Saturday, May 31, 2014

You Must Be Running Grandma's! - Minnesota Recap

After the song and dance two weeks ago that resulted from trying to explain to people why I wanted to go to North Dakota, I expected our trip to Minnesota to be met with a little less surprise. Unfortunately, this was not the case. When I started telling runners I would be going to Minnesota for a marathon, everyone to a person immediately responded, "Great! I've heard Grandma's is a great race!"


I was then forced to explain I would be running the Med City Marathon in a city called Rochester. I then had to explain this was a small race where the Mayo Clinic is.
That poor stick man is probably trying to run away to Grandma's.
Despite the odd comments, I was pumped for this trip. I would get to see a whole new state! Our day started bright and early Saturday for the 9 hour drive to Rochester. I was dreading the first half of the drive, as it pretty much matched the route I've taken countless times to see extended family in Illinois. I've just seen that route so much it makes me want to puke. Plus the Indiana-Illinois stretch sucks major butt.
These signs haunt my dreams.
We planned our first stop at a breakfast spot in Elgin, IL, called the Baker Hill Pancake House. We were ravenous at this point, so we got a little nervous when the parking lot was full and piles of people were waiting outside. 

Fortunately, since we were just two instead of a large group, we only waited a few minutes. We ordered two eggs a piece but each received four. This ended up being a good thing, since we polished them off. At one point Michael thought I hadn't gotten my hash browns because I had inhaled them so fast. Classic.

We finished off the last of the bad driving, though it seemed to drag on forever. No wonder I thought the drive to the Wisconsin Dells was painful when I was a kid. It was just as painful as an adult.

Our next planned stop was the Henry Vilas Zoo in downtown Madison. I asked my friend, who grew up near Madison, about the zoo, and she gave it a thumbs up, though she admitted she hadn't been since she was little.

I was so excited to see another cute, small zoo, but unfortunately the Vilas Zoo did not live up to my expectations. It was packed with people, without the space or infrastructure to support them. Both Michael and I felt so bad for the animals. All the indoor enclosures were crowded with yelling people and painfully loud. I think I would go insane if forced to live there. We didn't even get to see the red pandas, because they were in the even more crowded Children's Zoo, and neither of us were brave enough to try.

The capybara was done.
We did get to take a great picture that shows off my t-rex arms. 


We probably spent less than an hour at the zoo. There weren't very many animals, and I really don't like being in crowded spaces. I've yet to find a good way to describe this, but it feels like a claustrophobia with people. (But not agoraphobia...I don't mind being in public.)

After dodging traffic to get back to our car, we took off for the final leg of the drive. Thankfully, post-Madison Wisconsin and Minnesota were clear sailing. Minnesota even had a 70 mph speed limit like a civilized state. The drive was extremely scenic, with bluffs and farmland highlighting the way. There were also tons of hills, and we started to doubt the race organizers' claim that the course was mostly flat.

Finally, after many long hours of car time, we made it to Rochester. Our hotel was right on the edge of town, called the Red Carpet Inn. While not super luxurious, we did get three nights for $150 on a holiday weekend. We did get a little nervous when some people living in the apartments across the parking lot were grilling by the hotel, but everything was fine.

Michael and I popped across town to get some Panera bagels for the next morning and to grab dinner at Whistle Binkies Olde World Pub. This was a charming bar, though our waitress definitely gave us a strange look for not ordering drinks and just getting some food. I didn't care because I was too busy shoveling the best stew I've ever had into my face.

With that, it was time for bed. You can read about the actual marathon here.


After grinding out the marathon in hot hot hot weather, we collected ourselves and headed back to the hotel. I proceeded to take the best shower ever followed by an epic three hour nap in air conditioning. I felt amazing and ready to destroy some more food when I woke up. 

Michael and I drove back to downtown Rochester for dinner at the Canadian Honker. I have to give this restaurant props for somehow making Canadian geese cute. Normally I have a hate/fear relationship with them. They congregate all over the place at MSU along the river. I have been hissed at so many times when out running that I will now change my route if I see any.

I decided to treat myself to margarita. It was super delicious, but I can't handle my liquor at all and was still amazingly dehydrated, so I hadn't had much of it when the food came out. Our waitress got really worried the bar had made it wrong and I just didn't want to complain, so I had to sheepishly explain that it wasn't the drink, it was me. Lesson learned.

The next stop obviously had to be ice cream. Michael wanted to stop at a froyo chain, but I convinced him to try a Mom and Pop place called Flapdoodles. Not only was their homemade ice cream delicious (salted caramel, what up!), their whole ambiance was so fun. They really embraced the "flapdoodle" theme, putting up zany quotes on walls and on the tables.

Their signature dish, the Flapdoodle, was a bowl of ice cream with the cone on type.

Yummy, yummy flapdoodle.
After stuffing ourselves, Michael and I had hoped to relax with some hockey back at the hotel. Of course, NBC Sports Network was one of the few channels we didn't get. We ended up watching the end of Shrek 2 instead. I forgot how great that movie is. It probably is really weird, but the climax of Shrek 2 is one of my favorite movie endings.

The next day, Memorial Day, was the one I was most looking forward to. Our first stop was the beach at Hok-Si-La Park in Lake City. The 45 minute drive through the country was beautiful, and we found the beach completely deserted. It was fairly rocky, as opposed to the sandy beaches Michigan has spoiled us with, but there was enough space to spread out on. (No picture because I didn't want to get sand in my phone or camera.)

The water was freezing and, on my attempt to at least wade to my hips, I was forced to stop at my knees. Even the drunk bros in a sailboat off the beach only jumped in once, which was followed by lots of less-than-manly screeching. 

I enjoyed the simple relaxation time, as it's something I rarely do on vacation. I finished my mystery novel (Dying on the Vine by Aaron Elkins) and broke in my new swimsuit. We packed it up when, once again, we were hungry. Sensing a theme here?

Michael loves seafood, so we headed to Port 104 to try their signature walleye. I was craving some fresh veggies after all the junk we had been eating, and my chicken club wrap was fantastic. Michael also approved their walleye fingers.

Satisfied yet again, we hopped in the car for a short drive to Wabasha to visit the National Eagle Center. I found this at the last minute, and I'm so glad we went!


One of the top FAQ's on their website was, Why is the National Eagle Center in Wabasha? Apparently when the bald eagle population was severely depleted because of DDT, Wabasha was one of the very few places where researchers could be virtually guaranteed eagle sightings. The Mississippi and Chippewa Rivers converge in Wabasha, preventing ice from forming, so some eagles stay year round.

The highlight of the Eagle Center is the live eagle presentation. The Center houses several injured eagles that can't be treated well enough for them to be returned to the wild. The worker did a great job with her presentation, and it was awesome to see such a massive bird up close. We even got to watch it chow down on some fish.

The most American way to celebrate Memorial Day.
They also have a viewing area where you can see all the Center's birds. We headed there after the presentation to see the eagle clean itself after eating. I was surprised to learn how fastidious eagles are. They can shoot their poop up to six feet out, in order to keep their nests cleaned. (We were told we would share this fact with ten people...given my blog readership, I should probably go tell about eight more.)


Michael and I also enjoyed a solid hour touring the exhibits. They were all unique and interactive. There were several that allowed you to experience "eagle vision," as well as a life size eagle nest to sit in. The hour drive back to the hotel was totally worth this unique experience.

My Minnesota experience may not have been the stereotypical one of lakes and backwoods, but deserted beaches and bald eagles were more than I eve could have asked for.

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