Monday, June 21, 2010

Land of 11,842 Lakes (Part 1)

I’m not exactly sure when it all started, but I’ve been obsessed with the state of Minnesota for quite some time now. I even own two different books detailing state highlights. You know, Lake Superior, Little House on the Prairie, Prince, the French fur trade, dog sledding, sugar beets, Loon birds and ice fishing…not to mention the butter sculpture competition at the world’s largest state fair (see above butter-Yoda). What’s not to obsess about, really?

Sownas and Hawkey
A few people have pointed out to me that Minnesota isn’t exactly the kind of place that one need long for in the same way that, oh, Uganda or Indonesia might be. Given that 1) I wouldn’t need a passport or special inoculations to travel there, 2) the level of civil unrest and political turmoil is really quite low and 3) the journey would only be a few quick hours, it’s kind of weird that I haven’t just hopped a Continental flight to Minneapolis by now. Fair.

Instead, I’ve just forced everyone I meet from Minnesota—all of whom are notably darling—to tell me every last detail about their experience there. Did you grow up playing hockey? Do your parents canoe? And ice fish?! Have you ever been to the state fair? Did you learn to swim in a lake? Did you buy your prom dress at the Mall of America? Say “sauna” again! (Note: people from Minnesota pronounce the word “sauna” like “sow-nah,” which is the Finnish pronunciation. Fun fact: There are a lot of Scandinavians in Minnesota.)

A Native Guide? You Betcha!
Then a few years ago, I met my friend Mo (of New Mexico ghost town fame). When he told me he was from Minneapolis, spent his childhood vacations canoeing with his family aaaand grew up playing hockey, I knew it was time to act. “Would you take me there sometime?” I begged him, almost desperately. “Sure” he responded, shrugging his shoulders as if this were a casual request. (Bitch, please.) It might have seemed odd that I was seeking a native guide to assist my journey through an English-speaking, U.S. destination known as “the Bread and Butter State” but if he wants to focus on Lauren-related curiosities, he’ll have bigger fish to fry than Minnesota. True.

Mo convinced me that the best time to visit the Land of 10,000 lakes (but really there are 11,842 according to Wikipedia) is in June after the snow has let up and before the mosquitoes outdo the local vampires…and I wasn’t about to question my native guide. It took a few years for our schedules to sync up for a June visit. And then finally, the stars aligned.

To The French Voyagers!
Anxious to lock down our trip, I secured a government camping permit, an outfitter reservation and
an adorable high mobility cooler, recommended by Jen who’s reeeally good at recommending things. I also signed up Miss Marisa, my ever-spirited body double travel partner, for the adventure. Having heard me wax poetic about Minnesota for years now, she figured I must be onto something. Foreshadow: she was right.

Like any good wilderness explorers, we held some serious trip planning meetings at our neighborhood pub re: things like water filters and the pre-trip self-assigned reading list. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to read Last of the Mohicans before we departed, nor did Marisa finish beading her Native American leather bikini. So instead, we just dedicated the trip to the French Voyagers and off we went—Mo, Marisa and I—to North Country.

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