Monday, September 24, 2012

North Shore

Jesse and I used to go camping more often. Actually, we used to vacation more often, but now that we have a kid vacations and camping are much more challenging. Luckily, Riley is at that age that we feel braver going somewhere for a couple days. As you might recall we attempted camping a few weeks ago with mixed success. It sucked at first, but then became ok. That trip taught us a few things... such as the need to have a reliable (non-leaking) tent and after a lot of research (on Jesse's part) we settled on a new Marmot. Jesse found a deal on a floor model and ordered it right away. It came damaged as did the second one they sent out. Finally, they sent us a brand new tent which arrived 2 days before our departure date to Gooseberry Falls along the North Shore in MN. 

Once again, I've posted a ton of pictures and probably put together far too long of a post, but I hope it's worth reading through to the end... especially since I think this trip turned out far better than the last one even with a few hiccups.

Riley's first view of lake Superior as we drove into Duluth.

I worked until 3 pm on Thursday, but really should have taken a half day so that we could get to our camping spot and enjoy it while it was still light. We made good time, but still needed to stop for some food in Two Harbors. Remarkably I made it all that way without having to stop to use the bathroom (that's 3 hours people). This is truly a miracle for me. A MIRACLE!

We stopped at Subway where I thought I might end up in a brawl with a littering, smoking teenage girl, but instead Riley walked away with 41 cents when a nice lady dropped some money and let Riley have it if she'd help pick it up. Oh, the teenage girl? She was outside smoking and threw garbage out her car window. Apparently, my adult mom face with raised eyebrows came out when I saw her blatantly littering. I don't think she liked what my face was telling her and gave me a dirty look back and then had her friend check me out. It was weird. I felt like I was 14 again and was about to get into a fight at the end of an alley. Not that something like that ever happened to me when I was 14, although I was challenged once. Let's just say I think fighting is dumb and just walked away. At any rate, before we left Subway teenage girl came inside to talk to one of her friends who worked there and continued to give me an incredibly snotty look. I wanted to say "look, little girl, you don't want to mess with me. I've got the law on my side and littering incurs a fine!" That would have told her.

Riley was also surprisingly good in the car. She's been known to completely break down after 20 minutes or so which has kept us from making road trips in the past. Between her higher tolerance for the car and her ability to play with the iPad taking a trip of 3+ hours is now apparently doable.

We finally made it to the Gooseberry Falls campground around 7:30 - 8:00 pm. We were taking a huge risk because all of the sites that could be reserved were taken. They had a ton of drive in sites and the hope was that since we came in on Thursday there would be plenty to choose from. We did not take into account the people who camp for a week or more - the kind that bring their entire household, bikes, flags even... We found one last spot next to the bathroom (yes!), but it was only open that night.

Our other issue was the weather. We knew there would be some rain which we weren't too worried about, but it was also going to get cold. As in 35 degrees cold. Jesse and I knew we could handle it, but we were worried about Riley. We made a backup plan to make sure there where hotel rooms available nearby. We luckily got the tent all set up just as it got dark. It was already chilly at this time, but I was hopeful that we were prepared for the night even if I was bummed that we made it here so late.

All bundled up watching a little "Woody Buzz" aka Toy Story 2 while holding my hand. 

Riley is not a huge fan of blankets. She has a small, light one at home that usually sits off to the side of her in bed, but she always grabs one when she wants to play sleep. I was hoping that if she was cold she'd have no problem using one. She initially let us cover her up, but later was a different story. When we finally turned the DVD off I let her snuggle in my super warm hiking sleeping bag. My sleeping bag is clearly contoured to hold one person. Luckily, I'm a little on the claustrophobic side and bought a more spacious bag so I was able to squeeze her in it. Two hours later I woke with her feet in my face. She had moved up out of the bag with her butt in the air and her head up against the side of the tent. I moved her to the pad in the middle of Jesse and I and she was fine... until I attempted to put a blanket on her. It was really cold and that blanket was really needed, but Riley wasn't having it. Perhaps she has a bit of claustrophobia as well (the blanket was heavier than she's used to). Perhaps she just likes to feel free. She just wasn't having the blanket. At all. As in she started blood curdling screaming at 11:15.

After feeding her Goldfish pretzels (the only thing that seemed to calm her down) she fell back asleep only to wake up screaming again a couple hours later. This kid REFUSED to be covered by a blanket and I am sure was FREEZING. She freaked out when we'd try and put the blanket on her. She'd freak out when we even reached in her direction (I'm sure she thought we were trying to put the blanket on her). We decided to pack up much of our stuff and head into Two Harbors to find a room at 2:00 am.

Luckily, the Country Inn had a spot for us. We settled into our room, but Riley started crying heavily again. I'm sure it was because she was absolutely exhausted. Beyond tired. I agreed to allow her to watch some Toy Story until she calmed down. Then Jesse made her turn it off and she flipped out again. I'm guessing the guests next door were probably cursing our names. I probably would be.

Riley allowed me to pick her up without freaking out too much more. So there I stood with one hand under her butt, one hand on her back and rocking back and forth with her almost 30 pounds. I did this for a long time. She eased into me, but didn't fully let go. I had to adjust her, to change hands... but I didn't dare put her down. I was determined to do this until she fell asleep as I feared she'd start crying if I tried to put her down. The bouncing while standing thing brought me right back to when she was a colicky baby. Only this time she weighs 3 times as much. And even though it felt like I was rocking her for hours it was probably only 20 - 30 minutes (as opposed to hours when she was a baby). At some point I had to sit down and eventually, I let myself fall and twist into bed between two pillows we propped on the sides for safety. She fell asleep on my chest and eventually rolled off of me. And after being kicked a few times I made my way to the other bed with my sleeping husband. I vaguely recall the clock saying 3:40.

