Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Caramel Roll Ride: Lake Wobegon Trail from Albany to St. Joe: June 9, 2012

Joe and I didn't actually do the Caramel Roll Ride, per se.  We did what we did last year...we were inspired by the ride to participate, but we wanted to sleep in on a Saturday instead of getting up at the crack of dawn.  We're not really "race bandits" because the Caramel Roll Ride goes from 8-10am (too early for us), and we got out there at about 10:15.  Most of the riders were done at this point.

Lake Wobegon Regional Trail:  Where all the visitors are above average.

The Lake Wobegon Trail is a 46-mile-long trail that crosses the very center of Central Minnesota.  It's a rail-trail project, creating a perfect synthesis of Joe's Two Loves: bikes and trains.  Minnesota is a leader in the US for converting disused train tracks into bike trails.  In many cases, the trails are "railbanked", which means that the railroads retain some rights of future usage.  It's rather complicated, but if you're interested in learning more the wikipedia page is helpful.  :-)  Rail-trail projects are also winners in my book, because they are often straight and flat (trains can't turn quickly or handle steep hills, and neither can I) and they are safe: aside from infrequent intersections, bikers won't have to share the road with cars.  They are also wonderful in that they cut through the countryside, giving bikers great views of whatever happened to be along the train tracks: small towns, farm fields, old depots, lakes, hills in the distance, rivers below.

A pretty segment of trail on a summers day

I've already talked a bit about how much I love Minnesota's Bike Trail system.  These regional trails are true gems - and they're growing.  There is a movement to extend the Wobegon trail into St. Cloud, where it would hook up with other trails and perhaps become the longest in the nation.  It's difficult to put all of Minnesota's paved bike trails in one place - some are run by the DNR (State Trails, like the Gitchi-Gami trail that I biked last month), some are regional trails (like the Lake Wobegon Trail), and some are city trails (like the Grand Rounds, which we will get to later this summer/fall).

Which Saint would you like to visit today?
These are just a few of the many, many Saint Cities along the Wobegon Trail.

We found evidence of the trail's Train History while biking.  Every now and then we'd see a white mileage marker with black numbering.  The numbers were much higher than the total number of miles on the trail - they were the old train mileage markers, signifying the number of miles the train was from it's final destination in the Twin Cities.  We also found a set of rails off to the side of the main trail near the old Collegeville station location.  We figured it must have been for the train to pull off the main line and load/unload people and products.  Joe found several chunks of coal on the tracks.  Neat!

Railbank sign and old train mileage sign
Joe finds an old section of track...
...with coal still on it.

We did the "Fox, Goose, and Bag of Beans" shuffle so that we would be able to bike from Albany to St. Joseph, instead of having to double back.  It worked out great!  It is 16 miles from Albany to St. Joe, and we passed through some of the most beautiful parts of the trail.  I have to apologize for the not-great pictures - it is impossible to bike and take pictures at the same time (for me, anyway) and photography was not on my mind on this beautiful day.

16 miles was a good ride for the morning.  The temps were in the upper 70's, there was a breeze but we weren't going directly into it (for the most part), and I survived the trip without many problems.  When we got to St. Joe we sat on a picnic bench to recover a bit, and a lady came up to us offering free bottled water and bananas.  They were left over from the Caramel Roll Ride!  It was clear that we weren't ride participants, but she said to take them anyway.  Minnesota Nice in action!

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