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2014 Road Diary

May 21, 2014, Here We Go Again

After a send-off luncheon with the Kids ‘n Kinship staff on Tuesday, we were busy with our final preparations for the Ninth Annual Christian Elder Memorial 900.  John was musing that we could have called it the CEM300 and people would have still been impressed enough to make contributions to Kids ‘n Kinship.  Oh, well, 900 it is!

On the donation front, we received a touching message from Great Clips stating that they would like to donate $3,800 toward our effort in honor of the number 38 Christian drove for their NASCAR ride.  Great Clips has been a consistent donor for us, but this was truly unexpected and appreciated.  They are part of a growing list of large corporate donors, most significantly Merchants Bank, but also Single Ply Systems and Elder-Jones.  Thanks to all of these organizations and to all of our donors large and small who make this so worthwhile!

Today we depart for Little Falls, MN to get set up for the start of the ride, but alas, John has been hit with a flu bug.  We all decided that he should stay home to get well and catch up with us later.  This doesn’t need to be like one of those cruise ship incidents.   I’m sure he’ll catch up very soon…Dennis volunteered to ride his miles.

We took off for Charles Lindbergh State Park with our brand new support driver, Gary Nelson, and our newly remodeled RV, courtesy of that dreaded low hanging tree during last year’s ride.  We set up camp in a peaceful site next to Pike Creek, named for the explorer Zebulon Pike.  Who knew?  A competitive game of Yahtzee ensued, and then we turned in early, as tomorrow we begin riding.

May 22, 2014, A Beautiful  Start

Today was a nicer day than any of the 15 days of the 2013 CEM.  The morning started cold, 41 degrees, so we were in no hurry to get going.  After a biscuits and gravy breakfast, we pulled out of camp and drove to the Soo Line Trail on Highway 10.  Denny, Kathy and Dennis jumped on their bikes and took off toward Albany.  Along the way, we crossed the Mississippi River near a dam and the Lake Wobegon covered bridge.  Riding into Bowlus there was a sign that read, “Legion, Open Sunday Noon - ???” Apparently, it is quite the wild time in Bowlus on Sunday night!

We stopped in Holdingford and chatted with a boy riding a trick bike.  He was explaining the tricks he could do and asked us where we were going.  As we were getting ready to leave town, Denny spotted a Schwann’s truck and wondered aloud whether they had any ice cream.  Unaware that the boy was running to the truck to get some ice cream, Kathy and Dennis pedaled down the trail.  Denny politely declined the ice cream from the boy, or so he told us later…

There were numerous birds along the route, bluebirds, finches, woodpeckers, was that an oriole?  I was thinking I should have learned bird calls from Kathy’s mom, Nan, who is quite the bird calling expert, or so I’m told.  Maybe next year…

In Albany we turned onto the Lake Wobegon Trail and rode through Freeport and Melrose on the way to our second stop in Sauk Centre.  The trail parallels I94 and is not terribly scenic.  It is, however, difficult for anyone to get lost (Denny), and it is very safe.  The wind gradually increased during the afternoon, and by the time we rode the final stretch to Osakis, we were fighting a quite noticeable headwind.  It was a long day of riding; for some reason trails always seem to slow us down.  We finished late in the afternoon, a near perfect sunny and 65, hoping that this is a sign of good fortune to come.

Gary picked us up in Osakis and drove to Lake Carlos State Park near Alexandria, where we met John and Sherry.  Yes, John will be ready for Day 2 after his brief recovery period.  Gary cooked burgers on the grill, and we barely stayed up long enough for dessert, Abdullah chocolates, oatmeal cookies, and of course, rhubarb pie.  It looks like another nice night for sleeping, and Sherry will get her first night sleeping in the back of the trailer…

May 23, 2014, Welcome Back John!

Sherry seemed to enjoy her stay at CEM camp, but not enough to become one of us.  After Gary earned his stripes with a French toast and bacon breakfast, we drove back to the trail in Alexandria, and Sherry headed for home.  Kathy especially enjoyed having another woman here to share some adult conversation.

Since the trail only runs for 45 miles from here to the end in Fergus Falls, our plan was to ride back toward Osakis 5 miles before turning back to Alexandria and continuing westward.  We would only have a few additional miles to pick up along the way.  While John and Dennis were getting ready, Denny and then Kathy started riding.  John and Dennis rode together to the east, cruising to the 5-mile mark, but no Kathy and no Denny.  We can’t possibly lose somebody on a trail!  Our immediate thought was that they started in the wrong direction, and we would just meet them back at the RV.  After reaching the RV, however, we only found Gary.  This truly can’t be possible.  John was finally able to reach Denny on his phone and learned that he and Kathy had ridden out 8 miles and were now on their way back.  The simplest of things some days…It’s only Day 2, and Dennis has already lost control.  Maybe we should start a new rule: Everyone go ride wherever you want, and we can meet at the end.  I’m done ranting; I think everything will be back in line tomorrow. 

