Stretch, sit, ride, repeat. Photo By Ryan Patchin
Kirsten Powers with The Hub Bike Co-op shares the best way to take on a beast of a bike ride: The Gateway State Trail.
Despite its many parks, lakes, and green spaces, sometimes Minneapolis just won’t cut it when you need a fresh dose of nature. Luckily, Stillwater is just a short jaunt from the Twin Cities and has everything you could possibly need: hiking, water sports, shopping, restaurants, a beautiful river, and lots and lots of outdoor space. And if you’re feeling as cooped up in quarantine as I am (seriously, I think I go days without verbally communicating with anyone other than my partner and dog), what better way to explore Minnesota’s great outdoors than with a long, scenic bike ride?
Hop on the Gateway State Trail and ride it all the way from Minneapolis to Stillwater, a ride that Kirsten Powers, marketing co-coordinator of The Hub Bike Co-op, says is for people who already consider themselves to be relatively active.
“Our bodies can outdo what our brains tell us; but that being said, this is a ride for a healthy, uninjured person, as the length there and back may exacerbate conditions,” Powers says. “This is a good beginner endurance ride for an already active person looking to tackle some bigger numbers (55 miles roundtrip is no small feat) or train for something hillier like the route to Afton.”
To prepare for the trek, Powers breaks it down into two categories: preparations for yourself, and preparations for your bike (after all, you two will be spending quite a bit of time together).
“For the Bike: At least the night before heading out, walk through this recommended maintenance checklist. Essentials include: Wipe down the frame (I like to do this with some old t-shirt rags by hand to visually and physically inspect the frame and cables); perform the bounce check and tighten any loose/rattling parts; check the tire pressure (this is all paved trail, so air-up near the max psi range listed on your specific tires); clean and lube your drivetrain; give your brakes a good squeeze; and double-check all quick-release mechanisms,” they say.
Once your bike is all set, Powers says you’ll want to take extra care of yourself. This includes stretching and eating a healthy and hearty meal before heading out. Powers says they typically enjoy a protein-rich meal of eggs with greens and fruit before making the ride.
For the ride itself, Powers advises bringing along 48 ounces of ice-filled water in an insulated bottle (nothing worse than warm water after a long ride), which Powers said they’ve experimented by adding mint and cucumber to encourage drinking more. “Hydration is key,” they say.
To make sure you stay energized for the duration of the trip, you’ll want to eat more calories than you might on a typical day. “If you’re on the trail and your mood drops, you start feeling fatigued, you have some negative self-talk, or you start daydreaming about food, these are all cues that you need a good snack,” Powers says. “Every hour or so you’ll want to pause for something (and stretch while you’re at it).”
Personal favorites of Powers include: nut & fruit trail mix, a bar, some veggies (cucumbers, green beans, carrots, snap peas, radishes, or anything self-contained), a banana, and apple slices with nut butter.
You’ll also want to make sure you bring along proper tools and attire, including a flat-fix kit, lights for the front and rear of your bike, a lock, sunscreen, or a lightweight UV-protective long-sleeve shirt, and padded bike shorts made of moisture-wicking synthetic fabrics with 5-10 percent spandex.
Powers says to start easy, you should begin in lower gears to warm up your leg muscles. This takes about 15 to 20 minutes to get the blood flowing. You’ll also want to keep a consistent pace, even on hills, which means shifting a lot so your legs can rotate at near the same number of revolutions per minute (somewhere between 60 and 90 depending on what’s most comfortable for you), Powers advises. “You want to feel like you can keep your legs moving for hours without thinking about it, just like pistons.”
You’ll also want to get your bike fitted to your body ahead of time.
“Stock frames, even the right size one, will likely require alterations to fit your exact proportions. On shorter rides, you may not feel this to be necessary, but as you get into two or more hours of saddle time, you’ll want the bike to match up to the millimeter with your legs, back, & arms or things will start to go numb, hurt, or cause lingering problems after the ride,” they say.
Once you’ve taken all of the necessary precautions, you’re free to enjoy the ride. Powers says the Gateway State Trail is covered by trees, meaning limited time in direct sunlight. And with horses along the way, seeing the view of Stillwater when you first get into town from the trail, and enjoying food from a good local restaurant, the ride is more than worth it.
“One of the best parts about this route is no need for highway time. The Gateway Trail is stunning and picks up as a protected recreational trail just East of 35E in St. Paul. Portions near Lake Como and along Wheelock Parkway are also protected, with Como Ave having a dedicated bike lane and the University of Minnesota Transitway designated for buses and recreators,” Powers says. “So, no matter where you pick up the route in Minneapolis or St. Paul, it offers expansive, minimally trafficked roads and trails.”
For more information about the Gateway State Trail, visit dnr.state.mn.us.