Day 36, 7/19, Fergus Falls, MN to Albany, MN: 89.5 miles, 2,809 ft elevation gain, 13.9 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,038.2 miles (67.9 daily average), 90,559 ft elevation gain, 12.2 overall average speed.
Three days behind schedule.
Ted sort of foreshadowed this last night, but our drunken camping neighbors made for by far the worst camping experience of the trip. There were two groups of four to six drunk people (one group of 40- and 50-year-olds and one group of teenagers) and they were up until 4a blasting country music, singing, fighting (within and between groups), and howling at the moon. One guy howled at the moon for 10-20 seconds every 3-5 minutes. And their conversations were vile. I’m not easily offended, but these conversations were disgusting and sad.
As we were getting into our tent, one of the men slurred to us, “where are you sleeping tonight?” We told him we were sleeping in the tent we were entering (duh) and he said, “okay, you should be safe in there.” There were so many signs that we should have moved, that sentence included, but we were too lazy to pack up. We regretted it later. We were safe, but we did not get much sleep.
My favorite part of the evening was when, in the older group, one of the men started reciting the Gettysburg address while one man sang “Long-Haired Country Boy,” one man continued to howl at the moon, and one woman decided that she regretted bringing two cases of Natural Light to the party and yelled over and over that “it would be nice if I could take at least a 12-pack home,” while slapping the guy sitting on the cooler (the guy howling at the moon who was unphased by her slapping) so she could access the beer. All at once. A symphony of idiots. It was a disaster.
Anyway, we woke up after getting just a couple hours of sleep and hit the trail. Literally the trail; we spent the entire day on a protected bike trail! Minnesota converted parts of the defunct Great Northern Railroad into a beautifully paved, shaded bike path. It was lovely riding that required much less focus than road riding, which was great given our lack of sleep. We still felt like zombies this morning, though, so we stopped after only 8 miles to get coffee and chocolate muffins.
The coffee didn’t work; we remained zombies. Shortly thereafter we stopped at a convenience store for cold drinks and stumbled upon something as Midwestern as hotdish: dessert bars! We got a peanut butter chocolate dessert bar and hung out for a longer-than-usual break because we were feeling lethargic and unmotivated.
We pedaled to Alexandria and ate at another converted train station. We got the unlimited soup and salad bar. The beef stew had so much potential, but they threw way too much salt in. It was great to eat fresh veggies, though. We also got Bloody Marys at a DIY Bloody Mary bar and both decided that putting beef sticks and cheese curds in a drink was a great idea.
As we were eating, we saw our friends Steph and Tom (who we met in Eureka on day 13) ride by on the path! As a reminder, Steph and Tom are riding to Maine from Oregon on a tandem bike, are from the Bay Area, and retired two years ago, mostly to take this trip. This trip is also Steph’s 60th birthday present to herself. I hope to be able to give myself a similar gift when I turn 60!
We caught them on the trail later when they stopped to eat lunch. We learned that they had a warm showers host tonight in a town 13 miles past where we were planning to camp. Steph is a mama bear and immediately contacted her warm showers host to see if we could pitch a tent in their yard, and they said yes! We rode with Steph and Tom for the second half of the day and got caught up on each other’s last couple of weeks. They’re doing great and riding strong; we struggled to keep up with them for much of the afternoon. Riding with them did much better than the coffee at pulling us out of the slump we were in this morning.
We got to Melrose, the place we intended to camp, and noticed that the town put exercise encouragement on the mileposts on the trail. All of these towns along the trail have also set up nice picnic tables under pavilions. This trail is nicely done.
We arrived to Albany pretty quickly thanks to a crosswind that was mostly at our backs and found a bicycle statue at the exit for the town, which we took as a good omen. Our warm showers host lives just a few blocks off the trail in a beautiful 110-year-old dairy house. They’ve done an incredible job of updating the home while still maintaining the original character. More impressive than the home, though, was the family living there! Frank, Angela, and their daughter, Anna, were warm and engaging hosts. We enjoyed chatting with them all night over good food and Arnold Palmers. We also did our best to persuade Anna to join the Peace Corps after college. It was a lovely evening and was just the experience we needed after last night’s fiasco.
We will ride with Steph and Tom to a bunkhouse in a barn specifically designed for traveling cyclists tomorrow.