Riding to Red Wing

I haven’t done anywhere near enough riding this summer. My big plans to do at least one century per month and at least two 30-mile rides a week have foundered on unusually heavy workloads and lots of family stuff. With two 100-mile races looming in September, though, I needed to see if my legs were up to a big effort. I’d been thinking for almost a year about riding to Red Wing, which is almost exactly 50 miles away via rolling gravel roads, so I figured: what better way to test my fitness than by riding my heavy, slow fatbike – the Beast – over a hilly century course?

I certainly haven’t suffered on a training ride since the first time I rode a century, almost three years ago, but the suffering only made the ride that much better. I started by riding the wrong way so that I could dip my tires in the Cannon River.
Morning Dip

The first 50 miles went fine, notwithstanding a wrong turn outside Cannon Falls that added more paved miles to the route than I wanted. I ate and drank pretty well and had no trouble with the long stretches of rollers or the quality of the gravel. I did get covered in gnats and midges, dozens of which died in the dust and sweat on my forearms.

The main part of the ride came to an end at the southwestern corner of Red Wing: a long curvy descent on an oddly well-kept minimum-maintenance road, 305th Street, down to Hay Creek Trail, a gorgeous tree-lined road that led into town proper. The Beast loves to descend, and those fat tires do a great job hugging the corners. By 11, I had crossed town to the riverside park where I had hoped to dip my wheels in the Mississippi, so that I could say I had ridden from the Cannon to the Mississippi. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get down the steep riverbank, so I had to settle for the less glamorous accomplishment of coming within eight feet of crossing Goodhue County.
Overlooking the Mississippi

After a quick convenience-store lunch and refilling my water bottles, I started the westbound route home. Hay Creek Trail was just as good as it had been an hour before, but soon enough I had to hang the hard right turn that pointed me back up that 305th Street hill. The climb was a true grinder: more than a mile long with an average grade of about 5% (and at least one long pitch near 12%), a number of turns, and an unfair number of dismaying false flats. I found this to be the longest and hardest climb I’ve done on the fatbike, and probably one of the most difficult I’ve ever done on any bike. I spent much of the climb with my chest nearly on my handlebars, watching my front tire slowly turn underneath me and feeling the sweat drip out of my helmet.
305th Street

I felt that 10-minute effort for the rest of the day in every part of my body. I drank too much too soon after the climb, eventually running out of water about a half hour before I ran out of road. Worse, the climb was so strenuous that my stomach clenched up any time I even considered eating anything. With the August heat finally rising and a southwesterly breeze giving me more headwind than I liked, I started feeling pretty wonderfully awful. The rollers rolled a bit more than they had in the morning, and the gravel seemed a little sketchier, and at one point I nearly rode right over carpenter’s prybar that was lying in the middle of the road. I did take a couple breaks to take pictures of some of the scenery, such as this lonely bridge:
315th Street Bridge

Thanks to my wrong turn on the way out, I was a few miles up on my 100-mile goal, so I decided to take a shortcut that eliminated at least one steep climb (and the aggressively territorial farm dog that guards it). Still, the last few gravel-road hills outside of Northfield were pretty rough. I was happy to hit the pavement that led mostly downhill into town – and back to the Cannon, where I dipped my wheel again.
Afternoon Dip

The Red Wing round trip was as good a test as I’d hoped it would be. The Beast did really well, and I’m looking forward to taking it out for another century – maybe this winter, when the snowmobile trails will provide a different way to get to Red Wing. And my legs and lungs did pretty well, too. They’ll appreciate riding my lighter, faster gravel bike in September.

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