Back by the RV we stopped for a photo.  I did not realize that Alexandria is the “Birthplace of America”.  Jay always told us it was LaCrosse!  We learn new things every day on the ride.  From Alexandria we rode west through numerous small towns, stopping every 12 – 15 miles for water and snacks.  It was a perfectly pleasant ride on the Central Lakes Trail, scenic lakes and tree-lined prairie as we rode along with a nice breeze blowing us from behind.  John said it was the best first-day ride ever, although the rest of us reminded him it’s actually the second day.

At our final stop in Dalton, Dennis heard someone call “hey”.  Turning around he was totally surprised to see a very good friend of the Hill family, Alef Valdes.  Alef was driving through Dalton on his way to his lake place and saw Dennis and then the CEM trailer, so he stopped.  Kathy, Dennis and Alef chatted for a few minutes, and we decided that Alef should not say anything to his wife, Lynne, about seeing us.  Lynne reads this diary every day, so this is how she will learn about our chance encounter.  Hi Lynne!  It is truly amazing that our paths would cross out here; the chance seems beyond possibility. 

We finished our last leg and then drove to Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids.  Gary backed the rig into another tight spot, even receiving compliments from the park rangers on his parking job.  We grilled steaks and veggies for dinner, after a brief rain shower.  As we finished our dinner, Jay showed up to replace Gary as our support driver for the next week.  Gary did a great job filling in for us on short notice and is welcome to drive for us any time.

May 24, Jay’s Brother is a Doctor…

Editorial Note:  A red challenge flag has been thrown regarding yesterday’s diary entry.  I have appointed myself CEM diary ombudsman to mediate, despite a question of conflict of interest.  Never before has the diary been amended, but in the spirit of harmonious relations on the home front, today will be the exception.  Kathy wishes to explain that her decision to ride 8 miles out rather than 5 as agreed upon was to accumulate 16 miles before the 44 mile trip to Fergus Falls.  I have agreed that this was a perfectly logical decision to make, and I also withhold further comment.  There…how’s that?

On to today.  Jay whipped up venison sausage, rosemary potatoes and scramble eggs for breakfast, after which we departed our beautiful campground for a drive to Park Rapids, about 90 miles away.  Oddly, we found the Heartland State Trail trailhead right where it looked to be on the map.  Before we began riding, John was complaining about an in-grown toenail, so Jay offered to fix it.  Later in the day John was heard explaining to someone on his phone that Jay’s brother is a doctor, implying that it was logical to allow Jay to perform this procedure.  Actually it all worked out, and John’s toe is on the mend.

Denny was ready first and he rode out to the trail while the rest of us posed for a photo in our carefully coordinated outfits, brand new CEM jerseys, designed by John with collaboration from Dennis and Justin.  The designers at Perry Ellis have nothing to worry about, but we think they are quite sporty!

Due to our long drive it was close to noon and already getting very warm by the time we started riding.  The trail was pristine the first 18 miles to Akeley, passing serenely among the pine trees.  Dozens of other riders were moving along the trail, which is great to see.  After our first stop we biked past Walker and turned to the north, all the while getting a nice push from the wind behind us.  We rolled along until we reached a barricade announcing a trail closure for bridge repair.  We made it all the way to Day 3 for a closed trail!  Fortunately for us, Jay had seen this and had scouted a path onto the highway and around to where he was parked. 

We debated the number of miles travelled.  Denny claimed to have ridden around in circles for a half-mile at the start, Kathy’s odometer was not reading right away, John’s odometer didn’t seem calibrated correctly, and Dennis had done some back and forth riding.  We made a conservative estimate and rode forward to Cass Lake, where the trail abruptly ended.  We could see additional trails on our map, but were told there were no such trails.  We were so near the end, but we decided to load our bikes, drive back to our last stop and ride back into Cass Lake for the finish.  The temperature was 87 degrees when we finished!

We drove to Itasca State Park and pulled into our campsite among the trees.  After dinner we started a campfire and set up our bean bag toss game provided by Kids ‘n Kinship.  It was getting dark, so Denny held the flashlight on the game boards, while Dennis and Kathy trounced John and Jay in two straight games.  This was the end to our night, but I do feel a rematch coming.

May 25, Loving These Trails

Our goal was to be on the trail earlier today, but these morning activities seem to have a way of stretching out.  Perhaps it was the beauty and serenity of Itasca State Park that caused us to be in no hurry this morning.  Eventually we got through breakfast and all of our preparatory tasks and hit the road for Bemidji.  Wait…that wind is blowing out of the south.  Laporte looks like a much better town to from which to begin. 

The 19-mile ride to Bemidji on the Paul Bunyan State Trail was very nice, gradually uphill, but with the wind pushing us from behind.  After snacks and a brief break we rode 7 miles further north to the end of the trail, before turning around and heading into the wind.  We rode in a pack on the way back to Bemidji, Dennis leading and providing a draft for the rest of the riders.

