Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tri U Mah 2015 (First Ever Tri)

Tri U Mah (Timed Triathlon)
Swim, Bike, Run - 30 minutes per leg
Distance Covered, Indoors: 1225 yard swim, 15 mile bike, 2.42 mile run

Ever since I went to spectate the Wisconsin Ironman last year, I knew I was in trouble. 

Why?  Well, first of all, running is obviously something I already enjoyed, and biking wasn't far behind that.  Second, I've done duathlons in the past, and I knew they were fun.  Third, I have been working on my swimming for about a year now. 

So, 1+2+3 = time to start doing triathlons.

Or, more accurately, time to start researching possible triathlon courses to race.

Knowing that I've never done a race that included a swim portion, when I started researching possible "first tri" courses, the idea of an indoor course really appealed to me.  Not only could I control the swim aspect by being in a pool (thus no funky lake water, choppy conditions, and only sharing a lane with likely one other swimmer), I also felt like mentally this would be easier on me (since everything is in an indoor / controlled environment, the most tedious equipment to haul around - a bike - would already provided by the event hosts so logistics would be less stressful, etc).

A few options crossed my radar, but when my friend from the Ironman race recommended I check out Tri U Mah, I was decided immediately.  Not only was this a smaller race (as opposed to a beast like the LifeTime indoor tris), even better was the fact that this race would fall right at the end of my Lazyman Ironman training cycle.  So, I'd be in the best possible "condition" by race day ... not that I'm exactly conditioned right now, but whatever.  Plus, my friend would be doing it as well, so at least I would know someone at the event. 

But ... whoops.  I kind of waited too long to pony up my race fee, so when I went to sign up only the late day slots were open, and my Ironman friend was already registered for an AM slot.

Not to worry.  My other friend from the Bacon Chase and 24 Hour Relay race events was free, and down to do it.  Before we could over think it, we were both registered and were ready to go!  BOOM!

Plus, we had a "costume" theme idea for the race, thanks to InkNBurn - MAN VERSUS MACHINE.

Double BOOM!

On to race day.


I over sleep. 
I miss the group shuttle from my gym. 
I arrive late and end up not being able to submit a swim time. 
To make matters even worse, I forgot to pack my run outfit.

Despite having no nerves leading up to the race, these are all the nightmares I have the night before race day.  And most are absolutely ludicrous because (1) there is no shuttle to miss since I'm driving myself and (2) there is no way in hell I could over sleep for a race that starts at 5pm.

Needless to say, thanks to my nightmares, I woke up at 8am on race day with a start.  Good thing I had all day to unwind from the bad dreams, and also ample time to learn from the prophesies - I spent a good hour ruminating on my gear bag to make sure I forgot NOTHING.

Eventually, around 3ish, I threw on my swim suit along with a pair of old drawstring lounge pants and a zip up hoodie.  As I grabbed my bag and headed to the car, I wondered how this would all shake out. 

I picked up my partner in crime, then drove to the UofM campus and parked in the ramp right next door to the aquatics center.  As we checked in, we both wondered if we'd enjoy the challenge or come to regret our registration.  Regardless of the possible end result, as we unpacked our gear into our lockers we both agreed - at least the facility was nice, and the pumped in music over the audio system was an added bonus.



Being my first tri, this was the part I was most nervous about.  Especially since I found out the pool was 7' deep ... after I registered.  Seriously.  I think I peed a little when I found that out, since I only train in a 4'-ish pool. 

My heat was scheduled to start at 5:00pm, so at 4:55 I sat on the edge of my lane and contemplated life.  Before I could over-think my possible drowning death upon entry to the pool, I pushed myself off the edge and was in.  Yep, I definitely wasn't touchin' bottom.  Plus, the water was colder than I anticipated ... but I knew it would feel good once I started swimming hard.  I held on to the edge of the pool, rested my feet on the built in ledge that was about 4' down from the pool's edge, and waited.

4:59 and ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... BUZZ! 

And I was off.

For the first few laps, my nervous energy screwed me and all I could do was full steam.  Three laps in, I glanced up at the time clock and realized I was swimming 50's in 0:55 ... one may have even been sub 0:50.  I'm not a fast swimmer, and my current PR in a 50 is about 0:55.  I was NOT keeping a maintainable pace and forced myself to SLOW DOWN.

