Northern Tier 2010

August 4, 2010

Veritas Caput

Filed under: Geology, Minnesota, Section 05 — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

Today was a perfect touring day. We got off to a slightly late start because I was slow to get packed up, but once we hit the road we sailed on excellent winds. The terrain of the land of ten thousand lakes consists of rolling hills, but the wind was strong enough to make them all seem easy. We covered the first 64 miles in well under four hours, excluding a break to cook breakfast in Callaway, and stopped for lunch in the small town of Two Inlets.

From there we turned north and exchanged our tailwind for a crosswind, but that didn’t matter because before long we reached the entrance to Lake Itasca State Park, and we didn’t even notice the wind not blocked by the forest because the lake views were so gorgeous.

We had an interesting conversation with a local named Ray near the entrance who told us about several opportunities to leave the road and take paved bicycle paths, which we did to reach our campground. Now that he’s retired, he earns some side money by collecting leeches, using venison as bait, to sell as bait for fishing. After seeing leeches for sale over the past several days, I had been quite curious about how one, intentionally, catches them. The bucket on the back of his 1970’s-era Honda is to hold the leeches until he can sort and take them to market — “jumbos” fetch $6 per dozen.

Because we made such good time, we arrived early enough to explore the visitor center, set up camp and cook some pasta before setting off to see the park’s main attraction: the “official” headwaters of the Mississippi River. I put official in quotes because with so many tributaries it is hard to identify an absolute start, but the outflow of Lake Itasca is generally given this distinction. There was a surprisingly heated battle in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s by white explorers eager to be credited with identifying the headwaters.

The lake’s modern name was given to it by Henry Schoolcraft in the 1850’s with the explicit purpose of claiming it as the source for the Mississippi: the name is derived from the Latin words veritas and caput meaning truth and head, respectively. Schoolcraft formed a contraction by dropping the v-e-r and p-u-t from the beginning and end. Some Native American folklore was manufactured after the fact to give the name added cultural significance, but from what I understand, it has no basis in Native American mythology.

After watching Itasca’s outflow begin its 2,500 journey to the Gulf of Mexico, we biked around the ten-mile Wilderness Loop road, bringing us to just over 100 miles for the day. We went to the top of the fire lookout tower to see the landscape from above the canopy. Nature is allowed to run her course with no human intervention in the wilderness area, and the low-traffic, one-way only ride offered some very relaxing riding and terrific views.


1 Comment »

  1. Hi Henry,

    Prepare for a surge in traffic on your blog — you were featured on the front page of the SB Trib’s Local section this morning, with a great photo of you in the mountains (Glacier?) above the fold. I don’t know, though — you publish an important article in PNAS on abiogenesis of hydrocarbons and the SBT isn’t interested; but you take a scenic, two-month vacation on your bike, and that’s front page news. Hmmm…

    I hope we do get to see you when you pass by.


    Comment by Jerry — August 6, 2010 @ 11:35 am

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