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What’s there to see Rochester, Minnesota?

By Sue Ramsey

Because the days flying would not consist of much more than five hours air time, we departed Peterborough at 9AM. We filed for an IFR flight and climbed to 6,000 feet through thin overcast, conditions gradually changing to VMC in heavy haze as we progressed westward.

This was the first time for us over this route, the scenery impressively different as we crossed fine farmland and Lake Huron to land in Grand Rapids, Michigan for customs. 

Our pre-flight weather briefing out of Grand Rapids showed a band of light showers to the west of the airport that we would have to transit and a pirep confirmed light showers associated with it.

Our briefer advised us of a further weather system positioned east of Rochester that we could circumvent by a detour to the south for our approach into Rochester. 

Armed with this information, we departed Grand Rapids. It was not long before we encountered the forecast “light rain,” associated with which was some rather-more-than-moderate, not-even-mentioned, turbulence which gave us quite a bad time for a while.

The ride was rough enough that we suspected Virga, which provoked some discussion on whether it might be smart to resort to alternate plans. However, the flying improved radically when we fortunately popped back into VMC under a very high overcast, just in time to see the western beaches of Lake Michigan pass under our wing.

With a good view of the extensive farmlands of Wisconsin, we continued our route westward.

About half way between Grand Rapids and Rochester, we were offered a view of the forecast system “east of Rochester” – a very black, ominous looking affair to our north.  Our Storm Scope was actively showing the position and progression of the system, based upon which we requested a 30 degree deviation south.

Flying “along side” it for some 100 nm, we experienced continuous light turbulence as we watched its progression on our stormscope, which showed the most activity about centre point off our right wing, to be gradually left straight behind as we departed its vicinity westward .

Upon arrival in Rochester, it was overcast  and rainy - but the dullness of the weather was offset by the welcome and efficiency of the Rochester FBO.

They took the time to drive us to the local restaurant for lunch, and upon our return, we found our aircraft already hangared in most impressive surroundings.

At this point, you might well be asking “So what’s to see in Rochester”? 

In actual fact, there is a great deal of real interest thoughout that region on its own merits  – central to which is The Mayo Clinic – which was, in a circuitous way, the reason for our trip to Rochester.

Some nine years ago, two young friends attending a Canadian University met and married whilst furthering their studies to become practicing physicians. 

But when they were ready to enter a Canadian Medical School, there was no berth available at the time. They were persuaded to undertake two years of Undergraduate work whilst awaiting an opening, which they did, only to be advised at the end of that time there was still no room available for them at a Canadian University and perhaps they would care to undertake their PhD whilst awaiting an opening?

But time was marching on and their hope for graduation before they were well into their thirties was becoming progressively more remote, which left them no option other than to seek their Medical education outside of Canada. 

The result was that they spent the next six years in Ireland, at the University of Dublin, graduating top of their class out of 186 Medical students, of which 22 were Canadian.  

Though their first choice was to return to Canada to practice, there was a catch. Because they were now “foreign students,” Canadian requirements made this a practical impossibility - which once again left them no option but to seek a position abroad. 

They were “matched” with three possibilities; Johns Hopkins, Harvard and the Mayo Clinic.  Travelling the U.S. for many interviews at the various hospitals, they finally settled on Mayo, where they will be for at least the next 3 years.

Since they both ride and each has their own horse (till now boarded at our stable), our “mission” was to scout out a suitable boarding barn in the Rochester area, and subsequently ship their horses down to them.

Mission accomplished, we spent some time investigating the area, beginning by flying in the vicinity with our friends, to get a birds eye view of Rochester and the layout of the various hospitals that make up a good part of Rochester.

Departing the vicinity of the city, we flew eastward toward the Mississippi, the  headwaters of which begin not too far north of Rochester in the Itasca State Park. 

Passing over mainly farming oriented countryside, the terrain gradually changed into rugged hills and valleys as we came closer to the river, the contour farming practices indicative of the elevations that are not always apparent in overflight.

Returning to Rochester, we were number two landing behind a Howard 500, reputedly the only one still flying, an impressive aircraft in mint condition with a superbly appointed interior – the previous owner was none other than, Elvis Presley!

We went for lunch at the “Hangar” Restaurant which,  apart from providing excellent food – has an actual C-172 hanging from the ceiling, donated by the owner who had recently passed on to “new horizons.”

From there, we drove south of Rochester to Harmony in order to go in the opposite direction - underground! At the Niagara Caves, we walked down through ancient rock formations past active subterranean streams cutting their way through the limestone, descending to about 270 feet below ground

While the “kids” were at work, I took advantage of the official tour of the Mayo Clinic, which gave much background about the clinic, encompassing the main hospital in downtown Rochester, the Gonda and Plummer Buildings.

Included was a visit of the original offices of the Mayo brothers, an area preserved in the Plummer building to showcase their medical beginnings and the prolific honours and achievements of the Mayo family and their associates over the years.

Their legacy remains quite obviously very much a part of The Mayo’s present day philosophies. 

This tour offered a most informative and enlightening insight into a quite unique approach to health care. In accordance with Dr William Worrall Mayo’s philosophy that “No one is big enough to be independent of others,” the Mayo family created a multi-specialty, team  approach system when there was no model to follow. 

Based upon the premise that “the needs of the patient come first,”  Mayo uses a collaborative approach where a team of medical experts focus on the needs of each individual patient, with continuous access to a support background of ongoing Education and Research. 

Over the years,  just a few of the noteworthy medical firsts that emanated from the Mayo Clinic were cleansing the hands prior to treatment, access to immediate biopsy results, pioneering advances in Aviation medicine - and the Nobel Prize for the isolation of cortisone.

Mayo’s research has had an important influence on commercial and military aviation as well as the space program, including the development of the M-1 manoeuvre for flyers  and the high-altitude oxygen mask and anti-blackout “G” suit for test pilots - Charles Lindbergh working with the Mayo researchers on that project.

As a charitable, not-for-profit organization, Mayo has an impressive record and represents a present day model for medical practice throughout the world. Their medical web site is currently touted as the best source of reliable medical information on the web, referred to and recommended on a regular basis by TV and other media.

And last but not least, to round out our stay in Minnesota, we went to a small town less than an hour’s drive south of Rochester called Austin – to visit none other than (this is for real), The Spam Museum ! 

This must not to be confused with the computer version of spam for Austin just happens to be the hometown of Hormel Foods, makers of the canned meat product SPAM,  which so many of us are sure to remember from our youth, being “brought up” with it since pre WWII ! 

The trip home was a most enjoyable and uneventful flight flying at 9,000 feet with the added  asset of a helpful tail wind – Rochester direct Grand Rapids direct Peterborough,  to pass Customs at home base under the auspices of our newly renewed four year CanPass.  

Web sites:

Mayo Clinic: www.mayoclinic.org

Mayo Clinic Health site: www.mayoclinic.com

Mayo College of Medicine: www.mayo.edu

Minnesota (Mississippi Headwaters): www.exploreminnesota.com

City of Rochester, MN: www.ci.rochester.mn.us

Niagara Caves: www.niagaracave.com

Spam Museum: www.spam.com

Hormel Foods: www.hormel.com