Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Crazy Trip Dispatch #2 From Doug Walsh

DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh is still cycling. Here's his latest dispatch:

I awoke this morning sensing something different, but familiar. I couldn't place my finger on it at first, but I soon realized that for the first time since we left Seattle in March, we've slept in the same place for three consecutive nights. It was time to move on. We set off this morning for a seventy-three mile jaunt to the shore of Lake Superior, to the town of Two Harbors, but I must write about our homebase these past few days.

We battled vicious headwinds and plunging temperatures as we crossed eastern Montana and North Dakota, anxiously looking ahead to the forested shelter of Minnesota's northern woods. Our destination: Ely, the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). As a college student, I was mesmerized by photos and stories of the BWCA; its countless lakes, million structureless and roadless acres, and myriad paddling routes and portages has earned this vast watery frontier straddling the border between Minnesota and Ontario a place on my must-see list. Unfortunately, the sleepy tourist town of Ely had yet to thaw from its extended winter slumber. With fishing season a full week away and the majority of lakes still frozen over, we were, once again, early. Sheridan Street, lined with cafes, gift shops and wilderness outfitters, yawned and stretched as we walked amongst a smattering of locals casually stocking shelves and hanging signs in anticipation of the season to come. I sense they wanted to ask why we've come, but they're too polite to bother us.

Finding a canoe outfitter did, in fact, prove relatively easy: we were the first customers for the lone outfitter open this time of year and he joyfully welcomed his first rental income. I stared dreamily at the wall-sized map of the BWCA as the guide pointed out various lakes and portages we could manage this time of year. We arranged to rent the lightweight kevlar canoe, discussed our shuttle details, and
met him back the next morning at 9:30 sharp. Kristin and I set off across Fall Lake, into the pure wilderness of northern Minnesota for our day of canoeing. We paddled past numerous loons, listened to the asymptotic drumming of the ruffed grouse, and stared in awe at the size of the moose droppings in the middle of our quarter-mile portage -- a mountain of steaming roasted chestnuts should aid in completing the mental image. Our trip into the BWCA was merely a sampler, but it was a day to remember. We may not have seen any moose, but we didn't see any other mammals either, nor their boats and canoes. That will change come the fishing opener.

Making these days off the bike all the more comfortable was the generosity of one of the ladies in the hospitality network we belong to. Communicating purely by email, she excitedely surrendered her knotty-pine cabin on the edge of town to us for three nights. "You guys earned it!" she exclaimed in all caps. Three nights in our very own cabin, without television or Wifi, was too good to pass up. It was the perfect place for a marathon session of Lost Cities over a couple of six-packs, for listening to the cabin's supply of Finnish folk music while reading, and for napping.

Now, recharged after our 2200 miles of cycling, we're ready to roll north along the shore of Lake Superior across the border into Canada. Our first stop is the town of Thunder Bay. Originally just a dot on the map with a cool-ass name (true story: that was my honest-to-goodness reason for crossing here), I later came to realize it was the town where Terry Fox's incredible attempt at running across Canada, one-legged and battling cancer, came to an end. Who among us with cable television in the 1980s doesn't remember seeing The Terry Fox Story on HBO? From the Terry Fox Memorial we'll continue along the Trans-Canada Highway, hugging Lake Superior's northern shore from one Provincial Park to another to the city of Sault Ste. Marie. And like so many destination cards in Ticket to Ride, our journey will continue on to Montreal and points east.

To the North!

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