Some places just don’t change a lot over time, and that can be a good thing in some cases. Ottertail County MN is one of those places that still seems to be off the radar, not attracting a whole lot of attention from anyone. The idea of constant growth as a good is so ingrained that it is easy to conclude that Ottertail County is failing. I have always felt a connection with the Luddites who saw the advent of the factory as a threat to the good life of the cottage owning peasant. For me, Ottertail is as it should be. It is still the same bucolic countryside of small farms, villages, forests and pothole lakes. The slow pace of life is evident in the lack of traffic. Ottertail is all that one could hope for in a road cycling destination.
After the miserable weather of late September and early October it didn’t take long to make the decision to drive down to Ottertail as soon as the weather improved. After a four hour drive from Steinbach to Pelican Rapids, Rod T. and I were on our bikes and tackling the 70 km loop of rolling hills around Maplewood State Park. While none of the hills are very long, the grades make the riding a good challenge. The scenery constantly shifts from more open rolling cornfields and pastureland to maple hardwood forests to marshlands and countless lakes with the sort of family style resorts popular in the 1960’s. The historic Lutheran Church in Maplewood State Park is an interesting side excursion on this ride. Access is by a gravel road but easily ridden on 23c’s.
Fergus Falls, with a population similar to Steinbach’s, is at the south end of Highway #59. With Grand Beach on one end and Ottertail on the other, Manitoba and Minnesota should play up this highway as an ubercool tourist corridor. Fergus Falls has a good choice of hotels and Mable Murphy’s Restaurant. With the low CDN dollar the prices are a little higher than in comparable Canadian restaurants but the food is very good and the quantity substantial.
Day two of the mini tour had us riding from the village of Battle Lake to the village of Underwood, on to Phelp’s Mill, around Otter Tail Lake, through Glendolough State Park and back to Battle Lake for a 105 km loop. The weather was nearly perfect for October with a high of 24c and a beautiful clear blue sky. The grades are more gentle than those around Maplewood State Park, so we could generally leave it in the big chainring and keep up a good pace. The terrain is still rolling except for the ride around Otter Tail Lake. Highlights of this ride include the Phelp’s watermill (National Register of Historic Places), the ride around Ottertail Lake, the new paved bike path through Glendolough State Park and eating at Thumper Pond Golf Course.
Our last day of cycling was a 67 km ride from Pelican Rapids to the town of Vergas. About 15 km of the ride duplicated part of the first day’s ride on the north side of Maplewood State Park. With a gusty north, a lot of hills, and the previous two rides in our legs, we tried not to push the pace too hard. Vergas, home of the world’s largest Loon (which we were unable to find) is a perfect stop for all day breakfast, a walleye dinner or a bowl of chili on a cool day.
Once again the riding was entertaining from start to finish.