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Monday, June 30, 2008

Grand Rapids to Stillwater and beyond....

I hope you all are being entertained by our various mishaps. Just this morning Ray was saying, "Well, at least this will make a good story for our blog." My response was, "Why can't we just meet nice people and see lovely things?" Of course we have been doing lots of that, so we need a few odd occurences to make things more interesting I guess.

First there were the mosquitoes. As if they weren't bad enough in Grand Rapids, that night we got to Palisade and camped in their city park which was right on the Mississippi and infested with the little buggers. Ray nearly went crazy several times and after we cooked our dinner we quickly retreated to our tent. While we were there a couple of guys pulled up in a canoe. They were going to go the whole length of the Mississippi from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. I recently learned that this is one of the things Ray dreams of doing. It sounds like it would be a pretty amazing trip -- the more we travel along, the more ideas we have for future travel. We've discussed road trips to national parks, train trips, canoing and of course lots of kayaking, but before we come close to any of that we have to finish this one.

In the morning we hurried out of Palisade as soon as everything was packed, fleeing from the mosquitoes. We had planned to do a pretty long day but on our way to the next town, Aitkin, we were bothered by some headwinds and decided to hang out in the town for a while. We had lunch and got groceries and then in the early afternoon left, planning to camp somewhere on Mille Lacs Lake. We rode about 15 miles and stopped to call a couple of places to see if we could camp. There was a huge mass of dark dark gray clouds behind us so we hoped we could get to the next little town before the storm hit.

We pedaled along as quickly as possible and the clouds followed. After about 3 miles a police car slowed down and pulled up next to us. I thought the officer was going to warn us about whatever weather was coming our way, but he rolled down the window and asked "Are you from Maine?" We said yes and he asked if one of us had left our wallet at the grocery store in Aitkin. Until that moment I didn't realize that I had left my wallet, but I told him "Yes, I guess I did!" He said that they had been trying to catch us before we left town but someone could bring it to us at the little store down the road in about an hour. I was so surprised that 1. I had left my wallet 2. Someone had turned it in 3. They managed to find us 4. They saved us a huge hassel trying to get it back. It was amazing! We have a tendency to leave our bikes leaned up against stores without great concern that they bikes or anything on them will disappear. It was really nice to learn that people can be so helpful, friendly and honest. Thanks so much to everyone who helped get it back to me!!*

We made it to Malmo and a little store with an overhanging porch just before buckets of rain began pouring from the sky. There was so much water coming down it was stunning. We waited a while until another police officer came with my wallet and then decided to try to find a place to stay for the night. Of course it was a Friday night in June on a lake that is very popular for fishing. Most places were full or out of our price range. The rain had mostly stopped but it looked like there might be more on the way. Finally we found a place nearby and decided to call it a day -- we had already had enough unplanned complications it didn't seem wise to go much further. We camped at a marina on the lake and the lady gave us a discount when she found out that we had bicycled all the way from Washington.

Another storm passed over, we just stayed in the tent and emerged briefly to watch the sunset. Sometime in the middle of the night we both awoke to a tent that was about half its normal size -- the wind was blowing so hard that it was pushing the south side of the tent with an extreme force. It was pouring rain again and the thunder and lightening were very close. As we sat in the tent we realized that water was beginning to pool under the tent where Ray's feet were so his sleeping bag was getting wet. What a ridiculous day! The storm did pass and it was calm for a while but then the wind starting up again and continued to blow incredibly strongly all night. In the morning I stood up to get out of the tent and the wind took it right up off the ground with me.

With all these mishaps, there is a lot to tell you about, so I'll keep going: Once we got away from the lake in the morning the wind died down and we rode along among forests and various campsites, resorts and ice fishing shack storage. My favorite part of that day was in the afternoon when the wind was finally behind us and we were riding through fields, farms and tree farms along small roads with gentle hills. We stopped in some of the little towns but our destination for that day was the Wild River State Park. About 6 miles off our route, it was our only option for camping on Saturday night. It is a park with golden prarie surrounded by woods along the St. Croix River. We walked down to look at the river but the mosquitoes didn't allow us to linger. The campground was full but the sites were somewhat secluded and it was just a really pretty park.

