For the past 40-some years one of the most constant parts of my life has been the 45-mile drive from Gunflint to Grand Marais.
I first drove up the Trail in June of 1964 on my way to a summer job at Gunflint Lodge. The woman who drove me up was a fast, jerky driver. The section of road that is now County Road 92 was the main trail then and was unpaved. Unknown to my driver, I have terrible motion sickness. My first view of Gunflint Lake as we came down the hill was extremely welcome.
It's hard to estimate how many times I have driven the Trail since then. In the beginning we went to town once every couple weeks in the winter and maybe once a month in the summer. Winter trips were often postponed by a snowstorm until the road crews plowed us out. I learned to make shopping lists so, hopefully, nothing was forgotten. Especially in the winter there was literally no place to buy anything until you got to town.
Now we drive to town at the drop of a hat. The road, the snow plowing and our cars are so advanced that even in the winter it is extremely rare to not be able to get to town. Our sons rode the bus from Gunflint all through their years of school. Snow days were no worse for them than for anyone living closer in.
Justine used to make it to town in the winter even though the Trail was only plowed at Christmas and Easter. In those days you either waited for someone else to go or you shovelled all the uphills going in and the up hills coming home. The car (with chains) could usually make it on the level stretches or downhills.
To people living in a city, 45 miles to town seems endless but I generally enjoy the drive for several reasons. The first is that it is quiet. Running a business and raising a family does not give you much quiet time. The drive to town does. I keep the radio off. Cell phones don't work. I'm frequently driving alone.
Secondly, the drive is also a great place to see game. Yesterday driving home a medium size owl came from the right side and almost hit my windshield before soaring upward. Thursday night Bruce and I saw 2 small fox kits scamper into the brush alongside the road. Sometimes all you see is a mouse but other times you follow a moose down the Trail for a block or more.
Finally, I also have favorite spots to look at. For example while coming up the Trail just before you get to Swamper Lake there are a bunch of rocks peeking out on either side of the road. They are probably the remains of an old river bed. One of our neighbors named them the rock garden and I always think of them as that.
In the spring it's fun to watch the North Brule and the South Brule for the first signs of melting ice. Once they start melting, we know that spring is truly coming. Another less pleasant sign of spring in the heaving of the pavement when the ground under the road melts. Certain parts of the Trail are worse than others and you need to slow down. There are always a couple new spots that rattle your teeth because you go over them too quickly.
I also remember the two (only two) spots where I have put the car in the ditch. No need to repeat those experiences.
Spots where moose are likely are never forgotten. Same with deer spots. When driving with someone else, the rule is that you are responsible for looking for moose or deer on your side of the road. Even so there are close encounters. Bruce once had the length of his car dusted by a moose's chin and knee.
I must admit that the best time to drive the Trail is when you are coming home from a long trip. Once the car passes Hedstrom's Mill, I know that I am home.