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.


The Donut Guy said...

Very nice post. And yes, when your children are older-they will still do cool things with you.

When our daughter was around your daughters age, she used to ride all over the place with me.

Now that she is nearly 18-she doesn't ride with me nearly as much but we have some great stories.

michael said...

Those kids are amazing! I am really impressed.

Great pictures and report as well. :)

mytzpyk said...

I very much enjoyed the tale of your trip. I read every word of both parts. Congratulations to all of you, dad for thinking of it, and kids for going along with it.

Frostbike said...

I'm echoing the comments above. Thanks for sharing your trip with us. It's giving me ideas for when my girls get older.

Nathan said...

I'd like to send out a big "Woo-hoo!" to all three of you. Another great report - thanks for sharing.

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