September 16, 2015.
Most of Day 1 of the 6-day ride to my birthplace home was spent on roads I had never been on before, many of them on the White Earth Reservation. These were roads that turned out to be in very good shape for bicycling even if they were not identified as such on the Minnesota State Bicycle Map.
The day’s route was east to west, as shown by the red line on the map. I started near Park Rapids.
I didn’t get started until to 2pm. I told others I might ride as far as Waubun. I didn’t want to commit to going that far, in part because I hadn’t been doing enough long-distance riding the past several weeks and wasn’t used to it. But in the end, I made it all the way to Waubun – just after sundown.
The good roads didn’t start off right away. The first ten miles were mostly gravel, except for a short stretch of County Hwy 48 north of Osage that was paved.
There was one spot (not the one pictured in the photo) where there was loose gravel on the inside of a curve and I had to stop and walk my bike to higher ground. Overall, the gravel roads weren’t terrible, but they were relatively slow going.
After taking the above photo I didn’t make any more photo stops for the next 30 miles. That was unfortunate, but after my late start I needed to keep moving.
Some of the places where I didn’t stop and take photos include:
The Pine Point community near Ponsford. My route near Ponsford took me along the south edge of the White Earth Reservation. Pine Point is on the north side of the road, and in addition to housing there is a school and community center.
Welcome signs like the one pictured in this news story can be seen several points along the way, displaying the words:
Aaniin – Biindigen
It has been quite a few years since I worked through the Pimsleur Ojibwe audio course, but I remembered that aaniin meant “hi”. It took a few more miles to remember that biindigen meant something like “come on in” or “welcome.” For all I knew, Gaa-waabaabiganikaag meant White Earth (it does) but all I could make out is the waab, which usually means something like white.
Land recovery signs. There was a roadside sign about the White Earth land recovery project. Some Anishinaabek are trying to get the lands of the original White Earth Reservation returned to them. The history of how the Anishinaabek came to own so little of their own reservations may be the subject of some future bike rides.
Sugar Bush Township hall. I had been neglecting the topic of township halls for this ride. But at an intersection where I turned north I stopped by a gas station to check my maps. There was building on the other side of the street that looked like a township hall. There was no sign to identify it as one, but my attention was also drawn to a sign in the gas station window that said “Frybread Tacos.” That sounded interesting, but it’s a good thing the gas station was closed (and for all I know, was not ever going to open again) or I would not have had time to get as far as Waabun.
On my way north from the frybread taco place, I resolved not to pass up any more opportunities to take photos of township halls. And in just a few miles, at an intersection where I turned west to go to White Earth, I came across the one pictured here. Just as at the one I had skipped, this building had no sign to identify itself as a township hall. But I was able to verify from my online maps that this was indeed a township hall – the one for Maple Grove Township in Becker County.
At a little over the 40-mile mark or so I reached the village of White Earth. Even though it was closed, the restaurant shown in the photo got my attention, mostly because of the sign saying “umbay wesinin.”
While I was taking this photo a tribal police car pulled up on the other side of the street. But as I headed back to my bicycle, the officers seemed to lose interest in what I was doing. The car turned around and headed back in the direction it had come.
White Earth was an unusually friendly place. As I rode north through the town, people young and old smiled, waved and greeted me as I passed. As I was leaving the town, one man who was out for some exercise asked how far I had ridden so far. He was surprised when I told him 45 miles.
It was about here that I texted Myra asking if she could pick me up at Waubun. She texted back asking if I had her car keys. Things could have gotten interesting, but she eventually texted back saying that she had found them.
In the meantime I thought about that sign on the restaurant. I was pleased with myself because I recognized the word wesin (pronounced more like “we sin”) which means “he eats” or “to eat.” Unfortunately I couldn’t remember what “umbay” means, even though I was pretty sure it had been in the Pimsleur Ojibwe course I had worked through a dozen years ago. I spent the next few days trying to remember, and finally it came to me while bicycling through the North Dakota prairies a few days later. It’s something like “Come on,” as in “Come, let’s eat!”
Wikipedia says White Earth has 580 inhabitants, about 93 percent of them Native American.
Several miles north of White Earth I reached Highway 113, the east-west road that passes through Waubun. At the intersection there was a township hall that I had not known about: Lake Grove Township Hall in Mahnomen County. There wasn’t much light left, but I spent a few minutes circling around it and taking photos from all directions before getting back on my bicycle and finishing the last 5 miles to Waubun. There was hardly any traffic, which was good because I probably wasn’t very visible in the waning light.
The Waub part of Ojibwe words like Waubun usually means white, but that can include concepts like dawn’s early light. In the case of the name, Waubun, that’s exactly what it means. I suppose it would be appropriate to visit a town of that name at dawn, but I’m hardly ever on my bicycle at that time of day. I had to settle for arriving just before dusk.
I ended my ride at the Easy-1-Stop gas station and went inside to get an ice cream bar, as I hadn’t eaten since lunch. On my way back out to my bicycle a car door opened along side me and two girls inside asked me, “Did you ride your bicycle all the way from White Earth?” They must have been among the people who had seen me there. I got to explain that I had ridden all the way from Park Rapids. “You rode all the way from Park Rapids?” they asked They then asked me where I was staying and whether I did this just for fun. I got to explain how it worked and where I was headed. They seemed surprised, but they also seemed to believe me. I sometimes go a long time without talking to anyone on these rides, so it was nice to get the attention.
Myra soon came, and on the way back to Park Rapids I told her about the frybread taco sign. She reminded me that the bread is deep fat fried, and that we already had frybread tacos at a pow-wow on Manitoulin Island many years ago. I don’t see why that means we shouldn’t try them again, though.