GRAND FORKS – Last September, a couple from Minneapolis pedaled and paddled through Grand Forks on the first leg of a bike and canoe ride around Minnesota that began August 2, 2021 on the St. Croix River and would take them all the way to Rainy Lake before they call it a season in mid-September.
When Tony and Kathy Mommsen traveled by bicycle, Tony towed their canoe on a makeshift trailer. While paddling, the couple carried their Trek 520 touring bikes aboard their 18-and-a-half-foot Wenonah Odyssey canoe.
The journey took them on an east to west route through southern Minnesota and eventually down the Red River to Kittson County in northwestern Minnesota and east through communities such as Hallock , Badger, Roseau and Warroad.
They arrived at Rainy Lake on September 14, 2021.
This summer, the Mommsens completed the trek — more or less — but instead of traveling with canoes and bikes, they split the trip into two parts, pedaling from Grand Portage, Minnesota, to St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, from July 15 to July 21.
Then, on July 29, friends took them to Crane Lake, where they launched their canoes and paddled along the Minnesota-Ontario border, returning to Grand Portage on August 10.
“It was great paddling – without bikes,” said Tony Mommsen. Including last year’s adventure, they spent 35 days canoeing – about 620 miles – and 30 days cycling – about 1,100 miles – he says.
A semi-retired graphic designer and web designer, Tony said the inspiration for their ride around the state came from a podcast he heard about from a cyclist who had cycled through Texas.
Riding the perimeter of Minnesota seemed like an ideal fit for the couple, who are both avid bike and canoe campers. Kathy is a ceramic artist.
Originally, says Tony, they planned to start this year’s trip in June, picking up where they left off in Rainy Lake. Near-record flooding on Rainy Lake and family issues forced them to delay the trip until July.
“We were pressed for time, so we skipped Rainy Lake and Voyageurs National Park,” Tony said. “We could do it next summer.”
They chose to start in Grand Portage and cycle down the North Shore, Tony says, in hopes that the flooding along the Minnesota-Ontario border would ease by the time they launched their canoe. .
Additionally, they were able to leave a vehicle near Grand Portage, which would then be waiting for them when they completed the canoe portion of their trip.
This simplified the logistics.
“We couldn’t even imagine getting these bikes on Highway 61 pulling the canoe,” Kathy said of biking on the North Shore. “We had so many people involved with our original shuttles, and we kept changing because the weather kept changing. And it was just like, ‘OK, we have to simplify this’ – it got too much. complicated.
The second leg of the journey – from Crane Lake and through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to Grand Portage – was a long journey, Tony says, even though it meant traversing 40 portages before reaching their destination.
From Crane Lake, the journey along the border took them through bodies of water such as Loon Lake, La Croix Lake, Basswood Lake, Knife Lake, Saganaga Lake, Gunflint Lake and the River Pigeon before arriving at Grand Portage.
Travelers took this route because there was little portage until they approached Grand Portage, Tony said.
“There are big portages further east, but most of the time it’s just a lot of paddling and easy portaging, so it’s beautiful,” he said.
The paddling portion of the trip was not without its challenges, however. Due to all the flood and weather related schedule changes, they had to redo their BWCA permit half a dozen times.
Also, an aluminum bracket holding the front seat in place broke near Basswood Lake, and they had to prop the seat up with a log they took with them for the rest of the trip, adding to the weight of the car. equipment they carried through the portages. .
They carried their food, mostly dry goods such as soup mixes, chili peppers and oatmeal, in bear-proof canisters, which are now mandatory for travelers in the BWCA.
They were hoping to fix the seat at Gunflint Lodge, but although that didn’t work, they were able to drop in a backpack they didn’t need, removing about 30 pounds of unnecessary weight during the last five days of the trip. They picked up the bag before heading back to the Twin Cities.
Highlights of the trip – and there were many – included ancient pictographs on Lac La Croix and an abundance of blueberries, which likely benefited from the wet conditions.
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Tony said. “You sit down and choose. You didn’t even have to move. The bears must have loved it.
Parking their vehicle at the Grand Portage National Monument, where it remained for almost a month, enabled them to avoid the 8½ mile portage of Grand Portage; 5 miles was far enough, Tony said.
“I didn’t really need all the experience,” he said.
However, they cycled the part they didn’t reach to start the trip, says Kathy.
Once their trip to Minnesota is complete, the Mommsens say they would like to one day spend more time in the BWCA and adjacent Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario exploring all the pictographs, an adventure that could take at least a month.
“They’re always on the nicest parts of the nicest lakes, so that would be amazing,” Tony said. “And there are a lot of pictographs that we haven’t seen.”
With children and grandchildren in Atlanta and New Mexico, adventures further south are also a possibility.
For now, however, that’s in the future.
“We’re just enjoying the trip we’ve just had,” Kathy said.