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Day 15: Alexandria, MN to St. Cloud, MN

Today my luck with the weather finally gave out. The forecast had a storm hitting Alexandria in the morning, but it said Sauk Centre, 25 miles east of Alexandria, was supposed to remain dry until the afternoon. But, in the words of Marty McFly, since when can weathermen predict the weather?

Anyway, I woke up at 6 to a very red sky, reminding me of the old maxim, “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.” It also reminded me of this song:

Even after the day had gotten a bit brighter, it still looked pretty ominous.

So I got ready and headed out, hoping to beat the worst of the rain. Of course, I never get out quite as early as I like to, so it was 6:55 by the time I hit the road, and it was already drizzling lightly in Alexandria.

It’s amazing what a fight-or-flight response can do. I wouldn’t say I was biking at bat-out-of-hell speed, but I was maintaining 16-17 pretty effortlessly. Three miles back to the Central Lakes Trail, and then I headed east towards Sauk Centre. At about 9 miles into my ride, the rain started coming down more heavily. Fortunately, I noticed a shelter off to the right, so I pulled over into it… and got eaten alive by the swarm of mosquitos that was also taking shelter there. As soon as the rain lightened even a bit, I took off again to get away from them.

A couple of miles later, the rain started coming down really hard. Fortunately, there was an underpass ahead on the trail. So I stopped there to take shelter… and got eaten alive by the swarm of mosquitos that was also taking shelter there.

You know, asking me whether I’d prefer to bike in a torrential downpour or get eaten by a swarm of mosquitos is like asking me whether I’d prefer hanging or the guillotine. My answer is, “I’d prefer not to die.”

At least the downpour didn’t last long, so I was able to continue. Thing is, now the trail was wet so I was kicking up all sorts of crap onto my bike and myself. Nothing I could do about that though, since I wasn’t sure whether it would start raining harder again, so I just plowed through it.

At about 14 miles, in the town of Osakis, I crossed into Todd County and the Central Lakes Trail magically turned into the Lake Wobegon Trail. I have no idea why there’s a name change, considering the trail just goes straight and the mileposts even continue counting. I thought about conducting an experiment to see if all the children in the area were, in fact, above average, but given the rain I decided against it.

At 28 miles, I reached the city of Sauk Centre (the first word is pronounced like “sock”) and stopped for breakfast. The city is famous as the home of Sinclair Lewis, who parodied it in his novel Main Street. But given that he became the first American-born author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, the locals have forgiven him. In fact, signs along Main St. read “The Original Main Street”, and his home is a historic site. Unfortunately it wasn’t open when I went by.

Also, I still can’t manage to distinguish between Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, and H. L. Mencken in my mind.

When I finished breakfast and walking around town, I got back on my bike… and noticed that my computer wasn’t recording any speed. For those of you who have never had a bike computer, it works by a pretty simple mechanism. You attach a magnet on one of your spokes and a receiver on your fork. You then input your wheel’s circumference in millimeters into the computer. Since a moving magnetic field creates an electrical field (thanks, Maxwell), every time the magnet goes by the receiver, the receiver registers the electric pulse and sends a signal to the computer. Since the computer knows the circumference of the wheel, it can determine speed and distance based on how often the magnet passes the receiver.

What happened here was I noticed the magnet was no longer on my spoke. Luckily, I had mentally noted the mileage at one junction, and I could see where my odometer had stopped recording mileage, so I knew roughly where the magnet had to have fallen off. So I used Google maps to estimate the location. Unfortunately, I slightly misestimated, so when I went back to the bike path I couldn’t find the magnet. So I looked up the nearest bike shop and went over to it, thinking I might get a new magnet.

In case you’re wondering why this is a big deal, knowing distance traveled helps me keep track of where to turn, so I can just look at directions once rather than wondering “Is this the turn? Is this the turn?” Also, knowing my speed helps me pace myself and also helps me figure out when to shift, since my speed sometimes changes very slowly and I might not notice that I need to shift.

