My Jeep maintained its blessed and boring reliability throughout the rainy 700 miles of U.S. I-75 and U.S. Hwy 2: almost exactly twelve hours of a sustained 2050 RPMs on the 4.0L straight six in 5th gear; or, just over two full tanks of gas.
Escanaba is near enough to halfway that I stopped there at dusk. I had just eaten a sandwich from the cooler, so I was able to take a moment to stop at the local brewpub, Hereford & Hops. I was after of a growler of their porter, which had been unquestionably perfect exactly one year earlier. They didn’t have the porter on tap, though, so I tasted the IPA but ended up stuffing a very affordable jug of their oatmeal stout into the back of the Jeep for sharing later with a few friends.
Then it was dark, and mostly done raining. The stretch of woods road between Crystal Falls and Ironwood is desolate and beautiful in the daytime. At night it’s a 60-mph “searching for service” Sasquatch gauntlet in 100% pitch darkness with only the occasional overloaded, over-the-yellow-line, overdriving-its-headlights logging truck passing you head-on at a combined speed of 130mph to keep you company. Fortunately, there are plenty of gravel turnouts where you can calm your nerves and let the Jeep catch its wind (assuming you’re not thinking too hard about Sasquatch).
It’s hard to be contemplative on the outbound journey of a trip like this. Too much excitement and too many unknowns to really know what to contemplate yet. Being a recent expat from northern Minnesota, going home is still Going Home. Not just a visit, as if by an outsider. Each time I return I notice more things that are different and start to believe more that “home” is its own real place, even without me – but on the outbound journey, I’m still going Back Home and thoughts of change can’t break through. Friends, family, and deer season are waiting.
That, and I tend to abuse the Jeep’s remaining speakers with folk or bluegrass or listen to a book, each of which helps to pass the time. The drive across, once I was out from under the bridge, was a high-contrast blur. Foggy Lake Michigan beaches. Blurred dark iron bluffs. One ghostly heron rookery a half mile from the road in an otherwise treeless marsh. No deer. Dozens of abandoned rental cabins along the lake. A few gaudy tourist traps, trying to spoil it all. Signs for towns and rivers Hemingway fished in.
After the blinding lights of Bessemer and Ironwood, MI, I rolled into Wisconsin and across the Bad River Indian Reservation (where one had best Stay Under the Speed Limit at 12:00am). I crossed all of the many Wisconsin Lake Superior tributaries (undoubtedly shoulder-to-shoulder with hungry steelhead) including the storied Bois Brule; eventually the St. Louis River, marking the Minnesota line; then through Duluth across Chester, Congdon, and Amity Creeks, and finally the Upper Lester River (my Curtis Creek), and I was home.
My brother was waiting up for me when I drove in. We looked at the stars and talked about life and hunting and the next few days and the next few years. Home.