Across the Mississippi

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Trees.  Woods.  Forests!  I’m leaving the plains behind as I continue East, welcomed by old, familiar, “Eastern” birds such as Blue Jays, Scarlet Tanagers and Wood Thrush.  Since I crossed the Cascades more than a month ago, the background sound-track for my ride has been the melodic song of the Western Meadowlark, day-in-day-out.  So it was a milestone the other day when that melody was replaced by the very different music of the Eastern Meadowlark.  O.K., you have to be a bird nerd like me to appreciate this point, but it signals a significant shift similar to the 100th meridian that I mentioned a week ago.

 

I arrived in Enderlin, North Dakota, just in time for its 125th anniversary weekend.  Terry at the Traxside Cafe said, “Oh, you’ve got to come to the musical tonight.  We’re doing Music Man.”  And what a treat of Americana it was, seventy-six trombones and all, performed by an astonishing cast from four-year-olds to eighty-four-year-olds.  This town has talent, and involves its youth, which is a good thing.  ‘Til there was you brought tears to my eyes and brought down the house.

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As I was approaching downtown Fargo the next day, I stopped at a street corner where some kids were selling lemonade.  “Seventy-five cents for lemonade,” they informed me, “and one dollar for a poem.”  Well of course I had to get both, and spent half-an-hour there talking with the kids about my bike and why I was going all the way across the country, and with Erika Dyk, the poet.  Here is my dollar’s worth:

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In the big city of Fargo, Aw geeze, they really do speak with an accent!  I happened to cross paths with an old Seattle friend, Alan Johnson, who was on his way driving to his fishing lodge on Lake of the Woods, and we had a good evening tasting local ales and catching up with each other.

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Just across the Red River in Moorhead, Minnesota, is the Hjemkomst Center.  There was a Scandanavian festival going on (what a surprise) with lots of would-be Vikings dressed in funny helmets.  The replica of a Viking ship in the museum was cool — it brought me back 40 years to Mary Sue’s and my visit to the similar museum (with an original, excavated ship) in Oslo, Norway.

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The scenery changed quickly once I was a few miles into Minnesota.  Goodbye flat plains, hello woods and rolling hills.  And lakes.  O.M.G. There are a lot of lakes everywhere, around every turn of the road. I guess I should have expected that in the state of 10,000 lakes, yet the change in topography from the flat farmland of Montana and North Dakota still surprised me.

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After a hard, 85-mile day over rolling hills and headwinds, I arrived at the Union Pizza & Brewery Co. in Fergus Falls, MN.  The owners, Ben and Tessa Schierer, just opened the brewery a year-and-a-half ago and its fame already precedes it along the bicycling route.  Tessa found me a seat at the bar and I got talking to the couple sitting next to me who live in “the cities” (Minneapolis/St. Paul) but have a farm in nearby Pelican Rapids.  As I closed the place down and went to settle my bill, Tianna, the bar tender, indicated with a smile that my tab had already been paid by the folks I’d been talking with.  Road angels continue across this great land.

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I peddled for a day and a half away from all the traffic on some fabulous, long, flat bike trails converted from old railroad rights-of-way.  Part of the network is known as the Lake Wobegone Trail.  Definitely above average,.

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I stumbled upon an interesting artifact in Alexandria, MN — the Rune Stone — which bolsters a Scandanavian-origin story for this part of the country.  If real, this stone documents a visit by Nordic adventurers in 1362 via Hudson Bay, 130 years before Columbus.  Debate continues as to whether this is one of the most significant archeological finds in North America or a well-crafted hoax.  The nearby “Big Ole” statue commemorates the area as the “birthplace of America.”

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And then, boom, I crossed the Mississippi River almost before I realized I was doing so. It is a good-sized river in this area north of St. Cloud, but not yet the giant it turns into farther south.  I was about 100 miles from its source at Lake Itasca.  This bridge is another huge milestone on my journey East.

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In the Half Moon bar in Stark, MN (population 98), the motorcyclist sitting next to me nearly fell off his barstool when I mentioned that I crossed over the mighty river at Bowlus. “That’s my hometown,” he said, “and most people even here in Minnesota don’t know where it is.”  When I called up a photo on my iPad of the nice cafe I had eaten lunch at in Bowlus, he almost fell off again.  (This had nothing to do with the good ales we were drinking.) “My grandfather built that building!”, he exclaimed.  He bought a round and kept shaking his head that a guy on a bicycle from Seattle knew his home town better than most locals. I love these small-world moments.

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Corn has becomes the dominant crop.  It is already more than knee-high before the Fourth of July around here, which bodes well for a good harvest.  Many of these fields are being irrigated since it hasn’t rained enough lately around here.

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Which reminds me of an amazing statistic of my trip so far:  I have gone for more than a month (35 days) of dry peddling!  I’ve had some rip-roaring thunderstorms at night, but it has been since Sand Point, Idaho, since I’ve ridden in the rain!  Cricket of Whitefish exclaimed, “Dave, you are a charmed man,” upon learning that to that date I had only had a half-day of headwinds.  Well, the wind charm didn’t last east of the Rockies, but the rain thing feels like Camelot.

