Is it September already? August is gone. Labor Day’s past. Oh my cheese curds, the State Fair is history, too! And now those winter months loom just ahead. Where did this summer go? All summer I’ve been longing to get-a-way. But … well … but … you know the excuses. No time. No money. And give me a break—those gas prices!
Let’s face it. For people with mobility-limiting disabilities, it’s not just the ordinary travel challenges that make the idea of traveling daunting. Suitable accommodations. Sufficient personal care services. Effective transportation. Sometimes, it just seems easier to stay home.
If you’re like me, an array of excuses has robbed you of many a traveling pleasure. For the ten years after I started using a power wheelchair, I just stayed home. In my “situation,” I couldn’t envision how I could surmount the travel hurdles that my disability posed.
It wasn’t until my older son decided to attend college 900 miles from home that I found incentive—or determination—to take on the challenges of being a disabled traveler. That was three years ago. And what a difference three years of traveling has made in my life.
Taking a day trip, like the one I just did a few weeks ago, is where you can start to find some workable solutions to the travel challenges that face a disabled person. Traveling to Duluth for a day is the perfect kind of test run.
I only spent four hours in Duluth, but how good it was to get away. Once again, I remembered that it isn’t too far from most parts of Minnesota to Duluth—the gateway to the beautiful Northshore of Lake Superior.
In just over two hours, you can escape the Twin Cities’ urban jungle and enjoy the sights and sounds of Duluth with its bustling harbor, the Lift Bridge, the Skyline Drive, Canal Park, Leif Erickson Park, and more. For me, the anticipation begins with that breathtaking moment on the hilltop just south of Duluth. Every time I start to ascend the hills on I-35 past Cloquet, then Proctor, memories of the summit view of Lake Superior stir within me. Will the sky be clear? Or will the sky be a hazy fog?
Just as I reach the hilltop, the view of Lake Superior bursts on the horizon like a spectacular, panoramic scene. It’s so big. It’s so beautiful. It’s so not like anywhere else in Minnesota. Just than I begin to feel like I’ve gotten away.
On the day I was last in Duluth, I was hoping for clear, blue skies. I thought about picking up a sandwich at one of the many drive-through restaurants nestled in along London Road between South 19th Ave. East and North 26th Ave. East. I thought about strolling along the wheelchair-accessible paths in Leif Erickson Park. I could imagine the lake breezes gently tousling my hair. I was ready to be there.
Descending the always-adventuresome I-35 hillsides through Duluth’s West End, I saw industry—shipyards and loading docks—all those industrial seafaring enterprises that made Duluth a successful seaport. I caught a glimpse of the old railway depot, now home of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. I sped past the Great Lakes Aquarium and Lake Superior Maritime Visitors Center just off I-35.
Once again, I spotted the Viking carved reliefs that adorn the I-35 overpass atop the tunnel that skirts downtown Duluth. Oh those Vikings! When I see the carvings of the long boats, I remember that Duluth is just the gateway to a wonderful Northshore get-a-way.
One of my favorite spots up the Shore is Grand Marais. This quaint, coastal fishing village is just two and one-half hours north of Duluth. Last fall I spent three days there enjoying the harbor—a harbor covered with designed-to-be, skipping rocks. Do you know those rocks? The rocks that are flat and smooth. If you fling them just so, they magically skip over the still waters of Grand Marais’ gleaming harbor. No, my hands cannot skip the rocks, but I love to watch someone who can. And no, I cannot traverse the pebbled water’s edge, but I can roam the wheelchair-accessible boardwalks on the harbor’s edge.
About forty-five minutes north of Grand Marais on Hwy 61, you’ll discover Grand Portage National Monument. This monument is a replica of the North West Fur Trading Post that served as an inland fur trading headquarters during the 18th century. The post is wheelchair accessible, and is a great place to learn about the fur-trading history. You can explore the great hall and the cookhouse. You can dress up in trader’s garb. You may also touch the types of fur pelts that traders sought. With careful wheeling and a physically capable adult (just in case), you might explore the dock that juts into the sparkling waters of Lake Superior.
And finally, another eight and one-half miles north of Grand Portage just south of the Canadian border, is a power-wheelchair-user’s, wilderness utopia. Yes, the entire half-mile hike uphill through the enchanted woods to the 120-foot High Falls on the Pigeon River, Minnesota’s highest waterfall is wheelchair accessible. Be part of a landscape that naturally denies access to wheelchair users. It is a mountaintop experience—and I highly recommend it.
In fact, I highly recommend this Northshore road trip to all of you, whether you are mobility disabled or not. These are just a few highlights. There is much more to see and do along the Northshore whether you take a day trip to Duluth or a three to five day adventure between Duluth and the Canadian border. Either way, I’m sure you will enjoy your trip. So start planning and have a great time!
Travel resources for Duluth and the Northshore:
Grand Marais: www.grandmarais.com
Grand Portage National Monument: www.nps.gov/grpo/home1.htm
Grand Portage State Park: www.dnr.state.mn.us