Water is among the planet’s most vital, and threatened, resources. In many parts of the world, it’s too precious a commodity for the pleasure of running through the sprinkler, a squirt gun fight, or a soak in the tub.
And yet rarely do we truly appreciate having the world’s largest inland body of fresh water right in our own backyard. Lake Superior’s stature is so epic it has its own mythology, commemorated in poetry and song. The lake has its own culture—of shipping and fishing and cold-immune surfers with ice-crusted beards—and even its own magazine.
But if you’re, say, sitting on the deck of the Angry Trout in Grand Marais, enjoying a basket of fish and chips and looking out to the horizon where blue water meets blue sky, it’s hard to comprehend Gitche Gumee’s grand scale. It could just as well be Gull or Mille Lacs.
That’s why we’ve chosen the 1,200-mile, three-state, two-country Lake Superior Circle Tour—the Midwest’s answer to Route 66—as our Vacation of the Year. The trip does justice to a lake roughly the size of the state of Maine that contains more water than the rest of the Great Lakes combined. (That’s three quadrillion gallons! Enough to cover both North and South America in a foot of water!) If you don’t find those stats impressive, how’s this? Superior alone holds 10 percent of the world’s fresh surface water that isn’t frozen in glaciers or polar ice caps. (Cue the inevitable Californian migration.)
In Circling Superior, longtime MnMo correspondent David Mahoney repeated a journey he’d made as a child. Along the way, he discovered dozens of reasons we should all make the trek: challenging hikes, pleasant paddles, ancient pictographs, picture-perfect views, a renewed sense of awe for nature’s grandeur—and some truly superior pancakes.
Photo by Erika Ludwig; hair and makeup by Margo Gordon