We were stuck in Grand Portage for another night as the first boat to Isle Royale didn’t leave until Monday morning. We were once again the reluctant guests of The Tribal Council who in all of its infinite wisdom (or possible disdain for all others) decided that a casino with a tiny attached hotel and single restaurant was sufficient for the entirety of Grand Portage’s immense area; an expanse of territory that included Thunder Bay down to Grand Marais, a distance of some 100 miles, and the only Minnesota portal to Isle Royale. This part of north eastern Minnesota is a large Native American reservation and is controlled by the local Tribal Council and they have the say over everything. Their greedy, could give a shit attitude for providing infrastructure in conjunction with their could give a shit, totally undiversified line of thinking, made that this singular hotel and its single restaurant would exist only to service the casino; not the poor tired travelers or hungry families or sports minded travelers destined for Isle Royale. No, the restaurant and hotel were put there to serve only the needs of the casino. And really, at only 95 rooms the hotel lacked in the capacity to do even that. And you might wonder what needs a casino might have? To make truckloads and truckloads of money is what. The profit of a single hotel and a single restaurant in comparison was so minuscule to the Tribal council that the management of which was almost unnecessary. As in who on the council cared which guest services were or weren’t offered? Nada; only the casino mattered. And besides, those who needed a hotel room or a meal would have to take any hotel or restaurant amenity, no matter how small, and like it. And if they didn’t well, tough; they could go somewhere else. Oh wait. They couldn’t go anywhere else because the Tribal Council controlled everything in the Grand Portage gateway.

To add insult to injury, the casino consists only of slot machines; almost 300 in fact. And which Tribal council evil genius thought of that?  The solitary slot machine only solution was disingenuous inasmuch as the crude user-interfaces and push-buttons were there to rob the patrons not only of their money but of their dignity and intellect as well. And by using only slot machines the tribal casino effectively removed every last vestige of glamour that a casino might associatively have had from its glamorous yesteryear back in the day when there were the gaming tables where once elegantly dressed patrons stood around sipping highballs.

The single restaurant was obviously not its own profit and loss center as the food was reasonably priced and the bottles of wine were sold at cost. The restaurant hours and menu offerings were such as to not serve the hotel patrons but only the operation of the casino and all its employees. The restaurant began serving its $19.99 Father’s Day Buffet at 10 am which continued until 8 pm. If you had the buffet for lunch then you’d better like it enough to have for dinner too because that was the only option the restaurant served for the entire day. If you wanted something else then you’d better like snacks as the Snack Bar or snack machines were your only two options; lessing of course you didn’t mind the 35 mile drive back down to Grand Marais.

So after 2 days of witnessing the casino’s take-no-prisoners approach to their hotel/restaurant management operations we began to speculate that the Tribal Council was putting something in the employee’s food and water to get such an anti-patron ‘sorry don’t know/can’t help you’ attitude. We concluded that the entire place should have been surrounded by barbed wire and signs posted with the warning that you were entering a ‘Common Sense Free Zone’.

We were out the door and mounted up by 6:30 am. The sky was only partly cloudy and the temperature had warmed up to a respectable 50 degrees. We stopped at the Tribal Council’s other cash cow, the inappropriately named ‘Trading Post’ to buy some food for the seven and a half hour trip to Rock Harbor on Isle Royale. The Trading Post is a huge convenience store/gas station that specializes in food of the frozen and junk varieties. Still out of all that 3000 square feet stocked with mostly unhealthy detritus we still managed to hunt and gather up some nuts, 4 bananas, a jar of peanut butter, and a box of Triscuits.

We got to the boat dock only to have the young boat captain loudly inform us in front of all the other passengers that ‘you can’t take those bikes’. I asked, ‘Why not’? He replied, ‘The island doesn’t allow bikes’. I could see from his expression that he thought that was end of the matter. I said, ‘No’, and then paused, ‘They allow bikes. But don’t allow bike riding’. I carefully broke my reply into easily digestable bites. I could sense that most of the other passengers immediately got onboard with my reply. He then asked why we were taking them if we couldn’t ride them. I replied that we were going on to Michigan. The young boat captain hesitated realizing that there was more to the situation than met the eye so he then went over to confer with an older man before finally taking the bikes on board.

The 22 mile journey across to Isle Royale took an hour and a half. We then made a 25 minute stop on the west side of the island to get our park orientation delivered by a National Park Ranger and also to drop off a handful of passengers. The 60 foot long boat was unheated so Sarah and I played cribbage to try and forget just how cold we were dressed in shorts and sandals. We had on some light fleece uppers, raincoats and army surplus hats but it wasn’t near enough surrounded as we were by all that cold steel gliding on top of all that extremely cold water. The trip up the 40 mile long north side of the island took another 6 cold hours. The temperature out on Lake Superior dropped to where the thermometer had pegged a daytime high of 47 degrees so we were both thankful when the boat finally docked at Rock Harbor.

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