Friday, July 8, 2011

Exploring Minnesota Gravel Roads, Part 2

On Thursday morning, I set off just before 7am with the hopes of biking further north into Minnesota, using as many gravel roads and I could.

Even through Google Street View hasn't visited a lot of the rural roads up here, I was able to virtually visit some intersections where highways crossed other roads to see if the intersecting roads were gravel or not.  That helped quite a bit.

Using that intelligence,  I was able to plan an 80+ mile ride, using almost all gravel roads, to Windom, MN for lunch and then back along the same route.  The next time I do this, I want to make it a century ride with a large sweeping loop, rather than an out-and-back.  I'm fairly conservative when I bike alone, so for the first time, an out-an-back made me feel more secure than a large loop.

Unlike my first ride, Exploring Minnesota Gravel Roads, Park 1, I tried not to stop for every photo opportunity (it's hard, since it's so pretty up here) so that I could make better time.  However, I couldn't resist snapping a few pics, particularly of the windmill construction that so strong in this area right now.

My day's supplies.  When I tweeted this picture, The Douglas said I needed more food.  He was right.  What's not represented here was my planned stop for lunch at the turn-around point.  I experimented with using halves of a PB&J instead of an extra Cliff Bar.  That worked out really well.

I didn't actually ride this MMR, but it looks fun.  Future routes might feature more MMRs.

Is this an old schoolhouse?  A church?  Notice the handicapped accessible ramp and parking sign.  I'm not sure if the outhouse affords the same accommodations.
Southern Minnesota is filled with these lovely landscape scenes.  This one is just north of Black Bridge Road.

I'm guessing these signs are necessary to alert the farming traffic that there are new power lines overhead after the windmills are installed.

Crop circles?  No, just a site being prepared for a new windmill.  Note the cement base in the center of the picture.

I saw about a dozen sites like this where windmill tower sections and blades were being prepared for erection.

A crewman told me they could erect five towers a day, using two cranes.  Here's one at work.  Notice all of the headless towers in the background.
These new windmills aren't yet spinning, but it's cool to see them up close.
I had lunch at this Subway restaurant in Windom, MN.  This restaurant took advantage of their proximity to the Des Moines river and incorporated a scenic overlook.

Finally back home after about seven hours on the saddle and 1.75 hours of stopping time.  My average speed on the way out was between 14 and 15 MPH, but a headwind and general fatigue slowed my overall average down to 13.4.  In all, it was some of the best 90 miles I've ridden.
This was my longest solo ride, and I learned a lot.  I found that I can keep myself company for hours on end, but that I have to keep myself at a reasonable pace (ie: not get lazy and go too slow).  When riding with other people, that's often something I don't have to worry about.  I also had to plan when to drink and eat.  Often when cycling with other more experienced folks, I just take cues from them on when to take a sip from the bottle or nibble a bite to eat.

I never ran out of liquids, but I don't think two bottles would be enough in the heat and on a longer ride.  I might research hydration packs, or alternative ways to carry more water.  I knew of only two places where I could stop for water: one at the 20 miles out point, and the other at the halfway turn-around point.  There were stretches of a dozen miles or so between townships, paved roads, and even a chance at food and water.  I learned some about planning my own self-sufficiency.

I really enjoyed my time on the bike over this vacation week in Spirit Lake.  I want to learn more roads and trails, and will share the routes online for others looking to do similar routes.  Please comment below if you have any routes, information, or suggestions on where I should ride the next time I return to the Iowa Great Lakes region.

Here's the approximate route that I took: MapMyRide link

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Exploring Minnesota Gravel Roads, Part 1

Vacationing over the Independence Day holiday and the following week, I decided to take the gravel bike out exploring the rural roads of northern Iowa and southern Minnesota near Spirit Lake / Okoboji.  Let me tell you, these roads up here do not disappoint.  While I didn't find much in the way of rollers like we have in Nebraska, I did find endless miles of road and beautiful scenery.  The grid system of roads here seems more consistent than in Nebraska, with a road just about every mile.  Another difference is that the roads seem to be on a 10 blocks per mile system, rather than the 12 block per mile that we have in Nebraska.

For my first ride, I intended to explore the roads between Spirit Lake, IA and Jackson, MN.  This wasn't a great fitness and training opportunity, since I kept stopping to take photos and to enjoy the scenery.  My 48 mile ride took about four hours and 20 minutes, including an hour of stopping time.  However, I had a great time and mapped out a good route that I want to try again. Maybe once the route isn't new any more, I can turn it into a workout the next time.

I ended up with more highway miles than I had intended (about 28 miles road and 20 miles gravel), but I think by choosing a different set of roads, I can turn this into mostly all gravel.

For the last five miles or so back along the east side of Spirit Lake, a cycling pastor pulled up beside me on his road bike. He slowed his pace to match mine and we chatted about about cycling in the area.  For future reference, he told me about a local cycling blog, and about some places to ride cyclocross bikes.  The links are included below:

I opted to use my old hiking and Geocaching GPS receiver, just in case I got really lost.  It was fun to ride with the GPS, even though its features are nearly as useful as a modern mapping GPS.  The GPS did give me some security in that I could see for sure that I was headed in the right direction and that I could track back along my route if I had to.

I hope to get a 75 or 100 mile day in before I leave the area, but since I'm vacationing with family, I'll need to just balance bike time with family time.

Please see below for some of the photos I took on my ride.

My riding partner.  He's just as slow as I am.
I like how these Iowa lake roads leave a little extra pavement to the right of the line.  De facto bike lane.
The pavement stops and the gravel begins just north of the Iowa/Minnesota state line.
These gravel roads are arrow straight, and not very hilly.
Rustic scenes abound.

This valley road into Jackson, MN has a sidepath.
This trail in Jackson, MN is flooded.  A familiar sight to us Omahans.
Hippy sculpture at the Peace Park in Jackson, MN. :)

Meditation garden at the Peace Park in Jackson, MN.

The Wishy Washy laundromat in Jackson, MN has a restroom, pop machine ($0.75) and free wifi.

Black Bridge Road is a must-ride for gravel enthusiasts in the area.

Black Bridge Road runs along the Des Moines River, a tributary of the Mississippi River.

Gravel roads and windmills, both an exercise in simplicity and beauty.

Clear Lake, Minnesota

Here's a simplified map of my ride.