My way through Minnesota
Encounters with Paul Bunyan on cycling trip across the U.S.
Firefighter and cyclist Jeff Sambur left San Diego, California, on May 8, 2009, with the aim of pedaling all the way to Bar Harbor, Maine, "before the onslaught of the first snow. I planned to take major detours to cheer at minor league baseball games and spend time in cafes and bars chatting up my fellow Americans."
So he says early in his engaging and unflinching book about his trip, titled Destroying Demons on the Diagonal: A Firefighter's San Diego to Maine Bicycle Ride Into Retirement. In the recounting of his eastward trek, Sambur devotes chapters to his adventures in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The following is excerpted from the chapter "Muddled down in Minnesota."
The site of a "Welcome to Minnesota" sign greeted me next door to an official state visitor center. But I only noticed the gone postal winds. Then again, I should have known something was up. Wind turbine farms sprouted from the flat fields like over fertilized corn. The giant fans were everywhere.
New Ulm to St. Cloud
I rode into the wind and off frantic Highway 60 and onto relaxed County Road 13. On my right I read a homemade sign proclaiming "Rogan, Minnesota - Ten people, three dogs and one cat." I never got a visual on any of the occupants as I pushed through town. Maybe it was a good thing I missed the rush hour.
When I hit state Highway 15N en route to New Ulm, a crazed gale struck me face first. One insane gust literally stopped me mid pedal, a rarity. It took me 2.5 hours to cover the last 18 miles. This was certainly no land-speed record, but the wind turbine farms weren't complaining. By the time I arrived in New Ulm, I was spent and required a nap before wandering downtown.
New Ulm was founded on the banks of the Minnesota River by German immigrants in the 1850s. The Teutonic influence is still evident in its old buildings and the neat and well maintained homes and gardens. Everything is in its place and there's a place for everything.
Downtown sported many German-named restaurants, a multitude of shops and, best of all, plenty of bars serving up locally made Schell beer. I took a foam break at the B and L Bar, where there were plenty of blond-haired, blue-eyed patrons with ample beer bellies. Here was living proof that the residents had not strayed too far from the Fatherland.
The next day I hit the road to Hutchinson early in hopes of beating the incessant winds. It didn't matter. After passing the "Auf Wiedersehen" sign at the edge of town, I proved that Kwik Trip coffee was no match for the triple espresso northerly winds. It was a lesson in futility as it took me five hours and then some to cover a mere 45 miles. If every day were this brutal, I'd still be in California.
Jeff Sambur, of Tucson, Arizona, biked 6,518 miles through 17 states on his 2009 cross-country trip. The 17 weeks and 5 days he spent on the road included two weeks of noncycling days. His self-published book about the trip, Destroying Demons on the Diagonal (for sale via Amazon.com), won a gold medal in the travel essays category at the Independent Publishing Awards.
The entire chapter "Muddled down in Minnesota" appears in the August 2012 print edition of Silent Sports. Don't miss an issue! Subscribe online here.