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Seeing the U.S.A. — and a true wonder of the world

Many people like to go to the lake in the summer, so in 2021, when I thought about a few days at a lake, I decided to think big.

I spent Monday through Wednesday visiting Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. Highlights of the trip included a boat ride out to Madeline Island (the largest of the Apostles) and a self-guided tour of the murals in nearby Ashland.

My cuisine included a frozen yogurt sundae made up of caramel corn flavored yogurt topped with brownie pieces, also a specialty pizza I’d never tried before. My main gift shop purchase was a deck of playing cards that features color photos of major ships on the Great Lakes.

I also took some time just to relax at the hotel on a beach area beside the bay. When you put it all together, it was a short but fun adventure at a major wonder of the world.

Lake Superior is sometimes called America’s north coast. It was termed an “icewater mansion” in Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad about the 1975 shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Being on its shore makes someone appreciate how it’s been a source of adventure for centuries. If we have past lives, I think I was a French fur trader at one point. Maybe in my next life I’ll captain one of the freighters.

To focus on reality, the Lake Superior area offers modern visitors an opportunity to see one of America’s locations that’s off the beaten path. It has the charm of small towns and small cities.

My trip back and forth included the forests of east central Minnesota and northern Wisconsin, filled with little known places such as Bock, Quamba, Ogilvie, Danbury and Minong.

I navigated just fine in St. Cloud, the biggest city on my route. In the little town of Minong, however, I needed to stop at the bank after passing a construction detour to see if I was still on the right road.

The people at the bank were friendly as well as helpful, which makes me glad the momentary confusion happened.

It would be nice if there was time to stop in every town and meet local people. If you give a good journalist an hour just to wander around talking to people, he or she will probably come back to you with at least one interesting story. Almost every place of any size has them.

Whatever I happen to find on a trip makes me realize how lucky we are in America to be able to safely leave home for a few days. We can drive down peaceful roads, stay in accommodations that are clean and comfortable, and have confidence that everything will be okay when we return.

We should celebrate how so much of America belongs to all of us, the way Woody Guthrie described the U.S.A. in “This Land is Your Land.” His little known verse, the one that was often censored for concerts and songbooks, points out that “no trespassing” signs never read the same way on both sides. There’s always a public side that everyone can enjoy, a side that’s needed to preserve our way of life.

Politicians don’t need to promise greatness for America. It’s simply a great country. It was great even after 911, during the Great Recession and at the height of COVID. It’s always been great.

A trip home is a further reminder of that principle. I always like coming back to the prairie. The roadsides thin out, you start to see farm fields, and the sky seems to get bigger.

It’s nice to get back to the same recliner, the same bed, and the same routines. Being away for a few days is fun, but it’s always good to be back home. It makes me thankful for the life I lead on a daily basis.

— Jim Muchlinski is long-time Independent reporter and contributor.

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