I lost track of laps about 10 minutes in.  Thankfully, time was cruising by, and I knew my goal of just continuously swimming without a break would be attainable. 

Some time around 5:26pm or so, I realized I might have enough time to get in 3 more laps before the clock ran out.  When I hit the turn around for lap 3 of that goal, I saw I had 30 seconds before the buzzer would sound.  I hauled ass, and thought: "with one more pull, I'll nail it - yes!".  But before I could touch - BUZZ!  I missed the credit for my last 25 by less than 1 second.  Dammit, all that push for nothing, and now I had the puke factor going.

"Oh well," I thought, "nothing I can do about it now.  Besides, no time to waste," and I hustled to get out of the pool.  At least I was in a lane near a ladder, so that made life a little sunnier.

There were 10 minutes scheduled for the transition from swim to bike.  While this seems like a long time ... just think about how hard it is to get dressed in loose fitting clothing when your skin is still damp from swimming.


I spent all but 2 of my transition minutes fighting my wet skin against a sports bra and fitted compression tights.  It's a good thing my buddy and I have no qualms about being up close and personal - we both ended up assisting each other with sports bra adjustments.



I ran out of transition, up the steps and into the bike station as the volunteers in that area were screaming "3 ... 2 ... 1 ... GO!!".  Yikes!!  I cut my transition time WAY too close to my liking. 

And this is where I cannot say enough kind things about the staff at the event.  First, an extremely helpful volunteer rushed over to help me set up my bike quickly and I was off.  I lost maybe 1 minute max.  Second, I didn't have time to fill my water bottle, so another volunteer ran off with my empty bottle and brought it back before I even hit a quarter mile.  Third, yet another staffer was grabbing my friend and my phones to take pictures... which I may or may not have immediately posted to Facebook with a caption announcing "Machine is in the lead" as I furiously pedaled at a 30mph pace:

True story.

And imagine how much faster I would have been had I not been a turtle in transition and a goofball on the bike?!

Anyway, between the pumped in music, the high energy staff members and the jubilation of the fellow racers, I was having the time of my life.  To make things even more fun, now that we were out of our swimsuits and fully geared up, my buddy and I finally let the competition of Man vs. Machine begin.  Every so often we'd yell at each other to see what our mileages were reading, and each time I'd kick up my pedaling a notch and while trying to calculate if I had our "mini-race" in the bag or not.

I realized somewhere around mile 12 that I had a real chance to clear 15 miles during this 30 minute interval, so in the last 5-10 minutes of the bike portion I kicked it as hard as I could.  Before I knew it, the volunteers were counting down the clock again, but I had 0.3 miles to go to my goal.  3 ... 2 ... I was literally pedaling my ass of ... 1! 

YES!!  I made it to 15!  But, I didn't realize how good 15 really was until the volunteer who was tracking my performance came over.  "And how did you do" she said, glancing down. 

Then, with a big eyebrow raise she said "15?!  Wow!  Impressive!"

I may have fist pumped and hooted to my buddy that I got a 15.  Ok, take the "may" out of that sentence.  With 5 more minutes for transition from bike to run, and the treadmills just feet away, what else would I do to pass the time?  I mean, besides slide out of my cleats, of course.



It was about this time that I realized this tri stuff was a lot of work.  I got on the treadmill, but I was TIRED.  And mentally, I was not 100% committed to the run segment, since I was worried about my feet.

And, as you can tell in the photo above - my buddy is hanging herself on the treadmill behind me.  She wasn't feeling it at this point either.

We were both fatiguing and just wanting to be done.  It felt pretty much like this:

Thankfully, the music was still pumping, and the guys on either side of me on the treadmill were swooning over my 15 mile bike performance.  The attention may have gone to my head a little, but my ego needed it that late in the game because I was definitely running out of steam.

The only thing that kept me running at this point was that Machine only had a small margin of lead on Man, so I needed to hold on to the run as long as I could.  At about the 10 minute mark, I knew there was no way I'd clear a 5K (what I was secretly hoping to do), so I lowered my goal to 2.5 miles of running without any walk breaks and hoped that would be enough to clinch the win.

Unfortunately, as the final clock ticked down, I ended just shy of my mileage goal, but succeeded in zero walking.  I suppose 1 outta 2 that late in the game ain't bad.  I crossed my fingers and hoped my 15 bike miles were enough to keep Machine in the lead.


