Saturday, February 21, 2009

Epic Winter Rides

It's been a while since I've rapped at 'cha, but I've been busy riding and not jabbing.

Last weekend, the Mighty Jim and I hit the road on a cold but dry Sunday afternoon and buzzed in and around St. Paul. I hit at least two new-to-me trails and a beautiful and heretofore unridden (by me) road in the river bottoms of St. Paul. How could I have missed these gems in all my years of Twin Cities owning-the-trails?

We shot up the Gateway Trail following a very nutritious and delicious lunch at the Bulldog Lowertown, got distracted by the Bruce Vento trail and before you can say "suburbs are da bomb" we were in lovely Vadnais Heights. A quick survey of the gruesome Hwy 61 road shoulder action put us back on the trail heading south back into St. Paul, where we boldly forged onto Lilydale Road and then up the bike trail toward the Mendota Bridge.

I sketch for you the broad strokes and not the amazing subtle details of our trip. That neither of us had planned a real route but were open to the experience of simply riding was a treat. We tracked and backtracked, veered and leered, discussed the finer points of edible underwear (in the platonic, dialectical abstract, of course) and enjoyed the basic, delightful act of putting one pedal in front of the other, over and over and over. We both saw things we'd never seen, ridden roads we'd never ridden and ended the day, dare I say it, exhausted and sated with the completeness of it all. For me, the second best winter ride of the season.

The best winter ride of the season happened mere hours ago.

Overnight the Twin Cities received a generous 4-6" of fresh snow. Temps in the teens and brisk northwesterly winds made it feel plenty wintery. Only three of us showed up for the ride and as we lit out from Hiawatha HQ, Jim set a brisk pace with seemingly no regard for his personal safety. In the first mile I struggled to keep up but soon found my groove and my fear of digging into the snowy tarmac dissipated. For the rest of the ride I was ready for action and held my own with Jim and Cippolini(o).

As we pulled onto the virgin, untrammeled snow of the Minnihaha/Ft. Snelling Trail, our trials seemed over. The moderately deep snow, without the bastardizing effects of car or foot travel, was easily navigated. It was a unique, wonderful experience to glide over a cottony cloud of snow, noiseless and velvety smooth. Cippolini(o) later told us that from behind he could see our pedals and feet hit the snow ever-so-slightly. Our tracks made it appear like we were running over the surface of the freshly fallen snow, barely making an impression.

The morning light and new snow transformed the ruins of Ft. Snelling in the most flattering possible way. Limestone masonry and snowy leafless trees stood out vividely against the backdrop of the mighty Mississippi/Minnesota River valley and the blue sky, shot-through with fast moving gray clouds. We all agreed that it was a striking and comely sight.

Beauty and reflection fled before the gruesome sight of an un-cleared Mendota Bridge trail. Passing snowplows had left in their wake a dense, wet-concrete snow that was largely impassable. Jim resolutely walked his bike across the entire span. Cippolini(o) and I alternatively waked and rode, pushing hard against the snowy mortar, lucky to move at all. It was a long slog across that bridge, made longer by the incessant and obnoxious noise of fast-moving highway traffic.

Once clear of the damned bridge, we made good time on the back streets of Mendota Heights and West St. Paul. It was a hilly, sometimes treacherous slide back down toward the river, but we all three managed to stay upright. At one point, Cippolini(o) saw an elderly damsel in distress and we dismounted to shovel a large driveway. As we rode away, the object of his largesse called out that we were "angels". Jim and I both took that as carte blanche to indulge ourselves in, as Jim put it, "impure thoughts" later in the day. My karma surplus evaporated within a few minutes as I selfishly scooped a blueberry kolache from the warm grasp of a fellow patron of Jerabek's New Bohemian Coffeehouse. Not literally, mind you, but I knew that she wanted this last blueberry treat as did I. To the speedy went the spoils, and my delight in it's deep purple splendor was diminished not at all by it's ill-gotten origin.

Onward and upward into downtown St. Paul and then up Grand Avenue. Using every available freshly-shoveled sidewalk we made our way riverward. We passed by the compelling sight of two dozen large cherry-pickers fully erect and bedecked with the Stars and Stripes. Was it a protest? A celebration? A memorial? We postulated but did not seek confirmation. I choose to believe it was a memorial in honor of a fallen comrade.

Inevitably we found ourselves back at Hiawatha Cyclery. It was an epic ride, varied and fun, tough and satisfying. I enjoyed the scenery, company and the fact that we did it all with loads of fresh snow on the ground. As much as I'm ready for this winter to end, today was a good day and a day that can only happen in the white, icy depths of winter.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Beautiful Weekend To Ride

Last Monday was, without a doubt, the darkest day of riding all winter. Howling artic winds, low temps and the awful feeling that it will always be so infected my usual bike joy.

No so this weekend.

If you rode your bike in the sunshine, moderate winds and balmy temps and still hated riding, then you, friend, are not ever going to enjoy riding in the winter.

The top photo shows my lunch stop on the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge in Minneapolis. That's a bahn mi sandwich from Quang—without a doubt the best $2.60 lunch in town.

The other photo shows my trusty Owb (Orange winter bike) near Coon Rapids Dam. Some of the trails there are currently in the service of cross-country skiers (who, despite lots of snow, were nowhere to be found) and therefore rough and ready, but Owb and I prevailed.

It was just such a damned pretty weekend for riding.
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Friday, February 6, 2009

Counting The Miles

It's been an extraordinarily bikey month so far, February has.

Following my very late night return from a work-related event last night (this morning, really), my monthly total stands just shy of 100 miles, all but 2 miles on a fixed gear. For the first time all winter my legs are sore and that's a good thing!

I'm sure I'll lose track of the miles soon, but for now it looks like I could break 300 for the month, if I keep it up. I'm just a little proud, if not smug, about the whole thing.

Still, I do not recant my earlier anti-winter sentiments. Still sick of it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Cold-Assed Mother Humper Of A Winter

Did a relatively short ride today of around 20 miles.

Not so much fun.

Others may enjoy the winter riding this year, but today's 8˚ and 20 mph NW winds seemed personally insulting to me. The frozen tracks of other bikes which made my rear wheel dodge and buck like an electric bull at a Texas roadhouse were, well, deeply offensive. The less I say about my nearly frost-bitten fingers the better, but one can scarcely imagine the level of outrage it elicited in the deepest regions of my reptile brain.

Oh, and I'm good and goddamned sick of white. White on the ground, white on buildings, white on my bike, white on my hat, white everywhere. Sick of it.