Ode to Up North

Even though I started this little life journey of mine on Maui and Texas, in my bones, I’m an Up North girl. I don’t mind the heat of summer knowing that it’s fleeting. I don’t even mind the heat of a vacation if I have water and bevvies nearby. However on a day to day basis, I belong up north. Milwaukee is south. I understand others believe it’s north but it’s not UP NORTH. See, that is actually a very important distinction.

It hasn’t always been the case. When the Peterson’s took me home in Austin, TX and shortly after moved me up to Carlton, Minnesota I balked. Literally. My dad had just started at a new church and had to take time off because I wouldn’t let my mother near me (I’m sure that was fun for her;) So dad would come and give her a small break from my screaming whenever she came near me. I would be reminded of this throughout our time together and have been struck curious by my reactions through the years. When I was 20 my dad and I were having lunch at Byerlys (their beer cheese soup with popcorn on top was magical) and he brought it up because my mother and I were on another “rough patch” and it was my fault because I rejected her when I was first adopted. I sat in that booth and thought to myself, “Is a free bowl of beer cheese soup with popcorn worth this bullshit?” Yes. Yes it was. So I was the good girl and took it. Accepted responsibility for behavior I didn’t remember or could account for. Sorry (that was my sarcastic voice I hope ya know.)

Carlton wasn’t all bad. I was hell on wheels with my tricycle. My best friend Krissy Davis and I would go play on the railroad tracks a couple of blocks from her house. Mind you, I was 6 when we moved away so little 4 and 5 year olds tearin’ it up on the tracks was normal enough that we never got in trouble. We would Vacation Bible School at Jay Cooke state park; snowmobile out our back door, and have a book mobile that came to the house in lieu of a library. OH! We also had a milkman. No shit.

We were within a short drive to Grand Rapids where our cabin was and it was nothing for us to be up there all summer and have dad drive up after church Sunday and return Tuesday morning (Monday’s were always days off for Pastor John.) I have been incredibly fortunate to travel to some amazing places with my amazing husband and hope to do more in the future; however; Up North Minnesota is my happy place. So when we heard Michael Cohen was doing a lifting seminar at Crossfit Duluth this summer I looked at the hubs and said, yup, let’s go. Luckily he was game and it went on the calendar.

Now, our summer has been very low key due to my cutting a weight class for Masters World Championships looming ahead. No dinners out, that’s a big change for us. No summer parties at the house where scrumptious smoked meats and flowing bevvies are served. No GOING to fun summer parties where scrumptious smoked meats and flowing bevvies are being served. Home with maybe an ounce of bourbon and early bed to see what the scale is saying the next day. But we had Duluth to look forward to and it didn’t disappoint.


This was our view outside our hotel window. It was absolutely gorgeous! We also got to see the steam engine go back and forth and listen to the horn of the Great Lakes ships going in and out of the canal and the train whistle. It was perfect.

First off, I will be the first to admit that memories are often unreliable. For example, I remember driving to Jay Cooke and it seemed like a big drive. Nope, it is literally on the edge of town. Like, we didn’t even really leave town to get there. The entrance was MAYBE a mile from the church doors but I don’t think it was that far. The same goes with a drive to a nearby town called Cloquet. I hated those drives. There was a scandinavian store called Bergquist that has a huge Dala horse outside that I loved. However, I could never go in the store in case I broke something (I’m kinda wondering if I actually did break something once so this was maybe warranted) so I had to sit in the hot car after an hour long drive to this stupid town that smells really bad (from a paper mill. No fault of their own but still, on some days it stunk super bad.) Turns out the drive was about 8 minutes. Could be I was a bit dramatic.


The ginormous Dala horse is still there. The store is much smaller than I remember it (thatswhatshesaid.)

I’ve told Matt the story of when I was riding tricycle at our church in Carlton (it had a super cool handicap ramp that I could go up and down while my mom did some work inside) and I decided I needed to go pick up my brother from school. So I left and took off for South Terrace Elementary which was on the other side of the railroad tracks and about two miles outside town. Mind you, this was the only way out of Carlton on the south side so semi-trucks and other fast traffic was the norm. Didn’t bother me a bit, I was outta there. When we were driving around I told Matt that I’m curious how far I actually got before a church member caught me and took my back into town and called my parents to come get me at the local barber shop. I figured this was another distance amnesia thing and actually not very far. Nope. It was far enough that a 4 year old on a tricycle this far outside of town these days would have been front page news and received a one on one relationship with child services. Not gonna lie, I remain pretty impressed with myself on that one.


