I have liked biking since the 1960’s when my parents brought home my first “big” bike. It was a Schwinn of course, blue and white. I rode it so much, I wore out the seat after a couple of years and we replaced it with a yellow sparkling banana seat, which were all the rage back then. I wish I still had that bike and that seat. They were cool. Our bikes were our independence before we could drive. We rode about a half mile into town to the little store to buy ice cream or we rode to get books at the book mobile. The book mobile was like a little traveling library that stopped in all of the small towns, to allow people to check out books in the summer. It was a great concept. It is still around; I saw one recently when driving up north of Duluth.
Since those early days on my Schwinn, I have never had a time where I did not have a bike. I have never had anything fancy, just trail or road bikes, and I have never worn Lycra to ride my bike. In college, I biked to and from work in the summers, and once we had our kids, they always had trikes and bigger bikes as they got older. I once rode 50 miles with my kids on the Paul Bunyan trail by Brainerd MN, while all of us were dressed like pirates. It was a fundraising event for the Bar Association. They had prizes for the fastest time, largest group, and one prize for the best costumes. I told my kids ahead of time that we will never be fastest because there are a lot of Attorneys who wear lycra while riding bikes that cost them $3000, but I said they should come up with costumes, because that is an area where we can excel. The kids came up with the pirate costume idea and we won the prize! I think we were the last team to come in.
My kids were complaining about their legs and their bikes as we passed the miles away. Some had those three quarter size bikes as they were still pretty young and I had a nice trail bike. So when they would whine about their legs hurting or being tired, I would trade bikes with them. I should get an award for driving most of those 50 miles on a three quarter size kid’s bikes with poor gearing. My paralegal, Carol, who I have worked with for over 25 years and who is a good sport for sure, came with us because Joe had to work. She also dressed like a pirate and we did have some fun!
We started biking the Minnesota and Wisconsin “rails to trails” (railroads turned into bike trails) when our kids were really young. My husband pulled a cart behind his bike and I had a carrier on mine. He sometimes pulled two kids and a small cooler in the cart at the same time and for a few of those years he had thighs like Thor. He also sometimes had to drive the trail with us and then drive the entire way back on the trail to go get the Yukon while we waited.
As the kids grew, we could do more miles and more trails. Those rails to trails were perfect for the kids, because they are all really flat. We could carry a small cooler with sandwiches and snacks on the cart and if the smallest kid got tired, we would duct tape their little bike to the cart and let them ride for a while. The kids would sometimes fall asleep in the cart and other times I could hear them singing to entertain themselves. They seemed to sing the Sponge Bob Square pants song a lot when biking. When our youngest Jenny was old enough to ride a tag-a-long behind Joe, we got rid of the cart and I had packs on my bike for the lunch or snacks. She and Joe could really move and make time when she was on that tag-a-long. They were always ahead of the rest of us and got to our destination the fastest.
We biked around Mackinaw Island with the two younger kids in the cart behind Joe, while Sara and I rode a bicycle built for two. She and I chatted the whole way around. It was so nice to spend the day together on a bike. She always enjoyed biking and was always upbeat and helpful as a little girl. That was a fun family vacation and we had perfect weather for it. Another year we rented bikes and drove around Yosemite National Park while on vacation in California. We did a lot of the trails in Minnesota and Wisconsin over the years. I always had a rule that they could not take me to a buffet on Mother’s day until I was eighty years old. They had to take me on an adventure, so they took me biking different interesting trails that we had never tried before.
We sometimes had to problem solve. We biked in one area of Western Minnesota and one of my daughters who shall remain nameless ( Sara) complained that her underwear was bothering her and riding up. I suggested she go “Cowboy” as we called it in our house, so on our next rest stop she went cowboy (no underwear) for the rest of the ride and I heard no more complaining. Problem solved. We once ran out of water and had to stop at a gas station and we had to sometimes use an outhouse on some trails. We had one outhouse in Southern Minnesota that had two holes side by side. Jenny asked why they would do that and so I said it was so two of us could go at the same time and chit chat while on the pot. She was quite young at the time and she wanted to try that so we did. Girl talk and chit chat while peeing. It was nice.
One of our favorite trails was the Lanesboro trail in Southeastern Minnesota. We still enjoy it. It is flat as can be and runs through some of the most picturesque landscapes in Minnesota. There is a little town every 6 or 7 miles to stop and look around or rest, and it winds along small rivers and past sandstone cliffs. There are a lot of fun places to stay in Lanesboro including an apartment above an art gallery on Main Street and an old mill made into a hotel, with themed rooms. There are a lot of cool options for dinner too, which is nice after a day of biking. It is a romantic town set in a valley and is good for couples as well as family friendly. It is fun anytime, but it is particularly beautiful in the fall. The cooler temps are also a plus when biking.
