From Great Plains to Great Lakes: Experiencing Minnesota by Bike

Posted 04/04/14 by Katie Harris in America's Trails, Trail Use

Photos © Camrin Denegel

As RTC highlights Minnesota in April, we're pleased to bring you this guest blog by our own policy intern, Katie Harris, who rode across Minnesota last year during her bike trek across America.

"Traveling by bicycle allows me to see the world from a unique perspective; in a car, we are isolated from the world around us, zipping past it all at “unnatural” speeds. On a bike, we move at a pace that gives us a true sense of a place: the smells, the sounds, the topography, the people, the weather." - Katie Harris

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to travel by bike across the country—from the coast of Washington State to the coast of Maine—with my best friend Camrin. The impetus for the trip was our desire to see the true fabric of America. 

resting-while-riding-minnesota-trails.pngDuring our 83-day trip, we pedaled 4,000 miles, met people from around the world, ate more than you can imagine and had the time of our lives. And one of the absolute highlights of our trip was riding across the state of Minnesota.

Neither of us had ever been to Minnesota before, but when we entered the state, the mid-western welcome was amazing. We had just spent three weeks on the arid plains of eastern Montana and North Dakota, and entering Minnesota was like taking a breath of fresh air. The lushness of the state captured us. Minnesota’s charm permeated every interaction in every place we stopped, from the bike shops to the grocery stores to the campgrounds. It felt like coming home.

On our second day in Minnesota, we jumped at the chance to ride on the Heartland State Trail, a 49-mile paved pathway from Park Rapids to Walker. Camrin and I rode the entire length of the trail side by side, chatting, laughing and sharing our gratitude for the experience. We didn’t have to worry about traffic. We didn’t have to worry about our safety. We could just enjoy the day, our surroundings and each other.

That evening, I wrote a postcard to my sister that simply read, “Minnesota has been lush, full of friendly folks, bike paths and ice cream. Pure happiness.”

After a relaxing pit stop with friends in Duluth, we continued on—our sights set for Canada. Tracing the North Shore of Lake Superior, we pedaled in awe of the massive body of water and the dramatic vistas along the way. Cool, foggy mornings were a welcome change from the more than one month of heat that we had endured across the Great Plains. We awoke every morning with a new respect for this place. 

Once connected, the Gitchi-Gami State Trail will span 88 miles along the North Shore. We enjoyed every inch of the 25 miles that are currently complete, our spirits sinking only when we had to return to the highway. Minnesota’s state parks along the lakeshore are incredibly popular in the summer months, and the Gitchi-Gami Trail connecting these parks is heavily used by locals and visitors alike. This trail is a huge asset to the area, and we were two among many celebrating it on a beautiful July afternoon.

During our trip, it was evident to us that Minnesotans cherish their trails. There are 30,000 miles of recreation trails in Minnesota, and although we crossed the entire state, we barely scratched the surface of its potential for adventure.

So much of our perspective of, and affinity for, a place on our journey was determined by the answer to two questions: Did we feel safe? Were our needs being met? 

In places where the answer was “yes” to both questions, we spent more time and more money and talked about returning on future trips. Minnesota was absolutely one of those places. In fact, we are planning another adventure to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” this May, and we’re bringing our bikes. 

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