After some brief, very brief, consideration of other options, such as riding into the strong headwind for another 30 miles, we opted instead to drive to Hackensack and bike to the north.  So off we went.  Back on our bikes we took a route through the Chippewa National Forest for about 10 miles up and down hills the whole time.  Dennis was smiling ear to ear, and John, Kathy and Denny seemed to enjoy (to varying degrees) the change in terrain from the normal trail grade.  It was a stunningly quiet ride.

We reconnected with the Heartland State Trail and pedaled into Walker, where Jay had parked near Leech Lake.  We each had a little riding to do to hit 60 miles, so we dispersed and rode out and back to finish the ride.  The trails were spectacular all day long, and the day was a cooler 80 degrees with late afternoon overcast skies and plenty of lake breezes along the way to keep us cool.

We loaded the bikes and drove back toward Hackensack to the Pleasant Pines Campground, our first private campground of the trip.  The setting was very nice near a small lake, and we had a choice spot near the water.  We feasted on Jay’s grilled chicken dinner, after which we built another campfire, and John and Denny battled it out in the bean bag toss.  John was bragging about all of his amazing tosses, but somehow he still lost.

It was another beautiful evening, and we truly enjoyed relaxing by the campfire.  The days are tiring, however, and one by one, each of us peeled off to get some sleep.

May 26, 2014, Memorial Day

Memorial Day seems to be such an important day in rural America, at least in the areas we travel.  Everywhere we went today there were flags flying, ceremonies and other displays.  In Hackensack as we prepared to ride, a silent procession of veterans marched past with flags held high, followed by a contingent of citizens.  We stood at attention as they walked by us, and it was a good reminder of the purpose of the day, a day of remembrance for the sacrifice made by thousands before us.  They proceeded to a large gathering near the trail, where they stopped for a ceremony.

Before we left Hackensack we stopped for a few photos with a statue of Lucette, Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, according to the plaque.  I didn’t even know he had a sweetheart, always thought he was a bachelor hanging out with Babe, the blue ox.  Speaking of which, we did see a Babe statue later in the day at Nisswa.  This truly is Paul Bunyan territory!

We rode along the Paul Bunyan trail through Backus and Pine River on our way to our first stop in Jenkins.  We were on the trail by 9:30, much earlier than any other day this year.  It was a pleasant, scenic ride, overcast and a little cool in the low 60’s, and we were in no hurry.  Jay had snacks ready for us in Jenkins, and by the time we left for the next leg, it was warming quite nicely. 

As we rode to Pequot Lakes, we could see the traffic creeping along Highway 371.  Jay was worried that the riders would beat him to the next stop, so he found an alternate route.  In Pequot Lakes we stopped at a Memorial Day display with flags flying and a temporary walkway with names of local residents who were being memorialized.  It was a stunning display.

We stopped again in Merrifield before making our push to the finish.  There were 10 more miles to ride to the end of the state trail, at which point we rode together along a bike path and bike route that was on our map, but not always marked very well on the ground.  Only missing one turn along the way, we regrouped and rode toward a secluded spot near 371 and the Mississippi River.  While we finished pedaling our 60 miles for the day, Bob and Larry showed up at our stop to switch out with Kathy and Dennis; 300 miles are already down!

After saying our good-bye’s, we drove a few miles to a private campground with Wi-Fi, so we don’t need to stop at a Starbucks for Bob to work.  Jay grilled steaks with lots of fixings, protein for tomorrow’s ride.  We were planning more bean bag toss tonight, but the match was rained out.   Instead we settled inside to watch the classic Bull Durham, and then off for an early bedtime.

Thanks again to Kathy and Dennis!  Great job, and you will be missed!

May 27, 2014, A Very Long Day

Determined to get an early start riding, we woke to the smell of scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and sausage cooking on the stove.  Our campsite had full hookups, so we did not have much to do, other than eating, cleaning, putting everything away and our ritual reading of the previous day’s diary.  With Memorial weekend now behind us, we have no predetermined routes, which is both a blessing and a curse.  We had contemplated several options the night before.  Our plan was to be to Jay’s cabin in Wisconsin by the end of the day, so riding east made sense.  However, John was getting picked up and shuttled back to Minneapolis at the end of the ride in order to attend a funeral tomorrow.  The mother of Dave Goodermont, a long-time friend of John’s and our one-time support driver, recently passed away.  Our condolences go to Dave and his family.

Ultimately we decided to drive the few miles to Brainerd to ride the Paul Bunyan Trail again, out 30 miles and back to Brainerd.  This would get us riding quicker, done quicker and leave us closer to Minneapolis for John’s trip back.  Also, Bob does not get many opportunities to ride trails like this, since he lives in Phoenix, so we thought he would enjoy it. 