Since we were the last heat of the day, the only people left competing at this point were all in the treadmill room.  As such, the staff was pretty eager to get to cleaning and stowing away the equipment (which isn't normally stationed in the areas where we competed).  To help clear the way, as soon as the buzzer sounded for our run segment, we were herded out of the treadmill area and into the refreshments & results area.

Not that I minded, since I wanted to grab a snack... but... bagels with nothing to put on them and 2 oranges left for a group of 20+ people ... really?  Drag.  The down side of being in the last group I suppose.

Never mind.  We still had enough cheer to pose for an after photo.

Since results were still being tabulated for our heat, we headed down to the locker room to shower and decompress.  After which, I took my favorite photo of the night:

The above photo, by the way, features swag from 2015 and 2014 - all of which is amazing in case you're wondering.  I opted to buy the 2014 shirt for $10 since it said TRIATHLETE on the back and was not dated on the shirt.  All 2015 contestants received the above knit hat, a choice of a sweat towel or water bottle, some other various goodies in a nylon cinch sack, and a shirt that looks like this:
*Modeled by the woman who inspired me to race!
After our photo shoot in the locker room, we learned we took a little TOO long to shower and decompress, because when we came back upstairs the results station was torn down.  In fact, we may have been the last folks out of the locker rooms period.  Oops.
Rather than worry too much about missing results and determining who was victorious - Man or Machine - we went off to find dinner.  Which ended up looking something like this:

Eventually, in between starters and the main course (because eating was #1 priority), we got around to tabulating our results.  When I saw them, I was pretty ecstatic!
Man vs. Machine
Machine - 18.116 miles
Man - 17.678 miles
Machine beats man!!
But even better yet was this:
Natalie, F, 30-39
70th out of 183 competitors (38%)
32nd out of 107 females (30%)
9th in age group (32%)

When I saw I placed 9th in my age group, I couldn't help but be a little giddy.  I didn't even really train for this race!!  So I decided to do some additional analysis:

Age Group
119 / 65%
65 / 61%
18 / 64%
40 / 22%
16 / 15%
6 / 21%
153 / 84%
83 / 78%
24 / 86%
70 / 38%
32 / 30%
9 / 32%

Yeah, not too shabby.  I mean, my run wasn't great, but I knew that would be the case going into this. And considering I placed in the upper 40% overall and 9th in my age group - with minimal training - I'll take it!!

My buddy and I celebrated our performance over dessert, and then I drowsily drove us both home, where I immediately collapsed into bed.  The perfect way to end a busy day!


And that, folks, is the story of my first ever tri!  I think I'm hooked, and am already looking for a "real" one to do late summer.  Suggestions? 

Here's to another race soon!!

Monday, March 2, 2015

ClassPass Review #5 - 3X3 Fit!

ClassPass Review #5 - 3X3 Fit!
4330 Shady Oak Road, Hopkins, MN 55343
(612) 396-6460,

As you already know, early February I signed up for a ClassPass account.  You can read about that here.  Below is a recap of the 5th studio I tried out using the "pass".  If you'd like to read other studio recaps, use the search bar above and the search term: ClassPass.


After having done so much cardio over the course of the first two weeks on ClassPass, and having the newly self imposed rule of one yoga class a week now, in the days leading up to my 3X3 Fit visit I found myself searching for some sort of stretch option on ClassPass again.  While I liked Kula Yoga, I was feeling too fatigued for a full on vinyasa class, and was hoping for something different.

I had my eye on 3X3 Fit when I first registered for ClassPass, since it is so close to my office, so I thought - well ... what do they have?  Sure enough, they had something called "stretch", and it was well timed over my lunch hour (especially since the class was only 40 minutes long).  While the class description was somewhat lacking and I wasn't sure exactly what I'd get, I figured it would be good enough and gave it a shot.



 *I think this has a mistake, I do not recall seeing showers.



Although this is totally out of the studio's control ... I don't know if you have happened to go through the Hopkins area lately, or more specifically if you have driven down Shady Oak near Excelsior in the last year, but let me tell you - it is a hot mess.  I don't know what the city/state is trying to do to that road, but it is ripped up all over the place. 

