July 9th, 2004
Wow, what a trip. In
planning for this ride I figured I’d have only two weekends this summer where
all of our schedules could come together to give it a go. The first of those two times came and went
two weeks ago when a steady north wind kept me grounded. There’s no way I could have gone the distance
into the wind and what I was really hoping for was a stiff southwestwardly
breeze but that wasn’t in the cards either.
After looking at the wind forecast on Wednesday I told
I came home from work on Thursday morning and looked at the
forecast once more but it hadn’t changed.
I got a couple hours of sleep then woke up to go work in the yard. It was then that I decided I wasn’t going to
let the lack of a tailwind keep me from going…just so long as it wasn’t a
headwind. I told
I spent the rest of the day working in the yard and getting
my bike ready.
It had been a busy day and I was getting tired. The main concern I was having was that I’d
spent most of the day on my feet and I was worried about having dead legs for
the ride. Around 9:30pm I took out my
map to go over the route with
I got to sleep sometime around 11:30 and woke up a few
minutes before my alarm at 4:15am.
I pumped up my tires and rolled out a few minutes before sunrise at 5:24 and could tell that my legs felt good. Some days you know right away that your legs aren’t up to the challenge. I just wasn’t sure if they had what it would take for later in the day. I was on familiar roads for the first 25 miles but once I got to 7th street I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was rush hour now but I didn’t find the traffic to be all that bad. I found Arcade Street and headed north.
The shoulder of Arcade Street was scattered with pot holes and debris and I was anxious to get off it. I eventually did but not before picking up my one and only flat of the trip about 30 miles into the ride. I had that fixed in record time and was now on hwy 61.
I followed hwy 61 through the suburbs of St. Paul until I got to Hugo where I picked up a bike path which would carry me to North Branch. Normally I avoid bike paths as they don’t generally lend themselves to long distance riding but out in the country where I now was, it was some of the best riding I’d ever experienced. I could see the busy highway off to my right with its cracked and debris strewn shoulder and I was so thankful to be on such a smooth and clean path with no traffic. It was nice to put my mind on autopilot as I knew I’d need all my efforts to focus on getting through the later parts of my ride. I gave Mom a call but she wasn’t home so I left her a message because I knew she’d be wondering how I was doing.
It was nice to be out of the hustle of the cities and into the country. I had a light quartering tailwind of 5 to 10 mph which I was appreciative of. The sky was overcast which I was also enjoying. Having the hot sun on me all day would’ve grown tiring so I looked at this as a positive too.
The first larger city north of Hugo was Forest Lake. I brought my itty-bitty camera to snap photos along the way so I could bore you with them as I put this story together. I was hoping the pictures would add another dimension to the story…if they do, great. If they don’t, just ignore them.
Just south of Stacy, I gave
When I got to North Branch the path abruptly ended. I went up the road a little further expecting to find the trail again but there wasn’t one. I started up hwy 30 which went in the direction I’d been going but I couldn’t be sure if I was really on the right road so I headed back and went east hoping to find the trail. After a few miles I’d made it back into town where I stopped at a gas station and was told there was no trail going north out of the city. Highway 30 was the same as hwy 61 so I got on it once again and began heading north having wasted 10 minutes being lost…sort of.
Highway 61 wasn’t the nice path I’d been on but it wasn’t bad at all. There was a nice 8 foot shoulder and little traffic. I pedaled steadily and found a nice rhythm. The few cities such as Harris, Rush City and Rock Creek were a nice diversion. I took my first break about 90 miles into my ride in Pine City. I sat on a pallet of Morton Salt and ate a sandwich watching people watch me. The little kids are cute as they’re not shy about looking at me in my strange outfit. They almost always smile.
Coming out of Pine City I encountered the worst roads of the trip. The sign said, ‘Road construction next 4 miles.’ The pavement had been ground down in preparation for a new layer and it made for a lousy surface to pedal on. The shoulder was a hard packed sand and gravel mix which I used instead. A few times the sand got very soft and I nearly lost control as my front tire dug into it. I spent my time alternating between the two surfaces. Just when I figured that 4 miles was about through I came upon another sign which said, “Road construction next 5 miles.’ I thought maybe it was better they broke the news to me in short increments rather than the whole 9 mile warning at one time. I could do another 5 miles but I was hoping I wouldn’t find another similar sign 5 more miles up the road. I didn’t.
I left the torn up road behind somewhere just north of Beroun and made my way to Hinckley. I knew for sure that the bike path resumed out of Hinckley and would take me roughly 50 miles to Carlton. I thought for a moment that I may never make it out of Hinckley as I had two people run stop signs and pull out in front of me at intersections. I didn’t see any signs for the bike path so I continued up hwy 61 and figured I’d see it sooner or later.
