Saturday, September 3, 2022

Red Rock Prairie Trail: New Trail New Tires


The latest part of the Central Iowa Trail system opened this week.  The Red Rock Prairie Trail.  When completed the trail will originate in Bondurant, Iowa, and end up Cordova Park at Lake Red Rock and link up with the Volksweg Trail that visits the lake and goes into Pella, Iowa.  For now, the completed section is open from Prairie City to Monroe, Iowa.  Nearly 10 miles in length as is.  Mary and took the opportunity to ride it today.

In the future, the trail will begin in Bondurant on the Chichaqua Trail and connect to the Gay Lea Wilson Trail in Altoona.  From Monroe it looks like a parallel trail/sidepath along highway 14 to Cordova Park where it will connect with the Volksweg Trail.  For the adventurous, take SE Vandalia Rd out of Des Moines to Runnels and then F70 to Monroe.  Mary and I saw the Dream Team take this route a few summers ago.

File photo from our 2020 exploration of Prairie City and the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge across the highway.

Another file photo from the previous ride.  I failed to take a photo of the bison this time.

We left our vehicle at Entryway Park, the place with the bison statue, next to the Casey's off of Highway 163 in Prairie City.  After driving through town, we determined that this was the trailhead.  No signage.  The trail crosses the road/highway exit instead taking the existing Prairie City Recreational Complex trail system.   Be aware that there are sandy spots here and I had to stop and wipe off my new tires as the sand and crap stuck to the new rubber.  Literally, I installed them prior to leaving and the only distance they rolled was from my living room to my car.  Once across the highway the trail curves about a bit to take one through downtown square area and finally to the open countryside.

Mural in Prairie City.  We took fast bikes since this was a mere recce ride.

The surface of this trail is concrete.  So new that black Bobcat tire marks are still visible showing off the endless circles they made during construction.  Flat rail grade.  Very few trees except near Monroe.  No benches yet.  There are a few bump outs of concrete that allow for access to the farm fields.  I doubt benches will be placed on theses.  No signage.  A few mile markers are near Monroe.  In fact, the markers begin a mile outside Monroe.  The last one we saw was "5".  Seemed odd to have mile markers on an incomplete trail because there will be a section north of Prairie City and another south of Monroe.  At the minimum, the numbers will be replaced.  Most likely, the posts will also need to be relocated to show true distance.  Without fanfare or notice, the trail terminates in Monroe just south of the square.  

The trail is built on a former rail line that follows highway 163 and old highway 163.  Since Mary and I are from southeast Iowa we spent a lot of time looking out of car windows as our families traveled to Des Moines from Ottumwa along 163.  We watched the conversion of the two lane 163 into a four lane highway.  The towns along the way were bypassed so people could drive their vehicles faster without stopping.  My father once said that the four lane would not be completed in his lifetime.  He was almost right.  Once my addiction to bicycling sunk its claws into me I'd stare at those railroad tracks and think that it would make a nice trail.  And it is although it could use trees to block the wind, sun and view of highway 163.  Perhaps in my lifetime.  It is after all, a new trail.

Rolling out of Prairie City we encountered a family on bicycles and people walking.  It lightened my heart to see locals taking advantage of a beautiful and enjoy their newest community asset.  On the way back we saw a woman on a trike recumbent and her son on his own bike.  Glasses, freckles, Bass Pro cap and an ear-to-ear grin on his face, "the bugs are insane!" he shouted as we passed.  I didn't want to correct him by informing him that grasshoppers lack enough brains to develop an antiquated medical condition.  Yes, there were plenty of grasshoppers sunning themselves on the hot concrete, but it is late summer and that is what they do.  "Try to run them over," I replied.  Bad humor.  I was more concerned about the ragweed and the fact that our tires were turning green from that.  But yes, are spokes have a lot of grasshopper guts on them now!

Mary told me that I have too many bikes for our house.  If we lived here, then yes.

Somewhere on G40 between Pleasantville and highway 14 is a sign for Red Rock.

"Clark, the shittar is small!"

We rode around the square in Monroe.  Spotted a Mexican restaurant that would make a nice destination ride some evening.  Around the corner was another eatery.  The bar, Mike's Lounge, on the other side of the square also sells tacos and pizza.  But the main attraction was the Replica House.  A model of a stone house built in Red Rock, Iowa, once an attraction just off of 163 but the bypass of the new highway hid this little gem.

Prairie City itself has some nice features.  Coffee shops, restaurants and pubs.  We noted these when we first drove into town looking for the trailhead.

This is a nice addition to our trail system.  I hope the other sections are completed soon.  We are already looking for routes to this trail from Des Moines for a longer ride.  Do yourself a favor and visit the Red Rock Prairie Trail.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Our Week on US Bicycle Route 20: St Cloud to Fargo


It started as a joke.  When we returned from RASDaK, Iowa was very hot, mid-June was an exercise in heat waves.  Looking on to our next bicycle adventure I had two things in mind.  One, we would ride our touring bicycles unsupported, and self-contained.  Two, I did not want to ride in extremely hot weather.  Go north old man, go north.  Duluth seemed like the best choice.  It is as far north as one from can get from Iowa in a day's drive.  So, I explored the idea of riding along Lake Superior.

