Bayfield, WI from a perch on the Madeline Island ferry. Pleasant sojourn at the island for the weekend. Lots of grilled white fish accompanied by wine, Old Fashioneds, and beer.

Sunset with heavy clouds over Lake Superior water, with city of Bayfield, WI silhouetted in distance

Curly’s Bar up in Duluth was the perfect complement to a splendid dinner at New Scenic Cafe.

This is the right move. In this order. 🤌

Pile of pull-tabs on the ground with a stool in lower-half of frameOutside building with neon lettering for ‘Curly’s Bar’

The Tom Bihn Store

When we were planning our Pacific Northwest crawl and decided to head into Seattle for a few days to visit family, it was an inevitability that there would be a stop into the manufacturing facility (plus embedded retail store) of one my favorite bag brands, Tom Bihn.

Located south of downtown Seattle in the Industrial District, Tom Bihn sits inside a long building housing a number of other functions, like Two Beers Brewing Co., Fulcrum Coffee Roasters, and Seattle Cider. It's a quiet little spot amidst the bustle of trucks moving in and out of the area. All of Tom Bihn's bag manufacturing happens here, so there's significant space in the building to accommodate the materials and sewing of products. But they're also open Monday through Friday from 6:30 am - 3:00pm ("more or less") for walk-ins to check the place out and peruse available goods. All the items in the corner shop are the same ones tied to their website inventory, so you know exactly what to expect.

When we stepped inside, a fellow named Cody emerged from the manufacturing floor and greeted us. He happened to the same person who helped my wife get a faster delivery of her new Synik 30 bag in time for this very trip, so it was perfect that he was there the day we visited. The store is really just a few peg walls and a long table cutting through the middle of the space, where Cody brought in and laid out a few items in which we were interested in seeing various colors.

They've also set up a vertical mirror for you to check the fit and style on your person, and covered the border of it with customers' submitted photos of sporting their bags all around the world. Felt very restaurant 90s, and I loved it.

Ashley decided on picking up a Side Hustle in Ursa Ballistic, which ended up as a perfect travel companion as we marauded up the rest of the west coast into British Columbia. If you're a Tom Bihn fan, it's absolutely worth the trip into their HQ, even if you end up just getting a few more of their endlessly useful swivel double-carabiners. And if you're in the area, curious about quality, USA-built bags for almost any context, it's definitely worth the visit. I only wish we had more time to ask for a full tour of the facility and to check out the really neat fabrics/materials they have on deck (like Halcyon).

Winona - Small Town, College Vibes

An impromptu thought earlier last week: let’s visit Winona and check out a coffee shop that is up for sale near the campus. Which campus, we had no idea. We also didn’t know anything about Winona (though apparently the nation’s capitol of stained glass windows, okay). I knew it was down the river near La Crosse (where we had stayed a number of times on the way to Madison going back and forth for Ashley’s grad school), but… we’d never stopped here before.

So we saddled up a room at the Fairfield and headed down Saturday morning — predictably enough, right after a spring blizzard left the roads in absolute shit condition.

Winona is about a two hour drive southeast of the Twin Cities, smack on the Mississippi River (literally looks like an isthmus or island city), buttressed by the craggy hills that ride the water on either size of the Minnesota and Wisconsin border. Which creates a kind of off-kilter valley vibe.

And what a vibe this city is. It’s like one big pseudo-city neighborhood, about 20k in population strong (plus however many attend the three colleges scattered around its geography). An initial drive through the streets gives the impression of a small, rural mill town with a barely-hanging on downtown, but also energized by young collegiate folks marauding around town and keeping the bars up late into the night. Something felt strange about the whole place — it wasn’t as tightly centered as Red Wing, not quite as pretty as La Crosse, or as quaint as Northfield. It felt blasé. Maybe in a good way.

I’ll say this, though — they’ve got some gems here. Notably, one of the Winona State University parking lots has a solar panel yard atop it, the first we’ve seen in the states. Definitely the future — it shades the cars underneath and provides a wide berth for getting perfectly sun-drenched and powering whatever its connected to.

I indulged the afternoon at Island City Brewing, sipping a beer and reading a book outside on a park bench. Also walked the dog along a few avenues and paraded around an inland park for a while before she tired.

Ashley and I then dinner-dined at Nosh Scratch Kitchen, which was… fine — dimly lit, wild Mediterranean dishes, good bar. It adequately set up the night. Afterwards, we slinked into Gabby’s, which immediately made clear it was the de facto college bar. We slammed one drink each and left.

Then… it was to Broken World Records. A gamble. But what a place. Tiled overhang with lanterns above a ground-level bar, pulsing vibe lights, live band, locals nursing beers. Attitude. It was here that we settled into a few drinks and a shot and enjoyed the drama.

Next day wasn’t as kind of this place. The Lakeview Drive Inn was brutally terrible. Microwaved burger. Mushy fries. But great drive-up car service.

The heralded Blue Heron coffee and breakfast spot had the worst burnt latte we’ve ever had, and the peanut butter-topped chocolate cake was extraordinarily dry. We ate the frosting.

Mugby Coffee (the place that is for sale, or so we surmised from the commercial real estate description), was good, though. Nitro coffee, adequate. Latte, significantly better than Blue Heron. Plenty of space to stretch out.

Aside from a nice walk along the industrial river walk (Levee Park) with the dog to wrap things up, that’s about it.

We also didn’t see a single stained glass window. 🤷‍♂️


Scenes from Grand Marais


We did a pleasant jaunt up to Grand Marais for a few days, taking in the quiet small town before it braces for winter. Couple stand-out places:

  • Wunderbar: An earnest bar/restaurant whose campus is home to a glamp-ground with rentable tents/RVs as well. Great lighting and vibes.

  • Grandma Rays: Roomy dive bar. Only realized the clever play on the town’s name itself on our drive home.

  • Angry Trout: A worthy lunch spot; the prepared fish over salads were great, and the soups (chowder and chili) warmed us up. Everything about the place is curated or designed with sustainably in mind.

  • Tre Søstre: A beautiful set of vacation rentals that directly channel Scandinavian architecture. Warm, inclusive interiors, ample views of Grand Marais via windows and balconies, and a great gas fireplace won us over.