Letters from the road: A Midwest retrospective

Hey folks — for the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting art and text taken from letters that I wrote as part of my Kickstarter project. I’m starting with a retrospective on the Midwest that I wrote to a Kickstarter backer named Todd. Page two of his letter, which describes travels in the Pacific Northwest, will run near the end of the series.

Full page excerpt from a letter about the Midwest. The “word bubbles” were formed by gluing down scraps of torn paper and tracing the outline. Click to embiggen.

This is a collage that I pasted onto the reverse side of the page above. Click to embiggen.

If you’d like to read through the text as originally presented, close-in crops on each of the word bubbles are below. An ordinary text transcription follows.

Transcription from letter:

  1. Hey Todd! It’s Mike. I’m doing a one-page retrospective on my travels through the Upper Midwest.
  2. I was mostly writing postcards — not letters — in that part of the country, so I thought some kind of summation would be nice.
  3. I started the trip in northeast Iowa. I spent a few days in a cabin on the Upper Mississippi. Then, camping.
  4. I slept in my van at Iowa’s Pike’s Peak State Park … A huge thunderstorm hit that night. Also, Iowa’s Pike’s Peak is not to be confused with Colorado’s Pike’s Peak. The latter is a real mountain. I  also visited Iowa’s Yellow River State Forest, part of the “Driftless Area”.
  5. Drift is what glaciers leave behind.
  6. So the Driftless Area is hilly … It avoided being smoothed over by ice age glaciers.
  7. The Driftless Area extends into Wisconsin. I drove through eastern Wisconsin, camping at some nice state parks along the way. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail meanders through Wisconsin and I hiked sections of it. And the shore of Lake Michigan was nice…
  8. The Great Lakes aren’t so much lakes as inland seas. I took a ferry from Manitowoc, Wisconsin to Ludington, Michigan. When I left Wisconsin there were only a few days to go before the big gubernatorial recall vote. The governor kept his job.
  9. When I got to Michigan I spent some time at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, which was beautiful. And then I visited Sleeping Bear Dunes. They each had this otherworldly quality to them — out of place and imposing, but not in an in-your-face way. More like a slam dunk grand slam of sublime beauty.
  10. Mackinac Island was a little weird. Lots of beautiful nature, no cars, but lots of cheesy tourist stuff and horse poop on all the roads. Fun ferry ride.
  11. Driving over the Mackinac Bridge — between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas in Michigan — that was cool. It’s a huge bridge. The Upper Peninsula was remote.
  12. Tahquamenon Falls, Pictured Rocks, the Porcupine Mountains. All neat places in the UP.
  13. In Duluth and Minneapolis I stayed with friends. After spending so much time camping, the cities were way more exciting than they had any right to be. In Duluth it rained cats and dogs, so my timing was especially good. Duluth is more easily enjoyed in the rain than, say, a random state park. Northern Minnesota feels as remote as the Upper Peninsula.
  14. Between Duluth and Minneapolis I visited the north shore of Lake Superior and also the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca State Park. I got chewed up by mosquitos and waded across the Mississippi River with my dog Skillet. I walked some sections of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which I’d also done in Michigan.
  15. After Minneapolis I visited my grandfather’s gravesite in a little town along the St. Croix River. It was around then that my transmission started slipping. I camped along the Mississippi on my way back to Iowa, and in Iowa I learned how to replace my busted-up transmission with a new one. Iowa Public Radio interviewed me, and I pulled up some dead trees with a tractor. Good times.

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