Other ideas popped into my head. Minnesota has a lot of trails, why not pick a few to explore?  But a week did not seem long enough for that.  Then one day this article in my news feed.  Shorter drive.  Two paved trails.  Further information was subsequently found here.  A Facebook search revealed the Visit Greater St Cloud page which responds to Messenger and I was able to inquire a safe location to park our car for the trip and a phone number to call to inform the police that there will be a gold Honda CR-V sitting in River's Edge Park.  A route, a place to park the car and 6 days of riding!

Lake Wobegon Regional Trail

River's Edge Park is in Waite Park, MN, on the border of St Cloud.  There is a slash pad here thus restrooms to change into biking clothes.  This is what we did.  The trail is easy to find although there is no signage until one is actually there.  On the northside of the parking a trail exists that leads to the Lake Wobegon Trail which starts to the west of the parking lot out of view.  Once the bridge is reached there is a sign.  The trail is very smooth.  Following an abandoned rail line, the trail has towns spaced out about every 5 or 6 miles.  Most of the towns have trailhead shelters and parks and restrooms.  Most towns have gas stations and restaurants.  As a bonus, the LW Trail seamlessly connects to the Central Lakes Trail without fanfare 65 miles later.  The CLT is 55 miles long.  Yes, Virginia, 120 miles of uninterrupted paved trail on rail grade with towns and facilities every 5 to 6 miles, sometimes 8 miles and there may have been a 14-mile gap between municipalities.

St Joseph is the first town outside Waite Park (St Cloud) and has a lot of recently purchased and added bicycle infrastructure.  Docked bicycle rentals and a trailhead building with picnic tables and restrooms.  The densest trail user population we witnessed was between Albany and St Joe.  These sections were also the smoothest. The trail on the east end rolls through prairie and farmland.  River Birch line a significant portion of the canopy.

Day One St Cloud to Lake Carlos 71 miles

We did not realize our first mistake until the sun was setting.  We started too late.  We should have loaded the car at midnight and then driven to Waite Park in the dark.  Instead, we hit the road at 5 am and had to find an open gas station that uses our "fuel saver" points.  It saves money.  Our butts were on saddles about 11 am.  The headwind slowed us down a bit and unbeknown to us was the fact we were gaining elevation throughout the day.  And it was hot, 90°F+.  Heavy steel touring bikes with kickstands and front and rear racks and 4 panniers each.  It was slow going.  But the scenery was beautiful, and the towns provided us with what we needed.

It felt great to be rolling.  It been a long time since we used our touring bicycles in the manner that they were designed and built for.  In fact, Mary's Bianchi had never had a front rack and panniers on before.  In 2020 we spent a week with our team, Mary's Heroes, riding 6 trails in NE Iowa, SE Minnesota and SW Wisconsin, read about it 6 Trails, 1 Week.  That bike also featured a new rear rack since the one that came with it had a bad habit of losing bolts and becoming loose.  I used the Verenti's (my green and blue gravel/adventure bike) former rack as a replacement.  It worked quite well.  I even used the Verenti's front rack for the Bianchi.  As far as racks go, the only issue was for her to build up strength with the newly installed front panniers.  A heavier bike indeed!  I regret that we did not immediately grab our road bikes and ride them around the block upon returning home.  After a week on loaded touring bikes, racing bicycles feel like they have front wheels made from wet noodles!

Stearns County felt like the longest county in the Midwest.

PRO-TIP: use your phone to take photo of the map

PRO-TIP 2: crop the mileage chart of the map that you photographed earlier.  Great reference to "how many damn miles left?"

Avon, MN, has a tower at the trailhead.  Mary was the first to climb.

Do not jump off to remount your bike.

Of course, I rang the bell!
The best rail-trails have a story about a train wreck from a century ago.

Bike art

Memoryville. Not on the map.

Outhouse Blues, West Union, MN.  Someone actually took a bottle of beer in there and left it.  I was being overly dramatic, this did not smell, just looked shitty on the inside.

Evening photo of how the sun was getting so low that it was blinding us.  Tried to take a better shot but the camera refused.  Perfect example on the need for a visor or a baseball cap.

One item we needed was lube for the chain.  The trail is dusty and sandy, and our chains started to squeak.  Mary's first then mine.  Normally I carry lubricant with me in my Camelbak but since we were riding touring bikes with panniers, I left the CamelBak and its contents at home.  Near the trail in the town of Osakis is a Dollar General.  Worth a look if anything we can get a cold beverage and water for our water bottles.  No Tri-Flow or even 3-in-1 Oil.  Last resort would have been olive oil which I have read is only good for 50 miles but we were in the land of Norwegian immigrants not Italian.  However, there was DG lube for $3.99.  Why not?  We did not apply it until the next morning.  It came out yellow-orange but did the trick.  Great experiment.  The bikes did not die.  Even had a few rain squalls to add to this project.  Did not need to reapply.  Need to clean the chain and derailleur pulleys now.

