In July, the 2008 Star Tribune MS-TRAM will lead 1,000 or more iron-bottomed bicycle adventurers on a breath-taking cruise up and around the pine-studded, lake-encrusted Iron Range of northern Minnesota.
Most TRAMmers come for the people. This year, it may be the pasties.
By pasties, I do not mean the strategically placed tassels of burlesque. I mean the fluffy-crust, meat-filled pastries of northern Minnesota. Generations of iron miners shoved them into their pockets on the way to the pit or carried them in dented lunch buckets to keep their stomachs filled and their souls satisfied while working with shovel and pick.
The power of the pasty (rhymes with "nasty" but doesn't taste that way) is one of those Mesabi mysteries that still set the Range apart from the more predictable parts of Minnesota.
And it's just one of the many treats -- for the stomach and the spirit -- that await those of you willing to join us on this 19th version of what we used to call "the Ride Across Minnesota" when we started back in 1990.
The Star Tribune 2008 MS-TRAM doesn't go border to border. After all these years (21,000 riders, 7 million miles and $11 million raised for the work of the Minnesota chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society), we have found that Minnesota is challenging and fun no matter how you dice it -- in straight lines or in circles.
It's still one heckuva bike ride:
A five-day, 250-mile two-wheel excursion that will take us to overnight stops in Grand Rapids, Chisholm (two nights there) and Biwabik, then down to the shore of Lake Superior and stop in Two Harbors before our final lakeside victory lap along Gitche Gumee to the Lift Bridge in Duluth.
This is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week, so it is a good time to tell you that 9,000 Minnesotans are affected by MS, and that you can do something about it while seeing Minnesota from your bike seat.
The ride dates are July 20 to July 25, and I invite you to join me on the Star Tribune MS-TRAM if you want to tie into a pasty pail in the shadow of Chisholm's Iron Man -- the third-largest free-standing sculpture in the country (reputedly) and the only one with a miner carrying a pick big enough to pull Paul Bunyan's tooth.
Along the way, we'll bike the Mesabi Trail, take a jaunt beneath the pines of the Superior National Forest, make 1,000 new best friends and try those pasties. Did I say "pasty pail?" I did.
No two pasties are exactly alike. But they usually include beef or sausage, potatoes and rutabaga, all folded within a pie-crust-like pastry that makes the whole deal good to wrap in paper and shove in your pocket on the way to the mine. Or, you can get 'em by the bucket at Ironworld, the museum of Minnesota's ironmaking industry that stands across Hwy. 169 from the Iron Man.
Ironworld will be featuring the local roots of Hibbing's own Bob Dylan while the MS-TRAM is in Chisholm, with an exhibit called "Tangled Up in Ore: Bob Dylan and the Iron Range."
Dylan? Pasties? Too much, man.
"They're yummy," says Angie Frich, the assistant kitchen manager at the 43, which is what they call the Ironworld restaurant in tribute to the miners of 43 different nationalities who tore the iron from the earth.
At the 43, you can order minipasties, seven for $4.50. Or if you arrange ahead, you can get the kind that went down to the mines, big hand-size pasties served with coleslaw and a cookie in an authentic old-time miner's tin lunchbox, just like Grandpa Jarmo used to carry.
"The pasties are crazy good up here," says Frich, who says she moved to Chisholm with her husband and kids a few years back "because of the quality of the people -- you can still do things on a handshake here."
Yes, but be careful those hands are pasty-free.
And get ready to pedal.
As I always say, you'll have a great time for a great cause, enjoy the beauty of Minnesota over your handlebars, make new friends from age 7 to 70, and maybe lift a beer or a soda in the evening, if you're old enough and not to pooped to pop a bottle cap.
I guarantee you'll never forget the pasties.
Nick Coleman • firstname.lastname@example.org
PASTY (pas' t) n., pl. pas'-ties [Brit.] a pie, esp. a meat pie. Rhymes with nasty, but doesn't taste that way.