Bicycling and a lake = a perfect summer combination

Tuesday morning we packed up our bicycles, a credit card, and a change of clothing, drove northwest 180 miles to Akeley, Minnesota where we met a friend, and started riding the Heartland State Trail. This trail was one of the very first rail-to-trail projects in the United States. We had about 15 drops of rain as we began our ride east to the town of Walker. After a lunch stop we connected with the Paul Bunyan State Trail, turning northwest. And as luck would have it we were being pushed along by a southeast wind and accompanied by overcast skies to keep the summer heat at bay. After 42 miles of riding through fields, forests, and remnants of logging and railroad towns we arrived in Bemidji. Sleep came easily after the fresh-air, exercise, and a delightful dinner on a patio overlooking Lake Bemidji.

The next morning we woke to a dark-cloud sky, winds gusting from the south and southwest, and whitecaps rolling over the lake surface. There was no one along the beach except the gulls and geese. The sun would break through the clouds, but the wind continued to howl. We took our time before getting back on our bikes, waiting for the winds to shift again, which they did, now blowing from the northwest – perfect for pushing us the 42 miles back on the trails to where we started in Akeley.

It was a great two-day adventure. There were stories told and laughs shared amongst the three of us as the miles passed by under our bike tires. The scenery was beautiful, the trails were good, the bicycling was invigorating, and the people we met along the way were delightful — a perfect way to take in summer in northern Minnesota.

Waiting for the fog to lift

It was early morning when I launched my kayak into the lake. The smell of fireworks from the previous night’s celebrations hung heavy in the air. There was no wind, no movement; the fog had developed overnight and was now suspended low over the lake.

This is my favorite time of day – the after dawn quiet when the world slowly awakens, before the rush and hurry of another 24 hours. I paddled as quietly as I could, rustling up some ducks that were gliding through the lily pads. Someone had recently been sitting on this dock, throwing their fishing line into the lake, and hoping for a bite. The rod was left leaning against the bench but at the ready for the return of the angler. Perhaps that person was waiting for the fog to lift.

Stirling Castle

From Northern Ireland we took a ferry across the sea to Scotland. We traveled to the northeast of Glasgow to the village of Stirling. Here, standing high atop a volcanic outcrop Stirling Castle looks over the flat valley with the River Forth below. This area was crucial during Scotland’s history as it is the transition point between the Lowlands to the south and the Highlands to the north. During the Wars of Independence the castle changed hands eight times in 50 years. The current castle dates from the late 14th to the 16th century, although there are mentions of a castle on this site dating back to 1110. Scottish kings and queens lived here and often times it served as the center of government.

This image is of the Queen Anne Garden that is overlooked by the Queen’s living quarters and the Prince’s Tower. It’s believed there has been a royal garden here since the 1400’s. The large flat lawn that extends away from the garden’s edge was turned into a bowling green in the 1620’s.

History is everywhere at this site, and we even found an area that relates to my family’s genealogy and the lineage of the Douglas clan/family. On the opposite side of the castle is another garden where it is believed that in 1452 King James II murdered the 8th Earl of Douglas and threw his body out a window into the area now called the Douglas Gardens.

Giant’s Causeway

There’s a rugged and wild coastline along the northern shore of Northern Ireland. The waves crash with force against the rocks, and the cliffs tower high above the North Sea. Along this coastline is the Giant’s Causeway — an amazing area of beauty and wilderness. And I was fortunate enough to be there a week ago.

We’ve just returned from a wonderful adventure to Northern Ireland and Scotland. It was my first time in either country, and I’ve found there are so many places I’d like to return to and explore further. Our first five days were spent in Belfast and then the Antrim Coast – this wild coast of Northern Ireland. These five days were a great contrast between a historic and beautiful city and a rugged coastline.

We hiked up and down the Giant’s Causeway on a cool, windy, and showery day. The weather seemed fitting for the setting. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the base of large basalt cliffs. The shoreline is covered with mostly hexagonal columns that stick up at various heights, formed by volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago. It gets it’s name from legends of giants crossing the sea to Scotland, leaving their footprints behind.

A quick downpour unleashed blowing rain, and we huddled behind a large rock, protecting ourselves as best we could from the precipitation. It served as a perfect block to allow us to eat our lunch. And by the time we were finished the rain had moved on, later followed by sunshine. We hiked along the shore, and eventually climbed a staircase to the top of the cliffs. It was wonderful to look to the north and view the power of the sea, then look to the south and take in a bucolic landscape of rolling green hills dotted with white farm buildings and grazing sheep.

Lovely lupine

Our spring is here, and it is lovely! The forsythia bloomed, the red bud trees blossomed out, the lilacs filled the air with their delightful scent, and now the lupine are blooming. I was driving down the road, turned a corner, and there was an embankment filled with lupine. The breeze would catch their upright blooms and they would dance, swaying back and forth. It was as if they too were welcoming the warmth of the sun and the joy of spring.