I’ve been on the road for over a month now and every stop on the journey has felt just a little too short. Four days is not enough time to explore a city properly. By the time you’ve got your bearings and tracked down a decent cup of coffee you’re back on the Greyhound crossing the city limits. I’ve found myself muttering, “I wish I could stay just a little bit longer” every time I board a bus, a plane or train and most often I mean it. There’s not been a single negative experience on this whole trip and I have really good things to say about every city I’ve visited. However, in Duluth, I actually felt tempted to throw my passport into the murky waters of Lake Superior, buy a pair of all-purpose moccasins, and never go home.
I’m not exactly sure why I loved Duluth so much. It’s not the biggest or most exciting city I’ve been in and I feel like I spent most of the week wandering up and down the same little mile and a half strip of coffee shops and stores. It’s not exactly the Dylan connection, though I have to admit that the time I got to spend with the wonderful Dylan fans of Duluth and my visits to both Hibbing and Bob’s Duluth home, will undoubtedly remain as my favourite memories of this whole two month adventure. It wasn’t even the food, (though I can definitely vouch for the superiority of the Minnesotan pancake/French Toast/chocolate Malt and I have to say that you haven’t lived til you’ve sat in a log cabin off Highway 61 and eaten Pho, made in front of you by a fantastic Thai cook). It most certainly wasn’t the weather, which, dependent on the fickle whims of Lake Superior, stormed through the entire spectrum of seasons, (like Belfast on a bad weekend), in just five short days. There’s something about Duluth, Minnesota, which just felt like home the second I stepped off the bus.
People had warned me about Minnesota nice before I arrived in Duluth. Their Wisconsin rivals on the other side of the lake told me not to trust it and I have to admit I was expecting to encounter something like a cross between Southern hospitality and a greeter at the Disney store. I think it’s testament to the lovely people of Duluth, Minnesota that, though I did not know a single soul in town when I arrived last Thursday night, I actually managed to run out of time for meeting with everyone I wanted to hang out with. The people of Duluth are the most genuinely kind breed of human this side of Buckna. I was fed and watered. I was driven to see every imaginable place of interest in a one hundred mile radius. I was given all manner of lovely gifts to bring home. A complete stranger in a coffee shop offered to take my postcards to the Post Office and post them for me. I became accidental friends with a very elderly lady who haunts the downtown coffee shops in a kaftan and Jesus sandals. I got a Highway 61 jumper from a gas station. I was drawn into more impromptu, and wonderful, conversations with strangers than I can recall and was, in short, made to feel most exceptionally welcome.
Duluth is such a liveable wee city. It’s not so big as to be intimidating but neither is it small enough to feel claustrophobic and after five weeks on the road I really relished the way this city did not overwhelm me with too many unnecessary choices. There’s one art house cinema, (but it’s a really good one). There’s one decent coffee house on the main strip, (but it’s a really good one). There are less eateries on offer than most of the cities I’ve visited so far but everywhere I ate had wonderful food and I actually prefer operating under the assumption, that should I so wish, I could feasibly sample almost every restaurant in town within a month’s stay. The beer is also locally brewed and very good and the rain, when it descends is similar in style and intention to a good Ulster downpour. It’s a no nonsense place much like Belfast, where people work hard, are practical and know how to laugh even when the weather outside is miserable. I’m determined to find an excuse to get back to Duluth as soon as I can. There are people I’ve met in the last few days who feel like the beginning of a lifelong connection.