Greetings from Tom in Northeastern Minnesota

A beautiful sunset in the land of 10,000 lakes

July 31st

I’ve been trying to write something for this blog at least once a week, but after cycling for five to six hours, then setting up camp, I find it hard to sit myself down to write.

I now find myself in Gran Portage, Minnesota, located in the very northeast corner on the shore of lake “Gitche Gummee*” (Superior). It is an Indigenous reservation of the Ojibwe people (a miniscule portion of land that was once an entire nation). Through a miscalculation, I will be here until Wednesday morning when I will take a ferry to Isle Royale (I thought I was leaving on Tuesday). The time here will not be wasted. More time to write this blog, for example. I have many stories to tell and thoughts to share. Also, I will have time to investigate this land and maybe its people, past and present.

So, stories. Another reason for not having time to write is that I’ve had a rash of flat tires.(I’ve lost track. Six at least, all rear tires.) I had replacement tubes and a patch kit, but after the second flat, I was out of patches. Then, a third flat on a gravel back road. I dragged the bike and panniers to the main road and began trying to hitch a ride to Ely, a 50 mile distance. A woman driving a road grader for the county pulled over and, although she couldn’t give me a ride on the huge machine she was driving, she got on her phone to try to find some help. Eventually, she called the county sheriff’s non-emergency number and they sent the sheriff to save me. The woman who stopped for me was Kay (another angel). Ironically, her son is a cyclist and had only left that morning to drive to Maine with his bicycle to compete in a triathalon.

The sheriff put me in the back seat of the truck/cruiser that she was driving. This is the seat where they put arrestees, void of any objects with which I might hurt myself. She was not able to bring me to Ely (it is out of her county), but she could bring me to Virginia, MN. This was farther south than I had intended to go, but it was the closest town with a bike shop.

The people of Virginia were very friendly and very helpful. The woman who was working at the shop told me about a bike trail (paved and 90% complete) that runs from Grand Rapids to Ely and just happened to have an access in Virginia. So, after repairing my tire for the fourth time, I set off on the Mesabi Trail.

This trail turned out to be a gift. There was no car traffic (except where the trail was incomplete) through, for the most part, what felt like back country: marshlands, forest, land-and locked ponds. There was no sound except the hum of my tires and the birds and frogs. I felt like I was given a gift, being able to experience a part of Minnesota that most people never get to see. All due to happenstance. Bad luck transformed to good luck OR an uphill followed by a downhill!

August 1st – OMG it’s August

Ely (Eelee), Minnesota is the gateway to the Boundary Waters, an area extending across the border, traversed by a seemingly random system of gravel roads and home to many of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. It is favored and enjoyed by canoeists, kayakers, and fisher people, as well as just campers who appreciate its wilderness quality. (Didn’t meet many other cyclists, though.) It is also home to the North American Bear Center and the International Wolf Center, both of which I took the time to visit. Each of these centers has a large educational display and each has as many as five resident animals who, because of a variety of circumstances, have been deemed not able to survive in the wild. These creatures have been acclimated to human handlers. One of the bears, for instance, insists on being hand fed and the wolf handlers can pet the wolves. 

Also while in Ely, I visited Ely Bike and Kicksled, where the owners Alvin, Alexia and Ullr let me work on my bike in their shop. (I had had another flat since leaving Virginia.) Alvin was very helpful. I purchased another tire and headed south on Minnesota Route 1 late in the day, but determined to put more miles behind me.

In the end, it was a 32 mile day ending at a campground five miles off Route 1 on Birch Lake, where before I had a chance to get a campsite, I was met by Julia Murtha. After talking for a few minutes about what I was doing – where I was coming from and where I was going – Julia invited me to join her and her family (mom, dad, husband, and 3 children) for dinner. I spent the evening with them around the campfire. New friends with Maine connections.We hope to meet again. I hope to repay the hospitality.

The following day, I continued south on Route 1, all the while looking for a gravel road that Alvin had told me would take me to Grand Marais. I never found that road, but a fellow by the name of Joe Ernest found me in my search and offered me an alternative route along another gravel road. He even drew me a map that was invaluable. (This is almost wilderness, remember, easy to get lost.) The next day I made it to Grand Marais (had another flat tire) and traveled north along “…the shore of Gitche Gummee, by the shining big sea water*…” otherwise known as Lake Superior. 

I stopped at Judge Clarence Magney State Park where I was met by Brian Fyksen, who invited me to join him, his wife Jane, son Teal, daughter-in-law Jenny, and their three children for dinner. (I must look hungry.) Another night making new friends while chatting around a campfire. I think that because I’m traveling by bike some people take a particular interest in me. Or perhaps it is just more angels making sure I am taken care of.

~ Tom
*from The Song of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow