Recapping a bicycling season for the ages

Last year, I bicycled like never before. I embarked on the greatest cycling adventures of my life, and went farther than I ever thought possible.

I pedaled 2,535.6 miles, compared to 2,287.8 miles in 2018, and 1,448.9 miles in 2019.

I had aspired to hit 3,000 miles, but my cycling season was cut short in September when I found myself fighting for my life.

Here are the year’s high points — and a low point that very nearly put me in my grave.

30 Days of Biking

This worldwide group activity, headed up by Twin Cities resident Patrick Stephenson, challenges bicyclists to ride every day (at least a little bit) in April. I had tried to meet this challenge previously, but this was my first successful attempt.

Excelsior!

Gaining strength and endurance after a largely sedentary winter, I pulled off a 70-mile ride to the Twin Cities’ far-western Excelsior and Victoria (where I discovered the fine The Social Ice Cream Parlor, among other wonders).

Here’s a photo album of this day’s ride.

Hello, St. Bonnie

Just days after the previous ride, I made another far-west foray — this time arcing to the north of the large Lake Minnetonka instead of to the south — with St. Bonifacious as my destination. I pedaled 82.49 miles, my longest ride up to that point.

Along the way, I stumbled on marvels such as Big Stone Mini Golf, which happens to also be a spectacular sculpture garden.

Here’s a photo album.

My first century

A “century” is biker slang for a 100-mile ride (as opposed to a “metric century” that is a 100-kilometer ride).

On July 6, in the company of my bestest bikin’ buddy Chris Hertel, and after several failed century attempts, I finally hit this major milestone. It was tough going on my big, heavy touring bicycle, but I was ready.

This would be my first of two centuries for the year.

Tour of Saints

I’m excited at any chance to combine my passion for bicycling with my love for my St. John’s University alma mater. I would get two such opportunities in 2019.

The Tour of Saints was the first. I bunked with three buddies in a St. John’s dormitory on the eve of this group ride, which took us along 50 or so miles of peaceful Stearns County countryside.

Here’s a photo album.

The Mickelson Trail

I had never been to South Dakota, and I got my chance when Chris and his wife Rachel let me tag along on a road trip.

The highlight for Chris and me was the George S. Mickelson Trail — a rugged, largely secluded crushed-limestone trail that is built on an abandoned railroad bed that goes 109 miles along the length of Black Hills. It was a — quite muddy — two-day ride of a lifetime.

Here’s a photo album.

2 dads, 2 sons

My son Leonel and I joined Chis and his son Aled for an ice-cream run.

Bicycling Around Minnesota

Chris nudged me into signing up for a four-day, 250-mile Bicycling Around Minnesota ride. He declared me properly trained for this cycling feat; I was not so sure, and had a few sleepless nights worrying about this.

Chris was right, of course. The first day was the hardest on almost zero sleep after an insomnia attack the night before. I was great after that — It was hard work, to be sure, but well within my capabilities. This was my first major ride using my new, lightweight Bianchi road bike, which helped.

Here’s a photo album. This post’s header image is of Chris and me as we neared the end of day two on a sweltering day, with a stop for ice cream.

This was my second visit on two wheels to my St. John’s alma mater, which was along the first-day route from St. Joseph to Sauk Centre.

My second century

On a lark, I set out solo to attempt another century — and damned if I didn’t pull it off. See a fuller description in the Facebook post below.

Meeting Major Taylor

On the return-leg from a far-west expedition, I happened to glance upward while at a Minneapolis intersection, and I was astonished to spot a Major Taylor Bicycling Club jersey in a window.

The jersey was part of a Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery display. Major Taylor was a renowned African-American competitive bicyclist in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

I was thrilled at my serendipitous find because Chris and I are familiar with the Major Taylor club, which has an emphasis on (but isn’t limited to) African-American riders. The club has a Twin Cities chapter.

Into Wisconsin

I made one of my many Stillwater runs … and this time kept going into Wisconsin for a thrilling 75-mile ride. See a fuller description in the Instagram post below.

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I have bicycled to and across the breathtaking St. Croix Crossing Bridge via Stillwater multiple times, but yesterday I tried something new: I cut south on the Wisconsin side to Hudson, crossed back over to Minnesota at the Interstate 94 bridge, and pedaled northward to Stillwater for my return to St. Paul. – In pulling off this stunt, I made a discovery: when I loop onto Wisconsin Highway 35 on my way to Hudson, I pass the bridge and get a fantastic elevated view of it. I had seen this perspective in pictures, and now I know how they were taken. Cool. – I was in a hurry to get home before dusk and didn't pause in downtown Hudson, so I plan to return because it looks super interesting. – Total mileage for this ride: 71.47 miles

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The St. Paul Classic

Every October, St. Paul shuts down traffic arteries and turns them over to bicyclists for one of the Twin Cities’ last, best organized rides of the season. This time, Chris and I joined two other friends for the 50-mile tour.

This would be my last ride of the year. Very soon thereafter, I’d be fighting for my life as described in the Instagram post below.

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I'm super late with this St. Paul Classic ride-finish shot, taken on Sept. 8, but I have a good excuse. By that evening, I was in gastrointestinal agony that would last for about a week. By the following week, I had a 103-degree fever and severe abdominal pain. Soon afterward, I was in surgery for removal of my bloated, ruptured, gangrenous gallbladder, which ferocious bacteria were using as a staging area for Blitzkrieg assault on my bloodstream. Doctors later told me I had a 30- to 40-percent chance of dying — Blood infections are nasty business. As I write this, I am 10 pounds lighter and much weaker with a lot of lingering pain from the operation. I’m under orders not do strenuous exercise for at least four more weeks, which ends my bicycling for the year (dang it). Oh, well, I finished the cycling season in the best possible way — in the company of dear friends on a glorious adventure. Also, I logged about 2,500 miles for the season, well short of my 3,000-mile goal, but not too shabby! I'm looking forward to coming back strong in the spring.

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