Friday, August 24, 2012

Embracing the urban jungle

Hennepin Avenue bridge in Minneapolis
Four days.  Three cities.  Two wheels.  One speed.
Ninety percent of the time, if you ask me whether I prefer country road or city riding, I would reply country.  I believe, however, it's good to mix things up once in awhile.  It awakens the senses and brings out the inner child.

This past weekend was conjured up a few weeks ago, with it's backbone being my twenty year high school reunion.  I had hemmed and hawed about going.  Was taking off work and leaving a weekend of excellent road riding behind worth the schlep to Minneapolis?  After deciding yes, my husband and I had to ensure the trip was worthwhile and we made the decision to take a pit stop in Eau Claire to visit with friends and see my husband's alma mater.  Then, we'd take a couple days to reacquaint ourselves with my home city by bike and follow it with a mad dash back to Madison for the WAAM social ride around Monona.

After staying up far too late the night before, we pried our eyes open and I doused myself with strong coffee before heading out to explore Eau Claire by bike.  The last time we had ridden there was during our tenth wedding anniversary tour--over three years ago.  Since that visit consisted of showering, gorging ourselves and visiting friends, we never really saw Eau Claire the way it was meant to be seen.

Urban riding is a different beast.  The gap between it and rural road riding is made that much bigger when straddling a single speed or fixed gear.  You have to stay on.  There is no drifting or thinking about what to make for dinner.  It becomes meditative in it's own way since to stay alive, you must be present.  For me, people and cars tend to move to imaginary music in my head.  It all becomes one giant dance that I'm trying to choreograph on the fly.  There are, however, times when urban riding begins to wear me down.  If I'm not in the correct mindset, or am on sensory overload, I get cranky and begin to take my frustrations out on runners on the bike paths or dog walkers with retractable leashes.  It's not a pretty sight...just ask my husband.  Thankfully, there is usually a coffee shop or pub near by to refuel and decompress.

Carson Park in Eau Claire
Getting back to Eau Claire, a city I have fallen in love with.  For over fifteen years I've been watching EC evolve.  I have seen bike paths installed, watched the city embrace the river and also rebuild it's downtown.  On this visit, I was elated to see "sharrows" on some of the busier roads--making it safer for cyclists.  I am so excited to see what EC has up it's sleeve for the next ten years.  Although the biking was fantastic; weaving our way through Carson park, Putnam park and along the river, the true highlight was reconnecting with old friends.  Years can slip by all too easily so it's good having reasons to slow down.

Riding the Greenway through Minneapolis

Crossing the stone arch bridge
Onward to my home city, Minneapolis.  Every time I get into the city proper, I experience what a cycling friend calls "Minneapolitis".  Why?  Because of the infrastructure set up for urban spinning of course!  I have travelled and lived across the country, and believe me when I say that Mpls. deserves to be rated first or second every year for the best cycling city.  The one downfall--and no, it's not the winters since the paths are usually plowed before the streets--is that there are too many cyclists for the amount of commuter paths, trails or bike lanes.  Maybe I should rephrase this.  People in Minneapolis need to start using some of that "Minnesota nice" a bit more when riding, walking or running.  Surprisingly enough, the drivers were so much better than the ones in Madison and I would rank them a close second to the drivers in Seattle when it comes to bike awareness.

Sharrows on Bryant Avenue in Minneapolis

One of my favorite spots...the sculpture garden
Driving into the city, I realized that it had been far too long since I had spent much time there.  I grew up riding through the entire city and yet when driving in, I felt turned around and disoriented.  I began to think that carrying a map would be necessary.  I didn't trust my instincts.  So much had changed since I lived there.  Thankfully within a couple hours of riding, it all started coming back to me.  I remembered short cuts, which roads were one-ways, and which roads were cyclist friendly.  The true test came while riding in the dark.  It's a test of trust and knowledge.  As we wound our way from the Southwest side to the far South side, my smile grew.  I knew this area like the back of my hand and even though I was riding a bike that had never rolled through Mpls., it led the way with grace and ease.

Leaving Minneapolis is always a bit bittersweet.  There are times when I think I could move back there... and then I remember how much I detest the road riding.  Madison is now my home and has one hell of a magnetic pull.  No, it doesn't have the glorious restaurants, the plethora of music or the kick ass coffee shops but it holds my new family (non blood) and a lot of other really cool things--this is where my husband yells out "SAILING!"  When we arrived back home, we quickly unpacked and once again, straddled our bikes for a weekly social ride around lake Monona with great friends.  We put on about 140 miles in four days of solid city riding and I wouldn't have changed a thing.

WAAM (We Are All Mechanics) ride

No comments:

Post a Comment