Somewhere around mile 15, it all fell away. I quit grumbling about the flat tire I’d had to change before even leaving the house, and stopped worrying about whether or not I would catch up to the pack of yellow-jerseyed guys who were disappearing into the distance. Suddenly, I noticed the frogs trilling from the wetlands, the ducks floating on a shallow lake. A warm wind was gusting out of the south bringing with it buds on trees, green blades of grass and the promise of new life.
Now, we peddled the rolling hills of the Kelley Farm, gnarled oaks standing tall along the east like ambassadors for the savanna. Further north along Manning, Big Marine Park sat patiently, secure in her hope that we will return to visit later this summer once the ice is gone. We turned east at Hwy 97 and the smell of the northwoods was strong. Farm fields alternated with clusters of pines. Three little kids sat at the bottom of their driveway with a red flyer wagon, watching the bikes go by. “Wildflowers planted here,” proclaimed a sign along the roadside, “Do not mow or spray.”
Onward I traveled, occasionally passing other cyclists, sometimes riding alone, and every cell in my body rejoicing with the song of spring. Then “Välkommen Till Scandia,” a sign marked the edge of town and one mile further down, the Community Center was awash in the colors of people and bicycles sprawled every which way. “Welcome to Scandia,” boomed a man from the Lion’s Club greeting people at the door, and inside folks from the Gammelgarden Museum and St. Croix River Association smiled as the riders poured in to find food and drink.Back on the road again, we continued on toward the St. Croix River. By now, my bike was nothing more than an extension of my body and I had a sense of unbounded joy at rediscovering this part of me that had been long hidden during pregnancy, new motherhood and a long winter’s snow. Now my long lost friend and I found a steep and winding road, like a tunnel through the woods, and we raced downhill to reach the river.
Days before the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride, 4000 people held their breath and waited to see if snow would melt and wind would warm. Then, Sunday came and suddenly it was a day for riding like no other day. For some riders, like me, it was an opportunity to get out on the roads we already know and love. For others, this ride was their first introduction to Washington County and the experience they got was better than any tourism brochure could offer. On showcase were parks and trails, lakes and woods, scenic vistas and small town charm. I’m sure I’m not the only one who silently compiled a summer to-do list as I went. To do: Swim at Square Lake, take the Burley bike trailer out on the Gateway Trail, and eat ice cream in Marine on St. Croix.There’s no predicting weather in Minnesota. Many years I’ve watched intrepid Ironman riders hunched low against sleet or driving rain. It was pure luck that warm air bathed the region for the first time this year on the weekend of the ride. Even so, it takes more than good weather to make a memorable journey. We can’t predict whether next year’s ride will be warm or cold, wet or dry. We do know, however, that there will be parks and trails, woods and lakes, scenic vistas and small town charm. That part of the experience isn’t by chance.