As such, I ended up having a little trouble trying to figure out how to get to this studio.  After a few wrong turns, I finally figured it out, but found myself running a bit later than I would have liked in my goal to get to class 15 minutes early.  (Note: 3X3 Fit is not in the same strip mall as the Dunn Brothers and the ski shop - make sure you go down one strip mall further to where the dog rescue, vet and pizza place are, and park in the lot just off the pizza place). 


Ok, so - the studio it isn't the most ... attractive area right now, especially given the road construction, but once inside the studio it is quite nice.  The space is small but clean and simply decorated, and there is a space towards the back where the owner offers various items for sale.


Despite feeling a bit rushed since I was late due to the road construction confusion (and I was feeling rushed on my own accord, no one else pressuring me), the owner of 3X3 Fit was very warm and welcoming to me when I arrived.  She made it a point to thank me for coming, was very enthusiastic that I was her first ClassPass customer, and spent quite a bit of time trying to talk me through what would happen in class.  She was also genuinely interested in ensuring I had a good experience, and said that if I would be comfortable filling out a comment form, she really wanted to know what kind of constructive criticisms I had to offer so that she could improve for the future.

However, one thing happened that took me very aback when I was getting the low-down ... she told me that they were a "Christian Studio" and that they started all their classes with a prayer and set a religious intent for the class.

Well... hm. 

Without going into too much detail on my own personal religious thoughts (although I did briefly touch on them here), I certainly wasn't expecting ... this ... when coming to a fitness class.  And I really don't think something like this should have happened.  If you are going to run a studio that is so openly religious, you should really call that out on your ClassPass description and on your website.  Because quite honestly, had I known that to be the case, I very likely would have skipped this studio.  While I have no problem with anyone's religion, and fully endorse an individual's right to religious freedoms, public expressions of religion just aren't my thing.


Minor set back aside, and it really was minor as you'll see in a bit, everything else about my first interactions at the studio were great.  Friendly students, everyone introducing themselves, equipment readily available and in good working order ... in a rush, I tucked into the rest room (that I did not see a shower in), changed into some yoga pants, and was good to go.


So, now comes class.  Which opened with perhaps a 3 minute long Christian prayer offered by the studio owner.  Although it felt awkward and out of place to me, I respectfully bowed my head. 

And that was it. 

The religious portion was over and I never heard another peep about it.  (I should note that many students were wearing apparel or jewelry with crosses on it, a few of the songs played during class were a bit religious sounding, and that there were some religious art pieces hanging on the studio wall - but none of it had a "pound you over the head with Jesus" feeling).

Right away after the prayer, we set to work.

Class was broken into 3 segments - mat work, bar work and ball work.  Some of the transitions were a little rough and rushed due to the 40 minute class restriction, but experienced students were very helpful in assisting the instructor with equipment set up and distribution and that helped the class flow better. 

Overall, I found the class easy to follow, and none of the moves were so complex that a person with no fitness background would be lost on their first day.  The entire class was stretching, with a few balance moves, so I never found myself breaking a sweat.  It was exactly what my tight and fatigued muscles needed.

When class was done, I shared a few more exchanges with the owner, and then was on my way.


So, you might be wondering: after all was said and done, what did I think?

Well, as far as difficulty, I would rank this low.  It's a stretch class, so it should be easy.  No surprises here. 

As I said above, the class was easy to follow and none of the moves were overly complex or hard to catch right away.
SKILL - appropriate for all levels

In regards to staff and environment, I would rate this studio as medium.  While the owner was friendly and the studio was nice, I was a little put off by the religious overtones, and really think that the religious nature of the studio needs to be published on her website and ClassPass description so it doesn't catch unsuspecting students off guard.  As it stands right now, it is NOT apparent on any of her marketing information that she is so openly religious at the studio and leads each class with a Christian prayer.

And of course - the most important part: would I do it again?
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? Simply due to the religious aspect, which made me uncomfortable, I would choose not to attend again.  I want to stress that this has nothing to do with class format, and is simply a personal preference.


So now, what class is next?!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Racing 2015 - It Begins

Well, folks, this is it.

On Saturday, I begin race season 2015.

