DAY 17 – THURSDAY, JULY 25

LITTLE FALLS TO RICE

We packed up our mansion (!) at Linden Hill, and got set for the run out of town. A local woman named Jackie Devine had messaged us earlier, saying she planned to meet us and run out together. She was right on time, as were Deb and Kris, so we grabbed a few photos and Tom and Jackie ran out through the trees. I got in the van to follow, but had forgotten about the detours (MnDOT!). I soon realized it might take me about as long to drive to the exchange as it would take Tom to run there!

I finally arrived at a parking lot with boat launch designated as our exchange, saw a few boys fishing off a small pier, and started to gather the bike and get my gear together. Tom ran up moments later of course, so we started to get a little behind already. He mentioned to me that it might be a little windy, and I thought OK—we’ve had a headwind before… it will be tough, but I can handle it. Ha. On the bike, a few rotations into it and the gusts nearly blow me over. Tom had stopped just two miles up the road to check in on me and we make the decision to split the 17 miles between us due to the headwind. 

I churn on for eight miles with a few “firsts” along the way. I rode right under a center pivot irrigation system as it was watering a corn field—and the road in this case—and got doused with water! I also got chased by a dog, learning that I could pedal much faster than I ever expected!!! However, I also pedaled the slowest I probably every have on this leg of the journey, with the headwind and gusts pushing me nearly into single digits at times. It was quite a ride.

Tom picked up the last leg of cycling and also took the run leg on bike to save me the exertion and make sure we were on time. We landed in Rice, Minnesota just about noon as planned, met up with local reporter Evan Michealson, and wandered over to the Creamery. There we connected with Mark Larson, owner of the cafe and catering business, and one of my primary contacts in this community. He set us up in the back room with some drinks and refreshments, offering us lunch on the house and this space to meet with anyone who might want to share their stories. In the end, we spent a lot of time with Mark himself, hearing his story—learning about his love of history but also his role in the regional community as a business leader and his experiences in the world of catering. He spoke as well about his family land, Gulsvig Landing, up at Itasca. You see, Mark is Terry Larson’s brother, and made our connection to Terry for us in the beginning. These two brothers are so different in many ways, and yet they both can hold you in a meandering thought for hours on end.

After leaving the Creamery, Tom and I went to get settled in at the Lion’s Building—an air conditioned space with bathrooms that Julie Fandel, city clerk, had set up for us to use. We got the lay of the land and decided it was time to take our laptops and explore the rest of the town—including it’s local drinking establishments. First we tried a pool bar, The Corner Pocket Saloon -N- Eatery, where the lights were dim and the patronage was sparse. However, the management was more than accommodating, super friendly is what I would call it, and gave us the wifi, some beers, and some good conversation even. Our young waitress shared her relationship to the river, which involved a lot of recreation—fishing and tubing—she was definitely not afraid of the current.

From here we went on to O’Brien’s just down the road. We thought this would be just another Irish bar, but as we approached from the rear, we spotted beach volleyball courts, and sack toss boards, and even more surprisingly, a swath of young people! At least one hundred 20 to 30-somethings were hanging out, playing around, drinking and generally having a good time. We got our own drinks and a bite to eat before heading outside to meet a few of these folks and find out their story. Kaleb and Madi will be married August 3. They bought a house in Rice to be in the country, with a small town feel, while they still work in neighboring larger communities. Similar stories were told by friends Bailey and Vanessa. O’Brien’s seems to attract not only millennials who have made a home in Rice, but others travel from as far as St. Cloud for this happening scene.

We had to break away and get back to our Lion’s Building to settle in for the night, log our notes and observations, and at some point just pass out! But before I could snuggle into the sleeping bag, there was a knock at the door. Turned out to be Mayor Brian Skroch wanting to welcome us to town and visit a bit. Mayor Skroch is 41 and has been involved in local politics for over 15 years, serving on the council for many years before landing the gig as Mayor almost by accident. He feels a strong calling to steward his community alongside raising his 12 year-old son with his wife in this town called Rice, home to the small-town good life!

And my slice of the good life was at last, to crash on my inflatable pillow and listen to the first thunderstorm of the journey through the night.