Rankings of Highways Heading Out of Duluth

This post is brought to you by the Youth Hockey Hub High School Hockey Podcast and my countless drives out of Duluth for work purposes over the past four and a half years to every small town northeast Minnesota has to offer. (Except Meadowlands. I remain convinced that Meadowlands is a mythical place and does not actually exist.) To qualify, a road must have a legitimate and distinct destination, thus ruling out mere connectors such as Minnesota 194, parallel roads such as the Jay Cooke portion of Minnesota 210 (pretty as it is), or the various township line roads that sputter out a short ways north or west of the city.

  1. Minnesota Highway 61 up the North Shore. Was there ever any doubt? Bonus points to those who take the Scenic Highway instead of the expressway to Two Harbors, but even the fast road provides a few decent lake views and eventual access to one of the greater drives out there. Drawbacks: rubberneckers, crowds on certain weekends, the inevitable overflow at Betty’s Pies. Additional delights, beyond the obvious cliffs and surf and rushing streams: Cedar Coffee, surfers on Stoney Point, a few roadside architectural marvels, and Rocky Taconite.
  2. Highway 13 on the South Shore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin. It’s a less dramatic driving experience than the North Shore, but it still has its quaint towns and lake views, plus eventual sea caves and the Bayfield Peninsula.
  3. Minnesota Highway 23. An underrated road, as it takes the driver through the full history of industrial Duluth along the St. Louis River corridor, then climbs to a nice overlook up the valley toward Jay Cooke. Winds pleasantly through forests of the Nemadji State Forest from there, and while it turns into a more standard straight shot through a few lost-to-time hamlets after that, it redeems any possible boredom by heading through Banning State Park before reaching 35 again.
  4. St. Louis County 4 to Biwabik. The Island Lake causeway is pretty, of course, but I’m fond of the winding road through the depths of the Cloquet Valley, a stretch where the deer counts can reach triple digits. Additional highlights include the not-so-subtly-hidden pot farm and the occasional wolf sighting. There’s something peaceful about driving a stunningly empty road south as snow falls softly on the pines and tamaracks. (Can you tell I’ve driven this road often?)
  5. St. Louis County 39/44 (Jean Duluth and Pequaywan Lake Roads). Basically, a somewhat less scenic Highway 4 and even less of a destination at the end, though this may not be a bad thing. The back road up to the east side of the Range, or perhaps to Ely. Pluses: the Breeze Inn, little-used ski trails.
  6. I-35 South. Not thrilling, but it keeps you moving, and will forever be redeemed by that view over Thompson Hill that signifies homecoming for any Duluthian.
  7. Highway 2 East. The Superior slog drags it down, but after that it’s a passably interesting meander over toward the Brule River and eventually on to Ashland, and eventual UP destinations farther east.
  8. 53 South. Like 35, its most salient trait is moving people quickly, and it does so with little traffic. It does, however, require that long drive through Superior to get there. Was slower but somewhat more interesting in the olden days when it went straight through towns like Solon Springs and Minong. Gets some bonus points for how often I’ve driven it over the years.
  9. US 53 North. Instead of slow slog through Superior, this route gives the driver a somewhat faster slog through Hermantown, which manages to be more chaotic and tiresome and lacks the occasional harbor view. After that, it is mostly drudgery and crazy signs until one reaches the outskirts of Eveleth. It improves from there, both through history and a scenic new bridge and eventual lake country access, but there’s too much drabness on the front end.
  10. Wisconsin Highway 35. An endless death march through the strip malls and strewn out neighborhoods of Superior and South Superior, followed by two lanes of absolutely nothing before you finally get to the cabin country between Danbury and St. Croix Falls. Redeemed somewhat by Pattison State Park.
  11. US Highway 2 West. First, one must endure Proctor. (Or, alternately, Hermantown, if one comes via 194.) Then, a long, mindless plod across peat bogs, every minute spent in desperate hope of a passing lane. Mild pluses: the St. Louis River crossing and the mild improvement that comes in Itasca County when the woods grow thicker around Grand Rapids.
  12. Minnesota Highway 210 west from Carlton to Aitkin. The great, interminable swamp.