How the hubs felt about hiking;)

After tooling around Carlton, we headed to Jay Cooke to do some hiking. Yes, for those who know Matt, hiking. Jay Cooke has a swing bridge that terrified me when I was younger but is kind of fun now. The river is low, that helped a bit. If you fall off it you’ll just hit the rocks and probably be maimed or die but you won’t be swept away by the rushing current. So there’s that. I understand my love of climbing all over rocks now as Jay Cooke is the perfect rock climbing park. We hiked a few trails but would stop and sit on the rocks. A common theme is that I would get close to the edge of the rocks and Matt would hang back. I’ve mentioned a few times on social media how proud I am of Matt deciding to take this weight cut thing on also. It means the world to me that my still super strong strongman can also move easier and is feeling better in general without 35 pounds of strongman bulk to his frame. We went to 3 state parks this trip. That’s 3 more than we’ve ever been to in our 9 years together. Pretty soon we’ll start traveling with a bike rack. (But probably not.)

I packed food since my diet is still very strict but the bigg guy winged it. What this meant was we always needed to be within striking distance of food. EZPZ. After hiking at Jay Cooke, Matt wanted ice cream and the little frozen treats at the ranger station wasn’t cutting it. Off to Cloquet we went (the whole whoppin’ 10 minute drive) and entered Gordy’s Hi-Hat. Now, here’s something interesting. When I think of Cloquet, I think of the ginormous Dala horse; the 1 hour drive that was actually 10 minutes, and the smell of the paper mill. I don’t remember Gordy’s. And this is where I tip my Mom hat to Lynda Lou. At some point, she decided Gordy’s wasn’t going to be an every day stop for ice cream and the best french fries you’ve ever had. This also explains why we would take a slightly longer (I mean, like 4 minutes, not 50) route into town, it bypassed Gordy’s. Matt got his burger and fries and ice cream and I got a tiny taste of the best french fries on the planet.

The next day belonged to lifting. Seeing Michael again sans half a finger he lost earlier in the week was a gift. Honestly, if I had his coaching on a regular basis I’d be such a better lifter. He’s also a great man who is entertaining as hell in general so just being around him is good for the soul. The crew at Crossfit Duluth were as wonderful and supportive of each other as anything I’ve seen and we even hung out with them afterwards to eat and watch some of the airshow that was nearby with planes zooming right over their building (we left before the Blue Angels went on but the other planes were very cool!) Training time confirmed the fact that I just need to be strong and cue-able and he’ll get me to where we need to be in a couple of weeks at the meet.


Having Michael Cohen barking cues at you for hours on end will make you a better lifter. True story. Also, I was a spy for Sheryl to make sure he behaved with that newly surgical’d finger. He didn’t touch a barbell so I think for him that was behaving.


Blueberry with ice cream. Yup.

The next day, we headed north. Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Light House. But first, a very special stop at Betty’s Pies. Now this stop IS embedded into my brain and in fact, the last time I was there was with my mom. So I fit a piece of blueberry pie and ice cream into my calorie count for the day and didn’t even feel a little bit bad about it. While I rarely condone emotional eating, I do embrace enjoying a memory through food. That’s what Betty’s Pies is for me. No matter how many “rough patches” my mom and I went through over the years, we had pie and conversation at Betty’s up north. We had a wonderful day filled with more hiking; more me close to the edge of the rocks with Matt hanging back, and more silliness but most of all, we had pie. I’m not even a huge fan of pie. I’d far rather have cake or donuts but blueberry pie and ice cream is forever pictured with contentment between me and my mom. I cherish that.

See, my mom was an Up North girl. She grew up in Grand Rapids and instilled in me such a love for Up North that to this day, being there or even thinking of it makes my heart full. We didn’t fight Up North. In fact, we found so many commonalities Up North that it was almost as if we got along on a daily basis. I loved what she loved Up North. Not because I was trying to fit into her ideal, but because these things truly touched my heart and embedded itself into it. Up North belonged to Lynda Lou and Jules and no one could touch that.

