I recently returned from a trip back to Minnesota. I had not been back in over a year and it was great to see family and friends. This time I brought Ashley along to experience the joy and pain that is a Minnesota winter. Now for a quick recap.

We flew in late on Wednesday, February 16th. We hitched a ride home with my dad who was working late that night. I have not been back since my parent’s moved, so I was the first time I saw the new estate. They live on several cozy acres just a couple miles south of Pine City. It was the perfect place to introduce Ashley to the stillness of a sub-zero winter night in Minnesota.

The next day Ashley, Cheryl and I rode into work with my dad. He drop us at the Mall of America. We walk most of the floor and purchased our first souvenir at a gourmet peanut butter shop called PBLoco. Before we left, we rode a couple of the rides at Camp Snoopy, the amusement park in the middle of the mall.

After my dad got of work, we head downtown to skate at The Depot Rink. It is located in the newly renovate Old Milwaukee Road Depot. I had my father on skates for the first time in almost 20 years! The rink has enclosed the formed train platforms with glass so you can see the Minneapolis skyline while you skate.

After the quick skate in a warm rink and a cold run to the car, we headed over to the Dubliner Pub in St. Paul. The Dubliner is still one of the best Irish bars in the Twin Cities. The atmosphere is honest and all business with its original wood floor and neglected furniture. We met some friends and had a few pints.

The next day was our true northern adventure. We headed north on I-35 for Duluth. Just outside of Duluth is Epic Sled Dog Adventures. This is a family outfit ran out of a rustic timber house by the owner John Stetson. We arrived around noon and immediately we were told to change our gear. It was hovering around zero for most of the day and I was told that my boots would not cut it for a four hour tour. I’m glad I only feigned the toughness I used to have in cold weather and replaced my boots with the mukluks that John provided us. I now wish that the weather in Virginia would mimic the artic cold of Minnesota so I could wear some mukluks and not be look at as just a trend setter. He already had the dogs and sleds on the truck and ready to go. He recommended we head to some state forest trails nearby.

When we reached the trailhead, I was a surprised at how much we were to be involved in the tour. Look back on the experience; I wouldn’t want it any other way. We had to help harness the dogs and attached them to the sled. They were all sweet puppies that were dead serious about their running. With the instructions for turning left, turning right, slowing down and speeding up, we began our four hour tour, a four hour tour.

We had immediate issues with a dog who was trying to copulate in mid-stride. It became so bad, that there was a four dog pile-up and we had to reconfigure the sled. After the mishap with the dog, it was time to introduce some human error. Unbeknownst to me, the dogs like to speed up around corners. So when we took a sharp corner and I felt like the end person on the “crack the whip” at the roller rink, I caught an edge on the sled and was sent into a tuck and roll. I looked up to see my girlfriend zipped into a dogsled, guided only by the tire tracks of last plow to clear the snowy veins of the hardwood forest. The dogs are experienced and knew almost immediately to stop the sled.

We continued through the forest at an almost 10mph pace. The dogs knew the route and the tense parts were trying to take the dogs and sled around a plow truck that took up the majority of the road. We turned around at an area of frozen marsh accessible only during the winter. There was a light snow falling, the sun was slightly filtered through the clouds, and the air was still. It was the perfect northern Minnesota day for Ashley to experience. We headed back the way we came and stopped for hot chocolate and snacks. At this point, I switch places with Ashley and she mushed the rest of the way. I would recommend this activity and Epic Sled Dog Adventures to anyone heading up north.

We finished a little after for and headed back to Pine City for a quick turn around. That night we head to my friend’s Kevin’s for a night on the town. Even in below-zero weather, downtown Minneapolis was tipping a few. We had a stein at Gluek’s and then to O’Donovan’s Irish Pub for a night cap. The evening ended without incident.

The next day was full. It started with a drive down to my hometown, New Ulm. We met some friend’s of mine for lunch at Veigel’s Kaiserhoff. I made sure Ashley had a chance to try all the German fare. We had sauerkraut balls for an appetizer and the main course was a sampler with bratwurst, landjaeger, sauerkraut, red cabbage, German potato salad and spaetzle. We did a quick tour of the city after lunch. We made stops at the Schell’s Brewery and Hermann the German.

We only had a few hours in New Ulm before we had to head back to the Twin Cities. The food item I miss most on the east coast is good sausage. To relieve my suffering, we stopped in Nicollett at Schmidt’s Meat Market. I picked up a collection of meat products that would rival the Oscar presenters’ gift bags if the Academy Awards were for Chicago Bears fans.

That night we had tickets to the Minnesota Gopher Hockey against the U.S. Under-18 Team. It turned out to be a pretty spirited game when a few of the younger U.S. players were chippy with the Gophers. We also saw the World Junior Championship star and now future Gopher Phil Kessel. He will be dominant next year. Every time he touched the puck, something (usually a goal for his team) transpired shortly thereafter.

The next day was relaxed. That Sunday we had dinner at my parents with some family. We rented The Village and watch it with my parents. It had the typical M. Night Shyamalan plot twist. I hate to say typical because they are so unique, but I think the public has become accustomed to his style. The next morning we head back to the Twin Cities to catch our flight. We did stop for a couple hours before to see my friend Scott and skate on his pond. Actually, the majority of the time was spent shoveling, the rest was spent skating on a 4’x25’; slab of exposed ice.

Our flight back was slightly delayed. I had my $50 worth of meat under the seat in front of me. The trip almost ended on a sour note. As we approached our car after being dropping of by the parking shuttle, Ashley blurted out, “Landjaeger.” Upon hearing that, I realized that I had left my beloved meat papoose in the shuttle. I ran as if I had just received the baton in the final leg of a 4x100. I thought all hope was lost when the driver seemed to refuse to stop the shuttle for fear of the safety of his passengers. However, when he realized I meant no bodily harm, he stopped the shuttle, I picked up my meat, and whisper to it softly as returned to the car. I asked Ashley why she said, for no apparent reason, landjaeger. She replied, “I think it sounds funny.”