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Biking It: Scouts discovering America one mile at a time

Caption
Scouts biking along Minnesota's old Route 61 passed through two tunnels. Pictured is the Silver Creek Tunnel. Provided photo

DeKALB - Imagine bicycling across America. For several years, Boy Scouts from Troop 33 have been doing just that. In installments of 250 to 550 miles each summer, they've been bicycling across America. They recently completed a 410-mile section from Hager City, Wis., to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Their recent bicycling adventure took them through summer's worst heat, up and down steep hills, sudden thunderstorms, wildlife encounters, waterfalls, lighthouses, state parks, one bicycling accident and some breathtaking scenery along the rocky shores of Lake Superior. They normally biked between 60 and 80 miles each day. A super-cab truck with equipment trailer served as their support vehicle and met them at intervals every few miles with water and any technical support necessary. They camped at state parks and private campgrounds each night, mixed in with a couple of hotels. Starting in Hager City, Wis., they followed the scenic Great River Road along the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers north to St. Croix Falls, Wis., and then west into Minnesota. Their first emergency occurred at they entered the town of Hinckley, Minn. Dark clouds had filled the sky all morning. The weather forecast was carefully monitored. As they biked into town, the support truck followed closely. All at once, the sky opened up, pelting them with rain and hailstones. The Scouts abandoned their bikes for the shelter of the truck and waited for the storm to ease up before loading the bikes onto the trailer. After driving to a restaurant for lunch, they checked into a hotel with an indoor pool and spa. Enjoying the amenities of the hotel was a pleasant respite from the weather. By late afternoon, the storm finally passed and they returned to biking, completing 60 miles before ending the day. That same storm created flooding in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Biking from Hinckley, they rode on the paved Willard Munger State Trail, which extends all the way to Duluth, Minn. The route follows an old railroad right-of-way through wooded areas filled with wildlife. After biking through Jay Cooke State Park, they biked on the Western Waterfront Trail through the city of Duluth, past shipyards and great lake freighters, huge grain elevators, the giant lift-bridge and many beautiful parks. After Duluth, the scenery changed to the rocky shoreline of a deep-blue Lake Superior along old Route 61. Biking along the rugged landscape required passing through two tunnels, the Silver Creek Tunnel and the Layfette Tunnel. They passed Gooseberry Falls State Park and the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. At one rest stop, they saw an American Bald Eagle soaring along the shoreline. They visited the harbor light and saw the lighthouse and ore docks at Twin Harbors. They bicycled on several completed segments of the Gitchie-Gummi Trail. When completed, the Gitchee-Gummi Trail will extend along the north shore of Lake Superior. A bicycle accident occurred along the Gitchee-Gummi Trail within Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. A Scout crashed into a guardrail on a sharp turn while biking down a steep switchback. The impact shattered his bike's carbon fiber fork and damaged his front wheel. He was rushed to the emergency room at Two Harbors Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for abrasions and his right arm was X-rayed and splinted. No fractures were found, but he suffered a sprained elbow. The attending physician said other cyclists had been injured on the very same sharp turn. The doctor ordered him off the bike for the next 24 hours. After that period, he was able to continue bicycling with his arm splinted and riding a spare bicycle. The Scouts passed through four more state parks as they traveled north to the Grand Portage Indian Reservation before crossing the border into Canada. In Canada, they encountered some rough country as they crossed the Canadian Shield, with Mount McKay its highest peak, requiring Scouts to endure long, exhausting climbs churning their lower gears. In the wilderness, they saw a moose grazing in a marsh area alongside the road. The second dangerous storm of the trip was brewing just north of Thunder Bay, producing frequent lightning displays and golf ball-size hail. With the storm system having the potential for developing tornadoes, the Scouts decided to stay in a hotel that evening. The next day, the group took some time to tour Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, known as the "Niagara of the North," and the Visitors Center at historic Fort William. They celebrated the successful completion of their ride with a stop at Mall of America in Minneapolis. Despite storms, a bicycle accident, strong winds, extreme heat, steep hills and at times, heavy traffic, they successfully completed their 410-mile route of bicycling. Over the years, groups of Scouts from Troop 33 have bicycled installments across America creating a north/south route from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Memphis, Tenn., and an east/west route from Portland, Maine, to Couer d'Alene, Idaho. That totals more than 4,000 miles of bicycling. Eventually, they'll extend those routes south to New Orleans and west to the Pacific Ocean. They're discovering America one mile at a time and having some incredible adventures in the process. Boy Scout Troop 33 is sponsored by First Lutheran Church. Visit them online at troop33dekalb.org.

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