MIT Members Strike Gold In Ottertail

Some places just don’t change a lot over time, and that can be a good thing in some cases. Ottertail County MN is one of those places that still seems to be off the radar, not attracting a whole lot of attention from anyone. The idea of constant growth as a good is so ingrained that it is easy to conclude that Ottertail County is failing. I have always felt a connection with the Luddites who saw the advent of the factory as a threat to the good life of the cottage owning peasant. For me, Ottertail is as it should be. It is still the same bucolic countryside of small farms, villages, forests and pothole lakes. The slow pace of life is evident in the lack of traffic. Ottertail is all that one could hope for in a road cycling destination.

After the miserable weather of late September and early October it didn’t take long to make the decision to drive down to Ottertail as soon as the weather improved. After a four hour drive from Steinbach to Pelican Rapids, Rod T. and I were on our bikes and tackling the 70 km loop of rolling hills around Maplewood State Park. While none of the hills are very long, the grades make the riding a good challenge. The scenery constantly shifts from more open rolling cornfields and pastureland to maple hardwood forests to marshlands and countless lakes with the sort of family style resorts popular in the 1960’s. The historic Lutheran Church in Maplewood State Park is an interesting side excursion on this ride. Access is by a gravel road but easily ridden on 23c’s.

Lake Lida

Fergus Falls, with a population similar to Steinbach’s, is at the south end of Highway #59. With Grand Beach on one end and Ottertail on the other, Manitoba and Minnesota should play up this highway as an ubercool tourist corridor. Fergus Falls has a good choice of hotels and Mable Murphy’s Restaurant. With the low CDN dollar the prices are a little higher than in comparable Canadian restaurants but the food is very good and the quantity substantial.

Day two of the mini tour had us riding from the village of Battle Lake to the village of Underwood, on to Phelp’s Mill, around Otter Tail Lake, through Glendolough State Park and back to Battle Lake for a 105 km loop. The weather was nearly perfect for October with a high of 24c and a beautiful clear blue sky. The grades are more gentle than those around Maplewood State Park, so we could generally leave it in the big chainring and keep up a good pace. The terrain is still rolling except for the ride around Otter Tail Lake. Highlights of this ride include the Phelp’s watermill (National Register of Historic Places), the ride around Ottertail Lake, the new paved bike path through Glendolough State Park and eating at Thumper Pond Golf Course.

Glendalough State Park and the new cycling trail through the golden oaks.

RT in Motion

Phelp’s Mill

Our last day of cycling was a 67 km ride from Pelican Rapids to the town of Vergas. About 15 km of the ride duplicated part of the first day’s ride on the north side of Maplewood State Park. With a gusty north, a lot of hills, and the previous two rides in our legs, we tried not to push the pace too hard. Vergas, home of the world’s largest Loon (which we were unable to find) is a perfect stop for all day breakfast, a walleye dinner or a bowl of chili on a cool day.

Once again the riding was entertaining from start to finish.

 

 

Trail of the Shining Sea

Along the western shore of Cape Cod lies another rail to trail conversion called the Trail of the Shining Sea. This cycle path runs half the length of the Cape, 17 km. from North Falmouth to Woods Hole. Some serious riders may scoff at rail to trail conversions as mostly flat and straight, with too much pedestrian traffic and too little to challenge a rider. I would generally agree with this assessment. At the same time they can be useful as a part of longer more challenging rides. On arriving on the Cape, without a good idea of which roads would be best to ride, and with limited time to explore, Yvonne and I defaulted to the Trail of the Shining Sea.

The primary reason for coming to Cape Cod was to connect with a friend, Eric Anderson, who was doing research at Woods Hole. I spent 4 months on the beach in PEI as a 10 year old and developed a fascination with diving and deep sea exploration. Woods Hole is a Mecca for oceanographers, and as a kid I was fascinated by both the explorers working out of Woods Hole and the romantic sounding name of this town at the center of deep sea research. The goal of our ride was the Woods Hole Research Institute.

While many of the roads on the Cape have very heavy traffic, the roads leading from our Air BnB had little. A 10 km ride on hilly roads brought us to the trail head. Rather than using the trail we chose to ride the more interesting roads that followed the coast as far as we could. The bike path would be used when road traffic became too heavy. Sea side rides have the advantage of being breezy, something we were grateful for as this area gets both high heat and humidity.

 

 

Cape Cod is “old money”! Large estates and exclusive gated seaside communities line the coast. Many of the access roads to these exclusive retreats for the rich have security guards to keep out the sweating unwashed. Fortunately the rich spend most of their time on their yachts or at the country club or in Boston, New York or Paris or London, so road traffic to and from “the summer cottages” along the coastal roads tends to be fairly light, making for good riding.