We all slept in although it really wasn't enough to make up for the interrupted sleep. We were going to go out to eat breakfast, but after smacking down an insane amount of money for a half night of a hotel we decided to opt into the continental breakfast. This was the second lame food choice we would make this trip and certainly not the last.

After breakfast we headed out to Gooseberry Falls to gather our tent and remaining belongings, and to check out the falls - one of our main reasons for coming. Before we got into the car, though, Riley ran over to the free mini golf area provided by the hotel. It was in rather poor shape and was littered with garbage, but I thought it was a nice idea to have for guests. And if the conditions were different I would have liked to play.

It was sort of sad that we didn't really get to camp, but I know this is a good tent that will last us years to come so there will be many more trips. We didn't get to spend much time at the campground, but I would recommend it to others. The sites were private and the bathrooms clean.

After the tent was packed up we headed down to the Falls. I wasn't sure what to expect for water flow. Earlier this year there was a lot of flooding in Duluth and the surrounding area. Another state park is actually closed due to significant damage. But recently it's been rather dry and it turns out that was evident here. There is an upper falls and a lower falls and we initially thought we walked to the wrong one since the water flow was so light.

There should be water flowing down behind us.

I am pretty sure this is the most photographed child in the world. 

Jesse and I went camping over Memorial Day weekend in 2006 and stopped at Gooseberry Falls then. It was my first time there so it was worth the stop even though there were a gazillion people there as well. We took a picture that day (below) that amazingly did not include any other people in it. Check out the water flow - multiple water falls even!

Fast forward 6+ years where we decided to replicate the picture, but this time with Riley. It probably would have helped if we had the original picture with us so we knew where to stand. I have to admit we were a little confused as to if we were even in the right area since the water falls were, well missing for the most part.   And even though it wasn't nearly as busy we still have several people in the background. I might have to go back in and Photoshop them out. At any rate, it was still a fun photo to capture and to have Riley be in it with us.

Throwing rocks off a bridge

One of the highlights of this trip for Riley was going through tunnels. Riley is quite the fan and was quite delighted each time she saw one of these. There are two of these tunnels through rock between Gooseberry Falls and Two Harbors (and then 4 in Duluth).

After the Falls we stopped at Betty's Pies for lunch (and pie, of course) and then took a nap back at the hotel. It turns out the hotel was full for Friday, but they were able to switch some things around so we could stay (and stay in the same room).

Friday night I was looking forward to eating out (even if the camping thing worked out). We headed into Duluth and went down to Canal Park. It's a touristy part of town with restaurants, hotels, shops, the lift bridge, etc. I was hoping for a good meal and a glass of wine. Instead, we settled on splitting a sandwich and salad due to busy restaurants and an antsy child. I drank water. (But I made up for it Saturday after I arrived home.)

After dinner, we headed over to the water. First, to throw rocks in the water. And then to walk down the pier to the old lighthouse. 

It's hard to imagine that the last time I was here Riley was actually in my belly. Hard to imagine that she ever fit in there. I was 7 months along, celebrating Jesse's birthday, and quite uncomfortable as I was having a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions. 

We watched the lift bridge go up and down a couple times for boats. One was a significant size boat with a significantly loud horn. It startled Riley and she proceeded to say "I want to go home" on repeat until we finally got her calmed down. Then she let us know that the horn "scared me". In fact, since then she continues to let me know that the horn scared her. It seems she just recently started to understand the concept of being scared as she is using it quite a bit these days.

Distraction is often the key when our kid gets upset and Jesse stepped up to the plate.

Saturday morning we skipped the continental breakfast and checked out the Vanilla Bean Cafe. It was good. Not great, but certainly better than the hotel food. We walked around town a little, but most places were still closed. There was an art festival of sorts, but even they were just getting set up. It was far too cold to continue wandering around so we went back to the hotel to pack up.

Before we headed back home we had to make one more stop. Kitchi Gammi state park is a favorite of Jesse's and he was excited to show it to Riley. The North Shore is really a great place for a kid who likes to throw rocks into the water since the shore line is nothing but rocks. We probably could have spent the entire day here. As it was I think we spent a couple hours throwing rocks in the water or crawling over the larger rocks.

We kept piling rocks up next to her, but after awhile she wanted to get them herself. At first she grabbed what was close, but then started exploring and carrying her rock bounty back to her main throwing rock platform.

Rock jumping was also a favorite thing to do this day.

After the birds were gone we walked across this area. Riley reach down to grab what she thought was a rock. It was fresh bird poop. Luckily there was a lot of water around to wash her hands in.

Since we replicated the photo at the Falls we decided to add to another photo collection of ours. It all started when we snowshoed Tettegouche in January of 2006 and took a picture of our feet. Then on our honeymoon in St John, USVI we took another foot photo. This one was a bit more difficult because toddlers aren't great at taking direction, but I think we still got a picture worth keeping.

(Jesse has a better picture of this, but this one will have to do.)

All in all it was a successful trip. The thing I most loved was that we were always together and present. There weren't multiple rooms to escape to (like our house), no computers to waste time on (ok, I had my iPad that I checked in brief moments while at the hotel), no work to worry about... just lots of each other. And all that getting in touch with nature helped too. Plus, since Riley did so well in the car I think we might be brave enough to drive 4.5 hours to Grand Marais next year. I can't wait!

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