I Meet a Babe in Minnesota… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek


This beautiful cove is found along Minnesota's scenic Highway 61 on the north coast of Lake Superior.

This beautiful cove is found along Minnesota’s scenic Highway 61 on the north coast of Lake Superior.

The Canadian Border guard glanced at my California driver’s license, smiled, and waved me through. How threatening could a guy on a bicycle be? It was a simpler time— a peaceful interval between America’s seemingly endless wars, before the onslaught of real and imagined terrorism, and before two good neighbors required passports to enter and leave.

The American Custom’s inspector was a bit more suspicious. They usually are. Maybe I was a pot-smoking hippie, an escapee to Canada from wars past. Middle-aged men were supposed to be busy working 40-hour weeks, knee-deep in kids and nose-deep in debt while supporting the American economy, not running away on six-month bicycle adventures. He had questions to ask. How long had I been in Canada, where had I traveled, what was my reason for being in the country, where had I stayed? I didn’t tell him about sleeping out along the highway or taking a bath in two cups of water. It might have been pushed him over the edge. Eventually he sent me on my way, grumpy that he hadn’t found a reason to declare me Un-American. I was just glad he didn’t make me empty my panniers. He would have discovered my very dangerous dirty socks.

I was sad to leave Canada. It had been an important part of my bicycle journey. I remembered the friendly people, the beauty of Nova Scotia, my first stumbling attempts at long forgotten French in New Brunswick, and the endless miles and wilderness of northern Quebec and Ontario. But further adventures waited. First up was a 114-mile ride along Minnesota Highway 61, a scenic road that parallels the north shore of Lake Superior from Canada to Duluth and is renowned for its beauty, a beauty that includes the lake, islands, quiet coves, crashing waterfalls, and one of the world’s most photographed lighthouses.

Overlook on Minnesota Highway 61 that provides a view of Islands in Lake Superior.

An overlook provided a view of islands in Lake Superior.

Old cabin on Minnesota's scenic Highway 61 along the north Shore of Lake Superior.

This old cabin was once someone’s beach front property on Lake Superior.

Lake Superior provided a storm-free days for me with small lapping waves, not the monsters that are known to roll across the lake in November.

Lake Superior provided storm-free days for me with small lapping waves, not the monsters that are known to roll across the lake in November.

A beach on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Another example. The red rocks caught my eye.

The Cross River on the north shore of Lake Superior along Minnesota's scenic Highway 61.

Foaming falls on the Cross River just before it flows into Lake Superior.

The Cross River of Michigan just before it flows into Lake Superior.

The Cross River below the falls.

A view of Minnesota Highway 61, a great road for bicycling.

A view of Minnesota Highway 61, a great road for bicycling.

The photogenic Split Rock Light house poised on a ledge above a foggy Lake Superior.

The photogenic Split Rock Lighthouse poised on a ledge above a foggy Lake Superior.

Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.

And in the distance.

Lake Superior is indeed a superior lake. It contains 10% of the world’s fresh water, which is enough to flood all of North and South America to one foot in-depth. Surface-wise, it is the largest lake on earth. The states of Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire could easily be plopped down on top of it. Had I ridden my bike around the lake, I would have traveled some 1300 miles, an equivalent to 13% of my whole journey.

It’s so big that 40-foot high waves have been recorded rushing across its surface, sinking ships unfortunate enough to be out on the lake during major storms. Some 6,000 ships have gone down in the Great Lakes altogether, causing upward to 30,000 deaths— and the numbers may be much higher. Gordon Lightfoot memorialized one of the shipwrecks in his 1976 ballad, The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald. On November 10, 1975, the ship had encountered a massive storm with 35 foot waves on Lake Superior and been sunk, taking all 29 of her crewmen to a watery grave.

Fortunately the weather was beautiful for my bike trip. November gales were still months away. I had futzed along, taking a couple of days to enjoy the beauty and give my body a break from the 80-100 mile days I had spent peddling through Quebec and Ontario. I stopped a lot.

So did Peggy and I on our revisit in June. We admired the views and took photos. The picture taking was a bit iffy, however. My Canon Power Shot 100 had died in Ontario. “Use my camera,” Peggy had urged. But her Canon EOS Rebel was sick as well. It kept giving us an Error-99 message. We looked it up on the Internet. The problem was referred to as “the dreaded Error-99 message.” Apparently the camera gave it to any issue its software couldn’t diagnose. I babied the camera along, changing its battery, cleaning its terminals, and saying nice things to it, hoping it would last until we got it to Duluth. “We’ll get you fixed, sweetheart,” I promised, and she kept snapping pictures. (It was not to be.)

The camera made it (just barely) to Duluth. The city is actually a seaport for ocean-going ships that make the 2300-mile journey to and from the Atlantic Ocean via the Great Lakes Waterway and the St. Lawrence Seaway. It has had its ups downs, historically speaking, from boom to bust, but now it seems quite healthy. We passed some lovely old buildings including a snazzy high school in our search for a camera shop. I had found an Internet recommendation for one on the outskirts.

Central High School in Duluth, Minnesota.

I found it hard to believe that this beautiful structure was built originally as a high school in Duluth. They certainly didn’t build high schools like this in California. I’m thinking Harry Potter and Hogwarts!

The owner of the camera shop, a really nice guy who was being driven out of business by the same Internet that recommend his store, looked at our camera and said, “Uh-oh. You have the dreaded Error-99 message.” We laughed. What else was there to do? He took the camera apart, did what he could, put it back together, and snapped a shot out his window. Error-99 popped up on the screen.

