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Frozen Fingers, Possums & Coke Zero...

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By Darin Westphal

Tour to Duluth

With my daughter now a freshman at University Minnesota-Duluth, I thought this fall would be the perfect time to ride from Plymouth to UMD to meet her for lunch.  I’ve never worried much about excuses for making long rides, but this seemed like the perfect reason!  Plans were that I’d start riding early in the AM and my wife would start driving up at mid morning and we’d all meet for lunch mid afternoon.

Knowing that I’d be solo for the entire ride plus doing some night time riding, I stopped into Gear West to make sure the bike was ready to roll and I had everything I needed to make the trip up with as little interruptions as possible.  Lights, spare tubes, new arm warmers...now I don't have any excuses to not complete the ride!

4am Saturday I was wheels down and headed north.  My phone said it was 43 degrees so I was dressed in between that “I’m going to be warm when the sun comes up and holy crap it’s going to be cold until then”.  For the first 3:45 minutes of the ride the temp hovered in the mid/upper 30's which was cold.  Couldn't feel my fingers until about 10am.   I'm quite a sight as I'm standing at a gas station trying to text...

updates with frozen fingers that will not bend and without my reading glasses (I’ve come to realize that reading glasses are now as necessary a part of my rides as my flat kit, you could argue more necessary, I just have to actually put them on!).   Riding through the cities was easy with literally no traffic.  Plymouth, Maple Grove, Champlin, Anoka…very easy to get out to where my only concern would be getting hit by a deer.   Did have to swerve twice however...once for a raccoon and the other for a possum that surprised me as he stood on the shoulder probably wondering..."WTF are you doing riding at this time of night?".  But on a whole, I got through the dark in good shape and was a good 2:15 in before I hit my first stopping point with the sun just starting to rise.  It is kind of eerie riding in the country when it's literally pitch black out.  I'd been on this road once before so was familiar with it enough to be comfortable just getting in aero and finding an easy rhythm (also wanted to be aero so that my body was as condensed as possible to try to stay warm!).  


Donuts2.jpgHit North Branch and then turned onto Forest Blvd for what I thought would be the most boring stretch of road (straight north..no turns for the next 1:45).  What was great was the continued trend of minimal traffic, but there was a stretch of about 10 miles where the shoulder was so bad that I was forced to take the lane or risk a flat/crash.  No issues thankfully but that stretch was bad.  Kind of in that North Branch to Rush City stretch.  But from Rush City north the shoulders were good and no issues whatsoever.  Finally got up to Hinckley at 10:30 and instantly thought of donuts!!! :-)  Thankfully there's a grocery store a block from the Munger trail start and I stopped for some donuts and caffeine. 

Wasn't exactly sure what I was getting into with the trail as I typically shy away from them.  I'd rather ride shoulders where I can find a rhythm and not have it broken up, but did appreciate not having to worry about traffic whizzing past me.  After about the first 10 miles on the trail though I was thinking that I was going to find a new route.  The trail was pretty beat up with cracks and there were so many stop signs where the trail would cross someone's driveway or road that I was mentally struggling with it.  I wanted to ride...but just couldn't.  I made myself a deal that I'd give it to Finlayson and then see how it looks, if the trail was still bad I’d find a different route but if not, I’ll stick with it.  I got there and thankfully the trail became more smooth and the stop signs became more spread out, so I kept going.  The scenery now was getting much better and I was stopping to take some pictures and send updates.  Still cool...but the sun was now up and when in the sun I'd get warm...shade still chilly.  The trail is pretty dead straight from a riding perspective.  You look ahead and the trail just keeps going and going, plays with you mentally, you think the trail just falls off the end of the earth and yet you never reach that end!  At Willow River I stopped at the park and started going through my pockets to try to cut some weight.  Dang you accumulate a lot of crap on these rides!  Candy bar wrappers, Coke Zero bottles..Cliff Block Wrappers, Grocery store donut bags….(has anyone ever ridden to Duluth and actually gained weight?)

I continued and was able to fall into a good groove where I kept the power down, HR low and physically didn't feel like I was putting down a big effort.  Just riding a comfortable rhythm.  Around towns you'd see traffic on the trails increase, but that typically was fairly short lived and up through Carlton I'd say it wasn't bad at all.  Stopped at hour 7 or 8 though as my back was tightening up (staying in aero that long for a guy who's almost 49 is asking a lot).  I literally laid down on the path itself to straighten it out.  Ate a Snickers and stretched for about 10 minutes before heading out again.  

Hit Carlton and made my last stop at a gas station where while having small talk with the cashier and having explained I’d been biking since 4am, she started to mumble something and then stopped herself.  I told her…”go ahead and say it…(with a smile)”…….”you’re crazy!!”  Seems like I heard that from several people as of late!  Hitting that stretch between Carlton and Duluth makes the trip.  From a scenery perspective it is sooooo cool.  You're riding through cuts in the rocks where it goes straight up on both sides through the woods up on a hill then heading down....this stretch is way fun.  Naturally at this point it was early afternoon and there were a lot of people out, so things slowed down as I got good at saying..."on your left.....thank you!"  But it was good to see that many people out using such a fantastic resource in a healthy way.

Finally hit the end of the trail around 2:00 and then headed into town to Canal Park to meet the family and find that beer that I’d been thinking off since about 10am.
Munger4.jpgThoughts....I'll do it again but I think next time I'll have a new bike and would ride it with a group.  9-10 hours is a long time on the saddle solo and I'd never ride that into a north wind.  Physically you could do it, but mentally it'll kick the shit out of you.  Got off the bike and actually felt decent!  Ran 4 miles yesterday with the dog to just wake the legs up and although sore, it's not like Ironman sore.  You realize that you feel like shit post Ironman more because of that marathon at the end and not so much the bike.  



A funny story, at the end of the Munger trail I stopped in Duluth to catch up with texts/phone calls.  A lady pulls up next to me in her car and starts to unload her bike.  We engaged in the usual weather small talk when she says, “that’s a nice bike….is that an ebike?”  I was tempted to let all the air out of her tires at that point. 

Now to start looking at new roadies.....

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