"We are all of us living in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." ~Oscar Wilde
"Adventure is worthwhile in itself." ~Amelia Earhart

February 5, 2008

My First Bicycle Tour

(Another rewrite from a previous blog entry. Sorry, my life right now consists of staring at Sims, doing the occasional pushup or sit-up out of guilt, and staring at the unopened bottle of Vicoden in my dresser drawer while thinking, ‘That could be fun!’ And, yes, I‘m the master of the overly-long entry lately.)

In the summer of 2006 (or 2005. My memory is fuzzy.), after years of reading other people’s travel journals at crazyguyonabike.com and various other sites, I decided to try bicycle touring. Anybody who does an internet search about bicycle touring will soon discover Adventure Cycling, an organization that provides maps of bicycle routes around the country. I ordered a couple of maps from them that started out near Minneapolis, borrowed an old tent from my father that he had stored in the garage and bought a $10 sleeping bag from Walmart.

And, then, the issue of how to carry my stuff came up. I could’ve bought a trailer but those are ridiculously expensive at $300 or more and, besides, I had visions of traveling down a bike trail and sideswiping an infant in a stroller, disfiguring it for life. I’d feel bad. Panniers, bags that attach to the sides of your bike (after you install a rack on the bike), were a little more reasonable at around $100. But, since I’m a cheap bastard, I looked up plans on the internet for do-it-yourself panniers. I found one. I read it. I remembered that I have the mechanical skills of a 7-year-old. I envisioned my underwear and panniers made out of kitty litter buckets strewn across a rural Minnesota road as I wept in horror. The next day, REI sold at least one set of panniers.

Since it was my first attempt at bicycle touring, I decided to keep it short. South Minneapolis to a campground in Somerset, WI was about 50 miles each way. I could do that in a couple days. And this is how it went. (Times are approximate, of course. I wasn‘t blessed with super memory.)

One Saturday in the middle of summer: “Argh. PMS.”

One week later around 6 am: I stuff clothes, food, water, and various other items into my panniers, tie the tent and sleeping bag on top of the rack, and set off along city streets I’ve traveled a bazillion times before.

9 am: I arrive at Como Park in St. Paul and eat a sandwich. It’s a very pretty park with a lake surrounded by trees and walking and cycling paths and a nearby pavilion where concerts and other events are sometimes held. In another section of the park is the Como Zoo and a rather amazing conservatory and Japanese garden. Then again, I’ve lived in the Twin Cities most of my life and have seen all this at least ten times. I get bored and continue on.

10 am: I get to the Gateway State Trail, the easiest way to get out of the city by bicycle. Even though it mostly lies within the city and suburbs, trees line the path giving it a rural feel. Until you see the graffiti-covered bridges which pop up every couple of miles.

11 am: I decide to stop and eat something. I grab two hard boiled eggs from my bags and bite into one. I then realize I’ve just bitten into a hard boiled egg that has been sitting in a bag on a hot summer day for five hours. I scream through bits of egg and fling the remainder across the path. Somewhere along the Gateway State Trail, there’s a squirrel with the runs.

1 pm: The trail ends and I turn onto the highway leading into Stillwater.

1:15 pm: ‘Oh my God! I don’t have to stop every block! Rural roads rule!’

2:30 pm: I arrive in Stillwater, buy food that won’t rot overnight, and have lunch in the park overlooking the St. Croix River.

3 pm: I maneuver through a parking lot on my way to cross the bridge into the Wisconsin. I hear a car’s locks snap shut. Now, understand that I don’t look like a ‘real’ bicycle tourist. I wear cut-off jeans, t-shirts, and no helmet while bicycling not the spandex racing gear that a lot of others do. To the mostly middle- and upper-class Stillwater residents, I may just look like a girl down on her luck and potentially visiting a boyfriend in the nearby Stillwater Penitentiary. I snicker at the car’s owner and continue on.

3:30 pm: ‘Oh. My. God. That’s a big freaking hill.’

3:35 pm: ‘Rural roads suck.’

3:45 pm: I walk the bicycle up the rest of the hills.

