43 degrees and a southeasterly breeze off Lake Superior would be fine if it were October and a person had a proper coat and hat. However it is only 5 days to June 21st, which if memory serves is the official first day of summer; making it fair to say that the weather royally sucks for anyone at this time biking their way through the refrigerated wasteland of northern Minnesota. Someone very wise once said that there was no such thing as bad weather, only bad preparation. I didn’t need to be reminded of the climate by the dead mink roadkill, the numerous beaver lodges, or the fact that moose and timber wolves wander freely to know that I was guilty of bad preparation. Earlier on back in Duluth we tried to make up for our shortfall by augmenting our bike shorts and sandals with some thrift store fleece and some army surplus hats not to mention the bargain store gardening gloves; but even so we were cold. (Where was the bike store?)

We were cold even before we got on our bikes but got colder still with each mile. By mile five our feet were numb. The hands went numb at mile ten. Fifteen miles out of Grand Marais we gratefully stopped at the first opportunity for coffee and a chance to unthaw. Sarah in a very serious way asked about the possibility of frostbite. The two young women minding the store were amused at these two underdressed and obviously ill prepared foreigners that had the temerity to wander recklessly through their territory. So introductions started with, ‘Don’t you have long pants’? ‘No’, I croaked, ‘Do you have hot coffee’?

I learned that the only possible upside to the frigid weather and abysmally late spring was that the morel mushrooms weren’t out yet (and it’s June 15th!). At that knowledge my cold, trembling heart leapt with joy and I imagined for that moment my face had that same rapturous gaze as Zhivago’s when he learned that Laura was still alive. Morels! The oldest of the two knew her mushrooms although I couldn’t fathom why she preferred giant puffballs and oyster mushrooms to morels; both excellent tasting but neither being anything as remotely flavorful as the morel with its fine chateaubriand like taste and chewiness.

The big screen TV was on and yet another someone was commenting on the NSA whistleblower case. I asked if they were following the story and both shrugged and shook their heads ‘no’ eying me with the same sardonic humor one reserves for those that ask truly stupid questions. And their point of view was well taken, living off the grid as they did – truly off the grid – in every sense of the word. They didn’t have televisions, computers, electricity or even running water. The oldest was married and she and her husband had sled dogs. Blundering on and expecting to be immediately pounced upon, I meekly asked what they did for entertainment and the answer short and simple was they didn’t; keeping things alive and fed was hard work and consumed most of the day. When the work was over they used the rest of the long summer days to hunt for antlers or mushrooms.

I heard a voice coming from the bed, ‘There is no formal difference between the inability to define and stupidity’. I went ‘what’?, as she had just interrupted my train of thought. Sarah held up ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. And I went ‘Oh’ before responding with the Chinese axiom ‘To define something is to limit it’. And while that might just sound like some of the stupidly arcane dialog from the ‘Big Bang Theory’ it got me thinking about some of the more feckless conversations that I’d had in the last 24 hours. Like last night I asked the bartender if the Fat Tire beer he had on tap was a lager. He said he didn’t know because he didn’t drink. Or this morning I asked the front desk if they had a complimentary shuttle to the ferry dock. He said he didn’t know. I then asked who would know. He said he didn’t know. Or at breakfast I asked about getting some new coffee; some coffee that wasn’t burned. He returned with a new carafe but both of our cups were still full of the old coffee. As he mutely stood by I scanned the room for a bus stand or somewhere dump them before asking for his help. He went ‘yeah right’ before wandering off to the kitchen to return a couple of minutes later with an empty water pitcher saying it was the only thing he could find. I said that new cups would have worked just as well and he went ‘yeah right’ but dumped the cups into the pitcher anyway which he then returned to the kitchen. When he came back I told him the coffee was still burned and he replied that was how their coffee was. The old guy at the next table chimed in with his grumble about the awful coffee and impossible as it may seem, the subsequent conversation about bad coffee just death spiraled from there.

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