As the day wore on we became increasingly aware that it would be a long ride.  There were a few reasons for this.  First, making Fargo our turn around point required longer than normal days.  Secondly, booking campsites a week or two before the ride limited our options.  This time of year is primetime for lake users, fishing, camping and watersports people.  A few times our camping location was miles away from the trail.  Not that was always bad, for example our overnight at Lake Lida put us closer to the following day's route than if we camped closer to the trail.  And our standards for an overnight: showers, restrooms and electricity.  No guerilla camping.

Slow as we were, the late start was really made it a late day.  What hurt was that we were 4 or 5 hours begin schedule.  The sun was setting before we reached the town of Nelson, MN, where we dined at the Corral.  A group of Harley Davidsons lined the parking up front, but the beautiful C3 Vette Stingray parked in front of a white S197 Mustang told us that the average age of patrons here would be 63 years old.  Mary had a Reuben and I the jalapeno burger.  Blue Moon and a Michelob Ultra.  My phone rings with a call from the 302.  It's the campground wondering if we were still coming in.  "Yes, we are but dinner first and an hour of riding."  "You're on bicycles?  Be careful."  Three sentences take 5 minutes of time.  I thought she'd never end the phone call.  At least she cared.  No one else called.  Never did meet her.  

We arrived Lake Carlos campground about 10 pm.  It is dark.  We left the relative safety of the trail for paved county road with a wide shoulder under the direction of Google Maps until it tells us to turn on a gravel road.  Ignoring the female voice emanating from my phone, we head to Highway 59 for the last few miles.  Nice shoulder, light traffic.  Soon there is something in the road.  Looked like a dead deer or a dead body cover with a blanket.  Upon passing it revealed itself to be a shower curtain, I think.  Then another object which was either a set of chrome handlebars with a basket attached or the basket for a shower that belonged to the curtain. Eventually we reach our turn and the campground. Fortunately, our campsite is close to the restroom/shower house.

Day 2  Lake Carlos to Lake Lida  92 miles

Technically, we hit this trail the evening before.

That night I did something I have not done in recent memory.  I slept the entire night without having to get up to relieve my bladder.  Must have been dehydrated.  I did, however, wake up once to check the radar.  No impending doom so back to sleep I went.  When we did arise, impending doom was on the way.  Green on the radar which meant that we could get wet, or it could evaporate in the sky before hitting the earth.  Quickly tear down and pack and hit the road.  Before we got to the highway we stopped to put on raingear. Well, Mary did.  I left mine at home under the assumption that if I get caught in the rain in the month of July I will be just as wet from sweat than not wearing a jacket.  But this morning it was in the low 60°F range.  I put my long sleeve Guiness jersey as a warmth layer.  Mary had to put a long sleeve jersey on as well because she could not find her rain jacket.  A few miles later we were at the convenience store we saw that night.  The liquor store next door opened at 6 am.  Gas station breakfast and a search for rain gear.  No joy but there is a Dollar General across the street.  Strike 2!  DG does not open until 11 am!  Time to ride, seems like the rain was diminished.

Never heard the chains squeak again!

Leaving Lake Carlos

$600 for this pristine tandem!  If you are TALL and have a TALL stoker, this is the deal for you!!

ODIN BE PRAISED!!!  The bike shop had Big Ole jerseys for sale, proceeds to help Big Ole, but none in my size.

New sign to look for.

Soon we are in Alexanderia, MN.  Pull out the phone and type in "coffee" and find a route to a Caribou Coffee.  There's a trail that goes through the city park and later by the coffee shop we take it.  About a block before the park the floodgates open in the sky, and it starts to rain hard.  We make it to the park and ride under the roof of a shelter with a roof and picnic tables.  Rain Delay 1.  Check the radar again and it is not bad, but we'll have to hold up here for a while.  Mary pulls out a sleeping bag for added warmth and we fall asleep sitting on a table.

Our port in the storm.  Roof/ceiling made from rain gutters.  Had to move the bikes twice because of leaks.  City Park, Alexandria, MN

After waking up, a local woman on an E-bike pulls up looking to see if the planned park activities are going to happen despite the rain.  Nope.  We talk a bit and she fiddles with the lights on her bike which are not working.  Then she says farewell and throttles off.  I did not notice her pedaling at all.  I probably would not either.  The radar looks good, and the rain stops but the wind picks up offering a tailwind.  But we need coffee to warm us up, so Caribou became the next stop.  Mary a hot chocolate and I a breve.  Time to get rolling after what was probably at least a 2 hour delay.   But first rain gear is acquired at a drug store.  Two ponchos and two ponchos in round balls resembling Christmas ornaments that hook to the outside of the panniers.  PREPARED!!  Last stop is at Alex Bike Shop.  I go in to purchase Tr-Flow while Mary runs across the street to her bank to get more cash.  She spots me staring a red Trek tandem that looks absolutely brand new.  Clean!  I don't think it has ever been ridden.  1990's vintage with Deore XT group set and the XT crank (says "Shimano" not Deore XT).  $600.  They want to unload it.  Way too tall for us.  "No," she says.  Of course, too big, already have two and the next one will have disc brakes but damn, that is a great deal!

