WOODWORKING Road trip recommendations Recently my columnist colleagues on the oped page of the Journal sparked my interest in writing about my home state. Publisher John McLoone wrote a story about …
Road trip recommendations
Recently my columnist colleagues on the oped page of the Journal sparked my interest in writing about my home state. Publisher John McLoone wrote a story about being a dad, whose daughter's bank account was hacked, leaving her with only $4. McLoone recollected that a few decades back he could purchase a whole case of Red, White and Blue beer for less than $4: $3.50 to be precise. I was able to oneup him on that score. In Eau Claire back in my day a whole case of Walter's — “The Beer That is Beer” — went for three bucks flat, in bottles, cold.
McLoone's editor Sarah Nigbor wrote on the same day an account of her much-deserved weekend off and a trip around Minnesota, beginning in the Minnesota River Valley, where the famous river was a mere dribble and Blue Earth has a Green Giant statue, but no Green Giant factory. And no place to eat breakfast, for that matter.
That didn't surprise me, because I spent several years traveling in the Gopher state and writing stories about its towns and people. It wasn't a cushy job, like the late, great Anthony Bourdain’s network TV gig, because Minnesota has a dearth of sleeping accommodations that don't exactly match up to the Waldorf Astoria. Years ago, I checked into the motel in Tracy, Minn., where the clerk presented me with a fly swatter, which I used all night long killing flies which migrated to the motel from the nearby city dump.
In St. Peter at the AmericInn, Sarah discovered frozen beers in her room's fridge left by a previous tenant, which the clerk joked was the motel's “free beer” feature. Worse, she discovered that her bed's comforter had blood stains on it. “Disgusting,” wrote Sarah. The high point of her trip came at its end, when she and her friend got all the way to Darwin, Minn., to see Minnesota's largest ball of binder twine, rolled up by the late Francis Johnson. It weighs 17,400 pounds. Sits in a glassed-in gazebo and attracts 150 visitors PER DAY in the summer.
I told Sarah that I, too, had seen the giant ball of twine, about fly swatting in Tracy and how Sauk Centre has closed my favorite Minnesota tourist destination, the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center, to make way for a fast-food joint. What a shame! The Center contained hundreds of editions of Sauk Centre native Lewis's novels, in many, many languages. I'm not certain, but I'd bet it will be replaced with a Maid-Rite shop, so it can compete with Iowa.
So what should the deserving Ms. Nigbor do on her next weekend off?
I told her to travel Wisconsin because it is more interesting (like it has trees) and it treats its tourists with more fun, food and excitement. I also told her that her trip to Gopherland inspired me to take an undeserved but very lovely weekend in one crown jewel of northern Wisconsin, a tiny place called Mikana, a few miles above Rice Lake and hard by metropoli like Brill and Haugen.
Next to the town's only filling station and on the canal that dams up the Red Cedar Lake, where I have actually caught fish, sits a remarkable place called “My Last Resort,” a small collection of cabins created by Barbara Dierks and managed by her daughter Lisa, who now acts as manager.
We've been staying at My Last Resort for about ten years and wouldn't change for some elegant place like Tagalong across the lake because Barb created it soon before our arrival out of a collection of old-fashioned cabins and a single dock. She completely remodeled four cabins, built a six-unit condo, installed private showers, new appliances, comfortable furniture. Each unit has two bedrooms, a modern kitchen and all sorts of extra amenities, like Weber Grills, fish cleaning house, pontoons, free kayaks, fire pits and beautiful lawns that get mowed right on time every week.
And because it's located in the heart of Wisconsin vacationland, there are restaurants galore, including famous ones like Lehmann's in Rice Lake and Stout lsland Lodge on Red Cedar Lake. Little Mikana even has a Fourth of July celebration with a parade and fireworks provided by one of the lake residents named Cargill. Yeah, that Cargill. For a fabulous breakfast, try Lona's Cafe in Haugen, the only momand- pop operation that doubles as a gourmet cheese house I've ever encountered, or the Birchwood Cafe in nearby Birchwood.
I suppose by now it’s obvious that we're loyal customers. That's because the folks at My Last Resort are loyal to us. Each year Lisa calls us to know if we're coming this year. “We do that early because we fill up so fast, we don't want to leave our regulars behind.”
There are no twine balls as attractions, just logging museums, water sports, what's left of the Stout empire, which developed the area, and huge farms. Some of them even have milk cows. In a phone conversation with Editor Sarah, I said that if she's still interested in twine balls and such, she should head to southern Wisconsin to Dickeyville, on the Iowa border, where the Stations of the Cross reside outside the church made of concrete and broken beer bottles, and then slide over to Spring Green and visit the nearby House on the Rock to see the “diversity” (I kid you not) of its collection. On the way home, stop at Fountain City and take a gander at The Rock IN the House.
You can tell I’m a Badger backer. So, back to Mikana. Here are the latest 2021 prices: A cabin for two people costs $825; $50 per week for each extra guest or $125 per night, $15 person for each extra guest. Other options available. All cabins are non-smoking. Dogs are $25 per day, subject to approval.
Call Lisa Dierks at 715-651 7345, for a real joy ride to northern Wisconsin.
BY DAVE WOOD