Lane's USA 2009
Day 55 (9 days to Lynn's arrival)
Ashland, WI to Bemidji, MN, 225 miles
I made it uneventfully through several
hours of continuous moderate rain with blessedly mild temperatures.
Never got below 59 F (except in Duluth, where Lake Superior drove the
temp down to 53), and I was able to drive 60-65 mph without much
trouble. I took three stops along the way for coffee to stay warm.
Today's prediction was 50-60% chance
of rain all day in Bemidji. Tomorrow is supposed to be "a few showers",
30% chance of rain, and temps in the 60's. Should be OK. If conditions
are favorable, I may try to take two hops in one day (total 325 miles)
to Minot, ND. I'm feeling a bit "under the weather" with a slight cold
that limits my endurance, so we'll see.
Didn't take pictures, obviously, but
there wasn't much to see anyway. Beautiful, but not really photogenic.
Just lots of forest and a lot of lakes. Oh, and the Mississippi River,
which I crossed! It was just a big grassy swamp, but it was clear from
the distance between the "banks" (~ 1/4 mile) that it does fill up
sometimes. Not something I'd want to live next to!
I met a guy yesterday on a Gold Wing
out of Seattle who was "taking a lap around the country". He passed me
between Munising, MI and Ashland, WI but got stopped by road
construction a few miles farther, so I chatted him up. He was headed to
Fargo, ND that same day. That's a good 500+ miles. Not for me, thank
you. Interestingly, he had a Garmin 376 GPS on his handlebars right
next to a tiny ham radio, and they were linked together and to a web
site, so his wife could monitor the site and always see where he was.
Pretty clever. I'd be happy just to have a GPS with locally resident
maps (not dependent on cell coverage).
Catching up on my backlog:
Sleeping Bear Dunes (SBD) National Lakeshore
Let me start with a few photos of Don & Joyce's summer house
on Suttons Bay. This is the "front", the morning after I arrived.
The back, which faces the bay.
Living/dining room, which also faces the bay.
View from dining table -- taken days later, on the first cloudless
morning we had during my stay.
View SE. That grassy spit was the site of a swan's nest of unhatched
eggs. Swans mate for life. She'd been sitting for days before I
arrived, to the point that Joyce was sure the embryos were dead, but we
were all surprised on my next-to-last day there when two chicks
appeared one morning, swimming next to their mom and dad.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (http://www.nps.gov/SLBE/), lying on Lake Michigan
about 25 miles SW of Suttons Bay, is part of the National Park system
of federally protected lands, i.e. your National Parks pass (you do
have one, right?) gets you in. This lakeshore is representative of a
number of similar locations on leeward shores of the Great Lakes. Lake
Superior, for example, has similar dunes within Pictured Rocks National
These dunes are formed via wave action on the pebbly foreshore below
the dunes, forming sand that blows inland to make dunes. This process
marches ever leeward with the prevailing winds, because as pebbles get
ground to fine sand and blown inland, the waves undermine the
windward-facing dune slipface, producing a very tall pile of sand at
the angle of repose with essentially no beach at the bottom. One such
slope in SBD is 450 feet high and accessible only from above.
Inland of the dunes is a cedar-spruce forest, through which we drove to
get to the dunes.
Joyce decided a picture should be taken of me, just in case
anyone thinks this is all made up from Google Earth pix.
When we finally we got to the dune
overlook, this is what we saw. The dune drops precipitously right over
There's an overlook platform that hangs in the air over the drop.
That point of land in the background is actually one of two offshore
islands, North and South Manitou Islands, which are also part of the
This is looking straight down from the panorama two pix up. If you go
down there and can't get back up (it's hard), rescue will not be
forthcoming any time soon.
Don and Joyce, two of the most gregarious people I've ever known, took
the opportunity to chat up a motorcyclist and his wife who were visiting from
Georgia. Wherever we went, it was normal to see my aunt and uncle
initiate conversation with anyone they bumped into. And quite
often, common ground is discovered almost immediately. Don
& Joyce's granddaughter went to college not far from where these
OK, here it is, the way down. Like I said, not much beach down there!
In the photo above, you may have missed this detail. This is going to
be one tired fellow in the not too distant future.
By the way, in the photo above you can see the swath of pebbles just
underwater near the shore. These are slowly being converted to sand as
Looking north, that small tree-tufted hump is what's left of Sleeping
Bear Dune, which has eroded significantly in recent years, as you might
expect. It won't be there at all in a few more decades. In fact, the
slipface in this photo is moving to the right an inch or two a year.
