by Steven Steuck
I really enjoyed exploring Minnesota’s North Shore Bicycle Tour, circling through the Arrowhead Region of the state. Operated by Bike Tour Vacation, I found the this ride on the Events calendar at HaveFunBiking.com and it turned out to be the highlight of my summer.
Ride participants on the North Shore Bicycle Tour
If they hadn’t listed the tour I probably would not have found it on my own, since it is a the tour company is out of Michigan. On this remarkable ride we had only seven bicyclists to two guides and virtually all expenses were included in the lodge to lodge tour fee on this trip, except two lunches.
Because of the abundant restaurants options in a couple areas of the trip, the leaders wanted us to explore and compare. The owner of the company, Jim was one of the leaders so he could immediately fix any unexpected situations.
One guide bicycled with us and the other drove the SAG (support and gear) vehicle. Since the gear trailer was pulled by the SAG van, it was easy to store extra clothes at the next rest stop or pick up needed supplies from one’s bag. The weather and temperatures were almost perfect with the only heavy rain one night, this was after all the riders were in.
Landscape scenery on the way to Virginia
Sunday afternoon we met in Duluth, Minn. at the Edgewater Inn. Then, Monday morning everyone was shuttled north of town to Island Lake to begin riding. This shaved off 20 miles of bicycling and a huge climb. Those of us who aren’t good hill climbers appreciated this. Along the journey on the first day we spent much of the route on quiet roads bicycling through woods areas arriving in Virginia for the night.
This old steam train is the centerpiece of the Tower Train museum
One of the highlights here on the Iron Trail was eating dinner in “jail.” This is the name of the party room, with bars on it, in a local Mexican restaurant in Virginia. The next morning, when breakfast at the hotel turned out to be just Danish and coffee our tour leader took everyone to a local café for a real iron miners breakfast.
Bike riders touring the Soudan Underground Mine wearing miners helmets
After leaving Virginia on the Mesabi Trail and passing through Gilbert and Biwabic, the highlight of Tuesday was a visit to Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Arriving about three in the afternoon, the Underground Mine here was donated to the state of Minnesota after it closed in 1965. Today, visitors can don a hard hat and pretend to be miners. Our tour began with a short film and safety warnings. Then visitors board a rickety old elevator and descend one-half mile down where a shuttle train transported everyone another three-quarters of a mile to where miners once worked to extract the iron ore. After the group acclimated to the surroundings the guide turned out the lights for a few minutes to allow visitors the experience of what early mining was like – when they worked in the darkness. Fortunately, he lit a candle and explained more of the mining process with some light. Those who are claustrophobic or afraid of the dark may want to avoid this mine tour.
Behind a glass viewing station, at the International Wolf Center in Ely, a wolf roaming the woods
On Wednesday, we rode a short 30 miles from our overnight at Boise Forte Casino, in Tower, to Ely. This gave us all a full afternoon to try out the cuisine of Ely and explore the town. I enjoyed a visit to the International Wolf Center and finding several interesting murals in town.
This mural in Ely is a MN interpretation of the Alice in Wonderland tea party using wildlife such as moose, deer and beaver.
Thursday was a long 70 mile bike ride to Beaver Bay. Half the riders started at 7:30 a.m. with one guide. The rest were shuttled the first 20 miles for a shorter distance. This allowed the slower riders to get a head start on the fast riders, so we all arrived for lunch about the same time. One of the fun parts of the day along this section of the tour was the 10% downhill grade into Tettegouche State Park, along the shoreline of Lake Superior.
Several of our group posed with the sign here in downtown Beaver Bay, along Highway 61 Bay.
On Friday, we started out riding a 15 mile stretch of the Gitchi Gami Trail out of Beaver Bay. The trail meanders along the undulating shoreline past the Split Rock Lighthouse and then to Gooseberry Falls State Parks. Some stretches along the shore had incredible views of Lake Superior. After going through Gooseberry Falls most of the route to Two Harbors was riding the shoulder lane along Highway 61, with a posted speed limit for traffic set 50 MPH. After Two Harbors, the route follows the North Shore Road. This area had many dining options. Then we picked up the Lake walk in Duluth, back to the Edgewater.
I can’t wait to see what rides will be listed on the HaveFunBiking.com Events Calendar for next year – Thanks!