Word on the Streets

Small town bike vacation

Every year my husband, Ethan, and I celebrate Independence Day and our wedding anniversary by staying the weekend in a small Minnesota town that's close to good bike trails.

This year, we chose Lanesboro, a small town of approximately 700 off the Root River Trail in Southern Minnesota. While I enjoyed the beauty and tranquility of the Root River Trail, I was taken by how easy it was to bicycle around the small towns we visited along the way.

After driving with our bikes from Minneapolis to Lanesboro, we didn't get into our car once during the rest of our 3-day, 2-night stay. Our home base was a lovely bed and breakfast in Lanesboro called Habberstad House, which is approximately 10 blocks off the main drag. Each day we biked into town to access the Root River Trail and each night we biked into town to have dinner. Our route included a couple of blocks on quiet residential streets, and the remaining blocks on equally quiet state highways. For all of our trips into town, just a handful of vehicles passed us at very slow speeds. I found the roads to be quite wide, which in this context made me feel more comfortable sharing the road with cars. I also felt unusually safe bicycling at night (again, hardly a car in sight!).

On the first full day of our vacation, we took the Root River Trail west and veered south to the Harmony-Preston Trail. We traversed rolling hills and beautiful farmland and made two stops in the towns of Harmony and Preston. Harmony, the larger of the two towns, has a population of about 1,000.

Highlights include a cute visitors' center with some interesting displays about the town's history, an inviting main street, a small display about hobos in the Great Depression at the trail head, and a restaurant we ate at called Quarter Quarter (delicious "comfort food" made with fresh, locally grown ingredients). While we didn't travel by bike on Harmony's main drag, I got the sense that it would be very easy to get around via bicycle. Same situation as Lanesboro--a few slow-moving cars here and there and ample space to share the road. Our next stop was Preston (population around 1,000), which was even sleepier than Harmony. We didn't linger long because not one place was open on the main drag (although we did buy a delicious waffle cone at a lodge near the edge of town). I don't know if it was the holiday weekend, but as you might imagine the traffic here was virtually nonexistent.

On the next day of our trip, we headed east on the Root River Trail from Lanesboro to

the towns of Whalan and Peterson. With a population of just 63, Whalan was the smallest town we visited. We stopped at a mini-golf course off the trail and, unfortunately, Ethan best me. Aside from this, the only business I noticed as we biked through was a small pie shop that seemed to be very popular with tourists. Biking here was great because it seemed that the Root River Trail went right through the heart of Whalan. And with its tiny population, it's hard to imagine that biking on any of Whalan's city streets would be challenging. Our last stop was Peterson (population around 200), which is 13 miles from Whalan. Here, we biked the main street and ended up at an ice cream shop that seemed was very popular with bicyclists and folks who like to tube down the Root River. As with the four other towns we visited, there didn't appear to be any traffic around. Biking was a cinch!

While Minneapolis is a good city for biking, this vacation gave me pause to think about

how so much of what makes biking great is dependent on context (think Complete Streets). While these small towns lack the great bike facilities that Minneapolis has, their population and size make getting around by bike a mostly safe and enjoyable experience. If you're looking for a close, fun, and affordable bike vacation (and as one person described it, "a mind vacation"), I'd definitely recommend the Root River Trail and its nearby towns.

Tour de France Cars Passing Bikers

If you have been watching television coverage of this year's Tour de France, you had to wonder when the narrow passes of bikers by motorcycles and tour cars would result in a biker being struck. Well it happened on Sunday and here is the Wall Street Journal story on the strike and crash. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303812104576439862756666174.html?KEYWORDS=tour

You would think the tour organizers could come up with a better system of regulating tour vehicles on a course which is in many instances narrow and winding.

Bill Dooley

Minnehaha Creek

Last Saturday, my partner Jessica and I took a people-powered bike-canoe round trip up to the top of the Minnehaha Creek and back.

We left the house at about 11:30 with the canoe on its Wike bike trailer, me on a folding bike towing the canoe, and Jessica on her regular road bike. Here's the setup:


We're fortunate to live within half a block of the Brackett Park entrance to the Greenway. We took the Greenway west, all the way to where it transitions into the Cedar Lake LRT Trail. Just before Hopkins, we passed over the creek. That was the furthest upstream we'd ever been (on a trip last year). We pushed on. In Hopkins, we turned right onto 8th Ave S, looking for a connection to the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail. They've got great signage, directing people right to it.  In this one on-street portion of the trip, I was right hooked verrrrry slooooowly by an elderly couple in a van, but managed to avoid a collision.

The Minnetonka trail is gravel, but fairly ridable. Many fewer users, which was rather nice - it's complicated to pass and be passed when towing a canoe. However, a few of the intersections leave a lot to be desired, especially the one at Shady Oak Road, which forces bicyclists to go down a steep slope around a sharp turn, before making a right-angle turn onto a tiny curb cut to cross. Unable to navigate such a convoluted mess, I went down the curb instead.

We crossed Minnetonka Drive to Burwell Park, where we found a lovely place to put in. A woman was eating a picnic with her daughters, and volunteered to take this picture of us in front of the canoe.

And here’s Jessica ready to get into the boat. The folding bike is in the bottom, as is the disassembled trailer. That's Jessica's bike with its front wheel taken off, strapped to the top of the canoe.

Minnehaha Creek is a challenging paddle. There are many class-I rapids, especially near bridges (which narrow the flow, speeding it up). This year, there were also many more trees down in the water than there were last year. The creek whipsaws back and forth, requiring constant steering. Further complicating matters, certain portions of the creek were filled with tubers (not potatoes - people in inner tubes), who can't really control where they're going.

We had a lovely picnic at about 5pm at the old Edina Mill.  Those are the old mill stones!

A couple of scares: A large tree, fallen all the way across the stream, with its trunk beneath the surface and its upper limbs too low to get under. We tried to go over the trunk and got stuck, nearly tipping in to our left. We had to lean far to the right to not go over, and I ended up having to climb into the tree, wrestle the canoe over the trunk, then clamber back in. And bridges with such incredibly low clearance - at Hwy 169 and the Minneapolis golf course - that we had to sit in the bottom of the canoe and still duck in order to make it, with the handlebars of Jessica’s bike making it with scant inches to spare.

Just like every time we go on a bike/canoe trip, we got constant comments and exclamations. Bicyclists on our way there complimented the trailer, asked where we got it, etc. Kids pointed and yelled. On the creek, many people commented on the bikes in the boat. One woman sitting on her private dock noted that she'd seen a lot of things on the creek, but this was her first bike. At the trip's end at Longfellow Lagoon, a couple of kayakers watched us reassemble the trailer with great interest, and took a picture once it was all put together.

A quick ride over Hiawatha at about 8pm brought us to some well-deserved beverages at Sea Salt.

I like to think we’re helping spread a concept of self-sufficiency: you don’t have to get in a car to get in a canoe. There are plenty of beautiful adventure paddles right here in the metro, and they’re accessible by bike.

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