When I was growing up we did a weekly grind East Range to North Shore from mid-May to Thanksgiving. This was fine with one (VERY BIG) exception; Minnesota Highway 1. To me that winding dippy road was a weekly horror. I could get through our hour plus on MN 1 without getting sick if I hung my head out the window like a dog. Getting smacked in the face by a big bug every few minutes was worth the far worse pain of sitting in air soaked with eau de Pall Mall as my parents performed their championship smoking exercises. In a rain my head was going to be inside and I was going to get sick. There was no stopping the inevitability. Making “BLUH-BLUH” noises with both hands over my mouth the Pall Mall team got the message.

Dad absolutely hated to stop. He resented as personal affronts and challenges anything that got in the way of his hours and miles goals. A stop wore the brakes, wasted gas, and delayed our arrival time. Watching a teenage son retch up the bile of the liquid diet forced on him for travel days was not sufficient entertainment for any of us. Oh how I hated MN 1! Mouth tasting like rotted stomach lining I’d return to the pall of Pall Mall in the car and off we’d go; parents lighting up again in celebration of movement forward and son sinking further into misery and despair based on knowing I was good for another two emergency stops where parents fumed without cigarettes and I decorated a patch of road edge in neon bile.

To avoid the torture I begged to be left home over weekends. They saw through the consequence of that plea. Kid home alone for two days was not going to happen. “But mom, I’ll keep the house clean.” I’d have kept my word, and happily, knowing there were a great many things a teen boy could find entertaining in a tidy house blissfully to himself. Desperate to be free of the tortures on MN 1 I devised a plan to strap an air mattress and me atop our wagon where there’d be a constant flow of fresh air and I’d be free to barf over the side without hampering the championship smokers inside. This didn’t happen either. Instead mother found pills said to prevent car, sea, air, and motion sickness of all forms. I don’t know what they were, but they worked as a narcotic would. Taking one of those little devils I’d be aware of pending illness but in a sedated mental fog wouldn’t care. I was in Neverland helping the Pan lead the crew to success. The pills made me dopey (some might say dopier). Everything felt distant and strangely amusing. Having to pee was a minutes’ long exercise searching for a garden slug in a ten pound sack of cotton wadding and giggling at absolutely nothing the entire time. Those were potent pills.

The MN 1 I traveled on the other week (I haven’t accessed the Range that way in quite a while) was a vastly improved road than the one I so often wept over and puked on. It’s kept most of its natural beauty but is minus the twisty tortures and dippy horrors I recall. In the 70’s taking a bus full of students to the original ELC at Isabella (former Job Corps Camp) required a careful plan because soon as one kid flung a load of vomit there’d be ten more. A bus driver would rather stop every ten minutes to air the passengers than clean the mess from forging on.

This time instead of veering off toward Babbitt we went on to Ely which seems to me about as good as a tourist town can get. It is decidedly touristy but has kept an awful lot of its earlier character and style. I was impressed. Well done Ely! Ely manages to look like a town. I have to say I prefer that to what so much of the Shore has become, a collection of developments with waterfront ramblers lacking suburbs and lake shore town homes needing towns. They are given appealing names, but when you come down to it what you see are essentially apartment blocks in walls along the shore. Maybe it looks better from the water, but from the road looks like that back sides of stubby high rises. Knowing a blunt assessment won’t win me friends, I don’t care. Ugly is a fact that speaks for itself, and pretentiousness is not character.

The other reason for going further north was the Soudan Mine. It was still operating when I left the Range, so you weren’t apt to get a tour unless you were connected. The Soudan Mine was US Steel. Our town was Bethlehem Steel. We were not connected. It took a shut down and creation of a State Park to open the Soudan for the public. There are two elements of the park. There is a science side into particle research and a history/technology side about the old underground mine. I took the mine tour and was more than pleased. For a modest charge a visitor gets an hour and a half long guided program plus the trip up and down by cable and “train” ride underground to the working face or stope. It was quite interesting and well worth the effort going to Tower/Soudan. I’ll say, though, the mine misses opportunities presenting better info in the auxiliary buildings for drill repair, etc. and especially the winch room where an operator is able to place a car within inches of its spot on a cable that grows in the heat and shrinks in the cold. That’s a story in itself.

It was nice to go further north again. Sad to see Chub Lake Resort slipping away and not see Lonnie’s Motel, Rom’s (I may have missed it), and Vertin’s (sp?) on the main drag in Ely, but we can’t have or keep everything. Reminds me I should do this sort of thing more often.