Put the new ponchos on and ride out of town after trouble locating the trail.  A few miles later stop to take them off.  Since the trail is empty I decide to strip my jersey off and ride in a t-shirt.  That brought two older women out of nowhere to stop and chat and stare at my sexy body. Mary has to fend them off with a stick.  Meanwhile we are about 3 hours behind schedule.  So much for an early start.

This shelter could sleep two.

Sad to see this once glorious 1961 Mach1 set out to pasture.

Hank's Gourmet Root Beer purchased at Hardware Hanks, Ashby, MN.  Mary spotted the sign.

South of Elizabeth, MN, on Highway 59.  Stay off the rumbles!

Just crank out miles.  Slowly because of headwind and what later was discovered as a climb.  At Brandon we stopped at a bait shop and purchased Mountain Dew and potato chips and took them back to the trailside shelter.  In Ashby we stopped at the Cenex but it closed at noon but Mary spied the root beer sign in front of the Hardware Hank so we each grabbed a bottle of Hank's Root Beer.  Dalton has a Corner Store where we purchased microwave sandwiches (ate mine cold) and drinks which we consumed at the park near the trail.

Finally, we reached Fergus Falls and dined at a Burger King which was where we bid farewell to the trail, now a sidepath, and finished the day on streets, highway and county roads.  We did refrain, however, from stopping at the CBD shop.  30 miles from the BK to our campground.  The Viking Trail (US Highway 59) and the Otter Trail Scenic Byway were the names of the highway and county roads we took.  The town of Elizabeth was our last stop for provisions.  We made it to Maplewood State Park just about midnight.  I took the light off my bike when we reached the park entrance building so I could read the posted map.  Then a MN State Park truck pulled up with two rangers inside and after showing our papers (phone emails) they followed us to the campsite at Lake Lida.  At this point I noticed that my NiteRider's on/off button had turned red.  Mary had her gen hub.  Of course, I had to take the USB NiteRider not the Mako, runs on AA's, that fits on the same mount. Lesson learned, get a gen hub or use AA's or charge the damn light the night before!  So with a soon to dim headlight with a truck behind us, we descended deep into the park on a gravel sandy road with curves.  The paved section was cool and there was a climb that required shift from granny to the back of the cassette sounded like the bike puked cogs onto the road.  Looking ahead I'd see trees and a hint of a curve which made the trip exciting.  At any moment the light will die and my fat silhouette will leave a black spot of nothingness in front of me as I go off road and impale myself into the trees.  At least a truck was there to carry my dead body to the morgue.  Mary knows first aid and I imagine the rangers do as well.  But the light did not go out, and I did not die in a bloody gory mess and the road leveled and campsite #76 was found.

No restrooms, no shower, no electricity.  All of this was on the other side of the park.  When we left, we discovered the outhouses placed a road near the turn into the campground.  Fortunately, we did not need to use the White Gold we carry for just this sort of situations.  Set up the tent and look at the Milky Way and smell people smoking weed.  Slept through the night without getting up to pee.

Day 3 Lake Lida to Fargo, ND, 56 miles

In the morning we started riding to the other side of the park to take our shower and change into riding clothes, but we gave up.  Too far and confusing map and roads.  We used a restroom next to a nature center that we used to dress for the day's ride.  Reverse the course we took the night before.  Yes, we did ride between two lakes.  There are people everywhere at the resorts and cabins on Otter Trail Scenic Byway.  Yes, Google Maps was our navigator.  Day 3 would be our shortest day thus far.  It would also be the day that we would take county roads and highways for 99% of the day.  These were great roads.  Never felt unsafe.  Some of the roads were under construction, resurfacing.  We did go through a "Closed Road" section and road on scoured surface for a bit to get to the other side.  But all in all, smooth roads with shoulders and light traffic.  Could not ask for more.  Well, that headwind could bugger off!

First one we saw.  Outside the nature center, Maplewood State Park.

After all, we spent a lot of time riding the roads of Otter Tail County, Minnesota.

Political campaigning in these parts.  "We need a slogan.  How about Miller the Driller?  No, not family friendly.  How about it's Miller Time?  No, that violates copyright laws.  I need a slogan that I can throw my hat on.  GOT IT, 'Now is Miller Time.'  Perfect!"

From the side at a distance it looked like it was wearing a gas mask and reminded me of something from Pink Floyd's The Wall.  Upon closer inspection it is a take on the beloved firehouse dog, Dalmation.

Classic with a V-8

Pelican Rapids was the first town we encountered.  I recommend that one books a room here.  There is a motel and a "resort" with a swimming pool.  Also convenience stores and restaurants are available.  Highway 108 was the road that took us over I-94 and onto county road 30.  This is where the construction was.  Fresh asphalt.  Our lane was done, the eastbound was not.  Since it was a Sunday, no work was occurring.  Traffic light.  Shoulder good.  Smooth.  A right on highway 52 took us into Barnesville.  We purchased water at Barnesville Grocery and had a meal at the Eagle Cafe.  I had the Californias burger which was a hand pressed beef patty with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise for $2 more than the other burgers.  It was good.  Outside the cafe was a 1949 Chrysler Windsor in super good shape for its age.  We met the owner who told us all about it.  He had to look at the firewall to determine what color it was.  Used a floor buffer on the roof to remove rust.  The engine had compression in only 2 cylinders and many of the valves were stuck.  Did all the engine work himself.  "Just wanted to get it looking good and running for as little money as possible."

