After a slow breakfast at the cabin, a swim in Lake Superior, some milling around, and a final securing of gear on the trailer we are on our way back to Madison the fast way.
27.5 miles : 662.5 miles total
Made it to the border!
Today was a short but beautiful ride from the nearly empty campground, along the final few miles of Lake Superior shoreline, up the gorgeous little mountain grade of Mt. Josephine, and then down her backside to the border. We made awesome time, averaging around 15 mph (climb included) but with the help of a lovely cool tailwind. Riding couldn’t have been any prettier.
But it could have been longer. Mike and I are both sad that the trip is over but it has been such a perfect trip that I can not be anything but blessed out and feeling blessed.
About a quarter to noon, the dads arrived (that would be Mike’s dad David and my dad Mark) pulling a newly customized trailer. For those who might try to transport a bike on a trailer, it can be tricky and we have learned a few lessons and now the trailer rig is styling! Dad customized the trailer so there are two supports that fit into square iron wells welded to the trailer frame. They can fit either across from left to right for transporting things like canoes, or from front to back so we can slide and support the bike between the two. He also added the plywood flooring to keep dirt from splattering all over the bike. Now with the new wheel supports (a couple of feet of one inch wooden rails nailed to the bottom plywood flooring a few inches apart in the front and back), we just rolled the bike in and then secured it with 40 feet of line (which til now, we have been using for our bear/rodent hangs). We have also found that static line (with towels wrapped around the frame between the frame and the rope to protect the bike from rope burn) works better than bungees because we can tension the bike tighter than the bungees hold it. A couple of middle men knots, trucker’s hitches and clove hitches, bowlines and tie offs (for some truly elegant rigging) and we were tight and ready to roll.
We rolled into Grand Marais for some lunch and are headed back to Judy and the cabin for the evening all together, before we part with David and Judy, and head back to Madison with my dad. It has been a great trip and it is great to have our folks (minus Jo) be part of our support team.
70 miles – 634 total miles
Today was our last full day riding of this trip and it was pure cycling bliss!! We moved a bit slowly breaking camp this morning in the 40 degree coolness but still hit the road around 10:15. The thing is, we knew we had about 70 miles to ride and we also had no schedule commitments of any kind. So there was no sense of urgency – just a commitment to keep a decent pace and enjoy the day together.
Nothing disappointed about this experience. The first few miles were mellow rolling hills toward and away from the big lake with beautiful incut streams punctuating a relatively smooth coast. We chatted with each other and just generally passed the time enjoying the view. Around Taconite Bay we suffered our first real flat of the trip. Chandra patched the tube and we were underway quickly. At Lutsen we stopped at a gas station for lunch (the had a nice patio where we got out our usual peanut butter, sardines, etc. We ate the last of the peanut butter – I guess its time to go home!). After lunch we realized the rear tire was flat again. On inspection the new leak was right at the location of the patch. Could be Chandra missed the spot or could be another reason but she patched it again and we planned to leave. But…I checked pressure just before departure and it was already low. This time, the patch was fine, but we found a pinch near the valve. It should be noted that this tube had a patch before we started the trip! So…we decided against a fourth patch even though the pinch was obvious and probably happened while we were low from the first flat. With a new tube the mini-saga of this flat (the first besides the trailer of this whole trip) was done.
The tire business took some time but we were kicking an average of 14.8 MPH all day so we still made Grad Marais in time to swing into “The Pie Place Cafe” (with a name like that, could we responsibly skip it?) with Cedric the friendly waiter. The blackberry peach pie ala mode ma have reduced many to tears, but I was able to hold it together partly by viewing the beautiful marina full of sailboats as we sat on the sidewalk at the cafe, and partly because we were soaking up the sun on this perfectly cool day if riding.
In all the tire shuffling, I had accidentally pulled the rear derailleur cable from it’s slot so the rear shifting was bad. While stopped anyway for pie I figured out the problem and rode around a parking lot to test and adjust it. Seems like the Pie Place Cafe hires eastern European women to work. They saw me riding around and all were talking excitedly to each other and pointing and smiling at me. When I told Chandra about that she simply said “Nice. Why don’t you ride back there with the trailer and panniers and see how enthusiastic they are to make your acquaintance then”. No need to perform that experiment – I already had the right stoker who does not fear a fully loaded tandem bike.
