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Day 14: Fargo, ND to Alexandria, MN

And we’re on the road again and on to a new state! But first things first: The podcast I recorded on Sunday has dropped! You can find it here, or search for “Brews, Booze & Reviews” on your favorite podcast site. (Caution: Contains strong language.)

Today was supposed to start off easy. Josh and Jesse live just off of 17th Ave, which goes straight through to a park along the Red River where there’s a pedestrian/bicycle bridge to Minnesota. They very nicely both got up at 6 to see me off, and I hit the road at 6:30, since I knew I had a long day ahead of me. Biking down 17th was easy enough, but when I got to the park I saw this:

Apparently when the river floods they raise the bridge to prevent people from wandering onto it and getting swept away. And even though the flood waters have subsided, they haven’t lowered the bridge. Checking the map, the nearest normal road crossing was in downtown Fargo, 2 miles to the north of me, which would have therefore been a 4-mile detour. On the other hand, I-94 had a bridge just south of me, and I had to double back less than a mile to get to the on ramp, so onto I-94 it was, one last time!

Fortunately, there’s an exit as soon as you cross the river, so I was on the interstate for less than a mile. Then it was just a matter of cutting across southern Moorhead to Old US-52.

Old US-52 is flat. Like, pancake flat. There’s a barely perceptible rise just because the road’s moving away from the river, but really, it’s flat. So I just rode and rode and rode. After 30 miles I got to the town of Barnesville and had breakfast. After another 10 miles the road started to have something resembling rolling hills, which is to say, I shifted down one gear to go up them and then shifted back to go down.

At 44 miles I arrived in Rothsay, home of the greater prairie chicken.

No, they’re not actually that large. But seriously, they’re a native species that was nearly wiped out as 19th century farmers developed the prairie for agriculture and destroyed their native habitat. Today enough of their habitat has been restored that they’re doing ok.

Fun fact on the side about the name Rothsay: The Duke of Rothsay is Prince Charles’ primary title in Scotland, since the Scottish aren’t too keen on titles like Prince of Wales or Duke of Cornwall.

Another 18 miles past Rothsay got me to Fergus Falls, which sits on the Otter Tail River and is the seat of Otter Tail County. Accordingly, it’s home to Otto, the world’s largest otter.

(That’s a full-size picnic table under him, to give a sense of scale.) Incidentally, the last four miles leading into Fergus Falls were the only actual hills I had to deal with today, which is to say the only time I had to downshift below 3-6.

By this point it was lunchtime, so I grabbed lunch at this really good café I stumbled on called Café 116. It’s so nice to be out of the culinary wasteland part of the country!

[Ed. note: A friend commented that that remark could be interpreted to mean I think the entire western half of the country is a culinary wasteland. Just to clarify, in any city of, say, 10,000 people or more, you can usually find some good food options. However, in the 1300 miles between the Columbia River Valley and Greater Fargo, I only hit 6 such cities: Lewiston, Missoula, Great Falls, Dickinson, Bismarck-Mandan, and Jamestown. All of those cities have good food options, but they’re all at least 100 miles from each other, and the spaces in between them are indeed a culinary wasteland. In most of the smaller towns in between, you’re limited to pubs, diners, convenience stores, maybe a pizza parlor, and if you’re really lucky a Subway so you can get fresh vegetables with your meal. Now that I’m east of Fargo, I’m actually hitting multiple cities of over 10,000 each day, so I’m finally able to have quality food for lunch.]

Now, the reason I stumbled on the café was because it happened to be next door to Fergus Falls’ one brewery, Union Pizza & Brewing.

Union was a bit of a disappointment because it turns out they only make 3 beers of their own and otherwise feature guest beers. Nevertheless, the Carlson cream ale was quite good for a cream ale. It wasn’t too bitter, and it actually had some notes of lemon, which made it interesting. I also learned from the bartender that there are two more breweries opening imminently in Fergus, but not yet.

On the way out of Fergus, I passed quite the collection of birds by the river.

At the edge of town I picked up the Central Lakes Rail Trail, which I’ve been looking forward to all trip. The trail runs more than 100 miles from Fergus Falls to the edge of St. Cloud, and it’s paved the whole way! Between today and tomorrow I plan to do the whole trail, and so far it’s been so nice to not be on roads for such a long distance.

At some point shortly after starting the trail I crossed back over the Northern Divide and am now in the Mississippi River watershed! Of course there was no sign. But with any luck, I’ll see the big river itself tomorrow.

Some 17 miles into the trail, and 81 miles total into my ride, I came to the town of Ashby. Amazingly, Ashby, MN is even smaller than Ashby, MA. However, it does have a tiny brewery. Unfortunately, that brewery is only open Fridays and Saturdays. However, the bartender at Union said the one restaurant in town also serves their beer. Unfortunately, that one restaurant is only open Thu-Sat. So I guess Ashby Brewing will have to wait for a future trip.

Continuing on the trail, I passed a number of the 10,000 lakes for which Minnesota is famous. They made for really nice scenery, with some being more like ponds and others being quite large and having kayakers, speedboats, and other recreational activities.

As a nice reminder that I’m no longer in the middle of nowhere, the trail passes through a small town every 5-10 miles, so I felt a lot more comfortable knowing I’d never be too far from services.

Finally, after 108 miles, I arrived in the city of Alexandria, which the locals call “Alec” to save themselves 3 syllables. The city has a cute downtown with a number of independent businesses, but surprisingly there are no breweries downtown. Of the two breweries in the city, one is attached to a winery about 5 miles north of town. If I hadn’t already biked so far I might have made the 10-mile detour to check it out, but that wasn’t happening after 108 miles. The other one, Copper Trail, is 2 miles south of downtown, but they’re currently renovating a building downtown which they hope to move into by the end of the summer.

To cut to the chase, I visited Copper Trail in their current location, which was also reasonably close to my motel. They’re still relatively small; they only had 6 beers on tap.

I wound up trying all of the non-hoppy ones on a flight. Far and away my favorite was the Midwest Midnight milk chocolate stout. It’s surprisingly light for a chocolate stout (which is to say it’s medium-bodied), but it’s full of flavor, and at 6% it’s not going to get you drunk after a few sips. After I told the bartender that I particularly liked it, she even gave me a crowler of it on the house! I plan to give it to my warmshowers host in St. Cloud tomorrow night as a house gift, since I can’t exactly cart it all the way home in the summer heat.

While all of the other beers were at least good, the only other one that made an impression on me was the Runestone rye ale. I’m appreciating that brewers are starting to make rye beers that aren’t IPAs, and a lot of them turn out quite good. (See also the rye pilsner from yesterday.)

So that was my day. To tie up one loose end, I wore the new bike shorts today. They were a bit bulky, but the padding was so comfortable! I didn’t feel any saddle soreness at all until more than 70 miles into my ride, which is definitely a lot farther than I get with my other biking shorts before saddle soreness sets in.

Tomorrow’s going to be interesting. There are thunderstorms in the forecast, along with a headwind, so my plan is to get up early, book the 70 miles to St. Cloud, and call it a day, hopefully before the storms hit. Wish me luck!

Total distance: 112.0 miles
Average speed: 15.4 mph

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