A Minnesota Tourism Adventure
How Checkpoints Changed My Life
Why would anyone even want to do that? Minnesota is huge, it is the 12th largest state. It is approximately 360 miles wide and 407 miles tall. In order to see it all in just over a day, you’re going to have to seriously haul. However, Explore Minnesota gave me an excuse through their yearly scavenger hunt. Let me explain.
In 2013, Minnesota Tourism created a scavenger hunt called ‘Checkpoint MN’ to incentivize tourists to see the state during the off-peak season. There were checkpoints located all around the state. They could be at national monuments, on famous bike paths, in skating rinks, etc. What you had to do was, take a selfie, and upload it to their website. For each checkpoint, you received one point to use towards any of the other available prizes. Grand prizes (which were awesome by the way) were given to the first few people to complete all ten checkpoints around the state.
It was back in 2014, but with a few changes. All the Checkpoints were new, and two had been added bringing the total to twelve. I decided this year I would get them all, my life was just crazy and random enough that I could do it! They also changed the grand prizes to a raffle, earning entries through Checkpoints. I would need help, so I enlisted a friend who just so happened to be as crazy as I was. On that day in December when the locations were revealed, we made a plan. The prizes and glory of adventure would be ours.
We left after work, around 6pm and hit our first destination at Rice Park in St. Paul. This was going to be rough, starting in the dark. We looked and tons of others had all ready checked in at a variety of locations all over the state. We were going to have to move fast, and hit some late at night. By the time we got to the Franconia Sculpture Park, we were feeling pretty stealthy sneaking through the dark and trying to find the signs. In the distance we could hear voices and a dog. Childish dreams of espionage infiltration fluttered into our hearts as we imagined armed security controlling the perimeters looking for those who would come in after hours. We were not alone in this late night pursuit for prize glory, but we thought we might just be the most dedicated.
Miles of pavement passed under my tires. These same tires have seen both coasts, and I’m assuming were glad to be on yet another adventure. After arriving at Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge, we took a break with old friends for a pint and some music. Here we realized that all twelve was not reasonable so we settled on ten. We would go on to hit two more checkpoints before I could no longer function as a driver, at Giants Ridge Ski Area and the International Wolf Center in Ely. We found a place to park the car and sleep for a few hours before returning to open road in daylight. Ironically, a cold had settled in each of us earlier that day, so we found comfort in being mutually uncomfortable.
We got an early start, knowing we had a long ways to go. The last five were much more spread out than the first five. Together we would go on to witness the headwaters of the Mississippi River in a freezing headwind, enjoy amazing taco’s at a shop in Detroit Lakes, and get lost taking my directions back from Big Stone National Refuge. Hilariously, because of the distances traversed, those first two were the only two we witnessed during daylight. At this point it was all I could do to stop from popping throat lozenges nonstop and fall asleep driving. We mustered on, to find the Stickwork at St. John’s Abbey. Then we came full circle by stopping in Maple Grove at the Elm Creek Park Reserve. We spent probably forty minutes running around in the dark looking at pictures on our phones trying to analyze where that sign might be.
I dropped my friend off where I had found him the day before. By the time I got home, we had covered a thousand miles in just thirty hours. I was beat, tired, and sick of coughing. It had been another adventure, and unlike most I’ve had it had all taken place within my home state. So even though I may not have experienced the program exactly as it was intended, I think we did a pretty good job. Because I haven’t written enough lists yet to despise them, I will end with a list of things you need so you too can travel our MN in just over a day.
- A travel buddy. While I would recommend taking naps while one drives, I never take my own advice. We did it by staring blankly at the road together, and shivering in the car during our nap together. But be safe, don’t drive tired.
- Cough drops. It was a bit serendipitous that we both came down with colds the morning before we embarked on this journey, but the only thing that made it bearable at times were lozenges of some form. I will now recommend Ricolah, but prior to this new experience for me try anything hard that you can suck on. Don’t read into that.
- Cell phone. I’m a complete proponent for paper maps and finding your own way. For us however, it would have been mighty hard to find some of those Checkpoints in the dark without being able to bring up the little map for reference. Sure we could have done it, cause we’re awesome, but why not? Well just bring one anyways, you don’t need to use it, but then you have it.
- Matching windbreakers/rain jackets. I say this only because I’m bummed I didn’t remember to bring my brown REI jacket, which is the same as my friend’s. Whether you go alone or with a friend though, just remember to bring a jacket. Even in June it can be chilly on the North Shore.
- Camera. This goes without being said but you’re going to need to prove that you went to all of these places. It was more fun for us to upload to Twitter and the MN Checkpoint website on our phones as we did it, but a regular camera works just fine because you can upload them from home.