The name Sleeping Bear Dune comes from a Native American legend wherein
a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into the water on the far
(west) side of Lake Michigan by a forest fire, and swam across to
this (east) side to escape. The mother reached shore first, and lay
down to await her cubs -- and fell asleep. The cubs never arrived,
drowned not far from shore. The mother became Sleeping Bear Dune,
and her drowned cubs became North and South Manitou Islands, visible
From here we drove inland to the "back" side of the dunes, where there
is a dune one can start climbing from the bottom.
That suited me, so I climbed it and took a picture of Glen Lakes
me in the above shot) from the top.
I should point out that I am not the only Darnton to have climbed this
dune. Beyond it about 1.5 miles is the Lake Michigan shoreline, and one
Peter Darnton, in about 1937 when he would have been 14, took off from
a family picnic to climb that dune and walk to said shoreline. Sometime
after he disappeared from view his father, C.T. (Tom) Darnton (remember
him?) noticed the absence, asked his daughter Barbara where he went,
got an answer he didn't like, and headed out after him with Barbara in
tow. Memories are hazy -- no one knows whether Peter made it to Lake
Michigan or not -- but what is clear is that his father found him and
was "not amused". Barabara relayed this story to my uncle Donald, who
Peter, of course, was my father, a man with a strong streak of
independence coupled with sufficient competence to pull off most anything that he tried, as well as sufficient
self-knowledge to know when he hadn't the necessary competence. (I like
to think I've carried on that tradition at some level. My brother too,
in spades.) I can imagine him bridling at the notion that he should
have asked his father's permission before going, especially since he
probably wouldn't have received it. Tom Darnton was less
independently-minded (he was a banker, remember, and that spells
conformity) -- as well as less comfortable with the Great Outdoors and
the notion of Adventuring In It. Later my father would, as he described
it to me, "put some distance between me and my father". When I asked
him how he chose California, he answered that 2500 miles seemed like
just about enough.
I benefited from this experience. I was WAAAAAY more rebellious than my
Dad, not to mention less aware of my limits. He was, in hindsight, very
understanding with me, though I did find the limits of his tolerance
and transgress them. In the end I did not require a 2500 mile buffer.
From here we went a few miles further north to the historic Glen Haven
Life-Saving Station, a place once equipped to attempt the rescue (from
te beach) of
people on foundered vessels. We walked out to the lakeshore, where
Joyce encouraged me to dip my fingers in the water,just to say I had,
I did. Then she followed suit, and this photo was taken at that exact
He was joking, of course. I don't know if Joyce knows this happened. I
expect I'll know pretty soon.
Grand Traverse Lighthouse
This lighthouse, part of Leelenau State Park, sits at the
end of the Leelenau Peninsula, the finger of land forming the west side
of Grand Traverse Bay.
I entered the Museum inside, climbed up to the light tower, and was
presented with this view of the new (in 1972) automated light that
replaced the one I'm standing in. Same 6 second flash spacing and
everything. Much higher intensity lamp, much smaller Fresnel lens.
Something's been lost here, wouldn't you say?
BTW, it took me about 20 tries to get that photo at the exact moment
the new light was on! The flash was short.
This peninsula, like all the others in the neighborhood, doesn't just
stop abruptly. It kinda slowly
peters out underwater for a
few hundred yards.
These next three photos are proof positive that Lighthouse Keepers had
time on their hands. These two fountains/planters were the work of the
most recent Keeper: black iron heated red-hot, bent and welded, then
covered in river stones with cement for mortar.
Joyce insisted I get in this tree and get my picture taken. Don took
it. I think maybe she still thinks of me as ten years old. I was born
when Don was 17. I'll be 60 next month. If my itinerary holds up, I'll
celebrate my birthday in Crescent City, CA.
If so, maybe I'll stay at the Victorian Inn in Ferndale! Lynn and I
stayed there in October 2007. Drove there in our Cecker wagon. Here's a
photo with the car in front.
Hey, that's a Sunday! Maybe I could get there a day early (or two --
that's a Friday-off weekend for Northrop Grumman) and Lynn could . . .
fly up for the weekend. How cool would that be!
I just went and checked it out. $325 round trip from LAX. Hey Lynn,
what do you think? Should I make reservations?