Northern Tier 2010

August 9, 2010

Along the Mississippi

Filed under: Geology, Minnesota, Section 06, Section 07, Wisconsin — Henry Scott @ 1:00 pm


Today continued to be hot and humid, and I suppose I should expect that for much of the rest of the tour. It felt a bit easier today, but I think mainly because last night’s storm gave some relief, rather than I’m getting used to it. The humidity makes the evenings more difficult, too, because it is harder to get to sleep — I’m still sweating and it is after dark. But, it’s all part of the challenge, so I don’t mean to complain.


I got to Stillwater (back in Minnesota — the route crosses the Mississippi a few times as it heads south, but after today I’ll stay on the MN side until I reach Iowa) early enough to have breakfast before the bike shop opened. My left pedal has started to make a loud pop each revolution. They confirmed that the source is indeed the pedal, but didn’t have a solution other than to either ignore it or replace they pedals.

I continued on with the pedal, but the pedal noise combined with hills and humidify was too much. So, stopped at another bike shop in Red Wing and bought new pedals. The silence is wonderful!


This Mississippi has continued to grow, and it now looks like more like my life-long mental image. There is lots of activity along its banks including both industry and recreation, with small towns every five to ten miles.


Geologically, it is nice to see outcrops again after so many miles of gently rolling hills with almost no exposed bedrock. This is unusual for the Midwest and is additional evidence for the surprising lack of glacial activity in this region. The photo shows two things that don’t usually go together: vast fields of Midwestern corn and high outcrops.

I’m going to stop here to facilitate getting to sleep earlier; I’d like to get some miles in early tomorrow, hopefully in relatively cool conditions.

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August 8, 2010

The Third H

Filed under: Minnesota, Section 06, Wisconsin — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm


Yesterday’s south wind delivered the worst humidity, presumably from the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve experienced so far, and it made what I thought would be an easy day fairly challenging. The expression in the photo is staged…but it pretty much sums up the day. I knew from the start I’d only go about 75 miles because that would place me near Stillwater, and I’d like to spend some time there during the day. Thinking I had an easy day ahead of me, I took my time leaving the Adventure Cyclists Bunkhouse and, in hindsight, squandered the most reasonable riding weather.


I felt sluggish, and by mid afternoon each mile seemed to drag on forever. I got some welcome relief during a big, and quite good “home cooking” style meal in Harris, but that was quickly forgotten once back on the bike.

Normally biking in the heat isn’t much of a problem because there’s enough airflow to keep cool, but today reached the point for which I couldn’t ride fast enough for the sweat to evaporate. In addition to fatigue from overheating, I had trouble keeping my eyes open due to the constant flow of sweat. It was a long 75 miles, and a strong reminder that I’ve entered the Midwest. Several folks from home have told me about this summer’s oppressive humidity; now I can better commiserate.

Previously I had been thinking there were just two major factors that have the ability to slow me down dramatically: Hills and Headwinds, but now I realize there’s a third H — Humidity. From what I’ve been reading, the northeastern portion of Iowa through which I’ll be riding was spared much glaciation and is, accordingly, quite hilly. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to face all three H’s simultaneously?


Near the end of the day, while taking a break in Osceola, WI, I could see storm clouds developing to the west, and they were an incredibly welcome sight for hope that a good rain would break the humidity. The closest campground was in Somerset, about 15 miles away, and I decided to go for it. I started to get a few raindrops after only about five miles, but they brought immediate relief to the heat, and my legs finally started to come alive.


It was raining by the time I reached the campground, but I made it under a pavilion before the main event. It turned into a spectacular thunderstorm, and I had a great view. I’m now camped under the pavilion, the air does indeed feel much more comfortable, and tomorrow I’ll cross back over into MN to explore Stillwater.

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.

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….

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