Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Luce Line Fall 2009

The date has been set for Fall Luce Line 2009 - October 17 to 18, Saturday to Sunday. Make your plans to join Steve, Heath and myself. It's always a blast, any bike will do, and everyone has gear to share if you need it. Eugene? Sean? George?

Here is some text and swell pictures from Steve's 110 camera from the first time I went in 2005.

Luce Line – July 2005

The Luce Line is a Rails-to-Trails crushed limestone double track/ fire road that runs from the Minneapolis/ St Paul Minnesota suburb of Golden Valley, straight west for about 60 miles. As Steve says, crushed limestone is like riding on a hard packed mountain bike trail, and he’s right.

Steve and I have ridden bicycles for most of our childhood and all of our adult years, and each rotate through a collection of steel and aluminum bikes on a weekly basis. “Light Touring” is a newer adventure for both of us, myself having only done a few extended rides and no bike camping in the past, and Steve having bike-camped only a few times. We both have young families and busy lives, so when after a minor-record setting string of 90 degree days, high humidity and no rain, the weather man let us know that our long planned weekend would be in the mid to upper 90s, I was concerned but knew we would still go – because the next opportunity probably wouldn’t be until Fall.

The Wednesday before we left I pinched a nerve in my back. My go/no go decision came down to Saturday morning, but there I was unloading my gear in Steve’s driveway – stiffly and carefully.

The trailhead is about 5 miles from Steve’s garage and our goal is an “unofficial” campsite; a snowmobiler’s three-sided shelter with a picnic table in a small clearing next to the trail, located at mile marker 40 (we discovered after arriving – Steve couldn’t remember exactly how far it was). The route is pretty flat; the only up/down is very gradual or low rolling hills. The prevailing wind blows from West to East. We will camp over night and ride back on Sunday.

My rig consists of my black and red 1970s Vitus 172 steel tubed Motobecanne Grand Jubilee with B17, Technomic stem, cloth tape polyurethaned bars, clipless pedals and BOB trailer. Steve is riding his Quickbeam with four canvas bags, water bottle cages, toe clips and all of the traditional Rivendell trimmings. Steve looks casual in light shorts over his bike shorts, a neutral colored jersey, a cycling cap, sunglasses clip-ons on his glasses and red converse high tops. I’m wearing cycling shorts, a white tank top, a lightweight red hat, Camelback and black Sidi’s. It was really hot and I didn’t really care if I looked like a dork.

We pedaled off into a slight headwind at about 10:30 on Saturday morning, excitedly, at a good clip, settling onto our loaded bikes. About 45 minutes later we stopped in the shade, sweating and feeling light headed and nauseous and looked at each other like: “can we do this?”, after settling down and cooling off we slowed the pace and continued on.

The trail shifts between forest edges and overgrowth, partially or entirely shading the path, to open (cloudless) sky and miles of farm fields, lakes and surrounding forests. The distribution between the two seemed to be about equal -perhaps a few more miles of sun-, mixed together in twenty to hundred yard stretches. Just to the west of Golden Valley are some of the Twin City’s wealthier suburbs and we passed huge McMansions with tennis courts and 4 car garages over the first fifteen miles. Later we passed small rural houses, and finally and continuously; farms and fields. Every five miles or so we crossed a blacktop or dirt road – these required fairly careful checking before crossing; most motorists will stop when they see you, but many of the crossings have very limited visibility until you are actually on the road, and some motorists simply don’t stop, or slow down for that matter.

The trail runs through a few small towns and a few collections of buildings that may be towns or may not. The first town of any size, twenty miles up, is Watertown (pop 3000). Watertown has an air-conditioned supermarket so it took us a long time to pick out our Gatorade and snacks. We bought the supplemental food that we needed here too, not much; some rice and beans, granola bars, mushrooms.

Ten miles further is Winsted (pop 2000). Steve figured this was about a half hour ride from our camp spot, so about four and a half ours from our start we stopped for a cold beer and a pitcher of ice water. The bartender and patrons were friendly and interested in what we were doing biking on such a hot day. We purchased a few beers and some ice for camp on our way out. As it turned out our destination was just over an hour further, and not a minute too soon by the time we got there.

