Miles Today: 115
Miles to Date: 2,696
States to Date: 13
Cycling conditions were perfect today. After seven early morning miles out of St. Cloud, I was on the Lake Wobegon and Central Lakes bike trails for over one hundred miles – all paved, all car-free, all with the wind nudging me north and west from behind my left hip. Still, even under the best conditions, 115 miles is a very long day in the saddle.
Minnesota has an impressive system of paved rail trails. Another cyclist told me state law mandates that after a set period of time after a railroad right-of-way is abandoned, the land reverts to private property owners on either side. In order to avoid this, a state bicycle trust takes over many right-of-ways to keep them in the public domain. This may have another positive upside, as rail traffic is increasing and it’s possible they may be needed for rail service again someday. Once lost, it would be very difficult to reassemble these right-of-ways. Outside of St. Cloud I actually saw a construction crew installing a third set of tracks on the main line that runs from Minneapolis to St. Cloud. Proof that everything comes around again.
Since my cycling was long today, I took several well-spaced breaks. On A Prairie Home Companion Garrison Keillor riffs on Minnesota Lutherans, but in fact the Lake Wobegon Trail ties together Minnesota’s Catholic belt. I stopped at the solid, and thriving, churches in Albany, Freeport, and Melrose. The trail parallels I-94 for about fifty miles, but at enough distance the highway is just a steady din. Alexandria is the largest town in these parts, the hub of the Central Lakes region. It’s a lovely town, and I ate lunch in a local restaurant that’s been in the same family over ninety years.
The wind picked up by mid-afternoon. The grass along the sides of the trail billowed and shimmered like waves on vast verdant sea. I passed a cool house made from a grain elevator. Around mile 90 I needed a beak but there was no place to stop. Fortunately good size trees grow along the path, and I found a shady spot, stretched out flat, and enjoyed a Cliff bar and bottle of water.
Despite ideal conditions, the rest of the ride was a chore. Around mile 108 I hit the wall. I dismounted and walked my bike for half a mile. Just allowing my legs a different cadence helped. I arrived at my warmshowers host’s house just after six: eleven hours of cycling time. After a shower and fresh clothes, Jen, who works in an artisanal bakery, her boyfriend David, and I had fresh bread and hard cheese. Then we walked through the charming town of Fergus Falls to a pizza/microbrewery joint. The minute we walked in I hit my second wall of the day. I needed sleep. I excused myself and missed out on really great local food, but was happy to be horizontal in bed before ten.