Cycling from the New Mexico Bootheel to Canada, Day Fifty-Four: Marcell, Minnesota to Hibbing, Minnesota

July 24th, 2016: 54 miles. Total so far: 2,450 miles.

Another Sunday morning on the road. The last one. We didn’t linger in the awful motel room, which was even more depressing in the morning light, and rode a mile or so to the store in “downtown” Marcell, where the young guy working there seemed barely awake at such an early hour. I could sympathize. We ate a breakfast of the usual convenience-store fare outside at a table, since it seemed stuffy in the store, then I walked around trying, and failing, to get a signal on my cell phone.

After yesterday’s long ride, we had decided on a shorter, easier day today; the plan was to get to a big town, Hibbing, and do no more than 50-ish miles.

We left the store and got on a county road, where a sign informed us that the road was closed 9.6 miles ahead. We discussed our options; based on previous experience, it was likely that we could get through on our bikes, even if the road was officially “closed”, but what if a bridge over a large body of water was out? We backtracked a quarter mile to an information center that was, amazingly, open early on Sunday, and talked to the old man working at the place.

It was immediately clear that he knew nothing (“It’s probably just some culvert work”), and in addition to being a “loud talker”, irritated Joy with his nonsensical routing advice, encouraging us to ride some sort of loop on scenic back roads in the area, not grasping, despite multiple explanations, that we needed to get to Hibbing. For some reason, I prolonged this conversation, further annoying my wife, who later in the morning mocked the guy’s advice (“Well, you could ride up there and then come back to where you started from”, she drawled.)

In the end, we decided to take the road and hope for the best. The pavement ended after a few miles, but the gravel surface was good. We reached the construction area to find that it was some major road work indeed: It appeared that an entirely new road was being constructed, and for three miles we rode our bikes on dirt, among gigantic earth moving equipment that was sitting idle today. We agreed that we were very fortunate to be doing this on Sunday. Even if the workers had allowed us to ride through the construction zone (unlikely), the dust and noise would have been terrible.

Today, however, it was a nice ride. There was zero traffic, probably due, in large part, to the road work. We rode together and talked for a while. Apparently my conversational skills have devolved over the last two months of this trip, and I’ve been doing so much grunting and groaning while riding that Joy described me as “animalistic.” Whatever!

The gravel road ended (“That was some nice culvert work”, said Joy mockingly) and we turned right onto a paved county road called “Scenic 7.” Given the name of the road, I kept waiting for something spectacular, but for several miles we just saw more of the pleasant, but nothing-extraordinary Minnesota scenery we’d grown accustomed to recently.

We stopped at a busy crossroads convenience store, where we sat inside at a table, people-watching and drinking fountain soda pop. Joy had a hot dog, and I forced myself to eat a slice of pizza, which I could barely taste. We weren’t very far from Hibbing, so we sat in the store a long while, discussing the tour. Joy pointed out that we’d seen almost no female riders the last two months, which led to a brief discussion of what Joy called the “inscrutability” of men in general, and me in particular.

The rest of the ride to Hibbing (population 16,361) was easy. We made our way through the outskirts of town on quiet streets before arriving at a new-ish Hampton Inn near the Wal-Mart and the town’s small airport. Probably not the most interesting place to stay in Hibbing (a town that we never actually saw much of during our brief time there), but we needed something quiet, clean and cool after our night in the room above the bar in Marcell.