An interesting feature of riding along the shore is the tidal marshes and the many creeks that we crossed that feed the marshes. While we didn’t stop to watch birds, other than seeing a bald eagle on an enormous nest along one of the creeks, I imagine that these would be great places to bird watch.

 

Halfway to Woods Hole we took the bike path. It is shaded and flat and Jac would love it as it is perfect for high speed cruising. The speed limit is 15 mph; of course with no speedometer one really has no idea how fast one travels. It did seem however that we might have slightly exceeded what was allowable.

Captain Eric Anderson and his Dog Shark

Our time at Woods Hole involved checking out the experiment being done to study the tail resonance of fish to determine at what resonance they achieve “sweet spot” efficiency moving through the water. Werner would love this sort of thing. The experiment requires analyzing many species of fish, so Eric fishes for sharks, blue fish and a variety of others fish. I had always pictured WHRI as involving the most sophisticated equipment, like the Atlantis research vessel and the Alvin submersible used to discover the Titanic. I discovered that there are big fish and little fish at Woods Hole. Eric, as a little fish, uses his little sail boat to fish for his experiment subjects. This would be Mark’s sort of thing.

Big Fish

In good MIT tradition, a cafe stop was in order at the halfway point. Again, in MIT tradition, the return home, was fast and with wind. Final distance – 60 km.

Little Fish

Mennonites in Tights and Skirts

When I first began riding there was no thought of cross training. It was easy to pile on the miles and motivation was not a problem. I didn’t see a reason for cross training as injury from overuse was not an issue. Tennis was my primary alternate activity. About 20 years ago I also bought a sea kayak as another alternate activity to riding. It was something fun to do but was not something I thought of as useful cross training.

Over the last few years bursitis in the hips made running impossible, so tennis regrettably disappeared from my activity list. With several herniated discs, kayaking was a rather painful experience and was an activity I had essentially given up. This was disappointing as I expected that kayaking was something I would do a lot of when I retired.

Last summer I paddled again for the first time since I started to experience more serious back trouble. I managed an hour with a stop to get out of the boat in between. I decided this was manageable and that I might be able to do some limited boating after all. After buying another boat so that Yvonne and I could paddle together, I discovered that with a better kayak seat I could paddle more comfortably for a longer period. Enter Kayak #3, my own Current Designs Caribou to match Yvonne’s boat.

 

The more I paddle the more I am convinced that kayaking is the perfect summer cross training/alternate activity. While cycling is all legs and lower back muscles, Kayaking is all upper body and core. A strong core is essential to strong cycling and can prevent back injury.

Building abs!

Like cycling, kayaking is a perfect way to explore; a simple but beautiful. machine that allows you to cover more distance while still allowing you to see, smell and hear the beauty of God’s creation around. I love cycling next to water; alternately I love kayaking along the shore. This is where the action is.

Just as riding is more enjoyable with the challenges of hills, winding roads, changing road conditions and group dynamics, paddling has its challenges in currents, waves, and unseen obstacles. When it gets too hot for cycling, kayaking is the ideal go to.

Many cyclists are initially reluctant to don the tights. Wearing the skirt may also be something novice kayakers feel uncomfortable in. Over time these fears pass and anyone not wearing the kit looks the fool.

So there it is, my plug for Mennonites in Tights to go all the way and become Mennonites in Skirts.

 

Biking Bucks

In 1682 William Penn created Buckingham County, now known as Bucks County, as one of the three original counties in the colony of Pennsylvania.  Penn was a Quaker, and in the spirit of Christian brotherhood invited the persecuted Mennonites from Franconia in south central Germany to settle in the colony. By the early 1740’s there was a congregation of Mennonites living in the northern part of the county.

Located just north of Philadelphia and butting up against the Delaware River and southern New Jersey, my first impression of Bucks County as a cycling destination was that the suburban sprawl from Philadelphia and the attendant traffic had made Bucks a county no longer hospitable to riding. Bucks is busting with new development. Aside from a lot of new upper middle class suburbs and seniors retirement complexes, everywhere centuries old stone farm houses are being gutted and reconstructed for wealthy buyers. Massive multi-million dollar estates are everywhere, many with for sale signs by International auction house Sotheby’s. While there are thousands of miles of winding undulating roads, heavy traffic put a quick damper on my enthusiasm for cycling. Generally I have a lot of success in picking new cycling areas, but this looked like a fail.

