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*this* John W. Hays’ take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘camping

Meeting Judy

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Shortly after the first time I signed up to do this epic adventure of biking and camping for a week, I learned that a cherished coworker’s sister always did the Klobuchar ride. I’d never met any of my coworker’s family, but if they were anything like Bob, I couldn’t wait to meet them.

He was more excited than me about the potential connection, and spent a fair amount of energy drilling me on details of her name so that I would remember who I needed to seek out.

Of course, her name. Then, her husband’s name. Their last name, because it was her married name and different than his. He told me I could remember the last name because it was like a Minnesota Twins ball player’s name, only with an ‘S.’

He was seriously excited over the prospect of my meeting his sister on this trip. It was infectious enough that I became just as excited over the possibility.

However, there were a lot of other details I needed to think about. I had never done this kind of thing before. I was traveling with a teen neighbor whom I didn’t really know more than passing from his role as a part-time sitter for our kids. I was also perseverating over having the right gear and packing the right clothes, not to mention where to put everything.

Honestly, Judy’s name was not on my mind as Brian and I made our final visit to the car that first Saturday morning, prior to departing with our bikes. It’s a critical moment of the trip, because it’s the last time you will be anywhere near your vehicle for the rest of the week.

Take what you need, leave the rest. Ideally, stepping away fully prepared for what lies ahead.

As we walked our bikes between parked cars toward the swelling collection of other camping cyclists –all strangers, who would soon become friends– we came upon a couple going through their similar critical last moments with their vehicle.

In a flash of inspiration, upon noticing the man was using a 12V compressor to top off the air in his bike tires, I overcame my normal reticence to bother a stranger. I figured, we didn’t know anyone on this trip, so what better time to break the ice and get over the hump than to ask if we could use his electric pump for our tires, too.

Before I got to the end of my request, I saw that he was actually winding up the power cord to put it away. He was done using it. My brain quickly chastised me with evidence that my bad timing was the very reason not to bother someone you don’t know, blah, blah, blah.

I quickly apologized for inconveniencing him, but he just as quickly talked over my hesitancy and insisted it was no trouble. The awkward start had stumbled all over the more traditional polite practice of introducing oneself, so as we crouched over bike wheels and the buzzing pump, I thought to identify myself.

He responded, “I’m Ed Beckers.”

My eyes got big. I think he wondered what he’d said. My eyes got really big.

Knowing I had the upper hand, I played it for all it was worth. What were the odds?

“THE Ed Beckers!?” with increasing animated excitement.

Confused stare.

“Ed and Judy Beckers!!?”

A woman’s face peers around the car door at this maniacal stranger exclaiming her name.

My coworker’s sister and husband were the very first people we met.

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Written by johnwhays

June 18, 2017 at 6:00 am

Touring Today

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Image of the author captured during the annual June ride in 2009.

This morning, specifically, at the hour this is published today, I will be packing up my tent and preparing my bag for the luggage trailer. Our gear gets transported to tonight’s campsite by truck, allowing us to enjoy the luxury of riding with minimal added weight for the entire day.

It is the start of the 2017 Tour of Minnesota bike ride.

Since this is a vacation for me, I will be extending the break from my routine to include a pause in my daily blogging habit, but don’t for a minute think I would neglect to prepare in advance for posts to show up while I am away.

Similar to years past, when I have reposted a week of revisited “Words on Images” creations, or last year’s portraits of biking jerseys, I have created pre-scheduled posts to entertain you while I’m gone.

This year, as much for my sake as yours, I am going to revisit some of my history with this annual June ride.

Since today is the start of this year’s ride, I will go back to my start as a participant in what was then commonly referred to as the “Jaunt with Jim.”

The “Jim” was Jim Klobuchar, who at the time was a columnist with the StarTribune newspaper. I had been a fan of his writing for years, as well as a long-time cyclist with a curiosity about days-long riding and camping. 1994 happened to be the 20th year he was conducting these rides, which he convinced the StarTribune to sponsor.

Their promotion of the event caught my eye at a time I was ready to give it a try. With little needed effort, I talked a neighboring 16-year-0ld to accompany me for this maiden voyage.

We made a good travel pair, despite our age difference, which freed most of my attention for discovery of the new people and experiences on the ride. One of the main things I remember about that first ride was what glorious weather we enjoyed.

It being the 20th year of this event, the majority of participants seemed to be long-time veterans, which led to a wealth of stories from their archives about the trials and tribulations of carrying all their camping gear on the bikes in most of the earlier years, as well as the varieties of difficult weather they endured on multiple occasions.

In 1994 we had it easy. It was dry, with pleasant temperatures, and on the few days with wind, it was at our backs.

That helped to plant the seed of inspiration that led to our eventual return. However, the real kicker that sealed my fate of riding again with Jim’s group was the fabulous people we’d met that first year and the amount of fun they had together as a riding and camping community.