I received a text in March after weigh-in’s at Nationals that my mother had a massive stroke and wasn’t expected to survive. I hadn’t spoken to she or my father in over 10 years. I knew this day would come. My staying away from the Minnesota Peterson’s has proven time and time again to be the right choice for me. This was no different. I made sure my kids were okay and then handed the phone to Matt and said I’ll need to deal with this in a couple of hours. The next day, I received a vile and vicious note from my sister that again, confirmed what I had believed. That these people are not for me. Her games didn’t stop, she even excluded us from my mother’s original Obituary. Matt wanted me to tell her to fuck herself but I had always said that when this day comes and WHEN she would lash out at me (shitty people are very predictable) that I would answer in kindness and honor to my parents and myself. And I did. Oh believe me, her words cut deep. She was completely successful in briefly decimating my emotions. But a good cry and a bourbon filled night with my sisters in strength (and hubs) in Salt Lake filled holes in my heart that an angry Joy could never touch. Ever. (By the way, my sisters in strength are the shit. They are everything my sister, Joy, could never be. They are strong in themselves so don’t have to lash out at others. They lift not only weights, but your spirits when needed. They are diverse and fascinating and I adore them. I’m two weeks out from seeing them again and cannot wait! After that I get to spend time with my throwing sisters in strength. Aren’t I lucky to have so many amazing sisters?)

I learned those weekends, in Salt Lake City and Duluth, that there are parts of my relationship with my mother that can never be touched. That are lovely and warm and fun and even silly (Lynda was rarely silly. I told my Auntie Karen the day after my mom’s stroke that she brought out the silly in my mom. Auntie Karen does that, brings out the best in all of us.) Those are our Up North times. Up North brought out similarities and stifled the differences or the hurt that had built up between us over the years. That’s what Up North does.


Really though, my hot hunky hubs is the cutest!

Every step Matt and I took during our Duluth weekend was a step my mother and I had taken together and I’m just realizing now that this was my introduction of her to him. I had told Matt that when I got there I might cry. Not from sadness but because it is my happy place. Well, I didn’t. I tried when I was driving away from the lift bridge one last time but I just couldn’t. I was filled with such gratitude that we had this weekend together that I just couldn’t muster up any sadness.

And one last thing about our Up North weekend, I left with an understanding that Jay Cooke; the lift bridge; even Betty’s Pies (hopefully) will still be standing long after I’m gone and they will be a part of someone else’s love for Up North. How awesome is that!


I have what I have and I am happy. I’ve lost what I’ve lost and I am still happy.

About tosabarbell

For training opportunities at tosabarbell, call or text Juli at 320-296-9313. e-mail to jep6095@gmail.com At tosabarbell, I build relationships cultivated in a strength and learning environment. There is no 12 week magic pill program to strength but rather a lifetime commitment to be the very best and most useful human you can be. tosabarbell is a private, home grown gym with three lifting platforms; squat rack; prowlers; throwing implements; bars, bumpers and everything else needed for an effective strength and conditioning program. Straightforward barbell programming including the Olympic lifts; sound (read: not fancy bullshit) diet advance for weight gain or loss; and strong coaching will ensure you will meet your goals such as becoming stronger, more explosive, and better conditioned. I have been coaching teams and athletes for over 30 years. I grew up participating in various sports at various levels but was always drawn to those that require strength training. I have multiple local, national, and world records in the sports of Weightlifting and Highland Games Heavy Events as well as a combined total of 5 World Championships. My 5 years of training and coaching under Mark Rippetoe provided a wide range of influence from some of the top strength & conditioning and throwing coaches in the country. I will strongly encourage tosabarbell athletes to compete (and prepare you to do so.) However, tosabarbell is also for those who wish to be stronger and go through life feeling better. Matt WanAt is a retired Professional Strongman who competed frequently with Strongman Champions League in Europe. He played a year of D1 football with Iowa before concentrating on his Chemical Engineering degree in Iowa City. He is a native of Wauwatosa and still remains a staunch supporter of Tosa East. This blog will be a mixture of strength notes, coaching and nutrition tips, personal shit; bacon delicacies, and a whole lot of fun.
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