In an earlier life I hosted an annual New Year’s Eve party. It had the usual party elements: holiday decorations, elaborate food, and refreshing beverages. It also featured a trivia game, something that started as a simple mixer to help our eclectic set of friends from the different avenues of our life to meet and engage, with the intent of adding to the good will and good cheer of the evening.
We created a series of “stations” throughout the house, each with a set of questions. Our guests were organized in teams of two and they would do their best to answer them. The questions were selected and designed to fall in the category of “common knowledge” and “things everyone should know”. It was surprising how many we don’t, and the newly formed duos would try their best to compete for the “fabulous prizes” (usually a trophy coffee mug) presented to the team that got the most right.
The annual trivia game was often described as a frustrating or humbling experience, but as embarrassing as it might have been to our guests when they could not answer our simple questions, they kept coming back each year. Perhaps they thought that next year they would be partnered with someone who would actually know the figures featured on each bill of US currency, or the numbering convention behind the interstate highway system, or the counties that make up the metropolitan mosquito control district. I eventually learned that everyone wanted to partner with my friend Rich, who may not be up on the latest trends, but seemed to know the other questions on topics we all learned in grade school but somehow forgot.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, I inherited a collection of 16mm movies made by my two grandfathers, each an enthusiastic amateur and early adopter of photo technology. I have been struggling with their fate, as they consume a not-inconsiderable amount of space in my archives. Space that could be used to store other useless artifacts.
They have now been (mostly) digitized. And one can find them summarized at this page.
I have great difficulty getting rid of things. As someone who respects the historical path that brought us to our current time, place, and relations, it is hard to discard mementos, especially (for me) photographs that captured moments along that path. As a scientist, I am loathe to delete “data”, that might someday be valuable.
I have to acknowledge the slim likelihood of such artifacts becoming valuable. I hold no conceit that some biographer will ever be looking for scraps and clues identifying the influences on my own childhood. I like to think that my contributions to society have been positive, but probably not worth much more than an oblique reference in an obituary (“he was a curious man”). But maybe there were things in those movies that would be of interest to someone else. I didn’t know how to find that audience.
So the movies, spooled on metal reels of various sizes, lay dormant for years. When I wondered about their ultimate fate, I realized that eventually, they would have NO meaning to anyone, even if it were possible to view them. If there was any value to be extracted, it would have to be now, by me.
I described that initial effort in the previous post on this topic. Here is what has happened since.
Ten years ago, after a year of renovation kicked off by a housewarming “Before Party”, we hosted an “After Party”, which became the “(Happily Ever) After Party”. We pledged our devotion to each other and were declared, by virtue of superpowers claimed by the MC, to be “well and truly united”.
In the ten years since, we have recognized how well-matched we truly are: emotionally, intellectually, physically. We have had marvelous adventures, and we have nurtured and watched our families grow while sharing in the losses of our elders. We recognize in each other the love of our life.
I once encountered a story about a 90-year-old man who filed for divorce from his life-long spouse. The clerk at the courthouse asked, “why after all these years would you file for divorce NOW?” His answer: “I don’t want to die married to that awful woman!”
And I suddenly realized that I did not want to die NOT married to this wonderful woman!
I recently received a most unexpected gift, an extravagant thank-you gesture from newlyweds for being part of their marriage (as driver and other small supporting roles). Somehow, they found something that would appeal to me on many levels, something I would never consider for myself: a LEGO set! And not just any LEGO set, a large and elaborate architectural depiction of an A-frame cabin, with thousands of parts.
It had been inspired by a LEGO enthusiast from Italy, who enjoyed creating Lego models of houses in his spare time. Evidently, there is a large community of LEGO fans, large enough that there is a program for them to submit ideas and models for the pleasure and approval of other fans. Those with the highest votes are selected to become an actual LEGO product. How brilliant! Let fans come up with cool ideas, and then manufacture the most popular, knowing that it has already passed the “will they like it?” test! The A-Frame Cabin was the most recent of such crowd-sourced concepts, released just days earlier.
