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.

12 thoughts on “Pedaling and peregrinating: Walker to Itasca

  1. I wonder if Lisa and Dan are the only two people in America who have biked the Mississippi from its headwaters to its mouth.


  2. The entire length of the Mississippi on a bicycle. Quite a feat! We’re proud to have driven the entire length of it during our lifetimes. You must enjoy the unique satisfaction of doing it out in the open, close to nature in every direction. You deserve to relax with a couple of cold ones and bask in your glory. Thanks for sharing!


  3. I think this was my favorite entry this trip, combination photos & text (don’t know why, but I LOVE the Lake View Laundry & Car Wash photo). You both must be so proud & happy. An amazing adventure. A remarkable accomplishment! Never knew the length on the Mississippi was a palindrome – 2552. Wonder if they’re still all there…

    Liked by 1 person

    • The length is – or at least has been in the past – mutable. It winds and meanders and forms new routes. The Army Corps of Engineers worked hard in the second half of the twentieth century to control it. There is a great essay by John McPhee about how the Mississippi at one point wanted to flow into the Atchafalaya in Texas, and it would have bypassed NOLA and Baton Rouge. It took lots of engineering to prevent it from happening.

      Thanks for your nice comment , Larry


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