Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Riding to Duluth  Day Two

This is the second day of this trip. The First Day appears below.

I've got friends who get up really early, hit the road at 5:30AM, etc. Not us. I woke up shortly after 7:00 and let the kids sleep until 7:30. I figured they needed the rest. When they got up we decided to eat right away and went down for the Continental breakfast. This was actually OK. They had a couple of waffle irons and some waffle mix, so we could make ourselves waffles and syrup for breakfast. We ate these and some muffins and stuff and then went back and packed everything up. We left the room, checked out and then left.

8:47  departure from Days Inn, Hinckley
We rolled out of the Days Inn and headed across the Interstate and back through Hinckley. The most famous thing ever to happen to Hinckley was the Hinckley Fire of September 1, 1894. This whole area was heavily logged and the lumbermen would trim off the branches and stuff. This debris was left to rot. The summer of 1894 was very hot and this waste all dried out and on September 1 it caught fire. The result was a massive fire that lasted only four hours but completely destroyed six towns and burned out over 400 square miles. It also killed 418 people. This is all well-told in the Hinckley Fire Museum.

Matt at the Hinckley Fire Museum
Here I am in front of the Hinckley Fire Museum. The Atlantis is well-camouflaged for this building! I haven't been in for a few years but it's worth a stop if you're in the neighborhood. As we were taking this, the lady came by to open up for the day, but we had miles to do, so didn't linger.

9:00  Willard Munger trailhead, taking photos, 1.4 miles
Henry and Geneva at the Willard Munger trailhead
We didn't get far in the first twenty minutes. Here are the kids by the map of the Willard Munger State Trail. This goes 70 miles from here to western Duluth, all paved. It promised to be a better ride than yesterday with no highway riding and no metropolitan areas to have to clear out of.
Fisherman on Grindstone River
Almost immediately after starting we ran into this tableau, a man fishing by a small dam on the Grindstone River. We pressed on.
Kids Riding north on Munger Trail
Here Henry and Geneva ride side by side. We didn't see anyone on the trail for the first hour or two. It was actually chilly in the shady parts, warm in the sun. Much of the trail alternated between sun and shade like in the photo above. Geneva, who is a social creature, would spend time chattering away with Henry for a while, then drop back and chatter away with me. At one point, she was dropping back and Henry said, hey, you're abandoning me. Geneva called back, I like to spend time with all my men. We could be in trouble in a few years!

10:00  Two miles south of Finlayson on trail, 12.0 miles

A snack in Finlayson
We stopped about 10:15 for a half hour snack in Finlayson, where we ate a Clif bar and I bought some juice. Henry and I also had some locally-produced beef sticks. In this photo you can see the old Finlayson depot; I get the impression it's open sometimes, but it wasn't this morning.

11:00  on the Munger Trail north of Finlayson, 100 miles since departure, nearly 17 for the day
We got to 100 miles just at the top of a quick rolling bit of hills and, in keeping with Geneva's celebration of 50 miles yesterday, we all stuck our bottoms in the air and shook them.

Henry in distance south of Willow River
We didn't always ride right together. Here Henry is in the distance, Geneva close to me. We are south of Willow River on the trail at this point.
Geneva on Munger Trail
My small camera is fun. I decided that I shouldn't just have photos of my children's backsides, so just held the camera out at arm's length and took a few photos. This one worked nicely.
Matt on Munger Trail near Willow River
It worked for a self-portrait, too. You can see how lovely a day this was, the clouds kept the sun from being too intense. I have the Bell Metro's rear-view mirror folded away; I used it in traffic and when in front of the kids, otherwise kept it folded away. I like this folding feature.
Bonk Road
All cyclists who ride longer distances eventually have an episode of bonking. The funny thing is, this road is at the turnoff for Camp Heartland, where we picked up Geneva from the Diocesan Music Camp just over a week ago. I hadn't noticed it then, but you see more on a bike.

At about 11:30, we rolled into Willow River, 24.6 miles into the day. The kids went to the playground while I cruised up and down considering the eating choices. I decided on Peggy Sue's and went back to retrieve the children. Willow River is proud of its claim to fame.
Birthplace of Ernie Nevers
I wasn't even sure who Ernie Nevers is. I looked him up. He played for Stanford, then went professional for the Duluth Eskimos and then the Chicago Cardinals back in the 1920s and early '30s. He scored all 40 points (including kicking the extra points) in a 40-6 rout of the Bears in November 1929, a record that still stands. Now we know.

12:00  At lunch in Willow River

12:32  Leave Willow River
Henry retrieves pannier on Willow River bridge
Immediately upon departure, at the bridge over the Willow River, Henry's pannier came off again and slid along on the bridge. It would have been hilarious (now) if it had taken a bounce through the railings and into the drink. I can see why people would like, say, the Carradice or Ortlieb pannier attachments which close around the rack and won't bounce off. Here Henry has parked his bike and run back to get the pannier.

1:00  Sturgeon Lake, 29.17 miles
Some of these towns don't seem to amount to much. Sturgeon Lake was one of them.

2:00  North of Moose Lake, 37.25 miles
We traversed Moose Lake on city streets. The city park bathrooms were locked up and the beach not in use. School's not in yet; why is all this stuff closed? Geneva wasn't feeling great. We found a bathroom at a private campground adjacent to the city park, then moved on. We had a slow stretch as Geneva seemed to have something of a stomach ache. She felt bad about slowing us down and bravely pushed on. It was time for some more fatherly support and a hug. I love this girl. We pulled off in Barnum, just off the trail, where I got Geneva a Pepsi to see if that would settle her stomach. While turning off, she slipped and fell in sand at the turn but fortunately wasn't hurt, though I think it was demoralizing.

3:00  North of Barnum, 42.0 miles
Three o'clock found us stopped on the trail. Geneva was taking off her flourescent yellow jacket as the sun had come back out. Henry marked his territory in a bush and lathered on some more sunscreen and I adjusted Geneva's seat angle to see if it would be more comfortable. Everybody cheered up after this and we pushed on. There was a tunnel marked on some maps but it was just a short underpass under Highway 61. There was an older gentleman walking his bike in the tunnel, so we stopped to see if he needed assistance. Nope, he was just turning around on his daily ride. We chatted for a few minutes, then moved on to Mahtowa.

The kids saw the merry-go-round right away and pleaded for a Butt Break. I agreed and we stopped.
Kids on merry go round in Mahtowa
I don't think you ever see these in the Cities. This one might be as old as I am.
Henry laughing and hanging on to merry go round
How did people ever get hurt on these? Henry's laughing with delight in this photo as I've been spinning the thing really fast.
Mahtowa travelling library
Tuesday must be Library day in Mahtowa. Later, as the Munger trail passed under Interstate 35, I saw this Library heading north up the highway.

Henry with bandana on
Geneva took this picture of Henry shortly before 4:00 at a road crossing. Henry is very fair-skinned, like me, and susceptible to sunburn. We'd been slathering him with sunblock all along but he added a bandana under his helmet to protect his neck. It looked a bit goofy, but was a smart thing to do.

4:00  On trail, forget where, 47.5 miles

Geneva had to go to the bathroom and we were in the middle of nowhere (actually, near Atkinson, it turned out) when an auto body shop appeared. I told her it might be pretty dirty, but it was better than a bush, so we rode across the highway to the place and asked the three guys sitting there if my daughter could use their restroom. Sure, they said, and Geneva went in. Henry and I stood around and talked with these guys. They had a huge black dog named Samson who was very friendly; Henry scratched him the entire time we were there. I asked about all the wrecks; turns out they got them from everywhere, and a Honda sitting in the driveway had just come in from California. I was thinking it looked like a lot of really shitty drivers for such an unpopulated area. We talked about animals; my fervent desire to see a moose in the wild was not likely to be fulfilled here, but there were lots of bears. They repaired a lot of deer and bear hits to local cars. There were also a lot of bear hunting permits issued in this area. I'm not a hunter, but understand that even those who get a bear permit (by lottery) often don't get a bear. You have to work pretty hard at it. Geneva had come back out and was petting Samson as well. We wound down the conversation, offered profuse thanks as we weren't customers and likely never would be, re-crossed the highway, and rode on. Once we were going, Geneva told me that the bathroom was disgusting, but she was glad we stopped anyway.

5:00  Nearing Carlton, Minnesota, 57.8 miles

Atabout 5:15 we arrived in Carlton. Thanks to Dan's experience, we know not to carry on straight on a trail that goes to Wrenshall, but to jink left across the railroad tracks to the Munger Trail as it heads to Duluth. Carlton was the promised land; the old guy in the tunnel had said it was downhill from here. I had my suspicions about how downhilly it would be, but even so, gettting so near to Duluth was invigorating for the kids. We were going to make it! Henry and I snarfed down Clif bars in the picnic shelter in Carlton, Geneva just had half of hers. Recharged, we set out. Within a couple of miles we came to a bridge with lovely views of the Saint Louis River.
Saint Louis River east of Carlton
We stopped to take some photos. The lighting here isn't the most attractive, but you get a sense of the scenery. We've gone from the flat boggy land we've been in since Hinckley to rugged rocky terrain. The Saint Louis River is the waterway that flows into the west end of Lake Superior, and its estuary (if lakes can have estuaries) forms the harbor for the Twin Ports of Duluth (Minnesota) and Superior (Wisconsin).

Geneva on Munger Trail bridge over Saint Louis River
Geneva is beaming and proud here. She's going to make it! Mom had had her doubts, but we on the final leg into Duluth and the view from this bridge looked like a fairy tale, Geneva said. It was getting chilly and the persistent east wind was now something of a headwind so Geneva's got on her bright yellow cycling jacket. When in full sunlight these things must be visible from outer space.

6:00  On trail heading towards Duluth, 63.3 miles
We plugged on along the trail. I didn't know what the elevation drop would be but it was pretty clear that even a few hundred feet spread over 10 or 12 miles was going to be pretty gradual. Henry zoomed on ahead, weaving back and forth, racing along, then dawdling for us to catch up, even getting out of sight for a while. Geneva and plugged along. She was getting tired again and the lack of a dramatic downhill to go racing down was proving something of a disappointment.

If one of your goals in life is to meet statuesque blond beauties with great legs, you could do worse than to spend time on the Munger Trail from Carlton to Duluth. We met a fairly consistent oncoming stream of roller bladers clocking along up the slope at fast speeds and many were lovely young Nordic princesses. Geneva and I, plugging along at a slow 9-10 mph, were overtaken by a number of rollerbladers, some of them moving in tight lines perfectly in sync, arms behind their backs like speed skaters.

The trail was pretty enough, a relief from the flat monotony of the Hinckley-Carlton stretch, and there were a couple of pretty dramatic roadcuts where the rock had been blasted away to make room for the original railroad, but there weren't really any dramatic vistas, nothing like the final stretch into Duluth on Interstate 35 when you crest the hill and see Lake Superior laid out before you.

7:00  In Duluth, virtually at end of Munger Trail, 74.7 miles
Geneva stopped for a quick Butt Break right at 7:00, nearly 75 miles into the trip and, it turned out, only a few hundred yards from the end of the trail. We rode up to the end where Henry awaited. There was no real indication on how to get into Duluth and I didn't have a map with me yet, so we rode across the street to a parking lot to ask some rollerblader guys how to get downtown. We chatted for a minute; it emerged that we'd ridden in from Hinckley, which seemed unduly impressive to these guys considering they'd probably all overtaken us in the last couple of miles.

The answer to downtown proved pretty straightforward. We were at about 74th Avenue West. Lake Street, the one that goes across the famous lift bridge, was the baseline, and it was about seven miles away. All You Gotta Do is go left to Grand, the busy street a block away, and keep riding. We couldn't miss the lake and the lift bridge would become visible. It would be seven miles to Canal Park and then another two or three east to our hotel. I kind of wish they hadn't given the distances out loud, for Geneva in particular was crestfallen. We'd just ridden 75 miles and the downhill for the last 10 had proved pretty disappointing. Now we had another ten to go!

We set off for the most excruciating hour of the whole trip. Grand Avenue is busy and there are no marked bike lanes. What's more, it's under construction and narrows down to one lane each way for quite a while and the lanes closed off are not nice smooth asphalt we can easily ride down but dug-out pits of gravel a couple of feet deep. Geneva's feeling very tired. I put Henry up front with his new Blackburn Quadrant headlight while we all show blinking taillights. Duluth is in the basin of Lake Superior and although official sunset isn't for a while yet, we're into the shadows of the surrounding hills already.

We slogged our way down Grand, Geneva just keeping up an 8-9 mph pace. I tried a couple of parallel streets, hoping to avoid the traffic and construction of Grand, but they just kept dumping us back on Grand. We stopped at a closed gas station so Geneva could finish off her Clif bar, trying to get her some more energy. I think she was bonking again, poor girl, but I wanted us off the streets as soon as possible. West Duluth also isn't the most charming part of town; it was transmission shops and welding companies and warehouses, rough roads and rundown houses. At 20th and Superior my interest was piqued by the Seaway Hotel, which must have served as cheap accomodations for seamen, but which is now apparently a flophouse. When a hill loomed ahead, we moved a block over to Michigan Street. As it looked to turn into a virtual freeway at about 11th Ave West, a pedestrian bridge over the Interstate presented itself. I saw a flight of stairs on the other side but figured hauling our bikes down those was preferable to riding uphill onto a busy road.

8:00  Duluth bike path over I-35 just west of Canal Park area, 81.1 miles
We rode across the bridge and discovered an apprarently pretty new bike ramp down! Finally, a downhill worth the name! We coasted down that onto some bike paths which brought us to the Canal Park area. We stopped in front of the William A. Irvin, a retired ore ship now open as a museum.
Children at William A. Irvin just after 8PM
The light is fading fast, but here are the children just after 8:00 in front of the William A. Irvin. Geneva's managed a smile, Henry's looking a bit tired now. I think Geneva's second half of a Clif Bar is kicking in. The hotel is still about three miles away, but all we have to do is traverse this isthmus and then take the lakeside bike trail. No more traffic, no more uncertainty.

We rode over to the bike path and plugged along, dinging people with our bells. The Best Western Edgewater, where we were booked, is at 24th and London Road. The bike trail took us all the way there and even had a handy overpass over the railway track and Interstate. The path looks like it goes directly to the hotel, but came to an abrupt end at a chainlink fence. The hotel is undergoing a lot of construction at the moment as they add an enclosed waterpark, and we had to go through some grass and a Perkins and Holiday parking lot, then down a sidewalk so we could check in. I left the children outside and went in to get the keys. In full bike gear (sadly, I had my cycling jacket on so my Crash Test Dummy jersey wasn't visible) the desk attendant asked where I'd come from; I told her, and she was amazed. I pointed to my chidren waiting outside, and she was astounded. Again, I am surprised that people would be amazed about an adult doing it, but the kids' achievement merits respect.

8:37  Arrive Best Western Edgewater, 24th and London Road, 84.7 miles

The stats?
11 hours 50 minutes elapsed time
8 hours 9 minutes 51 seconds ride time
10.62 mph average, 23.4 mph maximum

The average speed was a disappointment. We'd been averaging more like 11.5 mph up until Carlton, but the leisurely pace down the final stretch to the end of the trail and then the wretched ride in traffic and construction had dragged it down.

We were tired. We dragged our bikes in. Fortunately, we had a balcony and could safely park two of them outside there. We ordered in delivered Chinese food from the China Cafe and cleaned up and watched tv. It was obvious on CNN that things in New Orleans were not going well, that levees had breached and the city was flooding. This seemed a big surprise to a lot of people. Hadn't it been obvious for a long time that the city sits in a depression and was inadequately defended? I guess not. Ironically, when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 took place, we were in England on vacation having fun; here New Orleans is getting inundated in what looks to be a huge, slow-motion disaster, and we're pedalling away in gorgeous weather at the opposite end of the river.

We went to bed shortly after ten. Cleaned up, in a hotel, with food in our tummies, everyone was happy again. The children were proud. I am proud of them. Henry's as strong as a horse, fast and uncomplaining, tolerant of the slower speeds we've ridden, happy to plug along with his sister or alone. He proved strong carrying a load camping to Baker Park; riding to church a couple of weeks ago, a 30 mile round trip, he didn't slow me down at all. He also likes his Trek quite a lot, and we may do another upgrade or two.