My step-son and his new wife did not know of my past LEGO history. They did not know that I had been a member of the LEGO Builder’s Club with my son in the 1990s. Or that his LEGO model of the Eiffel Tower had been featured in their newsletter. They did not know that I had authored a software program, LegoShop, to create models on a computer screen in a time before computer graphics, video games and virtual reality had been fully invented. They were unaware of how much time I had spent with a micrometer, reverse-engineering the basic LEGO brick and many other parts to make my virtual models. They did not know, using that program, I had created a Christmas card featuring a LEGO ice castle with Santa and a reindeer. They did not know that I had insisted on visiting LEGO Land during a visit to Malasia. They knew none of this personal LEGO history.
Yet they somehow knew that I would fully appreciate this gift. I’m impressed.
I have been a dormant LEGO builder for many years and have not kept up with the latest sets and themes. But the skills to assemble LEGOs don’t go away, and even if they did, the remarkable instructions provided with the kits can be followed in any language, even by builders who, like some of my grandchildren, cannot yet read (but you DO need to know your numbers).
In the case of an enormous set like this one, the instructions run to 333 steps, requiring two books to contain all of the illustrations. The thousands of parts are partitioned into 16 bags, opened one at a time while following the next series of steps to assemble them. The process is much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, finding the next target pieces, and mating them in correct position with the previous ones. Eventually, the parts that tumble out of the bag are all in place, and I can take a moment to appreciate the growing model.
What a pleasure to receive a gift like this. Something created by a LEGO fan and endorsed by a global LEGO community of enthusiasts! I am savoring the construction steps as I go through them, but have recruited the assistance of other LEGO experts. I plan to post photos of the completed project!
Well, I have to admit defeat in my attempt to repair our dishwasher. I was confident that I could fix it, consistent with my philosophy that it is better maintaining and repairing, than discarding and replacing (a tenet of the “steady state economy”). But after weeks in this broken condition, while ordering candidate replacement parts, watching dozens of YouTube repair videos, with hours on the floor trying to access, test and replace components, and after dozens of wash and diagnostic cycles, not to mention the dishes I broke while tipping the (still loaded) unit on its side, I am giving up.
[This is the final facebook post that chronicled our adventure in June 2019.]
As satisfying as it was to return to Duluth and complete the Superior Circle Tour, we recognized that we were not quite done. Just like those climbers that make it to the summit of Mount Everest, it doesn’t count until you make it back down. Our original plan was to put the bike on our trailer and triumphantly haul it home, but since the trailer never made it to Duluth (see “Getting to the Start”), we had one more motorcycling travel day.
It turned out to be a beautiful one, perhaps one of those top-five weather days of the year. And wanting to avoid the uninspiring regimen of traffic on I-35, we discovered state highway 23, a route that transitioned from north woods scenery to rural farm landscapes that we shared with only an occasional local driver.
After riding over 1500 miles during the previous week, we were now conditioned and ready to embark on the trip that we had just completed. We could now ride for extended durations, our physical and mental stamina up to the task; my clutch and throttle hands were now strong enough to actually manage the clutch and throttle, and we had our communication and navigation systems and routines figured out. And I hadn’t lost my key.
The north shore of Superior, in both Minnesota and Ontario, had been spectacular scenery punctuated with dramatic waterfalls. On the entire route we had encountered many friendly people who gawked at us, helped us, and inspired us.
When motorcyclists encounter and drive past each other there is a salute, a hand gesture of two fingers pointing down, acknowledging the shared experience of two wheels on the road. We encountered other bikers making the circle route, most notably a group of six Harley riders traveling the opposite direction, at the “Best Northern” motel and restaurant in Wawa Ontario (by far our best meal on the tour). They had spent the day riding in the rain from Chicago and were hoping for better weather since they had allocated only four days (and were envious of our 9-day schedule). We traded road stories and wished good travels as we left.
The weather that we experienced was near-perfect. Apart from the first day of rain at Duluth and beyond, we had clear skies. Cool is better than hot for me, but Poldi did not have adequate protection for her hands. Traveling at 55+ mph, the morning temperatures of 45-degrees became quite chilly. Next time we will invest in electric gloves for her.