It was another lonely Sunday of being down on my luck.  Two cigarettes left and half fifth of 10 High whiskey remaining in the bottle.  I drank a tall one hoping that something would happen.  Then I heard the unmistakable tap of SPD cleats scratching the creaky wooden stairs followed by a light tap on the door.  "Come on in, doors always open."  I walked the most beautiful woman I'd ever laid eyes on.  "Mr. Spade, I need your help.  We cannot find the tailwind.  Another day into the wind and I swear we'll die."  Well then miss, I'll get in my 1949 Chrysler and find it for you.  Just need $50 and a pack of smokes.  Here, have a glass of whiskey, I know it is before lunch but in west central Minnesota it is the way."

Chrysler Windsor 1949

I am amazed on how narrow post war cars are.

The woman in charge let us sit up front to keep an eye on our steeds.  I think we took the parking spot of the WWII vet that rolled in later.

For an inexpensive restoration, he claims, this is a gorgeous car.  Navy Blue with chrome.

All sorts of competitions including the Best Potato--color, shape and size, recipes and dishes ect.  Seemed like a strange festival in Barnesville, MN, until we rode through Baker, MN, where we saw potato farms.

Baker was the next town, but it was just a potato farm.  Nothing to stop for.  Sabin would be our last stop before we reached Fargo.  We stopped at the Arco station for Gatorade, they had none so I grabbed a new Mnt Dew flavor, pineapple mango something.  Be aware that they have sewage issues here.  The place smelled BAD inside.

At last, we reached Moorhead with its plethora of sidepaths which I'm not too keen on using if traffic is light.  Sidepaths and Google Maps do not quite gel so cutting through Gooseberry Mound Park and crossing the Red River, the border between Minnesota and North Dakota can be tricky once the other side is reached and one needs to leave the park in the right direction.  But the border crossing was nice.  The park is beautiful, but the bridge is a cool thing to marvel.  Sidewalk chalk was used at the foot of the bridge, both sides, to welcome people to the state.  Once crossed we hung a left and worked ourselves through a residential neighbor that led to urban hell.  Traffic and concrete.

Reality.  Paved city.  Concrete jungle.  My perception of North Dakota is that of a sparsely populated state.  Our previous and prior to this only foray into ND was from South Dakota.  In the middle of nowhere with trees and sky and tall grass.  It was beautiful.  Now urban blight.   Interstate above and major roads.  Cheap hotels and motels and fast food.  Lots of cars.  Gas stations.  All major cities have this issue, and I should not be harsh on Fargo for it. Our purpose here was to cross a state line on bicycle, sleep in an air-conditioned room, shower and do laundry.

I would like to know what prompted this sign.  Most of the people staying here appeared to be construction workers.

The Baymont by Wyndham looked a lot better online than in person.  It might have been a nice place at one time.  Its buildings hide a courtyard that may have offered us solace if we had given it a chance.  But a cheap casino sign was the first omen of trouble.  The woman at the reception desk apologized several times for her inability to use computer.  She had to get the manager who never offered an apology.  Check in took 15 minutes.  A crumpled Word document was taped to the glass telling people with local addresses that they would not be able to get a room without a legitimate reason.  What's that?  Prostitution, human trafficking?  Drug deals?  Gambling issues?  People using rooms for an hour or less of sexual intercourse?  Our shower drained slowly.  Had to shut off the water then lather then turn the water back on to rinse.  There was a laundry room available but only one washer and one dryer and both were full and unattended.  There was a laundromat within a 3-minute walk of our room.  We used it.  And the gas station convenience store had detergent but no beer.  "I've never been in a convenience store that sold beer," the clerk said.  My liver thanked him.

Dinner.  Ordered a pizza from the closest Casey's.  But we had to go through construction to reach the pedestrian bridge that safely crosses the freeway.  We ate it while watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) which seemed fitting with the covid pandemic.  Furthest west overnight reached.  Clothes washed.  Tent hanging up to dry the dew and morning rain off.  Fed.  Sleep on a real bed.  Mission Complete.  Fargo's Baymont did what we asked.  Time to head back.

Day 4 Fargo to Swan Lake 67 miles

Escape from the Planet of the Fargos!  Reach the border without getting hit by a car on a Monday morning.  Stop the take photos at the border bridge since the previous day's photos here did not work.  Smiling because we see other trail users.  One stop at a Casey's in Moorhead for breakfast then reverse what we rode the day before.  