This amazing collection of people have become extended family for me. In the middle of June, I do everything I can to be among them again, no matter what the weather dishes out.

Tomorrow… Who is the very first couple we meet?

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Written by johnwhays

June 17, 2017 at 6:00 am

Tight Tenting

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On Wednesday, our bike trip destination was Lake Bemidji State Park. We arrived in time to eat lunch there, before the baggage truck had even delivered our gear. Since this park did not have a group camping site large enough to house all our tents in one location, ride director Bob divided us into two groups.

Even at half the number of campers, it looked like we would barely fit. The tents were going to need to be set very close together. Luckily, this group knows how to do close.

Since we didn’t yet have our bags with the tents in them, people began to claim their plot by laying down their bicycles in the spot where they hoped to erect their tent.

DSCN4867eBy the time the truck with our luggage arrived, impending rain was beginning to threaten its arrival. The area behind the truck took on the appearance of an airport baggage claim station as folks took turns stepping in to grab their gear the second it appeared.

In a flurry of expert efficiency, our tent city popped up very quickly.

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In this situation, it was going to be very difficult to achieve much in the way of the isolation we value for reducing auditory sleep interruptions that happen at close quarters. Tent fabric is a very poor sound dampening wall material. We share every cough, sniffle, burp, fart, hiccup, and snore that human bodies are prone to do.

Actually, the more onerous irritant often doesn’t come from our bodies, but from our equipment. Tent zippers, noisy sleeping pads, and plastic storage bags can make an incredible amount of ruckus after it gets dark and voices have grown hushed.

My friends, Rich and Doobie, got creative and tucked their tents with mine between some bushes on a teeny strip of green between driveways.

DSCN4869eAny port in a storm.

We were so close that our rain flies were tied to each other to keep them from sagging onto the tent walls. It is a good thing we didn’t get much more rain than what fell, because there wasn’t a very good route for water to drain away from the middle spot where three rain flies all sloped together.

I’m happy to boast that I don’t have much trouble with these tight conditions, because I am always so exhausted by sunset that I fall unconscious asleep very quickly and miss all but the most egregious clamoring that sometimes can occur in the middle of the night.

When I do happen to notice a particularly loud snorer, I tend to return to sleep easily while pondering how in the world individuals who make loud snoring sounds don’t wake themselves up when they are so close to all that noise.

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Written by johnwhays

June 28, 2016 at 6:00 am

Trip Withdrawal

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I’ve been home one day and I am noticing a distinct void from the abrupt absence of the large group of companions I enjoyed last week. Though personal space and familiar comforts of home are precious, the camaraderie we shared can be addicting, putting up a good fight for my desire.

I want both.

DSCN4819eNow I’ve got my bathroom and bed back, but a lingering longing for the instantly available connection with inspiring souls leaves me wanting. I think that is what draws so many of us back to this annual ride each succeeding year.

Looking at a picture of the very first morning, taken just moments before we pedaled off en mass on the first leg of the week, I am instantly reminded of the excitement and anticipation of what lie ahead for us.

It started out with a damp fog just above the ground, but our 2016 ride in the heart of the state was blessed with some great weather and easy riding. A high percentage of our miles were accomplished on the 115-mile-long Paul Bunyan State Trail between Brainerd and Bemidji.

I had a really nice time meeting riders that were new to our group this year, discovering kindred spirits from as far away as Maryland, Texas, and Colorado, as well as a few from within the state of Minnesota.

DSCN4830eThey all won a piece of my heart, but challenging that for the highlight of the year for me was the opportunity to ride with first-timer, Sarah Gordon, the 10-year-old daughter of my treasured friend, Rich. They rode together on a borrowed tandem in a brave “test of concept” exercise for both.

I could see how difficult it was for each of them to manage at times, and they did a spectacular job of facing the challenges and achieving their goals, all while maintaining a superb attitude. They inspired and energized me greatly.

Sometimes we can become narrowly focused on doing this ride for our own personal reasons, but there is an equally significant value for those around us when we make the decision to participate.

I am forever grateful that Sarah decided to ride with us this year, and equally thankful for the rest of the crew, new and old, who showed up this year to make the 2016 Tour of Minnesota a particularly special biking and camping week.

How ’bout we do it again next year, eh?

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Tangled Web

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We survived yesterday’s day-long precipitation without receiving any torrential downpours! The ground is soaking wet, but we avoided any further washouts, I’m very happy to report.

I spent yesterday trying to finalize my preparations for the Tour of Minnesota bike trip. I will leave this afternoon for the drive to the initial camping spot before tomorrow morning’s departure on the first day of cycling. I’m hoping for much better weather than we endured last year.

I found the exercise of packing to be almost beyond my mental capacity. It seems a bit extreme to me, but I seriously believe I am continuing to suffer rather significant symptoms of withdrawal due to my quest to stop over-eating foods laden with sugar. I did some reading on the subject, and opinions seem universal about the individuality of responses to reducing or eliminating sugar from a person’s diet.

