Bike weekend May 2003 in Minnesota


Friday, May 16, 2003.


I figured it might be one of the last weekends that I am by myself and there is plenty of daylight now as we’re already in the middle of May. I wanted to go for some nice long bike ride on the weekend. And I figured the better area to go riding is where the hills are, the forest and the lakes. Finally, there is unstable air moving in from the West and the weather forecast already calls for showers on Saturday and Sunday. Hence I decide to head East towards the land of lakes – Minnesota.


I am leaving the office around 5:00pm heading towards Duluth about 250 miles East of Fargo. It is smooth driving with the sun in the back – except that I am very tired from the last couple of days going to sleep way past midnight several times in a row (too many email, phone calls etc.). This reminds me of last August, just after I had started to work with Microsoft in Fargo, I had already come out for a weekend here at Lake Superior. (see other trip report).


This time I am a bit too late and don’t get quite all the way to Duluth before night fall. About 20 min after sunset in the dusk I pull off the Highway into a small side street near a couple of homes. I drive about ½ mile back from the highway on a small dirt road. Luckily there is still enough light left for me to find a nice spot to stay over night without bothering or being bothered by anyone.


The frogs raise hell in the evening, but I am too tired to really care. In fact, it feels good to hear the various sounds of nature again: Frogs, birds, geese flying overhead, the wind in the pine trees – it is just perfect.


Saturday, May 17, 2003.


The birds sing loud and wake me at 5:00am. The sun comes up at 5:30am and paints a nice color on the tent.



I pack my stuff and continue driving towards Duluth some time after 6:00am. Now I am staring into the sun, but I’m thinking: Hey, this sure beats waking up to showers and rain in Fargo J I stop at a country kitchen for some big breakfast: I will need it today, as I am planning a long bike ride. This reminds me of the stop I had on the last trip over in Wisconsin on my way to kayaking in the Apostle Islands. I have a big mushroom omelette and two large pancakes – that’s maybe 4 or 5 eggs right there, but I feel I need to load up on fuel. ½ hour later I’m on the road again.


About 15 miles before Duluth fog sets in and the temperature stays at just 42 F (5 C). That’s a bit cold for riding, especially without the strong sun. A bit concerned I continue toward Duluth, hoping for the best. The weather report on the radio calls for a day time max temp of 45 F in Duluth (the great Lake Superior acts like a big refrigerator), but almost 70 F (20 C) further inland. So there is hope.


Duluth greets me with fog rolling in from the lake. Not as good as I had hoped, but on the horizon there are some bright and sunny spots, so I figure in an hour or so the fog should burn off – at least further inland.



I had picked out a loop starting in Two Harbours – about 20 miles North-East of Duluth along the North Shore of Lake Superior. First going straight North Highway 2 for about 45 miles into the hills and the Superior National Forest, then South-East on Highway 1 back to the Lake Shore and finally South-West back to Two Harbours. All told: About 115 miles (190 km).


I stop at a gasstation to re-fuel, buy drinks and cereal-bars and change my cloths. And there is a bit of a shocking moment here: I dig in my rucksack and don’t find my bike shorts and short! I had left it in Fargo, hanging in the bathroom to dry from the last ride on Thursday evening. I can’t believe it: Here I am driving a total of 600 miles (1000km) on the weekend to go bike riding and then I leave part of my equipment at home! Well, at least I brought the long riding pants just in case, and I will carry the backpack anyway, so I really don’t need the bike shirt badly. Hence, it will be 10 hours in the long pants today!


At the beginning the road steadily climbs in long straight aways to a total of about 500m above the Lake level! It’s also quite chilly, so I take it very slowly trying to find my rhythm. Occasionally there is a car, but it hardly qualifies as “traffic”. The air is chilly, but the sun is intense. Therefore I stop after 12 miles (20 km) to put on a layer of sunscreen. I will need it on neck and arms. A mailbox next to the road gives me an opportunity to get a self-timed picture taken from myself.



When the roads go straight to the horizon, and with all this forest here, this always reminds me of Canada. Actually Canada is not too far North from here, maybe another 100 miles (160 km). At times, I am thinking, hey, there better not be some broken gear I couldn’t fix out here. That could mean a long wait – definitely an ultra-long walk. It is amazing: There is probably no other muscle-powered self-propelled vehicle which gets you around further than the road-bike. If you wanted to walk that far it would take a week of serious walking every day.


