70 miles – 634 total miles
Today was our last full day riding of this trip and it was pure cycling bliss!! We moved a bit slowly breaking camp this morning in the 40 degree coolness but still hit the road around 10:15. The thing is, we knew we had about 70 miles to ride and we also had no schedule commitments of any kind. So there was no sense of urgency – just a commitment to keep a decent pace and enjoy the day together.
Nothing disappointed about this experience. The first few miles were mellow rolling hills toward and away from the big lake with beautiful incut streams punctuating a relatively smooth coast. We chatted with each other and just generally passed the time enjoying the view. Around Taconite Bay we suffered our first real flat of the trip. Chandra patched the tube and we were underway quickly. At Lutsen we stopped at a gas station for lunch (the had a nice patio where we got out our usual peanut butter, sardines, etc. We ate the last of the peanut butter – I guess its time to go home!). After lunch we realized the rear tire was flat again. On inspection the new leak was right at the location of the patch. Could be Chandra missed the spot or could be another reason but she patched it again and we planned to leave. But…I checked pressure just before departure and it was already low. This time, the patch was fine, but we found a pinch near the valve. It should be noted that this tube had a patch before we started the trip! So…we decided against a fourth patch even though the pinch was obvious and probably happened while we were low from the first flat. With a new tube the mini-saga of this flat (the first besides the trailer of this whole trip) was done.
The tire business took some time but we were kicking an average of 14.8 MPH all day so we still made Grad Marais in time to swing into “The Pie Place Cafe” (with a name like that, could we responsibly skip it?) with Cedric the friendly waiter. The blackberry peach pie ala mode ma have reduced many to tears, but I was able to hold it together partly by viewing the beautiful marina full of sailboats as we sat on the sidewalk at the cafe, and partly because we were soaking up the sun on this perfectly cool day if riding.
In all the tire shuffling, I had accidentally pulled the rear derailleur cable from it’s slot so the rear shifting was bad. While stopped anyway for pie I figured out the problem and rode around a parking lot to test and adjust it. Seems like the Pie Place Cafe hires eastern European women to work. They saw me riding around and all were talking excitedly to each other and pointing and smiling at me. When I told Chandra about that she simply said “Nice. Why don’t you ride back there with the trailer and panniers and see how enthusiastic they are to make your acquaintance then”. No need to perform that experiment – I already had the right stoker who does not fear a fully loaded tandem bike.
The remaining 18 miles from Grand Marais were among the most satisfying biking of any kind I have ever experienced! The shoulder was wide and smooth, traffic was light, hills were minor, and off to the right was a constant cobble beach with the great inland sea of Superior going off into the horizon without end. The sun was low and casting shadows and magical autumnal light and we could hear the waves gently washing the cobbles back and forth. I can honesty say that as we red along, I didn’t want it to end. I could have ridden for hours this way although it was only one to convey us to this park. Today was representative of the entire journey. Perfect weather, perfect companionship, amazing scenery, good roads, manageable mechanical issues, and simplicity of life that cycle touring brings. Calories in – legs spinning. Distance covered.
The southern exodus of post labor day north country complete, we have this campground nearly to ourselves. Chandra made an amazing dinner of pasta with fresh ingredients including roasted pine nuts, tomatoes, bell peppers, and basil. It was a fantastic meal and the few mosquitoes that were here faded with the setting sun. Now the moon is up, the air is cool, we have hoopdy little twig fire going, and life is complete and good.
Tomorrow is a short ride to Grand Portage and the border with Canada. It’s exiting to look on the map and see how far we’ve come, but of course it’s sad to think of this trip ending. A I walked back from the campground office after registering, I thought to myself “I could keep riding for weeks”. This is not a hypothetical idea – we’ve done it before and will do it again. That said, these two weeks have been more perfect than I could ever imagine. I don’t miss home because home is here in the green tent with Chandra. I do understand that we can’t keep going forever and I’m just thankful to be in a situation and with a life partner who wants to have these kinds of experiences. There will be more to come but this is one I will always cherish.
Grand Portage looks like a beautiful and interesting place. Beyond the emotion of ending a journey, I of course look forward to seeing a place of natural beauty and historical importance. All that is in the morning tomorrow – the last day of this journey.