A Winter Wonderland, At Least It Is For Me

I can’t remember a milder winter than what we’re experiencing in the Midwest this year. The temp was in the upper 40s today which is about 20 degrees warmer than normal. The winds were strong from the west but that warm air has to be driven here somehow. I worked the all-night shift, came home and got a few hours of sleep, walked the pups and headed out on my bike. This time of year I’m usually happy to be able to get 30 miles in before I can no longer feel my toes and have to call it quits. I didn’t ride outdoors in the winter until a couple years ago. I used to be fine on my indoor trainer in the basement but once I actually ventured out into the frigid air and found that it was easily doable my indoor trainer has been sitting idle, so much so that I’ve stored it away.

I left home at noon and headed out not sure which route I’d take. A few minutes into my ride I decided I’d take a route which I’ve done half a dozen times this year and one I always enjoy for the variety it has to offer. The first 45 minutes of the ride was easy as it’s a bit downhill from my home to the Minnesota River and the wind was helping. This is a view riding north out of Eagan on Hwy 13 overlooking the river toward Bloomington. Notice the lack of snow…this is Minnesota after all and we’re well into December. I continued north on 13 to Hwy 494 where there is a bike path to cross the river. A few miles later I’m at a stop light in front of the Mall of America. It was still early in the afternoon so the traffic hadn’t gotten too crazy yet but Bloomington is an older community with plenty of elderly people. I had one older guy who passed me with no more than 12 inches to my left. It didn’t appear he cheated at all toward the left of his lane. He was wearing a hat. I don’t want to offend anybody but there are two, no, three things which I look for when I ride…old men with hats, women with blue hair and anybody on a cellphone.

I pressed on westward into a 20+ mph wind trying to catch whatever protection from the wind I could from passing vehicles but there wasn’t much to be found…not today. I rode by the home where I spent most of my school years from 1966 to ’75. It was a good home for us. I cycled past my elementary school and took this photo of the playground where Bob Johnson and I got into a fight after school in 5th grade. I don’t know how it started but I seem to have this out of body visual of us fighting and wrestling on the ground with a circle of kids around us. We were finally broken apart by one of the teachers and dusted off and sent home. It was to be the only fight I’ve ever been in and hopefully the last. I’m pretty sure I cried.

Highland Hills Golf Course was where I used to hang out and watch with fascination as people played up to the 8th green and teed off on #9. I’d never played on a real course yet as a kid of 12 or 13, just knocking the ball around the schoolyard but I used to like to watch other people play. One day a guy a bit older than me told me about a place off the course alongside #4 tee box where you could find the balls golfers hit out of bounds and never bothered to look for because to get to them they’d have to climb a fence and look through tall grass. But that was just the half of it…you could sell the balls back to other golfers. I could make $5-7 for a few hours work out there and it was fun. I’d bring an egg carton and display the balls I’d find in it. Usually one or two of the guys from the foursome waiting to tee off would wander over to see what I had and often enough they’d buy something from me…maybe too often as the course owner would sometimes chase us away. Maybe we were cutting into his sales in the clubhouse…I don’t know. I still remember the first ball I ever found…it was a Dynaflyt. I’d never heard of it before but it was new and shiny and was easily worth 50c.

Just across the street from the golf course was Al Boehne’s house. That was where I saw my girlfriend of a year and a half (Sandy) kissing one of my good friends (or so I thought) at a New Years Eve party, 1973. It killed our relationship and was the catalyst for my first real attempt at poetry. A broken heart gives you lots of material and emotion to work with.

I next biked past the apartments where I stayed the last half of my senior year in high school. My dad’s job took our family to Pottstown PA and I was given the option of staying behind to finish school. There wasn’t much of anything for me to consider…of course I opted to stay behind. My dad took me out and together we found a 5-year-old 1970 Ford Maverick, 3-on-the-tree with a plaid front bench seat. That bench seat would come in handy a few months later when in the spring of ’75 I tore cartilage and strained ligaments in my right knee during a softball game and had to have my leg put in a full length cast for 3 weeks. I found that I could still drive if I extended my leg along the seat. That only left me with my left foot to work the brake, clutch, and gas but I managed. I don’t suppose there is much stopping a determined kid with places to be. Two weeks after getting out of my cast I would tear cartilage and ligaments on the other side of the same knee in a fall and end up in another full leg cast. I’m still recovering from the second fall and always will be.

Through west Bloomington and into Eden Prairie I’m cycling past Flying Cloud airport I look over at the planes parked at Executive Aviation and all of the tail numbers are familiar to me from my job as a controller. I don’t work at Flying Cloud but all of these planes eventually make their way through my airspace. I continue on along Flying Cloud Dr and the wind is hitting me hard. Another 5 miles and I’ll be able to turn out of the wind and head south back across the Minnesota River into Shakopee. I won’t be totally done with headwinds for the day but most of the hard work is done.I’m cruising nicely along hwy 101 east of Shakopee past Valley Fair where I try to find myself at least one or two days each summer. Power Tower is my favorite…the red towers...and you can't hang on!

I head south on hwy 13 and climb out of the river bottom into Savage. It’s a nice grade with a good shoulder but I could really use a drink as my water bottles have been empty for the last several miles. I get into Prior Lake and pull into a gas station knowing they have no Hostess products but they do of course of Gator Aid. I grab a bottle of the sweet nectar and a package of Mrs. Freshley’s Apple Danish. Its 480 calories will be more than enough to bring me home. I sit outside in the 48-degree weather and take off my left shoe as the heat pack I’ve got stuffed in its toe is bothering me after 50+ miles and I really don’t need it.

I jump back on my bike and take advantage of a nice tailwind as I head for home. It’s been a nice afternoon but I need to get home as it’s clouding up and the sun is getting low in the sky making me difficult to see in the rush hour traffic. I get off the main highway and onto Judicial where I’ll be able to add a few extra miles to the trip. Judicial is a winding and at times hilly road with not much traffic. There are also lots of deer in the woods which sometimes come out of nowhere to remind you that they’re there.

The final stretch of highway for me today will be county road 46 which is one mile north of home. It’s been a good afternoon in the saddle but I’m ready to bring it home and get in a hot shower.

I get home just ahead of Tammy and Rachel and before I can get out of my sweaty clothes, Rachel is giving me a high five for having successfully negotiated speech tryouts for high school. She’s craving Italian food and suggests that maybe we can all celebrate her school day by going out to eat. I mention Cossetta’s in St Paul and both she and my wife are more than agreeable to the idea. It’s one of our favorite spots for Italian and always a good time.

My bike is a filthy mess and I keep telling myself that one of these warm days I’ll take some time and clean it real good but I just can’t seem to waste any of these warm days cleaning it when I can be riding. It’s a good problem to have.


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