Getting futher North brings me into the Superior National Forest. It feels so good to see nothing but trees, trees and more trees for hours on end. (There are definitely not enough trees in Fargo – just Great Plains.) There are also plenty of birds. At one time a weasel runs out on the street right in front of me, then runs in my direction, I hit the brakes, at the last moment the furry critter turns hard and jumps off the street and disappears into the bushes. That was close. Many more animals are not so lucky and end up as road-kill after being hit by cars and trucks. During the day I see rotting carcasses of deer, weasels and even of one big moose along the road.


Occasionally you see something else besides trees: Lakes! Many lakes here have public access ramps for boats. I stop at one beautiful lake directly next to the road and stretch my legs while resting, eating some bananas and drinking. All the while I am watching some fishermen pull their boats out of the water onto the truck trailers.



When you ride for hours, you better find some rhythm and start thinking about something, let your mind wander, otherwise you focus more on the physical discomfort of sitting in the saddle for so long or the muscles getting tired and sore. I often play number games with how many miles left to the next turn or to the next rest. And of course, you look around and watch live in the forest. Seeing all the landscape for me is a big part of doing such rides. There is just such freedom and natural beauty in this!



Going back on South-East on Highway 1 towards the Great Lake I have to put up with a stiff head-wind. At times that makes for slow going and I need to shift gears very often due to the rolling hills. You hurl downhill at speeds over 30 mph (50km/h), only to find yourself nealry crawling uphill at less than 10 mph (15 km/h)! But then again, this feels great: These hills almost qualify for mountains, at least when compared to Fargo - or Florida, for that matter.


I stop at a ranger station for a snack, lots of fluids and then for a ½ hour nap in the sun. That feels good! I also chat a bit with the elderly woman in the ranger station – she seems to enjoy the company of any visitor, probably a bit lonely out here! I learn a bit about the Canadian Boundary Waters wilderness and the various canoe portage trails. Then I get on the bike and continue fighting into the wind. Tucked down low, head down, this is what the bike rider sees the whole day:



Colnago (frame), Shimano (shoes), Campagnolo (shifters, brakes). My frame is titanium, many other parts are made of carbon, 3 * 10 gears and the entire package under 20 pounds! Quite remarkable technology! There is a little “town” (make that a dozen houses or so) called Finland. In fact, this forest and hills reminds me a bit of Finland over in Europe.


What’s definitely great about the day is that the sun stays out the entire day, the air is cool but not uncomfortable, and there are no moskitos yet! (They are about to hatch any day now.) In 2 weeks this ride would have been much more unpleasant because of those bugs. You stop and you get eaten up alive! Good timing all around.


From the ranger woman I learnt about a shortcut close to the North Shore leading to another nice little lake. When I stop there, again there are lots of boats going in or being pulled out as well as some kayaks.



It’s getting late afternoon and I start thinking about how many more stops I can afford. First I continue and after a short climb out of the lake basin there is a long downhill to the North Shore drive. This is where I get the first traffic, but then the road is wide enough and has a smooth surface, so I don’t complain.



In fact, with the road now pointing South-West, the East wind pushes me along nicely. The next 25 miles or so have got to be some of the nicest riding in a very long time. With great ease and much above average speed I glide along the scenic North Shore and enjoy the warm light of the evening sun. And as additional high-lights, there are two remarkable State Parks lined up within less than 10 miles: First Split-Rock Light-House, then a bit later Gooseberry Falls. Like last year, I also have to stop this time. (see other trip report) First is the Split Rock Light House. Makes for an interesting backdrop with the road bike in front:



There is still fog out over the water, but on the shores it has broken up. When patches of fog are blown over the trees it feels a bit like sitting on Monte Cucco in Italy with the wind blowing the clouds over the top. This is definitely a scenic spot; turn your head the other way and it looks like this:



Climbing 171 steps back up the stairs brings the visitor back to the parking lot – not many however have their vehicle hanging over their shoulders:



Next stop Gooseberry Falls bridge. With my bike shoes it wouldn’t be comfortable walking the trails down there, plus it is getting a bit late anyway. So I decide to just sit on the bridge and watch the tourists meandering down between the rocks of the falls.



Talk about a string of high-lights towards the finale!


