Fargo to Minneapolis Ė A 440km bike ride in one day

 

 

Friday, June 25, 2004

 

After the two 400km Winnipeg rides last year I have had another fairly extreme idea in my head for quite some time: Riding from Fargo down to Minneapolis in a single day! The last weekend in June would be the last biking weekend for me for a while due to upcoming trips to Florida and then on to Europe. So when the weather report predicted both sun & clouds, but no rain and 5-15mph winds out of the NW, things kind of fell into place: I booked a hotel room via the Internet in Burnsville south of Minneapolis close to a friendís home who I wanted to pay a visit on Sunday. I planned to return by bus similar to my first Winnipeg trip. I had already taken this bus route once before and printed out some logistics around schedule to prepare. I printed out a map using the very handy MapPoint software, which also gave my the detailed directions and km readings. Then I prepared the bike, bought some tools and food and packed my little backpack with all the necessities for a weekend trip like so many times before.

All that was left to do was load up on carbohydrates through the classic spaghetti party in the evening. I feasted on so much pasta that I could hardly move around afterwards! Plugging in phone and iPod to be fully charged in the morning I set my alarm clock for 2:55am (!) and went to bed while it was still light out around 9:45pm for 5 hours of sleepÖ

 

Saturday, June 26, 2004

The big day. I usually donít believe this when people tell me, but I did wake up three minutes prior to the time of the alarm! As if I had some subconscious voice telling me itís time to go. Very little time is spent to get dressed, eat a yoghurt and get ready to leave. It is 3:14am when I take a self-timed photo outside the apartment entry just like I did almost exactly 1 year ago on the Winnipeg ride.

This time I am leaving 45mins earlier, for one as there will be less wind, for another as it will be slightly further distance as well! It is also much cooler than last year, with temperatures just below 50F (10C). So I dress warmly, and I am later surprised to keep riding in it for several hours!

Once out of town I ride in complete darkness with just a red blinker on the back of my bike. In absence of any major light, you sharpen your other senses like hearing or smelling. Several times I distinctly notice the various smells of grass, tar or even roadkill as I glide silently along the road. I notice some cell-phone towers blinking with red or white lights in the far distance, probably harder to see during the day than on this clear night. Amazingly there is also a faint sliver of blue light on the North-East horizon, even at 3:45am! While it will be another full 2 hours before the sun will rise, you can still tell the first signs of dawn Ė such is the effect near the longest day in the Northern hemisphere.

There is near zero traffic. For the first 2 hours there is not a single car passing me in my direction, just a handful of cars going the opposite direction back to town. One of the benefits of chosing a route close to an Interstate Highway is that hardly anyone drives there. (Another one being the easy retrieval.) I mostly focus on the road ahead to discern any obstacles or potholes that might unexpectedly pop up.

After 1 Ĺ hours I reach Barnesville, a spot I sometimes pick as turn-around point on summer evening rides after work. As it is fairly cold and moist out, riding up to it I think about stopping for a hot coffee. But at the same time I guard my anticipation thinking: What if they are not open 24 hours? Sure enough, when I get there around 4:45am, everything is closed. I get out one of the many cereal bars I packed and sip my gatorade. The following picture, while not sharp, still gives a feel for the ďlone stranger in the nightĒ feel coming out of the darkness to the gas station.

I have no choice but to carry on to the next little town of Rothsay. At least there is more light now so I can better see the road ahead for obstacles. The clear dawning morning paints incredibly beautiful colors in the sky, just as I remembered from last years Winnipeg ride. My only complaint at this time is that there is some fog and it is very chilly with the moisture. My fingers and toes get really cold, Iím pulling the sleeves of my jersey down over the wrist-watch to keep every warmth I can. Finally I get to Rothsay and an open reststop very close to the Interstate exit. I order a coffee and a fresh cinnamon roll to warm up both from the outside and inside.

2+ hours and 65 km into the ride, I study the map. I have to shake off doubts when comparing the short distance covered so far {[3] on map} with whatís ahead! On a long ride like this you must not think of the end this early. You just think of the next leg, the next reststop or town ahead, trying to find a good rhythm and enjoying whatís coming at you Ė there is no goal other than to be comfortable with the here and now. The journey is the destination!