And although I keep saying every year "this is the earliest race I've raced in a season", yet again I find myself saying " this year I'm racing the earliest I've ever raced in a season".  I don't know how this keeps happening, but each year I start racing sooner and sooner.  Last year, I beat my all time record by racing Little Rock on March 2nd.  The year before that, I threw all caution to the wind and raced outside of my fair weather only comfort zone, running a very icy Get Lucky on March 14th.  Now I've broken the barrier into February.

At this rate, one of these days I might just end up never taking an off season, and find myself racing year round.  Or not ... considering the sub zero temps we're facing in my area as of the last few weeks.

Anyway, you may be wondering - Natalie, what race are you doing?

Well, I'm glad you asked because this year, it's a doozy!!  I'm finally doing my first ever triathlon, the Tri U Mah.  Yes, technically it's an indoor tri, which makes it a bit easier but ... it also makes it far less intimidating for a newbie like me.

Although, to be honest, I have a very odd sense of zen right now leading up to the race.  Maybe that will change on the day of, but I sure hope not.

I suppose a part of the reason why I'm feeling zen is because I've never raced a tri before, so I have no huge expectations set to achieve a certain finish time, or to bust up a previous PR, or anything like that.  I just plan to go, have fun, and try to do the best I can.

Oh, and I plan to do one other thing.

I plan to race MAN VERSUS MACHINE.

Yep, you got it.  Time for some InkNBurn love.

You may recall back in December, my friend from The Bacon Chase and I participated in a 24 hour charity run as team Skin & Bones:

For Tri U Mah, we decided to break up that alliance and pit ourselves mano e machine ... o.  So, while she'll still be all man (muscle), I'll be sporting this beast:

The race should prove to be interesting, since I'm honestly not sure who will win - man or machine.  While she's a stronger runner than me, I'm a stronger swimmer.  And we're somewhat evenly matched on the bike. 

My one advantage in this race is that I'm like a true machine, in that I don't mind working out on machines.  Whereas, my opponent can't stand machine workouts.  So, maybe via sheer mental determination on my behalf, I'll be able to beat her.  But, only time will tell ... so stay tuned for the official race recap on Wednesday!!

In the meantime, feel free to debate the winner below.  Man ... or ... machine?!

**(Oh, and of course, we'll be ranked against all other competitors in the Tri U Mah.  We're just doing the man versus machine part for some added fun.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What I Did on Valentines Weekend (AKA - Gettin' Drunk, Part Three)

Today's post is going to veer very far off the course of healthy lifestyle info.

Be forewarned.


To begin: this is a post about tap rooms.  If you didn't read my first or second post about the tap rooms I have visited, go there to get caught up ... since this is just a continuation of that story line, you'll want to start there. 

Taprooms included in those posts are:

Recap One
Enki - Victoria, MN
Waconia Brewing Company - Waconia, MN
Fulton - Minneapolis, MN
612 - Minneapolis, MN
Urban Growler - St. Paul, MN
Indeed - Minneapolis, MN
Boom Island - Minneapolis, MN
Surly - St. Paul, MN
Badger Hill - Shakopee, MN
Sisyphus - Minneapolis, MN
Tin Whiskers - St. Paul, MN

Recap Two
American Sky - Hudson, WI
Tin Whiskers (revisit) - St. Paul, MN
Burning Brothers - St. Paul, MN
Dangerous Man - Minneapolis, MN
Badger Hill (revisit) - Shakopee, MN
Sociable Cider Werks - Minneapolis, MN
LTD - Hopkins, MN

This post includes my third round of taproom visits, all within driving distance of Duluth, which we chose to visit over Valentine's Day weekend.  Amazingly, we were able to fit 6 breweries into less than 48 hours. 

Doing so took some careful planning, as follows:

(1) We arrived Friday night early enough to stop at Bent Paddle and share a flight.  We chose to stop at Bent Paddle as opposed to others because this is one of the breweries we would need to drive to from Downtown Duluth, and we wanted to be responsible with any drinking we were doing that preceded driving.  It was also conducive to our schedule, as it was open into the late evening.

(2) We booked a hotel in the downtown area of Duluth so that we could walk to Fitger's and Canal Park.  For reference only, since the hotel wasn't anything good or bad to comment about, we chose to stay at the Holiday Inn & Suites.  We chose that location simply because it was still available the weekend prior to Valentine's Day when many others were not.  Yes, we waited that long and luckily still found a room - don't judge.

