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.
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.
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.)