Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Breakfast at Enrique's

My old friend Paul, recently seen nattily-attired on the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour, is returning to volunteer in the Great River Energy Bike Festival June 14-18 (they still need volunteers, by the way!). Just like last year, he's riding his bike up. Paul travels light, mailing a box of clothes up ahead of time and travelling with just a rack bag. Last year he rode up through Northfield and Highway 3 and then left from Prescott, Wisconsin and rode down Wisconsin 35, territory partially covered by the Three Speed Tour. He liked 35 quite a lot; it's scenic, fast, good riding and pretty flat once you get south of Bay City.

He left from Prescott last year because I drove him that far, not knowing a good way to get there. I haven't done much in the way of recreational rides in recent years, and none to southeast, so thought I'd figure out how to get to and from Prescott from Saint Paul. I got up uncharacteristically early on Saturday and rode out at 6:15AM after a couple of cups of tea, two pieces of toast with Nutella and a banana.

I figured out the route on the excellent Twin Cities Bike Map from Little Transport Press. I love this map and wish only that I had thought it up. From north of Como Park, where we live, I rode down Como Avenue and Rice Street to downtown Saint Paul, dropped down by the Post Office to the riverfront and got on the bike path there and headed east along the river. This much anyway was familiar; the GRE Bike Festival's Saint Paul Time Trials run out and back on Shepard Road here, and the turnaround is about at the end of the designated bike path. After that, it was terra incognito for me.

The Angela Kay nudges a barge
Even on a Saturday morning there's activity along the Saint Paul waterfront. Here the Angela Kay nudges a barge on the south bank.

Reflection of Wabasha Street bridge in Mississippi
More poetically, the reflection of the Wabasha Street Bridge was glowing on the river surface.

The sidewalk rises up to the east over the railway tracks as the road changes to Warner Road and then the Battle Creek Bike Path peels off to the right. I followed this. There is an actual Battle Creek, a babbling brook in some parts. I don't know why it's called Battle Creek, but across the river somewhere, maybe a bit farther south, there is a historical marker for an Indian battle. I wonder if they're related.

The bike path follows Highway 61 which is very familiar to me in a car, at least, but it was never clear where the bike path was or went. It runs along the west side for a while, then goes under a culvert I'd never noticed and is at a turnaround at the north end of Point Douglas Road and a parking lot for the Battle Creek Regional Park. Now I was on the east side of Highway 61. I rode off to the south.

Point Douglas Road isn't quite continuous, but where it goes away the bike path carries on, so the road and path combination carried me all the way to the approaches to Interstate 494. This is getting rebuilt in a big way as 494 gets a new pair of bridges over the Mississippi to replace the single bridge that's there now. This is a big project, started in 2002 and not scheduled for completion until 2008, though I wonder about that since they had to delay the opening of the first bridge a year to do some rework. When it's done, there will be a bike and pedestrian lane with trail approaches as part of the project, but at the moment there is no bikeable crossing between downtown Saint Paul and Hastings. (Last summer I wrote about the J.A.R. bridge, which used to provide a toll crossing at 66th Street South, but it closed because of structural defects and is unlikely ever to reopen).

Eastern approaches to Wacota Bridge work at I-494/Hwy 61
This is the Wacota Bridge/I-494/Highway 61 work going on. There are bridge fragments on the lower right, and in the distance the blue arch of the original Interstate 494 bridge over the Mississippi is visible.

I rode up Bailey Road, across I-494, and labored up the hill. I don't know how steep this hill is, but it's a good climb and on the way home I'd do 37mph on it even gently riding the brakes due to a red light at the bottom. The road becomes County 18 here and, not long after climbing out, I took a right onto County 20, also known as Military Road.

What followed was pretty delightful. I figured I'd be slogging through the sprawl metastizing around the fringes of the Cities, but in fact Military Road manages to pick a surprisingly rural path through Washington County. I went by a big 1858 country house called Cedarhurst set in 10 acres, whose existence I'd never heard of, but which does teas every day but Sunday (just like the Chickadee Cottage in Lake City!). To my English cousins or our East Coast brethern, 1858 sounds pretty contemporary, but that's pretty old around these parts, when the orignal Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers (and now right by the airport) was only established in 1829.

Cedarhurst one Saturday Morning
This is the Cedarhurst country house, set in ten rolling acres.

High Teas, except on Sundays
They do high teas. They may not welcome visitors in black cycling shorts and Crash Test Dummy jerseys, though I didn't try.

I turned south on Lamar Avenue through a little settlement the DeLorme calls East Cottage Grove, a snippet of old Minnesota with lovely old houses, a bar and a lawn mower service shop, then followed Lehigh Road as it angled southeast. At Manning Avenue, I moved south a few hundred yards, passing the first roadkill fox I've seen in ages, and took 110th Street S a couple of miles east, then south on Neal Avenue. I took 122nd Street South east another mile or two to Saint Croix Trail, and headed south past the Carpenter Saint Croix Valley Nature Center, another spot I've not heard of. I had to be getting close now, right, but still no downhill.

