Here is a glance at the group of bicycle enthusiasts who met for the single purpose of exploring the gravel and paved roads of the Driftless Area. Some knew each other; others needed introductions. We all shared a love of bicycle exploration, and none of us had toured on gravel roads. Individually, the members of the self-proclaimed “Drifters” were:
• Tom McDowell, 67, of Minnetrista. He and his wife took a year off to bicycle tour New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Tahiti and Hawaii. Now retired and an empty nester, the touring urge has resurfaced.
• Pablo Armas, 35, of Minneapolis. He explored the rainforests and volcanic mountains of his native Guatemala with his father, and brought that love of bicycling and nature to the United States. Enthusiastic, generous and idealistic, he needed all of four seconds to say “yes” when asked to become a Drifter.
• Kristen Paulsen, 57, of Minneapolis. Another avid tourist who took time off to raise a family. Most of her touring has been with her husband. This would be a trip of firsts: Her first tour with a group, the longest stretch of camping on a tour, and first tour on gravel roads. She committed quickly, upgraded her bike and camping equipment, and dived into training with a vengeance. Kristen’s quiet competence reflects long experience on a touring bike.
• Nina Clark, 49, of Minneapolis. An avid bicycle commuter and recreational rider, but no experience with self-contained bicycle touring or gravel roads. Becoming a Drifter was exciting and intimidating. She had nothing to worry about. She drew on a strong background of camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, bicycle fitness, and organizational skills to carry her through.
• Me — the writer and organizer, Doug Shidell, 68, of Minneapolis. Strong background in bicycle touring, but little experience on gravel roads, I drew on my background as publisher of bicycle maps to put together a route that reflected the challenges and beauty of a unique geologic region of the Midwest.