(3) On Saturday morning we got up bright and early - 9am, hahahaha - and drove up to see the Split Rock Lighthouse in subzero temps.  (Notice that I said "see" and not "visit".  Essentially we took the below photo, enjoyed the view from the car, and then split.  Too cold!!)  The drive took about 1 hour, one way.  Side note: be careful on that drive!!  We saw someone hit a deer in the oncoming traffic lane, and it was mere yards from taking us out as well.  Sad.  At least the view helped me feel better.

(4)  On the way back from Split Rock, we stopped at the tourist attraction that is Betty's Pies.  It was just ok.  I don't know that I would recommend it.  But, at least they had this:

(5)  When we finished lunch, the timing was perfect to hit Castle Danger Brewing in Two Harbors right as they opened at noon.  Again, to help with the drinking/driving issue, my husband and I SHARED a flight only there, and then headed back to Duluth to hit up Lake Superior Brewing for another SHARED flight only there. 

(6) To avoid any questionable driving situations, later in the afternoon we hit up Fitger's for an afternoon snack, and closed the evening at Canal Park - Valentine's Day dinner included.

(7)  On Sunday we enjoyed a lazy morning at the hotel and headed towards Superior, WI to visit the Thirsty Pagan for an early lunch.  They opened at 11am.  There, we shared one last flight, enjoyed lunch, and then hit the road for home.

SO!  That summarizes how we hit all the breweries.  Now it's time for the recap - let's go!


Bent Paddle Brewing
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 9 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Not while we were there, but I heard they may host food trucks on occasion
Ambiance: Bent Paddle, like many of the breweries in the twin cities metro area, is nestled in an industrial park on the outskirts of downtown Duluth.  The inside is very well furnished and feels somewhat like what I'd imagine someone who's into Eddie Bauer or REI would like.  Brewery operations are visable through glass garage doors, just to the left of the bar area.  Oh, and FYI - I was slightly jealous that I did not go there on a yoga night.

Thoughts: This place was pretty busy, probably due to the fact that we were there at essentially "bar time".  Unfortunately that meant very little education about the beer, and a bunch of lingering staff (from the brewery) who were loitering in front of the brewery area and shelves where they sold product - which I legitimately wanted to see and could not.  While it was worth the stop since we won't likely hit Duluth again for some time, I wasn't impressed enough to want to rush back and see it again.

Castle Danger Brewery
Two Harbors, MN
On Tap: 7 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: They were selling chips and salsa, the salsa appeared to be locally made
Ambiance: This tap room is smack dab in the middle of one of the most beautiful areas of Minnesota, and they really use that to their advantage.  All the windows of the tap room emphasize the beauty of the area by looking out towards the lake, and they even utilize their scenic views in their logo.  The feel of the taproom is very similar to Bent Paddle (color pallet, metal wainscot, etc), but that could simply be due to the fact that anyone near Lake Superior would want to capitalize on an outdoorsy theme.  I don't recall being able to see the brewing operation anywhere in the taproom, my guess is that it was concealed behind closed doors.
Thoughts: Despite getting there right when the brewery opened at noon, this place was hoppin'!  In the time that we sampled our flight, at least 20 people had amassed in the tap room area for samples and growler fills.  I loved the bohemian woman who served us and her collection of stone necklaces and silver bracelets.  I hated that they only had 2 printed tap lists to service a tap room that could easily fit 100+, and couldn't understand why they didn't print more on their computer in the hour that I was there ... ?  Anyway, if you've got time for a scenic drive in Duluth, this brewery is fun to stop in and see.  But if you're limited to staying in the city, don't feel too bad that you missed it.  Either way, it definitely is worth the trip - even if it's just for the views. 

Lake Superior Brewing
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 6 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Nothing offered
Ambiance: Don't drive too fast by the Subway out this way, or you'll miss the brewery entirely.  With no sign out on the main street, we almost bailed ... but found it at the last second, on the third time around the block.  Maximizing on their lake name, the tap room has an old timey sea captain feel (despite having no lake views anywhere nearby).  Turn your back on the wall where the paintings are hung and you're basically right in the center of the action in the brewery, which you walk through to get your beer.
Thoughts: The more tap rooms I go to, the more I realize that it's important to not just ... well ... plop some tables into a corner of your brewing warehouse and call it good.  I guess I'm starting to get picky after 20+ stops, heh.  Lake Superior, to be fair, has been around since the 90's and is likely just trying to make room for a tap offering as opposed to having built their brewery around a tap room like others have done.  They did OK with what they have, and the d├ęcor is quite cute for what they put in ... I just wished it didn't feel like you were spilling out into their warehouse, and that it was actually heated (I was frozen the whole time I was there).  At least they had information about their beers to hand us with our flight ... though I questioned if the staff serving could speak to it.

