When I left Bemidji, I took all the backroads possible -- 7 to 3 to 9 to 2 -- into Lake Itasca. By that I mean, all those little county roads where you might see one or two cars every five miles or so.
After a few days of gray skies, riding through agricultural territory on a crisp, sunny day seemed like a miracle. Unfortunately, thunderstorms were predicted over the next few days, and that state park was booked solid.
Minnesotans take their state parks and outdoors very seriously. In other words, if you go too much with the flow, you will find yourself without housing just as I did.
When I reached Lake Itasca, swells of joy swam within my stomach, my chest, my throat.
I had arrived.
I quietly wept as I approached the headwaters.
Droves of families and couples could be seen taking selfies and brief dips in the water.
For my ritual, I drank from the headwaters of the Mississippi.
The water tasted well... like water with a splash of algae.
No filters -- no iodine -- just river water.
From Minnesota, the Mississippi River is as close to crystal clear as it gets.
No black or brown water here.
Yet, as soon as it begins to meander down, the sediment begins to change its shade.
Going from translucent...
To a soft brown...
This happens just breaths after it begins its journey down-down-down-down.
I reflected upon the river's route, and my own.
What have I learned from this adventure?
Was there anything to extrapolate?
Unfortunately, my mind was just as murky as the Mississippi River.
I headed back on my motorcycle to ride and find a place to rest while the clouds overhead thickened.
Taking the scenic roads back up to Bemidji, I jumped on 71 North to 1 East.
Although 71 looked similar to other Minnesota roads I had been driving, 1 definitely guided me through the state's authentic, rural parts.
I just kept driving and driving and driving.
It was as if I was under some sort of spell.
Blue skies, big trees, and cool temperatures kept telling me to go, go, go.
I passed through the towns of Northome and Effie and Togo and Celina and Meadow Brook and Linden Grove and Cook and Angora and Peyla and Tower and Soudan... all the way to Ely.
A few reasons.
It was a larger city (about 3500 people) with a picturesque downtown.
Plus, I had been to Ely, Nevada... why not Ely, Minnesota?
In addition, the sun had set for the day.
It was either stop or do the unthinkable: drive at night on unfamiliar, rural roads.
I had traveled more than 230-miles in one day.
Stopping at Motel Ely, I found a room for one night.
Roger and Debbie Murawski (and their daughter) took good care of me.
They suggested places for dining and imbibing.
The dining never happened, but the imbibing did.
I stopped by one local place called Zaverl's where I could find some local culture. I did. The local bartender spoke to another customer about the election and the number of shrinking fishing outfitter's and lodges in town.
After one cold pint at Zaverl's, I walked to Dee's.
While the outside looks just like about any other bar in the world, the inside was something else.
Damn romantic really: it was the lighting.
I could hear the distinct Minnesota accents in full effect; music was playing; people were shooting pool; and the bartender, Jolene, was immediately attentive.
A dive bar caught in a time warp: 1950s era glass and red pleather mixed with 21st century booze.
It was cold, so I ordered something tropical.
A pineapple and rum concoction.
Later, Jolene whips up warm shots of pineapple upside down cake.
Next thing you know...
We're all dancing to Mariah Carey and Sir Mix-A-Lot .
I learn about Jolene's upcoming, cross-country van trip.
I'm trying to convince Kate (Jolene's cousin) who's also going on the ride to visit New Mexico.
It's 2 a.m.
I close down the bar with Jolene and her cousin Kate and another family friend nicknamed "Hawaii" and a youngish Minnesota dude who wanted to join us for the after party (no after party, sorry guy).
Jolene gives me a ride back to the motel.
I brush my teeth and set my alarm for 8:30 a.m.
Next stop: North Shore.
Until we meet again, my friend.