Northern Tier 2010

August 7, 2010

What If vs What Is

Filed under: Minnesota, Section 06 — Henry Scott @ 12:00 pm

Breakfast may have been the best part of the day. Nothing bad happened today, and I suppose I knew the good wind couldn’t last forever, but it was a psychological blow to find myself facing a headwind all day as I headed south. The scenery wasn’t very good either; despite being close to some large lakes, the highway I followed was lined with view-blocking trees. I’d be okay with that, but behind those trees was one private resort after the other with little public access. Today became one of the very few days on this tour for which I kept pedaling just to get through it.

But today was still a good day for non-cycling reasons. It started with breakfast at Kelly’s Kitchen in Palisade. I arrived early and could quickly tell it was a local’s place, but the owner, Kelly, made me feel right at home. She knew all about the Northern Tier and offered to customize the menu so I could get just what I wanted.

I had a Portage Omelet, which included eggs, Swiss cheese, turkey and lots of wild rice — a major local crop. The rice worked incredibly well in the omelet. I also had a short stack of sweet potato pancakes. They were big and dense, and I felt wonderfully satisfied by the meal. It was so good that I spent a surprisingly large portion of the day reminiscing about it. Uh oh, now I’m thinking about it again.

I spoke with a farmer during breakfast; he was pleased to see I was eating wild rice, one of his main crops. He was a bit disgusted, however, when he found out that I only bike for six to eight hours per day — he works fourteen to sixteen.

I thought about trying to explain that that’s just the time the bike is moving, and it doesn’t include all of the inevitable stops throughout the day, let alone making and breaking camp, lots of time eating, sleeping, etc. Other than tapping out my daily entry on the iPad, I literally don’t have any idle time on this trip. But, it was clear the argument was lost…

I left Kelly’s to face the headwind, and it was slow going all day. I covered 93 miles to reach Dalbo, but I was stuck back at 12 mph. That feels awfully slow after averaging well over 14 for the past week.

But, there were other unexpectedly good things to come. Near one of the few public scenic overlooks of Mille Lacs Lake, I met Denny, Sandy, Glenn and Marge. They approached me to ask about the trip and we proceeded to talk for thirty minutes. Before leaving they left me with a bag of homemade cookies and a bottle of Gatorade.

In Ogilvie I stopped at a coffee shop for a snack and a cold drink, and as a woman entered she said someone recently bought her a drink, and that she wanted to repay the favor to me. I tried to politely refuse, but she insisted, and before I knew it I was enjoying a large, ice-cold Italian soda.

Finally, the most striking example of random kindness was in Dalbo. It has become clear over the past few days that my evenings of free camping in city parks are just about over. For some reason such community hospitality is much less common in the east. Campgrounds tend to be less frequent, privately owned, and surprisingly expensive for one person with no vehicle and a small tent — they often charge the same rate they would for an RV.

But, just north of Dalbo, farmers Donn and Sherry Olson have turned an old barn into a bunkhouse for cyclists following Adventure Cycling routes. They aren’t even home during my visit, but a sign outside welcomes cyclists and invites them in. Inside one finds a large, comfortable space, a microwave oven, several private rooms with mattresses and clean pillows, and a refrigerator full of drinks and frozen meals (at prices so low they must be below cost). They even provide a shower!

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about how such kindness has been the rule, rather than the exception, on this trip. Everywhere I go, people want to know what I’m up to, and I get nothing but encouragement, and sometimes free food, drink and accommodations. I have yet to have a single motorist do anything aggressive toward me — I am consistently given plenty of room. I’ve been shouted at twice (both happened to be in Grand Rapids) but, to be honest, I was clearly in the wrong one of those times (I failed to signal that I was going to turn).

Of course I recognize that if one could establish a risk factor presented by each passing motorist, that factor could be extremely low, yet potentially ruin my trip because I encounter such a large number of vehicles. I suppose that’s why to some a trip like this may seem dangerous. Certainly cyclists do get into accidents, but I’m sure the vast majority complete the entire trip with no more serious problems than the occasional flat tire.

I can think of many things that could go wrong while touring, but I don’t think there’s enough data to really evaluate any of these risks. Instead, it is easy get hung up on a handful of anecdotes about the bad things that have happened to cyclists — the “what ifs.” But, there are so many bad things that can happen to us everyday that such thinking would keep us from doing anything. Accordingly, I’m focused on the “what is” of this trip, and that is incredible scenery and exceptionally friendly and interesting people.

This sentiment was stated much more eloquently by John Muir:

Few places in the world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They kill care, save you from deadly apathy, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.



  1. This is all so good–such a variety of comments in your posts. I forwarded appreciation of public libraries to Kate Geiger (our minister’s wife; she’s the town librarian). She was especially grateful for that show of thanks right now: at their last meeting, the borough said they didn’t want to continue to rent to the library (or, I think, the Jimmy Stewart Museum upstairs) because it’s expensive to maintain an old building.

    Comment by Celinda Scott — August 8, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

  2. Excellent post today! It truly makes me proud to be a Midwesterner. Thanks for the affirmation. I don’t doubt that you’ll encounter some measure of hospitality all along the route, even in the East. But it will be interesting to read your perspective on this as you’ll be quite in tune to it and experiencing the various regions in rapid succession. And here’s a shout out to Seth from one of Henry’s biking buds for hanging out with him for two weeks . . . You’re tops in our book!

    Comment by Bruce — August 8, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

  3. Every time you talk about pancakes I want pancakes. Dammit it is 1:30am and raining and I want pancakes!
    I also miss Seth! haha! 🙂

    Comment by Lauren — August 9, 2010 @ 7:32 am

  4. Mr. Scott. I am glad your day started out GOOD and were able to enjoy a solid breakfast! Thanks for stopping. The farmer you were speaking was Greg, who works at Goddard Farms~ Growers of the wild rice you were eating. Yes, Greg works alot, but I doubt he would understand the “working of a trip” such as you were on.
    I our paths crossed again as we headed south!
    Once again, I prayed for your safety, and admired your stamina!
    I hope this trip delievers you safely into your familys embrace!
    Kelly Olson
    Kelly’s Kitchen

    Comment by Kelly Olson — August 21, 2010 @ 10:49 pm

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