St. Cloud to Melrose, Minnesota: (60kms)
At breakfast, Rae Ann made us some coffee and Custass asked if he could spend another night there as he wanted to watch a soccer game. We got ready and said goodbye, Eric was taking Rae Ann and Nathan to a theme park for the day, leaving Custass home by himself – very trusting people, cyclists!
We rode out of St Cloud to the Lake Wobegon Trailhead. It began in parklands opposite a MacDonalds. That was a logical stop for breakfast, so we pulled up and wandered on in. We watched plenty of cyclists entering and exiting the trail, until, our breakfast finished, it was our turn. This would be our longest trail for the entire trip and we were really looking forward to it.
There were plenty of people to say hi to on the trail. One dad was taking his small daughter on her first “big” bike ride, about 10kms to St. Josephs, she seemed to be handling it well on her tiny pink bike. Another guy rode along with us for a while wanting to know all about our trip. We talked as we rode along, then just as quickly as he had joined us, he was off again, way too fast for us.
Just down the trail about 20 minutes later we came across the same guy. We stopped and chatted for a while and, when we told him we would be staying in Melrose overnight, he said he would ring his brother who owned a pub there, he might be able to swing some free accommodation.
Things looked rosy as we rolled along. Less and less people were on the path now and we stopped for pictures of the many lakes we were riding past. In the small town of Albany, we stopped for lunch at the gas station coming into town. Albany is where you can turn north up to the headwaters of the Mississippi and the ACA has a route to follow up there. We have the route, but we’ll be heading west thank you, we need to make more ground before the snow falls in the Rockies, so we don’t want to spend any more time in these parts than we have to, as nice as they are!
We arrived in Melrose and quickly found the Dam Bar, the one our friend had told us about. Unfortunately, it was a local dive bar selling the usual Bud Light and Coors Light beers with all the usual suspects clinging to their bar stools. In fact, it might have been the original Dive Bar that all of them afterwards were modelled on! One guy in particular, who’d had way too many already, thought he’d take the piss out of us for being Canadians! I quickly deadpanned him, making sure everyone in the bar knew we didn’t think he was funny.
We had an obligatory drink and got out of there, went down to the local Coborn’s Supermarket and bought some dinner and a few beers, then headed to the community park on the other side of the Sauk River where they had set up pitches for campers and tents on the banks.
We pitched the tent right on the grassy riverbank next to a picnic table and across from a small toilet block. It was an idyllic setting, the sound of the river lulled us gently to sleep.
Melrose to Alexandria, Minnesota: (59kms)
It must have been about 5.30am when the pump from the high-pressure hose they used to clean out the toilet block with woke us up. Of course, it left everything dripping wet, including the toilet paper! Oh well, at least it was clean and some bloke had the rest of the day off.
We quickly got ready, had a coffee at Coborn’s and pulled out of town. The trail kept mainly west, passing alongside some more small lakes and taking us to the larger town of Sauk Centre.
Between Sauk Centre and Osakis, the trail began gently rising. From the foot of the Rockies to the Mississippi River the land drops some 1500m, so it is no surprise we’ll be heading uphill all the way across middle America.
In Osakis, we called into the Visitor’s Information Centre so we could use the toilet and then, after some good advice, we headed over to the Tip Top Dairy Bar on Nokomis Street for lunch. Tip Top is one of those seemingly popular places where you place your order at a walkup window and pick it up at another, a predecessor to the ubiquitous drive thru’s we see everywhere.
While waiting for our order of chicken tenders, a mother and daughter, who were just passing through, wanted to know all about our trip. They were so surprised we’d come so far, and had so far to go. They’d be talking about us all the way home tonight I think!
As we went, the trail was noticeably beginning to break up. Our bikes shuddered under the load as we were left no option but to ride over the large cracks across the trail. Winter is hard on roads and paths around here and the snow causes much of the damage. Some towns keep the trail maintained, and some don’t. We’re fortunate to have bikes that are made for this kind of treatment.
