I woke up and continued south on highway 38, the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway. Along the way I crossed the Laurentian Divide. The water north of here flows into Hudson Bay (although curiously, the sign uses the old "Hudsons Bay" name).
And for my Finnish friends.
I rode around looking for the party. Never did see it.
I found a couple of geocaches along the way and found this little buddy.
I've got a friend from this area who I haven't seen or talked to in about ten years. I stopped to watch a Little League game and found a number for her dad who in turn gave me her number. I gave her a call.
Amanda was excited to hear from me. Turns out she lives in St. Paul now and asked if I was coming down that way. We made some tentative plans and she offered that I could stay with her and her boyfriend if I needed when I go through that area in a few days. I told her that would work out great!
The Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway ends in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, hometown of Judy Garland. Urbanspoon on my smartphone recommended a little place to eat called Pasties Plus. What the heck, I'll try it. It's a tiny place.
Inside it's small. Like a little bakery, which I guess is what it is. I went to the counter and explained that I was a rookie. I didn't have a clue what a pasty is.
Turns out I wasn't even saying it properly. It doesn't rhyme with tasty. The cook on duty explained they only serve two varieties. With, or without rutabega. I chose without, but with a side of gravy, and could I have a glass of water, too?
Damn, it was good.
The pasty comes from Britain, and the best guess is that originated in Cornwall's mining communities. The miners would eat pasties for lunch. They're simple, easy to carry, and provide a hearty meal. No surprise they're popular in this region of the state.
I rode over to Itasca State Park, headwaters of the Mississippi River.
I've been here a number of times before, and I always stop when I'm near. They've made some big changes since I was last here, most notably the visitor center near the headwaters. It didn't exist a few years ago.
Here is the famous sign and the traditional beginning of the river.
What's funny is none of this is natural. Lake Itasca State Park is Minnesota's oldest state park and was formed in the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps. This rock dam and channeling of the upper reaches of the Mississippi were one of the projects. They filled in the swamp and constructed the first few hundred yards of the river into a rocky creek in an attempt to beautify the source.
And it was quite busy today. More people than I've ever seen here.
Most incredibly, a wedding party showed up.
And they all lined up along the log bridge.
The river flows out of the park under a handful of walking bridges.
At the visitor center, along with bathrooms, a gift shop, and an expensive restaurant, they have a neat model on display.
This bridge is also new. It used to be an eight-foot culvert. I've been through it.
And then the river flows out of the park.
I followed the Mississippi River Trail, a designated bike route which follows the river, as best I could. Trouble is, unlike other states, the MRT route isn't signed in Minnesota so I relied on the GPS route I pieced together at home.
And rode back through a field to what is purported to be the site of the oldest bridge across the Mississippi River. The current bridge is a reconstruction by a descendent of the original bridge builder.
There was a geocache located here, and it took me a long time to find it.
It was hot and stifling.
And then I continued along the MRT as best I could.
Stopped at Coffee Pot landing where I've camped a couple times in the past. The bridge is for pedestrians or snowmobiles only.
In Bemidji, I got a picture with Paul Bunyan.
And continued east following the river.
I started seeing signs of heavy wind damage.
Nearing sunset, I stopped at the Winnibigoshish Dam. A posted sign explained the downed trees.
It was nearing sunset. An Indian family was fishing and I talked to one of the old men while his sons fished.
While at the dam, I checked my Facebook. I was surprised to see that I had three messages from a childhood friend who I hadn't seen in almost 25 years. I had made contact with him through Facebook a while back and noticed that he also rode motorcycles. About a month before this trip I suggested to him that we could meet near Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and ride together for a day or two. He owns his own business today and told me he'd look into it. He's got a wife, a kid, a business. Didn't look like it was going to work out.
The three messages were from Zack. The first was, "I'm thinking of meeting you." The next was his phone number. And the last one was simply, "I'm on the way," and the timestamp was from two hours earlier.
On the way where? Shit, we hadn't made any plans yet. Awesome.
I called his phone and left a message. I was turning around and heading to the small town of Walker, which I figured was roughly between where I was and where I figured he was headed.
I rode into town and found a cheap motel. I wasn't sure if Zack was a camping type or not. I called and left another message for him telling him where I would be. He showed up about 45 minutes later.
The first thing I noticed is that even though Zack and I had pretty much been best friends from about the ages of five to around twelve, I wouldn't have recognized him today. He's a big guy. Several inches taller and much more muscular than I am. We walked to what appeared to be the only open eating establishment in town and sat down at the bar.
But aside from our physical differences, we had a lot in common. It was a weird sensation. I was talking to a "stranger" with whom I shared many childhood memories. We talked about Christmas at his grandparents. We laughed about the small business we opened up as kids, "Jamie and Zack's Kool-Aid and Snacks." And he told me that the influence of my dad probably led to his passion for motorcycles today.
The kitchen at the bar was closed. They sell pizza by the slice, but the bartender took the whole thing and slid it in front of us.
And when the barkeep found himself with half a can of Red Bull at the end of the evening, Jäger Bomb shots for everyone, on the house.
Zack and I walked back to the room and stayed up for another hour or so reminiscing. I told him he's the only son of a bitch I know that would ride up to meet me without even knowing where I was headed.