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home : columns : columns August 16, 2017

8/9/2017 9:48:00 AM
Nothing like a trip 'Up North'
Before I came to Minnesota, I never heard the expression "Up North." I guess I immediately knew what "Up North" meant, but exactly where does one draw the line as to where "Up North" begins and where the rest of Minnesota ends.
If you take an annual trip to Northern Minnesota, you get a pretty good idea. And if you take the same route to the same lake/resort each year, you actually get a little bit of a feeling where that north woods experience begins. Our trip goes up Highway 71 until we get to Browerville, then its a county road to Staples, four-lane to Motley and another 50-mile state highway stretch to Akeley. From there, it's on to Walker, then Cass Lake, Bena, the Winnie Dam Road and then a scenic byway lined with pine trees to the gravel road that leads to Eagle Nest Lodge, our ultimate destination on the north side of Cut Foot Sioux Bay on the northeast corner of Lake Winnibigoshish.
Yep, that's a trek, 300-plus miles I believe, and roughly five to six hours, depending on how many stops you make along the way.
OK, back to my original question: Where does Up North begin and the rest of Minnesota end?
When it comes to vacation Up North, Up North begins as soon as I back out of the driveway. The whole trip to Eagle Nest Lodge is Up North to me.
But if you're looking for a specific point where we leave the gently rolling farm land of Southern Minnesota and reach the wooded beauty of Northern Minnesota, I'm going to say somewhere along that long stretch of road between Motley and Akeley. Indeed, somewhere along that 49-mile stretch of Highway 64, we make a subtle transition to timber. While there's still farm land, the fields become fewer and farther between and pine heaven begins to take over.
Here's where I'm going to display my Iowa naiveté: To me, Up North already arrives when I reach the Willmar area.
Iowa Up North
OK, I know what you're thinking: Willmar? Are you serious?
This is the Iowa kid in me.
When I was a youngster, my family didn't always take a vacation to the same spot year after year as the Hansens have done. However, for several years when I was young, I can recall spending a few days to a week (maybe it was only a weekend - I was a kid and it seemed like a long time) to the Iowa Great Lakes. To me, that was going Up North. Now granted, it was only a 45-minute to one-hour trip to Lake Okoboji from Primghar, but for an Iowa kid, who didn't live near a lake, going to the Iowa Great Lakes was as good as Up North.
We spent time in a cabin and did the things you do when you go to the lake. We fished, we played yard games, we ate a meal or two at a picnic table, we ate corn on the cob, we swam and we visited with family who came to visit.
It was great. It was Up North.
So, these days when I see a lake just north of Willmar, I'm already thinking we've arrived Up North. I'm already getting that feeling of pine trees, water and the cool breeze off the lake - even though I'm hunched behind the wheel of my pickup, still 250 miles from our destination.
Bottom line? Going Up North is a vacation. As much as I enjoy the family time, fishing (OK, I didn't fish), playing some yard games, reading and golfing (yes, I did a lot of that), half the fun of going Up North is . . . going Up North!
Up North highlights?
My father-in-law claims that people enjoy reading what happens on our vacation. I can't confirm that, but I'll share a highlight or two from the trip.
Fishing, by all accounts, was not good, although I can't confirm this because I never wetted a line. But for those who did venture on the lake, only a few fish were caught. Late July/early August is not prime Northern Minnesota fishing.
However, the highlight of our angling belongs to the youngster of the group, grandson Wilson. The 9-year-old caught a crappie and, for the first time, cleaned the fish himself. Grandma said he did a pretty good job and judging from the blush and "ah-shucks" smile on his face, it appeared he thought he did, too.
Aside from that story, it was a pretty relaxing week. I finished a couple of books and did a lot of golfing.
But there's one final task I have to complete with this column. My niece, Lydia Hildebrandt, claims I've never talked about her in my column. Well, no longer.
And as much as I'd like to tell you more about her role in our vacation, you can see I've run out of space. She may consider that a blessing.

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