 

I have been resting the last few days in Hugo, MN, just north of St. Paul, visiting our college friend, Elizabeth “Binkie” Closmore and her husband, Greg. I got nice comments along the final miles of bike trail for the flowers I brought for my hosts.

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And so, brave, courageous or charmed, I head NE into Wisconsin and over the. U.P. of Michigan.  Me and the mosquitos, I fear, but it is a section of the north country I’ve always wanted to visit.

I think I’m about half-way!

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Happy and safe Fourth, everyone.

— Dave (posted 6/30/2016 from Balsam Lake, Wisconsin)

 

15 thoughts on “Across the Mississippi

  1. Sure looks to me like your halfway. How exciting. So interesting to hear about all the people you are meeting. Enjoy those Eastern Meadowlarks.

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  2. A poem! How cool is that!

    What a journey your are on. Someone likened it to Travels with Charlie, but in the opposite direction, and on a bike, and without Charlie, but otherwise a similar close-up of American life. and that seems apt.

    With all your naturalist’s observations your journey also resembles Lewis and Clark’s (but in the opposite direction, without a canoe – etc). I hope you discover some new creature or plant or maybe an ale, to be named galvani.

    Anyway, even though I don’t know a western from an eastern meadowlark (plaid vs pin-stripes?), I’m glad to know you do. And that they have divided and conquered the country.
    And that now the eastern variety will travel with you on the second half of your journey.

    Your blog is a joy, I look forward to your next missive.

    Oh yes, watch out for those Wisconsin mosquitoes. They’re big as birds and bite like crocodiles. (At least that’s how I remember them while camping in Wisconsin at age 7. )

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  3. I was born twenty miles north of lake itasca. From about where you are you should be able to do the rest of the trip pretty easy by canoe one portage around Niagara Falls and take your paddle out of the water and drift the rest of the way. What a trip you are having. We are getting vicarious satisfaction reading your wonderful journal. Stan

    Barb

    >

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  4. It’s so much fun to read your blog and hear about all the things you see and the people you meet. And your photos are so good, too. At this rate you’ll be at your destination on August 15. Here’s to little rain and few headwinds. I doubt the mosquitos can keep up with you. Namaste and continued safe journey. Thanks so much for your thoughtful blog.

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  5. Spreading your blog around to the cousins– visited the rels in Plaistow, NH yesterday, they all are cheering you on! we are too!

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  6. Alan Johnson!!! Was that a fluke encounter or a planned meeting? I haven’t seen him since his bachelor’s party 20 odd years ago. We all look grayer. I sent an email to you, my Mom and brother Bob and two dear friends. All either have cabins or live in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. I can’t fly out, so I’m hoping they can meet you up there and act as my surrogates.
    I smile the entire time I read your blog. Your vignettes are always a treat and your journey is damn impressive. Happy trails!

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    1. DW — I had also lost track of the elusive Johnson until he showed up at my launch party. So we kept in touch from there and worked out the timing so our paths crossed in Fargo. Thanks for the connections to your family in Michigan — I hope it works out for me to meet some of them. — DG

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  7. Where east meets west indeed. Great you had a chance to visit with Binkie. Speaking of classmates, I was talking with Mike Lynes on my way through CT yesterday and he is looking forward to seeing you when you get this way. Thanks for sharing the wonderful stories. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with living a charmed life.

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  8. Mr DVG. I need some info from you sir. You need to answer this question so I can get things set up. NAHMMA Portland conference do you want a Monday check in with a Thursday check out? I need to get you on The master bill as soon as I can. Why? Because the BOD had a vote and you sir, godfather of the term HHW are the next emeritus awardee. The first male awardee I might add. This only the 4th time someone has been selected for this long standing award. Big stuff bud and the perfect choice for it and NAHMMA pays your costs.

    On another note I’m loving your bike trip. My back would ever stand for it (bend for it)? But now you know why I loved living rural. Thank you for the wonderful word pictures they take me back to my youth. Your bud Ray

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    1. My bud Ray — Good to hear from you. Thanks for the invitation to Portland. Sign me up for Tuesday through Thursday (I have an obligation in Seattle on that Monday evening). Rolling on… — Dave

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  9. Dave what a great journey—still back to the bird life since you were a little kid doing your newspaper articles. What a life—nice meeting up with old friends and resting–travel safe

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  10. Dave, When you get to Ladysmith you will be just 35 miles south of Hayward and the LCO Chippewa Indian reservation where I grew up. Just found your blog and enjoy your travels. Great adventure.
    Jake Kuykendall

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    1. Jake — Great to hear from you. My original route would have taken me directly through the Lac Courte Orielle reservation (Edgewater, Hayward, Round Lake, Moose Lake, …). But I veered off route to head due East from Cumberland to meet up with friends from Wausau who have a cabin on a lake just east of Tomahawk. Too bad, I would have liked to see the spot where you grew up. Beautiful country in these northern woods. — Dave

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