I was cleaning things up this afternoon and came across this wonderful memory: Our friend Jay Lardy hosts a radio show on Macalester College’s radio station. He calls it Blast Beats and Bicycles and in the fall of 2018, he invited Lisa and I to come on and talk about our trip. I just dropped everything I was going to do for the last hour and listened to it. It was so fun and funny and lovely to hear our excitement about our recently completed trip, and our thoughts at the time. I completely forgot about all the difficulties and frustrations we are currently living with.
If you have the interest and about an hour, you might enjoy this. I’m kind of putting it here to archive it, as well. Thanks, Jay!
Itasca State Park is so amazing – the pines, the lake, the bike paths, and, this night, the full moon. We woke on Monday – me earlier than Lisa – to yet another perfect day. I climbed out of the tent and started water for coffee and sat and listened to MPR from my phone and just relaxed and looked at the lake. I could have stayed right there for two more weeks (with a proper bed, that is.)
We didn’t have far to go on our last day so I felt fine not packing up and focusing on ‘making good time’ as my dad used to hope for on our family trips. Our breakfast was tortillas and crunchy peanut butter, and it was delicious. Our route was going to take us out of the park and back to Laporte, then north on the Paul Bunyan Trail to Bemidji and a hotel right on the lake
We packed up and rolled out – after one last visit to the Headwaters, where we saw a large topographical model of the Mississippi and we pointed out all the places we’d cycled to, from Itasca to New Orleans.
We left the park and got out on Highway 71 back to Laporte. We hooked up with the the Paul Bunyan Trail to ride north the last seventeen miles into Bemidji. As we entered town, I asked a couple of skateboarding boys where Paul and Babe were and they pointed and told me how to get there and it went quickly and then we were standing by these statues which have been there since the 30’s. I know have stood in that place many times. A nice couple helped us by taking some pictures and we did the same for them.
We checked into our hotel on the lake and our room had brilliant white sheets and big windows looking out at the lake. We showered up and walked to the restaurant nearby and sat on the patio as the sun set. We were tired, or at least I was, and after we got back to our room, it wasn’t long before we were deeply asleep in that great bed.
So, a couple of final thoughts and then Lisa has a post coming, too. These might seem random but here they are:
– We (Americans) drive big, fast, loud cars. After riding a bike in the woods in silence for hours it is jarring to be along a highway with hundreds of cars (actually, half of them are trucks) sometimes pulling trailers, speeding north for their lake experience. Trucks pulling trailers with three or four ATV’s or Jetskis. It seemed like conspicuous consumption to me. I completely understand that when you are in the car listening to All Things Considered on the way back from your cabin, it doesn’t seem that way, but when you are on the shoulder, it does. I say this not as a criticism – I drive more miles than I bike – but just to note how loud and fast our world is.
– We didn’t really see many Trump flags or signs, maybe a dozen on the whole trip. But they weren’t flying by the big, wealthy farms. They were flying by ramshackle dwellings, and it made me wonder how we’ve left those people behind and what we must do to pull them back into a healthy society. The urban/rural divide needs to be addressed, and I hope we can do it in the coming years.
– The US interstate highway system is really incredible and useful in a nation this size. It also left many rarely used highways out in the country that are fine for biking (or driving on at under 80.). US highways, in particular, have wide shoulders, and we bikers appreciate them.
– As we rode north, I increasingly felt the coming of fall. You know how you can kind of smell it? Like the leaves are drying out? There was one young tree in Itasca that was changing it’s colors, and our night there was quite chilly. I remembered starting this stay at home business in March when there was snow on the ground and everyday I had to turn up the heat in our home offices. Then the grass turned green and the garden exploded with flowers, then we had a few weeks of 90 degree days. To think that this continues as we move into fall, well, what is there to say.
So, that is it from me, for now. This was a fabulous trip, one of my favorites. Our total mileage was 336 miles, the weather was spectacular and it was a wonderful diversion from our worries. But we think the next month (we both work at a university) will be intense. I hope we can still get out on bikes again regularly, and I hope for the planning of our next adventure.
