Wednesday, September 07, 2005

File under "Character Building"

From the free library in Sparta, Wisconsin...

They always say the first couple of days of a bike tour are the hardest. I hope that it's true, because the first three days of this excursion have been fairly miserable. Oh yeah, there has been some good in there and some spectacular scenery, but overall the first three days were not fun.

Day One (Sun 9/4) was the departure day from Minneapolis. As with everything on this trip, it got off to a late start. I didn't get packed and out of John's house until almost 11:30am. I met John and his daughter Isabelle at the Seward, a veggie-hippie type o' food joint (think Paradox) at noon-ish for brunch. Figured I should get a good meal to start off things. Then we went over to the Freewheel, a bike shop, for last minute supplies and info.

The problem I was having was figuring how to get out of Mpls. Getting around in the city, no problem. Biking in the countryside, no problem. How to traverse that fatty belt around the city commonly known as "The Suburbs", problem. The biggest problem was the direction I was choosing, southeastward to get me to Cannon Falls (which I hoped to reach by nightfall). At the shop, everyone was reccomending going due east then south to the Mississippi through Wisconsin. But that wouldn't get me to Cannon Falls. And I was stubborn, I wanted to do that route so I could use the Cannon Valley Bike Path to get to Red Wing. Looking at a metro bike map (I didn't want to spend the $10 for that, yikes!) I wrote down a rudimentary route of county roads and other names that had little meaning, and we took off.

John and Isabelle on their tandem (yay!) were gracious enough to escort me out of the city, southeastward via Minehaha Ave, past Minehah Falls, and through a secret bike path alongst the Miss that went by Fort Snelling. Then cross the high bridge to Mendota Heights, and the two bid adeiu, and I was on my own.

The first few miles were no prob. Suburban roads leading past nothingness and industrial complexes, empty of traffic due to Labor Day Weekend. I passed by a lemonade stand run by kids giving out the beverage free to cyclists, how can I resist? Too bad they live in a cul-de-sac development off this bland road. As I went on, I was passed by scads of spandex-clad road cyclists, meaning that this was a bike route of sorts.

The problems started after I made a wrong turn and ended up going a couple miles in the wrong direction. I spent a good hour straightening out where I went wrong, and a little bit after that is where I finally left suburb-land for farmland. It was pretty in the way endless fields of corn can be pretty, but it also meant that I was going to be not near any easy way out, whether it be a bus ride back to town or a store to buy supplies.

And the heat of the day and the weight of my bike was getting to me. I was getting more tired than I thought I would from such an early point. As six o'clock approached, it became clear that I would have to figure out a spot to camp. Cannon Falls was still a while away, and there wasn't any campsites of note. And while I was indeed in a "rural area", it's a developed rural, meaning not any woods to pitch a tent in. I made a vain attempt to look for a site near the Mississippi, taking a couple-mile detour down a dirt road through the woods to get to the bottom. When I got there, I found "no camping" signs and then a few dudes in big trucks blasting their stereos. Not good. I wasn't going to camp in teenagers' drinking spot. But that meant a long climb back up the hill, which wore me down even more. And by the time I got to the top it was painfully clear that there was little daylight left.

Nothing to do but press onward and hopefully I'll find the church or farmhouse that I hear so many other bike tourers talk fondly about. By the time I hit the town of Vermillion the sun was down and light was fading fast. I hoped that I might try to camp on the church grounds. Vermillion had a quickie-mart/gas station that was closed, one bar that was open, and one church (a fairly large Catholic one, surprisingly enough). There was no one around and it didn't look like a good place to camp. Desparation was definitely setting in. I was suffering from heat exahustion of some sort, I felt tired, nauseus, and had a headache. So with no other option I went to the edge of town, found a closed Union Hall and set up camp behind it. That night was not fun. Not only did I feel like shit, I was paranoid that someone would find me, either the cops, pissed off union members, drunk kids, etc. I was freaked out by any sound outside. But no one came and I finally fell asleep. All in all I might have done 30 miles the first day.

Labor Day Monday morn (9/5) had me up at the crack of dawn to take down camp before anyone saw me. I packed up and as I was getting ready to ride I saw my rear tire had a flat. Shit. I had the tools to change it, but the problem with the tire was it was very, very, very hard to get on and off the last time and I didn't want to start working on the wheel and not be able to get the tire back on, stuck miles from anything. I put some air into it and it was holding. A slow leak. It's good in situations like this, but bad because what's causing it? I rode back into postage-stamp sized Vermillion to go to the gas station. Not only was it not open, but it didn't have air either. And I needed to refill my almost-gone water. I had to by some Dasani (ugh) from the vending machine to partially fill a water bottle and off I went.

The 10 miles to Cannon Falls was tough. I had to pump the tire every once in a while, and it was slow going over the rolling terrain with a bike in my condition. I had hoped that New Trier, the town on the way would have a gas station, but it was even smaller than Vermillion. Cannon Falls had no bike shop, but it did have a grocery store. I stocked up my supplies, went to the bathroom to fill up my waterbottles, and nicked a tp roll from the bathroom (sorry, moralists.) Pumped more air into the tires, and hit the Cannon Valley Trail to Red Wing, where a trail toll-taker told me it would cost $3 to ride the bike path. Paying money? For a bike path? I had little choice but hand over the cash. At least the 20 miles of bike path were beautiful, and I was greeted by friendly people along the way. Having a bicycle encumbered with stuff is definitely a conversation piece. I arrived in Red Wing (after several pumps into the tube) around 1pm.

I searched the town for a bike shop, but the only one to be found was Lefty and Flints Fly-By-Night Bike Rentals and Somewhat Repair (not its name, I don't think they had one) right at the path's entrance. I explained to Flint (not real name) my sitch, and he tried to get my tire off, but couldn't do it no matter what. He had to call Lefty in for help. Lefty arrived in his beat-up Jimmy, spat out something, and got the tire off. Nothing could be found that was making the leak. Not good. Lefty put a new tube in (in between spitting on the ground) and managed to force the tire back on using his encasted right hand, a monkey wrench, and a tire lever. I was out of $10, but had a rideable bike again.

Red Wing was a nice town, but I didn't have any time to do anything but a cursory ride through downtown. And it was mostly closed. File under: Places on this trip that I wished I could spend more time in. From there it was a 10 mile ride down Highway 61 (yes, the road revisited by Dylan) to Frontenac State Park. Along the way I heard a loud clank in my rear. Didn't look like anything hit it...shit. Probably a spoke breaking. Sure enough, the wheel now had a slight but noticeable wobble. Yet something else to worry about.

I could have pressed on to Wabasha, 20 miles south, and camped there, but it was already 6, I was tired and exausted again, feeling the effects of the heat. So Frontenac it was.

more to come...


At Thursday, September 08, 2005 5:57:00 AM, Blogger W.C. Varones said...

I share your outrage at having to pay a toll for a bike path. In San Francisco, they're trying to put a bike toll on the Golden Gate Bridge.

At Thursday, September 08, 2005 2:13:00 PM, Blogger adventure! said...

Yeesh. Why don't they realize that they should make things easier for the bicyclists, not harder? Maybe it's spite, now that gas is almost $3 a gallon (as evidenced by the gas stations I have been passing.) I don't know...


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