Heading straight east on Rt. 90 from the Badlands, we eventually made our way into the land of Vikings. We were camping on a little island in a lake in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and boy were we glad to finally see some trees and shade! It was a long time in the desert.
Going into the campground at Myre-Big State Park was refreshing after seeing nothing but sand, rocks, open plains, and heat for so long. Not that we didn't enjoy ourselves, but there's only so much of the desert a couple east-coasters like ourselves can take. It's funny how you start to miss your home landscape after a while.
The entire campground was filled with a dense forest with tall, mature trees that provided so much shade over the entire island that you weren't even quite sure what time of day it was. We backed into the site and set up our camp for the next few days.
Myre-Big Island State Park was just off the highway. As we exited from the interstate, we saw a huge gas station and travel stop. The building was built in a Nordic style with little dragons(?) sticking off the points of the roof. It really caught our attention, and we needed fuel anyway, so we decided to head back after we set up camp.
It might sound odd to say that a gas station was the highlight of our Minnesota visit, but it was! This gas station had EVERYTHING! There was all sorts of food, snacks, t-shirts, stickers, like any travel plaza gas station, but it also had bigger things like garden furniture, home decorations, and even a full Viking-style eat-in restaurant! The restaurant made the entire store smell like meats cooked over an open fire — in other words, it smelled absolutely delicious.
We visited the travel plaza a few times during our stay for food and knick-knacks. Otherwise, we just explored the island on foot, bike, and paddleboard.
Myre-Big Island was actually pretty big. It had miles and miles of hiking and biking trails. One of the biking trails, called the Blazing Star State Trail, was even paved and ran 20-some miles between the various little towns and campgrounds in the area. We got the bikes out (for one of the only times on the trip) and did a few miles of the trail to enjoy the sunshine and the scenery.
When we checked in, we saw the park offered paddleboard rentals. We've wanted to get paddleboards for a while. They always seemed easier to transport and get in and out of the water compared to our big ol' canoe. It's quite the process to get that heavy canoe up and down from the roof of big and tall Eugene!
Of course, we had no idea if we'd even like paddleboarding because we never tried it before. We decided that we were going to give it a shot while we were here. We picked a pretty day and headed down to the lake.
I'd say the paddleboarding was a success! They were much more stable than I realized, but they were also much more tiring... When you get off, you feel it in your legs! Luckily, nobody fell off — although that would have been funny.
We rented the paddleboards for an hour. The idea was to ride for about 20-30 minutes, then turn around. Mathematically, you can't argue with that timing. However, we didn't realize how much the wind pulls you when you're on a paddleboard.
Going out was easy. The wind was on our backs and we were flying! We kept saying how efficient and fast it was. At least, until we turned around... The return trip was a different story.
The second we turned around to head back to the dock, it felt like we were paddling on a treadmill! We eventually had to sit down on the paddleboards to make our vessels more aerodynamic, so we could get back to the rental place in time. It was close, but we made it! And had a good day on the lake in the meantime. Perhaps it was time for us to start shopping for our own paddleboards.
With another successful stop in the books, it was time to continue "Eastbound and Down" heading toward home. Next stop: Illinois.
He likes pizza.