Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Packed, Unpacked, Repacked... I've had this packrafting trip on my brain all winter. The river doesn't freeze easily so many days during the winter large tracks of water open up through downtown Saint Paul. I have this idea that I can ride the 12 miles to the put in just up stream from Saint Paul and then raft all the way to my house, some 11 miles. The speed of the river and a small tail wind make the water trek about 4 hours maybe 5 (so I pack a stove and lunch) with an hour for the 12 miles that's an easy 6 hour adventure. As you may know more then 6 hours and it starts getting boring. <he he he> I can't keep a straight face, it doesn't get ugly until a day trip goes into night.

I pack the gear and try to get out 3 weeks ago but it's too windy. I ride about 7 miles and when I get a good look at the river its a wash with foam and spray. The wind had to be over 20 as it's funneled down the river valley. The wife is with the dog at a park that's not very far away. Hoping I can catch her I swing by and throw my backpack with all the gear into her car and then ride home. Without the ~20 pound pack the ride is a lot of fun. Attempt #1, Failed.

Next week I go ice diving with some buddies and then plan to go packraft the next day but as luck would have it the weather was nasty and I pace around the house trying to figure out if I should try and ultimately give up and chop ice in my driveway. Attempt #2, Quit.

Sunday was the day I would get to unPack the gear I loaded 3 weeks ago. The weather sucked but I was going to try. I rode 60 miles the day before so I know the studded tires would get me to the start and I'd just do what I could from there. I refuse to fail for a third straight time.

I leave the house about noon and ride into the wind so I expect it to be at my back and help me make good time but the temps are about 17 degrees so it's far from nice out. An hour later and I'm standing on rotten shelf ice starring into an unpleasant head wind and I need to get exited to play on the water. 

Packrafts don't go into the wind well. Actually they don't like wind at all so I know this is going to suck for at least part of the time until I can get out of the wind and spray.

I inflate the raft, suit up in my dry gear and strap the bike on the bow. The launch is fast but I crash through the rotten ice and before I know whats going on I'm knee deep in ice water so I dive into the boat, back flip style. The boat is tough but it's still inflated with a soft floor and 25 pounds of bike on the bow so I need to load myself softly and in a panic, I flop onto it like a little kid diving onto a hotel bed.

A few minutes of thrashing around getting my feet under the skirt and my, mostly empty, backpack and drybag (polartech top, hat, and jacket) under and into the boat. I seal most of it but leave a small opening on my left side because I don't want to be tied in.

My paddle ices up withing a few minutes; it's like trying to paddle a wet bar of soap and the waves break over the bow from time to time so it's a mix of ice and water on the boats deck. It's about now the dry suit pays for itself. If it wasn't for the security of the dry suit and pfd, this would be very dumb. As it is, I'm warm, dry and in little danger even if I have to swim to shore I'd still take the time to take photos for the blog. 

The real reason I go kayaking is to see what lies along the shore. The stone arch bridge isn't as obvious from land. I know this because I've ridden over it many times and didn't realize it's this cool.

I'm just getting into the good stuff so padding into the wind is paying off and I'm out of the larger waves.

I paddle into a modest wind that if I don't paddle is countered by the current or slightly overpowered and I go upstream. With firm paddling I make solid progress and can still take pictures but I don't have any time to relax and take it in. I'm running the numbers, Do I bail, How can I get out of the wind, will I get into currents, what do I do if an ice flow hits me, will I see a barge.... Sure, I'm safe in my suit but lets not get stupid.

Below right: This is a storm water drain and the steel flaps keep flood waters from lifting man hole covers and flooding streets.

The tugboat is from "www.PortableBarge.com". Seriously there is a dot com for everything.

Below Left: I was surprised to see the tour boats. This was one of three tied up to the port of Saint Paul.
Below Right: Approaching Raspberry Island and the Boat Club.

The core of my trip is the next 1000 yards. I take a lot of pictures and figure I should start naming my routes, SPAM for Special Packraft Adventurer Map. This will be, SPAM #1 - Saint Paul.

The Union Pacific Vertical-lift Rail Bridge is so rotten the footings (built in 1913) are all broken and cables are used to hold parts together and I think they still use it. I want to get up close and see it before they replace it or remove it. This whole trip was so I could see this one artifact.

The crest you see on the Robert Street Bridge says,"ANNO DOMINI 1925" for the year it was built.

The way the sticks get strained out of the river is so cool. It makes me think of cleaning pasta out of a colander.

I pass under the bridges I wanted to and as the Robert street bridge comes and goes the wind picks up and it's blowing straight at me. The next 3 miles, should be, featureless and private land so if I have to take out I may have to explain to security that I am requesting passage as a distressed mariner or something like that. In reality they have to allow me to land if the water is unsafe but beyond that I don't know.