And enjoy it he did!  As did the rest of us.  A couple of weeks ago Skip Stovern of Merchants Bank and also a Kids ‘n Kinship Board member had asked us what a perfect riding day would be.  We told him calm and 75 degrees would suit us just fine.  Today was very nearly one of those perfect days, minimal wind, bright blue skies and temperatures ranging from 70 to 80 degrees.  John and Bob were not setting any land speed records as they rode along the trail, chatting and enjoying the day.  At each stop Larry was suggesting that they might be having mechanical problems, but eventually they would coast in to the stop.  John and Bob claimed that Larry and Dennis were riding too fast to enjoy the scenery, such as the tree felled by a beaver and a goose with its goslings.  Yep, we sure missed some exciting stuff!

The day flew by, and we finished by 3:30.  John showered and hit the road with Conor.  The rest of us showered and loaded bikes and started on the long trip to Long Lake in Wisconsin.  We stopped in Onamia at Spirit Lake Steakhouse for wood-fired pizza to take on our road trip (thanks, Mark, for the recommendation…they said we could put it on your tab!).  We must have been hungry as two large pizzas vanished in about 15 minutes…not sure how Bob and Larry stay so thin.

We made our final stops in Spooner for gas and groceries and at Vanderhyde’s for bacon before pulling into Jay’s lake cabin at 9:00.  The mosquitos are becoming increasingly noticeable, and tonight we had swarms greet us as we unloaded the RV.  It’s really the only negative to the warming temperatures.  I don’t recall seeing a mosquito at all last year, so I guess this is a good sign.  We finished with a nightcap before heading to bed by 11:00.  It was quite a long day, but we accomplished a great deal.  Tomorrow we begin riding Wisconsin.

May 28, 2014, Sorry, We’re Closed, “Open Come Spring”

Wow!  What an amazing day, start to finish!  The sun was shining brightly on the glass-like lake; calm and sunny sounds like a great day for a ride.  After fueling up on Jay’s pancakes and Vanderhyde’s bacon, we readied ourselves for an unsupported day of riding.  Although Jay was staying back at the cabin to get some work done (and to cook ribs!), it didn’t stop him from trying to horn in on Dennis’ route planning for the day.  Dennis had the general outline, using our Wisconsin bike maps saved from years past, but Jay insisted on making about a dozen additional route suggestions.  Those who know Jay will understand what I’m saying, but you’ve gotta love him.

We escaped the swarms of mosquitos at the cabin, three DQ $10 gift cards in hand, courtesy of Kids ‘n Kinship, one for each leg of the ride.  Our plan was to circle around Spooner and then pedal in for lunch and DQ treats at about the 40-mile mark.  Let me tell you…we were thinking about malts and blizzards and sundaes all morning.  We rode down the lake and then generally westerly on county roads for a first stop in Shell Lake, which bills itself as the walleye capital (of the world?) and has the fish to prove it.  We couldn’t resist…

Our water bottles refilled with gas station water and Gatorade, we continued west and north 15 miles on county roads before turning back to the east toward Spooner on some paved town roads.  These roads were quite a bit rougher, but we were accumulating miles and running low on water.  Finally, we pedaled up County K to the Dairy Queen and saw…a closed sign in the window.  The message board read “Open Come Spring”.  We later harassed Jay about grammar in Wisconsin; I understand that people talk that way in the Midwest, but to actually write it is another matter.  Plus spring is already here, so things don’t look good for DQ in Spooner.

We were very disappointed.  Dennis was hoping to post a picture for Kathy and Denny to see, one of Bob and Larry eating ice cream using the gift card meant for leg one.  It must be karma!  Luckily for us there was a restaurant down the street with outdoor seating and excellent poor boy sandwiches.  Their sign showed that they served ice cream, but upon inquiry Bob learned that their ice cream machine wasn’t working.  It’s just not meant to be.

We finished our ride back to the cabin, a stop for water at a roadside artesian well along the way.  This will make Jay happy, as he suggested it.  The weather was perfectly perfect all day long, and now we just had to wait for the ribs to finish cooking.  Conor and John arrived at 7:00, and we sat down to a fantastic rib dinner with beans and coleslaw.  Fully satisfied we went for a pontoon ride on the Saterbak’s new pontoon, a beautiful finish to a great day.  At the cabin we finally got our ice cream, root beer floats, before settling in for the night.

May 29, 2014, It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again!

Jay started our morning right with some delicious omelets; John nearly missed out as he was the late riser near 7:00.  Despite our early start to the day we had much to do before we set out from the cabin.  Our wheelman was back in business; Jay was driving the route with us, so we had some flexibility in our route. 

We rode out from the cabin by mid-morning on our way to Stone Lake.  Dennis was having flashbacks as he rode County B, one related to a 20 mile ride in a downpour from Stone Lake during last year’s ride, and one related to a 10-hour, 50 mile end to a snowmobile ride in a blizzard with almost no visibility last winter.  But that is a story for another day!