I came across the only jerk driver of the whole trip about this time when a woman in the oncoming lane yelled at me to get off the road. I politely waved back at her and proceeded to happen upon the bike path I’d been looking for. Ah, yes, back to the seclusion of the path. I liked it except that it often times wound its way through the woods and added miles to my trip when I really wanted a more direct route. For the most part it followed hwy 61 with the exception of maybe 10 miles where it wandered.
My next stop was Finlayson. I figured I’d be in and out of the local gas station inside of 90 seconds but I figured wrong. The line was at least 5 people deep and it wasn’t moving. There was an older guy at the front of the line who was disputing the price of something and the younger gal behind the counter was seeking direction from the only other worker there. I put my bottle of Gatorade back in the cooler and went across the street where there was no line and a much better selection. I was tempted to tell those back at the other store still waiting in line of my good fortune at the Spur station but I was in too much of a hurry. Clipped in and rolling once again I’m back on the trail and closing in on Willow River.
It’s kind of a blur but I think Willow River is where I next stopped. I had to get out of my shoes and give my toes a chance to relax. I sat outside a Holiday station drinking my Gatorade and munching on a Chuckwagon sandwich. Yes, you can get away with eating such awful food when you ride.
The towns are passing by at the rate of one every 20 minutes or so. I breeze through Sturgeon Lake then find my way into Moose Lake where I lose the path and proceed to get lost…again. The signage telling you how to find where the path resumes was lousy at best as there was more than one bike path in town and I couldn’t tell which path the sign was referring to. Anyway, I go a few miles out of my way before I’m back on track and so glad to be headed in the right direction. The thought crosses my mind that I should just stay on the highway but I’m enjoying the solitude the path offers even if it does cost me a bit at times.
I’m cruising along with not much left of a tailwind but it’s still not a headwind. I’m steadily averaging 18.9 mph which over this distance is good. The sun broke out some time ago and the temp is in the upper 70s. It’s really a great day to be out here.
I notice quite a few other riders with panniers coming from the direction of Cloquet. It appears to be some sort of organized ride but I never get the chance to talk with any of them. I approach Cloquet from the east and try to take a photo of the gas station in town which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The station is obscured by a tree which jumped in front of my camera. Oh well. I get through town only to find that hwy 33 is still under construction. There’s no shoulder, it’s late afternoon and it’s a bit busy out there. I dial the speed up to 30 and hold that while keeping a semi behind me at bay until the road opens up after a half mile.
Getting through Cloquet was a milestone for me. I’d imagined many times what it would feel
like to be in that position while doing the ride to Babbitt. At about 180 miles I notice that the winds
are beginning to pick up out of the northwest and I have to work a lot harder
to maintain my speed.
About 30 miles out of Cloquet I pass through the town of
Canyon and it’s then that I begin to feel that I may be bonking. If you’re not familiar with the term ‘bonk’,
it’s when your muscles run out of their glycogen stores and your body switches
over to burning fat for fuel. It’s a
helpless feeling. You begin to get weak
and your ability to make good decisions suffers. I put in a call to
When I was just north of Cotton,
Our usual route takes us along hwy 53 through Eveleth and
into Virginia where we pick up hwy 169 but we would have to go another way due
to construction on 169.
I’d looked forward to riding into Eveleth and Virginia but this would be as close as I would get. It was nice to turn off on the Gilbert exit as it took us out of the wind and I was able to bring the speed back up again.
Highway 135 out of Aurora is a beautiful tree lined road
with a nice shoulder for the most part.
I hadn’t seen
I mentioned again how I’d be happy to make it to Embarrass and that we could pack it in then. I would sit in the bed of the truck as I was pretty dirty…remember my legs? We’d roll into Babbitt not quite the way I’d intended but it would still have been a very good day. Embarrass was about 6 miles up the road and I’d meet them there.
I wasn’t hungry but I ate the Snickers bar knowing I’d need
it soon. There wasn’t much daylight left
as the sun would be setting at 9:00. I
didn’t really have to focus as hard as I figured I would at this late stage of
the ride as I was actually feeling pretty good.
It helped so much to have the interaction with
I pulled over one last time a couple miles from home to give
When I rounded the street for home I could see Tammy’s father standing on the street corner in front of their house with a couple young girls sitting next to him on the curb. I later asked him who they were and he said he didn’t know. He saw them walking by and told them there would be a guy pedaling his bike all the way from Minneapolis coming by in just a couple minutes…so they decided to wait and see as it was a slow night in Babbitt.
It was a great trip and I was glad to have arrived safely. I started out about 10 minutes before sunrise and finished around 15 minutes after sunset. I had a feeling the entire trip that I was going to need every bit of daylight to make it in time. Looking back, I’m glad that I didn’t have the strong breeze I’d hoped for to push me. Having been pushed there by the wind would take away from my effort and that would’ve been a somewhat hollow victory.
The total distance ridden was 266.27 miles at an average speed of 18.8 mph. Oh, and I did 4732 feet of climbing along the way. I hope you enjoyed the ride.