Repeat of the towns we visited the day before.  Stopped at the smelly Arco station in Sabin and was pleasantly surprised that the sewer smell was replaced by the wonder aroma of freshly baked breakfast sandwiches.  We stopped in Baker, this time, for a photoshoot.  My big fear was that Google would take us back to highway 30/108 where the construction was but instead, we continued south on 52.

Baker, MN

The joke isn't funny anymore.  I was the 69th person to sign up for RASDak (Ride Across South Dakota). Mary was 70.  These stickers were to be placed on the left side of our helmets to help the SAG drivers identify us as official riders.  Of course, my immaturity found this number funny (why could I not get 13) and when we encountered Clay County Road 69 I thought it would be a good time to take a break and this photo.  Also of note is my Guiness jersey which functioned as my warmth layer.

The bridge over the Red River is the way best way to cross state lines between Moorhead, MN, and Fargo, ND.

Minnesota is where the sun is!

I like to have my bike in the shot for perspective.

Meet the meal that nearly killed me.  Something like 26 miles left when I ate this.  I would not need to eat again.  Because of that lack of need I failed to pick up food for the campsite.  I thought we would just ride back into town but once we settled, I had no desire to pedal again that day.

The roads today were great.  Smooth with shoulders, mostly, and light traffic.  Basically flat.  The town of Rothsay, MN, was a new town for us on this adventure.  Before we reached that town a navy blue 1949 Chrysler Windsor passed us and waved.  This time he had a passenger with him.  Entering town, Mary spotted something I had mistaken for a giant fishing lure.  Said lure was a statue honing the noble prairie chicken.  The photos explain better than I can.  Lunch was at the truck stop cafe, the Rothsay Cafe, open 24 hours.  Our friend in the '49 Chrysler dined there, too.

The Viking Trail.  Fergus Falls to Pelican Rapids

Leaving town, we had to change roads.  We were directed on to "old 52" which is now called county road 88.  Road quality diminished somewhat, shoulder disappeared, a few moderate hills appeared, and we may have been passed by two semi-trailers on basically an empty road.  But the main issue was dead skunks.  Small dead stinky skunks.  Maybe there were 3 or 4 of them scattered in a 5 mile stretch.  Good Lord, did Natural Selection eliminate a litter of really blind and dumb skunks?

Carlisle was the next town but nothing was there in terms of services that touring cyclists need.  Soon we crossed I-94 and were back on the Viking Trail (still 88 aka old 52) that led us into Fergus Falls.  This time we stopped at Otto the Otter and took photos.  6 miles to Swan Lake Resort.  Most of this was on trail, the Central Lakes Trail, and a bit of paved county road.

520 meet Otto the Otter, Fergus Falls, MN.  Where is Mary?

Just 2 miles off the trail but on a paved road.

Gotta love the flower barrels.  Such a nice touch!  SOP is to lean the bikes against the table and slowly unload the panniers' contents onto the table.  Most of the plastic bags are 2 gallon Ziplocs I bought from work.

This was the best and nicest campground we visited.  There is even a store with food available.  Privately owned it caters to those who like to rent cabins or drive RVs or pull campers and people like us that sleep in tents.  One other tent site was in use.  Yet it is very clean and beautiful.  There was a game room with table tennis, volleyball court, pickle ball court and other games and things to do.  We were told that we could take kayaks or canoes out as long as we wore life jackets.  This was built into our fees.  But after 67 miles on the road we were more interested in setting up camp, showering and eating.  

Speaking of food, I was an idiot and did not stop in Fergus Falls to acquire dinner.  Even had a chance to get sammies from the Subway at the start of the trail.  My reasoning was two-fold.  Still full from lunch and we would just ride back.  As soon as we were a mile or so away from the Subway I got hungry.  Still have Larabars and I think Mary had some sort of snack food on her bike.  Let's see what the resort store has...not much.  They were hit hard.  Bought some chips, soda and a pack of Oscar Meyer hotdogs.  When our host realized that I was going to eat them cold, told her I did not feel like starting a fire and cooking them, she said she would fix us some sandwiches.  Live on internal stores until breakfast is found in the first town in the morning.  But true to her word, she delivered us turkey sandwiches with lettuce and tomato, two bananas and a bag of black cherries!  That was very kind of her and unnecessary.  But the real lesson here is that we need to go to the next level and carry a stove and food.  Instead, I purchased a titanium road bike the day before we left and lost the opportunity to get a MSR Whisperlite stove and accessories.  Literally, the "guns v butter" economic debate.

The shower house/restroom was clean.  Shampoo, conditioner and body wash were provided by a dispenser on the shower wall.  The water was hot!  After cleaning ourselves and eating we sat on a bench by the lake and enjoyed the view before retiring.  It was a long day and now we were refreshed and ready to sleep.  I cannot recommend this place enough.  She said some people book their spot a year in advance.  I believe it.  I will too when we come through again.

Day 5 Swan Lake to Sauk Center 73 miles

Radar showed two green blobs heading our way early in the morning.  We had the fly up and the saddles and handlebars of the bikes were covered by the rain ponchos.  The panniers were packed with what was not in use: our clothing for the day and what we slept in, bedding, charger and tent.  In other words, that mess on the table was cleaned up!  Sleep a bit more, too early to wake up and start the day anyway.  It was a light quick hitter.