Geneva was brave. She had the least-suitable bike and is nearly two years younger than Henry. Both days were more than twice as far as she's ever ridden before, and I think she expended more energy than Henry and I and was more susceptible to running out of energy. Her seat was probably least-comfortable; I don't know if it's the seat or the riding position, but her bottom seemed to suffer the most discomfort. Before we do something like this again, I'd like to get her a more suitable bike, so will be keeping my eyes open.

If you can't tell, I love my children and I like them too. That's not the case with everyone. We stand on the cusp of teenage-hood, with Henry officially there already and Geneva not far behind. Maybe in a couple of years they'll be too cool to do things like this with Dad, maybe not. In the meantime, it's an achievement they can be proud of and look back on for years.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Riding to Duluth  Day One

The kids and I rode to Duluth.

We set out Monday morning and arrived Tuesday evening, having overnighted in Hinckley. I am writing these entries the following weekend, but posting them with the dates we rode. I kept track of where we were at the top of each hour. Ladle in some photos and here's how it went.

Matt with Atlantis right before departure
Me and my Atlantis. I got this frame in April, completed the buildout in June and just really like it a lot. This is a real relief as it's not a cheap bike, at least for me (though I see racing bikes in the local bike stores going to two and three times as much). It is a touring frame, made for long hours in the saddle over many miles carrying a substantial load. In this case, the load isn't that substantial; my wife Karla was going to spend a couple of days at the Dwelling in the Woods and then join us in Duluth, so was bringing nice clothes, extra underwear, etc. All we needed was cycling clothes, swimsuits and street clothes to get us from Monday morning through Wednesday afternoon, for which I figured a pannier each was plenty. I carried two of the panniers and a front bag, the tools and the pumps (I have this Zefal frame pump but don't like it much, so carried along the Blackburn Mammoth as well). I'm riding Rivendell's 700C X 28 Roly Poly tires.

Henry with Trek ready to go
Henry, aged 13, rode on his circa-1984 Trek 620 touring bike, updated as I've noted in other entries in the blog. His bike, a 24" frame, is the lightest of our three bikes. Henry carried his own pannier and a rack-top bag. He's also on 700C X 28 tires, some Michelins in his case.

Geneva with Novarra Bonanza ready to roll
Geneva, aged 11, rode a Novarra mountain bike. We got this for Henry three years ago. When we did Youth Cycling League last summer (2004), Henry proved nearly as fast as the kids on nice road bikes despite the beefy frame, knobby tires and suspension fork. To speed him up a bit, I put on higher pressure smooth-treaded 26 X 1.5 tires, and they're still on there. As the youngest rider and least-suitable bike, Geneva carried only a front bag with her own stuff in it (digital camera, rain jacket, Clif bars). This bike is Aluminum and presumably light but the downtube could be the mainspar of a jet and the whole thing is pretty beefy. We have a YCL Bianchi road bike she could have taken but she was not interested in it.

Three of us ready to go Monday morning
Here are all three of us!

8:56  We set off.
In a good indication, we hadn't gone more than a couple of hundred yards when Geneva turned to me and said, "Dad, you rock! This is going to be so fun!". Karla stood under a tree and watched us ride off.

9:00  Chatsworth and Roselawn, 0.6 miles
Geneva needs to stop and tuck in her shoelaces, which are snagging her chainring. The route we followed was one outlined by Dan, who did Duluth in a day in July 2004. We rode up Victoria, past Lake Owasso, over I-694 on Rice Street, then on Vadnais Boulevard, Centerville Road, the Goose Lake Road through the Gem Lake golf course where Henry and I played golf each Thursday all summer, and north on Otter Lake road.

10:00  Highway 96 and Otter Lake Road, 11.1 miles
We'd had bagels for breakfast. Henry said he was hungry. We decided to stop and have a snack when a suitable spot came along.

First snack at Otter Lake
10:18 - 10:27 First break, by Otter Lake, eat a Clif bar each.

11:00  in Hugo, MN at Subway, getting sandwiches. 19.6 miles.

I had neglected to bring a map with me for the first day's riding. In Hugo, I couldn't remember how far it was to the next town and there was a Subway right there, so we ordered sandwiches to take with us. We also got a couple of quarts of Gatorade, divvied up into water bottles, and some Peanut M&Ms at a gas station across the highway, then set off up Washington County's Hardwood Creek Regional Trail. This trail is on an abandoned railway right of way paralleling Highway 61. The weather was gorgeous, the winds generally light out of the WNW, so only slightly a headwind.

I'd bought Geneva some Andiamos (or similar) underwear to wear under any trousers and make them like bike shorts. I had also got her a pair of baggy black bike shorts. Ever the thorough girl, she was wearing regular undies, the Andiamos and the cycling shorts. "I like lots of padding, Daddy". Well, north of Hugo the wisdom of my recommendation to wear just the cycling shorts or the Andiamos and not ever the regular undies began to become clear. She was complaining and I said she could change right here on the trail--there was nobody in sight, there were groves of trees and bushes shielding the road and Henry and I could stand looking the other way. She decided this sounded good and we did it, mirrors folded up, arms folded across our chest while Geneva switched down to just cycling shorts. Much better! she announced. We rode on.

12:00  South outskirts of Forest Lake 26.5 miles
Lunch at the Forest Lake beach
12:10 - 12:50 shores of Forest Lake for lunch, 28.2 miles.

Just north of Forest Lake we entered Chisago County and the trail became the Sunset Prairie Trail. The trail was pretty nice. On an early Monday afternoon there were hardly any other trail users and we could ride two abreast. I took some pictures along the way.

Kids on trail north of Forest Lake

Geneva on trail north of Forest Lake
Geneva sometimes wore her hair in a pony tail and at other times let it hang loose so it would fly back and show how fast she was. For a while along here we maintained a 14 mph cruising speed.

1:00  southern Chisago County, 30.7 miles
Space Shuttle in Stacy
1:35 - 1:45 Stacy playground, 37 miles, nearly halfway. These small-town playgrounds still have merry-go-rounds, which the kids love, and they frolicked on the one here for a few minutes. There was a milling plant across the road giving off the smell of muffins. They also had this Space Shutte plaything in the playground.

2:00  north of Stacy on Sunset Prairie trail, 40 miles

2:40  in North Branch, end of trail, 45.2 miles.
The trail comes to an abrupt end in North Branch. We rode over a few blocks to a Casey's convenience store for more Gatorade and peanut M&Ms. Hurrican Katrina was pounding the Gulf, we're fighting a war in Iraq, Peak Oil is approaching and gas is $2.50 a gallon, but the citizens of North Branch aren't concerned. When we pulled up there was a ratty station wagon sitting empty but idling at the curb. A worn, scrawny middle-aged woman came out of the store, got in and drove off. A big Dodge Turbo-Diesel pickup pulled up in the space and the driver got out and went in the store, also leaving his engine running. Maybe they're proud of the low crime or something. I guess I'd turn my car off before going in (and it was about 75 degrees and there were no kids or animals in the vehicles that needed to be kept cool, it was just some pointless and thoughtless oil consumption). I was interested to see that North Branch has a Municipal Liquor Store. Some interesting Big Brother aspects there.

Our path would now take us up the old Highway 61 (the one Bob Dylan revisited) but which now has several different identities. Out of North Branch it is Chisago County 30, and off up this road we went, riding on the shoulder.

3:00  north of North Branch on County 30, 47.5 miles

Kids north of North Branch on County 30
It was pretty busy for a while. We generally went single file with me in back in my high-visibility Crash Test Dummy jersey.

We got to the 50-mile mark for the day at 3:15. Henry was ahead a ways but Geneva and I were rolling down a gentle hill on the southern outskirts of Harris. I yelled to her that we were right at 50 miles from home and she stood up on her pedals and waggled her bottom in celebration. We stopped for a quick Butt Break in Harris, then pressed on.

Henry fixes pannier in Harris
Henry's bike fell over off the kickstand and the pannier came off during our Butt Break in Harris. Geneva snapped this photo of him on her Canon A85 as he re-attached it.

