Just the Other Day: Muddy Gap

I was on my way to Mesquite Nevada. The problem with my Garmin GPS is it will often take me on some wild routes that make no sense at all. I will admit to seeing some spectacular parts of America, that I wouldn’t have seen had it not been for her quirky calculations, but when I am on a time schedule, it’s best to look over the route on Google maps.  I can combine the best of the two sources by entering specific towns into my GPS, along the way.


Such was the case this day on my way to Mesquite. I programmed several cities and towns, taking some state and county highways through South Dakota and Wyoming; backroads that would save me a lot of miles and time.


For some reason, the GPS couldn’t find Muddy Gap, so I entered Three Forks, Wyoming, very nearby. The Garmin couldn’t find that either. I entered Rawlings, Wyoming, and the screen produced the route I wanted to take. I headed down the road.


At the intersection of US 220 and Wyoming State Highway 200, I came upon a service area; the sign read, “Three Forks. 24 Hour Pumps. C-store – Lodging and More.” I chuckled as I turned in, “Well I found Three Forks.”


It was a simple place that seemed lost in time. Most of the driveway was gravel with a combination of concrete and asphalt around the fuel islands and in front of the convenience store.  An overhead canopy with red trim shaded the pumps from the hot sun. The store was a white metal building with a red and dark green stripe.


To the left, on the east end of the building there was an old mobile home with a wooden staircase on the right side. Some of the skirting was missing from the trailer, and a small window air conditioner looked like it could fall out.  A red band of chipped and peeling paint around the top, and a dark green band near the bottom, tied the trailer with the rest of the business complex. The top band had white hand painted letters that read, “MOTEL.”


After filling the tank, I went inside to get an ice tea. There was black lettering on the front of the building on either side of the door. To the left, “Three Forks” and to the right “Muddy Gap.”  I asked the cashier, “Is this town Muddy Gap, or Three Forks?” “Both and neither.” She replied leaving me confused. “Three Forks is on that side, and Muddy Gap is on this side of the road. They’re both junctions. Neither is a town.” She explained, then complained. “We don’t exist. You ought to try getting a package delivered out here; no one can find us, everyone just stops in.”


“Is the motel still open?” I queried. “Yep. Do you need a room?” She asked. “No, I was just curious.” I replied. She offered, “Well if you ever need a room, just let us know. We usually have one available.” I thanked her, picked up my ice tea and headed out the door.


On the way out, I passed a lady coming in who was wearing a blue shirt, familiar to the Midwest, sporting a big red and white Chicago Cubs logo on the front. “Nice shirt!” I said, adding, “You’re a long way from home.” She smiled and said, “Thanks!”  Outside there was a man wearing a Cubs hat. “I have to assume you’re with the lady inside wearing the Cubs shirt.” I said, “you just don’t see a lot of Cubs logos in Muddy Gap, Wyoming.”  We shared a good laugh about that.


He nodded toward my truck. “I noticed your Minnesota plates. What part of Minnesota are you from?” Since no one except folks from the north shore seems to know where Silver Bay is, I gave him my standard answer, “We’re an hour up the shore past Duluth, on Lake Superior.”


“Oh yeah?” He said, “we’re on our way to Babbitt to my wife’s family reunion!”  My eyes lit up, “Really! Do you ever go up Highway One, through Finland?” “We sure do.” He answered.  I said, “Well then you drive right by my house! Could you stop in and let my wife know you passed me; Tell her I’ll be home in a few days.” We shared a pretty good laugh over that.


I started thinking about how many times recently I’ve run into people in far away places, who are also from the north shore.


Last summer we were camping at Fort Pickens, Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. A lady noticed our license plates. “I’m from walker Minnesota. Have you ever heard of it?” She asked. “I sure have,” I told her, “I go to Backus quite often and you’re just up the road from there.” She asked where we were from. Since she was  from our state, I told her we lived in Silver Bay.  “Really?” She said pointing to another camper, “My friend over there is here camping with her brother who lives in Two Harbors.” What a coincidence. Two Harbors is just thirty miles from our house.