The next day we continued on route 95, which was not part of the route on our map but since we had already gone out of our way it seemed like it would be more direct to continue on it. It was actually longer, but the ride was really pretty. We went through some nice little towns on the St. Croix and crossed over into Wisconsin where we rode on small back road lined with farms -- some big with fields of corn and cows, some small with market gardens. All of the farms around here are so perfectly picturesque each with some silos and almost always a beautiful barn painted in that classic red. I have to stop myself from taking pictures of all of them, so I photograph maybe every 20th one that I see.

After Wisconsin we crossed back into Stillwater, Minnesota, over a trafficy bridge that brought us suddenly into a vibrant and touristy town on the river. It was sunday so everyone was out in the summer sun and the town was bustling. We ate lunch on a restaurant deck outside and watched the river complete with some old-fashioned river boats. It was a really pretty town and lately almost all the towns around here have been quite pretty and quaint. They seem to have actualy downtown areas with stores that are open and old buildings that are still being used.

After an afternoon in Stillwater we braved many more hills to go 20 miles to the St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park. We got a campsite and I went swimming in the St. Croix which was really refreshing. With a bundle of wood and some newspaper borrowed from other campers we cookd veggie burgers and had a nice fire. The campsite host warned us that they had had some trouble with people coming into the campground and taking things so we locked our bikes to a tree and packed things up. We wanted to sleep without the fly on our tent so we left our bags out and Ray said he would wake up if someone was in our campsite. Some hours later, I woke up and nudged him saying that I heard something rummaging in our bags. I grabbed my headlamp and we chased a raccoon away from my bags where I had some food stored. The beast had managed to unzip two of my panniers and take out 7 granola bars (I had just bought a new box of them in Stillwater), two apples and two bananas. I didn't find any granola bars left only wrappers and banana peels. I know its bad to feed wild animals and I am mad that it took my food, but slightly dumfounded that it could unzip and unwrap.

I kept waking up for the rest of the night and did scare a raccoon away a couple more times, but the damage was done. Alas. Since this morning things have gone smoothly. We rode through some more very hilly parts of Wisconsin and had lunch back in Red Wing, Minnesota. We decided to take the less hilly route 61 to Wabasha (where we are now). It was a quick ride along the Mississippi and Lake Pepin which is a really wide part of the river. We went through Lake City which is apparently the birthplace of water skiing. It was really nice to ride along the lake. Although the hills are annoying at times, the last severaly days in Minnesota has been really beautiful (minus the mosquitoes and raccoons!).

It is interesting to think back to the other places we have been which were so different from here and I'm sure we have a lot more to see. I wish I could give you even more details and descriptions, there are so many things I have left out, but I don't really have enough time at each library computer. I'm sure you will here more details from us when you see us, but as you know I will continue my updates while we are still traveling. I hope you are well!

*While I am at it I would also like to thank everyone who has given us directions to various places (we ask people all the time when we are in towns) and all the helpful and friendly people we have met along the way!


Brita said...

I think of losing a wallet as an urban experience, but of course it can happen anywhere! Guess your experiences with the wallet, the lodging discount, and the directions bear out the stereotype of nice, helpful Midwesterners. Hopefully New Englanders will do you proud, once you get that far!

Thank you for sharing these hilarious stories! I'm crossing my fingers for NO MORE PESKY CREATURES.

Anonymous said...

hey i uploaded the pictures i think

go to this address to veiw the pics (copy and paste this to your adress bar)



Angela S. said...

What adventures you're having! I'm glad you got your wallet back and are meeting friendly, helpful people along the way!

Anna Be said...

Thanks, Stu! If you can upload more that would be great, but thanks so much for doing that!! xo