One highlight along the way are the first rays of sun hitting me around 6:00am. The sky looks so much more blue when you looked at it for hours in black and then all shades of blue. My shadow rides 30ft next to me for a while as I continue on heading SE. I see deer grazing next to or crossing the road. As much as you dread their sight when driving a car at highway speeds, as much you welcome their sight when going slow on the bicycle. After another hour and a climb to the top of one the rolling hills in the Fergus Falls area I stop to pee and take in the scenery unfolding around in the morning sun burning off the fog.

On some of the straightaways I notice a slight N wind starting to come up and helping me gently to pick up the speed a little bit. At times it seems almost NE instead of the forecast NW. This worries me quite a bit, as the 2nd half of the route is more towards the East and I would be facing headwind there with NE wind. A distance like this is just impossible to cover without any tailwind, not to mention any headwind! We will seeÖ

After the Rothsay breakfast I only stop for a few minutes in Fergus Falls to buy more gatorade. Soon thereafter I reach the 100km mark at 7:15am. Slightly behind the Winnipeg timeline, even though I started much earlier! (Just shows what an exceptional day that was last year.) Also the terrain here definitely has more hills and thus will lower the average speed. After a small road construction induced detour testing my patience and mental ability to deal with setbacks I reach Elbow Lake at 130km or so. I stop for a snack and to warm up in the sun at some public playground.

After this stop I leave Elbow Lake and discover after about 3km or so that Iím on the wrong road. Must have missed a turn in the village since Iím heading straight E, not SE as I should according to the map. I flag down a car to consult with the driver. I decide to not take any chances with route improvising, but instead to backtrack. Not exactly my favorite thing to do to ride back to where I came from on a day like this, but again itís more mental than physical! Soon Iím on the right road via Barrett and Kensington heading towards Glenwood.

I get into a good rhythm now. I had started using my iPod to provide the right groove and it definitely helps here. The road is a bit bumpy and the wind could be stronger, probably just 5 mph. But at least it starts blowing more NW now, which greatly eases my concerns. So I move from village to village, at times cruising through one and stopping for a few minutes at the next one every 45 mins or so. Then the road and shoulder turns really smooth, helping me to speed up a bit more and minimizing the shock absorber treatment. The next big goal is Glenwood, almost at the halfway mark {[4] on map}. Prior to that I reach the 200km mark at 11:00am. I stop at a nice scenic overlook with a plate explaining the geological features creating this Lake (Minnewanka) some 15000 years ago during the last ice age.

I stop at a nearby gas-station and restaurant for lunch. I have been out on the ride for 8 hours now covering 205km Ė confirming my planning rule of thumb of 4 hrs per 100km with reststops. I order a chicken salad, iced tea and coffee to refuel. I also recharge my iPod to provide some extra juice for later in the day when it would be sorely missed to not have music any more.

After a 45 minute break I develop a sense of urgency, despite the pleasure of just sitting there and relaxing. I donít want to fall much behind schedule, as there will be little daylight left today with the remaining distance. Hard to think about another 200+km to ride, but then again, rule #1: Donít think about the goal until late in the ride, the journey is the destinationÖ

I now stop more often, even if its just for 10 minutes. I only get to Belgrade another 40km out or so when I rest again. I find myself doing a lot of calculations about frequencies of reststops, remaining distance and time in the day etc. Something to keep your mind busy during the many hours on the bike. Hopping back on the bike, the wind is not quite as strong as I had hoped. But every little bit in the right direction makes it exponentially easier to succeed in the long run than either no wind or even the slightest bit of headwind.

The sky is overcast now and for a moment I think about what would happen if it started to rain. The fact that it doesnít is one of the positive things keeping me going. Stopping for the hassle of getting the camera out and setting it up for a self-timed picture like the one above seems to cost more and more consideration. Stopping for another coffee or milkshake, however, seems to come quite naturally like here in Eden Valley at 270km around 2:30pm.

The next milestone coming up is the 300km mark. I reach it at 3:40pm. I am thinking that I only rode further than this in a single day on the two Winnipeg rides last summer. So when looking at the map, the remaining section starts to look decidedly shorter than the already covered one Ė a morale booster.

