The Range Riders: Three Days Bicycling Grand Rapids, Eveleth and Deer River
By Dan Miller
Photos by Steve Block
Over the past several years, Diane Ziemer has offered a three-day riding weekend around the Iron Range that has included riding the Mesabi Trail, Scenic Highway 38, around Pokegama Lake, Deer River and other places. She has graciously offered use of a family cabin as an operations base for potlucks, bonfires, camping and good times. Diane has also taken the better part of the week before the ride to scout out and fine-tune her routes. I have had the privilege of attending many of these annual weekends and wanted to extend my appreciation by writing about this year’s event.
This year, our first day of riding the Range started in Gilbert, located east of Eveleth and Virginia MN. Nearby is where they are relocating the existing highway 53 and building a new, four-lane bridge, which includes a bike – snowmobile lane. It will cross over the Rouchleau mine pit and be the tallest bridge in Minnesota upon completion. The existing Mesabi Trail from Mountain Iron to Gilbert has been detoured or temporarily closed because of this construction. Today’s route would travel the unaffected Mesabi Trail east and north of Gilbert through Biwabik, Giants Ridge until the trail dead ends. In the future, it will be a continuous trail from Ely to Grand Rapids.
Our route went through tunnels of pine forest opening upon sky blue waters and distant sight lines along the Laurentian Divide. East of Giants Ridge is the newest section of trail, a five mile out and back. Little did we know it was mostly a false hill going out until our return, which required little pedaling and went by too fast. Back on the road, we soon came upon an up hill with a good wind pushing us from behind. One appreciates 20+ mph without pedaling, but the downside is it encourages the horses to gallop and off we went until it was time for several well-deserved breathers. The initial weather forecast for the day didn’t look good and I drove through heavy showers an hour before the ride start. However, the rain held off for most of the ride. The group split near the end between those ready to head for the barn and others doing an additional five miles. In hindsight, one should have realized that the club’s “Maiden of Good Weather” took the long route and those of us heading back to the barn, got our bikes soaked and didn’t need a post ride shower. No sooner than we stripped off wet clothes, the long route riders arrived perfectly dry. Should have watched the moves of our “Maiden.”
Dinner that evening was at the Whistling Bird in Gilbert. The Jamaican themed menu featured jerked chicken and pork using a secret, homemade jerk marinade. Plantain, mashed sweet potatoes and Rasta pasta were other sampled dishes. Strawberry jalapeno margaritas and a full page of premium island rums were available. All ate well as we savored day one and left with take-home containers.
Day 2, Saturday’s ride started in Grand Rapids and headed north and west to Deer River. First to Camp Hiawatha on beautiful, quiet roads, amid accusations of “he or she started it”, a varied and quickened pace continued from the previous day. This all seemed to get settled once the “Patroness” moved to the front. At least for a while. Upon getting to Camp Hiawatha we got word that some of our “early adapters” had wheel issues and reinforcements went back to offer aid. Unfortunately we rode as two separate groups for the remainder of the ride despite trying to hook up. That evening, the merits of early adapting was the topic of some good-hearted discussion.
The non-search and rescue group continued on from Camp Hiawatha and now the two tandems decided to show their stuff on our way to Deer River. There, a wild rice casserole lunch was served up at the Methodist Church as the Wild Rice Festival was beginning operations outside. After church lady prepared casserole, lemonade, watermelon, coffee and pie, I walked down main street surrounded by the sights and smells of corn dogs, ice cream cones and cheese curds to find two fry bread stands. They made one up on the spot for me and it was probably not the wisest thing on top of the very filling church lunch. Back on the road, there was more Tandem action and I heard some new nicknames based upon riding styles for others and myself. We had a great day riding back to Grand Rapids where upon several of us pulled out a camp chair and had a cold one. Riders later assembled for a pulled pork feast that included baked beans, salads and deserts which was followed by an after dark bonfire to conclude Day 2.
Day 3, Sunday morning’s ride start at Grand Rapids came too early. I was a bit tired from the previous two days of spirited riding and was moving a bit slow. On the way out, we passed through the fairgrounds where a group was training horses and one of our cyclist’s Mother was participating. Having found her after the horses clearly signaled that we were a suspicious group, Mom told, “Honey” to have good day. Now this announcement was fodder for great banter as this individual, aka “Batman” and “The Dark Prince” has a propensity for pushing big gears at a low cadence, stylish black outfits and having a silent, sideways nod whenever any of us do anything stupid. He is also a great club photographer and some of his photos appear with this article.
The ride began on the Mesabi Trail going to Coleraine. This part of the trail is like mountain biking for road bikes. Lots of twists and turns and quick up and downs. Forests provided plenty of shade as we passed along mine pits that have been reclaimed by nature. Unfortunately, I missed the exit to Coleraine and insisted that we could get off later. This led our group along for a few extra trail miles to encounter the front part of our group that had turned back realizing they were off course. In Coleraine, the Four Seasons Meat Market and Café was about to open leaving each man or woman on their own searching for the nearest restroom. Once the Four Seasons opened, we traded beef stick bites and ice cream licks while marveling at the porkettas and other “Range specific” delicacies. Unfortunately, we got split up while one person, “Swirl,” was deciding how to make a porketta purchase and arrangements to pick up after the ride.
So this led to chasing everyone down going into a significant head wind. So much for my tired legs which surprisingly found their cadence. Upon being reconnected, #2 Patroness kept the pace to a reasonable hum until a the tailwind returned. This led to some of us getting lost and those more wise giving us the knowing smile upon arriving later at the rest stop. I asked #2 “why she didn’t protect us from ourselves.” She responded, “that there was only so much she could do with men.” OK, I guess some have a better sense of self-preservation.
We continued on the roads and trails to a rest stop at Pokegama Lake and a scenic shaded return to Grand Rapids. Vehicles packed, I was able to go back to Diane’s cabin for some leftover pulled pork and baked beans. It was a great weekend of spirited riding and sightseeing. Many thanks to Diane and fellow riders for another memorable weekend of riding on the Range.
Additional photos can be seen at the following link: http://imageevent.com/sblock/grandrapidsweekend2016