The remaining 18 miles from Grand Marais were among the most satisfying biking of any kind I have ever experienced! The shoulder was wide and smooth, traffic was light, hills were minor, and off to the right was a constant cobble beach with the great inland sea of Superior going off into the horizon without end. The sun was low and casting shadows and magical autumnal light and we could hear the waves gently washing the cobbles back and forth. I can honesty say that as we red along, I didn’t want it to end. I could have ridden for hours this way although it was only one to convey us to this park. Today was representative of the entire journey. Perfect weather, perfect companionship, amazing scenery, good roads, manageable mechanical issues, and simplicity of life that cycle touring brings. Calories in – legs spinning. Distance covered.
The southern exodus of post labor day north country complete, we have this campground nearly to ourselves. Chandra made an amazing dinner of pasta with fresh ingredients including roasted pine nuts, tomatoes, bell peppers, and basil. It was a fantastic meal and the few mosquitoes that were here faded with the setting sun. Now the moon is up, the air is cool, we have hoopdy little twig fire going, and life is complete and good.
Tomorrow is a short ride to Grand Portage and the border with Canada. It’s exiting to look on the map and see how far we’ve come, but of course it’s sad to think of this trip ending. A I walked back from the campground office after registering, I thought to myself “I could keep riding for weeks”. This is not a hypothetical idea – we’ve done it before and will do it again. That said, these two weeks have been more perfect than I could ever imagine. I don’t miss home because home is here in the green tent with Chandra. I do understand that we can’t keep going forever and I’m just thankful to be in a situation and with a life partner who wants to have these kinds of experiences. There will be more to come but this is one I will always cherish.
Grand Portage looks like a beautiful and interesting place. Beyond the emotion of ending a journey, I of course look forward to seeing a place of natural beauty and historical importance. All that is in the morning tomorrow – the last day of this journey.
40 miles : 564 miles
Today was half bike, half rest day. We got up and breakfeasted (no, that is not a typo) on cnJudy’s eggs and potatoes with copious cups of coffee. Packed up and headed out around our usual take off time of 9:15 am towards Two Harbors, which we reached in no time at all. One quick stop at the laundromat to take advantage if their free wifi one last time and upload yesterday’s blog post. Within ten minutes, we were back on the road and headed north.
All in all, the ride was short, chilly and beautiful. We were able to take a paved trail for much of the way. This had several advantages.
First, we avoided a tunnel and instead headed out and up Silver Cliff on the old highway, now converted to a pedestrian/bike path.
Second, a few miles later we avoided major road construction bypassing the dusty, dangerous mess almost completely. We did investigate the new Split Rock Lighthouse viewing rest stop under construction before backtracking back to the path.
Third, we rolled up and down the scenic path far away from the line of cars headed south, their fun all done. Instead, we enjoyed moving into week 2 of the trip. Week 2 is important because it is when biking feels like the norm, and the rest of the world is the diversion. It is when you wake up based on your internal clock (which depends on the amount of activity done, the numbers of hours asleep, and the time the sun rises), rather than the beep beep of an alarm. Week 2 is when you stop thinking about your ass and take pleasure in your knee and arm warmers. It is when you forget about what clothes are hanging in your closet and focus on what jersey and short smell the best. Week 2 is cool because it makes the beginning days of the trip seem a long time ago.
But before I could get very far into these musings, we pulled into Tettegouche State Park and it was just past 12:30. We set up camp–Mike went a little Bam-Bam on me.
Soon, David and Judy came walking up the path to our sweet walk in campground with LUNCH! Just because I only rode 40 miles, doesn’t mean I can’t throw down! They had a spread! Smoked fish. Hummus. Crackers. Dip. Fruit. Cheese. Yum!
From there, we packed into their car and drove south-past what we had just ridden. We checked out Shovel Point (see Mike’s reminiscences about climbing there).
Then Gooseberry Falls, which are a series of beautiful short waterfalls just off the highway.
There was a nature guide there with a display about earthworms being invasive to the area and generally a bad thing for the forest. This was the first time I had heard an anti-worm story, will have to research more fully since I am generally a pro-worm, composting kind of gal.