It came, but not before two odd motor vehicles caught up with me. A trike (like a motorcycle, but with two back wheels) and a motorcycle and sidecar, both with a couple of portly people aboard, overtook me as Saint Croix Trail turned and began to descend. The trike got by, but it was all the cycle and sidecar could do to get by me around the corner, as he can't really lean in the turn, and the Atlantis was beginning to accelerate on the downslope. He finally made it past on a bit of straightaway, but then the road does a sensuous series of curves as it sharply descends and I quickly caught back up to these oddities and had to ride my brakes down as they lumbered gingerly down the hill. Damn, it would have been fun to roll free and lean through those bends!

At the bottom of the hill the road intersects Highway 10 and Prescott, and Wisconsin, lies less than a mile to the east. The motorcycles and I both turned that way and headed across the drawbridge into town. I rolled down the main street to the south, then around behind the row of shops and bars. There was a marina there, and the train bridge, and a restaurant where I saw the motorcycle couples from the hill waddling into the place. Maybe I'd skip that one. I crossed the intersection and saw a Mexican place called Enrique's Taco House, and went in. It was about 9:15 and just over 30 miles from home.

Prescott's drawbridge crosses the Saint Croix River, which is about to run into the Mississippi just outside of town. I like the Saint Croix; not only is it really pretty, it's also part of a very old French trade route. The Frogs figured out early that you could paddle from Montreal, up the Ottawa River, across a lake, down the French River, traverse Georgian Bay and the top of Lake Huron, get past the rapids at Sault Ste. Marie and into Lake Superior, across that until nearly the western end, where you would find an unprepossessing river called the Brule flowing into the lake from the south, now Wisconsin, shore. Paddle up that, and when it got too shallow, you portaged two miles into the headwaters of the Saint Croix, and from there it was a straight shot down to the Mississippi and New Orleans. They pieced this together from local Indian knowledge all along the way and their own exploration. These guys were doing this by the late 1600s and first explored much of the region, part of the reason we have so many French street and city names (Duluth, Saint Cloud, Nicollet, Marquette, Hennepin, Larpenteur, LaSalle, etc). For all their trade through here, they left hardly any structures, civilization or imprint, which is why Fort Snelling, established 150 years later, represents the leading edge of modern settled civilization. They would have paddled right past here. You sit at Enrique's and defocus your eyes a bit and...well, it's still hard to imagine a bunch of smelly mosquito-bitten voyageurs coming through under the railway bridge and past the gas station, but it's still cool that they were doing it over 300 years ago deep in the interior of this wild continent.

I had a regular, non-breakfast, burrito at Enrique's. It came rice and beans and a bowl of chips and two tubs of salsa, once I'd consumed the first. I had a root beer, too. I sat on the deck, still nicely-shaded, and watched the world go by. A lot of the world is on loud Harleys who like to go rumbling up and down along the river. We are all to be impressed by the loud exhaust as the tear away from the traffic lights. Funny how many of these guys (and gals) are badly overweight. These bovine bikers like to wear black leather and often don't look that dissimilar from the leather's original owners straining at their hides.

The price of gasoline does not seem to be a concern in Prescott. A woman pulled up to the adjacent Subway and left her car idling while she went in to get a sandwich. This took about five minutes. She came out, put the sandwich in the car, then ran into the BP convenience station. Another couple of minutes of fruitless idling. You know, that oil took 250 million years to make and you only get to burn it once, then it's gone forever. It was about 68F outside, there were no pets or children in the car, it wasn't baking in hot sunshine, it was just pointless. She came out, got in, and drove off. I guess I will begin to believe that gas prices are high when regular people will at least turn off their stupid engines to go into Subway. I'm sure our troops in Iraq would thank her for her support.

I popped over to the BP as well, to get a pair of AAA batteries (I had been listening to the radio in one ear much of the morning) and some SPF45 sunblock. Thus equipped, a bit bloated from my brunch, I set off back home shortly before 10:00.

An odd boat in the Saint Croix off Point Douglas
This is a slightly odd-looking yacht moored off Point Douglas in the Saint Croix. I think this used to be moored in the Mississippi in Saint Paul next to an abandoned power station, and the vessel looks dire enough I have always imagined that someone bought it who couldn't quite afford it. I may have it all wrong, maybe it's charming as can be aboard, but I wonder.