We did the Lanesboro trail with my good friend from Law school and her family when our kids were all tweens. Her daughter Courtney was on a tag along behind her Mom and my Jenny was behind Joe on the tag along. The girls had Walkie Talkies (before cell phones for kids) and Courtney fell off the tag along trying to use the walkie talkie while driving. A first good lesson in driving and using phones, but luckily no damage was done, as we were just getting started and no one was driving very fast yet.
Another favorite was the Elroy-Sparta State trail in Wisconsin. It is 32 miles long and the best part of this trail is that it is an old railway bed (like the other rails to trails), but this one has three preserved train tunnels that you drive through with your bike. One is three quarter’s of a mile long and the other two are about a half mile long. As you drive along the trail through the woods, you can feel the air becoming cooler and damp as you get closer to the tunnels. You can also smell the tunnels as you approach. It is really more like a cave then a tunnel. There is water dripping inside and it is pitch dark; you can only see the small light at the end of the tunnel in the distance. The dark, cool, moist tunnels are a real treat when biking in the hot summer. It is like stepping into air conditioning. Most people walk their bikes through the tunnels holding flashlights. It would be difficult to make it through the tunnel without those flash lights. The first time through we actually taped flashlights to the kids’ bikes which they really liked. The dark tunnels added to the adventure and the uniqueness of this trail. Just writing about it again makes me want to go back and do it again. It will never be as exciting as that first time, when the kids were young and so in awe of the tunnels. It was exciting for us too.
One year, we did this same ride with my brother, and my parents drove what we referred to as our chase vehicle. They dropped us off at the beginning and then they met us in a predetermined town for lunch. The kids were all late tween ages or early teens. After lunch my mom looked up at the sky and said “you guys may want to load the bikes back up, because it looked like it may storm.” Well we were not about to have driven all the way to Wisconsin and not ride the entire trail. Besides, we thought the rain may never come. So off we went onto the trail. Within the hour, the clouds were opening up on us raining cats and dogs, but worst of all the thunder and lighting was spectacular. The thunder seemed louder than normal, as it bounced off the sandstone cliffs along the trail and it sounded like the lightening was right above our heads. We continued on as we had no choice. The chase vehicle could not get anywhere near us in the country side, so we continued and met up with them at the end, as planned. My mom had that, “I told you so” look on her face and a big smile for us as we looked like drowned rats. We were soaked and we had mud going up our backs, because this trail is not paved. It is called a crushed rock trail and normally on a dry day, it feels almost paved, because of the way it is made, but on this rainy day it blew up yellow mud onto all of our backs and we were almost too dirty to enter the vehicle.
I am always glad we did not quit just because the rain was coming. That would not have been memorable or a good story at all. Instead we raged against the rain to make sure we finished the entire trail. We have never laughed so hard and had a better experience. We were totally soaked and while on the trail, we must have repeated that line from the movie Cady Shack a hundred times—“I don’t think the heavy stuff will come down for a while.” The kids still talk about us getting rained on and our adventure on the Elroy trail, and I think that although we did not know it at the time, it was a good lesson for the kids in not quitting. It was also a lesson in raging against the rain and in finishing what you start. None of those things were said, but as they say, actions speak louder than words. There would be no story at all had we quit. We would have been back at the hotel sooner and sitting in the pool. Instead we came to the hotel laughing and having to clean up after an ordeal. A fun ordeal, but none the less an ordeal. We had finished all 32 miles despite the rain and the lightening and we were stronger for it.
We have been back on that trail with that same brother and his wife and we actually camped for the weekend at a campground on the trail called the Tunnel campground. Our rain and lightening story got told often that weekend and my kids still tell it.
Now that we are empty nesters we have gone biking around Itasca State park with friends and stayed at a local Bed and Breakfast during the peak of the fall colors. That is a gorgeous ride. I would load my bike carrier with sandwiches and frozen water bottles (to keep them cool) and I would throw in a beer or two for our rest stop. When we biked around the entire park we would stop at Douglas lodge for real ice cream malts made by hand. It was something to look forward to. We did that Itasca trail with the kids and the cart when they were young as well. That one was a thigh killer, as it is anything but flat.
Our kids still like biking and so do we. I just recently had a hitch installed on my daughter Jenny’s Jeep, so she can carry her bike. She had requested it because she and her friend love biking, but need a way to carry them to the trails. As she was talking about needing the hitch for the bike rack, I could not help but be brought back in time with her riding in that cart behind Joe’s bike, and then later behind him on the tag-a-long. Even though she is now 20 years old and almost finished with college, I can see it clear as day, as if it were yesterday. It has been said often, but those years with the kids fly by. Make memories and teach fun. You will never regret the adventures you did together.