It was at Gooseberry Falls where the trip drew it’s first blood. I stubbed my big toe but HARD on a rock in the middle of the trail. Lovely gusher of a cut just at the base of the nail. No tears though. And we got it clotted and bandaged up so hopefully it won’t be an issue tomorrow. For the squeamish, no pic.
We then hit Split Rock Lighthouse which was beautiful and iconic. Looks like a lighthouse should look like. It was the first lighthouse designed by Tinkman who went on to become the chief lighthouse engineer. Built in 1909-1910, after the massive 1905 storm, it has a huge stage three frensel lens that blinks white every ten seconds. The lighthouse precedes the road by 15 years so they had to hoist everything for the construction and other supplies up the 100 feet of vertical cliff from the water’s edge. Crazy. After the road was built, it became the most visited lighthouse in the country. (Guess midwesterners had nothing better to see.). It is really something to see and the three keeper houses are lovely as well. We have some great pics but they are on the real camera so will have to wait until we get home to upload. Til then, the iPhone pics will have to suffice.
History lesson learned, we parted from David and Judy and am now happily fed, warmed by the fire, and ready to cream Mike in cribbage.
Quick postscript from m!ke:
My first trip to the north shore was with my folks when I was 12 or so. They booked a cabin at a place that is now owned by DNR – the heir of the prime land didn’t want to maintain cabins so he donated the land to the state on the condition it not be developed. It’s prime land between split rock and gooseberry falls. Dad and I hiked out there quickly today and while I couldn’t recall specific landmarks it felt like what I remembered. Those memories were of land at the edge of water, transition, the action of the waves, the history of rocks, the power of the natural world. As an adult, I now understand that renting a cabin like that was probably a financial stretch for my folks at the time, but it planted a seed of love for this area that sprouts over and over again – this week included.
It was cool to revisit that spot again and, while the cabins are gone, others are here for people to have the same experience and twin points is available for all to see.
After that trip, several geology field trips and climbing trips with Brady sometimes and Bo others brought me back here. I’ve sneak camped in a new housing development near here in a downpour, slept in the car at Palisade head in the sleet, and climbed at shovel point in freezing rain and howling cold wind. Every time I’m here it’s different but I always want to return and for the 20 years I’ve known chandra I’ve wanted to bring her here to share the wonder of this place.
So – the great cool and mellow ride today and sightseeing with chandra and my folks makes something feel complete for me. Tomorrow brings 75 miles with a forecast of sunny skies and a tailwind and 70 degrees F. Its bittersweet as chandra described the entrance into week two which is bliss, but knowing tomorrow is the last long riding day. I guess that means we need to savor it. That can be done!
0 miles : 524 miles total
My in-laws rock!!! Really, I have the best in-laws EVER! Mike and I had an awesome rest day hanging with his parents. We got up late-ish and welcomed the day with a beautiful morning view of Lake Superior, complemented with Judy’s blueberry pancakes, real maple syrup, and good strong coffee. Dysfunctional families may make the news and reality tv, but it is such a joy to have family whom you not only love, but really enjoy spending time with. We spend so much time with my family that it is a joy and treat to have time with David and Judy. And they spoil us so!
But not to the point of doing laundry, so first things first (because stinky sweaty biking jerseys and shorts needed some serious attention, not to mention hot water and soap), Mike and I drove into Two Harbors to do laundry. Functional laundromat obliged, although Mike once again ended up with $20 dollars in quarters. Note to self and any other long haul biker, laundromats these days seem to be good places to get free wi-fi. Other good spots we have found include public libraries, the obvious cafe, and Super 8 hotels.
Upon our return, I found myself hungry enough to start gnawing on an arm bone. Luckily for me, Judy quickly laid out a feast that included left over eggplant Parmesan, smoked trout, salmon dip, chips and salsa, pretzels, crackers and cheese, and Michigan peaches. We ate until there was nothing left. I swear I ate more for lunch on the rest day than I do when biking– but it really hit the spot.
From there, we four drove into Duluth to do a few more chores and take a look around. We went down to the canal and checked out the Aerial Lift Bridge. Originally built in 1905, it had a suspended trolley car that could carry horses, carriages, cars and people across the 300 foot span in about 2.5 minutes. A decade or so later, they raised the span at the top 42 feet and converted the bridge to a lift. Now the entire 300 foot or so span rises and is lowered in order to allow the boats clear passage into the harbor. It is pretty cool to see.
