Patrick Stephenson is a copywriter at Minnesota Public Radio and the director of 30 Days of Biking. Follow him on Twitter, @patiomensch, where he tweets like 5,000 times a day.

Posts about Transportation

Bike 24 hours in a row, Powderhorn style.

Posted by: Patrick Stephenson Updated: July 18, 2014 - 2:24 PM

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.

The Pachelor Ride

Posted by: Patrick Stephenson Updated: June 23, 2014 - 1:24 PM

Searching for the beach in the woods.

Searching for the beach in the woods.

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.

Enjoying the falls.

Enjoying the falls.

150 Miles of Amazing

Posted by: Patrick Stephenson Updated: June 17, 2014 - 2:36 PM

 

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.

PREPARATION

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.

DAY 1

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.

DAY 2

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!

Thoughts Before the MS 150

Posted by: Patrick Stephenson Updated: May 30, 2014 - 9:59 AM

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.

Stories & bikes intertwined at Spinning Stories

Posted by: Patrick Stephenson Updated: May 28, 2014 - 10:47 AM

On Sunday, Brian Fanelli, the events coordinator at Recovery Bike Shop and Re-Cycle, organized a storytelling group ride titled Spinning Stories. A few dozen cyclists rode together to three different spots in the Twin Cities, where three different storytellers — Taylor Tower, Tristan Jimerson and Amy Salloway — weaved them a tale about the place they’d pedaled to.

Spinning Stories is a storytelling series, as Fanelli describes it, where “storytellers ride us to the places where their stories first happened.” He explains that bike rides are inherently good fodder for storytelling, because bicycling leads to adventures. “Because of the way storytelling and bicycling are so intertwined,” Fanelli says, “it felt completely natural to meld those two communities into something new.”

The ride's first spin was from Tower, who performed a piece titled “The Huck Finn Fantasy” on the banks of the Mississippi River. Its second story, about life in a bookstore, was by Jimerson, who told his tale at a park near St. Paul’s Midway Books. The final story was Amy Salloway’s “Real Actor,” a “raucously funny” piece, according to Fanelli, that “speaks to the insecurities we all feel when taking on a new persona.”

Spinning Stories is a super-cool combination of two things I love: stories and bikes. I’m sad I missed its debut (Northern Minnesota had, with its lakes and long, bike-delicious country roads, lured me away from the Twin Cities). The good news, though, is that Fanelli is staging a sequel on July 19!

Check out Fanelli’s full recap of the first ride, and stay tuned for updates on the next installment, at http://morethanabicycle.tumblr.com.

 
All photos by Brian Fanelli.

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