So, we went to Minnesota, then.

Paul, Tess, and Audrey got their annual cabin at Camp Van Vac in Ely, Minnesota, and we got away for a few days to join them.

Traveled to MSP on a Sunday, arriving a bit early — but still not early enough to make it to the inexplicably-closing-early-that-Sunday-only IKEA, which mocked Monica from our hotel room. Had considered trying to get a start on the four-hour drive early or stay someplace downtown and enjoy that scene, but figuring correctly we'd just be tired, stayed by the airport with the goal of an early start Monday.

Which kind of didn't happen, but still early enough before IKEA opened. Stopped to take a break, as apparently everyone does, at Tobie's, where we grabbed a pint of fresh strawberries from their farm stand. And then on to a side trip to Duluth, stroll the lakeside walk, visit the Trading Company get smoked meat for lunch and to bring to the cabin.

Returning to the car around 3:00, programming in the final destination to the GPS, informed that it was more than three hours away … odd, because while Duluth was a bit of a side trip, we'd already covered two hours. Happily, though, as it adjusted to our location and learned the terrain, we watched our ETA creep down to 4:55.

Greeted by the bunch at their lakeside cabin; camp was built in the '10s, theirs was probably one of the earliest. Literally 20 (my) paces from Burtside Lake. Got our tour, bearings, and for walleye that had been swimming days earlier and homemade totchos. Then passed the evening sitting lakeside. Which is how we spent a lot of the time there.

Tuesday arrived a bit gray with what looked like the highest chance of rain for the upcoming days, so after a hearty breakfast, headed into town to the International Wolf Center. Displays, presentations, movies — and the viewing area, where you can see them doing their wolf thing:

Then wandered Ely, getting a little lunch and checking out the gear stores. Back at the Camp, Paul and Monica went to work on the ping pong table Paul bought the day before to replace the Camp's that had broken. Tess took that opportunity to get me out on a sea kayak on the lake. Went without mishap, tooling around the edge of the camp, accompanied by Audrey and her friend swimming along. Brats with green chile for dinner.

Wednesday, decided to reserve a motorboat to explore the lake in the afternoon. Paul and Audrey took it out for shakedown, Mon and Tess worked on the puzzle, I took some time to make a dent in The Southern Reach Trilogy (appropriate setting for a weird sci-fi about an mysterious, encroaching wilderness). Afternoon expedition took us to the far end of the lake, spotting a loon giving her young a ride (no camera!), and then to "Divers' Rock," where Audrey (and, eventually Paul) could take the 10'+ plunge. Later, I took the opportunity of hanging out lakeside to try a swim in the water — the the amusement of at least one of the Minnesotans, found it too cold.

Later Thursday morning, Tess took Mon out on the kayak, Paul and I headed into town to restock. Spent some time in the yurt playing ping pong as they returned. Sat and fed the chipmunks some more until our reservation at Burntside Lodge. Even though just a few minutes early, they still weren't ready; we settled into the bar, checked out their menu, and just stayed there for the evening. Retrieving Audrey in the swimming area later at dusk — which was like 10:00 — was the only time we even encountered mosquitos.

Up early (well, earlier then we'd been up) Friday for the drive straight back to the cities to fly out; all travel calculations worked out well, and we arrived home to the housesitter's assessment: