By: Jan Lasar
Last Labor Day Weekend’s biking trip to the North Shore didn’t turn out like my wife Jen and I expected.
While biking from Biwabik to the end of the Gunflint Trail and back we were baptized, experienced temperance and found religion on the highway, in the campsites and along the largest lake in the world.
We spent the first night at Vermilion Trail Park, Biwabik's municipal campground. Picking up the Mesabi Trail early in the morning to the Superior National Forest Scenic Byway was heavenly scenic.
We rolled quietly through rugged conifers and white birch, their broken and tilted trunks decaying back into the thick moss they grew from ages ago.
Small lakes and bogs were strewn here and there, fed by the countless creeks we crossed. Our buzzing brains finally gave up processing all of this beautiful sameness and we enjoyed the sound of silence.
We passed by Pauline's Bait Shop, one of only a few business along the 54 miles of this very scenic byway and soon ran out of water. We found plenty of water in Silver Bay but there was no room at the campgrounds in Tettegouche State Park.
We found refuge at Eckbeck Campgrounds, where we were baptized twice-once with a steep trek and then in the Baptism River.
A chilly 35-degree morning left frost on our tent, but we warmed up fast heading east on the North Shore Scenic Drive, the shoulder went from narrow nonexistent.
It was a white-knuckled day, with close encounters of the holiday traffic kind. The Gitchi-Gami Trail through Temperance River State Park was a lifesaver, but we were put off by how poorly signed the access points were.
We were blessed by the cascading waterfalls at Cascade River State Park, but took our day of rest at the Grand Marais municipal campgrounds about 100 feet from Lake Superior. The hot tub at the municipal pool melted the stress right off. We finished the day watching the sun set over the lake and walked back to the tent by the light of the moon.
Our plans to bike the Gunflint Trail went away after talking to a local bike shop.
Before I could say, "We plan to bike up the Gunf....." and she shook her head saying, "No, you're not."
Local bikers know best, so we rode to Grand Portage along Highway 61. We splurged on breakfast at the Naniboujou Lodge, where the brilliant Native American patterns of the large dining room felt like an ancient temple.
Grand Portage is a small community in a cozy bay, with a utilitarian campground. We turned back to camp at Judge C.R. Magney State Park. Just outside the park, we stocked up with groceries for the next two days at Chicago Bay Marketplace. We settled into a spacious site at the park, sharing the entire grounds with only two other campers.
We explored Devil's Kettle, where half the Brule River disappears down a pothole.
The next day we met Jen’s parents at Cascade River State Park.For the first time ever, we grudgingly let them talk us into riding back to Silver Bay with them avoiding Hwy 61. The payoff was having time to hike up Lookout Mountain exploring the Cascade River Falls.
We were soaked in sweat by the time we reached the top. After that it was time for a lazy afternoon with lunch on the beach in Grand Marais and, yes, a dip into Lake Superior. It felt so good to bake in the sun and do absolutely nothing but listen to the waves and the seagulls.
We were thankful not to have to relive the traffic of Hwy 61 and said goodbye to Jen's parents in Silver Bay. Our next destination was Lake Sullivan Campground in the Finland State Forest, where our perfect rustic campsite on the lake had a private beach.
The night came with an inspirational sunset as the chorus of wolves sang to us.
We loitered around camp until 11 a.m. on our final day. Neither of us were ready to leave this wilderness and return to reality anytime soon.
After a walk around the historic Finish Toimischool, we rode back through Hoyt Lakes and Aurora, past tiny square houses with mismatched clapboard and weathered tarpaper.
Stained trailer homes in various stages of decay were clustered together on rocky patches of grass. Just what had happened to all the riches taken from here?
Our final approach to Vermilion Trail Park included one last hill.
“I am so done.” Jen said and laid her bike down next to the car. ”Take this thing away from me.”
Exhausted, we wobbled down to the beach and plopped into Embarrass Lake for a well-deserved cool down after a spectacular week of touring the North Shore.
Salvation by bicycle.