So, for the past month plus, I’ve been absent from this space. That absence has prompted a few of my friends to ask, “What happened to your Star Tribune blog?! Is that still a thing?” It is, but it’s just that my life got very busy. For starters, I got married in mid July. For seconders, this being a Minnesota summer, every moment’s been ultra packed, with shamefully little time to sit down and write like a writer should. But I’ve been doing a lot of bicycling! So here’s what I’ve been up to.
In early August, I went bike camping for the very first time, with my wife Nola and our friends Peter and Josey. A few Saturdays ago, we rode from Minneapolis to the Lake Cleary campgrounds in Prior Lake.
A journey of that length, 32 miles or so, would ordinarily be a good adventure, a few hours of nice bicycling, but nothing insane. What distinguished these miles was our haul: bike trailers full of camping gear (e.g., beer, wine and steaks, plus tents and sleeping bags, etc.). We all know that camping’s already fun. You sit in the middle of the woods, roasting marshmallows, telling ghost stories around a fire, swimming in a lake. Now add the knowledge that everything around you, from the tent to your body to that super-cold 24-pack of PBR, arrived here on a bike. What a feeling of accomplishment!
It was certainly difficult. In fact, I’d say pulling everything from Minneapolis, and then back to Minneapolis, especially on the last, 10-mile incline to our campgrounds, was tougher than all 150 flat miles of the MS 150. But it was so worth it, and so fun. And Nola and I were so proud of ourselves when we got home that Sunday night.
Last Friday, I participated in the Powderhorn 24, a 24-hour endurance ride, organized by local Minneapolis–St. Paul cyclists just like you (maybe), that’s designed to celebrate the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Participants ride a 5-mile circuit of Powderhorn over and over and over, from 7 p.m. on a Friday night until 7 p.m. the following Saturday, interspersed with bonus activities that highlight local businesses and keep your mind engaged while the circuit turns you into a zombie. The finish-start line is at Freewheel Midtown Bike Center, and the course takes you deep into Powderhorn, from Peace Coffee’s headquarters to a random alleyway. It’s a grassroots event that’s assembled by highly passionate, obviously hard-working people, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.
For the third year in a row, I participated as a Solo Male. Last year, I rode 115 miles, which while hefty is less than many solo participants ride, including my aforementioned wife Nola, who placed fourth in the Solo Female division last year with 175 recorded miles. When you participate in the Powderhorn 24, you’re surrounded by people who are pushing themselves to ride in a way they never have before, to distances they’ve never reached. Many people pull off their first centuries on that five-mile circuit. They stay awake for more than a day and devote themselves (literally) to a life of bicycling. It’s an inspiring, impressive thing.
Because I was attending an afternoon wedding the next day, and wanted my dancing body fresh, I participated in only a few hours of this year’s Powderhorn, from 7 to 11:30 p.m., just to soak up the vibes and as an excuse to ride.
I rode from my job in downtown St. Paul and showed up to the start/finish at the very last minute, of course, then rode 8 laps (one very slowly, with everybody who’d signed up for the PH24; five with my friend Jamie, a mechanic at Freewheel; and two with Nola and my sister Emily). I felt energized this year. Returning to bike commuting, after long working a walk-distance job, has put me into awesome bicycling shape. My legs felt good. My mind was up for it. I feel in tune with my bike.
In total, including my ride to the start-finish, my laps during the ride, and a few Powderhorn-centric miles the next morning (I visited to cheer people on, pick up a backpack I’d left overnight, and chat it up with participants), I rode 75 miles, 40 of them especially for the PH. I’m counting all 75 as part of my Powderhorn experience to ease my guilt at not putting in more hours. Deal with it.
On Monday, MPR News launched a new spate of podcasts. Believe it or not, your long-absent writer is on one. It’s called Pedal Hub, and it’s all about the bicycling life of the Twin Cities. We give ourselves a topic or three, like whether you should wear a helmet when you ride, like why people bike on the sidewalk and why they shouldn’t, like how you should deal with B.O. in the workplace when you’ve pedaled in and can’t shower, and talk it out. We interrupt each other. We tell jokes. We already have a shared catchphrase (you’ll have to listen to find out what it is). I’m really, really excited about joining this podcast, and I think you’ll love it.
