Tour 2015 – Days 46-48: Heartland Trail, Lake Itasca, Park Rapids -> Aberdeen, SD

Heartland Trail, Park Rapids Trailhead in Heartland Park
Heartland Trail, Park Rapids Trailhead in Heartland Park

Park Rapids is the western terminus (for now) of the Heartland Trail, a rail trail that extends east to Walker and north to Cass Lake.  We rode the first 20km, to Dorset and Nevis and back, for a total of 38km.

Snapping turtles love Minnesota bike trails for warm burrows.
Snapping turtles love Minnesota bike trails for warm burrows.

Nevis had a nice coffee shop, and Dorset, a tiny village on the trail, seems to depend entirely on trail traffic for its existence.  We were once again treated to sighting of a huge snapping turtle emerging from his/her burrow along the trail near Lake Belle Taine.  On our return, we went to the Bella Caffe in Park Rapids for an excellent lunch and more espresso.  We then celebrated our “long” ride with trail-logo T-shirts from the Zula T-shirt shop, a bit unusual for us, but we got long-sleeve shirts to augment our wardrobe for cool mornings and many biting bugs.

Lots of hills on the Itasca State Park trail
Lots of hills on the Itasca State Park trail

With rain predicted for afternoon on Tuesday, we headed early to Itasca State Park, where we rode the 9km bike trail from the visitor center to the Mississippi headwaters, at the north end of the lake.  The trail was not a rail trail, so twisted and turned up and down hills above the lake, making for an unhappy trip in anticipation of walking mosquito-infested slopes or crashing on curvy downhill runs.  But, we made it to the headwaters unscathed and relatively unbugged.

The official start of the Mississippi River, at the outlet of Lake Itasca, elevation 450m, 4110km to the Gulf of Mexico.
The official start of the Mississippi River, at the outlet of Lake Itasca, elevation 450m, 4110km to the Gulf of Mexico.

On the way back, we discovered that the hills weren’t as steep going up as we had thought coming down.  However, heavy braking was needed to keep not too far over the 25km/hr speed limit.  A tense moment ensued when a group of cyclists coming uphill fast and in a cluster instead of single file rounded a curve ahead, which resulted in some fancy steering and cross-trail maneuvering to avoid an oncoming bike in our lane.   After a stop to retrieve a water bottle that was ejected from its holder, we continued on, a bit more cautiously, but the trail ahead was only shared with squirrels.

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The clouds began to roll in as we headed back to town for lunch at the 3rd Street Market, next to Bella Caffe, then to the public library so Judy could get connected to the Internet with her iPad, which has not been working in most motels and a few coffee shops the entire trip.  This is a common complaint among iOS users, but Apple seems content with promoting magical incantations as a fix rather than seriously investigating wifi driver issues.  Few of the Hogwarts solutions have worked, and those that have have been temporary.  My iPad Air fell victim to one of the spells that affect Apple products, as it suddenly refused to wake up.  Press all of the buttons at once with crossed fingers, as directed in one counter-spell, woke it up, but who knows for how long.

And so it goes.  The rains came as we hunted for dinner with non-meat choices.  After checking the menus as several restaurants, none of which served all-day breakfast, the default choice for ovo-lacto vegetarians, but we were directed to the local Mexican choice, a relatively new venue in the old armory building, which had a fairly complete vegetarian combo menu.

The rains ended overnight, in time for us to pack up and head westward toward our next appointment in Montana, a transition that will take several days.  We decided to follow US12 this time, a route we haven’t travelled through the Dakotas, which means heading back south before heading west into South Dakota.  The rain came and went on the way south, and the terrain became less wooded and more farmland.

US12, crossing Rush Lake in eastern South Dakota.
US12, crossing Rush Lake in eastern South Dakota.

South Dakota was dotted with shallow ponds and lakes, much like the parts of North Dakota we have travelled through.  We stopped fairly early, in Aberdeen, the third largest city in South Dakota, as the road ahead is largely empty except for the more expensive recreation area around Mobridge, on the Missouri River.