106 miles - Total: 1385 miles
After my vain game of chess with the wind yesterday, today my fierce opponent did not come out to square off. The wind must have sent his understudy because with only a crosswind to contend with I quietly made progress, North by North West that is, into Minnesota. I am on course to hit North Dakota in a day or two.
Today, as I was gobbling down bananas and chocolate bars at a gas station, I got to chatting with a man in his fifties in a Panama hat and cowboy outfit. He eyeballs me from head to toe and out of the blue he says that tornadoes are common this time of the year and I should watch out. I tell him that I agree, I tell him that thunderstorms happen frequently and I just got through one. He doesn't reply, showing no surprise at all. He begins to make for his car and before he can turn his head I tell him that what I will be doing is keep on traveling. He shows his thumb and quietly gets back into his car.
Speaking of the climate, it is turning chilly, especially early morning and when the breeze picks up I need the long sleeve jersey, which I will be wearing more often I think.
I have a restless night. I keep tossing and turning knowing full well that I am awake and that the sky will soon turn pale and then will be glowing with its morning colors. Why can't I sleep? It's been a few weeks since I spent sleepless nights but that was due to pain and exhaustion of the treatment. Now I am not suffering like that anymore. Am I? No, I am not, now I am running around America on the one means of transportation that it is mine. So I think it must be the seedy motel I am staying at, the warty sheets, the smelly puce carpet, the smoke-filled hallway, the metallic sound of the ice machine, the loud neighbors, the anxiety to get going soon and to go places. Who stays here? Only people that cannot afford something better? It must take an understanding of loneliness to stay in these places. The room itself, with its dingy lights, stained carpet, echoes of despair, mementos of isolation. 50 bucks a night, I mean...what the hell do I expect? The bike resting again the blackened wall is the only piece of furniture that brightens the room up, definitely out of place here. These are rooms that fill pages and nightmares of unknown writers and unknown drifters. America is full of these rooms. It is the contemporary tragedy of its lonely population, uprooted, aimless, deranged, shocked, unchained. It is easy to dream of a better life in these surroundings.
Again I am on the road after 9am. The sky is overcast but this is good news because it means that the wind will stay away. I ride through St.Paul and into Minneapolis. I have to stop there for a quick tune-up and to meet Dan, Ana's friend, from whom I have to retrieve some ACA maps that will outline my itinerary going forward. The metropolitan area of the Twin Cities sprawls for miles and it takes me a while to cycle from the outskirts of St. Paul to the heart of Minneapolis. I ride along the big River again and I enjoy the sight and the noise of mighty barges that forcefully ply the swirly waters of the Mississippi. From steam boats to the steel barges and leisure sail boats, the river has brought people and supply to fuel the new frontier settlements. Minnesota was first explored by the French and for 140 years white explorers could not find the source of the river. Finally, it was identified as a mere trickle flowing through forests of pine and tamarack, only four inches deep and several feet across. As often is the case in life, big impactful things have small and incomprehensible beginnings. I wonder how many people were saved and how many lives were improved and how livelihoods were restored thanks to the trade and the business activities made on, within, through and by the Mississippi.
As I am pondering the importance of the river and I keep an eye on its restless waters I realize that it takes even longer to get out of the city. I take the bike trail, one of many this city has, but it gets confusing and I waste a little time finding the way out. I should have been able to find an easy exit of the town thanks to the kindness and foresightedness of Dan who printed a map of all the bike routes of the city. I really did not spend enough time to get a fair feel of Minneapolis. It is certainly an attractive town, although it did not strike me as welcoming as Madison. I enjoyed the riverfront but the downtown area seemed slightly flavorless. Again, my judgment is certainly impaired by the frenzy I was in to get in possession of the maps and have the bike looked at, but let's put it this way, it wasn't love at first sight. However, my time in Minneapolis is extremely useful, Dan directs me to Erik's Bike Shop. I go there following the sound advice of Laurie, whom I never met but left a kind message on the blog, suggesting that I pay a visit. The mechanic is wonderful and kind; he asks me about the ride and he gives a thorough look at the bike, cleaning the chain and making sure the pressure is right in the tires. All of this is free of charge. This is a far cry the money-sucking machine of City Bikes in Washington DC. I am sorry but I cannot evade this, they charged me 190 bucks for a tune-up and they even installed the chain the wrong way. I leave the city relieved and happy to be back on the road.
By the time I am done with my chores in Minneapolis it is almost 1pm and if I want to make progress I'd better push. Once I leave Minneapolis behind it is open countryside again. I take route 81 and then route 75. Unlike Virginia where country roads are a safe bet for cyclists, in Minnesota traffic is still considerably heavy on these minor arteries. I suppose the road network up North is not as extensive as in Virginia or Ohio. Once I get out of the Minneapolis urban areas, under a dark menacing sky I fly down the road first through some drizzle but luckily it stops and the clouds turn lighter. Because the wind is tame, a crossing wind which at times turns into a tailwind, I am able to ride even faster. So I make the most of it and I push in the Minnesota country which really begins to change its appearance as I ride towards the northern part of the state. And it is a fascinating state, full of thick vegetation and dramatic skies. About a century ago Minnesota was ranked as number one lumber producer in the country. Of course the saw made a good bounty and it took the avid conservationist President Teddy Roosevelt to declare vast tracts of woodland protected areas. As I enter the Saint Cloud urban area through the bike trail, I am filled with immediate joy. The sun is beginning to dip and the air is turning cool, I scan the downtown area and as I see a pretty hotel in the main thoroughfare I tear across the street and with more than a hundred miles I am done for today.
I will be back for more tomorrow. No more chess games, no more gauntlets thrown over the table, no more egos to satisfy (maybe). I am spinning the wheels and I am riding free of pain through the woodlands of Minnesota. No games, just the journey. A journey which is surprisingly difficult and should have been easier, especially at 36. But I guess it could be worse. It could be raining..
As I leave my motel, a dark, menacing sky develops, I don't mind it, I actually love the colors and the ride can be enjoyable if the rain stays away
From the banks of the Mississippi I make out the skyline of St. Paul
Best means of transportation on the river, the big barges
The immaculate main campus of Minnesota University in Minneapolis
Offices in downtown Minneapolis have many skywalks to keep people warm during the rigid winter days
The Mighty river in downtown Minneapolis, the stone arch bridge in the background
The G.R.R., Canada to Gulf, indeed.
The perfectly paved bike trail out of downtown Minneapolis
They were close together all the time I was there, almost posing for the camera.
The main street in Monticello, Mn
I am smiling inside, I am just focusing on the ride
The scenery beginning to take on a "Northern feel"
The trail into Saint Cloud
Pretty buildings in downtown Saint Cloud