The following Pollick column, a continuation of Sunday's Minnesota ice-fishing adventure, is a recounting of how, sometimes, getting there is half the fun. Or not.
It could happen traveling anywhere, anytime, on anything - train, boat, or plane. Or interstate.
Bad connections, delays, mistakes that are made. Everyone has at least one of these can't-get-there-from-here trips in their outings history, and this was one example.
But this adventure - getting from Toledo to Minneapolis and beyond to Upper Red Lake, Minn., to go ice fishing - was, well, anything but a moving experience for much of a long day. And night.
Mike Moore, editor of Ohio Outdoor News, a biweekly sportsmen's tabloid, was the cruise director, and he decided that we should ride the rails - Amtrak.
It would be different - fun - he said, back in November when it seemed like Ohio would have no winter worth the seasonal name and the only sure ice fishing would be way up in northwestern Minnesota. Oh yeah. How do you spell w-a-l-l-e-y-e?
So Moore and a photographer buddy, Mike Mainhart of Vienna, over by Youngstown, and yours truly crammed into Mainhart's little Ford four-by-four pickup and made it to the terminal at Toledo's Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza well ahead of the necessary "hour before" the Lakeshore Limited, en route from New York City to Chicago, was supposed to depart.
Cutting to the low-speed chase, we steamed out of town at 9:15 a.m., three hours late. It was something about snow in eastern New York. We blitzed across the high line toward Bryan at 80 mph - great - only to be reduced to a snail's pace in Indiana. Something about being too late to make assigned track slots, which gave the freights priority. Et cetera.
We finally arrived at Chicago's massive, sprawling Union Station at 3:15 p.m. local - 4:15 p.m. Toledo - 10 hours after scheduled departure, seven after actual - this for a four-hour-and-change trip. Missed the once-a-day Empire Builder to Minneapolis-St. Paul by an hour. Like lots of other passengers.
Janice R. Maloney, a veteran passenger services rep for Amtrak in Chicago who is retiring in September, must be a saint.
How she can handle cranky, delayed passengers day after day with such cheerful disposition and calming demeanor goes beyond the pale. She should get a raise. "It's my Irish spirit," she explained. She should bottle and sell it.
Unflappable, Maloney took us in tow and guided us through the posttrain confusion to a choice - take a Greyhound at 9:15 p.m., arriving Minneapolis-St. Paul at 6:15 a.m., or stay overnight on Amtrak's tab and take the next day's rails. Nine hours on the bus, take it or leave it and wait.
Moore said we couldn't wait, so it was the Gray Dog or nothing. Woof, woof.
The bus was packed to the overhead luggage racks, partly with Amtrak missed-train overflow. But it left on time. The seats were cramped, but the Dog made every stop - and there were more than a few - right on schedule. And it was warm inside, arctic cold out.
A short woman in a parka kept going back to the bus restroom every 20 minutes or so, coming out rubbing her nose, and one time saying loud enough for all us back-of-busers to hear, "I hope I can keep this buzz all the way to Minneapolis."
Her loud, rude, babbling got the best of a woman in the next seat up about 2 a.m. and that led to a cat-fight, complete with language befitting lumberjacks. The brave man in the seat next to parkawoman held up a pillow to deflect the blows, one woman swinging at the other. It is a wonder the driver didn't pull over.
He saved that for about 4 a.m., in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Wis., when a state trooper turned on the red and blue flashers and blipped the high-beams. Sleep? What sleep? Thrill a minute.
The lawman came aboard after a short conference with the busman and hauled off a pudgy old guy who was wearing a tan cowboy hat and dark vest and was limping with a four-prong metal cane and a postsurgical-looking open-toed sandal with white sock.
"He wasn't supposed to leave Florida," the driver said simply when asked at Minneapolis. A felony fugitive almost made it to Canada. Nice disguise. I'm not making this up.
No wonder the bus police had come aboard, scrutinizing passengers at several stops. It took a while before the cops finally made the guy, whose act was so unsuspecting. But the long arm of the law prevailed.
For all that, the Gray Dog rolled into the Twin Cities five minutes ahead of schedule - 24 hours to the minute from when we were supposed to depart Toledo on the rails. The temperature on the bank sign was minus 15. Lesson: leave the driving to them and leave the felons for the cops.
It was only five more hours by truck to Upper Red Lake, not counting stops. Piece of cake. And, actually, uneventful, save for neat northern landscapes of rolling terrain, myriad frozen lakes, and black spruce forest - and moose tracks occasionally along the road and bald eagles in the trees.
Best of all the fishing and rented live-in ice-houses up north were great. And Amtrak was on time on the way home. Pretty much.
If you didn't have enough fun at the deer cabin this past season, get over to the Soady Camp at Ms. Rose's Dinner Theater in Perrysburg sometime in the next couple of months.
This is about Escanaba in Da Moonlight, the outrageous Jeff Daniels comedy about a dysfunctional deer-hunting family, the Soady clan, in Michigan's upper peninsula. The play opened Friday at the theater, which is part of the DC Ranch complex at 25740 North State Rt. 25, with 19 performances scheduled through April 27.
Just about every Youper or deer-hunter stereotype you can think of gets exploited here with liberal doses of unvarnished good-old-boy humor, from the hard-luck son who can't bag a buck to a mega-point trophy seen "up on the ridge" in a vision. So don't wear a thin skin.
Claudette Davis, who owns Ms. Rose's with her husband, Marty, first brought Escanaba to the region in 2002, and it ran for three seasons. Now after a hiatus, it has reappeared with a new cast and director, Chicago native David Sollish, whose interpretations of the script make this version of the Soady camp and characters worth revisiting or worth seeing for the first time if the play is new to you.
The scene about the "reawakening" of the hapless, comatose Reuben Soady from his buck vision alone pushes the bellylaugh-meter right to, if not over, the top. Dinner is excellent as well, a broad home-made buffet that is deer-camp hearty, complete with a hot apple dumpling served at intermission.
For ticket information, call 419-874-8505 or visit online www.dcranch.net.
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