Friday, August 6, 2010

Great River Ride – Day 2 – The Mississippi Headwaters

View Larger Map the map is just a representation and not exactly the route


We left Park Rapids, MN a bit later than we had hoped. We were exhausted from this past week and didn’t bother to set an alarm. We missed breakfast at the hotel and just got a tiny bit of leftovers. Fortunately, we had plenty of snacks. I read on the Internet that the Heartland Park, in Park Rapids was worth seeing. It was just a few blocks from our hotel, so we stopped there first. We were a bit disappointed.

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Someone else obviously had more fun than us!



A brief ride up MN-71 had us drooling in our helmets at we pulled into the south entrance of Itasca State Park.


We breezed past the line of cars waiting to pay since I bought a yearly pass for the bike back in April when I first visited Jay Cooke State Park. The park is as good as they say it is. We are going to go back and spend more time. Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park and one of the largest. If you have never been there, you need to add it to your list.


We finally made it to the headwaters after a very scenic ride through the park. We had a short 1000 foot hike to the actual headwaters from the parking lot. It was pretty busy for a Friday morning. Lots of kids from a nearby school were enjoying the river.

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It has been a long, long time since I visited Itasca. I barely remember it. The only thing that I do remember was walking across the river. I had to do it again, only this time I didn’t fall in!

Walking Across The Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, MN

It is just amazing at the Mississippi is just a tiny stream at this point. It was incredible to watch is grow as the day went on. I think we crossed it over a dozen times, and each time is was wider than the last. I am looking forward to Gulf.

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Just before we left the Itasca visitor's center, we bumped into Howard. He works for the same company as my wife and rode his Versys up from the Twin Cities this morning and planned to ride back in the same day! We rode for a bit together, and parted ways in Bemidji where we stopped for lunch.


Our start of the Great River Road:


We had a tasty picnic on the shore of Lake Bemidji just on the other side of the pavilion from the Paul Bunyan statue.

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After we relaxed for a bit, we got back on the road. We promptly got lost as Beltrami County/Bemidji are missing a couple of the “Great River Road – National Route” signs. We ended up a few miles out of the way before we stopped and checked the map. Amazingly, we had full 3G and were able to get google maps up with GPS. Yay Verizon! That never would have worked when we had AT&T. We re-routed and and got back on the trail quick enough. 39 was under construction and started the horrible trend of too much gravel.

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I’m not scared of gravel. I’ve had lots of practice over the last couple years. It is one of my favorite surfaces with the Ural or the WR250R. It isn’t even so bad on the SV650 by myself. Two-up it’s not so fun. We plodded along at about 15mph for miles. Any faster and the bike would dance around in a very unsafe fashion. The corrugations were way too much for the shallow sport suspension and tires to handle, so we went slow. I didn’t get to enjoy much of the scenery on the gravel because I was concentrating on finding the best line. We both pressed firmly into the pegs with our legs and I just lightly manipulated the bars/controls. This kept the center of gravity low and allowed the front tire to wander into traction. It worked well, but was exhausting.


We made it to Grand Rapids, and didn’t even stop. The scenery was amazing and we wanted to keep riding. We stopped for a short break in Palisade, MN. A tiny little town of about 100. It was a good idea to rest. We were really getting tired from the gravel. After a quick snack, we were back on the route headed towards Aitkin on a road actually called “Great River Road”. The river is great, the road was awful. It was gravel for miles and miles.


The road just didn’t seem to end. We stopped for a break after a while and were over taken by another car. It made me sick seeing how far the dust trail went into the forest. Eventually, we made it to Aitkin and sealed roads. Near Aitkin the route split off for another gravel road. We decided not to take our chances. We were both exhausted and it was getting late. After a quick check of the map, we cut that chunk out and kept on 169 where the route rejoined 10 miles down the road.

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From Aitkin we headed to Brainerd where we got a late dinner and decided to stay for the night. We had planned on making it to St. Paul and sleeping in our own bed, but there is another 2-3 hours of riding the route to get home. I think we would have made it if not for the gravel. I’m glad we are just making plans one day at a time, and don’t have any firm plans for the next two weeks. It makes it easy for plans to change and to explore.

We finished 263 miles today. The scenery and weather were great!

Some more of the photos: Full Flickr Album from today



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