Listen at http://mprnews.org/topic/pedal-hub.
Have you ever wanted to bike, and bike, and bike some more, for 24 hours in a row? If so, join me at the Powderhorn 24, August 15 – 16, 2014. Sign-up is only $20, which includes admission and a kick[butt] T-shirt.
One of the cool things about PH24 is that, if you don’t feel like bicycling non-stop, you can bike for, say, 16 hours, and then hang out at the finish line for the remainder and cheer people on. Or, you can bike all night, brunch in the morning, and then go to sleep. It’s a freeform event, where how much you participate is up to you. Lots of superheroically amazing people ride the whole 24. Others just ride as much as they can. Basically, PH24 is a big summer party that’s centered around bikes.
Move quick. Online registration ends this Sunday at Powderhorn24.com.
This past weekend, my friend Zachariah Schaap planned a bachelor party for me (hashtag #pachelor, if you want to see the pictures). We ran from zombies at The Walking Dead Escape, stayed out dancing and grooving till 3 a.m., and walked all over downtown Minneapolis. The best part, though, as you might guess from the title of this blog, was that we bicycled the afternoon away.
At 1 p.m., I met up with Zach and my friend Matt at Target Field, in the midst of Twins traffic, and we rode from the North Loop to Minnehaha Falls to home, on a wandering route with a few detours, in no rush — soundtracked by a playlist that Zach had arranged for maximum meaningfulness.
Our first detour was the mudslide spot on West River Parkway, where 6 to 8 feet of mud beneath the University of Minnesota Medical Center had cascaded and sent 100 yards’ worth of trees and brush into the Mississippi River, closing the Parkway and “narrowly” missing two cars. We got as close as we could and examined the slide. I wasn’t, to be honest, that impressed by the sight, and took no photos. C’mon, hospital mud, make for better Instagrams.
Our second detour was a spot on the river bottoms, where we threw stones into the water and admired each other’s throwing form.
Our third detour was the Mississippi River overlook at the end of Summit Avenue, in St. Paul. Zach, Matt and I are all experienced cyclists, but none of us had brought water, or even a bottle for our cages. How’s that for failed expertise? So with our mouths already dry, we drank up as much from the water fountain as we could handle(bar), then pedaled onward.
Next, I led the guys from the overlook to Quixotic Coffee, in Highland Park, via an old favorite route of mine, on Fairview Avenue and Highland Parkway. We drank cold press and ate savory croissants from Patisserie 46, and I briefly dozed in my chair, with the summer sun on my face.
Finally, around 3:30 p.m., we reached Minnehaha Falls, and it was insanely impressive. Usually, Minnehaha is a gentle, picturesque sight, but the rainstorms of late have turned it into a raw beast who’s like, “Hey, guys, here’s a reminder of how powerful nature is.”
The water’s not so much falling from the fall-tops as gushing from it, like a hose on high. After ogling the falls, we descended to the creek — now more like whitewater rapids — and followed it to its end at a pond that attracts swimbathers. I took off my shoes and waded into the water, in a section that was very rapidy, just to feel the force of the waterfall from far away. It was lovely.
Before we left the Falls, we were joined by my friends Pete and Johnny, and with a place called White Sands Beach in mind, we set off. Fortunately, we didn’t know exactly where the beach was, so that meant stopping at random spots along the Parkway and running down steps and jumping (with our bikes outstretched in our arms) over logs and fallen trees. Like cyclocrossers, or adult-sized children. When we finally found the beach, it was flooded in, just like everything else along the river. Covered in new bug bites, and not even a tad disappointed, we rode back to downtown Minneapolis.
