Commuting on the Gunflint Trail

When families come to visit us, it must be their natural instinct to imagine themselves in our lives. The first question often is “Do your kids take the bus ALL THE WAY to Grand Marais for school?

I also have to admit, it was the first thing I worried about when we moved here—still I worry sometimes. The kids have taken their commute in stride—it’s their normal. They ease on the bus, turn flashlights on their books (this time of year), enjoy their friends, watch the sun come up, observe the wildlife….
It took me longer to take it in stride, but when I’m alone, it’s where I get my most thinking done. My car goes on autopilot. ( I’ve actually been making an effort to get off autopilot; my current truck really WANTS to go too fast, and once when I was chatting with a friend this fall on a a straight away, my speed inched up to 63 and I got a ticket. Ouch, there went Andy’s Christmas present…)
This fall, Daniel has pulled our family into the hockey circus, every couple of weeks it is my turn to carpool the boys to Silver Bay (another 50 miles from Grand Marais ). We do have a place to crash in town those nights, but this new commute has given me an entirely new perspective of the Trail. Once to Grand Marais–I’m already almost home–just one long long driveway yet to go.
I have a lot of memories of the Gunflint Trail–as a family tourist kid, later a seasonal employee. My friend Katey drove me up after college. It made me sick to drive further and further away from home, to a place where I knew nobody. Why, I wondered, did I keep throwing myself into new situations with strangers? That time it felt like she was driving me into a huge sucking wilderness hole, and if I had been braver and less conscientious, I would have had Katey turn the car around and skip out on my summer job commitment.
It turned out I that met several life-long friends that summer, hugely disproportionate to the 3 months I spent here. And the Gunflint Trail began to feel like a 2nd home–I certainly could imagine living here.
Probably also because I met Andy that summer—and our first dates were dominated by driving the Gunflint Trail in his junky old Honda. It was easier to spill my guts driving down the road in the dark. Ironically, driving down the Gunflint Trail in the dark is also where my kids are most likely to confide in me.
It can be a tricky road. One of my friends fell asleep driving the Trail and woke up in the hospital. We were heartbroken when another friend was tragically killed on her bike. My brother and sister-in-law took a moose through their windshield on their honeymoon here.

On slippery dark winter nights we proceed cautiously especially when we see the fresh tracks-moose activty evidence on the sides of the road. Often we sneak up on the moose on the curvy slippery parts, where the salt attracts them to lick the road–sometimes on their knees.
I recall my previous Minneapolis commute-6 years ago –from the western metro,east on 394 to the University of MN. I usually couldn’t use the carpool lane, so the congestion started at Ridgedale….seemed to bottleneck at Hwy 100….the trick was getting in the 94 only lane, not too early, not too late…over the 35W bridge that hadn’t collapsed yet. It was a little stressful only because I always always seemed to be a late, but I didn’t mind it terribly. I figure, either you get used to it, or you live a crabby commuting life. That makes for too many cranky hours.
But this drive—it was so breathtakingly beautiful yesterday when I took these photos. I’m not only used to it, I almost always enjoy it. Especially when I get to the Cross River….