So I turn around and allow the strong wind to blow me about 300 yards back to Raspberry Island for a take out on the sand spit. Earlier this year I found that the East end of the island has a long shallow beach so I know the landing will be easy and it is.

I break down and pack up everything on a nice flat sheet of hard snow and ice. That's a good thing along a river full of trash, rocks, and glass. The gap I left in the skirt because I didn't want to be tied in allowed a lot of water in and soaked my backpack so it's a little frozen on the way home. Next time everything goes in a drybag.

Back on the bike (see the ice?) and I have to ride much farther home then planned but I got to raft under most of the Saint Paul bridges including the old train bridge so I'll come back when its warm and do the entire 11 miles of river and maybe camp out on one of the wildly overground islands. 

That is the end of the story and the last thing I want to say is you've just been SPAMed.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Slick 50: NO KOOKS

Cars*R*Coffins annual spring classic is the Slick 50. As you can see it was last Saturday and you also know the weather was quite poor. It's called the Slick 50 because of the ice and cold but nobody wants a broken wrist and on top of that, nobody wants it in spring. This is the second year for me. You can see last years ride if you missed it.

My wife runs a one way shuttle for my buddy Blake and I to the start with the van but we plan to ride home. Fifty miles is not very hard and driving is actually more of a pain in the ass then many people realize. Don't get me wrong, I need a car but I don't enjoy using it for recreation unless I'm camping out of it or hauling a mountain of gear. In the metro cars suck. You have to find a place to leave it.You have to go back and get it or you need to get it from the impound lot or evidence lot depending on luck. You need to stay on roads and if you want to stop and get on the train, they welcome bikes but draw the line at 2500 pound sedans.

I load up on breakfast because if it's like last year we are going to rail on it for close to three and a half hours so I'm going to need the fuel. Pack some snacks and mix up 64oz of sports drink (rhymes with RaterGaid). I pack a backup wool jersey and a few other items to manage a cold weather mechanical and we are off to the start.

Last year we saw maybe 100 riders and it was 80 degrees. This year we got 60 or so and it was 20 degrees with a forecast high of 35. All of these people ride year round so although it's cool, it's nothing new.

 Above: This is the alley behind One-on-One Cycle in Minneapolis and that guy is stretching.
 We launch and it's easy with speeds below 15mph. A few traffic lights and we are on the first trail.
 Above: That's Blake (front right) and the best of trail conditions. Most of these riders are not using studs.
 We lead out west to Tonka on the Cedar Lake Trail. Patches of ice take some riders down and slow everyone to a crawl. As far as I know nobody gets hurt in a crash but I think a few fenders got banged up.
Above: Ice comes often and this is an average challenge  I'm running studs so it's not hard for me but I don't get too gutsy and grim up every time I have to pass a large patch.  Below: The usually hard limestone is mush and we are just making ruts that will damage the trail of others when it dries so we move to roads. 
Out on to the roads I flash the camera in several directions to get some extra material to work with and get this rider giving me some entertainment. Right on rider, see you at Bandit Cross!
About this time the pace goes from happy chatting with the rider next to you to crushing hill attacks and flat sprints to the next hill. Speeds move from the easy 14mph range  to 19 or more in the flats and hard 16/17 on the hills. I'm panting like a dog at the top and drafting to catch my breath but I'm happy and loving the pain as we crush, hill after hill. I like the hard sprints and going peddle to peddle with anyone willing to give it their all. About this time we shatter the peloton (french for 'little ball') into at least 2 main groups and many shards.

I fall back to find out if Blake is still hanging with the group because he doesn't ride much in winter and at a disadvantage to the main peloton that clearly does. He's not there so I break off and fall back a few minutes and let the second peloton catch me.  After some riding with them and finding out what drama happened in the back and when we split I do some counts and realize half of the starting group is gone along with Blake. 

After a few texts and calls, Blake and I reconnect at The Depot for a snack. I have to ride on some busy roads with too much ice but with the studs I manage and in 20 minutes we are back together for a 20 mile ride home for him and about 9 more for me. About this time I'm also happy to not have to ride miles back to the city to retrieve my van.

The washroom is interesting. I kind of like the giant face.

 After about 4:10.22 and 61 miles I arrive back at home.

This bike is about to pass 2000 miles and I've only had it for a year.
 I now need to clean my chain with all this ice and snow I need to use a wet chain lube that works well in the water but leaves a mess. 

The spring classic is over and with the cold temps it wasn't the same as last year but it was still a good time to get out on the road and go peddle to peddle with others so early in the season.

And with that, it's time to relax.