Ride #33: Midtown Greenway

Since I had a few straight days of decent rides, I decided to break up the typical Medina routine and packed up the Old Steed™ and headed into downtown Minneapolis. I chose to travel along a dedicated stretch of old railroad tracks called the Midtown Greenway. It is a fairly new addition to the Twin Cities and is often cited as evidence of how committed this metro community is to bicycling culture.

PIC-0258 It is an interesting section of dedicated bike path. I chose to start my portion of the ride near Lake Calhoun. There is a nice, free parking lot where Lake Street intersects with Excelsior Boulevard that I often use for Calhoun access (it’s one of the few place where my daughter will walk without complaining). This location isn’t the absolute origin of the Midtown Greenway, but it is close to the start prior to hitting the downtown areas of the trail.

It was a decent day, with enjoyable weather that was neither too hot nor too cold:

  • Date: Saturday, July 4th 2009
  • Temp: mid 70’s
  • mix of clouds and sun
  • 10mph wind with no idea of its direction (I was downtown)

PIC-0261 As I stated earlier, I chose to take out my Old Steed™ for the ride. After all – the Midtown Greenway is notorious for its biking culture and I somehow needed to appear both “hip” and “old school” at the same time, to ensure I would fit into the environment. Taking my New Steed™ would have indicated that I was a snobby, “LA wanna-be” and would likely get me singled out and beaten by a group of fixie riders crouched under one of the path’s many bridges.

Instead – I avoided all of my usual flare for modern cycling-specific clothes/equipment and dug out my:

  • cut-off jeans shorts (with ride-appropriate cycling shorts underneath – a man can only suffer so much)
  • new/vintage t-shirt with floral, non-descript saying on the front
  • improvised backpack to indicate that I might stop at a coffee shop to “web surf” at any minute
  • vintage mid-80’s Trek steel framed bike (which pains me to say that I bought NEW in 1986 – it is now considered vintage)
  • Crank Brothers Candy pedals and walkable cycling shows – to show I was a "serious" rider

PIC-0262 This was the perfect uniform to appear that I was one of them and wouldn’t seem too out of place in the Uptown culture. I was the perfect stereotype (except that I should have had a singlespeed/fixie bike, but I wasn’t willing to go THAT far).

The ride was interesting, if not a little boring. I wasn’t totally sure what to expect, especially since the trail parallels Lake Street all the way to the Mississippi River. This includes a lot of urban areas – which usually means a lot of start/stop riding to allow for traffic. I was pleasantly surprised that there was hardly any delays, as the path was blessed with the infrastructure to pass trains along the same route. This means a lot of dedicated bridges/recesses and results in a straight, narrow path that glides right under the majority of the cityscape.

From where I started to the end of the trail was only five miles – thus the journey was fairly short. While on the bike, I realized just how small of an urban area Minneapolis truly is – as landmarks quickly passed and I was soon at the river’s edge. Since I was riding in the man-built ditch intended for trains, the scenery left something to be desired. Calling the path the “Greenway” is a little false advertising in the same vein as the naming of “Greenland”. Although there are multiple attempts at keeping the area green (via some grass and a few, nice gardens), the majority of the path provides views of crumbling, concrete bridges and barbed-wire fences.

PIC-0266 Due to the path’s shortness, I was quickly looking at the Mississippi River and wondering what to do next. Simply turning around would have resulted in a short ride – too short for the effort. Remembering that I was just south of the University of Minnesota campus, I decided to head that direction.

I hadn’t ridden along West River Road since my college years (early 90’s). Unfortunately, I don’t think they have re-paved the bike path since that time, as it was well-rooted and provided a riding experience similar to traversing a plowed field. But, it was a joy to reach the West Bank part of the campus and trek along between the buildings. Not too much has changed in those 15+ years and I recognized the typical landmarks of Anderson Hall and Ferguson Hall (while remembering spending far too many hours waiting for Candace to finish saxophone practice). For being the "liberal arts" side of the college, I always thought the West Bank was the ugliest part of the campus and presented itself as cold and industrial.

Fortunately, the Washington Avenue Bridge is still there and carried me over to the main campus. While living at Centennial Hall for two years, I walked that damn bridge more times than I could possibly remember. Even in the abandoned, summer air – I could still detect the faint odor of urine. Oh, the memories.

PIC-0268 I made my way through the main campus and checked out some new construction that has taken place in the IT-area of the campus. As an engineering major (BSME ’94), I knew this part of the campus too well. I was thinking that some major changes had taken place, but it was largely the same as I remember. They appeared to have expanded the ME building in the rear, but the front facade is untouched. The worn, marble steps still lead up to the entrance for each building throughout the entire campus. Their aged look truly sets the stage for higher learning – so the look fits the environment.

I made it as far as the new football stadium (just to see where it was) and headed back through the campus and finally back onto the Midtown Greenway. Since I was on the Old Steed™, ride statistics weren’t important so I’ve estimated the following:

  • Start time: 4:00pm
  • distance: about 20 miles
  • avg speed: 16+ mph

The Greenway itself is designed to be a means to travel from one part of the city to another – and I would agree that it achieves its goal. It is not really a destination in itself, so I was thankful that it delivered me to a location that was part of my past.