Having been impressed by North Dakota’s beauty, which to our relief was nothing like the plains of eastern Montana, we had high expectations for Minnesota. On many fronts the state has delivered. Lake Itasca was quite the treat where we had the chance to walk across the headwaters of the Mississippi River (inset). We witnessed the small stream grow into a wide, meandering river as we followed it south towards Minneapolis. You might think the water and warm weather as a recipe for enjoyment. This would be partially true. However, I have affectionately renamed the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” the “Land of Humidity, Mosquitoes, and Ticks.” The name doesn’t roll off the tongue like “The Beaver State,” but I think most would find it fitting. On one particularly miserable day, we cycled all morning through the pouring rain, thankful that the mosquitoes could not brave the elements - that is until we came to a stop. Apparently, Minnesota mosquitoes are even heartier than Montana mosquitoes (which are capable of navigating 20+ mph cross winds and performing aerial maneuvers that would make a WWII fighter ace turn white, all just to suck your blood). The Minnesota insects have been blessed with the ability to fly through tropical downpours featuring solid sheets of water. I suppose things could have been worse - a tornado was reported in the southern region of the state.
But alas, I complain too much. We have been spoiled by the people we have met after all. A fellow cross-country cyclist by the name of Dan bought us each a Snickers bar when he spotted us outside of a grocery store. It was a blast to have an exchange with someone that had been bitten by the touring bug, especially since we have not had the pleasure of meeting many other folks doing the same thing. We had a most enjoyable visit with Lance, a fascinating contractor that had been to the Antarctic a dozen times to construct remote field laboratories. He entertained us with stories of survival methods (a topic he teaches) over a couple beers that he so graciously shared.
Once in Minneapolis, the royal treatment didn’t stop. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a wedding party in a city park that insisted on including us in their delicious picnic buffet (we were of course unable to refuse). We also ran into a fellow by the name of Ross while checking out the University campus. Because we didn’t have a place lined up to stay on our first night in town, he offered to put us up for an evening. Not only did he treat us to an awesome pizza restaurant, he also cooked us one of the most delicious traditional breakfasts that I have ever tasted. Turns out that Ross is an incredibly chill and exceptional individual that is a chef, teacher, father, musician, mechanic, cyclecross racer, scientist and a multitude of other things. I was truly envious of his skill set.
The following day we met up with Sue, family friend of the Bettenburgs. Sue was an incredibly gracious and social host. Her and her friends showed us a terrific time on lake Minnetonka, where we drank and ate to our heart’s content as we floated around the lake in a party barge. We soaked up the sun and enjoyed our first swim of the trip. Over the course of three restful days spent at Sue’s house, we were able to check out Minneapolis in some detail. We visited Mall of America, the largest shopping center in the US. The four-level complex is so big that it features a full blown amusement park in the middle (see picture). We also took time to explore downtown and uptown where we got a taste of some excellent local bars and even found a Whitecastle. The burgers, while tiny, numerous, and tasty, were no match for the Juicy Lucy (a notoriously delicious burger served at the 5-8 club located near lake Nokomis).
Looking back, we had a whole ton of fun in Minneapolis. We plan to leave in the morning, but we will wait to see how that goes… Cheers!