Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Gentlemen's Tour June, 2009

This year I turned 40. It's a milestone of sorts in that one cannot deny that middle age is not only knocking at the door, but has indeed come into the house, taken it's shoes off, grabbed a cold beer and is boring the shit out of everyone talking about his ailments and medications. The only way to get 'em to shut the heck up is to do something epic. On the actual day of my birth each year I strap on some snowshoes and try to complete a challenging loop from our dear friends cabin in the north woods. My family spends every New Year's Eve and Day there, and since that is my birthday it's convenient to use this as a Middle Age banishing tactic. This past January the hike was magnificently difficult and I owned it.

But when facing a Major Milestone like the big 4-0, one epic battle with Middle Age is not enough. Indeed, as time passes and the years pile on it's important to take on as many epic projects as one can. When your body breaks, you have found the limit. Until then, keep pushing. For Epic Project #2 this year, I found myself contemplating a bike tour, which is something I've always wanted to try but never had the opportunity to plan. A few months ago my good friend Jim announced he was planning a tour and I invited myself along. He graciously accepted my offer of companionship and, to protect himself from an undiluted blast of my mesmerizing personality scrambled to invite several other like-minded fellows. In the end there were six of us: Jim, Sean, Doug, Kevin, Mark and me. Eric joined us for the last night, making it seven participants. All great personalities and patient, which is nice.

Due to injury, scheduling and the vagaries of life, only 5 of us would ride together at any one time and I joined the tour in medius res at the first campsite. But each Pedaling Gentleman added his own flavor (or, as the case may be, scent) to the proceedings and it was very much a Magnificent Seven vibe each time we rode into town and the women and children hid from view. When the town spokesman would come out to parley, we were kind and gentle with them. We asked only for pastry and coffee, a full water bottle and the use of a toilet. Then we rode off, leaving their village not much the worse for wear and the local bakeshop or coffee house a few dollars richer. Also we ate cheeseburgers. Lots of cheeseburgers. The best were at Finnie's in Plainview, MN.

Our route wandered along the Mississippi River from Red Wing to La Crosse, over to Lanesboro, MN and then northward across hill and vale (and hill, hill, hill) to Lake City and back to Red Wing. Most nights we camped but in La Crosse we used a local hotel to blast the grime and musk from our bodies. In total, I pedaled about 250 miles in 5 days and the other fellas who had done the entire trip wound up with more than 300 miles. It was a great experience filled with laughter, a few hillpain-induced tears and lots and lots of calories. It often seemed as if we were sitting in cafes longer each day than on our bikes. The nights were filled with campfires and conversation, heaps of good conversation. I look forward to doing it again, if they'll have me.

Here are a few photos of the tour.

First we have the first Helmet Totem of the tour. It's a priapistic onion ring. It started oozing grease the day after I affixed it to my helmet, so I had to set it free. For the remainder of the trip I sported a unicorn duckie.

We had a lot of gravel to ride, which was fun and challenging. Nobody wiped out, but not for lack of trying. Jim, in particular, seemed well at ease bombing down sketchy country hills.

Doug's camping skills were evident. His tent was first to be erected and first to be packed each day. It's a pleasure watching a guy so completely in his element and I look forward to perhaps camping with him again someday. Below is a typical Doug camp scene. Imagine detonating a grenade underneath the tent and that's what my camp looked like.

We had a layover day in Lanesboro which four of us put to good use. We pedaled the 22 mile round-trip to Fountain, MN where we ate soup and pie, bought some cured meat products and visited their excellent museum. Here we see Jim, Sean and Doug at a rest break. Jim had just said something pithy which I missed.

Rolling into town looked like this.

Sean flashes the pearly whites while Kevin and Jim discuss how much they are looking forward to coffee and, if they are lucky, baked goods. This was my favorite coffee shop of the trip, in lovely Houston, MN. The friendliest people of the entire tour were here, without doubt. They invited us to come live there which shows that the people of Houston, MN are keen students of quality.

As the tour wound up I found myself in the back of the pack and somewhat melancholy that the fun had to end. I hope to travel with these fine fellows again someday.