The most amazing thing about having written The Bicycle Touring Blueprint is that people just like you from all around the world take the information provided inside the book and use it to hit the road on their own bicycle touring adventures.
This week I am interviewing Dan Pruitt from Minneapolis, Minnesota and asking him to share with you his experiences from his first long-distance bicycle tour in the state of Minnesota. Here’s what he had to say:
Where did you go on your bicycle tour and how long were you on the road?
This particular bike trip was the first stage of a larger tour of which I conceived some thirty years ago. The entire concept is from Minneapolis, MN to Jackson, WY. The first stage, which I discuss here, is from Minneapolis to Pipestone National Monument in Southwestern Minnesota. I covered a total of 272 miles in seven days. Only four of those days were travel days. I started the trip on June 3, 2012 and finished June 10, 2012.
Originally this first stage was to take me to Vermillion State Rec. Area in Southeastern South Dakota, but for various reasons I needed to shorten the trip. The major attractions/stops along my route were:
- MN Valley State Rec Area – 40 mi SW of Minneapolis
- The August Schell Brewery in New Ulm, MN
- Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, MN
- Lake Shetek State Park (site of an 1862 Sioux Uprising and Masacre) near Currie, MN
- Split Rock Creek State Park (10 mi SW of Pipestone, MN)
- And Pipestone National Monument.
What was your biggest fear when planning or preparing for your trip by bike? And how exactly did you overcome that fear?
While I know it is not the most common answer to this question, finding water had been my greatest fear. That may sound strange coming from someone living in the “Land of 10,000 lakes, but it is true.
One of the main reasons for this fear is that most of the safer routes to pedal don’t go through towns. Secondly, despite the large amount of natural water in MN, the Southwestern portion of the state has the least of it and most of it is in rivers (which aren’t that accessible). So, the solution was to plan the route to pass through as many towns as possible. Not all towns have businesses or parks where water would be available. A little up front research into the communities through which I would pass gave me an idea of what was available. The unfortunate thing about this plan is that the towns mostly occur on major roads which leads to my second fear – being hit by a vehicle.
The fear of being involved in a collision was not unjustified. Many of the roads I traveled on had little or no shoulder. Of the roads with a shoulder most were narrow and had rumble strips built into them which made it difficult to stay out of the traffic lane and the gravel. On other roads, the shoulders were in such poor shape that it was easier on the body and bike to stay on the road itself.
I was very nervous for about a 20 mile stretch on US 14 west of New Ulm because I was forced to ride in the traffic lane. This particular stretch of highway gets a fair amount of semi-truck traffic. While the vehicles were kind enough to give me space, a lot of the time they were passing me in no-passing zones. I could tell in a number of cases they almost got in accidents themselves because of me. Not a good feeling. The only way I could overcome this fear was to keep a vigilant eye on what was coming up behind me, get out out of way when necessary and have faith that things would work out.
What was the thing you liked MOST about your bicycle touring experience?
The best thing about this trip that comes to my mind is a new appreciation of the incredible landscape of my home state and my country. I’ve traveled to the northern forests and lakes of Minnesota many times over the years, but rarely do I visit the farm and prairie country of Southwestern MN. Usually my travels in this direction are by car, blowing by little towns and not taking much notice of them. However, by bike you can’t help but notice them.
Also, as much as I love lakes, forests and mountains, there is a special beauty to the prairie and yes, even farms. One of the most surprising areas I passed through was the “Buffalo Ridge”. This is a geographic feature of SW MN that runs SE to NW from the Iowa border to NE South Dakota. The ridge is lined with wind turbines for as far as the eye can see. The ridge rises about 400 ft above the surrounding prairie and tops out around 1850 ft above sea level. It may not sound impressive but considering that most of the state is flat and about 1000 ft above sea level it makes for an interesting break in the topography.
What was the thing you liked LEAST about your bicycle touring experience… and how did you think that aspect of your travels could be improved upon in the future?
Pain!!!!! Hand and wrist pain, sore kiester, numb privates and feet. As much as I enjoyed the places I visited on this trip, the majority of my thoughts while riding were centered on my pain, why was I doing this to myself and will I make it. I’m sure this is a common sentiment.
There are several things that I believe will improve the physical discomfort I experienced. One of the main things I did since this trip was replace my saddle. It is definitely an improvement but it isn’t perfect (a trip I did just a few days ago was to test this out). I went through a “bike fitting” a year ago but I think more adjustments are needed. The clothing one wears also has an impact. Not all cycling shorts and shoes are created equal!! Good apparel makes a difference and takes experimenting and money to get it right.
I think the main thing I could do to improve my bicycle touring experience is to improve my conditioning. I don’t actually do that much riding. Since the time I purchased my current ride, I’ve pedaled around 2000 miles over six years. That’s less than 350 miles a year. Riding more frequently would make a big difference. Unfortunately, I don’t have that much free time to devote to it. Winter months in MN don’t help either. I stay in reasonable shape over the winter because I teach alpine skiing, but skiing uses different muscles and doesn’t involve sitting (at least not intentionally).
What one piece of information inside “The Bicycle Traveler’s Blueprint” helped you the most in planning, preparing for, or executing your bicycle tour?
Your discussions about planning the trip backward were most helpful. Also the spreadsheet for planning the legs of my tour were of extreme help. Deciding where to go and what you will do there makes planning a trip like this a whole lot easier.
While I’ve known what I wanted to do for years, making the decision to do it was the hardest part. Originally I started by looking at routes and became overwhelmed by the actual distances and time involved. How could I possibly accomplish it? After reading your book I decided to rethink my approach and plan it backward. Also, because I can’t realistically take the time off from my profession to complete my larger goal in one shot, I have listened to the advice of several sources and broken the journey into week-long chunks that are easier to manage and aren’t so daunting.
What are some of the things you learned from this particular bicycle tour?
I’ve always felt that keeping track of time distracts us from really seeing the world as it is. No other creature on the planet uses a watch nor do they seem to care about time other than its time to eat or sleep or whatever their bodies’ tell them. I found myself almost obsessed with time while I rode. “Why is this taking so long to get there?”, “My god it’s 4 o’clock and I’ve still got two hours of riding in front of me!” Those are just some of things I would say to myself. I guess I’m more tied to a clock than I care to admit.
I learned a great deal about Native American (specifically Dakota [Sioux]) culture. Minnesota has a substantial population of NA’s. I don’t know how true it is now, but I was taught very little of them in public school. Specifically, the so-called “Peace Pipe” carries very deep meaning to them. Europeans called it a peace pipe mostly because the only time they saw it used was when they negotiated with them. However, it is much more than that. There is a deep spiritual significance to it because of the stone from which they are carved. The story behind it reinforced my belief that the differences among peoples are mostly superficial. Deep down we are all the same. Unfortunately, the superficial is what drives the wedge between us.
The last and most significant thing that I learned is that when you get discouraged during the ride just remember that you have the luxury of doing it – many don’t, relatively few people will ever try it – let alone complete it, and to cherish the moments for what they are – whether good or bad – they’ll never come again.
Do you think you’ll conduct more bicycle tours in the future?
Yes. As mentioned earlier, this trip is but the first part of a longer journey that ends in Jackson, WY. I expect to complete one stage a year until complete (about five more trips – give or take). My desire to go there is the challenge and simply because I’ve been in love with the place since I was a child.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is planning their first bicycle touring adventure?
Something my brother (who pedaled to Nova Scotia years ago) told me when I discussed this trip with him (but of course I didn’t listen):
Your destination should always lie to the east of where you are (the wind blows from west to east). And, pick a destination that is at a lower altitude than your origin (make gravity work for you).