Didn’t sleep too well last night, which is too bad. It was probably going to be the last night in a comfortable bed for some time if all goes well. As usual before an adventure, spent the night obsessing over whether or not I was bringing the right stuff, too much stuff, or not enough stuff. Also worring about what might go wrong, where I should go, etc. Did some last minute packing and unpacking and finally set off at about 10 am. Had Kitty come out to take some photo’s off me before I headed out – needed to feed the ego one last time.
Was kicking around where I should go on this trip and toyed with the ideas of going around Lake Superior, heading down the Mississippi River Road, or biking around Wisconsin to visit the places I used to live. In the end, I settled on heading down the Mississippi River Road, but could leave the option open to veer to the East when I hit Prairie du Chien if I got tired of the river, assuming of course that I made it that far. So with the River Road in mind, figured I would make it a watershed themed trip, so decided to head out of town following Ditch 45 out of Blaine, which is the headwaters of Sand Creek that heads West to Coon Rapids. Since this was the opposite direction of where I ultimately would go, it was challenging to go the wrong way intentionally.
From Sand Creek, I followed the trail the paralleled Coon Creek, to the Coon Rapids Dam on the Mississippi River. And then downstream following the trail systems that follow the East bank of the River through, Fridley, Minneapolis, and St. Paul. The part of the trip went well. Took way to many pictures, along the way, but it was interesting to spend some time and stop along the trails I was pretty familiar with. After stopping to take a picture of the Minneapolis skyline, a mail man yelled to me asking where I was going. I started talking with him and told him I wasn’t sure, and told him I had 3 ½ weeks off and had a couple of possible routes in mind, assuming I could make it out of town. I told me about the bike touring he had down, and informed me that he had paid over $1000 for his touring bike back in the 1990’s.
Stopped at Nicolet Island for a lunch snack – some salted nuts, an apple, and a couple of granola bars around noon. My lunch entertain was provided by what looked to be some 4th or 5th grade students from the Drake School who were on some type of field trips. The teachers and chaperones had all they could do to keep the kids from jumping in the river and going over St. Anthony falls. It was fun to watch the kids running around, taking pictures of each other, and pestering the teachers to see if they could go swimming above the falls. I hoped that some of the energy from the kids would rub off on me to help me keep peddling.
The ride through Minneapolis, as always, reminded me how separated the City is from the River. It is difficult to actually access the water anywhere as there are concrete walls, rip rap rock, bridges, culverts, locks and dams that pretty much seem to line the river bank. The whole system has pretty much been reengineered from what it likely used to be. The border between Fridley and Minneapolis, is also a reminder of how industrialized the river has become. Along this section of the river you find water withdrawal stations, water treatment plants, power plants, railroad switch yards, grain elevators, barge loading facilities, and miscellaneous manufacturing facilities.
Biking up the gorge out of Minneapolis is a climb and you end up on the bluffs overlooking the river valley as you enter St. Paul. This area of the river is much more residential, likely because the steep banks of the gorge prevent industry from accessing the river. Further down the gorge, the old Ford manufacturing facility did find a way to access the river and build a dam to provide power for it’s manufacturing operations.
As I entered St. Paul, a biker heading up river waved me down and I stopped to chat with him. He introduced himself as Bob from Eagan, and he informed me that he and his wife have done some bike touring. He proudly told me that he still does some touring despite having knee replacement surgery, although he mentioned that he now uses an electric assist bike. He and his wife have done several trips in Europe where they fly their bikes out with them and then pack their gear along as well. Bob is 76 years old and still at it, which gave me hope that maybe I could at least make it through the day.
Barging activity picks up again as you head out of St. Paul where a number of barge loading and unloading operations exist. Two tugs were tied up along the concrete wall the separates the river from the City. Crew members could be scene painting and doing maintenance of the tugs. Further downstream, barges full of coal, scrap metal, and benzene sat waiting to be shipped back down river or unloaded. It is amazing how much stuff gets shipped all over the place, just to keep our fix for stuff satisfied. I also wondered what we do with all the stuff? What do we accomplish with all the electricity that the coal burning provides? What is all the cancer causing benzene used for and where does it come from – must be the oil refineries located south of the Cities. And where does all the rusting scrap metal come and where is it going and what will it come back as?
On my way out of St. Paul, came across three other bikers with touring gear. We stopped and chatted and found out they were on their way back from a four day adventure into Wisconsin. Coming across all the friendly chatters was much different from some of my previous bike trips where I rarely ecountered other bikers. Made me wonder if the whole world was out biking. But as I headed out of St. Paul on Highway 10 to the east, I was soon reminded that the majority of folks are still driving exaust producing cars and trucks that wiz along at 60 to 70 miles an hour. Traveling this section at rushhour was not a good idea and soon consumed the peace and serenity I had accumulated on the earlier bike trails that had gotten me to this point.
It didn’t help matters that the river was now out of site and had been replaced with a river a railcars moving up and down the tracks that parallel the freeway. And next to the tracks were more large industrial complexes, making god knows what. It also started to sprinkle on an off, which helped was some of the exaust out of the air, but required I adorn my rain gear to keep dry. As a way to avoid the traffic and rain for a while, stopped into a Burger King about 4 pm. and downed a vegie burger, large fry, garden salad, and carton of orange juice. Also tried calling the only motel that was listed in my Mississippi River biking guide book, but got a recording offering me a chance to win some prizes if I answered some questions. So I hung up deciding to take my chances at finding a place to stay in Prescott.
I felt the energy return to me as Highway 10 continued along the East bank of the river to Prescott and highway 61 split off to the west to Hastings MN. Traffic began to thin out some, and the road began to descend into the river valley. Came across a small herd of sheep along with a couple of watch lama’s confined in a small enclosure next to the road. Got to witness the afterbirth of some lambs hanging from the mother sheep’s rear-end. I stopped to watch the activities for a while, and noticed that the mother of twins was about to become the proud parent of triplets as I could see a foot protruding from the afterbirth. But feeling like I was intruding on the blessed event, I moved on down the Valley towards Prescott, anxious to find a place to stay before the rains increased.
Not sure where the motel was, I stopped at a gas station and got the news that the motel was up at the top of the hill leading out of town. So I peddled up what I hoped would be the last hill of the day, only to find out there were no rooms left, and found out the closest motels would be back across the two rivers in Hastings. So I reluctantly climbed back on my bike and headed back up the hills to Hastings. On the way past the sheep farm, I was greeted by the birth of the third lamb, as it feel from it’s mother and plopped into the dirt. The birthing process of domesticated animals always seems more sacred and clean and over scene by helping hands when they show it on TV, I guess I need to get out more to see how the real world works.
Well I made to Hastings, and after getting directions, found the Hastings Inn, and fortunately there was a room at the inn, and I took it. The Hastings Inn, is not one of your five star affairs, but I did appreciate the shelter as the rains began to poor down, and despite the smoky mildew smell, burned cigarette holes in the carpet and bedspread, found it a welcome place to stay for $50. And the eventually hot shower gave me some renewed energy. A good reminder that perhaps better planning might help to find more hospitable shelter and avoid biking 15 miles out of the way.