Just before our goal for the day, Alexandria, we passed through a narrow gap between Lake Geneva and Lake Victoria. With Alexandria on Lake Agnes, it’s right in the middle of a huge recreational area specialising in water-based activities. Any wonder they call Minnesota “The Land of Ten Thousand Lakes”! It’s a little unfair actually, Minnesota has almost 12,000 lakes! Regardless of the count, this area is a very nice place to cycle through!
Our first port of call in Alexandria was Jake’s Bikes, just off the trail. We were still in need of Chamois cream and figured a place of this size must have some. Wrong! Once again, we’d been beaten to the punch by a nasty group of cyclists here just three days ago – the bastards!!! Anyway, they did have some emergency, one-off packs that he gave me a discount on.
We were staying with Harold and Jennifer tonight, another Warmshowers place. Sharyn had asked if they’d like us to bring anything for dinner, so they got back with a few things. We also bought some ice cream for dessert and some wine and beer. We never will be accused of rocking up empty-handed! We went to the local supermarket, Elden’s Fresh Foods and did a shop for dinner for four.
We were greeted at their back door by four labradors, it was quite a welcoming party! Later on, during dinner, we learnt how Harold and Jennifer had met. Jennifer had been cycling across America when she stayed with Harold as a Warmshowers guest. They got on so well, that Jennifer invited him to join her on the rest of the trip. As they say, the rest is history! Jennifer has some pedigree as well, her grandmother was the first grandmother to complete the Across America Cycle Race, something of a gene pool going on there!
Alexandria to Fergus Falls, Minnesota: (80kms)
Jennifer and Harold rode with us back down to the trail and we got some photos together in front of a giant Viking. From now on the trail is called “The Central Lakes Trail” and it gets off to a good start threading its way between Lake Agnes and Lake Winona via a raised embankment.
It’s easy to lose time taking photos as you pass by Lake Cowdrey, Lake Darling, Lake Louise, Lake Stony, Lake Brophy and North Union Lake, the list goes on and on. There’s lots of birdlife to admire as well, and even freshwater otters.
It’s a good thing that the scenery is so terrific, because the trail had gone completely to shit! We had been advised a few days ago to take the 82, which runs alongside the trail, as the road surface was much easier and more comfortable to ride on. As far as we could see, there wasn’t much traffic either. Still, we stuck to the trail, not really wanting to mix it with the traffic at all.
There’s a certain sense of serenity and pleasure that you get out of riding on a dedicated bike trail. The pressures and anxieties of riding on the road disappear, you can relax and enjoy. Suddenly, little things get noticed and appreciated, the world becomes a better place, your place, and all your worries fade away, you’re in the space and you don’t want it to end.
I wish I could say that that analogy suits here, but after some time on the Central Lakes Trail, the 82 began looking much more appealing.
At Brandon, we stopped for morning tea at the Scoop and Grind, a nice little cafe that seems popular with other cyclists using the trail. We rode straight through Evansville and Ashby, electing to stop at the tiny hamlet of Dalton. Roadworks made it a bit confusing to find the main street, but we soon found the General store and got ourselves some cold drinks.
Further down the track, the turnoff for the campground for Fergus Falls seemed a long way out of town when we checked on Google Maps. We didn’t fancy having to ride a few kilometres into town to buy provisions, then ride back again, and, do it all again tomorrow morning! So, we rode into the Fergus Falls, the official end of the 112 mile trail. Oddly enough, the trail just petered out onto a footpath and then the end of the block. There’s no fanfare, no signage, it just finishes.
We kept riding along the footpath until we found a Burger King. It was somewhere to get out of the sun while we found a place to stay. Shazz eventually found a Super 8 on the other end of town and booked it for one night. I checked the maps and we headed straight for West Lincoln Avenue, which took us right through the middle of town. Turning onto College Way, we followed it around and found the Super 8, exactly where it always is, right on the edge of town adjacent to the Interstate.
After checking in and cleaning up, we headed across the road to Applebee’s Grill and Bar for a rather expensive dinner. Oh well, it still beat the hell out of riding back to the campground!