epic |ˈepik| noun a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation.
My final night on the north shore of Lake Superior, gichigami really put on a show. A series of giant, slow-moving thunderstorms were bucketing-down many inches of rain per hour. And the thunder! I thought Thor must be drinking Red Bull, and having a party! I was remembering my Uncle Frank, whom I’d only met once, besides the time I saw him in the casket at his funeral. “He was a hostler,” mom said. When I looked confused, I remember she said he was a man who worked with horses. Also, he was once struck by lightning while lying in his bed, in his house. That was the part of the story that kept coming back to me.
The weather carried on from dinnertime until about 4:30 in the morning. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep, and I was up at 5:30 to button things up in The Beast, and hit the road. I’d told Sam I’d pass by his place in Duluth at 9:am, so he could go off adventuring with his kids.
After meeting our friends in Duluth, I zipped over to the Ford place for an oil change. On this trip, it’s amazing how quickly I am suddenly 3,000 miles past the recommended odometer reading for my next oil change. The guys at Ford sent me on my way at 11:30. I had 166 miles to my next campsite. An easy day ahead.
I drove as far as Ashland Wisconsin, noticing and photographing the bodies of water next to the roads were all stained muddy brick red. It looked very much like The Bay of Fundy out there. And I thought, this can’t be good—that’s where the swollen rivers were washing all the soil out to sea. The biblical red tide came to mind.
When I arrived in Ashland, on Route 2, there was a Road Closed sign blocking my way. I drove around the block a bit, to see if I could pass by on a secondary street, but they were all blocked off also. I returned to Route 2 and back-tracked to the Holiday! Gas station. I took my paper map inside and asked the woman behind the counter, for help. She and the fellow making the beverage delivery pooled their knowledge, to help me map out a route to roads they thought were going to be ok. It would add hours to my trip, but there was nothing to be done about it. Ten inches of rain had fallen in northern Minnesota, and all that water was now busy finding a way to the sea.
At that same Holiday! Gas station, I met a guy outside at the pumps who said he had just come from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The State Troopers had sent them on a short detour around Route 2. “There was water coming over the road we used, but they were waving people through, so we went.” I considered it. Because the campground where I had a reservation for the night was right on Route 2. And if the troopers just helped this guy get to his destination… But then I remembered all the times I promised both Tom, and my pal Alyssa that I’d stay safe. I realized that the troopers would likely not want a heavy truck traversing their fragile, washing-out roads. So, I climbed back into The Beast with my paper map.
While I was backtracking, the rivers and creeks were still rising. They’d continue to rise all the next day too, but what do I know about that? Sometimes the Long Island Expressway floods, and turns into a swimming pool. But it doesn’t wash away; the water eventually drains off.
The roads my gas station friends had sent me to were also closed, so I took my trusty, marked-up map into the BP gas station in Minong. There, a fellow on line told me the recommendations he’d heard on the radio were for people to drive down-state to I-94 in Eau Claire, and then head towards Chicago. I was horrified because, while I really wanted to get out of Wisconsin, I sure didn’t want to go to Chicago.
An older gent who was working the cash register, knew the area, and had kept his ear on the news reports all morning. “I knew travelers would be comin’ in all day and needin’ help.” The younger man thought I could get by if I took Country Road G to a town called Trego, But a woman on line behind us said, “Nope. Mumble-mumble bridge washed out. I live out that way.” The counterman pointed out the town of Spooner on Route 53. And said, “You could get on Route 70 right there, and ride that all the way acrost.” I liked that story, so I set my GPS for Spooner, and off we went. Again.
When I arrived in Spooner, and set my GPS back onto the campground in Crystal Falls, Michigan, she told me I was now 196 miles away, and wouldn’t arrive until 10:30 at night. I was really tired and dismayed by this news. Then I realized she was set on sending me over roads that were closed. So I let her babble on, and I stuck with Route 70. Eventually, she got it, that I was staying on 70, so she recalculated and decided I’d get to my destination around 9:20. That was great news, because I was driving through an area that was one national forest after another, and not a gas station or campground to be found. Some folks like that backwoods, off-the-beaten-path kind of camping. But I keep seeing scenes from the movie Deliverance. No thank you. I’d like a neighbor or a ranger near enough to hear my Klaxon Air Horn, if I need to signal for help in the night.
Route 70 turned out to be my deliverance. I made good time, and eventually arrived in campground by 9:PM. There was still enough light to find my way into my campsite, get The Beast level, and plug her in. I ate my lunch leftovers gratefully. While tying to hold the fork, I realized that my hands were quite numb from gripping the steering wheel. I washed up and fell into bed.
In the morning, I found some photos online of the roads that were closed. It’s a very good thing that I decided against passing the Road Closed sign in hopes of sneaking through. No hope of sneaking anywhere when you are as big and as heavy as The Beast.