A Love Letter to Duluth’s Indoor Spaces

by Heather Jackson.

Here is my confession: I’m not what you’d call an “outdoorsy person.”

In fact, before I moved to Duluth a decade ago, I didn’t realize there were people who wore North Face fleece for its true purpose of keeping warm while engaging in cold weather activities. Turns out, there’s a whole city of you who do. I say that with nothing less than admiration. I have made my way through enough of the road map to know that Duluth is special. Not once have I turned my gaze to Lake Superior and seen its splendor lessoned by familiarity. This living, heaving city on a hill is made of magic, and so is its people.

You bike and hike, camp and kayak. You pack up your cars on the weekends and head for cabins, dutifully making the most out of the daylight—running at dawn, swimming at noon, climbing at four, and retiring only when the last ember of the campfire has been safely snuffed out. When the rest of the world balks at frigid February temperatures, you challenge them to hold you back. Polar plunges! Snowshoeing! Super intense ice climbing! Truly, you are experts at loving what nature has to offer you for entertainment.

But me? I’m going to hang out over here on the sidelines and cheer you on (I promise you, there was no one more enthusiastic about daily voting duties when Outdoors Mag’s “Best Town Ever “ was on the line!)

I get it, I really do. I, too, have basked in the pleasures of Duluth’s natural beauty. I’ve danced in the high heat of a cloudless, early August evening to the frenzied bars of bluegrass on a berry farm, the fields of which were resplendent with their fragrant, almost-ripe blueberry bounty. Or, more accurately, I’ve self-consciously shuffled my feet in a sort-of half rhythm until the mosquitos emerged at sunset and sent me searching for shelter where I could sulk and scratch a dozen new welts from the safety of the indoors.

Because, for people like me, the indoors is where it’s at.

We’re the wheezers and the blistering, the sneezers and the klutzes. Our kind is the fragile-footed—we’ve descended from some variety of wimpish creatures that somehow managed to fly under the evolutionary radar and avoid complete elimination. We are not the fittest, and most of us are the first to admit that we’d be totally screwed if actual survival was on the line. Thankfully, it’s not, and thank YOU, Duluth, for providing our sort with plenty of welcoming indoor spaces to lay claim to.

While you explore the twists and turns of the Lake Superior Hiking Trail or comb the beaches for agates, I jog (okay, fast-walk) the indoor track at the Y while listening to history-themed podcasts and taking in the city view from the comforts of a climate-controlled building. After, I use the skywalk as far as I possibly can before I have to open a door to the outside world and hoof it to the car in the summer sunlight or winter wasteland.

I am quite possibly the only Duluthian who doesn’t own a bike. I used to! Her name was Janis and she was a rusted hunk of chipped purple paint and flat tires and I loved the idea of riding around on her something fierce—the pretend breeze in my hair, the ease with which I handled her, and possibly even a pant leg rolled up to prove to hypothetical passersby that I truly knew what I was doing. But my love stopped short of actually hauling her out through the steep basement steps and pedaling her around somewhere other than my imagination. I left her behind when I moved, the poor, dear orphan.

Amazing+Alonzo's

Photo from www.eatthispoem.com/city-guides/duluth

Not all indoor-preferring people are introverts, but I will come right out and confess that I am. I will browse for hidden book gems at a secondhand shop by my lonesome all day long, or settle into a tiny crevice of a corner at Amity Cafe and plug into my own self—my jams, my online haunts, my inner feels—until real life escorts me back to the land of interaction. I know, it sounds like bliss for an hour or two! But occasionally my husband will pause in front of me and ask, “When was the last time you left the house?” and I will have to think and count. Eight days is my record. Just to give you an honest peek into the depths of my hermit tendencies.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the outdoors; I take nature-based selfies and post them on Instagram to make it seem as if casual jaunts to the shoreline or three mile hikes are a part of my everyday life. I beg and plead with my preschooler to go outside and play on a regular (non -20 degrees below zero) basis, but she always wants me to come with her like I’m supposed to lead by example or something. Can’t a person just sit inside and journal about how perfumed the autumn air smells without actually having to step outside her front door?

When I do go out, I like to stay in and rush from one building to another, pushing open the heavy doors of dimmed bars and claiming table real estate for as long as I possibly can while I sip Vikre gin-based cocktails. I mean, that’s an ideal scenario but because I have young girls, I’m more often urging their toddling little legs to walk just a bit faster to the door for mommy, please? We barrel into Duluth Grill, shedding coats and sometimes shoes (my baby has turned out to be partially feral and, unlike me, is only truly happy when she is barefoot, dirt-stained, and flinging grass in the air). We cause a ruckus with our disorganized ordering, top volume rounds of I Spy, and the clattering of our silverware and ketchup bottles as they are thrown to the floor.

I am happiest here, in the imperfections of my real life and surrounded by others who are living out their stories and sharing connections with their own dining mates through birthday luncheons, weekend brunches between friends, and even casual job interviews . All of our vignettes collide together, and for a short moment or two, I feel my heart swell with the beauty of the people and warmth around me. This is my mile four, my “mush!”, my adrenaline rush; Like you, I am alive with the feeling of purpose and belonging. I just happen to find that the heartbeat of this city resides somewhere indoors.


Heather Jackson is a freelance writer who resides in Lakeside with her husband and two daughters. Despite her self-deprecating insistence to the contrary, she does get out and about to enjoy the beautiful city of Duluth. 

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