Editor’s note: The extended family of the editor changed the rules of the Green family Christmas gift drawing this year. Participants agreed to give only homemade gifts to the person they drew. Tom Green, the editor’s brother, gave his brother two By the Way Columns. This is the first.
By THOM GREEN
A few week’s ago I bicycled 80 miles from my home in Mahtomedi, Minn., northwest to my mother-in-law’s house near St. Cloud. There are two questions that may arise. First, why would I bicycle so far, and second, why would I pick my mother-in-law’s as my final destination?
The second question is the easier to answer. I have a great mother-in-law and always look forward to spending time at her home.
The first question is tougher to answer. Biking has replaced running in my exercise routine, so I have been riding regularly. Maybe knowing my 50th birthday isn’t all that far away, I wanted to prove I was still capable of an adventure. Maybe I was hoping to recapture some of that youthful spirit that prompted Pat Clark and me to circumnavigate Lake Huron on bicycles the summer after we had graduated from high school.
Actually there were parts of that trip I should not want to repeat. I remember biking at night from Sault St. Marie to St. Ignace with only one flashlight between us for a light. To make matters worse, near the village of Rudyard, we became target practice for some bored hoodlums whose weapon of choice was empty beer bottles. We were lucky to return to Morenci alive.
So perhaps I don’t want to have that much of an adventure. This time I would keep to daylight hours and even wear a helmet and bring a cell phone, neither of which was available when Pat and I embarked on our trek.
Here’s an account of my trip.
6:30 a.m. – After a quick breakfast, I pack my two small bike bags on my 21-year-old Fuji 10-speed. My gear includes an extra water bottle, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple, GPS unit (to track my speed and mileage), wallet, cell phone and maps.
6:35 – I head down the driveway noting that I am heading east, the wrong way since St. Cloud is northwest. I was very proud of the fact that in plotting my trip, my route would be entirely on roads heading in a westerly or northerly direction except for a quarter-mile swing around a lake. I forgot about my driveway.
7:25 – I cross the boundary out of my neighboring city and leave suburbia. The weather is perfect, a bit hazy with no wind. Heading into the prevailing west winds was my biggest fear. I may get lucky.
7:27 – I pass a dead raccoon and decide to take an informal survey of roadkill during the trip.
8:05 – I hit my first stretch of county highway without a shoulder. It is nerve-racking having trucks zipping by me a few feet away. I concentrate on keeping straight, thankful there are no holes or debris in the road.
8:20 – The shoulder returns and I announce my happiness to some horses along the side of the road. They don’t seem to care.
8:30 – My wife checks in on the cell phone. She says she’ll see me in St. Cloud. I imagine the roar of the truck traffic in the background isn’t reassuring. I take this opportunity to check my GPS receiver. I am averaging just less than 15 miles an hour and top speed for the day so far was 24 miles an hour. I am going to try to beat my record on the next steep downhill.
8:45 I have counted 11 dead raccoons so far, three opossums, and one skunk. I spot an eagle. Surprisingly, it isn’t a vulture considering the plentiful meals along the road
9:00 – I stop and eat an apple near a herd of cows. They don’t seem interested in conversing with me.
9:10 – While checking my map, I notice I have pedaled off the metro map and must use the state highway map. It makes my progress seem slower, 10 miles on the state map doesn’t seem to get me very far. I lose the shoulder again and two cars pass me and go way too far into the other lane forcing two opposing cars to drive in the gravel. I imagine colorful language being expressed in those cars concerning bicycling.
9:40 I arrive in the small town of St. Francis, my halfway point. I immediately look for a diner and order a full breakfast. The pancakes are magnificently large and are devoured swiftly.
10:30 – I’m back on the road feeling a bit stuffed, but much happier with a full “tank.” I decide I should try to save some energy and slow down. This works until I come to a large downhill. The GPS records my new record speed of 29.9 miles an hour down the hill. As I climb back uphill, I resolve to take it easy knowing I will be regretting any overexertion later tonight.
10:40 – Another hill and I can’t resist racing down but 29.9 remains my record.
11:30 – I pass by two sandhill cranes foraging along the side of the road, a rare sight in Minnesota. I announce my pleasure to them concerning the lack of wind, but they take no interest.
12:30 – I enter Sherburne Wildlife Refuge. There is little car traffic, but a lot of roadkill. I stop to get a look at two vultures that are taking advantage of the 15th dead raccoon I’ve seen.
12:55 – I pass a pair of fake leopard skin women’s underwear in the middle of the road. Not too surprisingly, I pass some men’s underwear a bit farther on.
1:30 – Fatigue is setting in and my GPS unit verifies this, as I see my average speed is dropping.
1:45 – I am entering familiar territory near my mother-in-law’s house. I wait 10 minutes before I can cross a major state highway, but I am in no hurry, I appreciate the rest. Final dead raccoon count is 17. I am glad to know I won’t be joining them as roadkill.
2:10 – I slowly wheel into the driveway of my destination. My legs are sore, but I feel pretty good overall. I celebrate with a hot shower and lunch, then spend the rest of the day in a recliner.
It was enough of an adventure to satisfy me until next summer. Maybe then Pat will agree to meet me in Sault St. Marie and recreate our dash to St. Ignace. This time we’ll start at 8 o’clock in the morning.- Jan. 17, 2007