Cycling from the New Mexico Bootheel to Canada, Day Fifty-Five: Hibbing, Minnesota to Silver Bay, Minnesota

July 25th, 2016: 89 miles. Total so far: 2,539 miles.

We had a long day planned, but the payoff was going to be Lake Superior, so I was excited.

We walked down early to the usually-pretty-good Hampton Inn breakfast, where we appeared to be the first diners. Annoyed that the television was tuned to the usual garbage on Fox News, I took the remote control, switched to a channel showing an old movie, and stuffed the remote under a cushion next to me for the duration of my oatmeal and yogurt.

We took a low-traffic route out of Hibbing, as I experienced a twinge of regret at not actually seeing anything in the town, which is known for its history of mining as well as being the birthplace of Bob Dylan.

Most of the day we were going to ride on just two paved county roads — we’d probably done the last dirt or gravel on the tour — and I was a little nervous because this appeared to be the only direct route from Hibbing to Lake Superior. I hoped it wouldn’t be busy.

The first twenty miles were great, and almost traffic-free. The scenery continued to be nice, and the temperature was mild. Traffic picked up a little as we neared the intersection with busy US-53, a divided four-lane highway, and as soon as we crossed that we pulled into the first business we’d seen all morning, a convenience store called “At Your Convenience.” As I tried to take a photo of the store, whose name I found amusing for some reason, my trusty Canon Digital Rebel DSLR failed, displaying an “Error 99” message.

This camera has been one of the most reliable pieces of gear I’ve ever owned, and I doubt that I’ve ever subjected any other equipment to the level of abuse which the camera has suffered over the years, as it sat rattling around in my handlebar bag since 2008, during tens of thousands of miles of bike riding. So, I was kind of bummed out about it. Some quick Googling revealed that the “Error 99” could mean various things, but hopefully it was only a problem with the lens I was using, and I could replace it with another lens I have when I got home. In the meantime, I borrowed Joy’s Canon PowerShot.

After purchasing some snacks at our convenience, we got back on the county road. The traffic thinned as we rode away from the intersection, and we enjoyed a nice tailwind. After a while we stopped briefly in tiny Makinen, where the only thing open was the Post Office, and then got back on the road for a long stretch with not a lot to see except trees and the (very) occasional house.

I was carrying a Minnesota road map on top my handlebar bag, and I referred to it frequently even though the entire route was through a very sparsely populated area, with only one turn all day. The map showed a few “towns” scattered on along the county road — Fairbanks, Brimson, Bassett, and Toimi — and I amused myself (and attempted to amuse Joy) by imagining the unlikely amenities that these tiny communities might contain.

We did come upon an unexpected bait shop near Brimson, but found that it was closed. The sign on the door said the proprietor was “out cutting grass”, and listed a couple of phone numbers, but we weren’t desperate for cold drinks, so we rode on.

Not long after that we stopped at the Bassett Congregational Church, where there was a picnic table and a well (with a sign asking us to be gentle with the pump.) This was a really nice place, and we sat, talked, ate snacks, and drank the cold water from the well. One of the annoying deer flies, who hadn’t bothered us much the last few days, landed on the picnic table, and Joy, who apparently had become an expert on their ways, warned me to be careful: “The big ones are fast.”

As we left, my wife asked “Can you do 30 more miles, Mr. Grizzly?”

After a few miles I actually felt pretty good, but Joy was getting tired. By mile 75 I had pulled far ahead of her, so I stopped by the side of the road in the shade and set up one of the camp stools we hadn’t used in a while. Joy arrived, sat down for a while, and after several minutes announced that “I feel somewhat revived.”

The rest of the ride was pretty easy. We got our first glimpse of Lake Superior, and then it was a long descent to Silver Bay, where we were spending the night at the home of our friends Bob and Betsy.

We had a very nice time there. The home-cooked dinner that Betsy made was a welcome change from all the gas station food we’d been subsisting on for weeks. My mother-in-law, Ruth, who knew Bob and Betsy from their years in Iowa, had apparently told Betsy that I required mashed potatoes and Cheetos with my dinner, which I found slightly embarrassing. But not that embarrassing, since I was in fact craving mashed potatoes and Cheetos, and enjoyed them along with the roast beef.

A nice day.

Among the many boring things which I nevertheless find interesting are regional convenience store chains. However, this is the only “At Your Convenience” store I saw in Minnesota, so maybe it’s one-of-a-kind.
I was excited to see this place after many miles on the otherwise-empty county road, but it was closed.
I wasn’t desperate enough for cold drinks to call the guy, so we rode on.
Our mid-afternoon rest stop, complete with a picnic table and a well with delicious, cold water.
Our first glimpse of Lake Superior!