With a twinge of sadness acknowledging the change of seasons, Steven “Wolfie” Browender has put his red Trek bicycle on a basement rack in his Highland Park home. He can now exercise indoors and out of the elements.
The bike sits on its contraption near a couple of big St. Paul street maps that offer a clue why the end of biking season means more to this guy than most people.
Browender is about one-eighth of the way through his quest to ride his bike down every block of every street in St. Paul — more than 800 miles — something he blogs about with passion, painstaking detail and plenty of photos at www.saintpaulbybike.wordpress.com.
His wife of 28 years, Sue, rolled her eyes when he first hatched his bold plan in August 2011. But with their two daughters now in their 20s, she has embraced her husband’s mission — encouraging him to take time to write and transcribe the interviews he records for accuracy (beyond the call of typical blogospheric duty).
“I just find so many interesting people and things I only notice when I’m riding my bike through neighborhoods of my hometown,” he said.
He figures he’s logged 125 of St. Paul’s 800 miles of streets. A college buddy gave him a new GPS device that has made his record-keeping easier.
A native of the Milwaukee area, Browender has lived in Minnesota since the mid-1980s, working for a St. Cloud radio station for a couple of years, broadcasting news and sports before spending 20 years producing videos and working in the Robbinsdale schools’ communications department.
His current job, selling video equipment, limits his block-by-block biking and blogging to a few treks a week. As he winds up year No. 2 of his dream, with no idea how long it will take to complete, he looked back on some of the places and people that surprised him.
Dirt roads? Yep, St. Paul still has some. Browender stopped by the city’s public works department, which pointed him to the Highwood Hills-Battle Creek neighborhood off McKnight Road.
There, on E. Mailand Road in the southeastern corner of St. Paul, Browender was pedaling on gravel.
“It blew me away and the people I spoke to all love it,” he said. “They say it’s like living on a country road where they can see the lights of downtown once the leaves are off the trees.”
Wherever he rides, from impoverished neighborhoods to upscale ones, he’s been struck by folks’ willingness to talk. They often invite him in and share personal secrets.
Darlene Hammond, 76, lives on St. Paul’s West End with a unique front yard of stones, a wagon wheel, birdbath and little statues.
Curious, Browender stopped and visited with Hammond, who said her husband hated to cut the grass, so they replaced the lawn with pebbles. Then she showed him a memorial to three of her four children who died in their 40s.
“She started to cry and put her head on my shoulder,” he said. “It’s unbelievable the stories you hear by just talking to people.”
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