I shoved the bike in my trunk and took it home. After a new seat, raising of the seat and handlebars, and a good dose of WD40 (not to mention a frantic phone call to my brother when the handlebars seemed to have broken), I had a decent bicycle for a total investment of $35. It wasn’t the best bike out there, nor would it beat any land speed records, but for what I needed it to do, it was great.
After tooling around St. Joe a couple times, I had a sudden thought: I spend half my week a mere 50 miles from the best biking trail in the state. It’d been years since I’d biked the Root River Trail, but I knew the best time to do it was in the fall. So I did the next logical thing: I called my dad.
My dad’s bike very well could be the only bike a thief would pass over to steal mine, but it served the same purpose – it gets him around on two wheels. Growing up, he had been the one to drive us to the southeast corner of the state, back end of the vehicle filled with bikes, and set out from Fountain or Lanesboro for an afternoon of biking the trail. So when I called him and explained my idea, he was more than willing.
Now one point of the excursion, of course was to take a bike tour; the main point, was to see the leaves in all their splendor. Unfortunately, it’s been a pretty cruddy year for leaf exposition. The drought, along with the early spring, made for very odd leaf-viewing opportunities all across the state. As it was, we scheduled our jaunt the weekend before the normal peak viewing.
The day before, the wind howled all day; wind speeds were 2-30 mph, and I just groaned at the thought of all those leaves breaking their arborly restraints. But I hoped for the best. I borrowed a jacket from my aunt (highs in the upper 40s-low 50s) and zipped to our rendezvous point that morning.
And so we took off from Fountain, the trailhead (depending on who you believed), on a slightly windy, chilly Friday late morning. The sun was out, but it did little to cut the chill when we started pedaling the asphalt.
I remembered nothing about the trail since the time I’d been there before. I knew it had been a while since I’d biked it, but I thought I would remember something – no. But it was ok, because that made it an entirely new and lovely experience.
The trees were mostly bare, but there was an occasional pocket of color bursting from the brown, slumbering deciduous or the dark green pines. Leaves littered the trail from the previous day’s housecleaning, and they made a satisfying crunch under my bike tires. Once we came upon a section of trail that was entirely covered leaves with not a trace of asphalt peeking through – a yellow leaf puddle.
And all around us were the trees, devoid (mostly) of their dress. The crowded the trail, creating a tunnel for bikers. Once in a while, the branches overhung the traill, and I can only imagine how lovely it would’ve been with yelloworangered leaves overhead. And then some sections were spooky, with skeleton branches looming black overhead against the blue sky.
On the first leg, the trail hugged a hill so that one side of us opened to a great expanse of horizon as the trees allowed. We were able to see smoke rising from Preston, about four or five miles south. During those times when there was a considerable slope to my right, I made sure to keep my eyes on the road.
Fountain to Lanesboro is almost 12 miles, interrupted only by a few roads, a few farm fields, and a few old railroad bridges, one of which was a truss bridge (with a steel top on it). We passed a cattle farm and hear low moos and rustling of animals. A crop farm was nestled in a low valley, hillsides securing it in its place. Past relics of farm with pastures long gone to seed spotted the trail, driveways where machinery sneaking over the trail to the fields the only reminders. It seemed intrusive to coast past the fields, especially when it cut into a field with only the dirt driveways the get across, then I remembered this was a railroad long before the current farmers were even born.
And if there was a moment I forgot this was an old railroad, there was soon a bridge to remind me. The old ties still straddled rivers and roads and low spots, and I raised my rear on entrance to the bridges as the bike rumbled over the ties. Often we’d stop on the bridges, peering over the tall sides to what lay below.
The day slowly warmed, and by the time we were closer to Lanesboro than Fountain, the air had probably warmed a good five degrees – but I was still glad for the borrowed jacket and my stocking cap. It was deceptively decent out when we stood still on the bridges, but once back on the trail, the wind cut through the warmth.
A little warmer and a large chunk of the trail behind us, the sides of the trail rose as we biked through a slab of granite. Then our downhill descent became a plateau and then an upward climb. After 10 miles of descending into the valley, now it was time to work for our destination.
And work we did – a few more bends and one interruption* later, we rounded a hill and there was Lanesboro, its entrance a truss bridge over the river itself. We coasted over it and parked our bikes (sans locks) an hour and a half after starting. My legs were a little jellyish, but it didn’t last long. Soon we were regaling our journey to Paul H. at a local eatery.
The lack of leaves was a disappointment, but leaves do not an adventure make. The company and nostalgia alone, even though I remembered nothing of the trail, were worth the journey.
*We got stopped by a Minnesota Monthly photographer taking photos for next year’s trail edition. Look for a bright red jacket in the mag next fall!