Lumberjacks and Headwaters

After an amazing week of adventure and sightseeing together, Missy and I said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.  I was over being in temperatures I considered too cold for the month of July, so I ditched my plans of heading north to Warroad in hopes of seeing the northern lights and decided that I was as far north as I wanted to go!  I pointed the bike southwest towards Bemidji, MN.  I had decided to take MN-1, which runs through George Washington Forest, thinking I would capitalize on the great road conditions so far encountered in Minnesota.  Of course, I jinxed myself. MN-1 turned into a repeat of MI-28; almost a dozen miles of road construction, BOTH lanes, of loose gravel.  Well, at least it was dry gravel and not coated in oil :-/  But, once again, I did not die, and arrived alive and well at my hotel right on Lake Bemidji.

It seems that several cities have giant Paul Bunyans, so I was curious what claim the city of Bemidji had to the legendary outdoorsman.  Here’s the story from the AtlasObscura:  “Bemidji has drawn visitors since the late 1800s, particularly outdoorsy types.  The growing popularity of the automobile in the 1920 and 1930s secured the town’s fate as a retreat destination…Town boosters, wanting to expand the tourist season beyond the few beautiful weeks in the summer, thought it a good idea to host a carnival in January 1937 showcasing the area’s wintertime offerings.  January, by the way, is the coldest month in these parts, with average highs coming to around 12 degrees.  Festivity organizers installed enormous statues of Paul and Babe to serve as carnival mascots, and they were so popular, particularly after their feature in ‘Life’ magazine, that they were installed as permanent fixtures alongside Lake Bemidji for all to visit.

It was fitting that, after a stay in the city that bills itself as “The First City on the Mississippi River” that I should make the journey to where the Mighty Mississippi begins- Lake Itasca, MN.  So, after a morning stroll along the shore of Lake Bemidji, I packed up the rig and ran through my pre-roll-out checklist (hey, I’m from the aviation world, I believe in checklists!).  As I was checking the tread wear on the camper tires, I noticed that the wear was a little more than I liked on one side than the other.  So, after consulting with my brother, I took advantage of having a nice level, paved, parking lot and swapped it out for the spare.  It didn’t take all that long, but it definitely pushed back my early arrival to the Mississippi headwaters in Itasca State Park.  Looks like I wouldn’t be beating the crowds today, but oh well, better to be safe than sorry!

The Mississippi Headwaters Monument is a tall tree stump, painted brown, with carved out lettering in yellow, that marks the transition of water from Lake Itasca to a small stream that begins the flow of the Mississippi River.

According to a sign posted along the pathway to the headwaters, the search for the origins of the Mississippi River ended in 1832 when Ojibwe Chief Ozawindib guided Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to Lake Itasca.  The lake was known as “Omushkos” by the Indians and as “Lac la Biche” by the traders, both meaning Elk Lake.  Schoolcraft renamed it “Itasca” from a combination of the Latin words for “truth” and “head.”

I’m sitting behind the headwaters monument with my feet in Lake Itasca.
I’m walking across the Mississippi River!  I had taken my boots off and waded in the water, along with the crowd of people behind me, where the lake water spills into the creek that becomes the Mississippi River.  It was kind of surreal to stand in a creek that turns into a river, where over 2500 miles away, barges the size of buildings dock in the Port of New Orleans.

This area is also the start of the Great River Road, an epic 3000 mile All-American route that runs along the Mississippi River through 10 states, from Minnesota to Louisiana.  It’s an epic motorcycle ride I’d like to do someday.  I think I’m adding as many things to my “want to see/do someday” list as I’m checking off!

America is chock full of epic road trip routes!!

With the headwaters in my rearview mirrors, I picked up Hwy 2, aka the Great Northern route, and headed west for North Dakota.

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