Yeah, this blog will get back to having actual content sometime soon.

50 Things I’ve Missed About Duluth

I’ve been back here a week now. Here are 50 distinctly Duluth things I have enjoyed since then, or plan to enjoy in the not-so-distant future.

  1. Ridiculously perfect summer weather.
  2. Topography. In Minneapolis, I would go out of my way to find hills when running because it was so damn flat.
  3. Marvelously cheap real estate.
  4. Rush “hours” in which the traffic doesn’t actually get any slower.
  5. Not really caring about leaving ground floor windows or doors open or unlocked.
  6. Bike/running paths that do not require constantly trying to dodge other people on said path.
  7. That slightly wild edge to the green spaces. Which are everywhere.
  8. Walking across the lift bridge, which is inevitably cold even when it is warm everywhere else.
  9. Lake views. Everywhere.
  10. A really big, sandy beach.
  11. Lots of craft beer with no hint of pretension.
  12. 75-cent bus fare.
  13. Silence as I sleep.
  14. Duluth Grill lunches.
  15. Pacing the concourse at the Heritage Center.
  16. Easy day trips to the North Shore, the Boundary Waters, or just the middle of nowhere in the woods.
  17. The India Palace buffet.
  18. The Thirsty Pagan. (Okay, I guess that’s Superior. But for as much fun as we Duluthians poke at Superior, it does have some very good food options, and I’m kinda curious to explore its bar scene in all its glory.)
  19. Being entertained by tourists in Canal Park.
  20. Having Duluth to ourselves again after all the tourists leave.
  21. Grandma’s Sports Garden…eh, maybe not, I’m not 22 anymore.
  22. Knowing the politicians who represent me. (Or, at least, being able to get to know them with relative ease.)
  23. Not having Comcast in my life.
  24. Basically any establishment on East Superior Street between Tycoons and Sir Ben’s.
  25. Seeing stars at night.
  26. Boat horns.
  27. Neighborhood hockey rinks.
  28. Parties in Bayfront.
  29. A breeze off the lake. Well, sometimes.
  30. The tap water.
  31. The Breeze Inn.
  32. Ice cream after a walk on the Lakewalk.
  33. Refurbished turn-of-the-century downtown buildings.
  34. Getting bridged.
  35. Ski trails everywhere.
  36. Congdon homes.
  37. The Duluth arts community.
  38. Enger Park.
  39. The Red Herring.
  40. Amsoil Arena.
  41. The St. Louis River.
  42. That Christmas parade we have in mid-November.
  43. Smelt.
  44. Huskies games.
  45. Sidewalk Days.
  46. The Rose Garden.
  47. Cruising down Skyline Parkway.
  48. Vikre.
  49. Greyhounds.
  50. Late nights on the lakeshore, or on the ridge up above.

Which NFL Team Is Your High School Hockey Program?

In honor of Hockey Day in Minnesota and that other big sporting event this weekend, I present each NFL team with their Minnesota high school hockey equivalent. They are, of course, meant in a spirit of good fun.

Edina Hornets: Dallas Cowboys. Seem to be the center of the universe for their respective sports. Hated by everyone else. Won’t be going away anytime soon, sadly.

Hill-Murray Pioneers: New York Giants. Blueblood teams that win titles from time to time. Get all the attention from the east coast/metro media.

Roseau Rams: Green Bay Packers. Small northern towns in the middle of nowhere that don’t seem to have any business competing with the big boys, but there they are: loyal fans, media darlings, and heaps of titles from down the years.

Moorhead Spuds: Minnesota Vikings. Usually put out strong teams and have had their share of memorable moments down the years. Just don’t ask them to win a championship game.

Duluth East Greyhounds: New England Patriots. Always good, to the point that it gets on people’s nerves and inspires paranoia. Mike Randolph and Bill Belichick would probably be pretty good friends. For all their success, some high-profile chokes in their most talented years.

Lakeville North Panthers: Carolina Panthers. Flashy new kids on the block from somewhere down south. And both Panthers.

Eden Prairie Eagles: Denver Broncos. Usually very good, and have some stars they can ride to the occasional title. Great team, but not quite in that historically elite tier yet.

