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is it legal to cycle on the Interstates out west?Sometimes yes, sometimes no, mostly yes outside of large cities and mostly no within large cities.
I was thought Bemidji was the source since the river appears on the map to flow from there south to Itasca.Actually, the Mississippi River flows north out of Lake Itasca to Lake Bemidji.
Is that loop worth the extra mileage?Tough question. I really liked my miles in Minnesota, especially the part between Callaway and Grand Rapids, via Lake Itasca (the true source of the Mississippi, not Bemidji). I liked visiting the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe in Bemidji (a must-take photo) and the Knutson Dam Campground on Cass Lake was one of the most pleasant campgrounds I've used. The Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge is gorgeous and I was awe of all the wildlife there.
whether to skip Niagara Falls (been there-crowds and expensive) or to take the ferry (Badger) across Lake Michigan (save milage) or go north to Mackinaw, UP, etc.(beautiful)?Niagara Falls: I stopped there on my Northern Tier ride last year. I'd been there several times, but I'd never taken the Maid of the Mist, so I wanted to do that. It only took $20 and 60 minutes, which I enjoyed thoroughly, and then I got out of town quickly because it's so crowded with tourists. Niagara Falls can be expensive, but there are cheap options available a few hours away by bicycle, so plan to stop there midday if you don't want the expense of spending the night there. Riding along the Erie Canalway Trail and the west side of the Niagara River in Ontario are very pleasant. I'd also suggest riding along the north shore of Lake Erie through Ontario.
Recommendations for cables and levers please?Cables: new ones; new housing too. Almost any ones will do.
we each lost the $100 perk that came with 1st Class simply because we had a bike rather than "normal" second bags and then had to pay $200 each on top of everything else. That was definitely mean.What's mean is when the airlines charge more for a package of identical size and weight simply because it contains a bicycle. Why do they do it? Because they can. We who travel with a bicycle are not of sufficient numbers for most airlines to care about us. It's really nice that a few of the airlines do care (e.g., Southwest and Frontier).