I really don’t know what took me so long to get out there and bike as often as I am now, but I really love biking.

I think it was the realization of the benefits of cross-training (for running) that I picked up my bike again. I dug it out in the cold month of April, cleaned it up, and did a once-over tuning to get it ride-ready — and began riding on my off-days between runs. It was the kind of mobility that running could not offer me — more distant destinations, a faster journey, the wind whipping across my face, and a greater degree of caloric burn.

It started out as Saturday morning rides, finding my way down to the Mississippi Regional Trail system from where I live, and exploring different routes along the way. Initially taking five to ten mile routes, I started upping my game to 15 miles, and then 20, and two weeks ago when I did my ride on July 4th, up to 27 miles.  And on Wednesdays we’d bike on down to different breweries in Northeast Minneapolis, riding roughly 10-15 miles or so and earning our beer for that day. While those aren’t brag-worthy distances if you’re sporting a road bike — I’m riding a Specialized mountain bike — that sort of distance requires a lot of effort when you’re riding something other than a road bike.

This last Sunday morning I set out to achieve what I haven’t done in ages — a near 50-mile ride with my good friend Jamison. Setting out from my place, I met up with him along the way, took the Rush Creek Regional Trail on the west side of the Mississippi River, and then making our way to Elm Creek and then back again. 48 miles for me.

It was probably some of the most beautiful riding that I’ve experienced so far — long stretches of wild flowers along prairie flats; groves of elm, oak, and maple trees reaching, stretching, and shading; and the smooth, paved bike path winding through seemingly remote stretches of land. The reality is that you’re really winding through a lot of suburban neighborhoods, but it feels like you’re out there, isolated, and taking on an adventure into the great wide open.

We left early in the morning to try and beat most of the heat — the air still damp with humidity, and the crispness that only morning can bring. We raced past different stretches of land — prairie, forest, neighborhoods, bridges. It was diverse, interesting, and offered a lot of eye candy along the way. It really was a pleasurable experience, and my only regret is that I rode the whole 48 on a mountain bike and not an actual road bike or hybrid commuter. My buddy Jamison fared well and got off easier than I did, not having to labor over the weight of what felt like a cast iron bike frame built to withstand the next world war in the heat of combat. Think Hummer on two wheels.

A sample paved roadway for bikes and walkers
A sample paved roadway for bikes and walkers

It was probably one of the better biking experiences I’ve had in a while, but it was not without sacrifice, hard work, and a whole lot of sweat. We set out to make Strava’s Adventure Cycling Challenge, which was to bike for at least three hours, take photos along the way, and explore new places. And that we did, taking routes I’d never been on, biked along really gorgeous bike and pedestrian paths, and earned every single beer consumed that day.

Although I was in utter pain by the middle of the day — nearly unable to bend my knees, in pain from head to foot, and tired as all get-out — it was so very worth it.  Having burnt more calories than I have in a long time — 2880 to be specific (according to Strava) — it felt like a monumental physical achievement for me. Sure there are those out there who will always be able to bike further and faster than I ever will, and have the kind of bike and experience that will dwarf any of my attempts or aspirations — that’s just inevitable. But in the end I am persevering and setting new heights and levels of achievement for myself. And that is all that matters to me. I have not biked 48 miles in ages — not since I was in my early 20’s and had a seemingly limitless energy reserve to draw from. But I’m 43 now and the idea of biking 48 miles is quite an achievement, to me.

Coon Rapids Dam on the Mississippi River
Coon Rapids Dam on the Mississippi River

Biking this summer has really opened up a lot of drive within me to accomplish more, to bike further, to earn every single calorie that I consume in that day. It’s also lit a flame in me to purchase (or build) an actual road bike and let my mountain bike serve its purpose — for riding single track and wide track off-roading. I think an actual road bike would open up the possibilities for greater distances, faster times, and an overall enjoyable riding experience.

I’ve kicked around the idea of building my own bike over the winter as a sort of hobby to take on — buying individual components (new or gently used) and assembling it over the winter. It could be a potentially great opportunity to learn more about bike maintenance and repair and become more proficient at mechanical issues that may come up along the way.

At any rate, this journey has been absolutely fantastic. Biking has allowed me to burn a lot more calories than running has (lately anyway), it’s a lot less stress on my joints, and has been an awesome cross-training opportunity for my training towards running a half-marathon this fall.