My husband’s grandfather Pete passed-on last week and his funeral was Thursday in Morris, MN. It has been a heartbreaking experience for us both. The go, go, go of our everyday lives hindered us from properly absorbing and processing our loss so we decided to incorporate a road trip into our travels north. We packed up the car with food, water, clothing and an atlas and hit the road. After saying goodbye to Pete with formality we set out to say goodbye in our own way. As we traveled through the farmland of northwestern Minnesota we shared our favorite memories of Pete, reflected on the time we all had together and contemplated how different it will be from now on without him. We meandered in the wild flowers, gawked at beautiful barns and made mooing sounds to herds of cattle as we passed. We laughed, we cried and we felt the spirit of Pete in the breeze that bent the tall grasses. He was the sun on our shoulders that day. He was the hawk that soared overhead. He was the roll of the hills. He was the babbling of the rivers. He was the vastness of the lakes. He was the moonrise. He was the lightning bugs. And he was the joy that filled our chests.
Our time on the road was the most free I had felt in as long as I can remember. We spent Thursday night in Bemidji as a good middle-ground stop. The next day we took an afternoon hike through the Bemidji State Forrest to the Tamarack Bog then headed to Canada where we had plans to stay in Fort Frances. However, after crossing the border into what I will politely describe as an industrial town we decided to turn around and head back to Minnesota. Because we had only been in Canada for a half hour the US Border Patrol agents assumed we must have been transporting drugs or smuggling contraband so of course we were flagged. They searched our car and asked us some “gotcha” questions to get a feel for whether or not we were lying about our story. They had a hard time believing anyone would go to Ft Frances for the fun of it. But eventually they let us go and we immediately pulled over in International Falls for a beer.
With no place to stay for the night we looked at the map and decided to drive an hour east to Voyagers National Park. We were slightly worried we would not be able to find a room considering it was a holiday weekend but after making a few phone calls to several lodges we were able to find vacancy at the Arrowhead Lodge on Lake Kabetogama. Arrowhead Lodge was built by the Finnish in the 1930s and we were told it is the last standing genuine log cabin on the lake. It was charming, quiet and had the feel of the pension we stayed at in Switzerland (minus the Alps). The lodge had a full bar so as the sun set we grabbed a glass of whiskey and headed to the screened porch where we sat until the wee hours. The near full moon rose over the lake with its orange face smiling at us as its beams twinkled on the water like flickering candlelight. In that moment I felt a peace wash over me. My thoughts became quiet, my heart felt open and I realized how truly insignificant I am in the grand scheme of the world. Travis and I sat and sat and sat, just being there next to each other, no conversation needed.
The following morning we enjoyed a home cooked breakfast on the porch and watched the Pelicans float on the tide searching for fish. As sad as it was to leave we packed up the car and headed out. We really didn’t have a destination in mind we just knew we wanted to be home by 10pm. After conferring with our map we decided to head east across the Iron Range. I had no idea the spectacular beauty we would see. The two lane highway was flanked with evergreen forests, valleys and creeks. We set the cruise control for 60 mph, sat back and took in as much splendor as we could. Once we hit Silver Bay on the banks of Lake Superior we headed south to Two Harbors. We stopped at the Split Rock Lighthouse, had a spectacular meal at the Rustic Inn Café and dipped our toes into Lake Superior before we caught the highway and headed home.
Our trip was a reprieve we didn’t know we desperately needed. I felt the creativity creep back into me. I wanted to write, read, take photos, listen to the wind and enjoy all the beauty nature was offering us. When we were driving through Superior National Forest the ditches were lined with these small yellow flowers that grew in such dense bunches it was like our own yellow brick road laid out before us coaxing us into adventure. I will forever be grateful to those days on the road to process, reflect, feel and just live. I have promised myself to carry with me the lessons the past few days have taught me and to move forward more mindfully. And to Pete, a man who will be truly missed, I will reflect often on the advice he gave me when I asked him at he and Esther’s 60th wedding anniversary what the secret to a long marriage is: work hard. I will work hard. Hard at being a good person, hard at taking time away, hard at slowing down, hard at keeping my marriage strong and hard at remembering we are only here for a short time and if we’re not careful, that time can easily be wasted.