Friday, August 3, 2012

Day 49: Winsted, Minnesota (or, the grass isn't always greener)

Today is a tough day to describe. It started off great and then deteriorated kind of rapidly. But all's well that ends well.

So, first things first. I got up at 5:15 and hit the road by 7:00 (if you haven't been paying attention, I was facing a 65 mile day with strong headwinds). I quickly found paved county roads that weren't heavily trafficked and headed South into a SSE wind that was still below 10 mph.

The Minnesota scenery grew on me during this stretch of about 15 miles. First, I finally hit a county or two where someone figured out to bury all the utility lines. It makes a big difference - at least to me - and all the green boxes warning not to dig there without calling the utilities first are: (a) unobtrusive by comparison to their above-ground brethren and (b) the perfect height for doing a hamstring stretch.

Second, the introduction of a lot of lakes, interspersed among the farms and the roads, was really pleasing to my eye and, although I didn't do a very good job of capturing it in any photos, I felt the aesthetics of the day were off to a good start.

I began getting a bit nervous when I realized that the 8 mile stretch that I had to ride East, to get to the tiny town of Cosmos and the start of the Luce Line State Trail, was on a very busy Route 7 with one of those shoulders that I really dislike: about 2 feet wide, 1 foot of which is occupied by rumble strips. You either have to ride to the right of the rumble strips and hew a very straight line (with a dropoff to your right into gravel), or ride in the lane itself, to the left of the rumble strips, and risk ticking off drivers who don't realize there's really nowhere else to go.

So I resurrected my eyeglass mirror (which I had abandoned after one day - mainly because I didn't like it always hanging out in my peripheral vision) so that I could ride in the lane, but then dive back onto the shoulder when traffic passed. An imperfect compromise, but it got me through.

But I was pleased to get to Cosmos and onto the Luce Line trail. It runs all the way into Winsted (my final destination after leaving Willmar) for a distance of about 35 miles. And it was very relaxing to get on the trail, and away from Route 7's traffic, for about all mile, when the finely-crushed gravel surfaced turned to...wait for it...grass. Yes, grass. This is a bike trail?

Now, I must admit. My research may have been a bit shoddy. I did go online beforehand to research the trail, and saw that it was a crushed limestone surface (not my favorite, but OK, like the Mickelson trail in SD). Yes, there was a sentence at the end that said, West of Winsted, it was "a natural surface." But I thought that meant a natural biking surface. Couldn't they have just said unpaved or grass? Wimbledon doesn't brag about being played on natural surface - they come right out and say it -- grass.

I gave the grass about 20 yards of effort and realized quickly that it made gravel seem desirable (which came back to bite me later). I had no desire to revisit the tension of riding Route 7, so with a little map consultation (I had caved and bought the old-fashioned paper type upon entering Minnesota - OK, if truth be known, it was laminated), I found a route that would advance me the next 8 miles, to the larger town of Hutchinson, through taking two legs of a triangle, extending the ride by about 3 miles. But it was worth it.

But, what was this? As I entered Hutchinson, I crossed the Luce Line trail and it was now paved. Now, I wasn't born yesterday -- no doubt the pavement was within town limits and would end abruptly outside them. So I asked around and hit paydirt with the first person I talked to - Dennis, who rides his bike to Winsted regularly and loves the trail. He acknowledged that, yes, the pavement did end in a few miles, but he assured me that it was very rideable gravel thereafter, and that the scenery and wildlife (he was talking foxes, not bears) were well worth it.

So I bit. And went back on the Luce Line trail. And fairly quickly regretted it. There was a fair amount of sand mixed in with the gravel, and it really made the going slow, on top of the headwind. And although the scenery was pleasant, it wasn't worth this particular tradeoff. After about 8 miles of this struggle, I gave up, went back out to Route 7 (which had lost its rumble strips at this point, thereby marginally improving its rideability), reconsulted the map, found a couple of back county roads (which only added about another 4 miles to my route) and eventually straggled into Winsted at about 3:30, pretty exhausted after having logged more than 72 miles, almost all of it against a strong headwind. I thought that was pretty good, so I stopped and treated myself to a delicious Vanilla milk shake near the end of the ride at the type of hip coffee/ice cream shop I didn't expect to find in Winsted.

Winsted's sole motel made me wish that I had given into my consideration, earlier, of stopping in Hutchinson (which boasted a Best Western, among other brand names) and cutting the day short at about 50 miles. Yes, tomorrow's ride into Minneapolis would be about 20 miles longer, but strong forecast West winds would presumably compensate. Winsted's finest had hairs in the sink, old pizza in the refrigerator, soap shards stuck to the shower stall floor, hot and cold faucet directions reversed, no ice available anywhere, no shampoo packets -- I could go on. However, I think (hope) the sheets and towels are clean.

But the day ended on a positive note, as I did find a seat at the bar at The Blue Note, and enjoyed an excellent prime rib, a surprisingly good salad bar, and Minnesota's locally-brewed Nordeast beer (resisting the temptation to pair my prime rib with a Sutter Home merlot in one of those tiny airline bottles).

Severe thunderstorms are going on outside (complete with warning of 60 mph winds) as I write this, so crummy motel or not, I'm glad I'm inside and off the road.

Tomorrow, I get to see my sweetheart, and you'll have to excuse me if this blog goes dark for a few days. But I do have one more decision to make. I can take the Luce Line trail, with the crushed limestone surface I'm assured exists East of Winsted, for a 45 mile ride pretty much all the way into Minneapolis, or I can go a bit out of my way, and ride the paved (yes, paved) Dakota Rail Trail there (not quite sure why it's named that in Minnesota), but at the cost of adding about 5 miles. I'm leaning paved, but, either way, the start of the day will be on Luce Line for a few miles so it's conceivable, if the surface seems good, that I will revisit the scene of the crime, so to speak (I can already hear some of you screaming, "no, no, Roger, don't do it!").

Here are today's route and metrics:




  1. Great post, Rog. 72 miles with all that craziness is pretty impressive. The crappy hotel you're in will just make your Minneapolis hotel seem that much better!

  2. kat 1512:22 PM

    Well, I've been enjoying this ride all along, but I'm glad you'll get a little R&R with Laura for a few days. Rest that Achilles, and drink some good wine (I probably didn't have to tell you that...) love, Kat

  3. mark becker2:23 PM

    really nice pics! glad to see the return of livestock :) what an amazing trip. reminded me a little (just a little) of "planes, trains & automobiles" (w/steve martin, john candy)...only with only a bicycle! hope you enjoy r&r in minneappolis. amazing, impressive stuff!