Three is definitely the charm in this instance!  Is it possible to get nicer each day of the ride, after such a beautiful day yesterday?  We were riding along a scenic road, a bright cloud-less sky, barely a whisper of wind, deer occasionally springing across the highway.  What could be any better than this?  How about some hill riding!  After our stop in Stone Lake and a ride to Birchwood along Lake Chetac, we rode south on County F, part of the Ice Age Trail.  For 10 miles we rode up long steady climbs and back down, over a mile of climbing each time.  At the very end was a long, steep climb that Dennis chose to ride twice.  We have ridden this section of roadway each of the past three years, and it is definitely one of our favorites (laughter ensued from a couple of the riders).

Dennis was taking a picture of John riding up the hill while Larry and Bob continued to the turn on County C.  Except there was no County C, only County O.  This is very familiar to me.  I’m thinking that if I look back at prior year’s diaries, I will see this same map vs. road sign issue.  Either that or it’s déjà vu (all over again, as Yogi Berra would say).  Larry and Bob consulted and decided to stay on County F down the hill.  Dennis saw them and quickly gave chase to catch them at the top of the next hill, just before a long downhill run.  Bob said there would have been a rebellion if they had gotten to the bottom only to learn that they had to turn around and go back up.  Whew…mutiny averted!  John is claiming the yellow jersey for finishing this section first.

After a quick break we rode the final dozen miles into Rice Lake.  Along the roadside while discussing the day’s events and slowly loading our bikes, not once, but twice people pulled over in their cars to see if we were having problems and needed help.  Bob, especially, was amazed, claiming that this only happens in the upper Midwest.  It is reassuring to all of us, however.

Back at the cabin Jay cooked beer can chicken and corn on the cob on the grill.  We had an appetizer of leftover ribs while we waited…they are still excellent on day 2.  We finished dinner at 9:00, waited a bit for root beer floats, and then departed for a night of sleep.

May 30, 2014, Who Grabbed the Ice Cream?

Yumm…blueberry pancakes and bacon!  We were up early cleaning the cabin, cleaning the RV, moving everything back into the RV, and getting ready for the ride.  Scrambling around for a few hours, we pulled away from the lake by 9:15, just after our goal time of 9:00.  We drove to Duluth and found the trail head to the Willard Munger State Trail.  Only Larry had ridden this trail previously, and we were all looking forward to the ride.  The first 15 miles to Carlton was spectacular, at least the scenery; the trail was a little rough with one bypass and several sections of gravel on the trail.

Just before Carlton we stopped on the bridge over the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park.  The river was quite mesmerizing as it rushed through the gorge.  Done with our site-seeing and photos, we rode to the RV for snacks.  It was nearing 1:00, and we still had 45 miles to go, so on to Moose Lake we headed.  The trail flattened, and the wind was generally favorable as we rode south on the Munger.

After our stop in Moose Lake, we took off on our final 21 miles to Finlayson.  Our generally favorable wind shifted and was now more of a headwind, and the day was warming into the 80’s.  Just before Finlayson, there is a section of hills on the trail that sapped the rest of our energy.  Bob did his best Roberto Duran imitation, exclaiming “No mas!”  Good thing we were done riding.

We drove a few miles to Banning State Park, but there were no campsites big enough for our rig.  John wisely bought two sites next to each other, so we disconnected the trailer in one site and backed the RV into another.  Jay grilled burgers and asparagus for dinner, after which John and Dennis waged a fierce best of three battle of bean bags.  Nobody else joined, claiming that these hungry mosquitos are immune to repellent.

So instead we moved into the RV for a movie, “Mystery, Alaska”, and root beer floats.  Wait, who grabbed the ice cream from the freezer in the cabin?  Nobody, apparently.  The blame was passed around to everyone at some point, but ultimately we blamed Jay.  Oh, well, it doesn’t look like we have root beer anyway.  It was well past our normal bedtime by the time the movie ended, so we called it a night.

May 31, 2014, A Day of Storms and a Day of Change

Early in the morning, the rains came.  For the first time in 10 days we had to consider the weather in our daily ride.  While finishing breakfast in the RV, we learned that it was very nice in Minneapolis, so we packed our gear in the rain, hooked up the trailer and headed south.  We drove out of the rain before reaching North Branch, so we exited the freeway and found our way to the Sunrise Prairie Trail. 

While unloading the bikes, we discovered that Bob had a flat tire, our first flat after riding more than 2,000 cumulative miles.  The boys made quick work of the repair, and we took off down the trail.  The trail is a little rough, with cracks and occasional crevasses, which slowed the pace.  We were also pedaling into a decent breeze the entire 24 mile length of the trail, which actually is named the Hardwood Creek Trail from Forest Lake to Hugo. 

At the midway point Dennis stopped to talk with some riders preparing for the MS150 ride to be held next weekend along this route and on the Munger Trail.  They asked questions about our ride and about Kids ‘n Kinship, so we are always doing our best to provide additional exposure.  We wished each other well, concluding that there are so many worthy causes and organizations to support, and rode our separate ways.

