Twin Cities Western Suburbs Beer Tour
Someone recently asked me about our anticipated bike adventure, which led to me trying to explain the concept of ultralight bike touring. The following exchange ensued:
Q. So, you like, carry all your stuff on your bike and go camping?
A. Yeah, that's generally the idea.
Q. You ever done this before?
A. No, not at all.
Q. But you basically refinanced your house in order to buy two titanium mountain bikes?
A. Yes, correct.
Q. So you bought these bikes, plus a bunch of equipment, but you've never toured, nor do you know if you'll even enjoy it?
A. Yeah ... (awkward silence)
Needless to say, we decided that we needed to figure out whether we were up for the task.
Enter Carver Park Reserve, situated out on the western edge of the Twin Cities near Victoria, Minnesota. A quick Google search revealed that the park was conveniently accessible via bike trail almost the entire way from our house in South Minneapolis, and an assist from the City Pages gave us the idea in the first place. After a very nice chat with a woman in the reservations department, we had a site set for Saturday night at the Lake Auburn Campground.
We certainly don't have all the carrying devices and packs for our bikes, but we were able to cobble together enough storage space using our regular commuting panniers and frame bags, along with some creative use of extra straps to affix sleeping bags to handlebars. I was also able to strap our tent to the top of my rear rack. All in all, the setup worked quite well for this jaunt, although I need to figure out a better situation for affixing items to the handlebars. The tension/buckle straps kept pulling loose with all the bumps/vibration.
Anyway, who cares about that?! We went up and caught the Midtown Greenway west to Hopkins, where we moved onto the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail, which shuttled us forth direct to Carver Park, skirting Lake Minnetonka on the way.
Blue skies, open trail.
The LRT trail was crushed gravel for the duration of its 15 miles, and the Salsa Fargo Ti bikes that bore us westward essentially transmogrified the gravel into the smoothness of asphalt. When riding on pavement, the big knobby 29er tires on the Fargo make an awkward and unseemly "whum, whum, whum" noise, the noise of a machine desperately trying to find its element. Gravel is certainly the Fargo's element. Kate and I both commented on how the bikes not only gripped the gravel more comfortably than they do pavement, but they seemed to handle better under the weight of our camping gear than they do with no weight at all.
Anyway, as we pondered this and other mysteries, I realized that the LRT trail went right through downtown Excelsior. I happened to know that in downtown Excelsior there is a brewing establishment known as Excelsior Brewing Company. Furthermore, said establishment contains a taproom of some repute. So I politely suggested that we stop for a mid-ride libation. And after nearly getting flattened by the hordes of Lake Minnetonka goers in their Mercedes-Benz SUVs, we rolled up to the aforementioned Excelsior Brewing Company.
See what time it is?
Let me tell you a couple of things of about Excelsior Brewing Company: It features some fantastic brews in an unpretentious taproom/garage, and everyone seems to enjoy themselves there. If you buy an Excelsior Brewing bike jersey, and ride your bike to the brewery wearing that jersey, your first pint is on the house, for, as far as I could tell, eternity. Seriously. Needless to say, we were calculating how many trips it would take for us to recoup the cost of an $80 jersey. And, not surprisingly, there were a lot of folks enjoying free beer in their Excelsior Brewing bike jerseys. Apparently, Excelsior Brewing is the epicenter of friendly, bike-riding, beer-drinking folk in the Lake Minnetonka area.
To that last point, we had at least two people in cycling gear come up to us out of the blue, point to our bikes leaning up against the fire escape of a nearby building, and strike up a conversation. One older gentleman talked to us at length about how he had just recently purchased a Salsa titanium road bike and taken it out to Colorado. So we chit-chatted about bikes with him and told him about our Great Divide route plans. By that point, we had duly drained our first pints. Initially we thought we'd just stop for one beer and head for the park, which was still 8 or so miles away, but decided that the atmosphere simply required us to enjoy another beer. So, we did.
As we were about to leave, another woman in a cycling jersey approached us as we mounted up our bikes. She asked us about where we were going, where we were from, yada, yada, yada. She and her company had apparently gone from Excelsior into Minneapolis, and done a little tour of the many delicious bars and restaurants the City of Lakes offers. She herself had done some bikepacking, and as we joked that our camping trip had really become a brewery tour of the western suburbs, she commented: "Well, you still have one more -- the brewery in Victoria!" Newly intrigued, we listened carefully as she explained that, at the terminus of the LRT trail in Victoria, sat a newly opened brewery/taproom.
Plans changed yet again, we set forth with a solid buzz only to arrive at ENKI Brewing. It's a nice little gem of a place, positively in the middle of nowhere, as far as I'm concerned. I was reading a story the other day about a project Patagonia has sponsored, which is called "Slow is Fast." Basically, the concept is this: A guy decides to bike down the California coast to see his home state in a way he has never seen it, and he discovers just how much more richly he experiences people and his surroundings when he is freed from the constraints of his automobile. I can't imagine a scenario where I would have driven out to Victoria just to sample a new brewery. But as part of a bike adventure, as part of a slow travel experience, you never know what you might find.
Having had our camping trip converted into a brewery tour, we decided it was about time to make tracks to Carver Park Reserve. So we did. And for those of you who have not visited, I suggest you go. I'm always amazed at how beautiful it can get just a few miles outside of the city.
Riding the paved trails at Carver Park Reserve.
The people at the check-in looked at us as if we were insane as we pulled in on our bikes, a reaction that would only continue as we rolled to our campsite, surrounded on all sides by families in bus-sized RVs, giant eight-person tents, pop-up campers, and/or SUVs. By comparison, our modest camp consisting of two bikes and a two-person backpacking tent looked positively out of place.
It's not an adventure until something goes wrong. We realized as we started to prepare dinner that we'd forgotten forks, spoons, sporks, or any utensils of any kind, for that matter, save for a single spatula. That forced us to get creative in our cooking and eating procedures.
Just for funsies, we'd packed one of those dehydrated backpacking meals, just to see what it's like. It turns out freeze-dried cheese enchiladas rancheros are not too bad. Kate's sister and brother-in-law also hooked us up with some bread you can make in a pan, which we enjoyed for dinner and breakfast, although frying said bread was challenging given that the stove was either (1) off, or (2) as hot as the surface of the sun.
The day was capped by (what else?) a campfire, as well as by the typical sleeping bag tossing and turning one does after neglecting to pack a sleeping pad. The next day, we got an early start in order to shuttle Kate back for a pre-arranged brunch with friends. Thankfully, our legs bore us eastward with even greater speed than they had the day before, and we made it with plenty of time to spare.
It was a very enjoyable little out-and-back trip, and surprisingly easy to do from the Twin Cities proper. I would bike back to Excelsior Brewing in a heartbeat. It felt good to come home and see our frame bags and bikes covered with a thin film of gravel dust -- a dusting that says to all who enquire that "WE ARE SERIOUS -- DO NOT MESS WITH US!" We conquered our first bike camping trip in good spirits, and saw what things worked and those things that didn't work so well. Best of all, I think we can confidently start to answer those who ask whether we know what we are doing: "Not everything, but yes, we know some things. And we're getting better."
Tip for this adventure: It almost goes without saying, but make sure to stop at Excelsior Brewing and ENKI Brewing on the way out. Both are extremely bike friendly!
Favorite local bike shop: Angry Catfish Bicycle Shop + Coffee Bar in South Minneapolis.