Between that point and the next picture taken many hours later there is almost a black hole in my memory. I got to Kirwan stopping again for Gatorade and some bananas. I call a friend from the bike shop who I told yesterday evening about my plans. He also tells me that he will be racing in Minneapolis, which will become important for tomorrow, but I donít fully realize it then in my exhausted state of mind. Another 25km later I reach Buffalo at around 355km {[5] on map}. I wonder whatís greater Ė the draw of getting closer to the goal or the fatigue of hardly being able to sit in the saddle for any more than a few minutes at a time without pedaling standing up, just rolling (one good thing about those hills, you can relax on the way down) or stopping. One particular morale boosting event is my first sight of the Minneapolis skyline on the horizon at around 370km!

There is more traffic now, but there is a good shoulder and so Iím not concerned. I canít wait to see the skyline grow bigger and draw nearer. Since it is a very clear day, I know there is still one hour of riding before you get there.

Not too long after the above picture I reach Plymouth, basically a suburb of the twin cities. Sightings of the skyline increase in frequency and clarity. I am now in what alpinists would call summit fever: Nothing can stop me now from pressing on to the near summit! The next 10km are the best of the entire trip: Ihave the sun and the wind in my back, going slightly downhill towards the city, pedaling with ease and good speed. I listen to my iPod Ė Paul Taylorís Pleasure Seeker Ė while I look at my own shadow cast out in front of me. At this point the endorphines are flowing and I get a natural high. Everything is in rhythm and going perfectly. It strikes me again: The more you anticipate things, the happier you are when you finally get them!

Soon I cross the overpass of Interstate 494, which is like a watershed for me. Now inside the Interstate ring around the cities, I know I must be close. I am counting down the last km to get to the 400km mark. Just before I reach the city limit of Minneapolis and pose for the obligatory ďsummit shotĒ:

Despite the big city and traffic, there is a deer standing maybe 50 ft from where I stand down in the tall grass near some trees. The only other animals I notice are mosquitos, which make me press on without lingering. Now the skyline comes into full view.

Soon I roll into downtown and take a self-timed picture near the bus terminal where I plan to start the bus ride back tomorrow.

Leisurly rolling through downtown I mingle with the many pedestrians and some other cyclists in the pedestrian zone. There is some inner-city transportation project opening up today and some open-air festival is going on. What a nice welcome and change to the endless monotony of the last couple of hours! Isnít it amazing: The fatigue is gone! (The mind is a powerful thing!) There are so many city sights to soak up now. But I also have quite a ways to go, some 30km or so to get to the other side of town and itís already 8:00pm, so I need to press on again.

Following State Highway 55 towards St. Paul Ė just like I did for the past 250+km Ė I reach the Mendota Bridge across the Minnesota River just prior to the Mississippi confluence south of St. Paul. On the bike I canít ride on Interstate Highways, so there are very few options to cross the river and this closest one is a bit out of the way, adding some km to the total trip distance you wouldnít have with a car. I look across to the East to St. Paul and am reminded of the February trip when I came down to see the Ice Palace.

For a moment I think how much colder it was back then (-10F) and how pleasant it is tonight with 70F and nearly twice the daylight hours! Itís great to have four seasonsÖ

The last stretch of road is towards the SE to reach Burnsville. The road, Highway 13, leads along a little ridge above the river with sweeping views towards the NW offering a nice setting for the sunset. I stop for one more self-timed picture with the sun very low already.

And I think, well, you posed with the first rays of sun this morning, some 15 hours ago, now lets pose for the last rays of sun. The light is just magic.

Turning around and looking the other way from this very spot, the sun is setting to the NW of the cities.

The last road I need to find is Nicollette Ave turning off to the S from this Hwy 13. After another 20 minutes or so of pedaling I reach it. A steep hill forces me to shift down to some of my lowest gears. Good that Iím this close now. After a little while I stop to take off my sunglasses and consult the driving directions one last time. Less than 1km away just around the next little hill is the final intersection. It is past 9:30pm when I finally reach my goal, the Country Inn at Burnesville.