4:00  Highway 30, southern outskirts of Rush City, 58 miles

We stopped for another Clif bar in Rush City, sitting in the shade next to their City Hall and swimming pool. We were feeling pretty pooped at this point, especially Geneva. We did a potty and Gatorade break at a gas station and I looked at a map to see what town was next and how far it was. I need to bring my own map next time! The highway became 361 north of Rush City. We also passed a Minnesota Correction Facility, visible in the fields just to the east.

5:00  on Highway 361 in southern Pine county, 62.5 miles
The shoulder suddenly improved at the county line. This was a relief. We were slogging along in this stretch. I decided later that Geneva's metabolism is different than Henry's and mine and that she was possibly bonking in here. Fatherly words of encouragement and a hug seemed to help plus I think the snacks kicked in.

6:00  in Pine City, 68.4 miles
North of Pine City the road got less busy but the shoulder remained in good shape. It's flat through here, something of a relief, and we plugged along with renewed good spirits, making up new words to the Beverly Hillbillys theme song.

Kids on Highway 361 north of Pine City
You can see the good-sized, good-condition shoulder. Also, the drivers are being very respectful here. I was fiddling with the camera while riding and hadn't bellowed at the children to go single file, the overtaking car is giving us room and the oncoming car has moved over to give him room. With the exception of one pickup of yokels near Rush City who yelled at Geneva and I and threw a ball at Henry, half a mile or more ahead, we had no motorist problems.

Kids on Highway 61 north of Pine City
We were cruising along about 6:15 on the highway once again known as 61. There was little traffic. As the day got later the shadows got longer and longer. As we went north we rode by a sheep farm with a flock of very vocal sheep who bleated away at us as we passed. There must have been a hole in the fence as there was a group of sheep munching the grass in the ditch on the west side of the road. In a car, I might have pulled up to the farmhouse nearby and told them about the roaming sheep and maybe helped them herd them back in which might have been good fun, but it was getting late, the sun was getting very low and I didn't want to get stuck out here in the dark.

7:00 Highway 61 over I-35, just south of Hinckey, 79.0 miles.
Just south of Hinckley, Highway 61 curves west over Interstate 35. Just after you go over that bridge there's a right turn onto Highway 23 into Hinckley.

We rode north up Highway 23 and saw a sign on the adjacent Interstate 35 that gave us much joy:
Hinckley 1 3/4 miles!
Hinckley one and three-quarter miles! Even so, our sore bottoms needed a rest.

Henry's bottom must feel fine
Henry seemed best-adjusted to his seat, or at least complained the least, and just waited by a sign for us.

Geneva rests on railway bridge outside Hinckley
Geneva may have had the least-comfortable seat. You know it's bad when a concrete highway bridge is more soothing than her saddle after 80 miles.

Me flexing mighty muscles near Hinckley
Geneva asked me to flex my muscles so she could take a shot. Gotta remember to suck in my gut next time! I've ridden more than 100 miles with a fully-loaded bike over hilly terrain in the past, so 80 miles on a lightly-loaded bike on flat land doesn't amount to much, but I don't think I've ridden more than 50 miles in a day in more than 20 years so even I am happy. My achievement is much more modest than the childrens'; I at least knew what we were in for.

We cruised happily into Hinckley in the deepening shadows. Geneva in particular was very proud and happy; she had had a miserable few miles a couple of hours before but now all doubts about her ability to make it were gone. She had briefly entertained the idea of contacting Karla and getting picked up, but now that she'd made Hinckley she was determined to make it to Duluth tomorrow. We turned east onto Highway 48 which took us across Interstate 35, executed a left turn in traffic and rode into the Days Inn parking lot and up to the front door. It was 7:38PM.

7:38  Hinckley Days Inn, 83.1 miles

The stats?
10 hours 34 minutes elapsed time
7 hours 42 minutes 58 seconds ride time
10.94 miles per hour average, 27.7 mph maximum

The racers out there are not going to be too impressed with an average speed just under 11 miles an hour or nearly three hours of rest time over the trip, but I am ever so proud of the children. Geneva's longest ride to date had been to church and back, about 30 miles; Henry's was the return trip from Baker Park in July, 43 miles in blazing hot weather with a load of gear. Geneva had never ridden 35 miles in a day, Henry had never done even 45, and here they'd cracked off 83.

I checked in. We rolled the bikes into the room. For all the tiredness and fatigue of the ride, the kids could hardly wait to go for a swim, so we changed into swimsuits and had a good half an hour of splashing around. I soaked in the Jacuzzi for a while. We showered off the chlorine and suddenly discovered we were all starved.

We wandered across the highway to Tobie's to get dinner and all got the half-pound Tobie burger. Geneva devoured hers and finished first. The waitress asked what we'd been up to and when I said we'd ridden bicycles up from Saint Paul she mouthed "Oh my God" and asked a few questions. Both kids noticed this, and it gave them additional reinforcement that it had been a good day. The waitress later asked how old the kids were; I told her 11 and 13, and she said she'd guessed 11 and 14 when telling the kitchen staff about us. Henry and Geneva were impressed that she'd told the kitchen folks. Frankly, I was a little surprised that it was a big deal to her; the MS 150 ride overnights in Hinckley and there must be hundreds of people who ride that. I'm guessing some of them are even pretty young.

We went back to the hotel, got a rollaway for Henry as the full-sized beds were a bit small for sharing, especially with a kid like him who steals covers and kicks like a mule in his sleep. We watched a bit of CNN where the initial news on Hurricane Katrina looked ok, it had weakened a bit and not hit New Orleans directly. I also watched the Duluth news to see what the weather would be like; it looked like another gorgeous day in store for us. It didn't take long for us to drift off.

You can read about Day Two as well.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Groundhog Day

Groundhog outside kitchen
I think this is a groundhog. I was out in the garage working on changing my Yakima rack over from Subaru-sized to Avalon sized, an amazingly tedious and lengthy job, when I saw this fellow up by the house. He soon disappered down a hole by our back patio. I was able to get this photo of him out our kitchen window; I think he's a groundhog. Aren't gophers smaller? And beavers have flat tales, badgers are bigger with stripes, skunks stink, we've got squirrels and chipmunks already, but this is new fauna for us.

I think he's taking advantage of our cat's disability. She was a ruthless hunter, keeping the rabbit population well in check, the squirrels up the trees and the chipmunks at bay, then a month or so ago disappeared for eight days only to come dragging in at half her previous weight, an open wound on her leg and, the vet said, a broken hip socket like she'd been shot with a pellet gun, though there was no pellet there. Sophie's making a decent recovery but will never be the fast and skillful hunter she was previously and all of a sudden our yard is a Garden of Eden for the little critters. Squirrels are one thing, but this is getting ridiculous!

I did finally get the rack all done but it took hours. I had to go to wider bars on the Avalon (58" versus the Subaru/Saab 48") with new Q-clips, new bar spacing and now, capacity for four bikes, although one has to go on backwards. Jim in Oil is for Sissies noted a customer surprised at a $700 Yakima rack setup; I'm not surprised at all. You get into this stuff and you have enough invested you hate to abandon it, even though the 48" bars/rain gutter mounts/ski holders I first bought are no longer in use.

Geneva and I rode to our old church today, a mere 11.3 mile round trip. It was a beautiful day to ride (or squander hours fitting a Yakima rack). It's a nostaglic trip for me because when Henry first learned to ride a bicycle, on a Saturday, the following Wednesday night we rode to church, 5.5 miles one way. He plowed along down Pierce Butler on a small (but heavy!) red single speed Trek Mountain Lion, my little red-headed five-year-old, and just thought it was the greatest thing and was disappointed that he couldn't ride home in the dark. Now I ride the same route with my increasingly tall and lovely eleven-year-old daughter and she thinks riding with Dad is pretty terrific. Bikes are great for many things, low emissions, low oil consumption, less congestion, freedom, speed, sightseeing, transportation, but they also are a marvelous thing to do with your children.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Wheeeeee!, in Dutch

In today's Slate Seth Stevenson writes from Amsterdam, where he is absorbing the culture and wondering if he'd like to move there. The first thing he talks about is the bicycles.

One night, strolling in the evening air, I happened by a theater as a play was letting out. A crowd of distinguished Amsterdammers poured onto the sidewalk. The men wore blazers and ties, the women wore dresses and cardigans. Most of these theater-goers were in their 50s and 60s, with wrinkles and bifocals and graying beards.