What other things would we have done differently? Not much really. It would have been nice to take a day off from riding and spend it exploring (even God took the seventh day off), but we had a schedule to keep. After experiencing its therapeutic effects, if there were accommodations along the way that had a hot tub, I might have lobbied to stay there (not really– I prefer more modest settings).
It was an entirely satisfying life experience, one I had never expected, and I am thrilled to have shared it with my life partner Poldi, who took on my adventure and made it hers as well.
I was also able to share a few of the stories with a (captive) facebook audience. I have been encouraged by your “likes”; it seems that some of you actually read the lengthy prose that accompanies the photos. Your responses provided the encouragement for me to keep writing. I have often felt that the spark that ignites my best efforts comes from the people around me: thank you all.
We had been alerted to the hazards of wildlife. In Canada, the road signs showed images of a moose charging out to challenge motorists. And everyone had a story to tell us, but all we had seen were a few deer peering at us from the edge of the woods. It was not until we reached the Northern Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland WI that we become properly concerned.
Poldi made sure that we got there in time to have our final Circle Tour credential stamped and authorized. The agent then took the opportunity to warn us about deer. That very morning, she had seen several deer on her way to work, and then witnessed a motorcyclist having a fatal encounter with one. After stopping, a wolf appeared, circled her car, and then vanished. This was all very unusual, and so she was concerned for us because we would be taking that same section of road.
With trepidation we drove the last 20 miles, without incident, to our destination that night, Bayfield WI.
We enjoyed our stay in Bayfield. We even took the morning off, spending it on a boat exploring the Apostle Islands instead of on a motorcycle avoiding deer. Our last day was deliberately light, a short 85 miles to Duluth to complete the tour. Surprisingly, this turned out to be one of the most challenging.
The route along the shore from Bayfield is through the Red Cliff Indian Reservation, a region that displays the natural beauty of this area. It was along this passage that we encountered deer crossing the road in front of us, even at mid-day. From her perch on the pillion, Poldi would scan ahead to check for deer at the forest edge, considering their dash across the road.
On several occasions they darted onto the pavement; each time I would either see it or hear Poldi’s alert in the helmet speaker, and aggressively apply the brakes. The recommendations for such conditions were NOT to attempt swerving, but to make a “panic stop” in order to reduce velocity. A swerve was unlikely to avoid the obstacle, and more likely to take you into oncoming traffic. Even if the braking did not avoid the collision, it would reduce the velocity (and the velocity-squared energy of impact), thereby making survival much more likely.
On one occasion, we witnessed a deer run out to the center of the road, look at the oncoming traffic, and then turn around and run back. Meanwhile, the lead car had braked and swerved to avoid it, and the subsequent cars swerved to avoid colliding with the first. The road was littered with cars out of place. I was glad to have made my panic stop so that I could carefully and slowly pick my route around them. Everyone was shaken but ok. We proceeded.
Eventually, we arrived at Superior WI, the connection to a post-wilderness world. Duluth was a few short miles away over the bridge to Minnesota. But as soon as we crossed that state line, everything seemed to fall apart—the pavement disintegrated into potholes, and its mitigation was at the expense of construction barrels and detours and bad signage. The rain had arrived again (can we ever bike to Duluth without rain?), and the rush-hour traffic had no patience for anyone less aggressive in getting to their destination.
We found ourselves on skyline drive, seeking to “close the loop” on our Circle Tour. Our navigation system had broken down, even in the midst of civilization, and we were momentarily lost, looking for the next major crossroad. Suddenly without warning, a fawn streaked across the road, its mother a few feet behind. I braked hard once again, and am pleased to be able to tell the story.
We did make it to our starting point, the Thompson Hill Visitor Center, and we also made it to our hotel, where we treated ourselves to a session in the jet-powered hot tub jacuzzi in the pool room. We would have further celebrated the completion of our Circle Tour, had we not collapsed into bed instead.
Our next destination, also not initially on our route, was Porcupine Mountain State Park. This turned out to be an unexpected treasure and we are likely to return someday. A highlight was the overlook onto the Lake of the Clouds, but we found the other features of the park to be appealing as well—the shoreline of Lake Superior of course, the various waterfalls, and the hiking trails.
