Three times must make an annual tradition. With two century rides behind us, Myra and I couldn’t let the summer go by without adding to the count.
After cycling part of the Mesabi Trail on the North Shore Cycling Tour, I thought it would make an excellent choice for our annual outing. Although it would mean doing an out-and-back ride, it had the advantage of allowing us to cycle side-by-side and chat all along the way – a signature feature of our rides. Somehow we never run out of things to talk about. And it sure makes the miles fly by. All 100 of them. It didn’t take long for Myra to buy into the idea, and as soon as we could agree on a date, it was set.
We were greatly impressed with the Mesabi Trail. The last time I rode it was years ago, and it was largely discontinuous – more a hopeful concept than a reality. That has now been reversed, with 115 miles of trail stretching eastward from Grand Rapids toward Ely. Only short sections, mostly in towns, left us on city streets or country roads. Each of those sections, as well as the rest of the trail was well marked. Between their signature Mesabi Trail sign posts and directions on the roads at all turns, we had no opportunity to make a wrong turn or mistake in following the trail. That was significant!
We started our journey at Eveleth and followed the Trail west just short of Keewatin, then turned around and returned. That allowed us to use the most complete portion of the trail. Unlike “rails to trails” paths that follow a relatively flat and straight course, the Mesabi Trail winds through mining territory, skirting open pits that are now lakes and winding over and around mounds of tailings. There were plenty of ups and downs in the rolling terrain, which kept things interesting without being too taxing. It was fascinating to see how the land is transforming with new growth. And there were frequent towns along the way to keep things interesting.
Just as we were nearing our turn around point, the dark clouds that we were trying to ignore began to drip. Then rain came in earnest, and within a few miles we were in a serious downpour. With the gusting winds, it cooled us down rapidly, but didn’t dampen our spirits. It was all part of the experience we figured. But we would be happy to see it stop. After taking cover 15 miles later under a trail shelter near Hibbing to add layers under our inadequate light jackets (who thought we’d need real rain gear?) and snarf down a snack in hopes of fueling some warmth, we continued our journey. It wasn’t long afterwards that the rain dribbled to a stop, improving our outlook significantly.
The return trip didn’t feel like covering the same old ground at all. Somehow things look different coming from the opposite direction, and we often remarked on things we’d missed seeing on the first pass. Before long we had dried out and were counting down the miles to the end. Those last 20 miles are always the hardest, but we had no problem conquering them.
I didn’t have much appetite for taking pictures once the rain hit. So we will have only mental images of the fun that we had, the beauty of the trail, and the soggy mess we presented under that shelter. Perhaps that’s for the best. But I couldn’t resist a final shot at the end of the day – victorious after our 3rd Century Ride.
Soon we will have to start planning next year’s Century.