It looked like a scene you might witness any night in Manhattan, when a throng of well-dressed New Yorkers emerges from a downtown playhouse. But there was a key difference: The New Yorkers would stride toward the curb with one arm in the air, hailing a taxi. The Amsterdammers, by contrast, were unlocking their bicycles from nearby racks, hopping up on the pedals with a little two-step, and riding away.

I can't tell you how absurd it looked—and how utterly gleeful it made me—as these older couples, in prim evening wear, mounted their bikes and rode side-by-side into the night. They whooshed past me, pedaling with ease, and their conversations carried on undisturbed. The women's dresses fluttered about their ankles; the men's cigarette smoke trailed behind them.

"There's something about riding a bike that makes you feel like you're 5 years old," my American friend Carey, who lives and works here in Amsterdam, said to me. Indeed, these proper Dutch couples outside the theater seemed to morph, before my eyes, into bouncy little children. I half-expected the ladies to shriek, "Wheeeeee!" as their bikes picked up speed and rounded a corner out of sight.

The full article is here. There's an accompanying slideshow with some bike photos in it, too.

I've never been to Amsterdam but I know the Koga-Miyata site, with their Dutch utility bikes (look under the Town and Country collection), has some intriguing utility cycling machines. The closest I've seen in this country are the Breezer Bikes, of which I like the Uptown model, though of course they don't make it large enough for the likes of me.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Please, No Autographs

I went to the Bike In at the Bell Saturday night and had the novel and, for me, unprecedented, experience of being recognized by someone I had never met. I was getting my water bottle from my Atlantis in the bike rack when this guy says, are you Two Cities Two Wheels? I am! He saw the tall Atlantis and saw the tall me to go with it plus I haven't exactly been bashful about running my own photo. He has a blog, too, it's Mello Velo, and he integrates photos into his as well! He also had a really nice bike. The crowd was generally young and funky, the bikes were probably half fixed-gears, so I thought my Atlantis might be the snazziest bike there, but he and his wife had Curt Goodrich custom bikes with S&S frame couplers. I yearn after these couplers, I only regret that it would be probably a thousand bucks or more to retrofit them into the Atlantis and repaint it. He also had the Nitto brazed water bottle cages, nice Brooks seat, et al, so, ok, maybe my Atlantis was the third or fifth or tenth or fiftieth-nicest bike there. I still love it. I kept an eye on it when it was still light out and saw several people looking at it in what I took to be admiring terms (they're probably actually thinking, why did he use a yellow zip-tie for this computer cable, it looks like crap, why's he have a kickstand and bell, how old is this seat! and what kind of freak rides a bike this size?).

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this event. It turned out to be a very young crowd, lots of perforations and tattoos, lots of what might be called Bikerz. Four bandz played. This seems to me to be a mistake. Musicians love to hear themselvez sing and they all sing two songz too many. With four bands, this is eight songs too many. By the time the last band was getting towards the end of their set (actual announcement: "Hey, the movie fans are getting antsy, so we'll just play two more songs!" met with scattered cries of "Movie!" from the crowd, but we still got the two songs oh boy) the moon was rising over the Armory. The movies didn't start until about 10:30, an hour or more after it would have been possible to start them and I had the sense that I wasn't the only one there wishing for the cinema, just like when I sit through all the stupid ads at a movie theatre.

I passed the time drinking a gin and tonic and eating popcorn. We'd been up to Willow River that day to retrieve Geneva from a Diocesan Music Camp and I'd had a half-pound hamburger at Tobie's in Hinckley at 2PM, so wasn't that hungry. They weren't selling gin and tonics, I took my own. I own a couple of the excellent and possibly legendary and now virtually unobtainable Jong Won JSB-500s (as written up on the Bicycle Coffee Systems site) which are thought of mostly as thermal bottles for coffee but which also work great for cold drinks. I can make 1.5 gin and tonics into it and it'll stay cold for hours. When I got home at nearly midnight, for example, the liquid was all gone but I poured out five surviving ice cubes. This makes it extremely convenient to take your own libations. While partaking I admired the crowd, their youth, their beauty and their tattoos. There was a smattering of older folks (like my ancient self) and families and it seemed to me these were the people most likely to have dressed properly. Years of Perseid meteor shower observing has taught me that it can get surprisingly chilly even on mid-August nights, once the dew settles. I had on a wool shirt and long pants. Many people had just shorts and t-shirts and I could see jacket-sharing going on and people leaving.

The bands carried on. I liked the one with the cello even if they played two songs too many.

When they finally started the movies it was a mixed bag. There was a clever animation at the beginning. It was hindered by not having sorted out the sound system yet. One of the independent films was with a camera mounted to catch a bit of the front wheel and the view as the bike rode around. I deeply love unusual camera angles, and liked that. A couple of others were clever to varying degrees. The technical threshold to make a lip-synced film is pretty low these days and a couple of the shorts seemed kind of weak to me. There was a pretty bizarre safety film called One Got Fat from 1963. It was striking both for the weird ape-children and for the surprisingly decent advice; don't ride against traffic, don't ride on the sidewalks, use signals, lock your bike up, maintain your gear, ride like you're a car, be alert. It looked like Effective Cycling set in Planet of the Apes. It was also odd how the ongoing slaughter of these children seemed to faze the survivors not a whit; Stanislaw got run over by a steamroller? Oh well, on to the picnic!

The Aeolian movie struck me as a bit daft; these people put on what appeared to be white plastic garbage bags with holes cut in them then rode around New York as the wind inflated the bags. It looked like the Parade of Molars ("Here are your teeth after flouridation!").

I stayed until about 11:30, then gathered my things, retreived the bike, turned on my lights and headed out. About half the people had already gone by then, many driven off by the chill, I think. Even at this late hour I ran into another cyclist on the Intercampus Transitway on the way home.

Karla asked about it in the morning. I told her about the bands, how they'd gone on too long, how they loved to hear themselves. All musicians love to hear themselves, she said, otherwise they wouldn't be performers. Then she said the trouble with rock musicians is that it's too easy. Twenty minutes of music is nothing, set off the drummer, go through your three chords and repeat as necessary. Think of all the work it took to do a recital, she said, or how much the choir has to practice for a Sunday morning. It's too easy to drag on with most rock music.

Karla's an excellent musician (but a timid and reluctant cyclist, darn), she has a Masters in Piano Performance and was well on her way to her Doctorate when children intervened. She taught at a college in Iowa for several years and was Faculty Accompanist so knows well the work it takes to regularly perform live music. And, although there may seem little in common between the pierced and tattooed rabble up on the Bell stage and Karla on a Sunday morning directing from the organ or piano, she plans, rehearses and performs two services forty weeks a year and one a week over the summer. We're all over live music, I just think the Bell event could have used somewhat less of it. Having said all this, the pierced hordes are not alone in their predilection for running long; at the Diocesan Music Camp earlier in the day the various groups did their things and just when I thought, that was nice, what fun, time for lunch, they announced that now they were going to do a production of "The Wiz" and off we went for another hour. Of course, I tend to write long so know the temptation! (But you're still with me! One more paragraph!)

I still wouldn't mind seeing all the movies. Maybe for most of the crowd 10:30 til midnight seems like a reasonable time frame to watch the flicks after spending three hours in the damp grass, but for boring middle-aged people like myself it's getting kind of late when I have to ride home afterwards. A bit less music up front, a 9:30 start to the flicks, and done by 11:00 (maybe more bands afterwards for the kids?) would work better for me. Still, I admire and aplaud the effort to put this together and recognize that I'm not the core audience.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Twenty Five Years Ago in Cycling History

Matt in Oxford 1980
I don't know the precise date of this photo, but August 18, 1980, would be about right, as it's near the end of that trip and I was home by the 24th. This is me, with hair, with my Motobecane Grand Record in Oxford, laden with gear from a summer of biking and travelling around in the U.S. and the U.K. My buddy Holmes took this picture; that's his bike behind mine. Notable in this photo would be the Brooks Professional saddle, which I have on my Atlantis now, and the Phil Wood front hub, which Paul just built into a new front wheel and which also serves on the Atlantis. There's something satisfying about having 25- and 30-year old parts on the bike. When Henry and I rode to Baker Park in early July, I used the same panniers and sleeping bag from this photo as well. Notable also are the silk sew-ups (tubular tires) I rode that summer, 290g Clement Campionato del Mundo Setas. I even have fenders, English Bleumels ones in this case; they went on for this trip and I've had fenders on my bikes most of the time since. My thinking hadn't evolved far enough for me to have a kickstand yet, but one thing at a time!