I hate to imagine that my very noticeable symptoms are a reflection of how much excess sugar was in my diet prior to this effort to pay attention. I have had headaches and dizziness, but my primary complaint, which was making me particularly uncomfortable yesterday, is flu-like symptoms of aches and pain, lethargy, and weakness. I just want to lay down and sleep. I feel crappy. If I thought I had the flu, I would just stay in bed.

Meanwhile, I am preparing to embark on a week of bicycling. What am I thinking!?

My thinking was pretty foggy all day, and packing became a random series of wandering around collecting things and then setting them any variety of places. Nothing actually got packed. In the early afternoon, I succumbed to the overwhelming urge to lay down and napped for over an hour.

Today, if the grass dries enough, I would like to do some last-minute mowing before departing. I hope to use the early morning hours to finally put things in my bag and be ready to jump into afternoon traffic after one last shower in the privacy of my own home.

I think I have participated in this week of biking and camping so many times that my frame of reference during preparations has shifted significantly from the excitement and anticipation of what lies ahead, to lamenting the last night of sleeping in my bed, using our private bathroom and showering alone for the next week.

Granted, those issues are some of what contribute to the charm and camaraderie of this event, which is what draws us all back, year after year, but the inconveniences seem to become amplified after so many years of doing it.

I plan to drown any sorrows in sugar during the week, as I anticipate “cheating” on my diet a fair amount, to calm my symptoms and provide necessary fuel for the confused furnace of my body. I just hope it doesn’t mean my withdrawal symptoms have to happen all over again when I get back and resume my measured daily intake.

It’s a tangled web I am weaving.

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Written by johnwhays

June 12, 2015 at 6:00 am

Parting Shots

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I will end my series about the 2014 Tour of Minnesota bicycle ride and tent camping week with a few remaining photos to provide a view of some universal scenes. As I reviewed my files to select these, it occurred to me that I am missing a picture of our favorite bike tech, Mike, at our Penn Cycle support van. That is a good thing for me, because it is probably a reflection of my minimal needs in the way of bike repair this year, despite the harsh conditions.

Mike did pause one repair to hand me a pliers from his tool box so I could loosen the nut on my valve stem when I was trying to top off the air in my tires. He is the best combination of capable and humble. Mike is a precious person and major contributor to our good experiences on this ride.

A view of tents set up for the night, followed by the next morning. That would be Rich’s tent, always in the running for the last tent taken down each morning…

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Speaking of Rich, he is a very special friend who, on the morning I felt at my worst during the week, pulled me along for the first leg of the day. That makes a huge difference by the end of the day, having had an easy go of it at the start. I was lucky to share one of the great spectacles of the ride with Rich. I peeked around his shoulder to notice two riders approaching while we were on the Casey Jones Trail. It was just a glance, and my brain struggled to reconcile the information received. The figures we all black, head to toe. On a bike? Could they be women riding in burkas?

What was I thinking? It was gorilla suits, of course. A very hilarious moment for us, giving a high-five to a gorilla riding past us on a bike.

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As always, it is the people who make this ride special. Sharing meals, miles, and all the trials and tribulations of adventure vacations. Special thanks are due to the support crew who handle our bags, so we can ride without needing to carry tents, sleeping bags, and spare clothes.

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A special salute to Bob Lincoln, who accepted the role of leading the ride this year. His was truly a trial by fire, with unprecedented difficulties sprouting at every turn. He handled it all with superb professionalism and produced a fantastic and safe experience for every rider. Thank you, Bob!

IMG_4004eOne last shot, courtesy of Rich, on the morning of our last day. It was sunny, and we were dry. In the distance was the only spot of the week where we were faced with riding through flood water that was over the road. It soaked my shoes, through and through. It seemed only appropriate.

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Written by johnwhays

June 28, 2014 at 10:28 am

Pedaling Upwind

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Seriously, we agreed to go, and even paid for the privilege of riding bicycles in a region that is so windy that they hold National Championship windsurfing competitions and power companies put up wind turbine farms.

What were we thinking?

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Maybe more of us would have thought twice about dealing with that wind if we would have known that the region was also going to be soaked by repeating waves of massive thunderstorms creating flash floods that closed roads, destroyed crops, and trapped a lot of cows.

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We witnessed innumerable fields with large amounts of topsoil sediment dropped in the lowest draining corner, and even more fields with massive amounts of previous year’s dead stalks and debris pushed into piles where it flowed over roads, or dropped in winding patterns when flood waters receded.

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Luckily, the camaraderie and shared accomplishment of like-minded friends proves to be a superb distraction from how miserable we might otherwise feel were we to endure such dreadful conditions alone. Riding while chatting —when the winds aren’t gusting so severely as to make that impossible— is a great way to cover long miles and not notice how far you’ve actually gone. We had opportunities to experience a little of both situations on this year’s ride.

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Written by johnwhays

June 27, 2014 at 6:00 am