Sunday, October 25, 2009

Countdown to Copenhagen: 42 Days Left

More to come soon!

Day Fifteen: Capitol, Campus, Carrot Mob!

More to come soon!

Day Fourteen: Wicked Weather, Herbs, and Gather

More to Come Soon!

Day Thirteen: Hazelnut Farm (or "West to Northfield")

More to come soon!

Day Twelve: Crossing the Minnesota Mountains

From Eyota to Zumbrota
Span the Hills of Minnesota
Fog a raising, dogs a chasing
Then the rain comes pouring down

Cold and wet, my feet are freezing
As I dial the radio home
The call I know is so important
But the signal's breaking down

Then I climb a hill so steep
My feet are up above my seat

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day Eleven: Into The Wind


I set out from Faribault into a strong wind. Although it slowed me down, I knew that it would make my wind farm visit today all that much more exciting. On my way out of town, I stopped by the Riverbend Nature Center to check it out. It was early enough in the morning that it wasn't open, but it seems like a beautiful natural space. Although I had missed this stop because I arrived in town too late, I was able to visit the beautiful Quarry Hill Nature Center later in the day in Rochester.

I sped from town, the wind whipping at me all the while as I went east and then south to Dodge Center. My friend Craig, a professional photographer gave a me a ring on my cell. He was interested in doing an interview with me at my stop at the McNeilus Wind Farm south of Dodge Center. Dodge Center was beginning to come into view when I noticed that there was a car slowing down and travelling beside me. Oh no, I thought, it was probably another jerk who was going to yell at me for biking on the highway (which IS usually legal, as long as your not on a freeway or in Faribault).

I looked over and saw Craig, pointing a video camera at me. Relieved, I tried to keep my eyes on the trail as he interviewed me about the weather, the mountain lion, and the many adventures and misadventures I'd experienced. Then, we met up at the wind farm. As I approached, the arms of the turbines were spinning wildly, but by the time I got there, they had all been stopped.

I interviewed the secretary about the wind farm, and learned about what had led Mr. McNeilus to start it. He had owned a trucking company, and his motivation had been largely financial. He had always wanted an office building on his farm and decided to build the wind farm because it would provide both clean energy and a profit.

After getting permission, I took my bike for a spin around the farm. Although they weren't turning because the breaks had been put on for a repair, the expanse of turbines was stunning, spanning for over a mile. The area was still being farmed too! Corn fields were interspersed between the turbines and no space sat wasted. Craig took a series of spectacular pictures by the turbines, but then a worker sprayed us with anhydrous ammonia. I had forgotten my inhaler and had a horrible asthma attack from the toxic fumes, and felt light headed for the rest of the day.

Once in Rochester, I travelled to the Quarry Hill Nature Center. It hadn't been a planned stop, but Naomi, a student at the U of M Morris, said that I shouldn't miss it if I was going to be in town. It ended up being one of the best spontaneous events of the entire trip.

I met a family from Rochester who were visiting the nature center with their child to introduce him to it. It was the first time he had ever seen a nature center, and they had to keep an eye on him so that he wouldn't run off. They explained that they've been noticing new species coming into the area, including species of squirrels that they had never seen before, and were concerned that this may be a sign of climate change.

Craig met me and we went into the center, where I talked with the director and the volunteers about the center and the importance of environmental education as a climate solution. The director gave us a tour of the building and talked about how the classes help children in the city connect with nature in a way that makes it seem less separate from their lives.

As we were leaving, we had a chance meeting with an impressive group of high school students at Rochester High School who are interested in environmental issues, who urged me to bring a strong message to Copenhagen to protect the world that we will be living in for most of our lives.

After leaving the nature center, I got lost in the enormous hills east of Rochester trying to find Megan Constans's parent's home in Eyota. I knew that I must be in the right place though when Deanna, Megan's mom, pulled up beside me and said "it's just a few more blocks!" letting me follow her home.

Megan's parents were warm and welcoming, and Deanna gave me some of the BEST macaroni and cheese I think I've ever had. You don't know how hungry you can get until you do something as physical as a bike trek! Megan is the North Dakota Youth Delegate who I will be travelling with to Copenhagen, and is part of the Will Steger Foundation Delegation of ten youth that will attend COP 15.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day Ten: The Sakatah Singing Hills Trail

I slept in this morning and got off to a late start, only to get lost trying to find my way out of Mankato for two hours! Fortunately, the owner of a local taekwondo dojo helped direct me to the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail. As soon as I saw the dojo I knew that I would be all right: you can always count on martial artists for good directions.

I hit the trail, thinking that I would try to get to Faribault by 4pm so that I could stop by the River Bend Nature Center. "It's only 39 miles," I told myself, "I'll have plenty of time!" Little did I know what I was in for.

I completely underestimated the part of the trail's name that has the word "hills" in it though, and didn't realize that the entire journey would be upslope. It's one thing when you're going uphill on a regular bike, and quite another when you're going uphill for forty miles straight, and your saddlebags are laden with gear.

Even though I got into Faribault too late to stop by the nature center today, I still had the opportunity to run into a series of amazing, interesting people along the trail. After a travelling a few miles, I ran into a trail closed sign. Oh no! I swear, every bridge and trail in Minnesota seem to be out of commision right now.

