we were sailing along the coast of the Island to get there, but I only think that because the GPS said so. Lake Superior fog means not seeing much.

Charts are your friend
We planned on anchoring out this night, but stopped briefly at the dock to take our daily hike, which afforded us a beautiful view of Chippewa Harbor.

You didn't think I could go a whole post without my Five Fingers, did you?
We left the dock to go find a cozy spot to anchor for the night.  Chippewa Harbor has a little inlet that takes you into a second harbor, essentially offering 360-degree protection from weather.  We were the only boat there that night and it was unimaginably placid.  The water was like glass, reflecting the trees. It was just us and a couple of incredibly vocal loons.  I had never heard loons as chatty as these guys.  I never slept so well on a boat as I did that night.

Seriously, you guys.  This really happened.
View at sunrise
Sunrise in Chippewa Harbor
Leaving Chippewa Harbor, we'd almost forgotten that there was an entire giant lake out there. We'd been protected from the freezing and the wind and the fog in our serene little anchorage.  Oh.  Right.  There it is.

Hi, my name is Fog.  Welcome back.
Onward to Rock Harbor!  Our last stop on the island, Rock Harbor is a tiny bit of civilization.  The national park is headquartered here, there is a marina with fuel/pumpout, and there is even a lodge (the only non-campsite lodging available on the island) and a couple of restaurants.  And showers.  Have I mentioned that we hadn't yet had a shower this week? They cost $6 for five minutes and were worth every penny.

Sailing in to the Harbor, we passed the first lighthouse we had really seen all trip.

Rock Harbor Lighthouse
We settled in at the marina and took care of various business, such as making sure we had enough fuel to get back home.  There was a small fuel spill, and I was very impressed with the marina employee's conscientiousness about cleaning that up (with absorbent pads because dispersants are not allowed in the lake).

We took a brief hike around the harbor, which is called Snug Harbor.  (Not a super appropriate name because it's incredibly unprotected as far as harbors go.)  There was a little lookout and a dinghy from a shipwreck near the island.

I can hardly believe this is right here in the Great Lakes
We also went on a little hike across to Tobin Harbor, where there is a seaplane dock.  We even saw a seaplane take off!  That evening we had dinner at the more casual of the restaurants on the island, which was surprisingly tasty and vegetarian-friendly. 

The next day we went for a longer hike up to Suzy's Cave, which is an inland sea cave that was formed when the lake level was higher and covered the island.   The hike followed the lakeshore for a fair bit before turning inland. 

This tree isn't going to let a little boulder get in its way!

We were able to assure a few weary hikers we ran into that they were, indeed, almost to Rock Harbor.  :^)  It was about 2 miles to Suzy's Cave, high up on the island.  It was a pretty impressive formation. I can't even fathom the lake being that high. 

There are not a lot of species of mammals on the island due to how isolated it is.  In fact, the red squirrels on Isle Royale have been isolated for so long that they are considered a distinct subspecies. 

Aw. Isn't he the cutest little scavenger?

We ran into a little bit of trouble leaving due to the engine's reticence to start.  Diesel engines don't much care for cold.  But,'s JULY!!  Yes, it was.  But nobody told the lake that.  The engine had been sitting in the ~45-degree lake for two days without running, so it took a little work to get it going, but it did finally start! 

On our way off the island, we stopped by the Rock Harbor Lighthouse and the Edison Fishery, which was in use until the 1970s.  The fishery was staffed by two national park volunteers, a married couple who spend their winters down in Florida volunteering at Everglades National Park.  I want to be them when I grow up. 

Edison Fishery
The lighthouse doubled as a local maritime museum.  There were artifacts from several shipwrecks in the area as well as an informative display about the history of navigation around Isle Royale. 

Rock Harbor Lighthouse, with a thing from a shipwreck
and I swear I know what it's called and I will remember it!
The museum included the original Fresnel lens from the lighthouse, which has since been automated with an acrylic lens like a lot of lighthouses. 

It's a little baby 4th order Fresnel lens!
As we passed Outer Island, welcoming us back into the Apostle Islands, we were greeted by this stunning sunset. 

Oh, by the way, we passed within half a mile of Rock of Ages Lighthouse four times and never saw it.