Blaine Bengals: Indianapolis Colts. Blue and white teams from fairly anonymous places that have ridden their stars to become regular contenders over the past 20 years.

Grand Rapids Thunderhawks: Chicago Bears. Northern city with a long and proud history, though the amount of noise around the program tends to exceed the actual results. Wear orange.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights: New Orleans Saints. Won a championship semi-recently to pull together a place after a tragedy. Known for explosive offenses. Also, both names include Saints.

Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars: San Francisco 49ers. Had a run some time ago when they were clearly the best. More mixed results lately.

White Bear Lake Bears: Cleveland Browns. Orange teams that usually lose things.

Minnetonka Skippers: Atlanta Falcons. Usually relevant, but never really finish the deal. Have been around for a while, but aren’t exactly a traditional power. Just sort of…there.

Wayzata Trojans: San Diego Chargers. Western teams in blue and yellow that have had some talent over the past decade, but haven’t won much of anything. But hey, at least they have the ocean/lake.

Elk River Elks: Baltimore Ravens. Blue-collar mentality and some success in the semi-recent past.

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Lumberjacks: Oakland Raiders. Gritty teams from gritty cities.

Burnsville Blaze: Washington Redskins. Proud history, though leaner more recently. Shared legacy of controversial mascots.

Holy Family Fire: Houston Texans. New arrival on the scene. A lot of noise, but haven’t gone anywhere yet.

Anoka Tornadoes: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Won something once in the early 2000s, but that’s about it.

Maple Grove Crimson: Cincinnati Bengals. Talented, but never seem to quite get anywhere. Make as much news off the field/ice as they do on it.

Academy of Holy Angels Stars: Los Angeles Rams. The Rams left St. Louis and broke their fans’ hearts; the Stars built themselves by getting a bunch of players to leave Jefferson. (Yeah, it’s a reach, but it’s not like high schools up and move from one part of the state to another.) Some flashy displays in the late 90s/early 2000s, but that’s about it.

Hermantown Hawks: Buffalo Bills. Somewhat obscure and unremarkable northern location good at losing consecutive championship games. Though at their current rate, the Hawks are going to leave Buffalo in the dust.

East Grand Forks Green Wave: Seattle Seahawks. Team from somewhere up in the northwest that recently made a splash with their physicality and strong defense.

Hibbing Bluejackets: Pittsburgh Steelers. Lots of success down the years, though the very brightest years were in the more distant past. Both  cities have a lot to do with steel.

Warroad Warriors: Kansas City Chiefs. Proud histories somewhere out in the flatlands. Native American mascots.

Eveleth-Gilbert Golden Bears: Detroit Lions. Had some great teams back around the dawn of time. Since then, it’s been rough.

Luverne Cardinals: Arizona Cardinals. Southwestern teams trying to prove their newfound relevance, with middling results. Roll Cards Roll.

St. Paul Johnson Governors: New York Jets. Some early success in the big city. Now mostly there for nostalgia’s sake.

Minneapolis Southwest Lakers: Miami Dolphins. Went undefeated once in the 70s, but otherwise no one is really sure if they still exist or not.

Worthington Trojans: Jacksonville Jaguars. Both are in the southern part of the state and most notable for existing.

Rochester Mayo Spartans: Tennessee Titans. Like Jacksonville, they are in the South. At least they have occasional flashes of relevance.

Philadelphia Eagles: Rotating position for whichever program’s fan base I find most obnoxious in a given week.

St. Thomas Academy Cadets: Toronto Argonauts. Yeah, they won things, but no one is impressed.

How to Maintain Your Sanity While Being Overworked

This blog is lapsing into self-improvement listicles, which should perhaps be a red flag, but ‘blog’ was on my schedule for tonight, so blog I shall. Here are eight suggestions for staying sane if, by chance, you ever find yourself taking a full load of graduate-level courses, running two student organizations, and working two jobs at once. It’s a common problem, right?