But wait: There is one more: Just a few more miles down the road I see the Grand Superior Lodge ( – an impressive grand lodge built of logs right next to the water front. They also have a restaurant, so I check it out. And almost too good to be true, there is a balcony with sun and the wind is blocked by the building, so it is actually quite warm and comfortable in the evening sun closing in on 7:00pm. And check out the view:



Reminds me of the stop at Lutsen mountain resort last August. With a coffee and an apple crisp plus vanilla icecream I savor the moment and think back about the long day: 6 ½ hours in the saddle for a total of 115 miles (190 km), 10 hours total trip time – so I got plenty of breaks and rest. It is simply amazing how many impressions you get in a single day like this.


I drive back to Duluth and sit down at a restaurant. I order chicken pasta and after that I pull the Notebook out, transfer the pictures from the digital camera and start typing these lines. It’s like I’m riding it all over again in my mind. What a great day!


Sunday, May 18, 2003.


I can’t quite find good sleep and am tossing and turning at night in the car. Sleeping bag too hot, car-seat not very comfortable, some other cars driving by, at one time some drunken kids roaring by at 2:00am and throwing beer bottles out at night which break on the asphalt. Anyway, every night comes to an end, even the ones where you are not so comfortable.


First I have various phone calls while sipping coffee at a Brazilian coffee and bakery shop – a flair of Seattle here in Duluth. Then I start driving back West towards the general direction of Fargo. I am hoping that the weather is holding out for another day of riding. High clouds roll in, but it stays dry throughout the day (until 8:30pm close to home just 20 miles East of Fargo). From studying the map of Minnesota I noticed the Mille Lacs, a pretty big lake slightly East of Brainerd about halfway between Fargo and Duluth. It’s about a 65 mile (100 km) loop around the circular-shaped lake. So I figure it cuts the drive in two halfs and makes for a nice and scenic ride. Also this ride is far less serious than yesterday, which is good, as I am still tired and my butt hurts. It is around 12:00 noon when I get started in Garrison in the North-West area of the lake.



After a few miles of heavy traffic highway a more quiet and more scenice byway starts to follow the lake – at places up on a little ridge, which makes for good viewing of the lake for extended periods of time. That is not always the case, as I remember from the Lake Okechobee loop in Florida: On the 120 miles (200 km) loop you see the lake twice, when you go over bridges behind the levee! But then here this is not a man-made lake with levees all around, so the road often follows right along the water. The photos could easily have been taken at the Ammersee in Bavaria – pretty similar landscape.



Going South on the East side of the lake is tough today, as there is a 15 mph South-East wind. So I stop after about 25 miles for a late lunch. I am having pizza and then lay down for a little nap right next to the water. Lunch in my stomach, the cool wind around my face and the light waves in my ear put me to sleep for ½ hour.



I was hoping for this nap to be more refreshing. It turns out that the pizza still lays heavy in my stomach, going into the wind still is hard work and my behind is hurting from the saddle – it will take more than ½ hour to feel fresh again. So I continue hoping to round the next corner until I can go sideways to the wind and finally coming back with the tailwind at the end. The scenery is nice, often there are additional side-streets through camp-grounds and resorts so I don’t have to ride on the main highway all the time. At times this is very similar to the East-side of the Starnberger See in Bavaria, where there is a small street ride along the water with very little, local traffic.


I have to stop more often now to relax – nevertheless my entire body starts feeling tired which diminuishes the joy of riding to some extent. At least the weather is holding up nicely and my legs are still going reasonably strong. At one point I find a nice hanging chair to relax in for another little nap with the cool breeze right on the lake shore.




The West side of the lake is flanked by Highway 169. This must be some major throughway as there is more traffic here than any I have seen in many months. Probably lots of folks heading back down to the twin cities after a weekend up North near the many lakes. I had hoped to be blown away by the strong tailwind, but either the oncoming traffic slows the wind, the wind has slown, or I am just too tired: It still feels like more work than I had hoped. Well, maybe 370 miles (600 km) in one week, half of it on this weekend, 3 days since the last shower, not exactly a very steady diet, not a lot of sleep, and 20+ hours of sun and fresh air in the last 36 hours – all of that probably adds up to some good sleep later tonight! (after the shower J)


I feel great when finally Garrison comes into sight and I recognize my car at the parking lot. There is a pier with a huge fish where I stop for one last picture and chat a bit with some locals.



It is 6:00pm. I change and drink lots of water. From here it is just a 2 ½ hour drive back home, gradually leaving the forest and lakes behind on the last 50 miles towards the North Dakota border. The last ½ hour towards Fargo I drive through pouring rain! I guess it was the right thing to do on this weekend to get out East to Minnesota and ride away from the rain clouds…