We stopped at Grandmas to have their famous onion rings (which were thick and quite delicious) and got to see a Canadian freighter, the Michipocoten, arrive earlier than posted. We had a great view as the bridge rose to its limit to allow the old ship to pass beneath it.
After Grandmas, Mike and I strolled across the span. My only wish is that they would allow pedestrians to ride the bridge as it goes up and down. Now that would have been cool!
From there we checked out the spit that the canal isolated and turned to an island. We got brave enough to dip out feet into the water at the beach. BRRRRRRRR!
To make our rest day even more special, David and Judy treated us to a lovely birthday dinner at a nearby place called the Scenic Cafe. The place is warm and friendly, unpretentious but with some lovely food. We shared a seared ahi sashimi-avocado “taco” where the “taco” was fried wantons. The best was a fresh peach caprese salad that both Judy and I had. It was like a salad and dessert.
Then off we went back to the cabin for a campfire on the rocks, a s’more and a smudge of scotch before heading off to bed to rest before our next adventure.
Thanks David and Judy, for making this trip something special and more social than bike tours usually are! We are so grateful that Judy is doing well and David is retired. We are looking forward to many fun times together!
80 miles – 524 total miles
We awoke to the buzz of mosquitoes in a grassy and dewey campsite but hearing the sound of frogs and crickets made it a little bit sane. We got a reasonably early start and it was a great relief to be rejoining the path for a mellow cruise into Duluth.
Not only did we rejoin the path, but under a cool hazy sky we enjoyed a tailwind push the whole 50 miles into Duluth. We made a couple short stops to stretch and eat enough to keep rolling but we set our sights on lunch in Duluth.
The path remains gorgeous (and slightly downhill!) all the way in. Some cutouts through rock sections led to a bridge over a raging stream near Jay Cooke state park. We watched swirling bubbles 80 feet below us and enjoyed a break before the final push into town.
We got in touch with my folks who we planned to meet to spend our rest day with in a cabin on the shore and found they were still pretty far south. So we found a Norwegian cafe–takk de maten (or something like that) and had sandwiched, coffee, and peach-lingonberry pie. So good!
We hung out there for a while to dry out since a little squall had hit us with hard rain for about 5 minutes on the way in. We connected by phone with my folks and learned we would all arrive at the cabin near Two Harbors at around the same time. For the 20 mile push we took off across downtown Duluth and could feel the much cooler air the whole way. This is being by the big lake Chandra said. Indeed!
We eventually arrived on a road small enough and close enough to our destination that we were sure to see my mom and dad on the road. Every car that passed we wondered if it was them. We eventually heard a festive honk and knew it was them! A quick reunion in a pullout and we all made our way to the cabin.
Mom made a great feast of eggplant Parmesan and we cooled our heels on the deck overlooking Lake Superior before making a campfire on the rocks, a Scotch whiskey toast and finally rest for the night.
It’s not yet our final destination here, but it is an important milestone being on Lake Superior and meeting up with my parents. There’s something really great feeling when leaving our front door under our own power and arriving 500 miles away in another world – the north woods and the great inland sea. The next few days along the shore are the reward for the work so far. I couldn’t feel better!!
As I write this on the morning of our rest day, I’m sitting on a deck – 10 meters from the lake. The morning light is playing out over the water and the 90 degree heat of two days ago has given way to puffy jacket and a wool cap. I hear the cry of a loon immediately followed by an eagle swooping down just out on the point scaring away a posse of crows. The loon called a few more times and then rode the wind driven current out into the water. Now it’s drifting – a speck out in the sea and I turn my attention to another rest day.
84 miles : 444 miles total
Having a hard time concentrating on the post as mosquitoes swarm around me (that would be Chandra, but they are also swarming around Mike), but I will try to focus on the awesome day of riding and not these pesky bugs that are having me for their dinner. Mosquitoes rarely are an issue on the bike because they are extremely weak flyers. Even just a small breeze will keep them off you. (I wish I had a small breeze right now, but alas!). And there is no way that they can get us when we are hauling like we did again today.
