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Northern Minnesota Workcation (Or Why We're Never Home)

Thank goodness Meadow had her last day of school and Scott had some work up north. We got out of the boring house and tagged along with him.

On Tuesday night I had worked in New York Mills for my annual Lund boat shoot. I stayed at Menahga's Spirit Lake Motel and Resort as a change of pace. When I returned I finally confirmed that I'd be shooting on Friday in Park Rapids just up the road from Menahga.

After debating whether to camp we decided to just stay at the Sprit Lake Motel since we'd be arriving late at night. In the morning Theo was ready to take pictures with one of our old cameras.

We had first breakfast at the local bakery.

Chocker's Bakery. Comes highly recommended from, well, all of us.


Meadow approves. We all approve.

Scott had to work so us kids explored Park Rapids.

Who knew Park Rapids was the Wild West?

In all seriousness, I came up to photograph the Jeweler of the North. They'd recently moved from their old location up on the North Shore. After helping resolve a Google Maps issue, I came up to shoot their new location.

While I photographed the store, the kids and Brooke and explored town by foot.

Meadow asked me to take a photo of this to remember it. 

They had this cool mural downtown. 

I always try to find a playground wherever we go. 

It's weird, because I feel like Brooke hates playgrounds and poopoos going to them when I'm around. Maybe I've been projecting.

I also add in some geocaching. 


Too bad we can't come back for this. Theo would have loved it. 

Then Scott picked us up when he was done working. 

Time for second breakfast!

Brooke talked us into checking out the Rapid River Logging Camp. Think Paul Bunyan's but not in Wisconsin.

A summer tradition for my family was to eat at Paul Bunyan's Cook Shanty in Minocqua. Since the pandemic they never reopened. I was going through lumberjack breakfast withdrawals. Imagine my delight when I found out about this place. 

Not quite all you can eat but we still filled our bellies. 

Decent, but it was missing the kielbasa and amazing donuts that Paul Bunyan's is famous for.

The gift shop and mess hall were in separate buildings. There was also things to view on the grounds next to the Potato River. The river was so clear.

That would be a good paddling river. Maybe next time we're in the area we can canoe from Potato Lake to town.


I've been reading The Forest for the Trees, a history of how humans and mostly settlers shaped the Northwoods. These log haulers were key to going from cutting somewhat selectively to clear cutting the northern forests. 

You'll have to click to zoom in, but Nevis, Minnesota's water tower is perfect. Yes, that's a northern pike.

When in Akeley, you have to stop and see Paul.

The best Paul.

I told Brooke only kids get to sit in Paul's hand. Kids (or kidless) only. That's the rules.

What a jip. 

On our way to Duluth we stopped in Walker. At first we just drove through, then decided to check out the downtown which brought us to Portage Brewing Company.

This space was sweet.

And the beer was pretty good.

Next we did some shopping. This boutiquey store had a kids area complete with mini furniture and a tv playing Frozen. 

This made me laugh out loud. 

Should've got the sticker.

We went to Reeds Family Outdoor Outfitters. Because you know we love outdoor gear.

Scott was the one who walked away with his first pair of sandals ever!

We were going to be river canoeing and I figured they'd be better than ripping up my feet on the riverbed.

Next we made a pitstop at Schoolcraft State Park to do some hiking on their hiking club trail. 

We'd stopped here briefly on the way back from Brooke's 36th birthday, but this time we'd get to explore.

Theo got to use his new hiking backpack. 

Big red pines. Yes, yes I will hike among you.

I also like hiking trails that are narrow and not 8 feet wide like most of the state park trails. 


It was a bit buggy, but it was a nice hike.

We were also surprised to see very few people camping. 

When in Grand Rapids we have to stop at Zorbaz.

Come on, how can you not?

We were uncertain where we were going to camp for the night. We are meeting up with Blake to go canoe camping tomorrow and thought about staying somewhere near there but we were still a bit aways. Scott found this nice campground and luckily found availability.

Aitkin County has a number of affordable, rustic campgrounds. Jacobson Park has cabin's that are really cheap, but you need to book ahead. And the campsites are even cheaper nicely tucked into the forest or on the river.

The mosquitos this year have just been so horrible. Somehow we ended up taking the campsite that had the worst bug problem. The next morning we made our breakfast at the empty site across the way. 

A few days before leaving Blake asked if we wanted to go canoe camping. We were lucky we still had access to our basement while we had to be out. So, we could grab all our gear. We had just thrown it in the car so we spent much of the morning getting everything organized into our portage packs.

I thought that tipping the canoe down on the hood would be clever to get into our trunk easier, but it scratched the car. 

Meadow stole my bug net hat. 

The kids kept themselves busy collecting caterpillars.

They could've done that all day, but we had canoe camping to commence.

We met up with Blake at our take out spot and piled into his truck with all our gear. We were starting at the Island Lake Dam to paddle the Cloquet River. 

This is a segment of the Cloquet River State Water Trail.

Funny how Blake just brings a couple wet bags for all his gear and we have 3 canoe packs plus a couple extra bags. 

We bought these canoe packs after camping on the Namekagon River and finally got to try them out. We also picked up another canoe paddle while in Walker so both kids could help with paddling. 

