Saturday, April 11, 2009

Minnesota Nice gone awry

I'm in the middle of "ride my bike more miles than I drive my car" month (mainly because in the winter I drive to skiing and in summer one or two hiking weekends completely overwhelms what I can bike the rest of the month) so I headed south today, by bike, to run at Lebanon Hills Park. It's about a 13 mile ride each way, so a good warm up for a run.

So, I got to the park, locked my bike to a highway sign post (perfectly legal) and run a bit in to the woods to stash my bag with my bike shoes, bike gloves, a water bottle, two Clif bars and helmet. By "stash" I mean "clip around a tree" so it wouldn't wander off and be pretty obvious it was left there on purpose. I ran off for an hour around Jensen and O'Brien lakes and returned to the pack to swig some water, and then turned and ran for another 45 minutes over by Shultz Lake and returned to where I'd stashed my bag to leave and—it was gone.

Gone, gone, gone. I retraced my steps—perhaps it was at a different trail junction (it was a few feet off the trail, of course). Nope. I walked around a few times, and then ran back to the trailhead, asking people there if they'd seen anyone with a red backpack. No one had. I grabbed some water and ran back, again looking all around and asking everyone I saw. No one had seen someone walk by with a red pack, although a couple people had seen it in the tree—it was, perhaps, too conspicuous of a hiding spot.

I unlocked my bike and was now traveling with no bike gloves (and after a decade and a half my handle bars are kind of chewed up), nowhere to stash my lock so it was around my stem and frame, which works but is not desirable, and no bike shoes. Oh, and no helmet. Biking is somewhat different when at any time you can fall off and crack your skull open with no protection. Hooray!

As I was leaving, I took a trail map which had the park phone number on it (I'd not brought my cell phone) and cycled over to the visitors center, which I fully expected to be closed. But it wasn't—open until 6:00 on weekends. It was 5:11. I walked in and asked the woman there if anyone had brought in a red backpack. And she did. I told her my sob story and wondered out loud what kind of imbicile would take something that was obviously left short term for lost and she sort of rolled her eyes in agreement. So, now, I had my shoes, snacks, pack, gloves and helmet (I figured the replacement value of these would run over $100) for a safe ride home.

I know that the guy who had hiked a mile with my pack had done it out of the goodness of his heart. He was probably so happy to have his Minnesota Nice good-deed-of-the-day. However, I wasted an hour, which I'm never getting back, looking for it, and threw a fit trying to find it. On the Appalachian Trail this would have never happened, for two reasons. First, unless something was obviously rubbish or obviously lost (say, a guide book dropped on the trail, which you might carry to the next shelter and leave a note), people would assume its owner was coming back soon. And second, no one would go through the trouble of carrying eight or ten pounds two or three miles—that's insane. But, oh, no, in Minnesota, yah know, we have to be nice about this then.

An unrelated observation about biking in the Twin Cities suburbs: it kind of sucks. Now in the cities, don't get me wrong, it's superb. I've only biked urbanly in one other city, Boston, and the Twin Cities put it to shame. Bike lanes galore, wide streets, decent paving and lane markings, signage, facilities, bike racks, all things which Boston sorely lacks. (Although Boston has gone from "worst" to "[one] for the future" in Bicycling Magazine's annual roundup. Minneapolis falls behind the Portland-San Fran-Boulder-Seattle-Chicago winners, perhaps for weather although I am surprised to see Chicago ahead of it; while it is flat and straight, Chicago doesn't seem like a biking mecca.) But in the suburbs, it's flipped. I've done a decent amount of road biking in the Boston Suburbs, and it's quite nice. Bike trails lack (save for the Minuteman) but within about ten miles in several directions, suburbs open in to towns with more conservation land, narrow, shaded roads with little traffic and town functions often clustered in town centers. Plus, if you want to go further, you can take a bike on a train to Fitchburg or Gloucester or Worcester and bike from there.

Here? Well, it's a bit different. There is great biking out there, but you have to go a lot further. To Afton or Minnetonka. And to get there, unless there is a bike trail, is miserable. You are almost assured a lot of time in curvy, disgusting subdivision roads with no shade and no character or pedaling along the side of a four-lane, divided highway with a 55 m.p.h. speed limit and assorted detritus in the breakdown lane. Sure, it's wide and relatively safe, and sometimes there are sidewalks, but it's generally pretty miserable. I can't imagine it in 90 degree weather. And the suburbs here are miserable, subdivisions and strip malls, subdivisions and strip malls, without and end. You have a choice of the highways of doom or winding your way through a subdivision which may or may not have an outlet. It's not fun.

Finally, there are some great parks around the Twin Cities—within an hour I'd put it on par with Boston—but with the exception of Wirth and Battle Creek, it is impossible to get to them without a car. I don't mind Wirth and Battle Creek, but I'd been to them a lot, and without driving, I was almost SOL. In Boston one could ride a half-hourly bus from Ashmont to the Blue Hills, the Orange Line to Middlesex Fells, and trains to various parks and forests (Estabrook, Wompatuck, &c.) further afield. Last year my boss rode a bike to camp at Carver Park in Carver County. It was only 30 miles—and they wound up carrying their bikes through the field at the end. Needless to say, cyclists were in the minority.

Oh! And, on the way home I got cut off by a guy who just had to go around me and turn in front of me in to a highway entrance. So I went to take a drink of water (once I'd slowed enough to be safe) and, what do you know, my water bottle slid out of my hand, across his back window, and on to the pavement in front of me. I picked it up and continued on my way, looking back for a silver Taurus coming to run me off the road, although he would have had to backtrack four miles from the next exit, so I thought this unlikely.

No comments:

Post a Comment