More than just Survival

The second week of January is alway pretty quiet in this part of the country. Everyone is solidly back in the daily grind after the holiday season.Version 3

The bulk and the brunt of winter are still ahead, which can be a daunting thought.  A small percentage of  Minnesotans actually enjoy going outdoors in the bitter January air. We all like to brag about being hearty souls, but honestly, most of us merely survive the winter — relatively few embrace it.                                 .
If you venture out in single-digit “high” temps, you might see a runner on Minnehaha Parkway, a cross-country skier on Hiawatha Golf Course, and increasingly over the past few years, grown, intelligent-looking men and women riding bicycles with big fat tires on the snow and ice.

 

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These guys are riding ON the creek.

Seemingly every time I shovel the front sidewalk, the ever-chipper neighbor walking her dog with its little boots comes by and says something about what a nice day it is. Not to be argumentative, I find my self mumbling a semi-agreement. It works for a moment, long enough anyway to remember the bigger picture, that life really is pretty darn good right now.  One day, I even found myself thinking (for a split second), “I’m thankful I can still shovel snow”.

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One of us is better at the embracing- thing than the other.

Being retired brings other, more predictable, moments of gratefulness.  We had a mild snow storm earlier this week and a voice on the radio said the usual, “There have been hundreds of accidents on Twin Cities roads already this morning. If you don’t have to go anywhere today, stay home”.  I did, and I liked it a lot.

I’ve managed to keep my photo-a-day resolution going for two weeks.  According to a survey by a site called StatisticBrain.com, 68.4% of those who make a new year’s resolution keep it going for the first two weeks.  I thought that percentage would be lower, but I’ll take it.  I’m already ahead of 31.6% of the resolution-makers!

With my back still stinging from that self-pat, here is one photo from each day of week two. You’ll that see I did manage to get my butt outside a few times. And OK. . . .yes, it was a good thing.

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(1/8/17) We dropped in to see my friend Graydon Royce do his a radio show / podcast called “The New Frontier Lutheran Radio Hour” (More about this in the coming days.)

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(1/9/17) Svea

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(1/10/17) Karen doing all the work, as usual. (Hey, SOMEBODY has to take the picture.)

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(1/11/17) Catching some rays at Minnehaha Creek

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(1/12/17) 4:40 PM – Stained glass (made by Karen) holds onto the last sunlight of the day.

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(1/13/17) Walking on water . . . a stroll across Lake Nokomis at sundown.

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(1/14/17) The rocks in Minnehaha Creek somehow remember their summer colors.

Great bike rides of the Twin Cities that begin and end at my house #2: The Grand Rounds

(Note: To see my first “great bike rides” post from about a year ago, go here)

I used to think “The Grand Rounds” was a rather pretentious name added in modern times to the more than 125-year old string of parkways that wind through the city of Minneapolis. But I recently learned that the term dates back to 1891, when William Watts Folwell used it to describe landscape architect Horace Cleveland’s masterful proposal made to the newly-formed Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners 8 years earlier. Now that I know the name is that old, I like it.

Horace Cleveland as a young man. He was nearly 70 when he submitted his design for the Grand Rounds !

Minneapolis has one of the best urban park systems in the world. We would have none of it today but for the vision, forethought, and actions of an amazing string of parks commissioners (along with Cleveland’s detailed plans) in the late 19th and early 20th century, including Charles Loring, William Berry and Theodore Wirth.

I’ve biked most of this route many times, but never as a whole. So a couple of days ago, I decided it was time to grab my camera and saddle up. I’d seen different numbers for the total mileage — usually 50-53 miles, but I also knew that included some dead-end spurs. I decided to just do the main, basic route and see how it works as a loop.

Cleveland’s idea was to tie together some of the most beautiful parts of the city in such a way that you could make the whole trip without ever leaving a park-like setting. For the most part, it does that very well. The Minneapolis chain of lakes, along with the Mississippi River and Minnehaha Creek, are well-known treasures, but the ride also includes some impressive boulevards in the city’s northern areas. Most of the route is, indeed, “grand”, but there’s a short “missing link” of about 3 miles in the northeastern part of the ride that isn’t terribly scenic. Many plans have been proposed over the years to finish it, but so far it’s still missing. A variety of street options traverse the gap and get you downtown to join up with the river.

