Pedaling and peregrinating: Walker to Itasca

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.