Day 83: August 24, 2002
Discovered in 1832 by Henry Schoolcraft and his Ojibwa guide, Chief Ozawindib ("Yellow Head"), Lake Itasca is the source of the Mississippi River. I first crossed the river as I cycled from St. Paul to Minneapolis. There, the river was brown and proud. It was the river I had read about, while growing up and reading Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Now, after coming north and having crossed its windy course many times I have seen this river as it hardly ever comes to mind. Mississippi. The word evokes images of the majestic river course. Steamboats. Trade. Floods. This is the mighty river that has devastated towns and lives, yet has also provided growth and livelihood for a nation. Yet here in the north I have seen this river as nothing more than a brown sluggish creek, barely tricking north towards Bemidji before it curls south and begins a southerly journey 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.
After a morning of cycling the Wilderness Trail around Lake Itasca, through old growth pine forest, and winding roads lined with yellow wild flowers, pine bogs, and lily-pad pools, I make my way out of the woodlands and head west into the prairies of western Minnesota and North Dakota. Along the way I see another cyclist by the wayside. I see that he needs help so I pull up beside his new shiny red and white Trek road bike. He tells me that he's never changed a flat before and he's having hard time with his rear wheel. I help him change it. Meanwhile another cyclist pulls up on a blue Rivendell road bike.
The Rivendell cyclist, Dick Wentz, a former Air Force Aerial Reconnaissance Photography Processor (that's military for "film developer") and Viet Nam veteran, invites me to rest for the weekend at his Fargo townhouse.
In the brown railroad city of Fargo I go to church with Dick. In the evening, I rest my weary saddle sore body, reading The Fellowship of the Ring (for my sixth and probably last time-unless a university decides to indulge my dream of becoming a Professor of Middle Earth Studies), and listening to the greatest cappella group of all time, the College of William and Mary's own Reveille.
Island Park Bike Shop
Day 85: August 26, 2002
As I peddle through the old crumbling town of red, dun, and brown bricked buildings with "Old Northwestern Territory" false fronts, grim, sun beaten grain elevators, and the sound of train horns and rail crosses ringing, I see the Island Park Bike Shop and decide to pop in on a whim.
I discovered a crack in the top tube of my bike frame. It appeared overnight sometime last week between Scandia and Grand Rapids, Minnesota. After asking a mechanic at a Bemidji bike shop if I should worry about this, I asked the skillful Webmaster to call Jamis and my home bike shop to see about a warranty exchange. They all said that I would have to find a Jamis dealer and then sit tight for two-three weeks to conduct an exchange of bike frames. Now Jamis, an East Coast cycle company, is a scarce bike brand west of the Mississippi. The nearest shops were in Minneapolis and Montana. There were none in North Dakota.
So when Tom of Island Park hears my tale of woe and sees this peculiar "failure" in the frame he tells me that he'll "fight for me" and calls Jamis. Tom tells Jamis of my plight and, after seeing a digital photo of my cracked frame, they agree to fly me a new 2002 model frame overnight. By afternoon tomorrow, Tom says, I will be back on the road.