The ride home was the exact reverse of the way out until downtown Saint Paul. I wanted to measure the checkpoints so I could send Paul detailed instructions, but certainly my mileages will drift as I go due to pulling off to put on sunscreen, looking in parking lots and otherwise poking around. The wind had breathed into life and mercifully was a tailwind, not much of one, but something to offset the burrito bloat and resulting lethargy as I rode home. I saw a number of other cyclists on this homeward leg, some by themselves, some in little Lycra clots pacing along. (I shouldn't mock Lycra--I was wearing black cycling shorts and my always-popular Crash Test Dummy jersey). I waved at the Mexican nursery workers on the plateau, enjoyed my dive back down towards I-494, checked out the Park N Ride at Lower Afton Road, and rolled on home through downtown and up the Grand Avenue Hill. Waiting to cross University at Chatsworth a guy came by in a big old shiny Monte Carlo or something, chrome spoked wheels nearly as big as mine, revving his engine and driving with his left foot hanging out the driver's window. He pulled into the convenience store, roared his engine again and started Wassupping his buddies. I wonder what the urban bling bling guys will do with all that heavy iron if gas does get significantly more expensive.

The informal Chatsworth crossing was blocked by a parked train, so I rode over on Lexington, through the park and home. It was 1:10, and about 33 miles from setting out from Prescott (I took a different way home through town), 63 for the day. I hadn't done that in a while, and it felt great.

From Paul's point of view, getting out of town to the southeast isn't that tough. This probably isn't news to east-side cyclists or those Lycra clots I saw out riding, but it was to me. On the other hand, the additional 30 miles and 2.5 to 3 hours of riding makes Winona into a loooong day, so maybe I'll dump him off in Prescott again this year. One thing he is considering is showing up in Cottage Grove during the evening rush hour and taking the Express Bus into town (and he could even transfer to the bus that goes right by our house). Another is riding to Winona and taking Amtrak into Saint Paul, which gets you here 10:30-ish at night. He could ride from Cedar Rapids to make Winona by the evening of the second day to catch the train for a night arrival. That would be cool.

Sunday I rode to church. This has been a routine ride for me, 12 miles on the efficient route, my most frequent ride through the cold of winter as I could ride on a Wednesday night to choir practice and come home with Karla in the car. Karla, my wife, is a superb musician and music director at Saint Luke's Episcopal in Minneapolis, and I'm a tenor in the choir, but last Wednesday's rehearsal and Sunday's service, Pentecost, mark the last week of the choir season. Now we (the choir, not Karla) are off for the summer, to reconvene in September with diminished voices, and probably the kids and I will go to church nearer to home and earlier than Saint Luke's who is (foolishly) keeping the 9 & 11 schedule all summer this year. That means I won't be doing that particular ride as much. Poor Karla's got to play a lot of those 11:00 AM services this summer in our un-air-conditioned church and I think they're going to be ill-attended. She is not happy.

Sunday, though, was fun, we did an 11:00 Festival service and I sang in choir and even filled in in Bell Choir. Pentecost is the speaking in tongues bit, all the discipiles could be understood by the masses in their own tongues, and the Holy Spirit was upon them, etc., so I wore my Pentecost socks, a pair of cycling socks with embroidered flames on them I got last summer for free along with the Crash Test Dummy jersey. Riding on a Sunday morning is just for sport (on Wednesday night, it actually saves a car trip as Karla is already there) but it was a beautiful morning and I even popped in to the Baker's Wife bakery at 42nd St and 28th Avenue to get a chocolate croissant on the way. After church, Karla, the kids and I met at Sea Salt over in Minnehaha Park and had lunch outside the Pavillion. It was slow due to the long line and fresh cooking, but we were in no real hurry and chatted for quite a while with some uncharacteristically friendly strangers. Sadly, this makes me wonder where they're from originally. Tons of bikes out, of all stripes, a beautiful day. I felt like we were tourists in our own city. After the fried calamari and my shrimp tacos, I rode home.

The kids are done with school the end of this week. Rides will often as not include them again, which is great, I love the children, but there is something fun about private rides, about poking along to Prescott and back to see what is there, or about zooming into church with my fastest run of the church year down streets grown familiar since last fall, with no duty to tend to the kids and fret about their traffic awareness and herd them along like some baying terrier. I love riding with them, and they are still at receptive ages (Henry's 14, Geneva 12) and in ten years I will miss them terribly. We have a busy summer coming up and I have some plans for rides with them, but this one private weekend was great fun.

Welcome to Summer!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have tried a number of routes to Prescott and beyond, and the one you described is my personal favorite. That's a pretty good hill on Bailey though. Speaking of Bailey, if you continue on that road, it eventually has a pretty good shoulder, and a bike path, along most of its length. Just past Woodbury, if I recall correctly, it turns into a rural-ish County Road 40, and swoops down into lovely Afton. From there down St Croix Trail, is one of the more challenging hill series in the area. There's a good ice cream parlor in Afton, for rewarding yourself after the climb(s).