In Hugo we no longer had a plan.  Dennis scoured the maps for a safe, well-marked route (good luck with that!), but we ultimately decided to turn around and ride the trail back to North Branch.  The air felt unsettled, and dark clouds were forming to the west of us as we rode along.  Each of us was contemplating the likelihood of outrunning the storm cell, but riding through Wyoming with 9 miles to go, Dennis received a text from Jay that the storm was nearing North Branch.  As we stopped, we could feel a definite drop in temperature and shifting winds.  We decided Jay would drive south to Wyoming to meet us, and back we rode through Wyoming and on to Forest Lake.  Another storm cell was approaching from the southwest, so we turned back around again and finally hooked up with Jay and the RV.  Looking at our radar we saw that a huge storm was approaching.  We made the only decision we could come up with: load the bikes and drive to the Dairy Queen down the street to contemplate our situation.

Shortly after we ordered blizzards and sandwiches, it began to rain, then pour, and then up to another level altogether.  When the rain slowed, we ran back to the RV and headed for John’s house in Bloomington.  It wasn’t raining when we got there, so John, Bob and Larry decided to go finish their 60 miles in nearby Hyland Park (Dennis was done riding for the day). 

It is a day of change.  Jay has completed his 8-day stint as support driver, and Larry and Bob have completed their 300-mile legs and will be heading home.  We have had a great time this past 5 days, and we appreciate the efforts made on behalf of Kids ‘n Kinship.  In addition, Dennis is leaving the ride early to go to North Dakota to visit his mom, who has suffered a painful injury.  Tomorrow and for the rest of the ride there will be a mystery guest author taking over the daily diary, so enjoy the change of style!

Sunday June 1--  "All Elder 300"

Your new author is writing this from the passenger seat of the support RV.  And let me tell you this author makes a better driver than passenger. Bike riding can be dangerous you say?  All this guy can think about right now is what kind of speed those large cans of baked beans would be traveling should they have reason to fly out of the cupboards and become blunt projectiles.  Ok, ok...why would the author worry when the rest of the CEM team has a virtually spotless record while driving this RV?  Silly me for even thinking about it.

Anyways, although the author is pleased to have been asked to take over the duty of writing the rest of the road diary, he and the rest of the team are missing Dennis and wish he were here to finish with us.  We all wish Dennis and his mom the best.

 So it seems we are to have an "all Elder" run to the finish of this 900 mile event.  Justin and John biking, and Jimmy driving and handling the support duties.   The weather became a major obstacle today, as most of the state was experiencing rain "at another level altogether".  Our plan was to leave John and Sherry's house at 7am and head north towards Brainerd.  There was not great enthusiasm for heading out in this rain to bike or camp when we were in the dry confines of home, and the thought that one more night in our own beds without mosquitoes and wet clothes seemed reasonable.   Besides, the support RV needed to be serviced and groceries bought, so there were things to do to keep us busy and productive while we waited out the rain.

We did want to get is some riding today, and just after a lunch of Jimmy's delicious chili, John and Justin packed up their bikes and headed for Hopkins to put in some miles.  There was a break in the rain, and the sun popped out a few times.  We did a 34 mile round trip ride from Hopkins to Chanhassen. It was a peaceful and quiet ride.  The MInnesota River appeared to be running high, fast, and brown.  We finished back in Hopkins around 430pm, and since we were in town, decided to call it a day so we could spend one more evening at home with family before hitting the road in the morning. 

Just a real time update: It's getting harrowing in the RV now.  While cruising at 70MPH on I-94 heading north, John is in the back yelling, "you're awfully close to that truck, Jim!!"  And Jimmy replies "I can't hear what you're saying."  Oh, boy. Its time to close my eyes for a nap and hope for the best.

Monday June 2--  Let the Wind do the Work

Once again we awoke to gray, rainy skies.  The radar painted a better picture for the rest of the day, however, and we made the decision to get in the RV and head north from John and Sherry's  house.  The forecast was calling for westerly winds, and after considering our options we decided to head towards Alexandria to ride the Wobegon Trail, which runs more or less east/west.  

All joking from yesterday aside, Jimmy did a commendable job getting us from Bloomington to Alexandria safe and sound.  Justin pre-loaded on Sara's homemade peanut butter energy balls, and they were delicious.

Upon reaching Alexandria, there were a few contentious moments trying to negotiate a detour through town.  Cool heads prevailed, and alas we arrived at our starting point next to Big Ole the Viking.  After a few photos with Ole, John and Justin were off on the bikes with the next way point in Sauk Centre, 23 miles to the southeast. Jimmy attempted to visit the Runestone museum, but there was a $6 entry fee and so he declined. We all discussed this later and concluded he made a good decision, it was likely worth the $6 to see.  Jimmy later visited the Sinclair Lewis museum in Sauk Centre and claimed it to be a "must-see".