The dark blue line shows the Grand Rounds. Note the dotted lines through an industrial and residential part of northeast Minneapolis. The outline of the city limits can be seen where the shade of green changes.

Since I live a couple of block from Minnehaha Creek, I bike and run the southern part of the Grand Rounds a lot, but the beauty of the creek and the lakes never gets old. A quick loop around the lakes or a run around Lake Harriet never fails to lift my spirits.

My grand tour the other day ended up totaling about 37 miles. As I said, there are other ways to do it that add more mileage. The route also intersects with a lot of other bike paths on which you could wander all day. It’s a great city for biking.

Here are a bunch of photos from my trip. Along the way, I somehow lost my little notebook that I was writing the mileage in at photo stops (imagine me losing something), so the mile numbers are from “Map My Ride” and are approximate — also, of course, pretty meaningless unless you start at my house. But if you ever do want to start at my house, give me a call and I’ll go with you. It’s a great urban ride.

0.7 - We drop down into the Minnehaha Creek valley to get started.


1.5 - First look at good old Lake Harriet.


5.5 - Cedar Lake's south beach


6.7 - North side of Cedar Lake. The railroad and the Cedar Lake Trail (not ours) head toward downtown Minneapolis.


6.8 - on the other side of the railroad bridge is tiny Brownie Lake, an often overlooked little gem.


8.3 - Theodore Wirth Golf course. What a view!


8.8 - Statues depicting Theodore Wirth (Minneapolis Parks Commissioner in the early 1900s) with some kids for whom he helped provide a beautiful place to play, are near clubhouse of the golf course that bears his name.


10.7 - Victory Memorial Drive honors those who died in WWI


15.2 - Downtown skyline over the rail yards of "Nordeast".


16.2 - Another peak at downtown from the 10th hole at Columbia Park, another very nice municipal golf course.


17.3 - Quiet, residential neighborhood on St. Anthony Parkway with happy, safe, above-average kids.


20.8 - After a trip through the "missing link", we're downtown.


21.3 - Almost everything you need to know about Minneapolis is represented in this photo -- flour mills, St. Anthony Falls, Mississippi River, hydroelectric plant, barge going through lock & dam, James J. Hill's stone arch railroad bridge. This area is ground zero for Minneapolis .


21.5 - New I-35W bridges show no trace of the terrible tragedy that happened here 4 years ago.


23.2 - Back to green and blue landscape. The Mississippi River from West River Road across from the University of Minnesota.


28.0 - Minnehaha Falls


29.3 - The path hugs Minnehaha Creek


30.2 - Lake Hiawatha


32.0 - Lake Nokomis -
About five more miles and we're home - around the lake and up the Parkway.

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.

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.

Too early to tiptoe through tulips – but still a great bike ride

(This is the last of a series of 5 posts about my spring break trip to Belgium and the Netherlands. To start with the first post in the series, go here)

When we first started planning this trip, at the top of the must-do list was “biking though the tulip fields”. But when we started figuring out when the dates of my break were, we realized that late March would probably be a little early for tulips. We were right, but it wasn’t early by too much. Even though we weren’t able to see the fields in full bloom, we did get an early glimpse of color.

We intentionally saved Amsterdam for the end of the trip to give the flowers an extra week – and we saved the bike ride until the last full day before coming home. It was a cool, sunny day, and it would have still been great even if there hadn’t been ANY flowers. There’s an amazing system of bike paths and dedicated lanes all over the flower-growing area to the southwest of Amsterdam and it was a joy just to be out riding around the countryside.

Looks like Holland! The train enters Haarlem. (photo by Steve Date)

We took the train from the Amsterdam Central Station to Haarlem, which is only about 10 miles away. It’s a short walk into the city center from the train station. Haarlem is a beautiful small city and is a great place for a quick break from Amsterdam. But we were mostly using it as a jumping-off point for a bike ride, so we just walked around a bit and then headed out. It was a quiet Sunday morning – nothing open until later in the day.

Quiet Sunday morning in Haarlem. (photo by Steve Date)

Renting bikes at the Haarlem train station was easy and cheap – €6.50 for the whole day, and they’re open until midnight! One slight drawback was that they only had single-speed backpedal-brake models. Not a big deal for us, but it might be for you.

