The Saturday Morning Gang gathers with 40 miles to go in the epic BDR (Big Dumb Ride). From left are: Steve S., Joel, Ray, Christian, Greg, John and Steve G.
Cycling with Greg Fields
Saturday mornings are special to me. Why? Because of the great group of guys, and occasional gals, that do the Saturday morning loop. The thrill of our sprints, the camaraderie of the coffee shop, and the friendships we make have made the Saturday morning ride a highlight of my weekend. Our group is a diverse one with many professions represented, but we all share one thing in common – our love of the bicycle.
Not only do we ride Saturday morning, but through the years many of us have gathered to participate in organized rides, be it on pavement or gravel. From the outside, our group has a Grant Wood-like appearance. We present an almost iconic picture of life on the bicycle. But, unbeknownst to those who make an occasional appearance on Saturday morning, there is a dark side to our group. It starts out innocently, but almost always results in epic tales of suffering and unbelievable stories. We call this sickness the BDR (Big Dumb Ride)!
The Seed is Planted
In one of our early season rides, Steve G. made the remark we should do a BDR. Like lemmings, a group of us quickly bought into the idea. With the seed planted, Steve found a 200-mile route used by a Race across America qualifying event that circled the Twin Cities. We picked July 23 as the date and waited for the lemmings to gather. Our group would consist of Kurt the Strongman, Ray the Rat, Mr. Pinarello Christian, Chipper Steve G., Steve S. the Cramper, Joel the Silent Assassin, John the Gravel Grinder and me.
As the date approached, we were suffering through a 90+ degrees heat wave, but there was a promise Saturday wouldn’t be as hot. Thunderstorms were predicted to roll in to break the heat wave. Not just garden variety thunderstorms, but severe storms. With the nickname of Mr. Weather, I watched the forecast intensely. I sent out the first alarm on Wednesday, asking if anyone else was nervous about the possibility of severe storms. No reply. Lemmings do not concern themselves with details. On Thursday, I suggested we pick an alternate date, but Steve G. called to remind me of my lemming role. I quickly fell into line.
The Big Day!
When I woke before 4 a.m., I checked the radar and saw a big blob of storms in Nebraska and South Dakota moving northeast, but it was too early to tell if they would come our way. Optimistically, I thought they would pass west of the Twin Cities. We gathered in Delano shortly after 5 a.m., and were joined by John B, Francisco, and Andres, who could only ride part of the day with us. At 5:38 a.m., we rolled into the great unknown. It was 73 degrees and very humid, but thankfully it was cloudy. Somewhere down the road, Steve S. said to me, “Is it my glasses or does it appear to be getting darker in the southwest?” The first sign of the apocalypse had made itself known.
We arrived in Belle Plain at Mile 37 and stopped at a Quick Stop to refuel. A woman asked where we were headed. When she heard we were riding 200 miles around the Twin Cities she stared at us with her mouth agape. I checked the radar on my phone and could see the storms were headed directly at us. Someone said, “How bad could it be?” The second sign of the apocalypse had made itself known.
At Mile 55, the three short-term riders turned back for Delano. It was then I noticed it was getting darker to the south. After crossing Interstate 35 at Mile 62, we made a quick stop to eat. It was there we heard the first clap of thunder. Now, it was really dark to the south. We raced down the road and nervously watched the storm approach.
At Mile 70, the storm was bearing down on us. We were racing as fast as we could in a pace line, while frantically looking for shelter. Suddenly, Christian veered onto a side road and made a beeline to a building with a large awning. As we turned onto the side road, I could see a wall of water rushing at us! We made it under the awning just as the storm hit. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the worst storm to ever catch me on a bike ride. The trees were bent over double and the rain was coming down so hard we could barely see across the highway! The wind was driving the rain under the awning so we were forced to huddle up next to the building. We quickly put on rain jackets to ride out the storm.
I looked over the group to see how everyone was faring. Joel had a wide-eyed look of, “What am I doing here?” Kurt had plastered himself against the building with his head bowed, making peace with his Maker. Christian, our technical director, was looking at his phone. Steve S. was having lunch from the smorgasbord he was carrying on his back. Steve G. was looking far too chipper and Ray was sitting in a chair he had found, like he was at a Saturday BBQ. I could see on my phone we were right in the middle of a severe thunderstorm warning area.
We stayed under the awning for more than 50 minutes to let the worst of the storm pass. As we started riding again, the rain wasn’t too bad, but within five minutes it started to rain hard, very hard. All we could do was keep our heads down and pedal. I felt like I was in some sort of sadistic water park ride in the Wisconsin Dells. As we turned northeast, the rain started to let up some, but the side wind made it a struggle. As we approached Hastings, John had a flat that took time to fix. We were already soaked, so just standing in the rain felt like a break.
My wife Wendy was our angel of the day. She had packed a wonderful lunch and met us under the Hastings Bridge. By now, it had stopped raining and we could see the storm retreat to the north. After a much-needed lunch and a study of the radar, we were convinced the storm would stay north and allow us to continue on our route. Until the storm, we had been making great time, averaging more than 17 mph, but the storm had delayed us. It was already 2 p.m. and we had 105 miles left. We were now racing the sunset!
We headed north onto a very pleasant road with very little traffic. We hit another milestone when we crossed Interstate 94. As we moved through the outskirts of Woodbury, I stared in disbelief at the dark storm clouds just to the north of us. We were catching up with the storm! We pulled into Lake Elmo at 4 o’clock at Mile 115 and quickly consulted the radar. It didn’t look good. The heavy stuff was directly over our route. We decided to go into a bar to have some French fries and study our options. The storm was still quite large and slow moving. None of us wanted to ride into the heavy stuff again, so it was decided we would ride south through the Twin Cities making our way towards Delano. We knew we didn’t have enough daylight left to hit 200 miles, but we would get in as many miles as we could.
When we left the bar, it was raining as we headed southeast towards St. Paul. The rain picked up in intensity and once again we put our heads down and pedaled on. By the time we hit downtown St. Paul, the rain had finally stopped and patches of blue sky could be seen. We were happy to finally take off the rain jackets and pedal in the sun. John was cursed with another flat, but that provided a chance to eat some pocket snacks. We rolled down familiar territory, once the flat was fixed. We worked our way to the west side of the Twin Cities and our Saturday morning bike loop. As we came into the loop, the pace suddenly picked up as if we were actually doing the Saturday morning ride. Good grief!
We took the Dakota Trail out of Wayzata and rode to St. Bonifacius, where we turned north towards the finish line. Now it was a beautiful, calm evening. The sun was setting over the green fields of corn and the well-kept farms. It was one of the nicest evening rides I have done.
We finished at 9:15 p.m., just as daylight disappeared. We rode 179 miles with about 11 hours of on-the-bike time, but the total ride took more than 15 hours because of the storms. Our average speed was more than 16 mph.
It was truly an epic ride, filled with suffering and stories we will recant the rest of our lives. Every bike group should have a BDR of their own. The camaraderie and the joy of cycling trumps any kind of weather!