We were up early and on our way while the sun was still making its way up through the trees. It was refreshing to be out at that hour, when the sky was an indeterminate color of blue, few people were stirring and cars had not yet crowded the highway. It was cool but held the promise of a warm day to come.
From Beaver Bay, the sights came early in our route. Within half an hour we were cycling up to Split Rock Lighthouse. The park was deserted and we were thankful that park rules were not so stringent as to require locked gates. We had our own private viewing of the lighthouse and its surroundings, able to take in the beauty of the buildings and shoreline in the golden sun of early morning. I’d recommend it to any tourist! In fact, we accidentally discovered a unique view of the lighthouse, reflected in the vaulted windows of the visitor center.
For that entire section of the shoreline, we were able to follow the Gitchi-Gami State Trail, a bicycle trail that aspires to connect Two Harbors to Grand Marais along the North Shore. Although it is still discontinuous, the sections like this that are complete are marvelous. In addition to relieving cyclists from highway travel, the trail is routed through the woods and periodically winds down toward the lake for additional views unavailable to those on the highway. It is well worth the additional hill climbs to take advantage of the trail. I learned too late that there were new portions of trail competed above Schroeder that would have benefited us yesterday.
One very small section of the Gitchi-Gami trail that is not to be missed is at Silver Cliffs. The trail follows the old highway around the tunnel, clinging to the edge of the rocks with stunning views of the lake and shoreline.
Despite having to travel 31 miles before eating, we were determined to stop at the Mocha Moose for breakfast. Not only did it represent truly reaching home turf, being on the Scenic Highway portion of 61, but it was also a key element in one of our earliest training rides. Back in March on a chilly day in the 40s, it was our turnaround point for a ride up the shore and back. That day we desperately needed the warming stop and loved the friendly atmosphere. Today we didn’t need warming, but we still got “moosinated” and enjoyed hearty breakfast turnovers.
From there on we were on extremely familiar territory. The landmarks seemed to fly by. Restaurants, lodgings, houses, rivers and viewpoints came in rapid succession. Was it because we had become immune to the distances that once seemed a stretch? Certainly we had come a long way since that early training ride.
At McQuade Harbor we were joined by my friend Myra who came out to ride to the finish with us. It was great having her support and company for the final miles. Upon reaching Duluth, we were able to follow the Lakewalk to Canal Park, our chosen destination point. After traveling at reasonable speeds on highways for 9 days, it was quite a change of pace when we reached the more populated sections of the trail where it is rightfully dominated by tourists, pedestrians, runners and four-wheeled cycle buggies. It made for tricky navigation, slowing and dodging the populous, but had a festive flavor at the same time.
Our end point was the Marine Museum by the Aerial Bridge. There we were met by our son, Erik, and my sister, Susie, who formed a rousing welcoming committee, including a sign. After the obligatory photos, it was ice cream cones for everyone (of course!). To make the celebration complete, we were honored with an oar boat that came through the bridge heading out into the lake – the ultimate Duluth experience. It was the perfect ending to our trip.
We weren’t really done cycling, though. We still had to ride home, seven final miles. As we returned along the Lakewalk, the now cloudy skies began to produce rain. It wasn’t a sustained rainfall, however, and actually felt kind of good, breaking the heat of the day. It was a leisurely ride, lacking the same sense of purpose we’d had on the rest of our tour. After all, we’d already celebrated our finish. We’d passed the 500 mile mark just before entering Duluth. And we had completed the circle around our end of the lake.
It truly was 500 miles of love, just like it says on our shirts. I can’t wait to plan the next trip.