Armed with nothing more than a comically undetailed map in a guidebook, we headed out of town in a generally southerly direction, hoping to find one of the two roads shown on the map. The “plan” was to see some flower fields in bloom and make it down to a place called the Keukenhof, which is basically a big flower park near the city of Lisse. Since everything in the Netherlands seems easy to do (compared to most other European countries) we weren’t too worried about find our way. We had all day and were up for heading out into the unknown nederland.

Not long after we got out of town, we starting seeing fields of daffodils and other early-bloomers.

Just south of Haarlem (photo by Steve Date)

Much to my delight, the Dutch have made it simple for morons without a map to bike all over the place without getting lost. The system of trails and bike lanes in this area is truly amazing. There are numbered signs with maps on them that seem to be spaced exactly as far apart as you need them to be. The road and path surfaces are smooth, lanes wide and traffic light (at least on a Sunday). Some of the bike baths go through wooded areas, past cattle and sheep farms, small towns, residential areas, as well as the bulb fields. Here are a few pictures to illustrate the types of things you’ll see as you wander around.






We stopped at the Keukenhof, looked around at the gift shop for a minute and decided not to go in. At a hefty €12 or €13, we decided to do on the next trip. It had only been open for the season for a few days, so it wouldn’t be in full bloom, plus we were enjoying the scenery so much, we just wanted to keep biking.

A mile or so from the Keukenhof is Lisse, a quiet, pleasant town where we decided to find a place to each lunch. We stopped at an unassuming little Italian restaurant called Ristorante Piccolo that was just opening up for the day. They had a couple of tables outside. A French-speaking group of four took one and we took the other. The very friendly owners (possibly husband and wife) apologized because the oven was not hot enough for pizza yet. They brought us some bread and tasty spreads, and because we had to wait, followed a few minutes later by some bruschetta and another apology.

This place doesn't look like anything special from the outside, but it really was. (photo by Steve Date)

Sitting in the 60-degree sun, having some good food — pretty nice. By the way, the pizza was great, too. Just one of those places you stumble on that make you glad you took this trip.

Keep apologizing! - the pizzas can wait.

Stomachs full, it was back on the road. We decided to go a few kilometers farther south, to a town called Sassenheim, just north of Leiden, before heading back toward Haarlem. Here are a few more photos from that part of the ride.




I’m not sure if it comes through in the photos, but it was great — beautiful day, beautiful scenery, beautiful people (the people we met, not us).

Time for a quick jaunt over to the ocean before we return the bikes in Haarlem? Sure, let’s give it a shot.

The path takes us past some dunes and a nice looking golf course called the Kennemer Golf and Country Club.

Soon we were at the sea shore, a place called Zandwoort. It seemed kind of strange to suddenly be at a beach resort area. I’ll bet it’s pretty nice in the summer.


We were getting tired and had a few miles to get back to Haarlem, so we didn’t stay long at the beach. There are some great residential neighborhoods between Haarlem and the ocean. Seems like the ideal place to live if you have money and want to live outside, but near Amsterdam.

Just ouside Haarlem. No reason for the photo other than I really like the building. Reminds me of a radio we had when I was a kid.

The sun was going down when we got back to our place. I really didn’t want to go home the next day. That’s the sign of a successful vacation, I guess.

For many more photos from the trip, go to my Flickr collection from the whole trip here.

To see the 5 spring break posts in order, go to the first one on April 3 here.

(All photos by Steve Date)

Home again in Amsterdam. The last rays of sun hit our room just above the Cotton Club in the center of the picture.

P.S. One more photo — as we were flying out the next morning, we went over some of the area we had biked. You can see the beach town of Zandwoort, the golf course in the upper left, and some of the grass-covered dunes between Haarlem and the ocean.

Great bike rides of the Twin Cities . . . that begin and end at my house: Volume 1.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are some of the best bicycling cities anywhere. We have a LOT of bike trails, dedicated lanes and bike-friendly streets. During these precious few months of non-snow weather, many bikers make the most of it and hit the road.

Serious bikers live in a different world than the rest of us do. We catch glimpses of them on bike paths, streets and highways, but they often ride places that others never see. I’ve been doing more biking this summer than in past years and in doing so, have “discovered” some interesting and beautiful routes that real bikers have been keeping to themselves for years.