We got our earliest start of the trip this morning. Granted it wasn’t any sort of alpine start but we were fed, packed, loaded and on the road by 9:15 am. On the road really meant crawling up a large hill just to get out of the campground. Good thing Mike fixed granny. Even better thing that Keiko had given Dunn Brothers. We needed both to get up that hill.
From there we rolled up and down the bluffs for a couple of miles in the cool morning haze with a goodly headwind keeping our speed down as well before the terrain flattened out considerably. We made good time up state highway 95 north until we turned off on to County Road 9 toward Pleasant Valley, which turned out to be a lovely country road. Really pretty. So we rolled along that for 10-15 miles or so, approaching Rush City. Mike tells me (but I have no independent verification of this fact) that Rush City is the source of the Robinson Clan. Whether true or not, we had our regular fare (except we had forgotten to restock the sardines) for lunch in the town park.
Après repast, we had a detour on a dirt road for five or so miles. Kind of crazy that they oiled the road down, but it helped with the dust, even if it is not so good for the groundwater. Maybe there’s some sort of high tech solution that they use now instead, but I digress. As soon as we turned off the oiled detour, we turned into what would be our companion for most of the afternoon— constant, pervasive (yes, i realize that is redundant) headwind. So there we were, rolling slowly along against the wind towards Hinckley where we had high hopes of afternoon pie, when what should Mike spy but a whole pie inverted and deserted in the middle of the highway. Don’t believe me? I have photographic proof (just because I can’t upload it now doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist).
In any event, we rolled into Hinckley around 3, looking for pie. Unfortunately, Rosie’s Cafe apparently closes at two. Even more unfortunately, the bake sale for the POW- MIA had sold their last home-made pie hours before. The best that we could do was a brownie sundae at a place called Firehouse Cafe, which had a great t-shirt framed on it’s wall that said “Hinckley Fire Department: We only lost the town once.”
For those ignorami (which would include me), Hinckley burned to the ground in a massive fire in 1894. The fire apparently started from logging slag during a dry summer. The town marker says flames reached 4 1/2 miles high, but we are skeptical. More interesting is the legend of a local train engineer (we think his name might have been James Jay Hill) who heroically drove the train through the burning town to rescue stander residents . . . or maybe animals . . . or maybe chickens . . . or maybe we don’t really have the story straight. Anyway, whoever he was, and what ever he did, he was a hero.
We were grociered up and on the road, well, now a path, by 4 PM and had just 25 miles left to go. We were on a bike trail called the Williard Munger (maybe he was the hero?) Trail, which is part of the longest paved trail in the world. More hyperbole? I dunno.
[UPDATE: according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Hinckley_Fire), the train engineer was a guy named James Root and Munger was a politician known for environmental causes.]
We made awesome time down the green paved tunnel which sheltered us from our friend Headwind. It was straight, very straight . . . and very flat. But we definitely noticed the gradual transition from the St. Croix River Valley to the north woods. Birch trees, pines and peat lands replacing willows and broad leaves. We made great time, passed a couple of day bikers and a man whose companion was 1/4 mile ahead of him (but when we passed her, we saw she had an electronic assist). The trail was great! Leave it to Minnesota to pave the bike trail, but leaves the roads dirt!
Nearly done, we passed a last thing funny enough to interrupt our push toward camp and cause us to stop and take a picture– Bonk Road! Every biker has been on this road, somewhere, sometime! Even my father has been bowed by the bonk! But not us, not today.
We pushed on quickly to Willow River. From the lovely path, we could see the holiday traffic headed north at a standstill Too bad they were not on a bike! We zipped passed them at a leisurely 20 MPH a few miles to a lovely state forest campground inhabited by few campers and a whole lot of mosquitoes!
While I have been typing this fascinating description of our day (while multitasking at masaquering mosquitoes), Mike has been making a really wonderful new camping favorite—mushroom tofu green pepper curry over couscous. Delicious, especially with a bottle of Chalone Vineyard Merlot. And for dessert, some almond and sea salt chocolate. Lovely, especially now that I am safely ensconced in the green (mosquito free) tent. Moral of the story– when life gives your mosquitoes, eat well, drink wine, and have a great tent.
Life is good, really good.
A final shout out, to my longest friend ever–Lisa Thomas–whose birthday it was today. As the usually lousy friend that I am, I am not celebrating with her. But because she is a better friend than I am, she gets it. Anyway, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LISA!
