Monday, May 30, 2005

A Perfect Day

This, this is the day you live for in the Twin Cities. It's sunny with puffy white clouds, gentle breezes, seventy degrees, low humidity, no mosquitoes and a daughter who would like to go for a bike ride. After a morning of file-sorting productivity and a bite of lunch, we headed out, my eleven-year-old daughter Geneva and I, with no real plan.

One of the things I'd like to do is write up some Practical Cycling tips, especially how to deal with the major obstacles in the Cities, namely, railways, highways and rivers. To start with, we skirted Como Lake and headed down Chatsworth. Chatsworth ought to be a bicycling superhighway for north/south traffic in Saint Paul. It has its own bridge under the north set of mainline railway tracks, then what you might think of as an informal crossing of the south set of mainline tracks, shown below:

Informal Chatsworth crossing of rail tracks

There was a train off to the west and I had thoughts of waiting to take pictures of it, but there was also a pickup with lights on coming our way. It occurred to me that this might be railway personnel who wouldn't altogether approve of this crossing point, and we moved on south.

The neighbourhood south of the tracks is part of the Frogtown area of Saint Paul and is not a socio-economic demographic that everyone would feel comfortable with, though I ride through pretty regularly. We moved on south. You cross University on a stop-sign, then come to another obstacle, Interstate 94. Chatsworth again reigns supreme, with a pedestrian bridge right across the highway. Here Geneva rides on across:

Informal Chatsworth crossing of rail tracks

It's funny how south of I-94 the neighbourhood rapidly changes. By the time you reach Summit Avenue, the most beautiful street in Saint Paul, you are only a stone's throw from the Governor's Mansion.

We decided to blow off the Grand Old Creamery ice cream shop, east of us, and head west to Izzy's. We rode off down Summit Avenue. This is a terrific street to ride on, lined with houses that range from cheesy suburban models at their most modest to huge robber-baron mansions built when domestic staffs made such large houses possible. Summit also has terrific bike lanes. Here's Geneva heading west down Summit:

Riding the Bike Lane on Summit Avenue

We cruised down to Grand Avenue to see if Wet Paint was open, which it wasn't. While waiting at a stop sign on Grand a young woman rode by on a bike with an Xtracycle. It's the first time I've seen a female on one! Cool! A female bike nerd! We cruised by Saint Mary's Episcopal, where we used to go to church before having some priestess issues, stopped by the Wheelers on Dayton but they weren't home, then went to Izzy's for an ice cream. It couldn't have been a more perfect day out. Here's Geneva enjoying her ice cream:

Geneva has an ice cream

Well, we'd come this far, let's just cruise on down Marshall and go across the bridge. This bridge is Marshall Avenue in Saint Paul and turns into Lake Street in Minneapolis, probably the most diverse street in the Cities as you ride down it. We got across the bridge slowly, enjoying the view you miss from the car. First we stopped at the east approach to take some picture, including this one of my daughter:

Geneva on the Lake Street Bridge

Out on the bridge itself, you could look up the Mississippi River and see downtown Minneapolis in the distance and a bit of boat traffic on the river. A friend of ours has a boat, and I've been up this stretch of river, and south of the Lake Street bridge the river is so far down in the gorge that you can barely tell you're in a city. It's part of the overall attractive physical setting of the Twin Cities. Here's the view upriver:

Downtown Minneapolis from the Lake Street bridge

The Mississippi north of Saint Louis is mostly a collection of pools contained behind a series of 29 locks and dams, which drop the river 420 feet in total. Some of the pools seem pretty dormant, but there is a definite current here. You can see it pulling at the buoy in the river;

Current pulling at buoy in Mississippi

You can see it against the bridge pier as well:

Current against Lake Street Bridge Pier

One of the nice things about living in Minnesota is the high level of public services. People bitch about the taxes and our Governor took a no-new-taxes pledge so that he in recent weeks vetoed a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax (a tax which hasn't been raised since the late 1980s) because that would be a new tax but then proposed increasing the taxes on cigarettes under the guise of a "fee". What an idiot. I've been to some of those low-tax states. Ever been to a public park in Texas? They're shitholes. People don't move to Minnesota for the weather and many of the things that make this place attractive are paid for by taxes; good education, good parks, clean rivers, decent roads. They also show up in things like this rest spot in the middle of the bridge, utterly impractical from a transport point of view, but a delightful stop for people on foot or bike:

Current against Lake Street Bridge Pier

We rode up the west River Road, seeing a fox carrying a bit of prey cross the road ahead of us along the way. We rode up to the West Bank Dinkytown, the local name for the aggregation of businesses that accrue around universities, to stop in the Freewheel Bike Shop. They were closed for the day. Probably a good thing, with the spring we've had, trying to work on a day like this would be tough. We rode up alongside the light rail train tracks (more taxpayer-supported improvements) to downtown, refilled water bottles at the Mill City Museum, and then went east across the Stone Arch Bridge. Tax dollars paid to keep this old railway bridge open for pedestrians and cyclists. You see a lot of funny vehicles down here; there are the usual assortment of bikes, there's a tour company that runs tours of the grain milling district on Segways (the Sidewalk SUV) looking like string of ducklings following their leader, and there were several unicycles. This pair, for instance, took my Two Cities Two Wheels things pretty literally:

A Pair of Unicyclists on the Stone Arch Bridge

Hey guys, I meant two wheels EACH!

You can appreciate the power of the river from the bridge. This power allowed Minneapolis to thrive as a grain milling and lumber center. There are still raceways for the water. Of course, now all the old grain mills are condos and museums so when someone wanted to put in an actual hydroelectric generator, one using existing waterways, the ample drop, and producing electricity with no emissions or waste products that last for millenia, the condo owners objected. The useful productive image is nice, but God forbid we put in any actual productive industry. Those cranes you see in the background of this photo ain't puttin' up grain mills and factories!

You can appreciate the power of the river looking north from the Stone Arch Bridge:

The Mississippi upstream from the Stone Arch Bridge

That's a lock on the left. I'm not sure what it's called, Lock and Dam No. 1 (of the 29) is at Ford Parkway/46th street a couple of miles downriver. This one is lifting out of the pool above that to above the St. Anthony Falls shown here. At this point, the traffic is local barge traffic only, not the big multi-barge tows which run to Saint Paul and up the Minnesota River a bit.

We clattered across the cobblestones at the east end of the Stone Arch Bridge and stopped to fiddle with the suspension fork on Geneva's bike. While doing this, a guy came riding from the left and, appearing to show off, powered through the turn. The vestigal railway tracks took him by surprise, he had to adjust his turn wide, ran into the curb, flailed along for several feet and then crashed hilariously into the grass alongside the road. Geneva and I managed to contain our laughter and feign concern. He was unhurt, other than his ego, which had a compound fracture or two. His bike looked nice, too, some touring Cannondale.

We cruised on home, heading up Como through Northeast Minneapolis and into Saint Paul past the cemetery, the State Fair Grounds and through the crowded Como Park to home. We came in through the back gate, 22 miles after setting out. I put my stuff away and opened up a beer, one of a batch of British Bitter I brewed earlier in the year after a several-year-long hiatus from home brewing. If I never lose weight from cycling, it will be because of this:

Enjoying a post-ride brewski

Oh well, there's a long tradition, my father, an Englishman, used to ride his 3-speed Reynolds 531-framed roadster around Warwickshire and Worcestershire to, among other things, go drinking in pubs.

What a great day, and what a fun ride. Geneva and I did nothing Practical, it was sheer enjoyment. And I can't say enough about how fun this is with the kids. I don't think you really know what love is until you have children of your own. My son is great (he was at home writing a paper on the Tokugawa Shoguns of Japan, this school is relentless right to the end of the year); my daughter is terrific, and the relationship between father and daughter is something special. She's at a real sweet spot right now, too, a fully-engaged person and not a snotty teenager (yet)(maybe never, that would be great), and thinking nothing could be better than to go bike riding with Dad, 22 miles for an ice cream and taking pictures. I couldn't agree with her more.

This is going to be a terrific summer.


Nathan said...

Hello Matt,

Great post - great blog!

FWIW, I'd take Izzy's over GOC 'most any day. And, I have an Xtracycle but I'm not a nerd. Well, yes I am, but not because of that! ;)


michael said...

Awesome ride report and great pictures!