If you're deeply interested, you can read more about this bike and summer here.

Bankrupt Chinese Bike Company

This article about the bankruptcy of a Chinese bicycle company due to slumping demand as people move to cars is interesting. There are many ramifications of all this, from demand for concrete, steel and oil to pollution and global warming.
There's a thousand new cars each day on the streets of Beijing alone. (This is a dramatic figure, but on the other hand, I wonder how many new cars there are in the metro Twin Cities area each day). This is from the Times of London, for which one of my cousins writes.

Booming economic cycle drives a giant of the road into bankruptcy
By Jane Macartney in Beijing

CHINA BICYCLE, one of the biggest manufacturers and the largest exporter in the country, went into bankruptcy this week, a victim of the growing Chinese love affair with the car.

The company, based in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, has an annual production capacity of more than three million bicycles, but has fallen foul of a dramatic slump in domestic demand and fierce competition from Chinese rivals in the overseas market.

It will hardly surprise the Chinese cyclist, who has become an increasingly endangered species in cities where once the two-wheeled commuter was king of the road.

In Beijing alone, a thousand new cars take to the streets each day. Figures for cyclists are more difficult to come by, reflecting the lack of interest by authorities in what was once the main mode of transport.

Beijing used to be overwhelmed by cyclists, with one lane of every road set aside for them. Cycle lanes survive in Beijing, but only just. They are now crowded with cars that edge the brave few cyclists on to the pavement. Cyclists have become almost an oddity, although knife sharpeners still ride the narrow lanes and the leak-fixer flaunts his services on street corners.

The rise of the car has generated another hazard for the beleaguered pedaller: rampant pollution. For the past two weeks Beijing has sweated under a pall of smog. The air has turned brown. Visibility has been barely 200 yards. Skyscrapers have been enveloped by a thick choking mist. The skyline has simply disappeared.

Environmentalists say that clogged traffic in a city divided by a few main roads into a patchwork of tiny lanes weaving through near-unnavigable neighbourhoods is the main cause of the smog, which is exacerbated by pollution from coal-burning power plants and by a lack of funds to update electricity generation in Beijing and other big cities from coal to cleaner fuel such as natural gas.

Environmental authorities say that they have done everything that their budget allows to improve the air. Yu Jie, an expert with Greenpeace in the capital, said: “Now it is very difficult to do more.”

For days officials have been praying for wind. Their prayers were answered when heavy rains and thunderstorms blew across Beijing for 24 hours, sweeping away the filthy air that had hung over the city for nearly a fortnight. Fewer cars and more bicycles would help. But Shanghai has banned bicycles from main thoroughfares in an effort to modernise the city and improve traffic flow.

Consultants preparing Beijing for the 2008 Olympics are discussing banning cyclists from main streets unless they can be trained to obey traffic regulations.

Old habits may die hard with cyclists. Most are accustomed to ruling the road but are well aware that recent laws brought in very severe penalties and fines for any driver of a motor vehicle who so much as touches a commuter travelling under his own steam.

However, the internal combustion engine seems destined to win, as cars multiply at an unprecedented rate.

The direct article link is here but I don't know how long this will work.

They're already having bad pollution over there and they are just starting into the automobile buildup. One wonders if they'll have the sense to compel cleaner cars or if compliance with those sorts of dictates will be poor and the country will become a big traffic-choked stinking cloud. One also wonders about the geopolitical ramifications of this, the crowding, traffic, oil demand and pollution. What's the old curse? May you live in interesting times?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Wrenching Change

I was down in Iowa over the weekend for a high school reunion and to see my father. I did a bit of riding, which I will report on separately, and also some bike work at my friend Paul's in Cedar Rapids. That's the subject of this entry.


Most of the work we did to Henry's bike, a 1984 Trek 620 touring bike. (You can see the original brochure for it here on the excellent Vintage Trek Bikes site). While the details follow, we basically switched it to 700C wheels with new tires and an eight-speed cassette (vs. 27" tires with a 6-speed Helicomatic hub), installed wider handlebars and new brake levers, and spread the rear dropouts to 135mm.

Here are the gory details.

  • New Wheels. I've written previously about the Helicomatic hub that Henry's Trek 620 came with. It was an early French attempt at a cassette hub and had a number of issues. Henry's was that the freewheel pawls stopped catching, so that he couldn't apply any power with his pedals. Meanwhile, I had a nice modern hub lying around, a Shimano Deore LX cassette hub that came with my original 1996 Marin Pine Mountain rear wheel, which began breaking spokes in May due to, I was told, corroded nipples. I'd bought a new wheel and cut up the old one; the hub was fine, and I figured it would work for Henry better than trying to resuscitate the Helicomatic.

    Paul had bought some Mavic rims and built Henry's rear wheel while I sat there fiddling with my spoke tensions. Afficiandos might notice that Henry's wheel is 4-cross lacing on the cassette side and 1-cross on the other side and wonder if Paul, an engineer, had done some extensive torque and stress analysis to arrive at this nuanced choice of lacings; actually, it happened to be the spoke sizes he had lying around.

  • Eight-speed cassette Paul built-up an eight-speed cassette. I was busy either moving tires around or reading the Gospel according to Grant (back issues of the Rivendell Reader Paul had sitting around). Why don't we make this a 650B, I'd ask, wishing I had wool seersucker socks and cotton panniers tied to my bike with broken shoelaces. Paul made some fuss about using a rare (or so he told me) 16 gear cog in the cassette. Yeah, whatever, want another beer?

  • Spread the dropouts Putting the rear wheel in with its mountain hub meant that we were going to have to spread the dropouts from a 130mm spacing to a 135mm spacing. Initially we thought, what the hell, let's just wedge the wheel in there but the stays weren't moving. Time to spread 'em.

    I'd never done this before, but Paul has. Note that this only really works with steel frames; your aluminum or carbon frames are intolerant of this technique. Now, you can go to your local bike store and ask them to do it. Or, you can do what we did, do it ourselves. Paul had the brilliant idea of using a carpenter's Jacobsen clamp to spread the dropouts. These are the clamps made of two blocks of wood with two threaded rods going through them. The nice thing is, you can tighten them in parallel. Or, in our case, spread them in parallel, using the threaded rods to move the blocks apart rather than closer together. At the medium-small size we used, one of the threaded rods goes right through the dropouts, keeping everything beautifully aligned.

    It took a lot of spreading. Steel frames have a lot of give. We had to spread it to 170mm to get it to return to a 135mm resting spacing. Once it was there, we popped the wheel in and Voila!, a new rear wheel. Again, if you happen to have an old, narrow-spaced aluminum or (more unlikely) carbon frame, DO NOT TRY THIS!

  • New Handlebars Henry's handlebars seemed awfully narrow at 36cm. Paul found some alloy 44cm on clearance for $10. These were black, but happily they were out of black and sent the more expensive silver ones for the same price. I preferred silver anyway. As is my practice, I left the bars unwrapped so Henry can see if the brake lever position is to his liking. We'll wrap it once he's content with the bars and lever positions.

  • New Brake Levers The Trek had some nice-enough Dura-Ace brake levers but the hoods were in wretched shape. Nashbar had some deal on cheap aero levers, $6 for a pair with two sets of hoods. Shoot, that's cheaper than buying replacement brake hoods alone! Henry now has aero levers and less cable clutter.

    The requisite Project of Infinite Fiddliness arose here. This frame, a 24" size (61cm), is a bit big for Henry and we don't have much stem showing. With the aero brake levers, this meant that the cable was taking a very sharp turn into the top of the front reflector bracket which also served as a cable hanger. Paul suggested that we use a different hanger, one that hung down a bit and so mitigated the sharp turn. But there's no barrel-adjuster. We hemmed and hawed, then decided to tap the dropped hanger for the cable adjusting barrel. Paul has a metric tap set, and he spent a few minutes drilling and tapping this and replacing the old one, which required removing the aluminum locknut of the Stronglight Bernard Hinault tapered-roller-bearing headset. I helpfully read excerpts from the Rivendell Reader during this. Can't have too many interviews with Japanese handlebar makers! After about 20 minutes, it was all back together and the cable bend was much more pleasing. Ahhh!