I’ll skip over the clichéd advice—get enough sleep, eat healthy, get some exercise—because that’s well-covered ground. Here are eight pieces of advice I’ll allow to flow forth from my fountain of infinite wisdom:

1. Master the art of filling a schedule and following it. We all schedule in different ways. Lots of my colleagues are Google Calendar adherents, with their phones spewing out eternal reminders of where they ought to be. Dinosaur that I am, I still use paper; it’s good to be able to scrawl new tasks or the odd reminder in the margins, and there’s something deeply satisfying about crossing things off the list. The medium doesn’t really matter; what matters is that every little task you need to do is documented so that your scattered mind doesn’t forget it. Check off tasks with gusto and move on to the next thing.

2. Clean out the email inbox right away. Nothing looms like unanswered messages and a sense that other people expect things from you. Not only does getting through them all tend to go faster than you’d think, it takes a load off. Not only that, you’ll find that responding promptly is actually a somewhat rare and valuable skill, and it’s one other people notice. They realize you have things together, or at least are good at projecting that illusion. There is nothing wrong with projecting illusions, so long as they are in the realm of sanity. Project it long enough and it might just become reality.

This doesn’t mean you have to check the damn thing every ten minutes. In fact, I’d highly recommend taking a minimum of a few hours away at times, especially on weekends. But when you do dive back in, plow through it relentlessly. Leave nothing for later—unless, of course, you’ve budgeted time for it on your schedule.

3. Never let work be the last thing you do before bed. No matter what deadline I face, no matter how late it is, I do something blissfully unrelated to school or career before the lights go out. It works wonders.

4. Multitask wisely. Don’t lie, you know you do it. You can’t cut yourself off completely. But if you are going to multitask, make sure it makes sense. If you’re watching TV, do work that requires less intellectual capacity, like spreadsheets or statistics or more inane writing tasks. If you’re drunk, write or work on the creative side of things. If you’re supposed to be reading or writing, distract yourself with other reading or writing, and preferably of a high caliber so that you’re reading good writing.

Enlightened procrastination is a valuable skill, and will serve you well in bar trivia. No, you won’t be as efficient, but you’re a human who has to remain sane, not a cog on an assembly line. If you finish a project two hours more slowly but also watched a football game during that time, chances are you’ll remember it much more fondly. Don’t beat yourself up over a slow pace; build in the breaks, accept them, and then get back to it.

5. Surround yourself with people who fuel your energy. I’ve found I’m particularly prone to channeling the mood of people around me, but everyone does this to some degree. Unless you’re ready to disrupt an organization (which can be good, but choose your battles wisely), you’ll adopt its general means of practice, to varying degrees and with varying levels of awareness. So, make sure the people around you are as committed as you are to getting things done; those who bring out the best in you, and drive you to do more. There are limits, of course, but that’s what #6 is for.

6. Know when to stop. There comes a time when no amount of agonizing will do any good. No one innately knows where this is. It’s a feel, and you have to find it for yourself, be able to recognize it, and enforce it with an iron fist. You are done. No, staring at it for another half hour won’t make it better. No, you will not die if you don’t get to that last reading, even if someone calls you out. You’re done, and you’ve done your best. Now go do something non-work related, and then go to bed.

7. Cycle in and out. Spend time with other people; spend time alone. Plan the future; go back to your roots. Think about the big picture, and lose yourself in the details. Again, surround yourself with people who complete you, and complement your skills. Take time for each of them, lest it seem like you’re spending too much time in one world and neglecting important parts of yourself. And yet…

8. Don’t aim for balance. Balance is lame. Work-life balance, social life balance…these terms all make you feel like a juggler who has to be doing ten things at once, and induce panic. That is exhausting, and leaves you further unbalanced. Instead, aim for excellence. Attack each piece with energy when the opportunities present themselves, and you’ll find the anxieties slip away. Stay hungry, even if you know you’ll never quite satisfy that appetite. It’s what keeps you going. Suddenly, you’re not overworked at all. You’re doing what you are driven to do, and feel weirdly good about yourself, even you should have lost your mind by objective standard. Who knows; maybe you have.

There you go, I solved all of your problems for you. Wasn’t that easy? I’ll start my motivational speaking tour as soon as I find time on my schedule.