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.

1 comment:

spiderman said...

nice post scott...i especially like the photos on black bridge road! nice...
hope to ride with you soon!