Memories flash back from us arriving in Winnipeg last August, with daylight fading and us posing in front of the hotel. When itís all said and done, I check my odometer for a final tally of 440km, 14.5 hrs of riding and 18.25 hrs of elapsed time. Up til downtown Minneapolis my average was 31.2 km/h, much slower than the 38km/h to Winnipeg with the hammer wind, but definitely another wind-assisted record setting bike ride.

I take a quick shower, change and walk across to the Burnesville shopping center heading to Romanoís Maccaroni Grill for a late dinner just past 10:00pm. When the waitress asks me how Iím doing, I respond: Hungry, tired, happy! (in inverse order of priority)

Sunday, June 27, 2004

After a long sound sleep I get up around 8:00am. I ride a few km to my friend (and former colleague at Oce Printing Systems) Leonís home in Apple Valley. My legs are doing ok, but my butt doesnít like to sit on that saddle again! After some hills and maybe 20mins of riding I get to Leonís place. I am treated to a warm welcome by his family, wife Linda and daughter Elizabeth. They serve up piles of delicious fresh pancakes, fruit and cheese/ham omelette and two pots of fresh brewed coffee.

Did I mention the fresh food was great? Well, so was their company. I appreciate their phenomenal work in their hilly backyard and landscaping around the house. Leon takes me on a tour around their garden. Really a beautiful piece of work and nature, all the more astonishing as itís in the middle of a big city.

 

After the phone call yesterday I was hoping to be able to connect with the Fargo biker who came down to participate in a bike race here in Minneapolis. Leon and family are kind enough to give me a ride over to the suburb Rosemount with their car. This was a heaven-send, as it was both further away than I thought, very hilly terrain and it started raining. In short, it would have been miserable to ride out here on my bicycle, all wet and cold and exhausted after the long day yesterday.

Eventually we find the place thanks to Leonís familiarity with the local area. Sure enough, my friend Pat is racing on the circuit as we get there. His dad Craig is there to greet us. Craig was one of the six riders who went to Winnipeg. So naturally he has a special appreciation for my ride yesterday.

Unfortunately the truck-driving-course-turned-bike-race-track is very slippery due to the ongoing rain. Shortly before the start/finish straightaway is a sharp left turn in the course. In one round a rider near the front of the pack slips and takes a hard fall. He wipes out another rider behind him, most others escape the crash to the grass around the track. One of the two can continue and goes on to rejoin the pack, the other is done for the day treating some bad road-rash on legs, thigh and elbow. We are nervously awaiting the finish and hope that Pat is staying upright and finishes unscatched. He does, although he sacrifices a top-3 finish to some others taking higher risk in the finishing turn coming in at 4th place. Still very respectable in these conditions!

We load my bike from Leonís trunk onto Craigís car and leave shortly after this race is over. There were many other races going on, but the cold and rainy day makes us not wanting to stick around much longer. On the way home we stop for Mexican food and later Dairy Queen.

We also stop at the big REI store in Minneapolis to buy some rain gear and bike wear. Itís always fun to stop at this store, even though I am too tired to tackle their famous climbing wall today.

I am extremely grateful for Craig and Pat to take me back home. I couldnít have timed or planned it any better, just lucked out on this one, really. We make short time of the drive back through alternating drivers, sharing storied about long rides and Patís upcoming plans to do a week long race in Canada and napping in the passenger seat. Coincidentally, this weekend Tom Smith from the IPC shop had organized the famous annual Beartooth Pass ride in Montana. We all canít wait to hear from them. They are just about starting their return journey by the time we reach Fargo.

This was quite likely the longest single day ride of my life. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would rate this trip a 10. There was nothing I had left to chance or was not prepared for. It was a long, hard won goal well worth pursuing. Great outdoor memories like always when you start a big adventure in the pre-dawn hours of the day. Near perfect timing with not an hour to spare over the course of 18+ hours. No flat tires or other obstacles like road construction. Eventually good wind, although a bit lighter than forecast. Great reception by and good company with friends on Sunday rounded out a perfect weekend adventure.

The journey is the destination! Where will the journey lead from here?