Northern Tier 2010

August 6, 2010

Like a Drifter, I was Born to Walk Alone

Filed under: Minnesota, Section 05, Section 06 — Henry Scott @ 1:59 pm

People often ask what I think about while biking. Some of the time my thoughts are specific and task oriented, such as where I’m going to camp, how my legs and back feel, and what my next meal will be. But, a lot of the time I think about more long-term issues such as ideas for new experiments, how to incorporate what I’m learning on this trip into my courses, etc. That said, sometimes my mind just wanders, and fairly often I get a song stuck in my head, and I’ll keep hearing (and very occasionally singing) fragments of the lyrics.

As I mentioned yesterday, Seth and I parted ways in Grand Rapids today because he’s going to go north of the Great Lakes, whereas I’m staying further south. After a big lunch, and some time in the library, I got anxious to hit the road, so we said goodbye and rode off in different directions. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Seth the past two weeks, and logistically it has made day-to-day tasks, such as cooking, easier as well.

As I pedaled away I got the Whitesnake song referenced in the title stuck in my head. The absurdity of it had me literally laughing out loud, yet the song stayed with me for many miles. But that’s just how it goes when one gets a song stuck in his head… for some reason you don’t get to pick.

Otherwise, today was yet another perfect riding day. The sun was out, but there were enough clouds to make the sky interesting and, most importantly, I had a tailwind for much of the day. The route is staying close to the Mississippi so I continue to get excellent views of the growing river. Notably, there is almost no development along the river’s banks, so the views are quite pretty.

It has also been interesting to see the trail infrastructure for off-road vehicles in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter, much like in Michigan’s upper peninsula. I’m not sure if they’re operational, but I was amused by the collection of snowmobiles shown in the photo, at the ready for the first snowfall.

Finally, today was my 30th day into the trip, and I started Section 6 (I’m camped in Palisade, right on the Mississippi, for the night). I’ve covered 2,240 miles in 179 hours of riding. That comes out to just shy of 75 miles per day and an average speed of about 12.5. The favorable winds I’ve been getting recently have helped quite a bit to bring those numbers up. I don’t think I’m quite halfway distance-wise because I’ve added some side trips and a few miles each day riding around towns, but if I stay injury-free, I think I’m on track to finish in another month.

So here I go, again on my own….


August 5, 2010

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Books

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

I stole this title from a sign in Bemidji’s public library. Well, actually, Seth noticed the sign first, so I guess I stole the idea of stealing it from him. Anyway, the sign got me thinking about how amazing the public libraries have been on this trip. Even in the smallest of the towns with public libraries, they provide free Internet access in addition to excellent reference materials and, of course, books. The staff are always friendly and helpful, even when we must look filthy. That said, I am glad they require shirts and shoes!

Today our longest stop was in Bemidji, the “first town on the Mississippi,” and the home of gigantic statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. You can see us towering over them in the photo.

We were here early so we went out for breakfast. Seth broke his own pancake record, but I continue to shy away from eating so much so quickly — I have to sneak in an extra meal to keep up with him in terms of caloric intake. Today that came from an under-construction Subway. I must’ve looked hungry with my loaded bicycle, because a worker asked if I’d be willing to test the drive-up window on my bike in exchange for a free sandwich. Ya betcha!

We repeatedly crossed the nascent Mississippi today, and we got to see how quickly it grows in volume along its course. Near Itasca one could easily jump over it, but by Bemidji it starts to look more like the mighty river it will become.

We’re camped in Bena for the night, back along Highway 2, and we’ll head into Grand Rapids fairly early tomorrow. At that point Seth plans to head north up and over the Great Lakes, but I’ll stay on the Northern Tier. It has been great to have such a good riding partner for the past two weeks.

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.

August 3, 2010


Filed under: Gear, Minnesota, North Dakota, Section 04, Section 05 — Henry Scott @ 2:00 pm

To Fargo’s credit (and my very slight disappointment), I didn’t see a single reference to the Cohen brothers film today. It is still one of my favorite movies, but Fargo has a resurgent downtown, and there was lots going on without living in the movie’s shadow.

Our ride to Fargo was quite different than our entrance to Minot, the last major town we visited. The winds were at our backs, we didn’t have any mechanical problems, and we covered the 32 miles in excellent time. It was a beautiful day in Fargo. We started with a big breakfast, and I avoided the all-you-can-eat pancakes — another significant departure from our layover in Minot.

After breakfast we went to the fantastic Great Northern Bicycle Co. bicycle shop. The staff were amazing, and they went to great lengths to make us feel welcome, including storing our belongings while we walked around, giving thoughtful advice and directions to do the things we needed to do, and providing expedited service on Seth’s wheel.

The shop itself is in an old train depot, complete with an excellent coffee shop. One of the employees, Judith, remembered meeting Tom, the westbound cyclist we encountered a few days ago in Minnewaulkan, when he came through Fargo. They’ve kept in touch, and Tom had told her we may stop in. She realized who we were from Tom’s description, and we had a great time chatting.

Unfortunately, however, I was a bit preoccupied today, and I spent much of my time in Fargo dealing with an ailing camera. I packed up my Canon S90 and sent it in for warranty service — it cannot get satisfactory focus on distant objects any longer. It has been heavily used since I got it last Christmas, but I’m still disappointed to be having such problems already. Hopefully Canon will repair it under warranty.

Even if they do, however, that leaves me without a camera for at least for a couple of weeks, so I ended up buying a replacement (the Canon 1300IS). It is amazing how long simple tasks such as printing a letter, preparing a shipment, and just getting around take when one has few resources at his disposal. I was glad to be doing something relatively fun rather than, say, looking for a job.

From Fargo we pressed on into Minnesota and are camped for the night in Hitterdal. Tomorrow we may reach the headwaters of the Mississippi, something I’ve been excited to see since my colleague Andy recognized my route would bring me near.

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