Zach later told me that, as we biked together that afternoon, he realized that he was smiling in a purer and happier way than he had in a long time. That’s biking for you. Pure happiness.
On the weekend of June 6th, I biked the MS 150, a two-day, 150-mile journey from just outside Duluth, in Proctor, Minn., to White Bear Lake, just outside Minneapolis.
It was an immense, intense, amazing, awesome experience, all to benefit the MS Society’s Upper Midwest division. I was a little heartbroken when it ended, because it was a blast. I camped, I biked, I ate pancakes — LOTS of pancakes — and then I biked some more.
The MS 150 first began in 1979, when Will Munger, then Executive Director of the Society’s Minnesota chapter, rode from Minneapolis to Duluth with his son. The dad and son duo couldn’t finish the journey in a day, so they stayed overnight in Hinckley, just as MS 150 participants do now. They rolled into Duluth the next day, after which Munger realized that, if he and his son could make the trip, so could others. Bicycling across Minnesota, Munger decided, would be a cool way for cyclists to raise money for the fight against MS.
Minnesota’s first MS 150, in 1980, had 200 participants, and its success inspired MS Society chapters around the United States to stage their own bike rides. Thirty-four years later, 2014’s Minnesota 150 had almost 4,000 participants and raised $3 million. It’s come a long way since that first father-son journey.
Let’s break down my MS 150 experience, now more than a week past.
To keep ourselves accountable, and to maximize our F.U.N. 150, my girlfriend Nola and I joined Team B.A.O.B.s (the Badasses on Bikes), a coterie organized by my friend Josey Balenger.
Josey, whose mom has multiple sclerosis, has participated in the MS 150 for the past few years, and it’s a very meaningful cause to her. She rallied a team of eight cyclists, some of whom (ahem, okay, just me) were a little tardy in getting signed up and started on their fundraising. We went on training rides together. We took the MS 150 bus up to Proctor together. And ultimately, we rode our bikes Minneapolis-ward together.
My training process was pretty minimal. Back in November, I started a new job in downtown St. Paul. That means I’ve been bicycling between Minneapolis and its sister city quite a bit. Basically, that was my training regimen for the MS 150. Beyond that, between April 1 and the big ride, I biked somewhere every day, to work, to the grocery store, to everywhere else. I love bicycling, more than any other form of transportation, so participating in the MS 150, though it’s QUITE A BIT longer than my average weekend ride, was a natural fit. I was ready for it.
My steed of choice for the event was my Trek Madone 4.5, a carbon-framed beauty I’ve outfitted with comfy cyan bar tape, Continental Gator Hardshell tires (for protection from road blades), and stickers from my favorite local businesses. Team spirit.
Our first day of the MS 150 began with rain. Amidst chunky raindrops, on the Proctor High School camping grounds, we jumped out of our tents and took them down. The rain had begun with pitter-patter and then strengthened, as we laid there facing our tent ceilings, into a steady, heavy fall. We checked our phones and realized the rain wasn’t stopping anytime soon, late morning at the earliest. So what do you do when you can’t do anything else? You go forward anyway! The pouring continued as we walked our stuff (tents, overnight bags, etc.) to the MS 150 baggage trucks, and we went into the high school for a humongous breakfast. I drank five cups of not-so-good, smells-like-a-boot Folger’s and filled my stomach with ultra-delicious pancakes, flipped off the griddle by a guy in a tie-dye T-shirt.
Outside of Proctor, our bikes waited for us — laid out in a parking lot beneath the rain. I figuratively kissed my Madone, got onto its saddle, and began pedaling. Shortly before 8 a.m., Team B.A.O.Bs set off together, on the MS 150. We were soaked before we’d even started. The roads were gritty and filled with stones and potholes. The crowd before us was, at first, a slow-moving mob. We pedaled onward, and to be honest, I was loving it. Inclement weather equals adventure equals fun.