This 30-second clip shows how similar this place is to the forest moon of Endor.
Motorcycling turns out to be more physically and mentally demanding than I remembered from my twenties. I had heard about dedicated riders who would take on long routes– there was even a recognition for them: the Iron-Butt award. It involves collecting gas station receipts along a route that would prove that you had covered 500 miles within a single day.
I had no interest in competing at that level, but we created the mini-version of it by taking the optional Circle Tour excursion into Keweenaw Peninsula. Initially Poldi did not think we would have time to include this additional day of travel, and so had planned the bypass around it. Somehow, this just didn’t seem right; we had come all this way and were unlikely to be back soon, and I was intrigued at the geology that created both the “iron range” of Minnesota and the “copper range” of Michigan.
The copper mines had closed more than two decades earlier, and the area was in transition from deriving its income from mineral extraction to tourism, much as we see in northern Minnesota. We saw towns that had seen better times, but also new businesses catering to activities like bicycling and kayaking in addition to traditional fishing and camping. The landscape provides a draw for people wanting to experience this natural beauty at close range.
We arrived at the town at the very end of the peninsula, Copper Harbor, and enjoyed visiting “Swedes”, a former tavern run by two Swedish entrepreneurs in 1900, and now a rock shop/tourist souvenir store. The owner, who seemed to be related, or otherwise had inside knowledge, had plenty of stories to tell about the mining days and its eventual ending in the 1990s.
The transformation of the peninsula to a tourist-centric economy was not complete however. I wanted to visit the various museums and visitor centers in these former mining towns, but they were closed on the weekends, the official summer season had not started, and even the next day, they did not open until after noon.
Unfortunately the requirements for the Copper Butt award demanded that we keep moving, so we were unable to fully immerse ourselves in this bit of local history.
Poldi is the brilliant travel agent that solved all the logistics and arranged and organized our daily itineraries and agendas. She also applied Occam’s (small travel) razor to our items so that there was zero redundancy, allowing the remaining critical items to fit in our limited storage space.
Because of the load limits, she knew that there would be intermediate stops to clean and refresh our travel attire. At some point along the way, we would be performing laundry activities. This of course, was a foreign concept to me. If the clothes were still holding up, why should the tour be held up?
But she had anticipated my ignorant reluctance as well, calculating that the generous and kind hosts of the various AirBnBs we would be staying at, would allow her to run one small load of clothes through a wash cycle.
And it would have worked too. All of the places we stayed at had such facilities and they were offered if needed. They weren’t needed. Until suddenly, they were. Saturday—Poldi assessed that the clothing had run out and action was needed. Unfortunately, the hosts for Saturday were clear in their communications that they did not offer laundry service to their guests.
Okay. This is certainly their prerogative. Maybe they just didn’t have the facilities, or floor plan to make it work.
So we went off in search of a laundromat. Unfortunately, they were on the far side of town. We had to ask local passersby to help locate one, but once found, Poldi sprang to work, organizing our meager collection for the machines. Yes, I had to strip out of my well-worn layers and under-layers to add to the pot, but I got to put on my remaining clean backups.
Once I had shed my old skin, Poldi had no more use of me and sent me on a mission to find a bottle of wine to enjoy later when the chores were done and we had settled in for the evening. This was something I was qualified to do.
On my return, the laundry was not yet ready, so I was assigned another job—pick out something for dinner from the deli at the Super-One store next door. We would no longer be able to find a place to enjoy a leisurely dinner; we were running out of daylight.
Eventually all the tasks were complete and the laundry deemed “dry enough”, so we headed to our overnight accommodations. It turned out to be a basement apartment (a common offering by AirBnB hosts). After removing our shoes to bring our two small bags down the stairs, past the brand-new high-end washer and dryer, down the hall to our designated room, I found myself a bit irked.
This is not a normal emotion for me, so I tried to catch myself. This is the home of a family who has offered it to overnight travelers like us. There was no listing of laundry service in their description, and their response to our inquiry was clear: no guest laundry.
Still, it just seemed a little inconsistent with the AirBnB ethos.
Fortunately, we had “Loads of Fun” while preparing for our visit.