We are riding north to Brainerd from Minneapolis through the northwestern part of the Midwest, where people are genuinely friendly, always have time for chitchat, and cherish beer and cheese as it was intended. My wife, Sarah, and I already feel right at home, at least in July (cold winter yikes!), in the state of 10,000 lakes. The scent of vacation and relaxation is in the air barely an hour outside of the Twin Cities. Minnesotans sure know how to have a good time, and Sarah and I are anxious to get into the same state of mind.
Although Brainerd is the home base for our next four days of touring, we’re staying about ten minutes outside the town at Cragun’s Resort, situated on the shore of Gull Lake. With so many lakes around, and the activities that come along with water and a vacation town, we plan half-day outings. That’s enough time to explore the roads and landscapes but also enough time to enjoy the lake as well as the plethora of world-class golf courses. Think: a morning ride appreciating the empty roads followed by kayaking or teeing off in the afternoon, and then out for ice cream and a turtle race. That’s the M.O. for the tour, and we’re sticking to it!
Mille Lacs Lake
It’s redundant—literally “Thousand Lakes Lake.”I can’t get it out of my mind. Was the reason government officials named this body of water to draw special emphasis on “lake?” Maybe it was more “lakey” than the others around? Or, maybe the French word “lac” was too confusing as it can also mean “tie.” I suspect I’ll never have closure with that one, but beside the superfluous “lake,” this one is worth a visit and a circumnavigation.
We decide to tackle “the big one” clockwise, so we steer the Gold Wing left onto 18. The Wealthwood State Forest has some surprising elevation. We’re looking several feet down onto the lake, yet it gives us the impression we’re riding beside a cliff. The thin but plentiful trees create a tunnel with the sunrays barely penetrating them. The super fast changes in light make us feel like we’re in a time warp back to simpler times. Well, it’s actually just the Minnesotan vacation flair we’re sensing up here. And, did I mention how nice everybody is! We stop in the Village at Izatys for some photos, and a friendly local immediately stops to chat with us. He’s giving us valuable information about the lake, life on the lake, and life in the lake. The biggest epiphany comes when he explains all the huts we see stored in fields close by. Those are the famous ice huts. Once the ice is one and a half to two-feet thick, people drag out the ice huts to stay “warm” while fishing.
The western side of Mille Lacs is noticeably busier, and while we’re fluidly riding northbound, people heading south aren’t so lucky. It’s stop and go, bumper-to-bumper. A few minutes later we seem to locate the source of all this traffic. Garrison on the northwestern corner of Mille Lacs is the largest town on the shore and where two lanes become one. It appears Highway 169 is the route of choice and Sunday the preferred day to drive home.
On our way back to Cragun’s, we weave through the countless smaller lakes that fill the backdrop. We thought the area would serve us with straight roads, so we’re more than delighted to find enough bends to keep things interesting.