Van Trip: Minneapolis to Grand Rapids via the UP
4 min read

Van Trip: Minneapolis to Grand Rapids via the UP

Van Trip: Minneapolis to Grand Rapids via the UP

We spent a week in downtown Minneapolis, the city that harnessed the power of the Mississippi river. Even before electricity the river was channeled to different milling districts and used to turn the mills and bellows. Flower from all around was shipped here to be milled into flower. As a result the most famous flower and baked goods were born right here. You can still see the Pillsbury sign on the east side and Gold Medal Flower on the west where their mills used to turn. Now they are being converted into studio town houses.  

All of the museums were closed due to COVID-19 but I would have loved to see the Mill City museum.

Mississippi river damn used to back up water into the turbines and mills.

The George Floyd memorial was erected on the block where he was killed. Two blocks in either direction were blocked off to through traffic. Many signs made it clear that police were not welcome. We came at 10 AM on a weekday and were instructed by the folks at the roadblocks to wear masks. A mother and her kid looking through a tiny library were the only other people there.

The economy around the memorial looks transformed. The gas station on the corner of the memorial looks abandoned now but several restaurants near by seemed to still be open. All businesses and billboards had BLM/justis/george floyd messaging displayed.

Its unclear how or when this memorial would transition back to a point where with roads, bus stops and bike paths where usable.

George Floyd memorial.

A short trip outside of Minneapolis brought us to an apple farm and then the St Croix river that separates much of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Three of us piled onto a paddle board and paddled up the river to the "rapids" where we couldn't go any further. The river was super peaceful and I was impressed how large and well constructed the Interstate Park was.

St Croix River where we wen't paddle boarding.

Then off to the "U.P." (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) where the leaves really started to pop. We drove through hours of Wisconson and I was strangely attrached to the simplicity of the cold flat fields of corn, soy and hay. Despite being further north than Wyoming the farm land was drastically more productive due to getting 4x more rain and having 2x more growing degree days.

The U.P. felt wild with lots of shorter maple, oak and pine trees. The shorter trees told the story of big cold storms rolling off of Lake Superior. Very little of the land was developed to grow crops.

We spent a couple nights in the Hiwatha National Forest. The dispersed parking that is allowed in the National Forest is a national treasure. This forest had many in-holdings around the most desirable parts of the forest. I'm curious if these in-holdings were developed or claimed before the forest was established or if they were sold off in recent years. As someone who's using these public lands regularly I'd support keeping public lands in public hands.

Lake Michigan beach near Muskegon, our van in the background.

Then off to Rockford outside of Grand Rapids to see friends.

Houses are SO BIG! Lawns are EVEN BIGGER! We were astounded by how much house and land is normal here. We're used to the van now where we have 12sqft of floor space with the beds down. The newly married couple we visited had a 5 bedroom house on .8 acres. While pleasant and spacious our family talked agreed that the suburb was another contrast to what we're looking for in a rural city compound. It has its advantages over living in Oakland because the streets are quiet and safe but it lacks the energy and amenities of a denser community. Any store or cafe is an 8 minute drive.

Just between two upper middle class suburbs outside of Detroit

Next up, Detroit to visit more friends in big houses. The car culture was omnipresent in all the these communities we travel through. Lots of big empty pickup trucks that are obviously not used for hauling.

It's hard not to think that this past decade was the last hurrah of Americans spending on cheap debt. Got to get some while its still here.

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