I bought a new Canon G7X for the road. Peggy’s new camera is waiting for Christmas.

US Route 2 took me out of Duluth all the way to Grand Forks on the border of North Dakota. Cycling was relatively easy; the weather sunny. The highlights of my ride included throwing a rock across the Mississippi River and meeting a babe— a big blue babe about 15 feet tall with four legs and a tail. A sculpture of the legendary lumberjack, Paul Bunion, and his giant Blue Ox, Babe, is located in the town of Bemidji, Minnesota. Babe was so big, folklore tells us, that Paul used her to straighten out crooked logging roads by hooking her up to one end of the road and having her pull. When she had to scratch an itch on a tree, the tree would fall down and beg for mercy. Once she was pulling a water cart that sprang a leak. It created the Mississippi River! Statues of Paul and Babe are actually found in several locations in the US. (Peggy and I drove by one last week in the Redwoods of Northern California.)

A view of the Mississippi River as it looks in Northern Minnesota.

A view of the Mississippi River as it looks in Northern Minnesota.

A side view of the Visalia-Natchez Bridge across the Mississippi River with a barge passing under it.

The Visalia-Natchez Bridge I had used to cross the Mississippi River earlier in my trip when I had left Louisiana and entered Mississippi. Maybe Paul Bunion could throw a rock across it.

Another view of the Mississippi in Minnesota.

Another view of the Mississippi in Minnesota. Even I could throw a rock across this one.

Paul Bunion and his Blue Ox Babe in Minnesota. Peggy is standing next to Pau's leg to prove a perspective on size.

Paul Bunion and his Blue Ox Babe in Bemidji, Minnesota prove that Canada isn’t alone in creating large, humorous statues. Peggy is the tiny person standing next to Paul’s leg to provide a perspective on size.

Minnesota Highway 2 leads me into North Dakota, more stormy weather, and the sneakiest dog in 10,000 miles.

Next Blog: Minnesota Highway 2 leads me into North Dakota, more stormy weather, and the sneakiest dog in 10,000 miles.


30 thoughts on “I Meet a Babe in Minnesota… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

  1. I knew it! I knew you meant “that” Babe. I have a photo taken with the pair when I was in grade school. One of these days, it will show up on my blog. Minnesota is such a wonderful state. It has more “giants,” too — and a SPAM museum. What’s not to like?

    What I’ve never seen is Lake Superior — unless I got a peek at it as a kid when we visited Hibbing and some of the iron ore country. I love your photos. It always amazes me that there are lighthouses on a lake. It’s just another bit of proof that this part of the country obviously is worth visiting. I hope you stepped across the beginning of the Mississippi, too, even if you didn’t bicycle across it!

    • Dave Ply, one of my followers grew up in Minnesota and talks of walking across it on stones, Linda. Maybe I could have waded across it where I was, or at least easily waded and swam.
      I love weirdness, as you know. And darn, I didn’t make it to the Spam Museum! I’ve been to the Corn Place though. That must count for something. Which city is the Spam Museum located in? Glad you saw Babe and Paul. I think the sign said they had been around since the 30s.
      Superior is big enough that you don’t see across it. Those lighthouses have saved many lives. In fact Split Rock was put up after there was a major storm and several ships sank on the point! Thanks for your fun comments as always, Linda. –Curt

      • Curt, the SPAM Museum is in Austin, Minnesota, the home of Hormel foods. It is good biking around here, relatively flat….as long as you are headed east or south with the prevailing wind. I am sure you experienced quite a bit of pushing against the wind in the Dakotas.

      • Thanks for the info, Almost Iowa… I don’t think I did anything else but be pushed around by the wind in North Dakota! Went to your blog. Some fun. Hit the follow button. –Curt

    • And there was plenty of beautiful America ahead for me, GP. What was really sad was when I got off the road in Sacramento. Good thing that there was a wonderful surprise waiting for me! –Curt

  2. I am loving your journey Curt. I had no idea that Lake Superior was soooo huge! I’ve never been to that part of the world. One day maybe . . . . . So much world so little time. Babe was not what I expected while reading your description. I thought he’d be taller! He’s kind of like a huge squat dog next to Bunyan. I didn’t see Peggy until you pointed her out. Some lovely photos in this one, so I guess your cameras were good for something. Until they weren’t.

    • I didn’t really realize just how big Lake Superior was either, Alison, until I started doing research.
      You can bet I bought a new camera in Duluth and limped along until then! Or else a new camera would have been bought earlier, even if I had to go 500 miles out of my way.
      I am pretty sure that Babe is insulted. (Laughing) –Curt

  3. As an old Minnesota boy you’ve brought back memories. The north shore, the rivers and rock formations, the Mississippi (I went to the source at Lake Itasca – you could walk across if you picked the right rocks), and Paul Bunyon. I was originally thinking you saw the one in Brainerd, I forgot about the one in Bemidji.

  4. Bummer about the camera. I just experienced a disappointing camera failure while in Chile, so I can understand the feeling. I am not too sure about a home with a brick chimney supported by 2x4s. That seems a bit sketchy at best.

  5. Loved your comments in the early part of the post — you bathed in 2 cups of water! Really! Good for you!. And the pictures of swirling water, Paul Bunyan & Babe, and that school in Duluth — priceless. You’re a lucky man to have seen all this in one swoop, albeit a long one!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s