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Three River Mini Bicycle Tour

July 23rd, 2012

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Rather than continuing to post my incessant ramblings about how I can’t get my shit together, I’ve been trying to get my shit together. A few moments of inspiration around recording, philosophy or self-education have fed this blog, but other than that I’ve had a heap of things on the backburner. Every once in a while something comes forward. Better work, a more solid place in the world, peace of mind and a more active social life are all actually pieces of the same thing – happiness. Overall and forgiving of the pitfalls, I get a little happier everyday. There are as many reasons for this as there are things I’m juggling.

Knowing all of this, I was all too aware as the early spring hit Minnesota that I was due for a trip – I hadn’t been out of town since my western tour-on-the-cheap in 2009. I need nature, miles of pavement, inspiring boredom and the loss of ego that comes with the unfamiliar. This need is three years backed up. While the rest of the obstacles of life are close at hand and visible, this one just grows like a slow cumulonimbus – a sure sign of a bad storm.

I made a heavy commitment to biking this year, for a lot of reasons. Mental health, fun, economy, exercise, ecology. All signs pointed to letting my shitty 1994 Ford station wagon sit on the street if it wasn’t playing nice. Instead of going through the usual hoops of mechanics, maintenance and asking dad for loans, I asked a friend to tune up my 1983 Trek 850 mountain bike. I bought a nice custom-refurbished single-speed from Two Wheels. I got a membership at the YWCA and toned up my legs. I bought rain gear. In comparison the only investment I made in my car was a new battery and two or three tanks of gas. After buying a map of the city trails, I learned how long I could stay out biking – about five hours with a lunch break.

I was shopping around for a second bike when I learned about bicycle touring – taking a 10 mile an hour road trip on two wheels. My Trek, although not a dedicated touring bike, seems suited just fine for light touring. With a little bit of work, it could go across the country for weeks on end. I made the bare minimum of upgrades: a new chain, new cassette, a rear rack with fold-out baskets, new grips, a light set, and I replaced the rusty shifter cables. I’ve been racking my brain all spring and summer budgeting out what I needed, and what I could get away with not buying, for a short camping trip. I’m able to fit my big ass Target tent. I have a list of foods I can eat that don’t require cooking. Instead of a sleeping bag and air mattress, I can suffer with just a woven mat and a blanket as long as it’s less than a week. In 2009 I was sleeping in the backseat of my 1991 Honda Accord though 10 states. Instead of waterproof panniers I have garbage bags to line my backpack and gym bag with. Instead of a handlebar bag I’ll use a drawstring backpack and a Sea to Summit Dry Sack to carry my wallet, phone, journal and maps. Not the most ideal or elegant touring configuration, but it’ll do to get me out of the city and into the landscape.

Originally, my plan was to bike up to William O’Brien State Park, just north of Stillwater on the St. Croix River, and stay for three nights. I made my reservations about a week ago, and went on a binge of plan-changing. I added an extra day, an extra state, two stops and 140 miles to my trip. I will be camping in three different parks on three different rivers. In order to camp in dependable places I needed to make my itinerary a little rigid. To compensate I made my trips as short as possible so I have lots of time to check out the landscape, get lost or wait out the weather if I need to. Since I can’t carry a lot of supplies with me, I’m making sure to be within about an hours drive from the city at all times in case something happens and I need to call for help. I’ll be passing through cities in between parks so I can shop for groceries.

I spent over $1000 in 2009 to be on the road for two weeks and got to camp for free in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico, check out off-the-interstate ghost towns in Texas and deal with torrential rains in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. I woke up in a van to ridiculously humid air in Houston. I took a wrong turn into East St. Louis after dark (which should speak for itself if you’ve ever been there) but I’ve never been just outside of Hudson to stand in a waterfall, I’ve never taken note of the native Midwestern prairie grasses, and I’ve never gone across a state line without letting almost everything besides rest stops and chain restaurants speed past me at seventy miles an hour. You don’t need a car to get to work, see your friends, go to shows or go grocery shopping. In a little over a week I’ll show myself that you don’t need one to take a road trip either.

So here’s the itinerary for my five-day three-river mini bicycle tour:

  • August 1st
    42 mile ride to William O’Brien State Park near Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota. I’ll be taking the very long Gateway trail through the northeastern metro area.
  • August 2nd
    23 mile ride to Willow River State Park in St. Joseph Wisconsin. I’ll be crossing the state line into Wisconsin in Stillwater, shopping for food if necessary. I’ve got all day to make this very manageable distance, so I may stop to swim in the river or have a long picnic or just get to camp early and hang out. I hear the waterfalls at this park are spectacular and I hope it’s not raining.
  • August 3rd
    49 mile ride to Frontenac State Park just downriver from Red Wing, Minnesota. This is the furthest out of town I will be.
  • August 4th
    Rest and hang around camp. With all the riding and camping, I want to make sure I’m good to get back home.
  • August 5th
    70 mile ride back to Minneapolis. This will be a feat, but since I’m biking into the city, I figure I can stop and eat or get on a bus if I’ve had enough, and I don’t need to worry about setting up camp at the end of the ride since I’ll be home, which could be as late as midnight!

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