It is so incredible quiet and peaceful this morning. I am showered and up and loaded by seven am. The men are sleeping in. I am cleaning the bike with the magic micro fiber cloth which stays damp with the morning dew the Harley-Davidson is covered in.
I can hear the loons call and a few birds chirp and nothing else. This is not like being in the city – there is no noisy machinery din humming in the background.
Frank stops by the bikes to chat and say hey – the bikes they attract attention wherever you go. Frank is originally from Holland and now lives in Alexandria, MN and spends his days restoring log cabins with original tools and techniques. He likes the cabins here in ItascaState Park which are all about 100-150 years old and in near perfect condition. So while I clean the bike and wring the dew out of the magic cloth Frank and I talk about the weather, motorcycles and life.
It’s not long before we hear a small girls voice talking with her dad “let’s go on a hike and find a bear” she says. “What will you do if you find a bear” her father asks and they are gone out of hearing range before we can hear her reply.
I make my way down to the Douglas Lodge and get a cup of coffee and then down the long hand laid brick staircase to the lake. The clouds have moved on and the lake is smooth as glass. Little surface bugs skimming the water create its only movement. A pair of loons are diving and resurfacing across the lake, an occasional fish is jumping, and an old paddle boat sits quietly in the corner holding on to its tale of another time. This is where God goes on vacation. I soak it all in and have a morning prayer and a little meditation – I think of Jacqueline and remember the last time we were here together and wish she were here to share this with me.
I walk back to the bikes and find the guys folding up the covers and loading their bikes and cleaning them up – except for the Road Dog – he’s wearing his dirt and grim like a badge of honor. We all have breakfast at the Lodge and head to the north side of the park for a visit at the headwaters of the Mississippi River. We find the MississippiHeadwatersVisitorCenter and head down to the lake. The Mississippi river starts as a small stream coming out of LakeItasca, and there are large rocks clear across the mouth of the stream. The four of us make our way out to the center of the rocks for a photo opportunity. This is the beginning of the Mighty Mississippi.
We get back on the Great River Road heading out of ItascaState Park and all the way to Bemidji, MN the signs are easy to follow, the roads are nice and smooth and there is very little traffic. The local legend claims that it was the lumberjack Paul Bunyan’s footprint that created LakeBemidji.
We are rolling along listening to our radio’s and taking in the natural beauty when we realize we all have the same station tuned in and its Charlie Pride singing ‘Mississippi Keep Rolling’. Later Dave comments he was looking for the video camera’s to appear as the whole sequence was to perfect. We had a good laugh.
At a couple of points we had small groups of white tail deer crossing the road in front of us – and as we rumbled through the heavily wooded forest we had a full grown bald eagle jump off a huge pine in front of us and glide along about ten feet of the road for fifty or so yards until it picked up enough speed to disappear over the tree tops. It was a spectacular sight. There was nothing behind or in front of us on the road, just us four Harley riders thumping through the forest and then the eagle. Like she was letting us know who was in charge here in ~ and it wasn’t us.
We have been riding about four hours when we roll Grand Rapids, MN for fuel and lunch so after we top off the tanks we head to the Forest Lake Restaurant for a burger, coffee and to dry off. It’s been great riding with plenty of photo opportunities regardless of the mixed weather with its occasional scattered showers.
We leave Grand Rapids in the sunshine but dressed for more rain showers. The road here is complete crap, filled with asphalt patches and tar snakes and it isn’t long before the asphalt ends and the Great River Road turns into a dirt road. Yes, you read that correctly, and I don’t mean a gravel road, I mean a dirt road running through the wilderness.
Finally, though the road is running right next to the Mississippi and it is starting to look like a river and not just a creek. We see lots of deer, sometimes 8-9 together, sometimes crossing the road but mostly just standing a few hundred yards off the road in a herd. Just standing there threatening and ominous those deer. We keep moving.
It’s late afternoon when we hit asphalt and head south. The sun is out and warm, but the sky to the north and west is black as coal and coming toward us like a freight train. We pick up the pace and run straight away to the next fuel stop where we take a little time under the canopy to put on all our rain gear. We have run the Great River Road from Hastings, MN to Itasca, MN and back to St Cloud, MN where we were wishing we knew someone to give us some shelter from the storm.
It’s a downpour and chilly and the weak would have parked their motorcycles, but not us we stagger ourselves and run through the rain and cold back to Minneapolis, MN where we give each other the obligatory “see ya later bro” wave and head to our respective homes. I make my garage about 9 PM having had a great time with good friends. We put on 690 miles in two days through every kind of weather. We had followed the Great River Road to its beginning and in the process learned a lot about Minnesota, the Mississippi River, friendship, camaraderie, and ourselves. Tomorrow we head south.
Copyright 2012 by Owen L. Riess. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.