The road is dual,
equal parts feeling and numb.
Therein lies the rub.
I have yet to decide if this ride is more about the miles and sights seen between towns, or if it’s about the experiences with people in the places that I stop. Surely, an argument could be made for either, but I’m not interested. I’m perfectly happy having a healthy dose of both, though that doesn’t mean that I don’t ponder why I’m doing this as the miles click by beneath me.
For example, Wednesday was easily about the company, though Thursday was more about the sights. After I left Crosby at the start of my third day, the Cuyuna Trail started my day off beautifully with a leisurely ride through the woods. But before long, I was in Brainerd, a city that apparently can’t properly direct MRT bikers though itself. I spent the better part of my hour-long ride through Brainerd trying to figure out whether or not I was on the right route. I did know, though, that I wanted to stop by Jack Pine Brewery before leaving town, so when I found myself on a bike path that took me in that general direction, I accepted it as where I needed to be. Fortunately, I had to detour from the path to get to the brewery, because once there, I realized that the road that it was on was actually where I was supposed to be! (The brewery was closed, but that’s a different sad story. The silver lining was that a tap house with Jack Pine beer was only about a block away.) From then on, it was a straight shot south on Hwy 371 to Little Falls, with the wind to my back, allowing me to average about 16 mph throughout the 30 miles along the highway, despite having full packs.
That evening I met a woman who lived just south of Little Falls. Earlier in the day, we found each other on Tinder and she told me that she lived right on the Mississippi River Trail, so I would be passing her house later that day. As the hours went by, I sent her updates as to where I was, and by late afternoon, I arrived at her house. She was in her garage, at the edge of a yard that the Mississippi River lapped against, where she offered me a Surly Furious IPA to help me relax after the long ride.
We shared some stories about each other over beer and found out that we liked each other’s company. She was a farmer who dabbled in erotic romance novels, and had a history of dating artists, though she somehow couldn’t get the time of day from the farm boys. Once the Surlys were gone, we hopped in her truck to get more beer from the liquor store. “I feel like I’m spoiling you, letting you ride in my truck. Now you know how easy travel can be,” she joked as we pulled out of her driveway.
We were both divorced, so the extra beer was a nice touch for each of our long stories about ex’s and how they became that way. She fed me artisan pickles and locally-made cheddar cheese and we tried to do a crossword puzzle together. All the while she insisted I sleep in my tent that night. She would occasionally remind me of this. I set the tent up, and she joined me. Later, she decided that it would be ok if I stayed in the house.
This was the first evening of her vacation. Early the next morning, she woke to get ready to fly to Cleveland to see an old friend. But she let me sleep in, on the condition that I make the bed, close the garage up, and rewrite my Tinder profile. After a night of drinking, with little sleep, I decided to take the morning off from biking and stayed in the big bed for a few more hours. And when I finally hit the road again around noon, I took a jar of pickles with me, per her insistence.
The wind had changed direction on Thursday, so the miles were slow. But the view of the land through farm country was beautiful to look at, with many rolling hills and pastoral creeks; a welcome change from the loud bustle of Hwy 371 the day before.
By 5:00, I arrived in St. Cloud and stopped at Beaver Island Brewery. “Let me guess,” the bartender said as I walked in, still wearing my helmet and riding gloves. “You’re here for Burritos, Beer, and Bikes.” I shook my head and said, “I don’t know what that is. I just want a beer.” I just happened to arrive right on time for Beaver Island’s weekly bike ride, where people show up to do a 15 mile ride before having some beer and food together. As great as it sounded to hang out with some fellow bikers, I was looking to take a break, so I stayed back. Though before they left, I talked with a couple who had also done a lot of bike tours, most recently across Ireland. They told me about a park about 15 miles south of town along my route that I should check out for the night.
Long after the sun went down, I finally came across Warner Park. It wasn’t a camp ground, so no one was around. I pulled up along a veranda with long tables, at the end of which was a small room with several outlets that looked like a makeshift kitchen space for people with crockpots and electric griddles. The night air was cool, but it was slightly warmer in the kitchen. So I pulled my bike inside, laid out my sleeping bag, pad, and tarp, and slept to the sound of crickets and frogs off of Lake Warner.