Lisa wrote about the long day we had riding from the lovely Crow Wing State Park and our campsite at the confluence of the Crow Wing and Mississippi rivers. We had a fine night experiencing Walker’s delights and a meal on a patio with a stiff wind coming off the lake. The cheap hotel bed felt great and we lollygagged some this morning – we knew had a short day and we had some domestic things to take care of. We travel with only three changes of biking kit, so after day three, we need to find a washer and dryer.
The only laundry facility in town was a combination launderette and car wash, right on the lake. We started the clothes and then went to find coffee and pastries, and walked to the lake. It felt great to be doing something other than pedaling.
The headline for today comes from our friend Nick Spitzer, host of the great public radio show American Routes, out of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. We have long admired Nick’s work and were lucky to spend an evening with him last fall. Nick wrote me today and said he’d tired of the digital world (as many of us have) and wished to go back to analog. “Nothing is as analog as pedaling and peregrinating,” he wrote.
His comment made me think of the hundreds of hours in the saddle playing songs in my head over and over – including Allen Touissaint’s “Tipitina and Me,” the intro to Nick’s show, or the Buddy Guy/Bonnie Raitt version of John Hiatt’s “It Feels Like Rain,” or Aaron Neville doing Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927.” Songs that go on repeat and become a kind of mantra as the wheels roll, silently.
We left Walker around noon and rode the Paul Bunyan Trail to the little town of LaPorte where we bought some frozen wild rice brats for dinner and some Pringle’s. (Hey, we don’t have a lot of capacity for making fine meals. If it packs well, it works.)
We had a sandwich at LaPorte’s roadhouse – Third Base. We walked in at about 1:00 – it is Sunday – and there were a dozen guys there drinking beer. We were in biking clothes and masked and we got some stares. After ordering sandwiches, we went outside to eat and remembered our favorite lunches in small town bars where you can always find at least a half dozen guys sitting and chatting over Buds. We’ve been stared at so many times in small towns, it really doesn’t bother us anymore.
Then we left the trail and rode US Highway 71 twenty miles west into Itasca. It was gradually uphill all the way, but absolutely beautiful under blue skies, and between classic northern Minnesota pines and fields.
After setting camp, we rode the remaining two miles to the Headwaters of the Mississippi. We walked our bikes into the water and a guy took our picture. We were both a little teary – I had this strong feeling of pride in our bikes which have carried us the entire length of this mighty river. The scene was spectacular, with people and kids of all kinds splashing in the crystal clear water and the aquatic grass green and the sky blue and Lake Itasca mirroring everything.
We now sit by a fire as the sun sets and a full moon rises, and we talk about what comes next.
We woke up to the first rooster at 4:15 am on Friday after a great but short night of sleep at the yurt, and slept intermittently as rooster two and three and four joined in and the sun started to rise. Packing up didn’t take too long and the resident peacocks saw us off as we headed back to Clearwater and the infamous Nelson Bros. truck stop for some breakfast outside at a table in the parking lot.
Much of the day was spent pedaling on roads near farms and fields and neighborhoods with lovely homes along the river and there was an unexpected trip through the campus of St. Cloud State University which was strangely quiet as is true of all college campuses now and then more river homes and farms and it was hot and sunny, and we had lots of stops for cold water along the way.
We finished our ride Friday with a white knuckled trip along highway 371 along with all of the weekend “up North” people hauling campers and boats and sometimes RVs pulling both cars AND boats, and we were relieved to get to Crow Wing State Park and to this lovely campsite on the river.
The next day we started our travels on the Paul Bunyan Trail, through the Brainerd Lakes area, with a stop for a late breakfast in Nisswa and miles of pedaling through lakes and pine trees and cattails and black eyed Susans. Made it to Walker where we pedaled into the wind along Leech Lake and settled in to our hotel, where the masked proprietor Mr. Mehta kindly let us store our bikes in the unused pool area and when we said “we may need them again to go for dinner” he said “you can easily walk to all of the delights of this town.”