John's planned route to catch the wind was well played.  With winds gusting to 30mph there was no complaining by this tandem of riders about the lack of scenery.  There were times we were cruising at 20mph and the wind felt completely calm.  It was fantastic!  Jimmy was to meet at the trailhead in Sauk Centre.  Justin has always wondered how these riders get lost and can't find the support vehicle all the time.  It seems so simple, ride 20 miles and the RV will be at point-X.  Well, on the very first leg of Justin's first ride, he rode right through Sauk Centere and came out the other side, never seeing any sign of Jimmy or the RV.  After riding 2.5 miles back into a 25mph headwind, he found John and realized he didn't see Jimmy either.  Long story short the trailhead is actually a few blocks off the trail, and when riding in from the north there is no sign to indicate this.  There is a sign from the south.  None of it makes sense, but it cleared up Justin's confusion as to how the riders get lost so often. 

The rest of the day went by fast, with the wind howling at our backs.  We covered some of the same trails as the first-leg riders, and ended up in Bowlus.   A short drive up to Brainerd and we set up camp.  Bacon cheeseburgers, boiled (not blackened) sweet corn, and some beans for dinner.  It was still very windy, so we made it a movie night watching "We're the Millers".  It was some very crude humor, and we were rolling with laughter.  I certainly can't recommend it for everyone who might be reading this, but we Elders enjoyed it. Root beer floats and in bed at 10:30.  We enjoyed our day in the wind.

Tuesday June 3.  -  Mesabi Trail

Today we awoke to bright sun, finally!  No rain to worry about today.  We really had no plan as to where we were going to ride today, we were waiting to see what the wind was going to do.  It appeared we would have a significant breeze out of the northwest, so we considered our options.  John wanted to ride from Fergus Falls and head southeast.  Justin was not very excited about the idea of another day riding past aromatic hog farms and hearing the steady hum of I-94.  So we considered the Mississippi Trail from Cass Lake to Grand Rapids, but we couldn't find much info about the route.  We also considered the Mesabi Trail, which ran more or less east/west from Grand Rapids to Virginia.  We settled on the Mesabi Trail, and it turned out to be a great choice.

First though, Jimmy made a bacon and eggs breakfast.  We knew we had a 90 mile drive ahead of us, so we tried to make quick work of cleanup and pack up duties. 

When merely blocks away from our trailhead, we ran into a road closed sign. Once again, we each had different ideas about how to get to the trail.  Justin thought sure he had seen a detour sign with an arrow a few blocks back.  Jimmy did not feel comfortable with that, and instead asked the help of a local man who was glad to help.  The route he gave us followed the detour sign Justin had seen.  It's always good to have double confirmation....

We found our way to the trailhead only to find a "trail closed" sign sitting next to the trail.  We just drove 90 miles away from any other trail, we better be able to ride this!  Also it was almost noon and we needed to get pedaling.  We decided to just start riding and hope for the best.  Sure enough the construction appeared to have been completed just recently.  The trail was perfect and smooth.  The scenery on this trail was unbelievable.  The trail was comprised of many old abandoned mining and logging roads. Lots of short, steep climbs to vistas overlooking huge lakes formed by the taconite mines.   Dennis would love this trail, as steep hills are seen as a pleasant challenge to him. Our ride would take us to stops in Pengilly, Hibbing, and ending in Mountain Iron. 

Jimmy was pleased that the trail access at our second stop in Hibbing was located in the parking lot of the Greyhound Bus Museum.  Another "not to miss" spot he says.  He did inform us the first Greyhound Bus left from Hibbing to Alice in 1914.  Also along the bike route from Hibbing to Mt Iron, Justin came across Stubler Beach.  A beach on a small remote lake in the middle of the woods.  Justin went to check it out in hopes of finding....well let's just say his imagination was a little too optimistic.  The beach was more dirt than sand, and the only occupant was a little old lady in a lawn chair, with ear buds in.  Interesting.  Also along the ride there were a few firsts; We were stopped in our tracks by a logging truck blocking the trail carrying 2 timbers at least 100 ft long.  We also had to cross a long floating bridge. Justin was really hoping to see a moose, but that first is still to come.

With all the steep climbs, the ride took most of the day and we rolled in to meet Jimmy at 6:30pm.  A brief search brought us to a nearby campground, where ribeyes were consumed in short order.  No time for movies tonight, we were tired and off to bed at 10.

Wed June 4--  The Perfect Day

A perfect day on the CEM900 ride doesn't just mean a nice day biking.  It means good food, good scenery, nice weather, and no accidents of any sort!!  All conditions were met for a perfect day.

We awoke to light winds and sunny skies.  The winds were predicted to be straight out of the east, so we decided to just ride back on the Mesabi trail from Mt. Iron to Grand Rapids. We had sure enjoyed it yesterday, and with the wind at our backs again we wanted to do it again. We all slept very good, and today is pancake day.  Justin made thin Swedish style pancakes, while Jimmy cooked up some bacon and eggs.  It was a large quantity of food for three men, but it was consumed entirely.  Prerequisite# 1 for the perfect day complete: good food.

