Off my butt, on my bike, and out in the country

One of my long-time goals has been to get around the state of Minnesota more and see smaller towns and rural areas. I haven’t done very well with that that until recently.

Two things have helped to get me in my car and on my bike to travel around more.
1. My daughter Emily moved to Rochester a year ago after being away for quite a few years.
2. MinnPost included me in a grant from the Bremer Foundation to do reporting about young people in rural Minnesota.

Last week I was able to use both of those justifications to go to the southern part of the state. Mrs. D and I met Emily at her house and then we drove about 30 miles farther to Fountain, which is one of the trailheads for the Root River bike trail.

The trail begins in open fields

The trail starts on the edge of town and goes through some rolling farmland before descending into the Root River Valley.

Even though the sun was shining, the trail was very wet after a hard rain during the night. We immediately had brown water spots all over our backs.

Mrs. D and Emily

The scenery is beautiful — green and lush. Because it was a weekday, there wasn’t a lot of other bike traffic.


After winding 11 miles through the forested valley, we emerged in Lanesboro, a small town that looks like a small town should.

Everybody seems to love Lanesboro and it appears from time to time on “best towns” lists. Recently it was featured on Yahoo Travel’s “Prettiest Towns”.

Lanesboro


The trail was closed for bridge repair a couple of miles later, so we turned around a little earlier than planned and headed back.

After stopping to do a little window-shopping on the way back through Lanesboro, we had still managed a nice 26 miles by the time we returned to Fountain.

The total length of the trail is 42 miles from Fountain to Houston. Go here for more info and a great map. Plus there’s an 18-mile spur trail called the Harmony-Preston trail that heads southward from about half-way between Fountain and Lanesboro. I think next time I’ll start in Lanesboro and do a 62-mile round-trip to Houston and back.

It’s a great ride, no matter what part of the trail you’re on.

After we returned to Rochester and had lunch, I took off for Owatonna to shoot some video for MinnPost. It was a great day and I might never have done it without my two new reasons for getting off my butt and on the road.

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Strange encounter on the golf course

Yesterday I played golf with daughter Emily. All was going well (except for the golf) until we were walking to the tee of the final hole and my cell phone rang. It was a mysterious male voice asking where we were.

Against my better judgement, I told the voice our location — on the 9th tee waiting for group of elderly women playing just ahead of us. The voice said, “OK — I have a visual on you just behind the Cotton Tops”. Moments later, two well dressed, but shadowy figures were walking toward us.

As they got closer, they paused for a moment and appeared to be holding hands.

I had a queasy feeling about what was going down. Who were these guys — FBI agents? An Evangelical conversion squad? The IRS? Door-to-door shoulder bag salesmen?

They gave me the creeps and I wanted to run, but Emily was my daughter after all, and I felt I needed to protect her.

So I backed up slowly instead of breaking into a full gallop.

Then they got close enough for me to see their faces.

They identified themselves as resident psychiatrists from the nearby clinic, apparently part of some sort of outreach program designed to identify potential “clients”.

Emily was greatly relieved and played the final hole masterfully.


But their explanation didn’t put my mind at ease one bit. In fact, the whole experience traumatized me. I had nightmares all through the night and now I can’t get those smirky smiles or that voice on the phone out of my head.

And I may never be able to play golf again.

National Farmers’ Bank in Owatonna: We finally met.

I had an appointment to do a video shoot for MinnPost last week in Owatonna, Minnesota, about an hour’s drive south of Minneapolis. My daughter Emily drove over from Rochester to have lunch with me and help me with the video. We had a little extra time after we ate, so we stopped downtown to see the beautiful bank designed by prairie school architect Louis Sullivan (with an amazing decorative scheme by George Grant Elmslie).

National Farmers' Bank (now Wells Fargo) in Owatonna, Minnesota (all photos by Steve Date)

Elmslie, along with William Gray Purcell and George Feick, designed the house we used to own (see previous post) and I became more and more interested in prairie school architecture during the years we lived there. The National Farmers’ Bank in Owatonna has long been on my bucket list of architectural sites, but for some reason I’ve never gotten around to stopping in.

(Serendipity note: I started writing this a few days ago. Then I went out of town for a couple of days and awoke yesterday morning to see a photo of the interior of the bank in a Minneapolis StarTribune feature story about Adam Young of Owatonna and his music group called Owl City.)

I’ve had a range of experiences with visiting and photographic historic sites, and those still open for business are not always very welcoming to gawkers and photographers. But as soon as Emily and I entered the grand lobby and started looking around, a bank worker hopped up from her office cubicle, gave us a friendly greeting, and suggested we climb up on the little balcony behind the clock for good photos. She was right. The view was magnificent.

The lobby stuns.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s website says this about Sullivan and the bank, “One of the first American architects to break free from the influence of classical revival styles, Louis Sullivan completed a series of eight banks in small Midwest towns during the last years of his career. The National Farmers’ Bank of Owatonna is arguably the best. Sullivan, known for a “form follows function” philosophy . . . designed the bank to resemble a jeweled strongbox, giving depositors a sense of security.”

Exterior detail by George Grant Elmslie

It is indeed a “jeweled strongbox” — a surprisingly beautiful presence in a small, midwestern town such as this. One can only imagine the impact it must have had on area farmers and town residents when it was built 103 years ago. It’s been well cared for and stands as one of the best surviving example of prairie school architecture anywhere.

I wonder how often the people who work in the bank and do business there regularly take a minute to stop to look around and appreciate it. I hope they do it every day.

What a great place to work, huh?


One of the huge stained glass windows comes alive when viewed from inside.


A visual feast wherever you look


Clock above the teller windows

We could only visit for a few minutes and then had to be on our way. Since National Farmers Bank folded many years ago, the building is now a Well Fargo branch. Before we left, Emily took some time to do a little banking. What a great historic monument — a century-old art masterpiece that still does the business for which it was built.

Function and form walk hand in hand here. Louis Sullivan and George Grant Elmslie would be happy with the way their ideas have endured and continue to have an emotional impact.

It was a thrill to experience this place. Next time I’ll visit when I have a little more time.

(to see more photos — and larger versions of these — go to my Flickr set here)

Emily (center) does a little banking

Blustery Day at the Lakes

I went for a bike ride yesterday around Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun in south Minneapolis. The weather was sunny and calm when I left home, but before long the wind whipped up and the clouds rolled in. I had my camera along.

Minnehaha Creek


Lake Harriet - a pleasant way to spend a June afternoon


Lake Harriet


Lake Harriet


Lake Harriet -- view of Bandstand and downtown Minneapolis


Lake Harriet hipster wears the colors of the lake


I think this puts to rest the myth that fishing is nerdy - once and for all.


Heading for Lake Calhoun


The ladies of Lake Calhoun


Lake Calhoun


Windsurfers on Lake Calhoun


Family fun

After I left the north shore of Lake Calhoun, the wind was in my face the whole way home. I put the camera away, gritted my teeth and cranked my way back to my house.

The end.