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My Weird Midwest Travel Bucket List

Walking across a frozen lake to get to Canada? Flying into some random airport in northern Nebraska? What are the weird things on your Midwestern bucket list? MNW offers some of his:

Kerry Campaigns In Michigan
i mean not the whole john kerry thing but we’re kind of scraping the barrel for photos we have access to

My work takes me a number of places in the Midwest that I never thought I would go: Camping along the Missouri River outside Pierre; driving into and out of the Northwest Angle just for the story; a Drake Bulldogs basketball game; Carbondale.

I’ve been lucky, over the last two years, with the support of my department and my eternally-tolerant now-wife, to see some of the beautiful, the mundane, and the weird parts of America’s Heartland. That’s meant the aforementioned camping trips to Pierre, Grand Forks, and even Lake Manitoba; that’s meant overnight drives across I-90 and reading books to stay awake on US-30 through Iowa; that’s meant staying at every fleabag Days Inn and sketched-out Airbnb Brookings has to offer. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

But there are still things I want to do! Here are some of the weirder ones (I think):

Ride the Milwaukee-Muskegon Ferry:

Do I think I would do anything more than bring a couple books and my laptop, hit up a coffee shop or brewery, and take the evening ferry back to Milwaukee? Probably not! I’m sure as hell too cheap to pay to take a car across, but this is a bike trip I wish I would’ve taken when I was in school.

Use Air Choice One:

This was recommended to me by someone from Black Heart Gold Pants, and I’ve been vowing to take it to a Northwestern Wildcats game for at least three years now, but never actually done it.

ACO is one of those higher-end commuter carriers, using double-prop planes that only seat 20 (and require you to list your weight and baggage to balance the plane). While it’s great for the twelve of you well-off enough to fly from Davenport to Chicago a couple times a week, though, for the rest of us it’s more of a novelty, especially given that, to get from Minneapolis to Chicago, I’ve have to take a layover.

My chosen route, should I ever get the chance? Minneapolis, with a layover at the Gogebic-Iron County Airport outside Ironwood, MI, and on to O’Hare. $140, takes the better part of a day, beats the hell out of Amtrak, driving myself, or flying Spirit.

Hike to Elm Point

Meet Elm Point, Minnesota. It’s one of those little geographic accidents along the 49th parallel—the boundary between the United States and Canada—an exclave accessible only during the winter months, when the ice on Lake of the Woods makes it accessible by snowmobile.

Is there anything there? Not from the looks of it on Google Maps! But I want to see it. I want to stand on it and look out and think “there’s only Canada behind me, and I am the only American on this spit of the United States.” I’ve been to the Northwest Angle. It’s played out. Sure there’s nice fishing and stuff, but they talk about seceding to Canada every few years, and it’s just desperate attention seeking. I want to go to Elm Point. That’s the new Angle.

“But MNW, you said ‘hike.’”

Astute observation, bold headings guy! This is me admitting online that I would like to commit what I’m sure is a minour misdemeanour in Canada, trespassing on someone else’s land to hike to a spit of American land that is, by all accounts, vacant and insignificant! [I’m sure, ratcheting up the privilege I enjoy in life and making me feel like a real asshole, the surrounding Canadian land belongs to a First Nation.]

But, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing there and nothing to harm—the Lake of the Woods County Property Assessor’s Interactive Map doesn’t even show a section or parcel marker for the land:

This is my new hiking goal. Get to Elm Point, construct a ramshackle cabin, refuse to pay property taxes because Lake of the Woods County has nothing there. I REPORT TO NO MAN.

Take weird Essential Air Service routes:

Half the inspiration for this came from the other night, when BigRedTwice mentioned that she was at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport (scenic Grand Island!) to pick up a friend. She sent some pictures that showed a rather comfortable-looking, freshly-renovated terminal, but which also prompted my question—who the hell rides that?!

Well, friends, GRI offers two different flights:

  • Allegiant Air (think Spirit, but smelling like farts and divorcees taking charters) to Las Vegas, and
  • American Eagle, flying to Dallas-Fort Worth.

Why? Because of the miracle that is Essential Air Service. In the Upper Midwest alone, this program—subsidizing air traffic to small communities, harmed by airline deregulation in 1978, sufficiently distant from major airports—keeps a few routes going that I would love to fly someday. I’ve flown out of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley Regional back to O’Hare once in college, but there’s one in particular I want to take:

Boutique Airlines, service from MSP to Thief River Falls.

Most of the EAS routes in the Upper Midwest are boring, to me:

SkyWest (just United shoving you in a flying culvert) from Eau Claire, Rhinelander, or Aberdeen; SkyWest (just Delta shoving you in a slightly-more-comfortable flying culvert) from International Falls, or Sault Ste. Marie, or Escanaba; or United Express getting you direct out of Dickinson.

Flights to a number of these locations, including Pierre and Thief River Falls, used to be serviced by Great Lakes Airways. As of March 2018, though, GLA is no more; it had actually given up it MSP hub before that, meaning that in 2016 the Southwest/Sun Belt-ish regional commuter like Boutique Air had picked up the MSP-TRF route.

Now, is there anything to do in Thief River Falls? I don’t know! Do I have plans to find out? Absolutely not! But there’s something about taking a one-route commuter that appeals to me. If a flight gets canceled? You’re waiting for Boutique to send a plane from...Pennsylvania? Mississippi? Colorado, if you’re lucky? I want to find out. I must find out.

Mark Sanford had hiking the Appalachian Trail...I’ll have “flying to Thief River Falls,” only I’ll actually be doing that and not sneaking off to consort with a secret Argentine lover.

Feels pretty fucking “Midwest bucket list” to me.

A note: Welcome to “Around the Midwest”! This off-season, we hope to expand our writing horizons a little bit and write a few more “personal-interest” stories not only bringing you the hottest in Big Ten football takes, but Heartlandia pieces, too. Have something you think we should talk about—beer, music, travel, or anything else? Write your own “Around the Midwest” story in the Fanposts, and we’ll front-page it and add it to the stream! —MNW


Which of these things most appeals to you?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    The Milwaukee-Muskegon ferry
    (46 votes)
  • 9%
    Air Choice One to Ironwood
    (12 votes)
  • 48%
    Hike to Elm Point
    (61 votes)
  • 6%
    Fly Boutique Air to Thief River Falls
    (8 votes)
127 votes total Vote Now