Fitger's Brewhouse
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 8 beers
Flights: No
Food: Brew pub fare - full menu in restaurant, limited offering in tap room
Ambiance: Finding the Fitger's complex is not a problem, since it's an icon in Downtown Duluth.  Finding the Fitger's tap room once you get in to the complex, however, is another story.  Don't be shy to ask for directions.  You'll likely walk past the multiple brewing areas as you wander to find your end game.  Fair warning: don't expect to enjoy the lake view from the tap room, it's in a dark cave as you can see below.  I did enjoy their cask shaped DJ booth, though.

Thoughts: Feeling a bit dubious about this place for selling themselves as a brewery and then seeing they were a brew pub, I was shocked to find out their beers were legit.  After some lack luster showings at the previous stops of the day, I really enjoyed Fitger's Apricot Wheat (which wasn't too sweet), and when I stole a few sips of my husband's ESB, I found it was very good too.  Since we didn't want to rack up too huge a bill at the bar buying full pints, we opted to stop at the gift shop and bring a growler of their IPA back to the hotel.  Guess what?!  It was very good as well.  If you're in Duluth and limited on time, I would actually recommend this as one of the must stop tap rooms on your list.

Canal Park Brewing
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 10 beers
Flights: Yes, and if you sample them all via the "around the world" flight, it is HUGE!
Food: Brew pub fare - full menu in restaurant, and don't forget to buy pints in the gift shop while you wait for a table
Ambiance: Canal Park Brewing is very likely the easiest brewery to find and get to on this list, assuming you hotel in downtown Duluth or in the Canal Park area.  It is located right on a main street, is very visible as you approach, and is well signed.  For us, it was a 10 minute walk or less from the hotel.  Inside it has a modern warehouse vibe, and is what you'd expect for a brewery / restaurant on the lake.  If you're lucky to be seated by the windows, you can also enjoy a view of their bon fire outside, and the lake horizon as well.

Thoughts: Call this a brew pub all you want... if anyone has their name on a keg, and their beers taste this good, I consider them legit.  Not to mention, the food and service was good too.  I wasn't sorry we picked this as our Valentine's Day dinner.  And really - how can you go wrong with a meal that includes cheese curds, anyway?

Thirsty Pagan Brewing
Superior, WI
On Tap: 8 house beers, more from other brewers in the area
Flights: Yes, with the 9th being a featured cider from a sister brewery
Food: this place is known for its pan pizza, and it is good!!
Ambiance: The Thirsty Pagan is in Superior, WI in the middle of town.  The location is neither industrial or residential really... but they're right across from a Toyota dealer if you're trying to get a feel for things...?  Anyway, the inside reminds me of a college town bar - but in a good way; the entire place is brightly colored, funky and fun.  The walls are covered in an eclectic mix of artwork from Jeredt Runions, vintage brewer memorabilia, news paper clippings and random old timey mementos from when the brewery used to be a creamery. 

Thoughts: If you know my style at all, you clearly understand why I loved this place.  Too bad it's not closer to home ... or maybe good thing it isn't ... because I'd be here all the time.  Need I say more?


Since these locations are too far away to be a part of my standard "favorites of the cities" recap, I'll add a few last foot notes relevant to Duluth only here.

If you're in the city with limited transportation/time and you're debating where to go...
     I'd recommend you for sure hit Bent Paddle (for a true tap room experience),
     and then pick either Fitger's or Canal Park.

If you want to spend some time enjoying a scenic drive along the North Shore...
     Castle Danger is worth the stop.

If you love pizza and have a sober cab (or limit your own consumption)...
     I highly recommend a stop at the Thirsty Pagan, a 10+ min drive from downtown Duluth.

If you have time to spare when you're by Bent Paddle...
     Lake Superior isn't too far away, but I would have been OK skipping it.