Saturday, July 7, 2007

More evidence of insanity

The current temperature, according to, is 97 F at 7 p.m.

Wow, what a day. I’m glad I spent the afternoon in front of a fan, watching the White Sox salvage a game against the Twins.

But there was much more to my day than watching baseball.

About 8:50 a.m. I departed for my “daily” bike ride. I had hoped to be up north this weekend, but that didn’t work out. Since I had no other plans, I decided I had to push myself a bit when bicycling.

My normal route is quite similar to the route I did last summer. It’s the same loop, but I access it from the west metro instead of from south Minneapolis. I lived about one mile from the loop last summer, this summer I live about four miles, so that 27-mile route I pedaled regularly last summer has now become a 33-mile route.

It takes me a little more than two hours to pedal the route, including periodic traffic stops, and I have been trying to time my ride so I finish close to sunset, which at this time of the year is just after 9 p.m. It’s much easier to bicycle in the waning hours of the day because even if it’s still hot and humid the sun isn’t beating down on me. It may still be warm, but it’s not nearly as painful.

Hence I waited until nearly 7 p.m. Friday night to go bicycling. I pulled up to my door about one minute shy of 9 p.m., 33 miles in the books.

So less than 12 hours later I was back on the road. I’m trying to push myself for a few reasons. I had hoped to log major mileage over an extended holiday weekend up north, and since I don’t have the luxury of being up north, I decided I should still push myself this weekend.

My goal this month, at minimum, is to beat my bicycling total from last July, 670 miles. I’d like to do more than simply exceed that total, but I need to start with that goal and build from there.

I also ended up taking three consecutive days off this week, for a combination of reasons, from Monday through Wednesday. So rather than surrender to the heat today, I wanted to make up for lost time earlier this week.

The temperature was 74 F when I departed this morning. I started with the traditional ride down Excelsior Boulevard, which is rather uninteresting. Prior to accessing a bike trail I pass a bank with a time and temperature display. The overly optimistic thermometer said it was 94 F just after 9 a.m., and I think I actually yelled at it mockingly for suggesting it was already that hot.

The first several miles were much like my regular 33-mile route, and there were a number of people out, trying to beat the heat like me.

As I approached the 10-mile mark I passed a guy in a wheelchair. It was one of those bicycling wheelchairs, and it looked like the style guys use when they do a marathon.

Those wheelchair marathoners can finish a marathon in less than two hours, so they don’t have to be out there as long as the runners, yet I admire those guys for doing it. The best of them can power themselves 26 miles about as quickly as I can pedal 26 miles, and since it’s harder to maintain upper body strength than it is to maintain lower body strength, I admire them for their effort.

If I ever end up without use of my legs I’ll be fat and lazy, I promise.

So as I continued on a few miles I reached the point where my will was tested. Do I turn off the bike path and go right, as usual, to finish a 33-mile ride, or do I turn left toward downtown Minneapolis and make it an adventure? Fortunately I had my mind made up, despite all the reasons I should have told myself no, and headed left.

I rode past the big inflatable toilet on my way to the Mississippi River, which I crossed on the Stone Arch Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that crosses the river at an angle. It was built as a railroad bridge in 1883 and is now a pedestrian bridge.

By this point I had been on the road for about an hour. I had to pass through the University of Minnesota campus, which included passing another sporting venue, Williams Arena, where the Gopher men’s basketball team plays.

From there I followed a bike trail for a few miles along the east bank of the Mississippi. I passed an old guy who was walking the path with another person. The old guy had a button-down shirt on. Did he really think that was necessary for his morning walk?

What really struck me as odd was that he had about eight different patches of sweat on his shirt. How do you do that? I may have one or two distinct areas that form when I sweat, but once I work up a good lather, it all devolves into one giant puddle. (And I sweat too easily and too profusely when I exercise.) This guy was a freak of nature.

So instead of following the bike trail all the way along the river, nicely elevated above it on a bluff, I turned onto Summit Avenue, which leads into downtown St. Paul and features some historic mansions along the way. The avenue has a dedicated bicycling lane, and I was fortunate enough to avoid stopping at most controlled intersections, but it was a slow leg. The street seems to be a bit of an incline most of the way to downtown.

As I wove my way through downtown I passed another sports landmark – the Xcel Energy Center, home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild – before crossing the Mississippi again, this time on the Wabasha Street Bridge, which is a nice downhill ride to a convenience store, which served as my first rest stop of the day, about two hours into my ride.

I didn’t check my mileage at that point because it didn’t matter. I hadn’t set a mileage goal, and I wasn’t going home the same way I came, so the mileage at that point would mean little. The bottom line was that I was in St. Paul and I had to go at least 20 miles to get home.

After my rest stop I bicycled along what was now a south bank of the Mississippi. Initially I was near the water level, but slowly the route worked its way up from the shore until I reached the Mendota Bridge. I had no idea how unique this bridge was, only that it was high above the Minnesota River just west of where the river converges with the Mississippi. This is what I found at Wikipedia:

“It was the longest concrete arch bridge in the world when it was constructed in 1926. It is 4119 feet in length.”

And I get to bicycle across it occasionally. It’s quite high, and always fun to cross. When you reach the end of it from the direction I cross it you’re at Fort Snelling, a historic fort that traces its origins to 1819.

From there I headed to the Minnehaha Parkway, which follows along Minnehaha Creek through South Minneapolis to the Chain of Lakes, near the pretentious Uptown area of Minneapolis.

I used a combination of the bike trail and the road to reach the southern lake in the chain, Lake Harriet. At that point I was three hours into my journey and about 13 or 14 miles from the finish. There’s a well there, so I filled my water bottles and rested a bit before beginning the final leg of my journey.

At this point it seemed a bit hot, but there was no shortage of bicyclists, runners and in-line skaters on the paths. Parts of the trail are shaded around Harriet and Lake Calhoun, so it wasn’t until I reached another bike trail to head west that I started to feel the punishment of the day’s sunshine.

At that point I was about nine miles from home. Unfortunately I had a light breeze working against me as I headed west, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as three weekends ago, it was just enough to psychologically punish me as I was trying to finish a challenging ride.

As I passed that overly optimistic bank thermometer on the way home it said 97 F. What a worthless public service that thing is.

I made it home about 1 p.m. It turned out to be a 56.5-mile ride with a modest average speed of 15.5 mph. (My bike automatically stops clocking my trip when my front wheel stops rotating, so my rest stops and brief breaks at an intersection don’t kill my average.)

I didn’t stop to enjoy the scenery along the way, I rarely do, but despite my militant effort to pedal 50-plus miles and the conditions working against me, I enjoyed today’s trek. I hope to do it again soon under less painful conditions.

But today’s ride in the heat and humidity isn’t what makes me insane.

I went to bed about 12:45 a.m., and needed at least an hour to fall asleep. Despite that, I was up at 5:20 a.m. to go geocaching. Yeah, that’s right, I jumped in the car and found three geocaches before I ever pedaled a mile.

I had a geocaching mission I wanted to complete and I knew that if I went bicycling first I’d never convince myself to venture out afterward to hunt containers of plastic junk in the woods. While geocaching served as a way to wake up and warm up my muscles, it cost me up to three hours of sleep prior to the ride. So I pedaled 56.5 miles on less than four hours sleep today.

It’s official, I am nuts.

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