Duluth – An Anecdotal Ramble

– The Cold –

When I rolled into Duluth, MN yesterday morning it was raining. It felt like Winter just without the snow.

I puttered around and then I crashed – I hadn’t slept well the night before – insomnia on the road sucks more than insomnia at home, by the way.

At about 6:30pm I went down to the in-house bar at the hotel where they were having “Happy Hour.” I resigned myself to this particular purgatory because of the terrible weather, but when in Rome, as they say…

I’d been given a drink ticket, which I cashed in for an oh-so-glamorous Diet Cola Beverage (see previous rants if you’re not familiar with my drinking habits) and sat at the bar. Looking around, there were an abundance of guys, mostly in their 50’s. There were a few sitting closer to me that were maybe in their late 30’s / early 40’s – but no women of any age.

Of course, the prerequisite duel television screens were showing hockey (NJ Devils vs. some other team) and basketball (the Lakers, I think?) My friend Patrick can keep me honest on which games I was ignoring.

– Size Matters –

Now, out here in Minnesota you need to understand something, dear reader. There must be something in the (lake) water. The men are HUGE. Of course, you’ll say, what the heck do you mean by that and why would you bother commenting on it?

That’s my point – these men are SO huge, I cannot HELP but comment on it!

Six-foot-four hulks with giant torsos and tree trunk legs, gigantic paws for hands, and chiseled jawlines. These men lumber about the bar drinking beer, wearing baseball caps and plaid shirts and work boots which have actual dirt on them. The beer mugs they drink from are also huge, maybe one liter of beer per mug? I don’t know – they’re big.

After I settled in – a guy sat down next to me of a “petite” size in Minnesota measures – he was only about five foot ten. He must have been teased as a child in this land of Goliaths.

– Family –

The forementioned gentleman, is a carpenter on assignment refurbishing a nearby retail establishment. He married at 18, when he got his high school sweetheart pregnant and they had a baby girl. Nearly 10 years later they had a baby boy. The girl, who is 22 now, has two children, which means the gentleman I was chatting with was a grandfather twice over – at 38 years of age.

This is not the first time I’ve heard this particular tale in Minnesota. I’ve heard this set of circumstances (girls getting pregnant between 16-18, and then getting married) at least four times in the few days I’ve been here from both men and women. I assume it’s a “thing” that happens regularly in this area. (What else is there to do in the Winter, I suppose but keep warm, right?)

It’s typical for people to come from large families too. 10 children is not unheard of in these parts. This could be because there is still so much farming going on in Minnesota, and farm families have traditionally needed all the hands they could to run the farm.

Well, I can attest to one thing: these farmboys have been raised up on plenty of milk, corn and beef!

– Ice Fishing –

The gentleman I refer to above goes ice fishing in the Winter. Apparently in order to take your truck out onto the lake in the Winter, with your ice fishing shack in tow, please ensure the ice on the lake is at least 12 inches thick. This will help prevent you, your truck and your ice shack from falling through a giant crack in the ice that will swallow you up and kill you instantly because of the extreme cold.

I would never, EVER come here in the Winter. People simply comment, yes it gets to be 30 below zero in the Winter, and your nose hairs freeze instantly. That’s how you know it is that cold. You know what? I believe you. I’ll skip that experience myself, thanks.

But if you insist, and you must go ice fishing, you need supplies. Among the supplies you need, you should take your fishing poles (these will be placed outside the ice shack and you need a flag called a “tip up” to alert you when you have a fish on the line.) You will need minnows for bait. Oh, you also need beer. A lot of it too. Many fisherman count the fish they catch based on the number of beers it takes to get them. So you might have a three beer fish, or a two beer fish, for example.

Women can come on these ice fishing treks, but it’s well known, according to my source, that they complain about the cold so then you have to lug a propane heater along so ‘she don’t complain too much.’ When I point out that women have less muscle than men and it’s difficult for our bodies to retain heat which is WHY we get cold faster, I get something akin to a blank look. O-kay, well, I tried. Pioneer women sure have their work cut out for themselves…

– Closing Time –

After a few hours of chatting about camping, snow mobiling, and moto-cross, the gentlemen recused himself so he could get some sleep. He woke up at 5am this morning to go back to doing carpentry. At 9:30pm the bar had all but emptied out, because I was informed, 10pm was closing time.

Ahh yes, Duluth.

What a wild town.

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8 Responses

  1. Ice fishing, with its enormously labor-intensive hole-digging (as kids, we did it with a pickax and a pointy spade, later we would have access to someone’s gas-powered auger), orange-flagged tip-ups, and endless waiting for sluggish fish to bite, is tedious. You’d chip through the ice and watch it re-freeze across the top in 20 minutes. Driving out onto the lake (Lake Hopatcong, in my case, around New Year’s Day or so) at night and doing spin-outs in the impenetrable darkness that exists so far from streetlights or any other ambient light was endlessly entertaining.

    Also, “Three-Beer Fish” is a short story waiting to happen.

    • Harry, I adore the fact that someone around here can represent ice fishing in New Jersey. I had NO idea that it was even possible for a lake to freeze so thoroughly here to accomodate driving a vehicle onto the ice.

      Yes, “Three-Beer Fish” probably IS a story waiting to happen, but I’m guessing the author would be Harry Ramble! 🙂

      • Not just vehicles, but also some fairly large bonfires. This was in the late 70s and early 80s. I don’t believe the lake freezes as trustworthily as it once did. Lake Hopatcong is unusual in that it consists of many, many small coves and narrow inlets which would freeze as tight as a drum in winter, allowing for hockey and fishing for several weeks at a time. Although there were instances of people (and vehicles) going through the ice, too. Because we were kids who lived around a lake, the freezing of the coves changed things dramatically for us. A three mile hike became a three-hundred yard walk when a cove froze over.

        • I guess I never realized what it was like to grow up in a relatively rural area (would you agree the Lake Hopatcong area was rural?)

          My mom and dad took my brother and I for long drives in the car on weekends and we saw so much of NJ growing up that way. We went all over the place, but since we didn’t live in those remote areas you could say I was closer to a local tourist than anything else.

          Still, it fuels my tremendous love of the outdoors and national parks today.

  2. I wonder.. bring a propane heater along.. so she don’t complain too much. Does this allway`s help? With anything? I want one!

    • LOL… I think it might only help for ice fishing, and notice the gentleman said “so she don’t complain TOO MUCH…” She still complained when she got cold again later!

  3. I went to school in the Midwest and was surprised at how many guys were just plain old big. It is astonishing. Sounds like those Minn. guys are mountains!

    That’s quite an experience you had in the bar. I think you’re gathering material for a ‘Bizzaro World’ version of Up in the Air. LOL.

    • I sat next to a girl from Minnesota on the plane ride home and I made some comment about the guys I saw. She immediately understood and said yep, it’s the Swedish genes plus the farm work, etc. And yes, the guys are just these big (def. over 6 feet) hulks with blonde hair. And there are a LOT of them.

      All I can say is the Legend of Paul Bunyon might not be so far fetched up there!

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