Mrs. D and I have been riding parts of this route for a few weeks. I combined these sections into a 26 mile loop last week and took a few photos along the way. These photos were obviously shot on two separate days — one cloudy and one sunny.

So here goes — a 26 mile photojourney. All distances are measured from my house, which will do you absolutely no good unless you ride with me.

So saddle up. Let’s ride.

First stop at mile 2.6 is Lake Nokomis. We see a deer. We get off our bikes and approach it quietly. It doesn’t run away. In fact it doesn’t move at all.

Notice how the urban passers-by don't even notice this magnificent buck just a few feet away.

Then it’s across E. 54th St. all the way to Minnehaha Park. Here we enter Fort Snelling State Park. At mile 6.3 we are in the upper area where the old fort is. Down below is a wonderful natural area near the river. This fort is the first major settlement of non-native people in Minnesota. It was never actually used for defense purposes, but as an outpost to regulate the fur trade in the mid- 19th century.

Fort Snelling, looking much as it did in the 1830s

After a short section through the woods, the bike path leads to the Mendota bridge. The 3/4 mile bridge bike path is an interesting dichotomy of loud, rushing traffic on one side and a beautiful, serene vistas of the river valley on the other.

These REAL bikers probably aren't happy that I stopped on the bridge to take a picture.


It's beautiful looking down from the bridge at the Minnesota River's last mile before joining the Mississippi.

The Mendota Bridge is the only place I know of where you can see the skylines of both downtowns — Minneapolis and St. Paul — at the same time.

From the Mendota Bridge - Minneapolis skyline in the distance with Fort Snelling in the foreground


This view is taken from the same spot as the last one, just turning about 90 degrees to the right. The Mighty Mississippi makes its way toward downtown St. Paul

After we cross the bridge we go through the old town of Mendota, one of the oldest settlements in Minnesota. Here we pick up a great bike trail that runs next to the railroad tracks near the river.

The The Jean Baptiste Faribault house (1839) is one of several historic buildings in Mendota.

At mile 8.7 we get a view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. This little sand point is sacred ground to the Dakota people, who believe it to be the center of the world and the place where they originated from.

The muddy Minnesota River (foreground) joins forces with the Mississippi.

At about the 10 mile mark we enter the Lilydale Regional Park. We get glimpses of the river and some large areas of native prairie grasses, but the coolest thing about this part of the path is the sections that go through some densely wooded areas.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

At 12.8 miles we emerge from the wilderness at Harriet Island, just across the river from Downtown St. Paul. The Jonathan Padelford is the flagship of the Padleford Packet Boat Company, which owns several river boats used for various types of excursions up and down the river.

The Jonathan Padelford docks at Harriet Island in St. Paul

At 13.7 miles, the very patriotic Wabasha Bridge welcomes us to downtown St. Paul.

Lots of flags welcome us to St. Paul


Rice Park is just a block over and worth a look. It’s a beautiful little urban park surrounded by several interesting buildings.

1980 US Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks in perpetual celebration across the street from Rice Park. The guy behind him just wants to get the damn railing clean.


At 15.1 we go up the hill by the St. Paul Cathedral and on to Summit Avenue. First stop is the home of railroad tycoon James J. Hill. It’s pretty impressive.

James J. Hill House. The inside wows too.

We pass many big, beautiful, old mansions on Summit Avenue. Governor Tim lives in one of them, at mile 17. As I’m considering whether to go up and ring the bell to see if he wants to come out and ride, a black car with tinted windows pulls out of the driveway. Maybe Timmy’s in the backseat, I don’t know. What a thrill to be a paparazzo.

The next President of the United States could be in that car. And pigs might be able to fly if they flap their legs hard enough.

After a couple more miles straight down Summit Avenue, past Macalester College and the University of St. Thomas, we reach the river again at mile 19.6. Another 2-mile stretch down E. River road brings us to the Ford Parkway bridge. At mile 21.5 we stop for one last photo of the river and then re-enter Minneapolis.

Back across the Mississippi river one more time.

We go past Minnehaha Falls (more about that in a future post) and head home on Minnehaha Parkway. A steep hill toward the end helps us make sure we got a workout.

Home again at 26.1 miles. Thanks for coming along. I know this was a long post. Reading all the way to the end was more grueling than the bike ride. Congratulations.