Minnesota has treated us well. We went in a bit skeptical with the return of the humidity, and with that moisture the dreaded mosquitoes. We are a sweaty breed that mosquitoes love, so all in all, not a pretty picture to behold in our sweat-soaked shirts and shiny faces plastered with wild hair as we scratch our abundance of welts. Yet here we are, completely charmed by the Land of 10,000 Lakes. While the landscape is beautiful and wildlife plentiful, the appeal is largely due to the continued hospitality received and general goodwill in all our encounters, specifically, surrounding the Fourth of July.
In the life we are leading right now we rarely know what day of the week it is, as the day has little bearing on the routine or tasks ahead of us. We were a bit late in realizing that June 30 was the beginning of a long holiday weekend for most, and despite the ample festivities going on everywhere, people still welcomed us into their homes. Our host in Fergus Falls met up with us on the road and rode our last five miles with us, then proceeded to bend over backwards to give us a window into Minnesota life. He cooked us a meal including walleye and crappie he caught, delighting everyone’s taste buds, especially those of our aspiring fisherboys (who dutifully hounded him with questions seeking technique tips). He invited us to stay an extra day to show us around because he loves his hometown and has such pride in it that he wants others to see it and enjoy it too. He took us tubing down the river, then to his family’s lake cabin where we spent the evening with his family and enjoyed a sunset boat ride that included roosting and soaring bald eagles, herons, and pelicans. Imagine Tango’s delight given his last response in the previous post—talk about timing!
It took some coordination to make this happen for six extra people, but it was done with such grace. An extra vehicle had to be borrowed for our transport, a friend of his sought out inner-tubes for our use on the river, and precious time with out of town family over a holiday weekend was completely compromised in the name of giving us a (last minute) taste of Minnesota. At every turn, people were kind and welcoming.
Another family biking across the country (https://www.journeybig.com/) was in Fergus Falls at the same time. We serendipitously discovered our geographical overlap as they called our host seeking a place for the night. He said he already had a family of six for the night so could not host them, to which they responded their knowledge of us through word of mouth– having been hot on our trail for a couple of weeks (now the roles are reversed as they are much faster than us). We met for breakfast the following morning before they headed out (and we lazed on the river and on a boat—no wonder they are covering ground so much faster!) and shared our stories with each other.
The day we left Fergus Falls, we pulled over to make lunch in a small town only to discover a Fourth of July Parade was firing up (which in the end put Seattle’s Seafair Parade to shame). The parade followed a serpentine route through town so the Boy Scouts’ Color Guard stopped in multiple places to provide the flag for successive singers of the National Anthem. It was touching how people along our road still stopped to stand up and face the direction of the flag with their hands on their hearts for the anthem being sung at a preceding stop but still somewhat audible to us, and then did so again when the Color Guard reached our section—very reminiscent of being on a military post at 1700, yet geographically so far away from one. The float filled with veterans was among the first in the parade. The kids were enchanted by the classic cars, old farm, fire, and military equipment showcased, and were especially delighted with all the candy and goodies thrown their way. I took pictures, but have since lost my phone, so cannot include them. Lil’ Mo had a spring in her step for the remainder of the day (and well into the next) thanks to all the sparkly flare that adorned her following it.
As we continued our journey we pedaled through several more small towns, and all of them had American flags lining their Main Streets to celebrate the holiday. Enthusiasm was catching and the kids tried to dress patriotically, but found their individual pannier bags of possessions were too limited in inventory to support red, white, and blue outfits. We arrived at our next hosts’ home (in our normal ratty bike clothes) on the evening of the 4th of July. They not only hosted the six of us that night, but a couple from New Zealand as well, and they went to tremendous effort to provide the eight of us a Happy 4th. They cooked up a bountiful spread from their smoker for dinner, had a cooler filled with chilled beverages to conclude a hot and humid day of riding, made delectable baked goods for dessert, and even bought fireworks to entertain the kids!
We went into it happy to have a place to shower and sleep for the night and were treated like royalty. We enjoyed a leisurely morning with our hosts and New Zealand friends, and our hosts rode out with us to guide us through their recommended route across the Mississippi River.
We headed off to our next destination with a pit stop at a fantastic park to do some school work and play time before arriving at our next host’s place. A pirate ship playground, splash pad, and water fountain that is an open lion’s mouth are a pretty hard to beat combination, and an unexpected treat in a town with a population under 1,250.
Following the afternoon’s fun, we arrived at our next host to stay in her barn. Could there be a more classic Americana experience, or a better week for it???
The host wears many hats that keep her on the move at all times: allowing cyclists to sleep in the upstairs of her barn, running an antique store and boutique on the farm, facilitating community events and weddings on her property, all while continuing to work outside the farm. The most treasured aspect of this experience was the 13 year old boy , J, who volunteers his time to help her. He was super friendly with the kids and asked them about the bike tour. His initial line of questioning made his skepticism of the concept clear. After we relayed our stories of goat births, horse-back riding, boat rides, dress-up closets, roadside rescue operations, Ukrainian food, etc. he became more open-minded to the idea. He asked what we thought of Minnesota and conveyed his love for his home state, and more specifically, for farming. Later, he tried to collect the cows so the kids could feed them, but they would not come no matter his efforts, “They’re stubborn.” I commented that must be where the phrase ‘bull-headed’ comes from, and then realized that I should have already known that given the dispositions present in our own family (I’m super malleable… it’s all Old Man. Ha!). It was in the mid-90s and the cows were in the pond cooling off with no intention of getting out, and I cannot say that I blame them. As he headed home that night, he asked about our timeline for the morning and voiced his intent to come back and try for the cows again because he did not “want this to be the only boring stop along the journey.” He held true to his word and was back in the morning and sought those cows, and this time with success.
He went on to invite us to his farm to see the new calves and let the kids sit in the tractors and honk the horns.
Afterward, he checked in again on our thoughts of Minnesota and farming, because little seemed as important to him as us holding his beloved state and way of life in high esteem, and we most definitely do. He accompanied our ride all the way to his summer job where we said good-bye.
We biked through another mid-90 degree day today to stay at a host’s Bicycle Bunkhouse. I type this in a converted barn that has hostel rooms and a converted silo that can accommodate up to 25 people, a stocked kitchen, AIR CONDITIONING, comfortable furnishings, Wi-Fi, and bathroom facilities. FOR FREE. All he asks is you fill out his guest book and supply a donation to cover the expense of the food you eat. He is not a cyclist, but likes being able to offer the many cyclists he sees on his road a place to stay. We are dumbfounded and inspired by his generous and thoughtfully-detailed provisions.
Minnesota has been good to us from beginning to end. On our first night camping in Minnesota we were surprised when other longer-term guests pulled up to offer us some firewood and a folding table to make us more comfortable for the night, and here I am near the end of our Minnesota crossing typing this update freshly showered, with a roof over my head, and cool air pumping in my direction while the kids are asleep in their respective rooms because someone simply enjoys providing hospitality. Bugs and all, Minnesota has been a pretty awesome experience and we are sad for its conclusion this weekend. J assured us that Wisconsin is not as great, but I think (and hope) that he is just biased. We’ll find out….