Duluth!

Unlike most of my posts, this one is going to be day-by-day. And very long.

Leaving Winnipeg, day one: As usual, we left late, and ended up at an RV park. The tent site was nice enough, and the showers were great, but hooo-eee was it expensive! Oh, and there was either a really dirty dairy farm nearby, or all the local farmers used some really godawful fertilizer, as the smell on the ride in was so bad that you could taste it.

Day two: We had a bit of a headwind and didn’t make much progress, so we stopped at St. Malo, a provincial park in Manitoba. It’s a dammed lake, but the park is lovely, with lots of trees and two man-made beaches, where Shawn and I did the only outdoor swimming so far on this trip!

Day three: Crossed the border back into the USA. The border guard asked a lot of questions I thought were pointless, like who we were staying with in Minneapolis and how did we know them? What the hell, man. Other than making sure we’re not smuggling anything (like Cuban cigars), none of that matters. We’re citizens and have proof. What’s he going to do, make us stay in Canada?

We’d been in Canada almost two months by then, so it was strange to get used to distances in miles again! I found myself still trying to convert distances in my head.

That night we stayed in a state park filled with beautiful aspen and birch trees. It was also almost completely empty–there was no one else in our loop of campsites, and at night it was borderline creepy to be all alone like that. Excellent showers, though.

Day four: It rained on us. A lot. We were wet. We had a place to stay in Thief River Falls, and had just gotten into town when a car pulls up next to us and a teenage boy yells out the window, “Are you April and Shawn?” It was our host (and his son), and they stopped to tell us directions to their house. At Andy’s house we admired his Salsa Mukluk, drank a couple New Belgium beers, talked about cycling, and pet his huge white dog, appropriately named Snowball.

Day five: We stopped at the Wal-Mart in Thief River Falls. I think it’s the first time I’ve stepped foot in a Wal-Mart in something like a decade. There go all my lefty credentials. Oh well.

That night we stopped in the little town of Erskine, not knowing where to stay, and tried the popular trick of going into the local bar, getting a beer (Michelob Amberbock, which is surprisingly un-sucky), explaining that we’re bike tourists, and asking about places to stay. The bartender’s grandparents own a campground/RV park right on the edge of town, so that’s where we went. Cute place, pretty small and inexpensive.

That night though….yeesh. We woke up to almost constant flashes of lightning, high winds, and thunder. We turned on the weather radio to find out there was a severe thunderstorm warning near us, and it loved telling us that “tornadoes can occur with little or no warning…” Not knowing what else to do, we put on some clothes and hid in the laundry room of the campground, where I read two issues each of Oprah’s magazine and People magazine, as it poured rain and the wind blew and thunder roared and we took turns cranking the radio. We didn’t get back to bed until it was getting light out after the worst of the storm had passed, and we managed to grab a couple more hours of sleep.

Day six: Despite our lack of sleep, the riding that day was pretty good. The humidity, though, was incredible. It was cloudy and low 80’s F and insane humidity. Normally my way of dealing with heat is to get my clothes wet with cold water, but it would have been pointless. There was also many tiny black insects, the size of poppy seeds, that got stuck to my skin and clothes and tried to go in my mouth.

But our goal that night was Lake Itasca, where Shawn had a surprise for me. We get to the entrance of the park, and the signs point out the attractions, and on the list it says “AYH hostel.” I look at Shawn: “Hey! They have a hostel! Did you know there’s a hostel here?” He gives a noncommittal “…maybe.” Sure enough, Shawn had reservations at the hostel! So we got to take long showers and wash a load of clothes and sleep in real beds, hallelujah!

Day seven: We did some sight-seeing in the park, since it’s the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi. We took some pictures at the exact spot where it becomes the Mississippi River and waded across, since it was only about a foot deep and a few dozen feet across.

As the day progressed, we crossed the river multiple times. The landscape was lovely, rolling hills with trees and farmland. Near the end of the day we passed through the tiny “town” of Becida, which startled me. To make a long story short, one of my good friends in middle and high school, Shanna, had moved to Becida, Minnesota not long after I left to move to Oregon, partway through our junior years of high school in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I hadn’t thought of Shanna in a long time, but now I was burning with curiosity: did she still live nearby? What was she up to?