Anyway, when I got to the purported bike shop, it looked like a regular house and had no sort of bike shop sign in front. I have no idea what Google was thinking. So at this point I realized my original search might have been off by a bit. I adjusted my coordinates and went to a location a few hundred feet away, and in short order found my magnet. Ah, but the magnet needs a screw to keep it attached to the spoke, and I didn’t have the screw. I reasoned it couldn’t have gone far, so I spent a few minutes searching in a small radius around where I found the magnet, and eventually I found the screw lodged in a crack in the pavement. Success!

The whole ordeal with the magnet took me about half an hour. It also meant I didn’t record about 3 miles⁠— a mile before I noticed the magnet was missing, and two miles while I was looking for it.

Since I didn’t know how much longer the dry conditions would hold, I high-tailed it down the trail to the east, to try to cover as much ground as possible.

Continuing east from Sauk Centre the trail was still wet, so it was pretty clear there was no way I could have outrun the rain, even if I’d gotten an earlier start. At 48 miles I stopped for lunch, and during that time the sun actually came out! Of course, that made the day quite a bit hotter.

On the next stretch I passed a nice lake, which I’m including in my photos simply because there wasn’t much to photograph today.

At 61 miles I got to the city of St. Joseph. There’s a brewery in St. Joseph, but it doesn’t open until 4pm on Wednesdays (not uncommon, since most small breweries get most of their weekday business from the after-work crowd). Since it was only 2:30, I decided not to wait around for an hour and a half and continued onward.

Past St. Joseph the trail crossed the Sauk River, which made for a cool view on either side.

And then I was in St. Cloud and it was brewery time! There are three breweries in the city, so I was determined to hit them all. First up was Granite City Brewery. They’re a brewpub, so the beer isn’t exactly their highest priority. Nevertheless, there were some beers that I found noteworthy. The Ukelele Citra IPA was quite good, but if you remember from my warm-up ride, I’m a sucker for Citra hops, even if I think IPAs in general are overdone. There was also the Spring Board lemon lavender shandy. Definite points for originality here; I’m not sure I’d ever had a lavender beer before. The beer was decidedly sweet, but the lavender added a character I’m not used to, and which I find intriguing.

Next up was Pantown Brewing. As far as I’m concerned, these guys can do no wrong. Really one of the best across-the-board breweries I’ve been to since I left Seattle. But if I had to pick favorites, I’d recommend the Drop Forge milk stout, which was awarded 3rd-best stout in Minnesota and is even better than the stout from yesterday at Copper Trail, and the Bluemound Road mulberry kettle sour. I’ve never had mulberry in a beer before, but boy do they make it work!

As I was wrapping up at Pantown, I got an email from Nick, my warmshowers host, that he was home from work, so I went over there to take a shower and finally wash off the grime from the morning. Once I had freshened up, Nick very nicely offered to drive me downtown so I could check out Beaver Island, the one remaining brewery in town that I hadn’t yet visited. I took him up on the offer, but once I was downtown I first had to check out the big river itself, the Mississippi! I can hear the stations beginning with W calling to me from the other side!

Then I headed over to Beaver Island. They have 18 beers on draft, two of which are also available on nitro, so picking beers for my flight was a really tough choice! I tried a couple of IPAs but they were too bitter for me. They were otherwise very tasty though, so if you like bitter IPAs go for the ones here. My personal favorites were the You Betcha Bock doppelbock (which was made with local maple syrup and wild rice and is absolutely amazing) and the Revolution III Russian imperial stout. The Sweet Miss chocolate oatmeal stout was also very good.

And that’s a wrap! I’ll be spending a while following the Mississippi for the next few days. I can’t believe I finally made it to the river. It feels like getting home is more than just an abstract concept now!

Total distance: 73.0 miles (excluding magnet incident)
Average speed: 13.9 mph

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