Aug 21 2011
Today we loaded up our bicycles and headed to the Twin Cities on a beautiful summer day. After a bit of school shopping, we drove to Lake Nokomis, where we unloaded our bikes and took off for an adventure on a section of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, which follows many of the lakes and rivers in Minneapolis with scenic drives, paved bicycle paths, and walking trails.
For those of us who live in the country, biking on paved surfaces is a rare treat. A scenic route is even more fun; as much as we enjoy our farm view, it’s nice to see something other than corn and soybean fields occasionally.
We got off to a bit of a rocky start with a slow-speed sibling collision that required band-aids, but then we found our stride and headed toward Minnehaha Falls. Dad was in the front with our youngest on the tag-along, followed by the older kids in order of age. I brought up the rear to make sure we didn’t lose anyone along the way.
It’s been thirteen years since I biked that trail, and I have to admit that it’s a
bit lot more relaxing without kids. I found myself constantly reminding the kids to stay in their lanes; it wasn’t that they were straying all over the path, but they’re used to riding in wide-open spaces and I feared a collision with an oncoming cyclist.
The trails were busy today, at least to me, and serious riders were constantly passing our troupe. I had studied a bike trail map, but while it outlined the trails well, it did not notate the cross streets clearly, so it was sometimes hard to stay on the trail we wanted to be on. (I suppose it didn’t help that our leader had not so much as glanced at the map.) We made it safely to Minnehaha Falls after a few detours, and oohed and aahed over the falls for a bit.
Our main problem at the falls was that we weren’t sure which were walking paths and which were bike paths, and with the number of people there, we didn’t want to risk running over anyone, so we walked our bikes into and out of the immediate falls area for safety’s sake.
While at the falls, I overheard another cyclist say that the trails were quite busy today, with many young children, so she’d had to be especially careful. Though her remarks were not said unkindly, I got the feeling that regular cyclists don’t appreciate slower-moving families on the trails, especially when they consist of a five-bike parade.
Although we’d planned to venture on to the Mississippi and other points, we decided from to head back to Nokomis and go around the lake. Along the way, we took another inadvertent yet scenic detour, and then we needed to complete a bandage change just where the downtown Minneapolis skyline peeks through the trees. We circumnavigated Lake Nokomis successfully before returning to our vehicle, which we had wisely parked at a playground, as it takes a while to load up five bikes and a tag-along for the trip home.
On the downside, while we were trying to ingrain etiquette and rules into our children, it was disheartening to see adults jogging past the signs declaring “If you don’t have wheels beneath you, you’re on the wrong path” when there was a pedestrian path right next door. Adult cyclists were stopped in the middle of the path, oblivious to other traffic trying to move past. And, like I said, it was busy, with many people enjoying the lovely day in the parks and trails of Minneapolis.
It would be nice to have some trail maps posted along the routes indicating points of interest like Minnehaha Falls and Fort Snelling. There were a handful of Grand Rounds signs along the way, but if I hadn’t consulted our map several times, we would have had even more difficulty finding our way. I realize that many riders are very familiar with the area, but for newcomers, maps such as those found along the city trail in Springfield, MN, would have been very helpful.
On the positive side, motor vehicles in the area were very aware of the trail crossings and stopped far back, leaving plenty of room for us to cross safely in each crossing zone. This made me feel much safer on the paths because the drivers were very courteous to pedestrians and cyclists alike. The trails are nicely paved and well-marked as to which are bicycle lanes and which are pedestrian paths, and lanes are clearly marked with dashed centerlines.
Although it wasn’t a completely relaxing ride, I’m glad we made the effort to do it. It’s good for kids to learn how to deal with traffic, albeit bicycle traffic, before they get behind the wheel of a car. The path itself was great for families, not too hilly, so all of our children could keep up. Best of all, it was a beautiful day for our country kids to be out riding around the city lakes and this scenic byway.
In the end, with all of our detours, we rode 8.41 miles, and I mapped it with my phone so you can see the route we took. (The numbers are places we stopped along the way, mostly to consult the map or reapply band-aids.)
Have you biked the Grand Rounds or other bike trails? What advice would you give to families trying to navigate trail systems, perhaps for the first time?