After a short detour and a hike on the highway, I was back on the Sakatah. I met Zender and John, a professor in Cultural Geography at Mankato state and his son, a nature enthusiast. They told me that they were biking "down the hill" of the trail, which should have been my first clue! Zender explained to me that the area we were biking in was once a woodlands that had been shaved clear to make way for farmland. He teaches classes on how people interact with the environment and was happy to stop and talk with me.

Next, I ran into a pair of recently retired couples who were out enjoying their new free time on the trail. They were all supportive of sending a strong message to Copenhagen, and biked with me for about an hour. The man in the middle of the picture was a character: he told me his life story, everyone on his geneology tree, and his theory that President Kennedy's death was a conspiracy perpetrated by Lyndon Johnson.

After a long, uphill trek (where I admit I was probably a little too long winded talking with people), I got to Faribault just as the sun was coming down. I would be staying the night with Wendy Knudson, a co-worker with my mother. As I saw the Dairy Queen its parking lot, I knew that I had reached the end of the trail, but I was in for a surprise.

Did you know that the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail, a STATE bike trail ends on a highway that says "NO BIKES ALLOWED" (Or pedestrians either). Unfortunately, there is no sidewalk and no other way I could go, so I biked on it anyways. On this entire journey, Faribault definitely wins the Stupid prize for being the least bike friendly city I have encountered. I just can't get over the fact that a State bike trail ends on a road where bikes are not allowed. What, do they expect everyone to drive to the trail for a nice leisurely ride "down the hill?"

I love this picture of the "tourist info" center that you can only legally get to by way of automobile. This is especially ironic, since one of the cities major attractions is the bike trail.

After breaking ill-crafted laws and enjoying a pleasant bike ride down the highway, I arrived at the Knudson's beautiful Victorian home. We discussed how they have made their home energy efficient, and how their nephew works for Blattner energy in the wind sector. They were welcoming and provided me a bath (and trust me, when you're trekking you need one more than you realize!) and a comfortable to bed to sleep the night in.

Here are some pictures of the Knudson's with the 350 Flag:

Stephanie and I pose in front of the "secret door." There is a room behind it, but they don't know what's in it. Could it be a dead body? Could it a treasure trove? No one knows, but Stephanie is an author and loves the creative that the unknown inspires.

Wendy and I pose by the secret door.

Even the cat wants to get in on all the 350 action:

Wendy's husband, supports the 350 Movement even when unconscious

...and when awake too! The Knudson's with the 350 Flag.

Day Nine: Scylla and Charybdis


(The streets of St. Peter, torn asunder, give us free range to bike where we wish, unstopping and unscathed)

Maia and I began the day by departing from the Super 8 Motel where we spent the night with my parents, who had generously stopped by to resupply the bike team and take away our smelly old clothes. The daughter of the parents who own the motel is going to be putting on a 350 Day of Action event at her high school! Also, thank you so much for cooking us the wonderful rice and lentil curry dinner.

We travelled through New Ulm and down the road to St. Peter, passing farm fields and prairie before gliding back down into the Minnesota River Valley. Just out of New Ulm, we saw a sign that declared "vegetables for sale." Curious, we decided to check it out, and met a family who sells the fruits of their labor (or vegetables) to people in town. They told us that they can't afford a car to go to the farmer's market though, but that people know to just stop by the farm to pick up their produce.

We arrived early, so we explored the town and biked up the very steep hill that Gustavus University is on just to see if we could (not recommended). We talked with students who were walking around campus about what we're doing and then hightailed it to a meeting with the manager of the local St. Peter Food co-op.

Travelling down Main Street, we witnessed how it had been completely torn up to redo the road. Many people at local businesses said that this has hurt them at a time when the economy is already down.

At the Co-op, Jennifer and a reporter from the Mankato Free Press met with us. We talked about the 350 bike trek and learned about the many things that the co-op is doing to promote buying local. For example, there is a FAMOUS local cheese that got in article in the paper that has been selling like crazy. I ran into a man the following day on the Sakatah Singing Hills trail who said that he was dissapointed that the cheese was gone; I guess everyone had wanted some!

We talked and talked and talked until the sun had gone done, which is good because of the wonderful conversation, but bad because the sun had gone down. Why? Because that meant I would have to bike to Mankato along Highway 169 in the dark; little did I know that I was about to meet Scylla and Charybdis.

My parents drove Maia home so that she could get to work and I began the trek around the road construction to get to 169. Ah, I was out of the city and biking when the speed limit went up and I suddenly realized that there were cars whipping past me at sixty miles an hour on the left. I stayed to the right of the narrow shoulder as I biked uphill, the whole ride was uphill. Suddenly I saw a shape in the road ahead of me and swerved around it: a dead cat. My stomach wrenched as I saw yet another dead cat not that much later.

It was starting to get creepy as I was biking in the pitch dark with only a flimsy flashlight attached to the front of my cycle to guide me. Then, there was a large snake that slithered off of the road in front of me. I swerved to the left just as a large passed by me not two feet away. I was starting to panic now and stayed as far to the right as I could when I started hearing a strange grunting whining noise and shape that was following me on the right. Oh no, I thought, I knew that I had heard that there were mountain lions around here; what if one was stalking me? I didn't know what it was, but I knew that there was something there. So I stayed in the middle of the shoulder, balanced between the murderously fast traffic on the left and the unknown noises from the creature stalking me on the right. With a burst of adrenaline, I biked the rest of the way to Mankato, where I collapsed on my friend Alex's pull out couch. Thank you Alex and Karl for letting me crash so that I didn't have to set up camp in the forest, alone at night!!!