Bicycling


On a recent bicycle ride through the countryside, I saw this common scene – freshly cut hay bales scattered across a field, blue sky and clouds overhead.  Here in Minnesota we’ve had more than our usual amount of rain, leaving the landscape lush and green.  The hay harvest has been done and appears to be plentiful.  Unfortunately some of our neighboring states have been battling severe drought, decimating their hay fields and other crops.  Like the help that was given earlier this year to farmers in Kansas and Oklahoma, many people are offering their hay to those suffering in North and South Dakota that have none.  A wonderful reminder of the good that takes place and yet is often overlooked.

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Storm clouds_ps2447_StaatsThe weather forecast last Saturday morning was for thunderstorms and one to two inches of rain; not what you want to hear when setting out on a two-day, 120-mile bike trip.  As we were driving to our starting point the skies darkened, the clouds billowed and rolled, and we saw lightning around us.  Soon the rain started.  We arrived in Osakis, Minnesota planning to ride the Central Lakes Trail.  The rain continued while we wandered the antique stores in town and enjoyed a leisurely brunch, all the while watching the radar.  Finally the summer storm moved through the area and the rain stopped.  We packed our lightly-loaded gear and started on the trail.  The clouds kept the ride cool and the tail winds helped push us through the countryside.  We marveled at the scenery of farmland, barns, lakes, marshlands, and prairie, not to mention the birds, deer, turkeys, and gophers.  Sixty miles and hours later, we arrived at Fergus Falls.  In dire need of a warm shower, liquids, and food, our motel with its bar and grill was the perfect answer.  We enjoyed watching the Twins win their baseball game while outside another storm was moving through, with heavy downpours accompanied with lightning and thunder.  Sunday dawned with cooler temps and sunshine, and our luck held as the winds had changed direction after the storm and would once again be at our backs for the return trip.  We toured through Fergus Falls, stopping at the dam and falls in downtown and at the world’s largest otter, Otto (this is Otter Tail County, after all).  Then it was another 60 mile ride back to our awaiting car.  We arrived tired and sweaty, but found a perfect antidote with a dip in Lake Osakis and root beer floats at the Tip Top Dairy in town.  We had weathered the weather, explored a new trail, enjoyed the scenery, and had a great adventure in a short 36-hours.

Horses and barn_Staats PS2436We spent the morning on a bicycle ride through  the countryside of central Minnesota.  The Tour of Saints is billed as a “heavenly little ride” and today it lived up to its billing.  The thunderstorms that moved through prior to dawn cleared by the start of the ride, and the clouds and cooler temps made for comfortable conditions.  We opted for the 50-mile ride and enjoyed every uphill and downhill along the route.  Starting at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, we wandered the back roads until the rest stop in Cold Spring where we were treated to delicious (and ride-hearty) cinnamon rolls and baked goods.  Another 13 miles and a stop near St. John’s University for bananas and cookies.  Then it was 15 miles for a stop of candy bars and Gatorade in Avon (when you ride 50 miles you need to eat and stay hydrated, and rest stops are much appreciated!).  The countryside was green and verdant, with wildflowers in bloom, fields of soybeans and corn, and wonderful old barns.  These horses seemed quite intrigued by our mode of transportation as we rode by.  We ended back in St. Joseph, tired but appreciative of a morning spent in a beautiful countryside.

Bicycling the Gateway Trail cp074731_StaatsAfter an unusually long hibernation, our bicycles have come out of storage and onto the roads and trails again.  Although the bikes adjust quickly, it takes a bit longer for us to get our riding legs back in condition.  We enjoyed two rides this weekend on the Gateway Trail.  Minnesota has wonderful biking and recreation trails, and the Gateway is one of my favorites.  This trail wanders from downtown Saint Paul, through the city, into the suburbs, and then out into the countryside passing farms, fields, lakes, and wetlands.  The trail has numerous  bridges that go over the main streets and roads, making it much safer for riders and drivers.  Built on an old railroad bed, it was the perfect trail for us to help acclimate back to riding form.  The weekend was a great reminder of how much I enjoy being on a bike, taking in the sounds and smells around me, and reveling in the trail and the physical exercise.

Free air and winter bikes 8488_StaatsAfter a “brown” Christmas with many Minnesotans grumbling about the lack of white, we awoke to a 6-inch snow on Saturday morning.  The landscape was once again white and clean.  I was wandering around the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota and found these bicycles and “Free Air.”  The snow had piled up precariously on top of the handlebars, tires, and bicycle seats – almost like frosting on a cake.  The colors of the bikes and the chains added a bright contrast to the white and brown scenery all around.  With the forecast of colder temperatures I doubt this snow will be melting anytime soon.

Last weekend I reached a goal I set for myself earlier this year – I completed 1,500 miles on my bike for the year.  From back in mid-March when the temperatures were cool and our legs weren’t ready, we’ve biked and journeyed through Minnesota and even across the state of Kansas.  We’ve seen prairies and wheat fields, lakes and flatlands, rain and wind, hills down and up.  Sadly some of my final miles this year have been ridden alone as my riding partner hasn’t been able to be on the bike.  But he was helping me along in all the important ways with his encouragement and support.  So last Sunday with a SSE wind of 14 mph+, I headed northeast on the Gateway Trail, then meandered on county roads with that tailwind behind me.  The final miles were north on the Sunrise Prairie Trail.  My wingman met me in the town of Stacy where I watched my bike odometer turn to 5,000 miles (yea!) and the culmination of 1,500 riding miles for this year.  My bicycle has brought me in contact with great people, amazing scenery, the best and worst of weather, a sense of accomplishment, and the most wonderful feeling of adventure as I cruise along on trails and roads.  The kid in me enjoys the freedom of riding and the adult in me appreciates the bounty of sights, sounds, and memories.  So this winter as the snow is piling up we’ll be planning our biking adventures and goals for next year.

With blue skies and perfect temperatures we headed north to the shores of Lake Superior.  We set out on our bikes on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail which parallels U.S. Highway 61 and has some of the most beautiful scenery in the state of Minnesota.  Although the bike trail will eventually run the full length of the North Shore, for now it is complete in sections.  We rode north from Gooseberry Falls State Park, through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, to the town of Beaver Bay a distance of about 14 miles.  The trail is anything but flat, with steep inclines because of the rock cliffs that line the shoreline of the lake.  Today the water was the most beautiful shade of blue, reflecting the clear and sunny skies above.  After an ice cream stop the return trip took us into a headwind, but the scenery and the downhill runs made the effort all worthwhile.  This section of Lake Superior is the closest I can come in the Midwest to seeing an “ocean” – the expanse is so large that there is no shoreline to be seen on the other side.  Just beautiful blue waters on a picture-perfect day all the way to the horizon.