Barges on the D & R Canal

The best way to find out where to ride is to ask the locals. A cycling club in Doylestown had posted a Tuesday morning ride starting at Washington Crossing, the town located where Washington crossed the Delaware River (several miles north of Princeton) to do battle with the British. Yvonne and I were up early in order to be at the Info Center parking lot by 8:00 a.m. to join “the group ride”. Merle’s Law sprung into action – when you want something too much it fails to materialize. I forgot Yvonne’s seat/post at the AirBNB. Instead of being 10 minutes early we were 10 minutes late. We found two cars with bike racks in the lot; a group ride of two retirees possibly?Plan B was put into action. Without a map and with no clue where any roads would lead, we determined to ride safe. On either side of the Delaware there is a river road and a packed grit tow road come cycling path. We would ride up the Delaware on the Pennsylvania side and return on the Jersey side. We took the river road going north to Center Bridge then crossed over to Stockton N.J. Rivers and cycling just seem to work well. A lot of historic towns, a great mix of fields and forests and a lot of shaded road made for a great ride. After crossing the Delaware into NJ we decided to ride blind and cycle further north away from the river. The Google Maps I had loaded on the cell phone would be our guide. Too my dismay I soon discovered that I had not loaded a New Jersey map onto the phone. After 15 km of aimless riding, trying to remember all the intersections and turns, we decided to get a paper map. A far from accurate free tourist map would have to do. It got us back to the river but wasn’t much use for planning routes. However we ended with a great ride along the canal path and completed our first ride 55km.

Joysee!

Due to a shorter ride and a hot afternoon, Yvonne and I decided to go paddling on Lake Nockamixon in the late afternoon.  We decided to drop in at The Trek Bike Shop in Doylestown to get a better idea of where to ride. The owner gave us a map which showed the lowest trafficked roads and also told us the usual route the club rides. I told him about “Mennonites in Tights” and Manitoba cycling. Our riding options were now becoming clearer.

We had a nice two hour paddle and were just loading the boats when security came to tell us that all of the park gates were locked and we had to GET OUT!!! Unknown to us, the State Park closes the gates at sunset, which is an early 9:00 p.m.. There would be no late evening nude swim or casual fireside BBQ as we were being booted. All in all though a good first day despite the hiccups.

Bucks Day Two was everything I could have hoped for in a ride. Fantastic scenery, great roads with fun climbs and descents, a gourmet burger and coffee, and the excellent company of my riding buddy Kermit! Using the map given to us at the cycling shop we rode a fun loop from Dublin PA to French Town NJ and back. I love traveling.

The Delaware

Trail of the Coeur d’Alene

It is evening and I am sitting on the deck of my cozy little cottage high above Coeur D’Alene Lake.  The sun is setting on the water, the power is out for the entire region as the result of a rumoured fallen tree, the occasional tune from some unknown rock band is drifting across the bay and I am enjoying the cool breeze and the good feelings that come from spending time vacationing with my best buddy. Yvonne, energizer bunny that she is, has decided that an additional 5km walk down by the lake is necessary to complete the day; as for me, the 120 km ride along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene will have to suffice.

When I contemplate where I want to do a cycling vacation, rail to trail is hardly the first thought that comes to mind; too straight, too flat, too boring. Perhaps it is the 190 lbs I am packing around that made me reconsider the rail to trail option; for whatever reason Yvonne and I decided to check out the Trail of the Couer d’Alene. We have not been disappointed.

We decided to break up the trail into two days with out-and-backs from a place called Bull Run to Plummer on the border of Montana on day 1 and then from Bull Run to Mullen on the Washington border on day 2; this would make two consecutive 120 km days.  The trail was built along the Union Pacific line and was a joint project of various governments, the railway, the Coeur d’Alene tribe. The Montana side of the trail runs through numerous mining towns including Wallace, from whose mines came 7 Billion dollars of silver. When the railway was built contaminated waste rock from the mines were used to build the rail bed. The rail to trail was in part an answer to the desire to build tourism, but also a solution to the contaminants leaching out of the rail bed.  By covering the rail bed in pavement it help to seal in much of the toxic materials; the result is a fantastic ride that traverses the pan handle and creates a fantastic riding experience through absolutely spectacular scenery.

I have always enjoyed riding along water and the trail essentially follows the Coeur d’Alene River from where it begins as a small fast flowing mountain stream in Washington to where it enters Lake Coeur d’Alene with its many arms. All along the river there are backwaters and swamps filled with water cabbage, water lillies and the occasional moose. The trail can be divided up into four quarters with the western most quarter of the trail being industrial with mining and logging towns, second quarter is a great river for fishing and rafting, the third quarter is along the shore of lake Coeur d’Alene, and the final quarter is a beautiful ride up a mountain through the aromatic pine and cedar forest of the Plummer Indian reservation.

If anyone is looking for more information on the trip, I’ll be happy to share info about where to stay, how to access the trail, etc.