    Paul had a set of Nashbar brand cantilever brakes he'd bought for $3.96 (for all four!) he tried to flog to me but I pointed out that these were about a buck a pound and Henry wouldn't want them.

  • Tidy up kickstand. I'd wrapped the chainstays in old inner tube when I installed the kickstand. This looked pretty crappy. Paul got out some double-sided carpet tape and bits of thin foam and applied this to the kickstand plates directly, then we reinstalled it. Looks much nicer.

  • Tidy up reflector. The reflector mount on the rear rack rattled. A bit of shim work and it's nice and quiet.

  • New Tires I put on some Michelin 700C X 28 reflective sidewall tires I got from REI for $20 each. They actually look ok in daylight, and show two big white hoops from the side at night when a light shines on them. Also, they're the same size as my tires so a single spare tube can work for both of us.

I worked on my Atlantis, too. The main change was in the wheels, where a new front wheel went on built up on my 1977 Phil Wood front hub radially-laced into a Mavic rim.

  • New front wheel. In May, I had my old 1977 Phil Wood hub's bearings replaced. I bought these hubs, built my own wheels and rode them through late college and into the early post-college years, my heaviest bicycling time. I have some nostalgia for the hub, having ridden it in many states and three countries, and it feels nice to use it again. Paul built the front wheel up before I came to Cedar Rapids and it's my first radial-spoked wheel. It ought to be pretty beefy, with 36 2mm spokes. He hadn't asked about how to lace it ahead of time so I of course spent a day and a half whining about how it was going to rattle my teeth out and make my vision blurry while he extolled the many obvious and excellent virtues of radial spoking. As usually happens in these debates, once I went and rode the wheel there was no difference whatsoever from the 3-cross wheel I had on before. I am only using the Phil front hub because the rear is a 120mm freewheel hub rather than a 130/135mm cassette.

  • True, dish and tension both of the Harris wheels, my rear and the front going to Henry's bike. I'd heard some twangs from the rear wheel on the Atlantis, one of the wheels I'd bought from Harris, and suspected the spokes, which felt loose to me. Knowing that Paul has a Park truing stand and a spoke tensionometer, I didn't fiddle with it until I got to his house. Sure enough, the spokes were pretty loose and the wheel wasn't dished correctly. That's what you get for buying a set of $129 wheels. Using the truing stand and tensionometer, I pulled the wheel over where it belongs, got the spoke tensions up where they need to be and trued the wheel. I did this to the front wheel as well, which wasn't quite centered on the axle and also had loose spokes. These changes also let me get the brakes in closer. When we rode to the Starlite Lounge Sunday afternoon for golf, burgers and beer I got that delightul first 50 feet of plink-pling-pling-twang of new wheels settling in.

  • Tidy up kickstand. My Atlantis's kickstand was as shabby-looking as Henry's, so we did the same carpet tape and foam thing. I was hauling these bikes around standing up in the back of my pickup truck on their kickstands and secured with bungee cords. When I went back to my Dad's in Des Moines and lifted out the Atlantis, a piece fell off. It turned out to be a piece of the cast-aluminum kickstand that a spring pressed against. I fiddled with the kickstand and a couple of more bits fell out. Aluminum is more prone to fatigue failure than steel, and this apparently got fatigued and broke (keep this in mind if you are thinking about spreading an aluminum frame). I took the kickstand off and then nearly dropped the bike the first time I tried to stand it up in the middle of the garage. I bought a new kickstand, and installed it when I got home using double-sided carpet tape faced with snippets of chamois.

  • Extend frame pump to fit in Atlantis. I got a Zefal number 4 frame pump, the biggest they make. With the Atlantis's 68cm frame, the top tube is really long and the frame pump was too short. Paul suggested added some black PVC around the pump shaft to space out the spring and now the pump fits.

Are these bikes done yet? Nope. Henry's old Sachs-Huret Duopar Eco rear derailleur was highly-thought of in its time, but it doesn't have the travel to shift all eight cogs all the time. I figure I'll put on a Shimano derailleur and then some Ultegra indexed bar-end shifters and Henry can have indexing across all the speeds. My bike is in good shape, I might put on beefier tires for city riding, having suffered a pinch flat in Des Moines. An Esge double-legged kickstand would be nice, too, but there's no rush.

This is part of the joy of cycling, this farting around with your bike, but it's also a concern in terms of wide acceptance of bikes. It's one thing for me to think so hard about all these aspects of the bike and work to optimize spoke tensions, gearing, etc. but it's something of a pain to people who aren't into bikes. I've seen plenty of squeaky rustbuckets riding around town; I guess it's good that bikes are simple enough to work even at far-from-optimal setups, but it also means plenty of people aren't having as much fun or as good an experience as they could have because the gear isn't set up as well as it ought to be. I have to say that cars have it all over bikes here; modern cars require nearly no attention or maintenance to run trouble-free for years, where bikes are more likely to suffer flat tires, have wheels go out of true, shifters drift out of adjustment and brakes wear out of tolerance. Getting your hands dirty is either a source of quiet pleasure or just an annoyance, depending on your attitude, and not everyone's going to begin enjoying sitting around listening to the radio, drinking beer and plinking spokes to arrive at optimum tensions.


Anyway, that's it. I didn't take any photos of us working in Paul's basement with his wall full o'bikes. I'm short of Project Buddies in the Twin Cities so it's great to spend several hours plugging away on incremental bike improvements virtually nobody will notice while happily insulting each others' bikes, gear, tools, etc.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Swing Bridge

I am on the Supervisory Committee of a credit union, which means that I (and some others) in effect act as the internal auditor. The head office is in Inver Grove Heights and I spend half a day down there once a month. I've never ridden down there so thought I'd try it and see how long a commute that would be.

I set off Saturday morning about 7:40. It was a beautiful morning.
Cathedral of Saint Paul
There was no traffic coming, so I stopped in the middle of the road to get his photo of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Paul. It's a very impressive church. I briefly sang in their choir when we first moved here many years ago but at the time I was travelling quite a bit and couldn't make all the practices, so dropped out.
I went on down into downtown, took a left and took the Wabasha bridge.
Wabasha Bridge Bike Lane
This is my preferred way across the Mississippi in downtown Saint Paul. The bridge is pretty new and has this lovely bike lane. This is looking south from the north end of the bridge.
Ducks by the Marina from Wabasha bridge
This is one of the downtown marinas. A pride of ducks was paddling amidst the boats.
Across the river, I rode up to Concord and then took Robert Street to Arlington, then moved over to Oakdale and headed south. I liked this commercial building.
Midwest Plastics
I especially like the fake oil well in front of the building. It was a symbol of prosperity when it was installed. One wonders how it will be seen in future.

I got to the credit union. It took almost exactly 1 hour. Nothing was open this Saturday morning, so I went and took a leak in the bushes, rode through the parking lot, getting rattled by the rumble strip, and decided to go look at the J.A.R. bridge. I couldn't remember exactly where this was, but thought it was 77th street (wrong, it is 66th). I rode down the bike trail along Highway 52 to 80th street, then headed east. Figuring I might get hungry, I rode through the drive-through at MacDonalds to get myself an Egg McMuffin. Well, not only do left turn signals not respont to bikes, MacDonald's drive-throughs don't either. There was a sign saying if we were impaired or needed assistance ordering, pull to the first open window, so I did. I got my Egg McMuffin and a large OJ and went over to a park across the street out to a little island that isn't but should be called Goose Shit Island, where I ate my breakfast.