The trail was two miles away and it felt good to be back on it.  Just click the towns away like on some children's educational program, 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 ect ect.  Keep an eye on the radar. [our phone and data reception was very good for the entire trip].  We passed an older gentleman on a modern cruiser with a basket on his handlebars and a radio playing.

Not even 10 miles into it the rain hit harder than the light rain we experienced inside the tent (the tent stayed dry).  Stopped under some trees in a section of trail that had a canopy and donned our ponchos.  A man on a road bike wearing full kit came by.  "It's a bit wetter than they forecasted," he said as he rode through it.  Then the man on the cruiser with front basket rolled by this time wearing a clear rain jacket, radio still playing.  After suiting up, we rolled into Dalton, MN, first going through a tunnel where cruiser man had stopped.  "5 minutes would have made a big difference," I said as I passed.  He agreed.

Dalton would be our breakfast stop. Once again, we visited the grocery store.  A gallon of water to fill our bottles, Gatorade and a sandwich.  We asked if we could sit in the cafe are but were denied because "it's not open."  So, we went to the shelter near the trail and the tunnel.  Check radar and decide to use our chairs.  It took us several days of riding before we broke out the chairs.  We discussed leaving them home next time.  But now they came in handy as the shelter lacked benches or a table.  If more of Mary's Heroes would been with us I am positive that the chairs would have been several times a day for beer breaks.  As it was, we had not taken any beer breaks on the trip and the only beer we drank by that point was at The Corral in Nelson.

After the rain we left and stopped a few miles or towns away and took off the rain gear.  Our clothing dried quickly.  Say what you will about jerseys and bike shorts (thin padded shorts), they dry quickly. 
We stopped in Asby, MN, again.  This time the Cenex was open and we got coffee to warm ourselves.  The cashier must have thought we were miserable so she said the coffee was on the house.  Thank you!  That made up for the day we stopped by and you closed at noon.  The restroom was clean.  And if you need nuts and bolts and something to repair your bike with, there may be something here, not bicycle related, mind you, but something to make the nut.  

This headline seemed like false news.  The crops looked good as did the water levels of the lakes.  And we kept getting rained on even on this day!  Photo taken at the Cenex in Ashby.

Rain Delay in Dalton, MN


Not long after that we saw another bagger heading our way.  We flagged him down and he stopped to chat.  Joey is on his way from Providence, Rhode Island, to Seattle, Washington.  The Northern Tier route.  A mix of camping and Warm Showers dot org network.  As far as touring goes, this is probably the most important link I have shared.  I believe he said he is doing this in a month and a half complete with days off.  His bike is a Salsa but the stickers obscure its identity.  Joey complemented my new Trek 520.  Thank you!  As the photo shows, he is still in his rain gear.  We were not.  He said he was still cold. The storm we sat out hit him later.  When we shook hands and bid each other farewell and good luck I really felt how cold the rain made him.  Not quite hypothermia but he needed to warm up.

I guess a Ragbrai team felt the need to represent in the shelter at Evansville, MN

Evans' fountain.

Both trails are supported by snowmobilers.  There is signage for them including, not shown, blue signs directing people to towns and what services are in those towns.

River Birch trees.  Not the best photo.  These trees line most of the shaded areas of the trail and often are much thicker than the small section here.

Nothing much to report on the other towns.  Melby is off trail but has a bar and grill.  Evansville has a shelter and a fountain with a story about a postal carrier that had the fountain built to water his horse and they named the town after him.  There's a BP station and other offerings here. Garfield as well.  We returned to Alex Bike Shop in Alexanderia to get air for Mary's tires.  Her rear tire was looking a bit low.  I think she would benefit from a set of 35s instead of the 32s I placed on that wheelset.

Our next break was in the town of Osakis.  Stopped at the Family Grocery Store and we outnumbered the employees 2 to 1.  An Amish couple pulled up in a buggy and left their horse unattended.  That horse did not seem too happy, stomping its feet and making other noises.  We walked into the empty store and bought a box of Little Debbie Cream Pies and two sodas.  Funny how at the beginning of these adventures it's all healthy food and 5 days later it's sugar and caffeine.  We enjoyed this treat at a gazebo on the trail just as the rain found us again.  We waited it out.

The chalkboard at the Bear Trap, Sauk Center, MN

The Meltdown.

Now we were back on the Lake Wobegon Trail.  The change in trails is rather disappointingly lacking in fanfare. 13 miles to go until we reached Sauk Center. Sinclair Lewis Camground is right on the lake and our campsite was damn near right on the road.  However, the shower/restroom was right there and the prerequisite picnic table was there too for our needs.  We quickly set up the tent and rode off into the town to find food and beer.  Both targets were acquired at the Bear Trap.  Meltdowns, cheeseburgers, were the special.  Two meltdowns with fries and a bucket of 6 domestic beers $30.  SOLD!  We sat next to a retired police officer who annoyed his wife by ordering another cocktail.  He must have been about 80 years old and a bit deaf.  A patron leaving the establishment thanked him for pulling him over several decades ago and then made eye contact with me and said "he was looking after our safety."  I wanted to ask him what his favorite patrol car was but refrained.  He had to have driven quite a few in his day.  Stomachs sated, it was time to find a liquor store.  Mary got a mango White Claw and I a bottle of Pinot Noir.  The owner of the Bear Trap let us take home the unopened beers we did not touch.  Once back at the tent I searched and searched for the corkscrew I thought I packed.  Mary said she saw me pack it. Nope.  Left it in my drawer.  No red vino for me.  Two Michelob Golden Light beers instead.  Probably a good thing.

