Superior Experience

Souzz flew back on Sunday from Minnesota, so I’m flying solo in a beautiful remote cabin in the woods on the banks of Lake Superior, near Grand Marais, Michigan. As long as Jason doesn’t show up jasontapping on the windows in a goalie mask, it should be a Walden Pond kind of an experience. It certainly has been so far…although that Thoreau guy has a more well written blog.

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Grand Marais means “big marsh,” and it has a shallow harbor that is perfect for sailboats, sea kayaks, and most anybody that appreciates the water. There’s also a quaint main street with a number of restaurants, gear shops, etc.

I ate dinner at the West Bay Diner, well worth the stop. Note that a ham and cheese sandwich up here means a pound of ham along with the cheese. It was served with a stack of potato slices, as well, so I’ll be hungry again in about a week.

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The Chippewa called Lake Superior Gichigami, which means “a great sea,” while Longfellow called it Gitche Gumme in The Song of Hiawatha. Whatever one calls it, it’s the third biggest freshwater lake in the world, behind only Baikal in Russia and Tanganyika in Africa (thanks, Google!). And even on a low cloud day, it is a stunning sight.

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last night

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this morning

There is another side to the lake, and it’s got nothing to do with food–so feel free to skip the rest of this entry if you aren’t interested in a little maritime history.

Since 1885, forty-five ships have gone down on Superior, including the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, which sank only about 40 miles from here. I got a hint about the many moods of the lake from the temperature this morning, 45 degrees Fahrenheit (in early July). This far north and with all of this open water (the lake is 159 miles wide), the weather can be a very big deal.

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Winston Brown photo, 1971

The Edmund Fitzgerald was a 729 foot Great Lakes Freighter. She was built in 1958 and named for a Wisconsin businessman whose son later brought the Brewers baseball team to Milwaukee. On her fateful voyage in November of 1975, she was loaded with taconite iron ore in northern Wisconsin and was bound for Detroit.

The ship’s story is perhaps best known through Gordon Lightfoot’s song about the wreck, released in 1976. My sister loved that song, while my brothers favored Uriah Heep–and their stereo was louder. It’s amazing that I can still hear at all.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was bigger than most of the freighters on Superior and had the best technology of her era. Nevertheless, she went down in a massive storm, and the entire crew of 29 was lost. The weather was obviously the trigger, as there were 25 foot waves and sustained winds of more than 65 miles per hour. But to this day, it is not known for certain exactly what happened to cause her to sink. Repeated dives on the wreck have generated a range of theories, from structural failure to swamping.

Looking out at the calm lake now, it’s hard to imagine that kind of fury. If I had more time, I’d head over to the Great Lakes Shipwrecks Museum at nearby Whitefish Point to learn a little more.