A Metro Century Ride

We live in the beautiful wilderness of the cool Northland.  So why would we want to cycle 100 miles through the urban metropolis in the southern climes of Minnesota?  The answer is unclear, but Myra has her heart set on traversing the cycling trails across the Twin Cities.  I managed to fend off her desires last year, but ultimately succumb to her pleas.  We schedule our 5th annual Century Ride.

I should have saved myself the anxiety.  For every one of my arguments against the locale, we are delivered perfection.  Following a string of hot humid weather, storms blow through and the day dawns crisp and clear at 56 degrees, never climbing above a sunny 74.  We manage an early start and cross the city in the quiet of a Sunday morning, unencumbered by traffic.  When my rear tire suddenly blows only 16 miles into the Freewheel Bike Shopride, an angel appears in the form of a passing cyclist who generously helps me (read “does it for me”) change the tube.  Feeling nervous about the accompanying gash remaining in my tire, we discover the bike shop we passed just 2 miles back is opening in 5 minutes.  And to think we almost took a different route through town.

The best part of the trip is exploring the plethora of bike trails throughout the Twin Cities.  Mississippi River Locks from Ford BridgeStarting in Plymouth, we make our way into Minneapolis via the Luce Line Trail then onto the Midtown Greenway.  Reaching the Mississippi River, we travel many miles along its banks on the West River Parkway and Sam Morgan Regional Trail.  The splendid river views and gawking at the palatial homes keep us well entertained.

Downtown St. Paul presents the only area where we have to navigate city streets.  We had done our research and identified a viable route, only to discover that the main bike-friendly street is under construction.  But with a bit of dithering and the aid of Google Maps we identify a reasonable alternative, and survive the experience.

StillwaterOur eastern destination and the mid-point of our ride is Stillwater, and those 20 miles are sweet.  Three more trails take us there, the Bruce Vento Trail, Gateway State Trail and Brown’s Creek State Trail.  Each is more rural than the next, with Brown’s being the newest trail with a delightfully smooth surface.  Coasting downhill the final two miles into Stillwater is easy going, and the return climb back up is barely perceptible.  While not crowded, we share the trail with groups ranging from hard core cyclists to families out enjoying the beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Photo Aug 21, 2 11 58 PMWe reverse our route for the return trip, although there are several opportunities to vary the journey.  And everything looks different when viewed from the opposite direction.  Naturally, we take time out for a DQ break.  With nearly 1.5 hours lost to my flat tire and the putsy time it took to cross St. Paul, we don’t finish our trek until just after 7pm.  But on such a beautiful day we aren’t complaining.

Our final distance is 106.7 miles.  With bits and pieces of other trails in between the main ones, we covered 12 different bicycle trails.  And only 4 miles were on the city streets of St. Paul.  Even I have to admit, it was a darned good metro century ride.

Century Ride across the Twin Cities and back

Exercise Anyone?

It’s not easy being an exercise-aholic.  While most people struggle to find time to work out, can’t get themselves out the door, or have a million excuses to avoid exercise, I thrive on it. My day isn’t complete without a run, going cycling, swimming or XC skiing – even better if I can fit in more than one activity.

My friends roll their eyes when they hear of my obsession.  Some decline my invitations to accompany me, fearing I will push them too hard.  My husband chides me for rarely taking a day off.  Honestly, I’m not a super athlete.  I just have a lot of stamina, and love going the distance.

Fortunately, I have a few friends who “get it.”  They are the ones who willingly submit to my over eager ideas.  They understand when I suggest we go “just a little further.”  They know why I do this day after day – because they do too.

Today I spent the day with one of those friends.  My friend, Myra, and I went on our fourth annual Century Ride – a 100 mile bike ride.  Leading up to the day, I couldn’t help but look forward to it.  I loved the very idea of spending all day on our bikes, exercising non-stop.  Mentioning this to Myra, her eyes lit up and she responded, “Me too!”  Yes, she gets it.

The day followed our usual pattern.  Eight hours of actual cycling time, elapsed time around 10 hours.  The time not cycling was spent eating.  After all, what’s the point of all that exercise if we can’t blow a few calories?  The stop at Dairy Queen was particularly satisfying.

Molly and Myra Century RideThis year’s route included an out-and-back portion on the Munger Trail.  Approaching our turnaround spot, we slowed to reverse our direction.  It was at that point that Myra noticed the road sign – we were at Bonk Road. We couldn’t help but enjoy the irony of the location, even though we were still going strong.

Perhaps it wasn’t an accident that we overestimated our mileage and came in at 105 miles.  We’re both rather over achievers.  And we’re already looking forward to next year’s century.  Exercise anyone?

A Century on the Mesabi Trail

Mesabi Trail Century Ride

Our 100-mile route out-and-back on the Mesabi Trail

Three times must make an annual tradition.  With two century rides behind us, Myra and I couldn’t let the summer go by without adding to the count.

