We’re just a couple of retired folks Easin’ Along on the second week of our trip through the Heartland. We had crossed over the border from North Dakota into Minnesota and were driving on Highway 11 a few miles south of the Canadian border. Our destination was International Falls, and our route was taking us through some beautiful small Minnesota towns like Greenbush, Badger, Warroad, and Beaudette. As I wrote last week, these small towns are both charming and inviting.
At Beaudette we paused long enough to ask some men towing fishing boats to take our picture in front of a forty foot statue of Willie the Walleye. This huge symbol of walleye country was a backdrop impossible to resist. Willie looked familiar, and I’m certain that I have seen it featured in a television commercial in the past, though I can’t remember when. The fishermen politely agreed. I returned the favor using their camera. According to signs in the area, Willie recently turned fifty. He doesn’t look it. We traveled on…
International Falls, MN proudly identifies itself as the “Icebox of the Nation”. The average daily temperature in January is 2° and the record low temperature is -55°. For most of my adult life our local weather forecasters have used the frigid winter temperatures of International Falls as the benchmark for cold winter days. They probably felt that by telling us that it was another sub-zero day there, we would feel better. Well, when we planned our trip, I felt we had to visit the nation’s icebox. We arrived on a beautiful late summer day with temperatures in the mid 70’s.
We also arrived to a very fortunate and unexpected surprise because there was a Bass fishing tournament and a festival taking place in town that weekend. I always say, it is better to be lucky than good. Helen (adorable wife) and I couldn’t wait to participate in the festival activities.
When we booked our room a few weeks prior we were somewhat puzzled that rooms were hard to come by, but International Falls is a small town (pop. 6,424) and a large bass tournament can fill up the rooms available. We must have reserved the last room available at the Hilltop Motel. We checked in to our small room and grumbled a little. The room was clean, but we have been spoiled by the spacious rooms we were used to on military bases. We didn’t need to unpack much, so we got back into Heidi (adorable wife’s car) and drove to the Chocolate Moose at the suggestion of the motel owner. I think everyone had received the same suggestion. There was a ten minute wait and bass fishermen were standing in line at the door.
Once again our luck was good. Most of the waiting customers were in large groups waiting on large tables and, being a party of two, we were seated quickly at a booth. Our waitress seemed a bit frazzled, but she was making a good effort to be pleasant. She gave the boys at the next table a big smile as they signaled for more beer. We ordered as soon as she returned with five mugs and a coffee for the guys.
Even though I had ordered walleye in Grand Forks, ND the night before, but I was now in the heart of walleye country and I couldn’t resist a second serving. With one glance at the menu, I gave our waitress an order for walleye with a side of fries, promising to get back on the diet at home. Helen ordered a walleye and shrimp combo with a wild rice blend. I doubt that the shrimp came from a Minnesota lake, but Helen said it was good. The fish was fresh and out of this world good. I have pictures of both meals below. It was time to walk off the dinner so we made our way into the town for festival fun.
I love festivals. The original idea for Easin’ Along was to make a journey across the country with destinations planned around fairs, festivals, and food because there is no better way to sample a regions identity. I still hang on to the idea, but in the meantime, I was eager to see what this festival has to offer.
City officials had blocked off the streets around the festival so we parked a few blocks away. It felt good to walk and take a peek at the old buildings of this quaint small town. I took a picture of the county office building before we walked onto the festival ground. Most of the attendees were gathered in small groups, some seated at picnic tables, enjoying each other’s company. There was a crowd gathered around a booth serving cheese curds. I wanted to try them, but was still stuffed with walleye…maybe later.
As festivals go, this one was rather quiet, and quite pleasant on a lovely evening. I suppose that most of the bass fisherman were in bed getting some rest before a big day on nearby Rainy Lake. There were some portable tents set up along the edge of the festival area and we walked through them looking for things to buy. We resisted the temptation, but shopping for anything is still fun. After about an hour we decided to take a cue from the fishermen and call it a night.
Up and at it early the next morning, we treated ourselves to breakfast at Sandy’s Place where I enjoyed version eggs Benedict smothered with biscuit gravy (what diet?). Helen had a small order of pancakes. Sandy was a hard working restaurant owner and kept our coffee cups filled. When we left I noticed that she also sold baked goods and I ordered two enormous molasses cookies for the road (no more diet jokes!). They turned out to be splendid.
We were going to return to the festival grounds, but decided to walk some of the downtown area first. Frostbite Finds, a consignment store, was our first stop. Finding nothing that drew us, we next went to Bob’s at the Border, a souvenir shop. The owner was a nice person and we asked her if she stayed open all year. She responded immediately that there was “no way”…too cold. She let us know that she would be closing at the end of September and wintering over in a warmer clime. Bob’s would re-open in the spring. Signs at the door indicated that Bob’s was for sale.
After leaving Bob’s, Helen walked over to the street next to the border crossing between International Falls and Canada for a quick picture. We would have crossed but all that gravy for breakfast made me too lazy to walk back to the car for my passport. We went to the festival grounds.
The day’s offering at the festival began with an antique car show. I was delighted because among the beautiful automobiles were at least three 1955 Chevrolets and one 1956 model. I once owned a 1955 and made one of the biggest mistakes of my life when I traded it for a 1963 Ford Falcon. I still kick myself. These beauties made me so envious that I used up the battery on my camera taking pictures of them. My favorite was a burgundy and chrome model. Helen loved the blue one. See them all in the Picture Gallery (click here) along with a picture of Smokey Bear we had taken before we left the grounds.
It was time to load up Heidi and move toward Duluth, Minnesota and Bayfield, Wisconsin, but we wanted to make a quick pass through a local antique shop before we left. It took us a couple of detours to arrive at the store with a garage full of very interesting items. I was looking for a few souvenir thimbles for my collection and Helen was searching for some Vaseline glass. We found both with the assistance of Mr. Albertson, the shopkeeper. He drove a hard bargain, but, in the end, the prices seemed fair. And Mr. Albertson was a good natured soul and, even though he cast out a crusty personality, he was agreeable to having his picture taken with Helen and her purchase. I could browse in that shop for hours…
Fish, a festival, food, and a lot of fun sure helps make this retirement gig a glorious experience. We left the Nation’s Icebox feeling all warm and fuzzy, completely fulfilled and grateful for the experience. We know how blessed we are to be Easin’ Along.