At some point in the first hour, riding side by side, Nola and I made a big decision. Charged up on Folger’s, I told her, “Let’s skip the rest stops. I just want to keep going.” Rides like the MS 150 have taught me, you understand, that time is as much of a wear-down as pedaling. I knew that each time I got off my bike at an MS Society rest stop, my legs would turn stiff and unyielding. No matter how much I wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, made by the MS 150 volunteers, I knew I just needed to keep going. So we did. We rode and rode, through beautiful forested areas soaked and evergreen with rainwater. Nola and I made two stops: once to remove a layer, because my faithful bright orange raincoat was heating me up, and once for a Domino’s pizza lunch.
We rolled into the halfway point of the MS 150 around 12:30 p.m. It felt amazing. The massage I got later that afternoon felt even more amazing.
The second day of the MS 150 began like the first one. Not with rain, you understand, as the sky was bright and sunny and blue, but with pancakes and gross Folger’s. Whatever works.
I pumped up my Madone’s tires to 100 and got my saddle adjusted by a Maple Grove repairman (thanks, bud!), then set off once again, this time all together with Team B.A.O.B.s. We’d decided to stick together throughout the Day 2, from beginning to end. We rode in a tight line, with a revolving leader. My turn to lead came 20 miles in, and I led our team of eight around potholes and other hazards, just as the other leaders had. We maintained a steady pace, and I checked back every so often to ensure that we were sticking together. The first leg of our ride was enhanced — in my opinion, anyway! — by the wireless speaker in my bike bag. I set it to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, which scored our pedaling. Good beats.
The sights were different on Day 2. Whereas at first, we’d pedaled on paths through pure forest, on Day 2 we rode mostly on the highway, with a super huge landscape stretched out around us. Hypnotized by the landscape, by the line of cyclists before me, and by the steadiness of my pedaling, I zoned out. Continual action turns you into a robot. A robot who gets places. My butt began to hurt a little bit around the halfway mark and, at a rest stop, behind someone’s house, I took off the workout pants I’d started the day in and changed into some chamois pillow pants I’d packed in my day bag. I feel shy in spandex, but saddle pain has a way of vanquishing shyness.
Shortly after 3 p.m., Team B.A.O.B.s rolled into the finish line almost together. On the MS 150’s last hill up, I separated from everyone and gave the last bit — the last stretch, the last leg, the final skittle — my all. I pedaled as hard as I could and speedily rolled across the finish line. Again, it felt amazing.
Had it been hard? Nah, not really! Had it been fun as [heck]? Yes, yes, yes!
That night, Nola and I celebrated our MS 150 achievement with cheeseburgers and milkshakes at Snuffy’s in Roseville, then with Edge of Tomorrow at Showplace Icon. It felt good to be home, and we’d gotten there using only our legs. Our pedaling legs.
Thanks again to everyone who donated to my MS 150 fund and helped make this happen. I've never biked for a better cause!
A week from today, I’m bussing up to Duluth, from Century College in White Bear Lake, Minn., to the starting point of the MS 150. I’ll camp out overnight, then begin my journey from the City on the Hill to the City of the Mill. It's 150 miles of biking split between Saturday and Sunday — all to support the Upper Midwest MS Society and its brawl with multiple sclerosis. I’ve never biked for a better purpose.
How do I feel, a week out from this undertaking? Pretty great, my column-reading friends. Though I only just signed up, I feel like I’ve been training for the MS 150 since November, when, for this new job of mine, I first began commuting between Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul on my bike. I’ve biked somewhere every day, at least a little bit, since April 1, with a mix of gigantic rides and shortie jaunts. My butt’s well accustomed to my saddle. My body is conditioned to biking long distances. I’ve done centuries before, including during the Powderhorn 24 and the Ironman Ride, so the distance isn’t too daunting. But it’ll still be a challenge.
What I’m mostly looking forward to, is two unfettered days of bicycling. Out there on the roads, freed from the worries of my daily life. With my girlfri-ancee and the MS 150 team I’ve joined, the BAOBs (Badasses on Bikes). Know for sure that I will give you my post-ride report, including the lessons I learned.