I rode on down to Concord, then turned north. At 66th I turned right to get to the bridge. The road has a dirt berm across the street and signs saying the road is closed. I walked the bike over this and rode gingerly down the road, a road with an amazing density of broken glass on it. One guy came the other way, walking his dog. The bridge was open until June 1999 and you had to pay a 75 cent toll to go across; I have read it was 30 cents for a bicycle. A routine state-mandated inspection that June by HDR Engineering Inc. and Parsons Brinckerhoff found enough structual problems to close the bridge.
JAR Bridge toll house
The toll house is extensively vandalized and the approach to the bridge overgrown.
JAR Bridge approach road
This is a swing bridge, but you have to ride out to the swinging part. The bridge carried both a roadway and train rails; the tracks were on the upper level, the road below. I gather that there had not been rail traffic since 1980 on the bridge. It looks very much like the set for a rock video, crumbling old infrastructure. Where the side boards are still intact they are heaving adorned with graffiti, much of it pretty juvenile, announcing that various people are gay or sluts. I hadn't been here in years, having driven across a couple of times after reading about it in Richard "Fred" Arey's 1995 Twin Cities Bicycling, in which it was Ride 32, Patti Rocks the River, named after a 1988 movie Patti Rocks, which had a scene featuring the bridge.
JAR Bridge from roadway
The swinging bridge structure is open to allow river traffic through and has a couple of cables holding it in position. There is a sign on it with its name, the J.A.R. Bridge, which stands for Joan and Allen Roman, of Burr Ridge, Illinois. These folks bought it in 1982. After the bridge was closed, there were hints of reopening, possible sales, etc. The owners tried to get the county to pay $193,000 for a full engineering inspection with the understanding that there were some potential buyers who would spend $1 million or more to fix it up and reopen it. The county turned this down in October 2000 and I don't think there's been much activity since then. The Polish Union USA Fraternal Journal offered condolences to Joan in its July/August 2004 issue on the death of her husband Alan, so there may be other things on the company's mind. Early on, there was hope to reopen the bridge, especially for the 2002-2008 duration of the Interstate 61/494 bridge rebuilding, but six years have come and gone, the I-494 bridge project is well underway, and whatever rude shock the closed bridge must have been for local communters one day in June 1999 has certainly long since dissipated into new commuting patterns.

JAR Bridge center
On the east bank is the Ashland-Marathon oil refinery, one of two in the area. You can see it a bit beyond the center pivoting structure of the bridge.
Barge at refinery from JAR Bridge
There was a tow moored just downstream. The roadway to the end of the bridge has you pretty much out in the middle of the river. It feels kind of lonely; it would be pretty sinister late at night. I rode back down and past the toll house, then walked over the worst of the broken glass and the berm. If the bridge doesn't get sold and repoened, the counties (Washington and Dakota) will probably get stuck with it, the Coast Guard will more than likely want it removed as a hazard to navigation, and it'll cost the counties $1.5 to $2 million to remove. They say they'll go after J.A.R. but I'm guessing they aren't that well-off. I also read that the Minnesota Department of Transportation noted that the Saint Paul Park road had been abandoned, with this official notice: "3rd Ave (3rd St to JAR bridge) summer/fall 04 — permanent closure Closed — Roadway vacated to Marathon-Ashland".

You do wonder about the decision process to buy this thing in the first place. The bridge was carrying about 2,000 cars a day at the time it closed, about $550,000 revenue a year at $0.75 each. It wasn't somewhere we ever went, though I crossed the bridge a couple of times just out of interest to see where it was. For bicycles, at least those down in Saint Paul Park and Inver Grove Heights, I would think it would have been a useful link since, after 20 or so crossings between Coon Rapids and Saint Paul, there's not another bikeable crossing between the Robert Street bridge in downtown Saint Paul and the bridge in Hastings. When the current Interstate 494 bridge construction is done there will be a bike/pedestrian sidewalk with some affiliated trail access on that bridge, which will help fill this gap, but I don't believe that will be available until next year. I've read about a disused railway bridge in Missouri that a town hoped to do into trails access but the owners want to scrap because the value of the steel is so high. One wonders how much the steel in this bridge is worth. In the meantime, the span sits idle and forlorn to let the river traffic by with the road a gathering place for vandals. I find it interesting to check out a relic like this.

Meanwhile, riding away from the bridge, at 66th Street there's a "Gentleman's Club" called the King of Diamonds. I've heard ads for this place on KFAN (the local Sports Talk radio station) before and if I recall they say it's only 10 minutes from the Metrodome. Man, how fast do these people drive?
King of Diamonds Gentlemen's Club
Is there anything sadder than a strip joint in daylight? The King of Diamonds had limosine parking and a specific area for motorcycles plus the required handicapped parking but no bicycle parking. Hey! Don't cyclists go to strip joints? Come to think about it, maybe I won't raise a fuss. As I left the train signals came down as a couple of locomotives noisily chugged by, allowing me time to savour some of the aromatic BFI garbage trucks based across the street from this Gentlemen's Club. Classy.

I rode on down Concord. Lots of bars down here. One of them had a big sign advertising "Get Trashed Tuesdays". I got into downtown South Saint Paul, stopped by the bank, and then went to get on a bike path marked on the map. Unfortunately, this path was in use for some sort of walk event, scores of people with numbers and cops blocking traffic. I rode up to one cop and commented that maybe this wasn't the time to ride the trail, as all the pedestrians were coming against me. He said it probably wouldn't be the best time. I went back to Concord and rode along, past the stockyards and meat processing places. Eventually I came across a road which joined up with the trail and rode over. There was a walk official there and he said everybody was past, so I headed on up the trail.

South Saint Paul Pedestrian and Bike Bridge
I don't know who gets credit for these things, but I admire then. This bridge is solely for the bike/pedestrian path in South Saint Paul and takes us across the railway tracks. Someone along the way got the funding, design work and construction done on this stuff, on the various river paths, the Summit bike lanes, the new I-35E bridge bike/pedestrian lanes, the Midtown Greenway, and the Hopkins trails, etc. I have no idea who these people are, but along the way somebody worked effectively to get these implemented over what probably seemed like hugely long timeframes. I tip my hat to those who've got these things underway and in place so we can enjoy them. (Actually, an article in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune credits Rep. Jim Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota, for getting the Twin Cities one of four $25 million grants to see how bike trail construction can affect traffic congestion, so there is one advocate for us).

Deer along railway
These deer were bounding along the railway tracks. The sign warns of remote control locomotives. Those deer better watch it!

Solar Panel on Railroad
Some people get solar power. In the upper middle of this photo you can see a solar panel for keeping the signals running.

Matt and Test Dummy jersey
While on the bridge, I took a photo of me in my new cycling jersey. It's my first modern plastic jersey. It's a big decision, what to get. The Discovery Channel or U.S. Postal Service ones mark you as a Lance Wannabe; no local club worth its salt would want me plodding along in their colors with my fenders and kickstand, stopping every 200 feet to take pictures, getting overtaken by old ladies pulling Trail-a-Bikes, etc.; I'm not fast enough to wear a yellow or polka-dooted jersey; some of the European jerseys look cool but you'd hate to buy one and discover the sponsor is Luxembourg's largest manufacurer of hemorrhoid cream or something; plain high-visibility yellow seems kind of earnest; then I ran into this Crash Test Dummy jersey, high visibility and kind of whimsical, so decided to get it. This was my first time out riding it. I took this with a self-timer, hence it's slightly crooked orientation on the South St. Paul trail bridge.

State Capitol and Flowers
I stopped by the Farmers Market to visit Costa's and get some of their marvelous salsa. Tragically, they don't make it anymore! Damn! It was really good, actually spicy unlike so much Minnesota food, and locally-produced. It was the only thing I stopped for. Disappointed, I unlocked the bike and rode home, past the Capitol building with its flower beds.

Ducks at Como Lake
I stopped to fiddle with my left pedal just before I got home. These ducks were swimming on Como Lake. I forgot to note the distance; I think I did 32 miles in the end.

Henry and Trek 620
Sunday Henry and I rode to church. Here he is with his Trek 620, which will shortly undergo some upgrades.

Rowing Shell on Mississippi
The rowing club was splashing about down on the river under the Lake/Marshall bridge. We made decent time to church. Henry's a strong rider, he doesn't really hold me back at all, not that I'm blazing fast. We did 29.2 miles round trip and came home using the Midtown Greenway/LRT trail/Number 9 bridge/Intercampus Transitway. You can go a long way with only minimal traffic interaction. There was a trail user survey being conducted on the Greenway and we stopped to fill that out. I saw a young lady on a Breezer bike; I hadn't seen one in the wild before. It was relentlessly sunny and not attractive out so I didn't take any photos on the way home. I did stop on the U of M campus to help a lady figure out where the Aquatic Center is; it was a pleasant and helpful interaction with a motorist, one tiny step in working on our image.