Our hotel was a quick two mile ride, mostly downhill, to the western terminus of the trail. We planned to ride it all the way to the eastern terminus in Faribault, then turn around and ride back. That would give us somewhere upwards of 80 miles, but since the trail is mostly flat, it's much easier to put in the big mileages, as we'd found when riding Iowa's Raccoon River Valley trail just a couple of days prior.
The trail started off with smooth asphalt in great condition with some very pretty scenery.
But we soon hit a long gravel section. Signs of things to come?
It was worth riding on gravel for a short ways to see lovely Madison Lake, however. We had it all to ourselves.
The next obstacle we encountered was a detour in the next small town along the trail. We didn't take a photo, but we had to ride through a gravely, sandy area off the trail as well as a grassy area to re-access the trail.
After this point, there was a long stretch of trail that was in very poor condition, filled with cracks and bad patches, requiring us to repeatedly stand up out of the saddle. I am afraid that Iowa spoiled us for trails in sub-par condition, as the trails there were so nicely maintained. On road bikes, these types of cracks jar your wrists, knees, shoulders, and so forth. And unless you rise up off your saddle, your butt as well. If we'd had our full-suspension mountain bikes, we would have been fine, but on skinny tires, owie! We commented that given the name of the trail, the only thing singing was our butts.
Due to the poor condition of the trail, we decided to detour onto the road in the small town of Elysian. There was a map of the local area at the trailhead, so we planned our route and took off, hoping for better luck. Remember, it was Friday the 13th....
On the outskirts of town, there were some beautiful lakes. This "central lakes" area of Minnesota is absolutely gorgeous, with lakes seemingly everywhere you look.
Once we got outside of town, we realized that we'd traded one evil for another. The rural roads were cracked as well and at regular intervals, there'd be a big BUMP. Barry happened to catch this photo just as I had gone over one. Every crack required standing up off of the saddle, and this gets pretty tiring over many miles.
And even the road was not immune to detours! We had to go a bit out of our way due to this unexpected road closure.
Finally, we arrived in Waterville. Since we realized the road was no better than the trail, we figured we'd ride through town, see how the trail conditions were on the east side, and if it continued to be bad, just turn around and head back to Mankato.
Fortunately, the trail was in excellent condition as we headed east out of Waterville as it approached the very beautiful Sakatah Lake State Park, so turning around was not needed. If only it were all this nice! The trail was totally shaded for several miles through the state park, so we didn't take any photos, but the park was gorgeous, with a huge lake. Would have loved to have explored it on foot (or kayak!) as well.
And we were in luck, the trail conditions continued to be excellent all the way until we reached the eastern terminus at Faribault.
Not long after turning around in Faribault, we stopped for some refreshments at this well-located DQ right along the trail.
Re-energized, the ride back to Mankato started well with some beautiful wild phlox along the trail.
At about mile 56, disaster struck. All of a sudden, I couldn't shift into a lower gear. Barry checked my bike and discovered my rear shifter cable had broken. This same thing happened to him not too long ago in the Kansas City area, and being right near a Lenexa bike shop, he was able to get it repaired immediately. Since the trail is essentially flat, I knew I could probably get along without a repair for the rest of the ride (30 miles left), even though I was in a somewhat noisy gear (30t x 12t for cyclists reading this).
Hmmm, I'm beginning to believe in this Friday the 13th thing after all....
Back we went through the state park, bad sections of trail (bump bump bump owie!), and the small-town detour, where more bad luck ensued.
I didn't handle the sandy, gravely area of the off-trail detour very well with my skinny tires since I was trying to stay outside a couple of other cyclists (riding more suitable bikes for off-road conditions), and I went down on my left side. Ended up covered with dust, a big bruise on my butt, and little abrasions all over my left shin from the sharp gravel. It burned and hurt, and I still had miles to go until the end of the ride.
Fortunately, we made it back to the hotel with no further mishaps. I did have to walk my bike up one steep hill on the way between the trailhead and the hotel since I no longer had a low enough gear with the shifter cable shot, but it was not too long.
Here I am with my frayed cable, once we returned to the hotel. I was just glad for this ride to end, and I did end up with 86 miles total, my second longest ride of the year!
We rewarded ourselves with a delicious takeout dinner from Chipotle and pie from Baker's Square. The meal made all the bad luck of the day worth it. I am thinking I may avoid riding on Friday the 13th in the future, though!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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