Day 40 Virginia to Duluth Minnesota

Duck Crossing in Virginia

Looking back at Virginia, a nice town

This day started well, with the best pancakes I've had on this tour at Deb's Diner in Virginia, a good visit with the man who runs the motel, and a visit with the clerk at a convenience store where I bought some snack food, and, other than the 15 mph headwind I had all day, was OK riding for the first twenty five miles. After that it went downhill fast for the next twenty miles due to construction and generally bad riding conditions. I crashed at the end of that section when the nice highway folks forgot that there might be pedestrians or bicyclists and made it impossible to safely ride a bike. The last fifteen miles just had bad headwinds, lousy shoulders, and too much traffic, but I was in a pretty foul mood by then <grin>. Riding into Duluth was OK, definitely better than riding into Saskatoon. I quit riding in when further construction in Duluth made it unsafe for me to continue. I was tempted to bypass Duluth entirely because I was so pissed about the US 53 construction, but decided it was worth coming into the city, if only to find out the best way to get out of the city tomorrow.

Sign on US 53 just south of Virginia

This was a 62 mile day that took me 5:30 to ride. My average speed was less than 11.5 mph because of bad headwinds. I'm very tired of riding into the wind, but the forecast is still - after all these days! - for 15 mph winds out of the southeast and I'm headed east and a bit south. Maybe the winds will be better near the lake...

Lovely shoulder and too much traffic near Virginia

Riding US 53 was, even with a great shoulder and an ear plug, not great riding. There is simply too much traffic. It would have been OK riding without the headwind since I would have had a better chance to see the country when I didn't have to ride on the drops to make 11 mph on the flat! It is pretty country, but I really didn't see much of it.

I stopped for a break at the Arrow Lakes rest stop, the only rest stop on US 53. It was very pleasant to eat my Subway sandwich - purchased earlier - sitting a picnic table in pretty surroundings watching and listening to the wind blowing through the trees. Then I got back on the bike and had to ride into that wind.

I stopped again in Cotton for lunch. Lunch, at the Willbert Cafe, was nice, but the bad road started a mile or so before Cotton. Actually, there was construction which closed one side of the expressway for half a dozen miles before that. That made riding less pleasant, since vehicles could not pull over as they passed me, but wasn't a serious problem. The deterioration in US 53 just before Cotton was quite serious; it made riding south on US 53 on a bicycle very dangerous.

There is a sign about a 'unsuitable bridge' and then the road lost the rideable shoulder, became quite rough, crossed the old bridge, got a minimal, but unsafe shoulder, and finally changed to a old road with a wide, but bumpy shoulder in Cotton.

Lousy shoulder going south

Great shoulder going north

I was lucky; there was no traffic coming up behind me as I crossed that bridge. When I was riding the bad narrow shoulder section just before Cotton, I was not so lucky. I had two vehicle that, despite the fact that I was struggling with strong headwinds and a narrow bumpy shoulder, came over against the white line and blew their horns as they passed me. Some folks are just mean. If you have the misfortune to ride through this section, you can avoid the dangerous part by crossing over to the north bound side of US 53. It has been re-paved and has the lovely shoulder. There is an intersection just north of the bad bridge, so it is, relatively, easy to cross over.

I crossed over a mile or so after Cotton because I was getting beaten up by that shoulder and I could see the good shoulder on the other side. I crossed back a mile or two later because the shoulder on the other side was much more exposed to the wind. I couldn't maintain 10 mph on that side, while I could maintain 11.5 mph on the other side. That wind was strong.

Even worse shoulder farther on

Back on the other side because of more construction

I stayed on the bad side till it was closed for construction, then rode on the good side when it was my only option. That was complicated a bit by the orange and white drums they put in the middle of the shoulder to keep cars from driving on it. Then it got much more complicated when the shoulders in both directions simply went away near the end of the construction. At this point there were single lanes in each direction carrying pretty heavy traffic including a lot of big trucks.

I stopped when I saw the north bound traffic was using that shoulder. I waited for break in the traffic and crossed to a small shoulder on the other side, then I rode across a bridge with a small shoulder and discovered a single lane road, with the drums blocking what little dirt shoulder it had, taking the south bound traffic back to the other side of the divided four lane. I should have simply taken that lane, but there was a semi behind me and I thought I could ride the dirt outside the barrels.

That dirt collapsed under the weight of my rear wheel and I went down between the first two barrels. As I fell, I tucked as best I could to keep my head away from the wheels of the semi that was passing me. I don't know how close the wheels came to me, but I know it scared the semi driver. He stopped, I picked up my bike and assured him that every thing was OK, twice(!), and he finally drove on and I walked my bike around the drums on the road side, cursing the engineers who had totally neglected bicyclists - and I even saw two other tourists, heading north, on 53 today! - and pedestrians when they designed that temporary road.

Twig is two miles, so the bad stuff lasted about 20 miles

But this is the shoulder on the south bound side a few hundred feet after that sign

After that construction ended, there was no paved shoulder on the south bound side (!), so I rode the north bound shoulder. Ten miles later, that shoulder went away and the good shoulder came back on the other side. Note these crossing back and forth are a little dangerous on a road with four lanes of moderate traffic and a 65 mph speed limit. I was happy to be back on the 'right' side as I approached Duluth. This shoulder on one side bit reminded me of some of the roads in Oklahoma, but those roads have a lot less traffic on them. I realize that US 53 is being upgraded in sections and that some time fairly soon it will have a good shoulder on both sides from here to International Falls, but, in the meantime, the way they have handled the upgrading makes it a bad road for bicycling.

I stopped for a side of the road break about ten miles from town, then rode on in. It started sprinkling a bit at that time, so I put my camera away. I had some thoughts about eating supper here and riding on, but I was worn out from several days of the headwind and by the lousy riding through the construction, so, although I stopped at the city limits and debated turning south and asking for directions to US 2, I rode on into town. It was ten degrees cooler in Duluth than it had been ten miles earlier, almost chilly while for most of the day I would have been hot without the headwind.

I'm at the Days Inn across from the Mall. After cleaning up. I went over to the Mall - amazing how every mall looks ands smells the same! - for supper. When I came back, I went to a big Gander Mountain Supply place half a block from the motel. That was fun, even though they didn't have any light weight liner gloves.

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