The campground had a sign stating the RV waste dump was closed. John inquired if it would open later in the day, and the manager replied the he doesn't expect it will, it hasn't been open in 10 years.  "It was too much trouble" the manager explained.  Interesting business strategy. So we packed up our things and headed back to the trail access point in Mountain Iron. 

The rest of the day went by very fast, mostly due to the fact we were having so much fun riding!  It's like any activity, if it's fun it seems to go by in a blur.  If it's miserable it goes on forever.  Well, today we had sunny skies and 75 degrees, and a beautiful trail to ride.  2 more Perfect day prerequisites to check off. 

During the ride, John and Justin were riding together and once again passed Stubler Beach.  John hadn't seen this spot the day before, so they went to have a look.  Today there were two children playing in the water, and they exclaimed to us that the "water's warm".  John and I were skeptical of his claim.  The kids came out of the water and showed us a small turtle they had captured.  It was nice to see the kids enjoying this beautiful day as much as we were.

Off we went with rest stops again in Hibbing and Pengilly.  Jimmy has treated us very well, making sure we've got fruit and good energy food to take in at all our stops.  He has also enjoyed taking lots of photos of the area while waiting for us to arrive on our bikes.  Hopefully we can post some of his photos on the website soon.

Thankfully the ride was uneventful.  Justin had a "near miss" when making a fast turn through a patch of sand, but likely due to his experience with high speed car control, he came through the patch still upright.  In reality, it was mostly just good luck, as it was a very close call. And so, no accidents prerequisite complete!  64 more miles in the books and all were safe and no injuries!  John and Justin concluded it was indeed the perfect day of riding. 

But wait, as a bonus we are going to Dairy Queen in Aitkin!  Whoohoo!  Burgers and blizzards, and a thank you again to Kids 'N Kinship for the DQ gift cards.  They were appreciated greatly today.  John and Jimmy played a couple hours of cribbage, and Justin gladly accepted driving duties back to the Twin Cities.  One more day of riding tomorrow, likely on the Cannon Valley Trail.  I'm sure it will be a great way to conclude this years CEM900, but today was truly the perfect day.

Thursday June 5---  Back and Forth and Back Again                          

It was nice to have been able to spend another night at home in our own beds, but alas, we still had work to do!  One more day of riding, and we needed to get an early start because Justin’s son Nolan had a baseball game scheduled that evening that we all wanted to attend.  So the plan was to find a trail somewhat close to home, but at the same time we really didn’t want to do city riding.  So we chose the Cannon Valley Trail.  It’s a 20-mile trail that runs along the Cannon River from Cannon Falls to Red Wing.  After getting in only 34 miles on Sunday, Justin had put in a few extra miles over 60 each day, but still needed 9 extra miles today to reach his goal of 300. 

So John and Jimmy in the RV arrived at Justin’s house around 8am, and it was off to Cannon Falls.  Actually, we decided to start at the halfway mark of the trail in Welch Village.  That way Jimmy could stay put and we could ride out 10 miles, and then ride back and stop at the RV for our 20-mile breaks.  The weather was sunny, warm, and a light wind from the south and the riders hit the trail around 10am.    After eating large prepared breakfasts the past few days, Justin had to make his own breakfast and did not eat enough, and was ravenously hungry at his first break.  A PB&J sandwich, watermelon,  a few of Sara’s peanut butter energy balls, and some Gatorade was just the right nutritional combo restore his energy.   John proclaimed his energy level was just fine, and the two hit the trail again after a short rest.

It seemed we were going back and forth and forth and back many times, as we both had to ride out from Welch to either Cannon Falls or Red Wing and back 3 times.  But we also had to make up a few extra miles, so we would ride out and back and then past the RV by a few miles, turn around and come back.  The two riders rode in the last mile together, and had the traditional raising of the bikes ceremony to celebrate the rides’ end.   Justin ended with 70 miles for the day and John hit 64, giving both of them the miles they needed to reach each of their goals.  It was a pleasant ride all day, with lots of deer and other critters running about on the trail.    Justin occasionally has some trouble with his knees, and although they held up great for most of the ride, they were crying mercy towards the end of this day. They are apparently good for exactly 300 miles,  so that worked out just right.  We did make it to Nolan’s baseball game, and after the game we went to Justin and Sara’s house to celebrate completing the ride.  Sherry had made one last rhubarb pie and ice cream for us to enjoy, and it was delicious. 

A big thanks again to Jimmy who provided support and constant conversation during our portion of the ride.  It was always a welcome sight to see the RV at each of our rest points, and we knew there would be food waiting for us. 

As this was my first CEM ride, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect.  The amount of fun and the satisfaction that comes from doing something like this exceeded my expectations.   It was a privilege to be a part of it!  And of course it was a great feeling to know we were riding to raise money for a wonderful cause, and also riding in memory of Christian.  Christian would have certainly got a kick out of hearing all the stories from all these rides’ and reading this blog, that is for sure.  And a thank you to each person who donated to the ride, and to all those who help with the duties associated with the ride. 

Alas the 2014 CEM900 is in the books, and it was a great success!!