Sometimes they hear from strangers, "That looks like a lot of work,'' and other times they hear, "That looks like a lot of fun.''
Turns out, for Tony and Kathy Mommsen of Minneapolis, who are biking and paddling the perimeter of Minnesota, their adventure is both.
"We've got kids and grandkids we wanted to visit out of state, that's why we didn't leave earlier,'' Tony said by phone the other day while he and Kathy stood on the banks of the Red River, north of Fargo.
The couple launched their more-or-less vintage Wenonah Odyssey canoe onto the St. Croix Aug. 2 near Taylors Falls, planning from then until the middle of this month, when they hope to reach Rainy Lake along the Minnesota-Ontario border, to sleep every night in a tent.
Along with their other gear, the canoe was loaded with the couple's two bikes.
Next spring they'll continue their trip, crossing Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from west to east. On the North Shore, they'll excise their bikes from the canoe, place the canoe on the makeshift trailer Tony pulls behind his bike, and head south toward Duluth, doing about 7 miles an hour.
"That's about our speed,'' Kathy said. "I carry most of our gear on my bike and Tony pulls the canoe behind his bike.''
Tony is 63 and a graphic and web designer who is taking a break from work. Kathy is 66 and a ceramic artist.
On Aug. 8, they celebrated their 40thwedding anniversary while pedaling, paddling and pitching their tent.
"On days when we bike, we cover about 40 miles,'' Tony said. "When we canoe, we do about 20 miles. So far, we're having a blast.''
Veterans of European bike adventures, the Mommsens cooked up the perimeter-of-Minnesota idea after Tony read about a guy who had biked the length of the Texas border.
"I thought, 'Huh, Minnesota has an amazing border, and if we paddled part of it and pedaled part of it, we could do it,' '' he said.
Had they been gear junkies, they would have spent weeks, if not months, ensuring they had the latest and best equipment for the trip. Very few canoes, after all — actually none — are built to carry two people, their camping gear and food, and two full-size bikes.
"If we were to do it again, we might use folding bikes,'' Kathy said. "We thought about it. But in the end, we decided we would rather ride our regular bikes (Trek 520s).''
Before the trip, the intrepid travelers tested their bikes-in-a-canoe idea only on Cedar and Bde Maka Ska lakes in Minneapolis.
Waters were calm and the test runs went swimmingly.
"It's always great until there are big waves,'' Tony said.
From the St. Croix, the couple merged onto the Mississippi River, where heavy rain and a crowded lock slowed their downstream paddle to La Crescent, Minn., from which, with a meander or two, they accessed Minnesota's Root River Trail.
Tony had jury-rigged the canoe trailer from a kids' tagalong bike trailer he bought on Craigslist. He linked the trailer to his bike via a special hitch made in Canada expressly for canoe trailers pulled by bikes.
"The Root River Trail gave us a chance to get used to the canoe trailer,'' Tony said. "It worked well. When we got to Preston, Minn., we got on the Shooting Star trail headed to Austin.''
As often as they could, the Mommsens stayed in state parks. Occasionally they've thought about bedding down in a motel for a night, but each time they've dismissed the idea in favor of their tent.
They arrived in Ortonville along Minnesota's western border a couple of weeks ago, while that small town's CornFest was being celebrated. Tony lived in Ortonville before he and Kathy were married, and Kathy lived in nearby Madison, Minn.
"In Ortonville, and in as many towns as we can that we pass through, we try to walk around and meet some of the local people,'' Tony said. "We try to take one day off a week and spend a little time visiting rather than just passing through.''
Near the North Dakota-Minnesota-Manitoba border, they'll lash the canoe onto their trailer and bike east to Warroad. Depending on weather, they'll either paddle on Lake of the Woods to the Rainy River, or pedal.
The Rainy will be the only river of the trip on which they'll paddle upstream. If the going proves too slow, they'll hop on their bikes.
Their goal is to reach the western shore of Rainy Lake by Sept. 15.
"The first leg of our trip was nine days in the canoe, with no biking,'' Tony said. "We're excited and a little worried about paddling across Voyageur National Park and then the BWCA next spring. We do feel a little more confined in the canoe than while on our bikes.''
Whatever the Mommsens' mode of transportation, the trip is a lot of work, as some people have observed.
But to them, it's even more fun.