86 miles – 360 miles total
Today was – well, still is, muggy and hot. This is the kind of weather that made me leave the midwest every summer once I could. But … Some nasty humid heat would not ruin our day or hold us back! The upside was a generally steady tailwind that had us making really good time almost all day! The hills along the Mississippi and later the bluffs of the St. Croix surprised both of us and while that meant some slow climbs the descents were epic. Check out our max speed:
We entered a town with a 30 mph speed limit and a cop in the oncoming lane rocking 40 and had to brake as if in a car. Would have been a pain and embarrassing ticket!
A big highlight today was a visit from Chandra’s sister Keiko and our nephew Leo. We pushed hard for 32 miles over the biggest hills of the day to meet them at Afton state park for a nice picnic lunch. Luckily the breakfast and coffee at Moondance were superb (thanks Mike!) so we were able to move without need for stops. Great to hang out in the shade with Keiko and Leo and catch up a bit, share the experience of our ride with them, and generally enjoy their company.
Keiko brought us Dunn bros. coffee and Surly beer. We bought ice at the end of the day to cool down the Surly and it made us very happy!
It’s cool to be at Taylors Falls again! Actually were are on the Wisconsin side at interstate state park – founded in 1878 as wisconsin’s first! So much history in these rocks. Basaltic intrusion as a failed rift, incutting and potholes from glacial times, and formative and exciting climbing adventures with chandra, Brady, and Bo during our time at Mac. It’s a beautiful gorge along the St. Croix and everywhere we look is some memory of walking with a rack and a rope, heading to a climb. It’s funny to be here in a totally different context, but also nice, and Chandra and I continue to share an evolving sense of adventure that is overlain on the history of this very place.
Now, if the wind would just blow away some of the humidity life would be perfect! Forecasts include some rain and possible headwinds coming up. But today should be both the longest and hottest day of this trip. A little suffering helps us remember we are really alive and whatever comes next we will embrace it. Nice to know it is almost certainly not to include heat like today.
0 miles – total 274 miles
Rest days are an important part of bike touring. It’s necessary to take load off of legs and butts off of saddles to recover a bit. The mission of these days is so unlike most of our free time in that we need to be sedentary rather than going out and doing something really active. So – we found a nice B&B in Red Wing – the Moondance – and enjoyed the company of Mike, the proprietor, and the other guests who were all interested in learning about our tandem travels.
So rest we did – and tomorrow it’s off to Taylors Falls!
60 miles – 274 total miles
Today we awoke not as well rested as we might like from freight trains rolling through all night long. Not a big deal but we were a little tired starting out. But once we hit the road a gentle tail wind under cool cloudy skies made for fast and easy travel to the Nelson cheese shop by 11. Good time for ice cream! From there we crossed into Wabasha, MN to visit the Eagles Nest coffee shop. We go there annually on the super fun 3 speed tour. We planned to ride back into Wisconsin and up the eastern shore of Lake Pepin but heavy road construction meant once through was enough.
We missed Java Jim but had a nice break and departed Wabasha on familiar territory although usually when we are there we are wearing ties and dresses on old English steel bikes. Strange to cover the same ground so fast but in good English fashion it was raining! I got to try out my new rain gear (rocks!) and just enjoy a cool easy transfer up the road next to Lake Pepin.
The biggest realization for me today had to do with a 3 or 4 mm adjustment to my saddle position. About 3,400 riding miles ago, outside Arcata, CA, on the first talulat ride, I noticed my hamstrings feeling too much strain. Having never ridden a road bike before and barely riding any loaded bike, I just figured it was part if the deal and pushed through it (gaman-suru style). Well today after so much more riding, with pain in my hamstrings getting annoying, I decided to try adjusting my saddle forward a couple mm. On the side of the highway, rain pouring down, with 7 miles to go on the day, I made the adjustment and like magic the pain was gone!! All those literally thousands of miles I suffered not knowing a mm or two was all that was necessary. Luckily we are in for the log haul!
We are tonight at the moondance inn b and b for two nights and a rest day tomorrow. Already bad a nice warm soaking bath and looking forward to a day off the bike to rejuvenate and hit it again in a couple of days!