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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Happy and safe Fourth, everyone.
— Dave (posted 6/30/2016 from Balsam Lake, Wisconsin)