After cycling part of the Mesabi Trail on the North Shore Cycling Tour, I thought it would make an excellent choice for our annual outing.  Although it would mean doing an out-and-back ride, it had the advantage of allowing us to cycle side-by-side and chat all along the way – a signature feature of our rides.  Somehow we never run out of things to talk about.  And it sure makes the miles fly by.  All 100 of them.  It didn’t take long for Myra to buy into the idea, and as soon as we could agree on a date, it was set.

wpid-Photo-20140728212925.jpgWe were greatly impressed with the Mesabi Trail. The last time I rode it was years ago, and it was largely discontinuous – more a hopeful concept than a reality.  That has now been reversed, with 115 miles of trail stretching eastward from Grand Rapids toward Ely.  Only short sections, mostly in towns, left us on city streets or country roads.  Each of those sections, as well as the rest of the trail was well marked.  Between their signature Mesabi Trail sign posts and directions on the roads at all turns, we had no opportunity to make a wrong turn or mistake in following the trail.  That was significant!

We started our journey at Eveleth and followed the Trail west just short of Keewatin, then turned around and returned.  That allowed us to use the most complete portion of the trail.  Unlike “rails to trails” paths that follow a relatively flat and straight course, the Mesabi Trail winds through mining territory, skirting open pits that are now lakes and winding over and around mounds of tailings.  There were plenty of ups and downs in the rolling terrain, which kept things interesting without being too taxing.  It was fascinating to see how the land is transforming with new growth.  And there were frequent towns along the way to keep things interesting.

Just as we were nearing our turn around point, the dark clouds that we were trying to ignore began to drip.  Then rain came in earnest, and within a few miles we were in a serious downpour.  With the gusting winds, it cooled us down rapidly, but didn’t dampen our spirits.  It was all part of the experience we figured.  But we would be happy to see it stop.  After taking cover 15 miles later under a trail shelter near Hibbing to add layers under our inadequate light jackets (who thought we’d need real rain gear?) and snarf down a snack in hopes of fueling some warmth, we continued our journey.  It wasn’t long afterwards that the rain dribbled to a stop, improving our outlook significantly.

The return trip didn’t feel like covering the same old ground at all.  Somehow things look different coming from the opposite direction, and we often remarked on things we’d missed seeing on the first pass.  Before long we had dried out and were counting down the miles to the end.  Those last 20 miles are always the hardest, but we had no problem conquering them.

IMG_1423I didn’t have much appetite for taking pictures once the rain hit.  So we will have only mental images of the fun that we had, the beauty of the trail, and the soggy mess we presented under that shelter.  Perhaps that’s for the best.  But I couldn’t resist a final shot at the end of the day – victorious after our 3rd Century Ride.

Soon we will have to start planning next year’s Century.


The Second Century

After the cold and wet weekend, it was hard to believe the forecast for a beautiful sunny day on Monday.  Crossing our fingers, my friend Myra and I planned our second annual Century Ride, and were pleased when the weatherman was right for once.

Brimson Century Ride MapOur inaugural 100-mile bike ride last summer was a flat out and back ride on a smooth bike trail.  A good start for novices.  This year we took on a more ambitious route.  We wanted a circle tour with nice scenery, good roads and little traffic.  We quickly settled on the little town of Brimson for our destination, and by manipulating the course with a few detours to add mileage, we finally came up with a good route.  My husband Rich warned that it was too hilly for such a long ride, but that only solidified our determination to stick with the plan.

The good news was that we did most of our hill work at the outset.  Before the sun had an IMG_0114opportunity to heat up the day, we had the bulk of our climbing behind us.  Once inland, we only had rolling hills, and those created more interest than nuisance.  It was a very green route, lined by trees and with little other variation besides the wildflowers blooming on the wayside.  We had hoped to see the numerous lakes that line Pequaywn Lake Road, but they were hidden by those same trees.  However, we did enjoy the unique mailbox that confirmed there must be a lake nearby!

Lunchtime brought us to Brimson, which conveniently happened to be our half-way point.  We didn’t find much evidence of a town, but Hugo’s Bar and General Store provided shade for our picnic as we refueled for the next leg our of ride.

Having attained a nice altitude, our Brimson Century Ride elevationspayback came on our descent into Two Harbors.  It was a straight shot down toward Lake Superior, but it wasn’t as smooth sailing as expected.  We found ourselves pedaling straight into a stiff wind which checked our pace.  I didn’t mind.  It saved wear and tear on my brakes.  On the intermittent uphills Myra admitted to drafting behind me, but somehow I doubt I was much of a windbreak.

We were surprised how quickly the miles mounted up behind us.  Without any major sights to distract us, we took just a few breaks for food and to replenish our water supplies.  Our final rest was a requisite DQ stop in Two Harbors.  After all, what’s the purpose of cycling if we don’t have ice cream?  Heading down the Scenic Highway back to Duluth, we welcomed the slightly cooler breezes delivered by Lake Superior.  By that time we were counting down the miles – not that we were tired or anything…

It felt good to finish, with a great sense of accomplishment.  And we were still smiling!  IMG_0117

Myra, as well as our son Carl, will be joining Rich and me for the first week of our Grand Gaspé Cycling tour later in the summer.  On that trip we will need to push on, day after day, regardless of what the weatherman delivers.  No matter how relentless the hills.  Whatever the road conditions.  I think we can handle it.