With a sense of deja vu, I headed toward the Mississippi River again, and this time heading due east after leaving my new friends in Minneapolis. To get back on the ACA route meant braking down and crawling up the severe parabola of the river valley and getting back on the Wisconsin side of things. Before hauling over the bridge and up north and skyward again, I met a family of three enjoying a sunny stroll in Stillwater. The woman in the group knew the area I was from back East and compared the quaintness of this artsy, touristy, small-shop center to my own little funky town on the Delaware River. I felt a few ripples of nostalgia for the familiarity of family, friends, my neighbor and the sweet little New Jersey farm cottage I rent next to her home. I missed the summers there, surrounded by tall deciduous trees and a manicured lawn adorned by hostas, lilacs and lilies, visited by cheerful hummingbirds, butterflies, and deer.
Just 20-30 miles on to Osceola, I stopped to make lunch and catch up on a few things like laundry and writing and work after days of visiting and riding and fantastic experiences non-stop. So I hit the laundromat, popped into the small grocery store to replenish dog and human food, and stopped by the library, where I quietly sat with Tunes on my lap without incident. I thought I had a lead on camping behind the volunteer emergency services building, but was told that some board member or vetoed the idea, citing liability concerns. Still, one of the very kind volunteers, Luke, a young and tall sunflower of a midwesterner, helped steer me to a campground, where I ended up meeting a nice group of Eagle Scouts who were cycling across country as a fundraiser for an organization that supports American Veterans, a man who was riding along as a chaperone, and a woman driving their hefty support vehicle.
Falls in Osceola:
The next day, I planned my own route from St. Croix Falls, WI to get back to the Northern Tier ridemp in MN. Along the way, a charming couple in Taylors Falls made a donation to Gearing Up. A few miles later, the driver of an SUV slowed down to call to me, “I’m so jealous of you right now!” and I yelled back, “I’m pretty jealous of myself!” The morning fog had lifted and the sun was shining brightly, the hills invited a pleasantly muscular engagement, and I merrily rolled along in a wide shoulder on a very lightly traveled road. I’d started listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray and was giggling at some of Oscar Wilde’s fancilful language along the way, and after a few hours, I was at mid-day and in a very small town. I thought it was time for a PBJ, but instead I pulled up to the little café in town. Two women identified themselves as locals and recommended that this was a good place to get some “home style cookin,” and not just because it was essentially the only place for quite a few miles. So I went in to order take out for me and Tunes, and when the server handed it to me, she said another customer had already paid for my lunch. I couldn’t help myself- some happy tears were shed for all the help I’ve been given and the kindness I’ve been shown in the last two months. Then I got a group hug from the waitresses. Thank you, humanity, thank you, universe!
But the real kick was around 3-4 PM, when I was approaching a place on my map that was listed as a special “cyclists only lodging” site, which has usually meant a free cyclists hostel or church that has opened its doors to cross-country riders, or some other setup which has usually resulted in a memorable meeting and stay. I was on the fence about quitting so early in the day with only 50-something miles down, when alongside a blazingly bright and eerily empty country road a short line of trees in front of a remote farm house, and from behind them stepped out a young man in a familiar cycling jersey…. Bike and Build again! I was laughing hard as I cornered into the driveway at the lodge’s address, and came upon what looked like a pile of melting college kids, and they greeted me with laughter and reciprocal exclamations. They usually have partnered with churches so they sleep indoors, but on this occasion we were all together in this beautiful converted barn which bore the sign “Bicycle Bunkhouse.”
And a glorious bunkhouse it was. Donn Olson tells the story of his haven for Northern Tier riders coming through Dalbo, MN: http://youtu.be/ezcyY6BGlik
The bustling effervescence of the B&B crew plus the beautiful farm and meticulously landscaped surroundings made for a festive evening. Under the cover of darkness, I wrote the gang a silly chalk note in the margins of the street for their early departure the next day. We wondered if we’d see each other again, but I suspected it might be our last chance encounter. But who knows? Stranger things have happened. The day they left, Don invited me to take a day off there, so I took him up on the offer and did some maintenance, writing, reflecting and relaxing. Don even helped me clean my chain. “Minnesota Nice is real!” I exclaimed to him, and he laughed jovially. I found an old guitar in the attic of the barn and sang my heart out in the hay and then in the empty silo, where the reverb and acoustics were so fabulous, I sounded halfway decent.
I got back on the road the next day and encountered my first sand hill cranes, huge winged creatures that I saw briefly but heard lots of and was amused by their call and response cackling.
By sweaty day’s end, I arrived in Bowlus, MN. Camping in the park would’ve cost $10 or $20, but the nice folks at the very bike friendly restaurant called
Song of the day: The Blue Nile – I Love This Life