Thursday, September 08, 2005

Trip Post Mortem

More than a week has transpired since we rode up to Duluth. School has resumed, church choir has restarted, I'm back at work, and suddenly the trip has this weird sense of unreality about it, like vacations so often do when viewed from the humdrum of daily routine. I look at the pictures, children in a real sweet spot of attitude and ability, and it's almost like someone else did it.

It's funny how those things go. I don't remember when I first thought up the idea of the three of us doing this, last June probably, and we picked the dates to fit in between all the other schedules of a busy summer. It wasn't like we trained for it; it was all pretty matter of fact. While actually doing it, we were preoccupied with all the details of riding; where the next town was, the current state of the wind, fretting about traffic, thinking about food. I look back at what I wrote here and it is startling how little distance we made before lunch each day--it makes me glad I have the written record to confirm it, my impression would have been that we'd gotten much farther.

The kids are at a great point. I have a guy in my football pool whose wife just had a child while we were gone, the same birthday as mine, and another joining choir who is expecting their first in early November. Infancy seems a long time ago now, diapers and sleeplessness, learning to walk, all that. My kids right now are actual people, with very distinct and surprisingly different personalities, and as 7th and 8th graders are entering the arc which will result in them leaving us in five or six years. As parents, we can't control that arc, we can only hope to influence its trajectory, and it's odd to think of them on their own, making their own friends, developing their own interests and passions, beginning to live a life as distinct from ours as ours is from our parents'. I find myself surprisingly wistful about this, and it reinforces my desire to enjoy these days and years while I have the chance.

As for bikes, they worked out well. We didn't suffer any flats, probably because I carried two tubes and two pumps. The trails weren't flat-prone, but there is the usual accretion of glass, gravel, metal scraps and plastic shards on the highway shoulders, which we rode on quite a lot.

The Atlantis gearing worked out very nicely for flat-land riding. Long-time readers, all three of you, may recall that I did a very tight cluster on my cassette, a 13-15-16-17-18-19-21-24-28 where the one-tooth differences through much of the range allow fine-tuning of cruising pedal cadence. This was a pretty flat trip and I never once got off the middle chainring. I did like the ability to subtly change my ratios. The downside of this is, if you do go up a hill, crest it and then head down, you end up shifting several gears all at once, but the indexed Dura-Ace bar-ends and Deore derailleur make this very easy.

We absolutely lucked out on weather. The dates were pre-selected, the hotel rooms reserved, and we got two lovely warm-but-not-hot days, not humid, even lots of puffy clouds to cut the relentless sun. The winds were more or less neutral; we had a slight headwind component much of Monday, but they weren't brutal soul-destroying headwinds. And it didn't rain.

The lack of rain was a good thing. I don't know how waterproof the panniers are. I trust my Ortlieb front bag to be water proof, but not the Jandd front bag Geneva was using. We would have had to buy a quick supply of plastic bags had serious rain threatened. Also, neither of the kids' bikes had fenders so that would have been messy. Even on a dry ride, it was illuminating to see how dirty Henry's water bottle got compared to mine just from stuff being thrown up by the front wheel. We'll have to get him some fenders.

Hotel touring is sure nice! I hadn't done this before, but it was great to pull in, check in and then tidy up and swim and sleep in a comfy bed. Combine this soft living with not having to haul a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, cooking gear, etc. and it makes bike travel much more attainable and fun. And expensive, of course.

Bikes can be a great way to get around once you're at your destination. Different places are differently suitable, but Duluth worked out well (New York, for instance, might not be as good). The lakeside bike path was easily accessible across the freeway from us, Canal Park, the tourist center of Duluth, was 2.75 miles west, there were (barely) sufficient places to lock up the bikes, and the bikes give quick and cheap access to places around the area. The bad things about bikes in Duluth is that Superior, the other Port in the Twin Ports, is nearly inaccessible. You have to ride forty blocks west and take a two-mile long bridge across the harbor that has a narrow pedestrian sidewalk and is subject to high winds, and which dumps you in the western fringes of Superior. I was going to try this, but didn't, as it was very windy one day and time slipped away on the other.

At one time, the Vista Fleet (harbour tours) would allow you to board in Duluth and get off in Superior, then re-board. I don't know if they allowed bikes on board, but this would be very handy. However, even for pedestrians, the stop in Superior has been abandoned, so there's no longer an easy way to get to the SS Meteor museum on Barker's Island, for instance. That should be revised. Superior doesn't have all the attractions of Duluth, so this isn't a tragic situation, but it is something to consider.

Duluth isn't altogether welcoming to cyclists. Besides the lack of access to Superior, there was no hint of how to get downtown from the end of the Munger Trail, some difficulty in getting a Twin Ports Bike Map (I finally got one at the Ski Hut at 11th and East 4th), and a shortage of suitable bike racks in the Canal Park area. We ended up locking up to light poles, metal frameworks meant to protect gas meters and crowd control fencing. Duluth isn't alone in this, and I find even in the Twin Cities that many bike stores don't even have very good bike parking.

1 comment:

song 2 the siren said...

Good info on not trying to cross the Bong bridge. I actually posted to the Ibob mailing list asking if it was bikeable and was referred to your site.

My girlfriend is going to a birdwatching festival in Duluth next weekend and we usually stay in Superior to save money but since the access to Duluth from Superior seems sketchy we decided to pay extra to just stay in Duluth.

Nice description of your ride up. I live in Minneapolis and always wanted to do the trip. Maybe in the spring.