The Luce line is, as Steve said, like a hard pack mountain bike trail, and it isn’t really maintained other than to clear fallen trees, but it doesn’t really need to be; no erosion, no falling boulders, pretty well settled from years as a train track bed, it’s pretty flat. The further you go from the cities the rougher the trail is, simply from less use. Heading west out of Watertown the doubletrack is less defined, the fine gravel not so fine, the patches of tough, low grass overgrowing the track are more grown in. West of Winsted the trail changes to “crushed aggregate” which doesn’t look much different but is sandier and occasionally deeper. The roughness increases proportionally from the Eastern portion of the trail. West of where we stopped the trail turns to grass path.

The further west you go, the fewer people you see as well. The suburbanites whose riding position is set up to simulate their gym equipment, we left way back in the first miles. The day-trippers, whose cars we pass parked at the road crossings around Watertown, are gone. We didn’t see a soul on the trail between Winsted and the shelter, didn’t see a person that evening. At eight AM a local jogger went by and said “hi”, he looked surprised to see us.

The campsite itself was in a nice shady grove of trees with a barbed wire fenced off private forest behind it. Steve met the fenced land’s owner on his previous trip and received a sort of unofficial OK to camp at the shelter that abuts his land – “no one can tell you, not to camp there” is what he said. There is an abundance of down, dry fire wood all around the site which we did burn later to keep the bugs away, despite the still warm night air. The picnic table was nice for sorting, cooking and sitting – the only man made feature of the camp that we used. We leaned our bikes against the shelter but otherwise didn’t use it – it would have been very welcome in a rainstorm. The six-hour ride had loosened the muscles surrounding the nerve pinch and I was upgraded to “sore back”. It was a beautiful evening and we cooked and ate as much as we could to fuel up for Sunday. We crawled into our light little one man tents at 11:00 soon to be asleep – too warm, but glad to be bug free.

The next day we desired to get an earlier start and hopefully avoid as much of the day’s heat as possible. The morning air felt cool compared to the tent and the previous day – probably still low 80s (on the way to 97 today), we ate a bit, packed and were on the road by 8:30. We rolled off into a beautiful morning hoping yesterday’s constant light headwind would be today’s light tailwind. It had shifted to a crosswind - but still light. We stopped at the first town’s gas station/store for drinks, my last minute purchased shorts were chafing me and we still had 40 miles to go. You know what the rural clerk is thinking when two guys in funny tight clothes (picture me now: spandex, tank top, red hat), who obviously aren’t from around here are buying Gatorade and Vaseline.

The road home from any longer trip always seems shorter. The ride back for us was a compromise between wanting to get out of the heat by completing our journey, and the return to the requirements of daily life. We had found our groove and our pace however, and had transformed from sweating the food and camping details, and worrying about work, childcare and home improvement, to daydreaming, taking in the beautiful terrain and enjoying simple, unfinished conversations and commentary. Is it Fall yet?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Story of Anvil

Watched this tonight. Very entertaining. Riveting in fact, even for people who don't like hard rock. A very good documentary. I was well ready to not like it, but it was great. I love Canadians too.

I once made a compilation tape called instrumetal with all of the best instrumental songs from all of my favorite metal bands. This is like 1983. Anvil's 1982 Metal on Metal track: March of the Crabs fit right in next to Cirith Ungol's Maybe that's why, Def Leppard's Switch 625 and Metallica's Call of Cuthulu.

This documentary really doesn't have as much to do with their music as it does with life's choices and the world of people we swirl around and past every day.

Madwoman Foods Minneapolis

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It Might Get Loud

Can't wait to see this!

...I guess I'm not alone in my love for Jack White.

It's The Edge... And Jimmy Page for god's sake. ...And Jack White. Jack Who? -you say. Jack White. Probably my favorite song-writer of the last ten years. Plays totally retro and vintage tube equipment and cheap-er guitars. Awesome tones and aggressive playing. The White Stripes are like AC/DC crossed with how I imagine 50's Country to be. The riffs are hard, catchy and perfectly sorted, the lyrics are smart, simple and deeply meaningful. The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather are as good or better too. well, not better I wouldn't say...

All are huge influences on how I try to play guitar today, throw in Daniel Ash and Alex Lifeson and it'll be John-A-Palooza.

if you can hear a piano fall
you can hear me coming down the hall
if I can just hear your pretty voice
I don't think I need to see at all
don't think I need to see at all