Our Trip up the North Shore was a Failure and Still Rocked
-16℉. That’s what the temperature was outside as we blasted north on a snowy I-35 at 6:00 AM on January 1st, 2019. Noah rode shotgun next to me, both of us sinking into our heated leather seats as See the World by Caamp played. Payton, Bri, and Carter all slept in the back, covered in several dozen layers of blankets and pillows. We’ve all seen a lot of the world together, especially when you consider that only one of us is old enough to legally buy a beer, and today we were ready to see some new places.
Let’s back up a few days first though, what brought us to Northern Minnesota in the first place anyways? Well, Noah’s parents moved just outside of St. Paul this last summer. Noah himself still attends school in Missouri, but is getting ready to spend this semester abroad in Italy. That meant it was time for the four of us to make the nine hour road trip up north to spend some time with Noah before we see him again in May.
We had an absolutely fantastic trip, mostly spent enjoying the company of one another. Our quest for adventure (or my own for content) never ends though, and that meant taking a full day to head north for the legendary North Shore Scenic Route.
So, after ringing in the new year together and getting a few hours of sleep in, we set off in what were some of the harshest conditions any of us have ever been in.
The plan had been to make it to Duluth shortly after sunrise to enjoy a warm breakfast before starting on the North Shore route. The sight of coming up over a hill on I-35 and seeing Lake Superior covered in clouds and glistening in the morning sun was awesome, and had all of us (except maybe Bri) awake.
We had breakfast at a farm to table place called “At Sara’s Table” way up on the hill in Duluth. It was simply fantastic, and if you’re ever looking for some breakfast in Duluth, we cannot recommend it enough.
Well, almost all of us. After stopping at a McDonalds down the street to order Bri a double cheeseburger for breakfast, (McDonalds does not serve double cheeseburgers before 10 AM by the way,) we set off on Highway 61. We hadn’t even left Duluth before stopping at the first roadside scenic overlook. Lake Superior is indeed, superior to all other lakes. Carter also decided this was a good place to pee.
Our ultimate goal for the day was to make it as far north as Grand Portage State park at the US/Canada border. We had plenty of stops planned for hikes, lunch, and coffee. Our first stop would be at Gooseberry Falls State Park, about an hour north of Duluth.
The parking lot was full of snowshoers and cross country skiers as we rolled in, and we began to wonder just how out of our element we may be. As we jumped out of Dudley though, I noticed a slightly bigger problem than our chosen attire for the hike. A problem that came in the form as two sheared wheel studs on the rear drivers side wheel.
Not the end of the world though, hopefully we would be able to get it taken care of in the next town north. Sheared wheel studs aren’t the end of the world, and even with the two missing there wasn’t any noticeable wobble when driving. I called and left a quick message at one of the only repair shops further north, and we set off to the visitors center.
Minnesota State Parks visitor centers have it going on. Inside we found a full exhibit with information on nature and geology found in the park, a gift shop, and large sitting area with a wood burning fireplace. The whole building was either on par or nicer than what you’d find at a national park visitor center.
Once back outside we set off on the short, snowy hike to the top of the falls, and then down to the base of it. Frozen waterfalls have kinda become our thing I guess. Gooseberry Falls was pretty spectacular.
We hiked around a bit more in the snow, taking in the beauty of the winter wonderland we had found ourselves in. We still weren’t equipped with the gear needed to spend any extended period of time in sub zero temps though, and set back to the visitors center to warm up around the fire.
The shop I had left a message at further north was closed for New Years day, and that soon became the theme for the dozen or so shops we called in Duluth. It looked like we were going to have to head back south either until we could find a shop to fix the sheared studs or until we made it to Noah’s house.
After stopping at an O'Reilly's outside of Duluth, we had a list of two tire shops who were open that may be able to fit us in that afternoon. Our poor luck continued though as after stopping at both, it turned out neither could fit us in until the following morning.
Our spirits were still high enough though, things going wrong is just part of the adventure, and changing plans on the fly is something we have plenty of practice at. After a quick lunch we decided we didn’t really have any options but to begin the two hour, 136 mile drive back to Noah’s house.
We figured it was best to use the remaining few hours of daylight we had and stop at Jay Cooke State Park just south of Duluth and see what we could find there.
After arriving at Jay Cooke we found ourselves in yet another winter wonderland, this time complete with a swinging bridge over the frozen St. Louis River.
We hiked in the snow until we couldn’t feel our fingers or toes and crashed back around the fire burning in the visitors center. Then, it was back on the road. We just had to make it 117 miles back. We had already driven around 130 miles with the two missing studs.
About half an hour later on I-35, I felt the wobble start. I knew right away what it was, and luckily was able to get off on an exit almost immediately. Stepping out of the truck confirmed my fear, another lug had sheared, leaving us with 2 out of 5. Not ideal for driving 90 miles on the interstate.
After a couple of calls, Noah’s dad was on his way to pick us up, and graciously was going to let us use his 100 miles of free towing that he had through AAA to get Dudley back to Hugo. Luckily the small “Minit Mart” we had crash landed at had a seating area for us to enjoy while waiting for help to arrive. So, there we were, five college kids from Missouri taking Polaroid pictures at a gas station in some backwater Minnesota town. If that isn’t adventure, I don’t know what is.
Eventually Noah’s dad showed up in his rockin’ FJ to rescue us, trunk full of beer.
We piled (literally) into the back and handed over the keys to Dudley to the tow truck driver. The hour and a half back may have ruined Bri’s back for the rest of her life, but we made it nonetheless.
The most amazing paninis any of us had ever tasted were waiting for us when we made it back, prepared by Noah’s mom. Sitting around the dinner table, we all recounted the day that we had just stumbled through. It’s easy to be caught up in the moment, but that day will remain high on our list of adventures for quite some time.
As for Dudley, this is the first time on any of our major trips that he’s let us down. That’s not bad for now over 20,000 miles of travel, and another 20K just in daily driving, in two years. Those trips have included being hit by another vehicle in Yellowstone, being hit by a deer in Kansas, and being backed into several light posts and trees. Especially not bad when considering that on those same trips we’ve wheeled and lived out of a 15 year old truck that was designed for driving to the mall. The extreme cold that morning and age are likely to blame for the sheared studs.
I need to thank several people for everything they did on that day. The biggest going out to Noah’s amazing parents who went so far out of their way to help us that evening, and for graciously hosting us the entire week, keeping us warm and our bellies full. A special thanks to Derek at TGK Automotive in Hugo for working overtime to get Dudley ready for us to drive back to Missouri. If you ever need any repairs done in the Twin Cities area, the guys at TGK treated us very well. Finally, a thanks to these awesome people for continuing to chase awesome adventures with me, even when things very rarely go as planned, and also to Bri for putting up with the horrors of traveling with a bunch of dudes.
Until next time, as always, happy trails.