3:50 pm: ‘Oh, crap. I’m not used to walking.’ Muscle cramps seize both of my calves. After they subside, I continue bicycling.

4:30 pm: I sit down and rest (Okay, collapse in exhaustion is closer to the truth) on the side of the road. I glare at a nearby church while thinking, ‘If I believed in you, I’d curse your name right now.’

4:50 pm: I pass a motel and consider getting a room. I decide to save $50 and go to the campground. I will be sorry for this in 6 hours. Very sorry.

5 pm: Whee! I make it to the campground. I set up my tent, take a shower, and go inside the tent to read.

6 pm: ‘Oh, look! It’s raining! Glad I have this spiffy tent!’

6:15 pm: ‘Gee, I didn’t think it’d leak so much.’

6:17 pm: I stare at my tent that is now standing in a pool of water. The rest of my site is, of course, fine. Somehow, brilliant me picked the lowest spot on the campsite.

6:30 pm: I set up the tent on what I hope is higher ground. My sleeping bag, however, is completely drenched. A security guard drives up and tells me about the Laundromat in town. I almost go but the trip would add another two to four miles and I figure I’ll just do without the sleeping bag. It’s summer. It’s not cold. Nothing can go wrong, right? Right!

7pm -ish: The rain stops.

9 pm: It begins to rain. Again. I hide inside the tent.

9:30 pm: Good news: I DID place the tent on higher ground! Bad news: Now the whole campsite is flooded. It doesn’t occur to me to go to the motel across the road. I am a dumb-dumb.

10 pm-ish: The rain stops. I stop cowering in front of the bathroom’s hand dryer trying to get warm and lay down on the picnic table hoping to get some sleep before daybreak. Note to beginning bicycle tourists/campers: This doesn’t really work when you’re cold and wet.

10:15pm: The guy at the next campsite and the security guard (different one than the Laundromat guy) call me over and snickered at my situation.

I spent most of the rest of the night talking to them and some other people staying at the campground. Everybody there was lovely. J In the morning, I wussed out and called my parents to give me a ride home.

So, after all that, what’s the logical thing to do? Order copies of Adventure Cycling’s North Lakes Route maps, of course!


FerdC ~ Crazy Medical Cases said...

I LOVED the post! I love my bicycle maybe more than I should. I think of getting back out there all winter long. I put it on a trainer all winter so I'll be ready for the good weather.

You might consider joining us one of these summers at the WAM 300. It is a 300 mile (100 miles a day for 3 days) benefit ride for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan. It is a beautiful, well supported ride, but you've got to be ready for the mileage. You can't be the dirtball rider in cut offs ; ) Check out their web site www.wishmich.org

I LOL'd at the thought of you exhausted, cold, and wet. Why do we find suffering funny sometimes? I guess you wrote it that way. Very nice post!

FerdC ~ Crazy Medical Cases said...

btw- I noticed a link to my site on your blog! Thanks! That was very sweet.
I returned the favor with a link to yours!

Berryvox said...

Yeah, I've considered getting a trainer. Every spring, I end up huffing and puffing around Lake Nokomis after not getting any exercise all winter. Not sure if I can pull off 100 miles a day. Partly due to my fitness level and partly due to my crappy $150 Walmart mountain bike. I'm really considering buying a proper bicycle from REI or a bike shop. I'm sure clipless pedals and a bike that weighs less than 50 pounds makes a big difference. That's the main reason I've avoided charity rides and bicycle clubs.

Heh, yeah, even while I was trying to rescue my tent from the puddle of doom, I knew it was hilarious.

No problem. I like your short stories. :) I didn't really expect a linkback but thanks! :)

Barron said...

This is a great post! I laughed at the "squirrel with the runs" line. so funny!

Titania Starlight said...

Hello BerryVox,
Cheers to you endeavors in participating in a bicycle tour.

It sounds like you had quite an adventure! :O)

Thank you by the way for linking to me. I will do so in return. That was so very kind of you.

Berryvox said...

Barron - Poor little furry thing. :(

Titania - No problem. :) Like I told Ferd, it's not really expected but thanks. :)

Liara Covert said...

Cycling, like other exercise, is good for clearing the mind and unleashing freedom in the soul.