Let Me Have It, I Enjoyed a Trail Ride.

The Velominatus’ domain is the road. The road is where we practice and hone our craft, work through the agony, and search for the ecstacy of riding. Paved trails are the domain of the family, casual rider, greenway commuter, and rollerblader. The only trails I’ve ever really ridden were those linking my old neighborhood to the campus where I attended grad school or the trails we used to take disabled clients on rides when I worked as a Therapeutic Recreation professional. That is until last Tuesday.

Tuesday morning found my Velomihottie and I in Grand Rapids (bottom left on the above map) for an appointment. She needed to drive back to get to work but I had all day so I threw my bike in the back of the car to ride home to Babbitt (upper right on the map). Originally, I had planned on riding the roads home. But upon further consideration, I thought I’d hop on the Mesabi Trail and give her a go.

It was more than just a fleeting interest in riding the trail that spurred me to check it out. Politics and my profession played a role as well. On the political side, I felt the urge to support the efforts of Jim Oberstar, a lifetime local and Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation Committee. Uncle Jim, as I call him, is an avid cyclist and was key in securing some of the funding for the trail. He’s been a strong advocate for the Rails to Trails movement in the states and has been vocal about more people cycling not only for fitness but also for daily transportation. On the professional side I felt a duty to be a consumer of one of the recreational resources I ask students to study in a course I teach.

So after my Velomihottie sped for work I donned my Velominati Kit and set out for the LBS in Grand Rapids to purchase my trail pass. One can purchase an annual trail pass for $15 or a two-day pass for $5. Lack of funding for trail enforcement means that my $5 was really just a penance of support, as one could ride this trail everyday and not get checked for a pass. But again, I felt morally obligated to chip in and as it turns out it was $5 well spent.

The Mesabi Trail winds through Boreal Forest and over and around tailings piles from historic and current iron ore mining operations. Many of these old open-pit mines fill with crystaline blue spring water and are hundreds of feet deep. These are some of the same places high school friends and I would charge around on our motocross bikes, cliff jump into the water, and drink beer carefree under-age twenty some years ago.
Open pit mine

The trail is not completed yet. At the 150k point, near Aurora, I jumped back onto the road for the remaining 50k to my place. The differences between the road and trail were stark. I missed the remote feeling, silence, traffic-free, and more technical curving aspects of the trail. But immediately upon hitting the road my cadence meter shot up about 15 rpm and my average speed increased by 5kph.

At the end of the day I felt like a had the best ride of the season thus far. I’m not convinced I’ll spend a lot more time on the trail but it certainly was a nice respite from the road, provided an interesting way to see familiar places from an alternative perspective and re-acquainted me with some old stomping grounds.

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8 Replies to “Let Me Have It, I Enjoyed a Trail Ride.”

  1. Nice! I live five doors from a Rail-to-Trail that runs through many acres of conservation area (with good MTB trails). The trail is technically 40km long, and connects Hamilton, ON to Brantford, but it is part of a much bigger network of bigger trails.

    Like you, I’m drawn to the peace of these trails, but I’m also somewhat conflicted. For political and environmental reasons, I’d love to see rail travel (for people and goods) return to prominence in North America. It’s a much more environmentally friendly way of moving stuff around (especially in the very urban east) than trucks and cars. If the rails aren’t being used, then I understand the rails-to-trails movement (and we wouldn’t have bought our house if there was an active railway at the end of the cul-de-sac), but I worry that the de-commissioning of rail lines will make it even harder to develop the kind of high-speed rail that would transform our transportation networks. Right now, I take the train from outside to Toronto down to NYC. The trip takes 14 hours, but could take half that if they hadn’t cut out so many lines. But, as I say, I’m conflicted…

  2. I love trails. You’ll not get it from me. And, after looking at some photos, that one looks particularly beautiful, especially in the Fall. I say use it as much as you can. Take some pictures for us in the Fall.

    At home, I’ve got the choice between narrow farm, levee, and hill roads with no shoulder at all, or 55k stretch of uninterrupted trail running alongside the American River. It’s wider than the Mesabi, divided into two lanes, and includes a dirt runner’s track on each side. They’re supposed to stay on them, but don’t. The posted speed limit is 15 mph, but no serious cyclist obeys it and no one is ever cited. So, you can go as fast as you want except on the weekends during the spring and summer. Then it’s clogged up with fat people, children and geriatric cases. But then we’re all racing or doing group rides, so it’s no real loss. There’s good training opportunities on it as well. One portion has some severe S-curves on about a 2% uphill grade. We ride side by side, inches from each other, and go through it as fast as we can. Good for developing crit racing skills. The pros, ex-pros, and former and current national champions in the area ride on it. And the ProTour teams ride on it when they’re in town for the ToC. So, I’ll not take any shit about trail riding and neither should you.

