Monday, September 17, 2007

11. Duluth: Coastal Paradise

I picked up Jean-Paul at 3:00 pm at work, twenty miles out of Rapids. I arrived in his minivan, loaded with stuff he was temporarily storing at his parents' house in Duluth before he moved down to the Cities. We added his bike (mine was in there too), and headed out for Duluth, which takes an hour. Again I was treated to Jean-Paul's rhythms. We had tea in Floodwood.

We entered Duluth from a different way than I ever had before, into an old neighborhood which suddenly made me realize that Duluth is much more than Superior Street. A café sign: "A & Dubs"! We stopped at a bike shop so Jean-Paul could pick up a chain whip he had ordered. We perused the "If the Shoe Fits" shelf of free cycling shoes. Nothing for me, but Jean-Paul found a couple pairs, and kept one. We gazed enraptured at 1970s and '80s cycling posters, one for the Tour of Minnesota! Jean-Paul had also heard from a friend that this bike shop ran an underground lending library of cycling videos. When Jean-Paul asked, sure to mention his friend's name, the clerk thought for a few seconds, and then said, "Well, I don't think we have any left." Rats. "Nobody returned 'em." Assholes.

We drove downtown for dinner at Hacienda Del Sol. We sat on the back patio, one of my favorites anywhere. I had forgotten my ID in Minneapolis, which had caused minor problems already, so we had to play it cool when ordering our beer. Thankfully it worked; she didn't card us. (This should not be a mark against Hacienda Del Sol; I attribute it to our cunning. Also, we look over twenty-seven for sure.) Pacifico!

Jean-Paul's parents' house is in a modern development, and overlooks a bay of Lake Superior. He waved to the neighbors as we pulled in the driveway. The house is full of art, very eclectic. Native arts, 1970s posters, woven things. Plus a lot of pseudo-ethnic, early 90s, "funky" art: Teal/black/gold, purple/black/gold, you know (shudder). They have a player-piano and a black refrigerator!

As I lounged in a kingly leather recliner, Jean-Paul put a roll in the player-piano, and began singing along: "Both Sides Now!" His wide-eyed, projecting enthusiasm, as if at a recital, and his boyish vocal cracking at the high parts, made the performance hilarious and touching. It shall remain one of my most cherished memories.

Next he played "Hava Nagila." A great pre-ride song.

Jean-Paul said that the Munger Trail, which runs from Duluth to Hinckley, may be the nicest bike trail he's ever ridden, and after riding it myself, I'd have to agree. At sixty-three miles, it is also the longest paved bike trail in the world. His parents live about two blocks from it, and we rode only as far as Jay Cooke State Park before racing the twilight home. The trail is on a former railroad grade, so in places it cuts through rock, leaving dark cliffs on both sides, with little trees and moss growing from the jagged crevices. It was so beautiful, to the point of sublimity, that it looked fake. Picture postcard perfect. For being a railroad grade, there were some massive, albeit gradual, climbs. I didn't think trains could go up and down hills.

Before we got to Jay Cooke, Jean-Paul bade us stop atop a hill where the trail runs along a high ridge with steep slopes descending either side. It's an SNA down there, Hemlock Ravine, and visitors aren't allowed because it's easily eroded. It is the very western edge of the hemlock's range. Mystical views of forbidden forest.

The descent back to Duluth was exciting. I had to be alert for deer that would bolt across the trail, and sometimes pause! Ahead of me, I would see a cloud of gnats, and then close my lips tight as I flew through them. Lenses protected my eyes.

Back at the homestead, Jean-Paul was passing out. We raided the cupboards for food, and by the time I satiated my inner furnace, Jean-Paul was done in the hot tub and headed for bed. I brought herbal tea downstairs and enjoyed a long soak in the bubbling, hot jets. It was real nice. Imagine how nice in the winter!

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