Speaking of Two Harbors, this spring we were in Northern California hiking in the Redwood Forest. Among the huge trunks of the giant trees, I struck up conversation with a man on the same trail. He asked if we were from this area. I told him, “No,” then gave him my standard answer; “we’re an hour up the shore past Duluth, on Lake Superior.” “What a small world.” He said, then told us, “We’re on our way to a nephews wedding in Two Harbors.”  A small world indeed.


Just a couple weeks ago we were on the summit of the Guanella Pass, way up high in the Rocky Mountains, just outside of Georgetown, Colorado. A lady noticed the plates on our car and said to my wife, “Minnesota? I’m from Burnsville; south of the twin cities.” Melissa replied, “Oh yeah? We’re from Silver Bay, on the North Shore.” A third lady, from a different party, over heard Melissa. “Silver Bay? Hey, we’re practically neighbors! I’m from Duluth.” The world is getting smaller.


In February we were walking along the beaches of Mobile Bay. A man noticed our license plates, this time we were riding with Melissa’s parents. “How did you folks from Iowa, end up all the way down in Gulf Shores, Alabama?” I told him, “That’s my father-in-laws car, they’re from Iowa and spend winters here. We used to live in Ottumwa, but we live on the north shore in Minnesota now.” “Really? What town?” He queried. “Silver Bay,” I answered, “Have you ever heard of it?” He smiled, “I live in Maple Grove, down in the cities, but I was raised in Knife River, and  I went to school in Two Harbors. We go back to visit several times a year.” Yes, a very small world it is.


There was another group we met on the beach of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. The man noted our license plates and told me he was from California, but his friends lived on the north shore. “Really?” I asked, “what town?” The man answered, “Well he’s from the other side.” “What do mean, the other side?” I queried. He held his open hand as if to shield his mouth from his friend. He lowered his voice and explained to me, “He’s Canadian.” We shared a good laugh about that. “Well it’s all one big happy north shore; Canadians and all!” I said, his friend said, “That’s right, eh?” We shared another laugh.


How silly of me. I wondered why haven’t been asking these people their names all along? I certainly should have been. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again – not here at Muddy Gap junction, in Wyoming. The folks on their way to Babbitt, we’re Frank Anderson, and his wife, Sherry Slade Anderson. “Does your wife spell her name, S-h-e-r-r-y?” I asked. “That’s correct.” Frank answered, “She spells it ‘the right way.’ Just ask her, she’ll tell you.” We shared a good laugh, and each went on our way.


I drove to Nevada thinking how cool it is that I meet so many people around the country who are from the north shore, and how it would make a neat story someday.


When I arrived in Mesquite, I helped a man set up his new Scamp. It was hot! 116 degrees. Hotter than any temperature I have ever experienced. It was so hot, I would sweat just standing still in the shade.  When I was done I stopped by the grocery store to get a few things for the trip home.


It was all my air conditioner could do to break the extreme heat on the short drive to Smith’s Grocery. I parked and stepped out of my truck. The scorching heat rising from the black asphalt nearly took my breath away, yet all the other people were walking about like the heat was no big deal.


On my way inside, I caught up with a lady and asked her, “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this weather hot?”  “Not really,” She replied casually, “Why?” I explained, “I’m from northern Minnesota, and it seems really, really hot to me.” She giggled a bit, “It’s not  too bad.” She said, then asked, “Where in Minnesota?” I gave her my standard answer, “We’re an hour up the shore past Duluth, on Lake Superior.” “Oh really?” She said, “do you mean like Lutsen?”


“Ah, you know the shore?” I asked, she smiled and replied, “I grew up on the Gunflint Trail on Seagull Lake. Christian Knudsen was my grandfather.” We had a nice conversation and during that time I remembered to ask her name. “Kimberly LaBronte.” She said, “My last name was Horns when I lived up there. Most of my family were Knudsen’s…”


It never ceases to amaze me how small the world is – and getting smaller all the time. I think of all the people I’ve met around the country who are from the north shore…and the people from Iowa that I meet out and about.


It seems to not matter where you’re from or where you live now, people are like waves on Lake Superior, and the North Shore is like home – where ever that may be. They leave, and come back, leave and come back..


On my way home, I passed Muddy Gap junction in Wyoming and thought about the Anderson’s: waves making their way back to shore, and when they reach the shore – they’ll once again roll back out to sea.