    On the other hand, I’m currently riding on the Aliso Creek trail in So. Cal. It’s narrow. The speed limit is a ridiculous 10 mph. And there’s no rules telling runners and walkers to stay off the asphalt. They clog up the narrow trail constantly. So, it’s not safe to ride fast on. I use it for quick, safe transit to roads I can ride fast on. I’d be a big pussy if that’s all I road on.

  3. Nice Marko – good trails are great and bad trails suck. The funny thing is you know right away which is which. As David said “it’s clogged up with fat people, children and geriatric cases”. Not that any of them are “bad” but they definitely make cycling dangerous and not fun unless you are on a 3 wheeled recumbent. I was in D.C. a few weeks ago and the trail to Alexandria was the best with a lot of serious commuters doing some serious fast kilos.

    In my upstate NY home there is a short, 13 mile, but great rail to trail section and they threaten to make the final distance 40 miles. This is in bucolic country 90 miles from NYC.

    I am a fan of them as long as they are not something now and in the future where bicycles are mandated to at the exclusion of using the roads.

    One last word on the danger thing, 2 friends have had major hip, wrist surgery and year long recovery because of accidents with the ped/child bike on bike paths. The pisser was they were not bombing down the thing in fact both were going slow and it is the slow speed crash that can crush/smash bones. So beware and avoid the cut little tykes and the unaware person who turns without looking into you!

  4. That looks like an amazing ride.

    I’m torn about paths. In the Netherlands, they have huge networks of bike paths that take you places you can’t get by car. Divided paths with speed limits and traffic lights. No pedestrians. They’re awesome.

    In the States, we build lots of multi-use paths, and with today’s ever-dropping Public IQ, multiuse trails are bad news. Add to that the confusion over whether a bike belongs on the right or left side of the road, and you have a big fluster fuck on those trails. Roller bladers, runners, cyclists (going two directions on both sides of the path), most of them with headphones on, and no one paying attention. It’s a time bomb. A lady was killed on the Burke-Gilman not to many weeks ago.

    The worst cycling accident I ever saw was two guys who collided on a trail along the Mississippi in Minneapolis. Head-on, blood everywhere, both people put in neck braces and in the ambulance.

    I’ll take a good bike path any day. But multi-use trails? I admire the idea, but it’s just like anarchy: It looks good on paper, but there are too many dumbasses to make it work in real-life. (Bastardized Steven Colbert quote.)

  5. Marko, mmmmm, that looks like a blissful trail. You will be getting no shiet from me either. Riding away from cars, it’s a beautiful thing in the woods or on a trail. I assume you were on the Alan? nice.

    And I concur with my bros here. Most American bike paths are the wild west: no dividers, prams, rollers bladers, little kids. Little kids on little bikes, they are the killers, like Rob mentioned.

    Few things spike my blood pressure faster than any argument that tries to keep cyclists on “bike” paths. I go out on the road, heavily trafficked roads, to keep our legal presence as cyclists in drivers faces. We can’t ever back off.

  6. Sounds like a sweet ride Marko. Nice write up.

    When I read ‘trails’, I presumed of the mountain bike persuasion. But I guess we’d call it a ‘bike path’ or ‘cycleway’ down here.

    The types of ride I see a lot of on blogs from the States are gravel road type deals, which can be done on a road bike or a cross bike… long, rolling roads through farmland and such. They look sweet.

  7. @john

    Yup this is a paved trail so I was on my road bike. Granted it was a Tuesday mid-day, I saw fewer than 20 people the entire length of the trail and they were all within a mile of the small towns along the way. I’d go for anywhere from 4-10 mile stretches without seeing a soul.


    You must be thinking of rides like this:

    Check it out. There are links to other rides from there. This particular one is in my neck of the woods. I’m stoked I got in it this year as it’s a lottery due to high demand. Just over 100 miles I think, 75ish of which is on dirt, some trail, and the rest paved.

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