When we got to the town of Bemidgi, we stopped at their co-op grocery store, which had unfortunately just closed, and asked some people if they knew a place where we could stay. The folks we chatted up generously offered their backyard as a tentsite, and so we set up in the yard of Thomas and Liz. They also bought us a pizza, which we wolfed down, while the four of us talked about all sorts of things. Turns out that Thomas was my age and had gone to high school there, but it wasn’t until later in the night that I got the nerve to ask if he knew my friend from high school.

“Shanna? Yeah! I dated her sister!” Holy moly. It’s a small world (or a small town) after all.

After that we spent a good ten minutes searching all over the internet until I found out Shanna’s new last name and friended her on facebook. She did still live nearby…but it wouldn’t work out for us to visit. Maybe in the future.

Day eight: After stopping at the co-op to shop (and buying so much food that it barely fit in my bags) we stopped at a local bike shop because once again, I was having troubles with my chain. Thankfully it was a minor issue and quickly fixed.

One part of that day really sticks out in my memory, though. We got near the end of the day’s riding and I discovered that I had dropped my hoodie. I was so frustrated with myself that I announced I was going back to find it even though it was raining and it was already late in the day. Shawn came along, and so there I was, riding on the wrong side of the road, craning my neck, paranoid I would miss it. But Shawn saw it first, five miles from where we turned back. It was soaking wet but otherwise just fine. Whew. I love that hoodie, and I got it at MEC and it wasn’t that cheap. I really didn’t want to try to replace it.

That night we stayed in a National Forest campground on a lake that really was very beautiful, and not crowded at all despite it being Labor Day weekend. The campground host let us stay for free, not far from two guys who were riding what looked like huge surfboards down the entire Mississippi (that’s their goal, anyway).

Day nine: The riding was fairly uneventful, and that night we camped in an Army Corps of Engineers campground, just a couple dozen feet from train tracks, so of course a long freight train went by in the night. It got cold outside, but we were fine.

Day ten: After a day of fine riding, we realized we wouldn’t make it into Duluth before dark, and our warmshowers host picked us up outside of town.

Karen and Bob have been great, with a gorgeous house. And it turns out that Duluth is a lovely little town! We did a little exploring around yesterday (which would be day eleven) and I announced that Duluth is on the short list of “places that aren’t Portland in which I would be willing to live, at least temporarily.” Of course, Shawn pointed out that I was here in late summer–would I manage the winter? I have no idea. (Also on the list: Astoria, Oregon; Vancouver, B.C.; Missoula, Montana…)

But Duluth is built mostly on a hillside, with many trees, facing Lake Superior. There’s a large harbor, along with a huge hospital system and a couple of universities. The houses mostly seem older (in a good way). There’s a well-stocked grocery co-op. We ate at a burrito/brewpub place that was amazing, and then later a gentlemen named Doug took us out to another place that was friendly to non-mainstream diets (at our table of three: a vegan, a vegetarian, and a gluten-free person) and delicious. The multi-use path along the lake gives some pretty amazing views.

Speaking of Doug: He has a Surly Cross-Check bicycle onto which he has put a belt drive and an internal gear hub. He graciously let me ride it around the parking lot, it was fun!

The roads of Duluth are in terrible shape (at least as bad as Spokane) and the whole town is one big hill, but biking around has otherwise been very pleasant. We wish we could spend an extra day here, but Minneapolis is calling our names.

Matter of fact, we wish we had more time in Minnesota, as the state is laced with many beautiful bike paths, one of which we’re riding today on the way to Minneapolis. We’re putting the bike paths of Minnesota on the list of places to visit in the future.

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3 Responses to Duluth!

  1. I enjoyed the company of the two of you over dinner yesterday. Good company, good food and good conversation. Thanks.

  2. Darin says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed Duluth. I went for a ride Sunday afternoon and actually rode up Hwy 2 for a bit hoping I might run into you two. I guess I was just a few hours early. Hope you have just as good of a time in Minneapolis.

  3. DAN says:

    Duluth has bad roads. Crossing the boarder is tricky, even for me I am an enrolled member of a tribe. Haha The last time I crossed I had my 5.0 mustang a couple of years ago, in short they all pulled out their guns. The boarder patrol do not have humor about any thing.

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