Friday, July 11, 2008

A day off and the Munger trail

We're now in the casino in Hinckley and this isn't a place that we're used to at all. If you are a person that likes the structured and sterile "fun" that a Disneyland provides, this place may be for you. More on this later.

Duluth was great, as usual. We had absolutely exquisite weather with warm sun and cool air. We didn't do much; sleep in, wander around and just sort of be off the bike and rest the legs a bit. They had a something going on called "Sidewalk Days" where Superior Street was blocked off for a couple of blocks west of Lake Ave and the local merchants had their wares on display in the street and games, rides and food.

We then walked down Superior to W-Trek outfitters to check out their gear. I like the store and we met the owner the last time we were in Duluth. He remembered us and asked if we finally decided to drink the whisky. We had indeed followed his sage advice and cracked the MacCallan -- any time you drink a 25 year old whisky is a special occasion. I bought a cool t-shirt and then we wandered away for a little lunch.


We had a snack and a Margarita at Casa del Sol, enjoying the effect of the cool air and the tequila. The chips were welcome too. We then wended our way to Fitger's to see what was going on, looking into the shops and eventually perusing the beer list (I had brought a Nalgene growler and I wasn't going off empty-handed). Duluth commuter champeen Doug returned my call and we set up a time to meet for dinner up the hill.

We had a lovely dinner at the Chester Creek Cafe and it was a real nice change from the lowest common denominator food in Canal Park. Doug and Susan are very pleasant and interesting people who have quite the story -- quitting everything and spending time hiking the entire Appalachian Trail was quite inspiring. We chatted about biking, life, composting (I learned about worm juice!) and food among other things. We ended up closing the place and they were kind enough to drop us off at Fitger's so I could fill my growler. We then went back to the hotel and slept -- tomorrow was another bike day.

Thursday dawned cloudy and cool with the promise of rain. Since this is July, we didn't bring much in the warm clothes department and the water was the last thing we needed was to have waterproof and warm clothes. So it goes. We crossed Duluth and rode out to the Munger trail head through the part of town that actually works for a living, quite the change from the boutiques and restaurants of Canal Park. I'll have to tip my helmet to Duluth for the bike lane signs that they put up, signs that point out how to get to different parts of the city and arrows showing the way, not unlike Portland.

We found the beginning of the trail and started heading out to Carlton -- a 15 mile climb that you really don't notice since it's an old railroad bed. As we rode through the rocks just out of town, I saw something I doubted I'd ever see with my own eyes, Minnesota's state flower, a Showy Lady's Slipper! These are rare as they don't set seed often, have a habitat that is not really found anywhere near where people tend to be and don't usually make it to flower since they're a tasty treat for deer. But here it was, just next to the trail plain as day. They are as beautiful as the pictures portray. As I was taking pictures, a local couple riding by stopped and we chatted. A couple more pictures and back on our way.

The Munger trail is an old railroad bed that has been paved and so the best description is dull. No turns, no hills, no nothing. After you leave the port area and pass over the St. Louis River, no much happens except miles. You climb to Carlton and are welcomed by a filthy pit toilet and a picnic shelter with a sign that says that you can't put your bikes in there. Welcome to Carlton, indeed.

We pedaled through a light rain along the Northern border of Jay Cooke State Park which managed to chill us down even farther. The rain eventually stopped, and we biked through the damp forests and fields until we finally found a place to get some lunch in Mahtowa. There isn't much left here, but the proprietor of the little store had the decency and foresight to make a welcoming place for cyclists with benches, a clean bathroom and good snacks. I'd recommend this as a model for towns to attract riders and help make tourism a way to create a little revenue.

On through a bit more drizzle through Barnum and a stop for an iced mocha in Moose Lake. By now, the sky was beginning to clear and the sun felt quite good. Not much else happened, just pedaled the miles away. Neither of us were feeling all that strong and the ride is pretty, but dull, so there was nothing really inspiring except finishing and getting some dinner. There is a bit of interesting trail around Rutledge -- it actually turns quickly and climbs and falls. Oh, and the Black Flies come out there too...

This turned out to be the inspiration we needed to keep going. The little bastards were taking large chunks out of me (apparently, I'm tastier than me Mrs) and they were landing in the holes of my helmet and I really didn't want that. 15 mph was fast enough to keep them from landing, so we busted ass to keep them away. Between the fast finish, the humidity, the cold and the boredom, all we wanted to do was to finish, shower and eat. We finally made it to Hinckley and the Casino and we were quite happy to get a room and crash. We opened the growler (the 20/20 IPA) and toasted our survival and cleaned up for dinner.

We were both pretty zapped from the ride and Mrs Yam even more than I. The beers and and fatigue created a sort of surrealistic haze as we entered the casino. I don't gamble (with a degree in Math, you learn that you really don't win) and the creepy vision of row upon row slot machines with old people poking buttons completely detached from their surroundings. The first suck--, uh patron, was a woman with an oxygen bottle tapping at a machine like a rat smacking a feed bar. Wading through this hypnotized humanity to get to the buffet, I sort of felt like Hunter Thompson.

Dinner was really weird. We were starved from the road, but LCD food yet again -- a sort of Old Country Buffet as designed by Starbuck's. If an all you can eat steak buffet doesn't look good after 85 miles, you're doing something seriously wrong. After eating half of my steak, I could confirm that they were indeed doing something wrong -- all that would go through my addled mind was Rodney Dangerfield's lines in Caddyshack.

We ate the other stuff and wandered up to bed. Mrs Yam was asleep in literally seconds after hitting the bed, while I watched Jon Stewart for a couple of minutes before dropping the remote a couple of times, thus convincing me to go to sleep also.

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