We woke up at sunrise with trumpeter swans and many nice songbirds greeting the morning. We needed to be on the road by 8 if we were going to get home before the heat of the day really set in! We ate, said goodbye to the beavers, packed and headed out.
Logistically, I didn’t navigate until we got back in striking range of the metro – my companion took care of the first half with GPS and having a sense of direction and distance traveled, he’s honestly way better at that than I am. My job was pace setter and break caller.
Leaving Lake Maria, the way back to Montecello seemed so much shorter than it had been on the way in. Amazing what energy a fresh start to the day gives you! It was already warm, but not hot yet. The wind must’ve been at our backs this time. We filled up on water and ate a string cheese. The Walgreens was the only place open in town, on a holiday, but they were nice.
From there, we made our way to the outskirts of Otsego. The sun was warming up now. I called for a break under some trees in a ditch on the side of the road, out front of a place that had a row of American flags as a fence-line. We ate our backpacking granola, “just add water” and the powdered dairy substitute turned into a nice snack. I pondered whether some people that live in Minneapolis would be happier living in Otsego, based on how much they love large setbacks and low density living.
Getting back on the bikes, I foresaw that today was indeed going to be a very long day. I needed 3 shots of espresso with some almond milk, and a bagel. The Caribou in Albertville provided both! The young women staffing the place were at odds with the folksy corporate attitude they needed to wear. I missed independent coffee shops in the city, where the staffers are allowed to be surly out loud and commiserate with the patrons about how hard they’re working. The drive-thru seemed to be doing a much more brisk business than they had capacity for, and the inside bar tacked on as an afterthought.
Fueled up and re-sunscreened, we took a long push through farms, farms, and farms, putting in a good chunk of miles on the shoulders of roads. There were a good number of trucks on the roads, and the people in the area were much more polite with passing distances than the trucks. We passed an older gentleman salmoning slowly on the other side of the road with a high-viz vest on, and I fretted a little for his safety, probably unnecessarily. There were a good number of tiny short off-street bikeways when we were passing schools: my companion jokingly suggested that we build a bunch of small schools near each other, so we could connect all these short bikeways into one beautiful long bikeway.
Rolling into Rogers just before noon (right on pace!), we admired these wonderful street signs. I envied them! The pizza place in the antiques district was closed for the holiday, so we found lunch at a local Mexican place. We enjoyed the air conditioning, refilled half our water supply, and drank several glasses ourselves. Keeping hydrated and sunscreened when you’re sweating that much in the sun is no easy task! There hadn’t been tree cover on the roads at all, and I was feeling it.
Next up was the most unpleasant stretch of ride we did. The cycling community on Strava calls it “When there are no other options…” and they are right. It’s the shoulder of a highway, and even though it’s signed as the Mississippi River Trail, it’s miserable. We called it the Mississippi River Tractor-Trail-er. It was gnarly. We couldn’t hear each other, riding in single file with 55 mph highway traffic 3 feet (if we were lucky) from us. Why the trucks weren’t on I-94, a few miles to the west, was a mystery we could only contemplate in silence. Hearts pounding, we rode as hard as we could to get through it.
After that unpleasantness, it was going to be smooth sailing the rest of the way home. We had made it to the trails portion of the ride, and we needed it. To calm our heart rates and cool off, we laid down under the first trees we came to on the Elm Creek Park trails.
I drank the rest of my water, and we started going into the reserves and thinking about where to get more. The clouds started threatening rain, but were not delivering. It was 93 degrees and humid. On Memorial day weekend. Climate change is sure going to make some unpleasant summers.
Elm Creek trails connected to Rush Creek trails; the fanciful curves on the paths couldn’t have been designed by someone who has ridden much before. We almost took a wrong turn south into Brooklyn Park thanks to an unsigned 3-way intersection of nice-looking above-grade trails and a 4-way intersection of high speed roads, but we were put back on the right path by a nice family who was out for a ride and pointed it out.
I was now officially thirsty and we were completely out of water. There were playgrounds and parks we went by, but they had porta potties, which meant no water to drink. There were bike pumps at fix-it stands, but no water pumps. There was the river, and we had a water filter, but there were no public access paths. On top of everything else, my budget bungee cord pack setup started failing, at this late stage of the route. The bumps on all the curb cuts of the sidewalk-turned-cycle-path were too much for them, and stuff started falling off. I took a few minutes to re-arrange for greater resilience, at the cost of comfort and balance. I used my canvassing skills to pick a stranger’s home to door-knock, and got a water bottle refilled! Being white and nonthreatening pays off, but I wish there was publicly available water on the route.
North Mississippi Park had the first public fountain we saw since Lake Maria. Full water refill! We poured water on our heads and were rejuvenated.
The wind for the upcoming storm started blowing road grit into our faces as we left the sanctuary of the trail and headed a couple miles on roads by the riverfront industrial area. I took us on a mile long wrong turn, because 26th Ave N with its beautiful new grade-separated bikeway doesn’t connect to the riverfront trail even though it’s so close! Continental Cement Company should definitely let us through there. The wind was stiff, and we were fatigued. But we persevered! The end was literally in sight.
Our last stop was at Izzy’s ice cream. We deserved to share a pint and so we did. Pro tip: pulling a pint out of their freezer means you don’t have to wait in line!
The trip definitely pushed my limits, but I’m very proud and very happy. I went 57 miles all the way back to my house in 8 hours, loaded down with all my stuff. Setting a new personal record for most miles in a day with a full pack is pretty satisfying.
Thanks for reading, and share your own bikepacking (or transitpacking! or otherwise carfree backpacking!!) stories on here!