Day 6 Sauk Center to St Cloud 42 miles
The Last Day

The Literary Portion of the Ride

If The Jam can do it, so can we!

In the morning first things first.  Dress, empty the tent, tear down the tent, pack the bikes and find breakfast.  Breakfast was found at Jitters Java Cafe on the Original Main Street.  I had a large Americano with half and half and a sausage bagel.  A couple of customers asked about our trip, assuming that we were the owners of the touring bikes out front.  Good conversation.  Great to exchange notes with other riders.

Sauk Center, MN

Sinclair Lewis

His childhood home was right on our way to the trail.

I'd be remiss if I did not mention Saux Center's favorite son.  Sinclair Lewis.  His first novel, Main Street, published in 1920, is the reason that we are on the Original Main Street.  His ability to graphically describe life in small town America and bring wit and humor to the characters within and fearless critique of capitalism and materialism one hundred years ago made him the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1930.  He died a broken man of alcoholism in a foreign land but had his cremations returned to Saux Center.  We should have visited his grave.  Our interest in his novels have been piqued and will start with Main Street and It Can't Happen Here

Very fitting indeed!

Pick a bike, any bike and ride the trail!

Melrose was our first stop.  This town has a shelter that houses bicycles for people to ride.  A Little Library is next to the bike shack and in it was a copy of Garrison Keiller's We Are Still Married.  How fitting, one of his books on the trail named after the fictional world he created.  I had no choice but to borrow it.  Also in Melrose, a grocery store right of the trail for any need one has.  The town of Freeport was next and some time I'd like to visit Charlie's Cafe.  There are also a coffee/ice cream shop and a few convenience stores.  Albany was next with its tempting Soo Line Trail that takes riders 10 miles out to see the Mississippi River but an extra 20 miles was not in our cards.  There are restaurants and stores here and a Baymont by Wyndham Hotel.  Sadly, we saw a funeral before exiting the town. Somewhere east of Albany, MN, we saw a pair of huge birds.  Another rider was already stopped and exclaimed that they were sand cranes.  These birds appeared to be emu/ostrich size but were too far away for my camera phone to take a quality photo.  We stopped for the restrooms at Avon's trailhead but did not climb the tower again.  By now trail traffic was picking up.  Usually, pairs of people or a solo rider.  One couple, youthfully retired, on fast road bikes, said that they ride 30 miles every day although they claim not to be "serious cyclists."  Then they complained about the etiquette of people on E-bikes buzzing by at 20 mph without sounding off.  I wanted to say that it is not the bike's fault but the nachwuchs (new riders) riding them.  E-bikes allow people that normally would not be able to ride out to the trails.  But buzzing people at 20 mph without informing the riders they are about to pass is a no no.  

Mary and I were pedaling like suckers without any assist but the tailwind that finally arrived and the possibility that we were riding a descent.  Our average speed was about 4 mph better than it had been all week.  And the closer we got to our vehicle the more determined I was to keep it that way or improve it.  No stopping at St Joe.  Waite Park or bust!!  The Honda was still there!  No one stole the catalytic converter!  Change clothes in the restrooms of the splashpad park and drive home.  6 days!

We did T-bone The Ragbrai the day it arrived in Mason City.  We should have take a photo of cyclists on the overpass above I-80 as they were completing their 100 mile day while we sat in the airconditioned comfort of our automobile.  But we did not.  We thought about pulling off the freeway to see if anyone we knew was nearby but decided that it would be a traffic nightmare.  Best to get home before dark.

So, What Did We Learn?

pack rain gear
rain ponchos are not bad
pack a corkscrew
invest in a stove and accessories for cooking meals
try to find campsites closer to the route
find these campsites way in advance
take Saturday through next Sunday off
keep daily distance less than 50 miles

That last one is key.  Multiple 70 mile days and a 90+ miles on loaded touring bikes pushed our limits.

The second from the bottom is important, too.  Since we stopped riding The Ragbrai officially and started to ride from home to intercept that ride we as a team have started earlier and earlier the week before.  Waiting until the Saturday Ragbrai officially meets would give us two full weekends or 9 days.  This year we had 7 days off but used 6 for riding and went back to work the day after the last day of riding.

Would we do this route again?  Yes, but cut out Fargo although those roads were outstanding.  How about staying in Moorhead instead??  But then again there are several trails in Minnesota just like the one we took, and so little time left in life to explore them and explore the offerings of other States and countries.  Maybe if our team or friends would join us we would show them where the river birch grow.