Nice to finally get them out on a paddling adventure.

I was worried bugs would be bad on the river, but none were in sight. Just smooth paddling.


When Blake said we were going on the Cloquet River I imagined it being super rocky and full of rapids. Instead it started out as a smooth river while passing by a few homes. 

I think we both had the St. Louis River in our heads, though I also knew Blake wouldn't pick a roaring rapids for the four of us. Segments to the north and south of us do indeed have Class II rapids, but nothing like the St. Louis' whitewater rafting.



Blake is always a speed demon compared to us. 

He paddled leisurely to keep us all together. He must've been really bored.


Got to take photos of the cool cabins along the river.




We, like, never ate and also forgot PB&J. So the kids and I ate snacks and bread.

Well, we did tell Blake to stop at the grocery store to get one of those jars of pb&j together, but he thought we were kidding.


Blake mentioned that this river is rarely used and the campsites are overgrown. They didn't seem too bad. Though he was right, we didn't see another person on the river the entire time. 


Blake had also mentioned a bridge near where we'd be camping. We were almost there.

Mush, mush.

Actually when the four of us were paddling in unison we went pretty fast.

Lo and behold we got our campsite. Well no wonder the campsite was overgrown, it was missing it's sign. We stayed at the Old Mule site. About halfway between our put in and take out.  


It was beautiful, but damn it was buggy.

I put on all the clothes I could while cooking. There was a fire ban, so the camp stove was our only option.

The bugs were as bad as I thought they'd be. I'm so glad I picked up nets for our hammocks and this net cover. 

Unfortunately the net cover took longer to put up than dinner took to cook.


Eventually everyone followed me to the bug net to get away from the bugs. 

There was a pit toilet out here somewhere. It took us a couple of attempts to find it.

After breakfast we packed up and headed back out. 


The second half would have us going through more rocks and rapids. 

We had a hitchiker. Flies are such lazy bums.

Blake of course had absolutely no issue

These kids would bring their paddles in every time we entered a rapid and hold on to the yoke. It was like a roller coaster. In the calm waters they helped us chug along the Cloquet.

Is that a giant mouth of a fish?

I think it's the sarlac from Star Wars.

After a few rapids, I figured it was time to put the camera away, even if it was just my backup to my backup.

It's safe to say Scott and I aren't great a navigating canoes through rapids. After ramming into a few rocks and getting turned around we started to strategize better. 

We got better and better, but, you know, we only paddle once or twice on rivers each year. I'd say we were good enough.

I stuffed my iPhone into my lifejacket and shot this rad video of going through one of the longest rapids.


Blake was an old pro of course. Plus it's way easier to turn quickly in a kayak.

All and all it was a fun paddle down the river and the kids were amazing as usual.

We got out at Minnesota 7. 

Here was our route. We did about 23 miles over the two days. 

Not bad for a couple of mid paddlers.


Instead of going back to get Blake's truck we piled his boat and his gear with us in our car. 

Ultimate dad-mode, activated.

As is tradition, after an adventure we get beer and pizza. 

We hadn't been to Ursa Minor in years. I can't tell you why. Great beer and pizza.

While it was warm and felt like summer only 30 minutes away. In Duluth it was only 50 degrees.

Mmmm...beer

I do enjoy their pizza and beer.

We were staying an extra night in Duluth as Scott had a job. He originally thought it was going to just take a couple hours. He went to confirm and came back to say it was actually going to take 2 days. I had to let work know I wasn't going to be making it in the next day. 

This has become a recurring theme when this canal park hotel gets on my schdule. I subcontract for a photography agency that specializes in hotels. But sometimes kinks like this aren't ironed out

Fortunately, Blake had off for Juneteenth. He took us to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum

Meadow has been here a few times when she was little but didn't remember it. 

She did the hobo scavenger hunt.

Theo loved pretending to drive everything.

Theo was having a blast. He loved the whole thing. 


You know, you two, we have train sets at home you could play with.


They had some new stuff since I was here last. Theo's on the train that was used in the movie Iron Will.


There was also an area that replicated a real Finish farmhouse. The kids LOVED this.

For a second I was wondering where Theo got those cute bibs. We need to get him a pair.

I don't remember what was happening here. 


Since we were staying in Canal Park we walked over to the Lift Bridge. We haven't been over here in awhile. Theo said he's going to live in Duluth when he's older and live on the house on the bridge.

We went into the Maritime Museum which I haven't done in a long time either.

It was fun to see a ship go through.

After this weekend, I need this. 

Super embarrassing to wear? Yes. Necessary? Well, definitely early this summer.


The kids had a lot of fun just playing around the lift bridge. We also like to tell my dad to watch for us on the webcam.


Without having our roof box our trunk was packed full. 

Too bad there's not a way to bring a canoe and a roof box on our car.

It's not very often we find ourselves in Duluth on a Tuesday. 

So on the way back home we got dinner at Gordy's Hi-Hat for the first time! I know we've lived here for almost 20 years and this finally got checked off the old bucket list.

And there's still a long line on a Tuesday afternoon.

It was indeed a line, but not too bad.


Oh, dang, these were some of the best malts and burgers I've ever had.


Now I need to get back here ASAP.

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