This past Friday, I left for Minneapolis for a four-day adventure that would include two days of cycling around the Twin Cities. I was a little under the weather, but I was well enough to go on Friday morning. Barely.
We were picked up bright and early and, along with a group that had already boarded in Brandon, we headed south for the border.
Before approaching customs, I noticed this new sign:
According to the newest published Manitoba map, PTH 75 turns east into Emerson and PTH 29 continues on to the border. After I got home I checked the latest update to the online Manitoba highway map and confirmed that PR 200, which previously ended at PTH 75 in Emerson, now turns west to meet it here.
It also means that PTH 29 has been officially taken off the books and that PTH 75 goes directly to the border.
Those are details that may only interest me, but, well, it’s my blog. In any event, I’ll have a little bit of work to do to fill in those details at http://www.canhighways.com/MB/.
We passed into the U.S. and we were served promptly and professionally by CBP officials at the Pembina Port of Entry. While waiting for them to search the bus, I noticed that I was surrounded by a bunch of people wearing Blue Jays paraphernalia.
This was a baseball tour and though I wasn’t going to any of the games, I didn’t realize that so many people were going for the wrong team. In many respects, it’s a sad statement showing what power the media holds over the Canadian people.
20 minutes later, after a little bathroom break, we were back on the bus headed south along I-29. For the first time on one of these tours, we didn’t make a stop in Pembina at the Duty Free Americas shop. Since they wanted to get the group to the game at Target Field in downtown Minneapolis that night, they decided to skip the Pembina stop in favor of a stop there on the way back.
Soon after we passed Pembina, we had to suffer through several games of bingo. I suppose it’s not a real bus tour without it, but it’s getting more and more annoying each time I have to listen to those bingo numbers being called.
I noted with interest when we passed by the rest area past Exit 180. Years earlier, I had always called it the “Fort”, since there was a replica of an old fort there. That fort has now been dismantled and replaced with a brand new building. According to the sign, it’s also a Wi-Fi hotspot. How times change.
I also noted that most of the exit signs along I-29 had been replaced with new equivalents featuring ClearviewHwy typeface. This is the new standard font that is replacing the former FHWA typeface that had been previously used across North America. The S.P.R.M. is also in the process of replacing all of its signs with Clearview, including the trunk highway and provincial road markers.
Again, these are details that may only interest me, but if you’re driving down a highway and wondering why that sign looks a little different, now you’ll know why.
We made a brief pit stop at West Acres mall in Fargo before getting back on the road.
Again, it’s not a bus tour without an annoying movie and this was no exception. Moneyball was the choice this time and though the movie wasn’t that bad, it was particularly annoying on account of the high volume it was played at. I liked the book better. There was more detail and it was quieter.
As we headed south east, I took note, as I did along I-29, that the side of the highway was clean and free of litter. This is in sharp contrast to many highways in the S.P.R.M., in addition to the trails in Winnipeg, that double as junkyards. Throughout my trip south of the border, I did not notice one single piece of litter on any of the trails I traversed.
I remember conversing with someone on an old BBS board many years ago who said that Canada has much cleaner cities than in the U.S. Not now they don’t.
We made a brief stop at Sauk Centre and I noticed this sticker on the back of the other bus we were following:
Do you really want to be on this bus?
In any event, the rest of the passengers loaded up at the liquor store next door and I think I was the only one on the bus who didn’t buy any liquor. We got to the hotel a couple of hours later and the rest of the group were on their way to the game shortly thereafter.
I later learned that, after Sauk Centre, a piece of wood struck the windshield of the other bus on the passenger’s side. Glass flew everywhere, but everyone was all right, including the driver. They got the windshield repaired that night, probably while everyone was at the game.
The view from my hotel room
The next morning, with the bike that I had brought along and stored in the lower compartment, I set off for the big city. Still a little tired and sporting a fever, climbing hills were particularly difficult, but I got on the Cedar Lake trail at 11th Avenue in Hopkins.
From there, the trail turned into the equivalent of an Interstate highway for a cyclist. There were benches, garbage cans, little rest areas, and all sorts of signage on the dedicated trail.
More important, however, was the people on them.
They were respectful.
When I was passed, which was often, I heard nothing but “on your left, sir”, not the “f--- you, a---hole” that I would more commonly hear in the capital of the S.P.R.M.
There were no unleashed dogs, nor any joggers armed with the self-proclaimed moral entitlement to disregard every law in the land. Everyone stuck to their own side of the road and though, later in the day, the trail became quite congested, I can’t say it was a problem. The other cyclists were also well-behaved and stopped at stop signs and red lights. Imagine that!
I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t in the S.P.R.M.
Strangely, the bike path around Lake Calhoun was only one-way, but since I was circling the entire lake anyways, it wasn’t a problem.
“We look out for each other,” the sign says. Another indicator that I wasn’t in the S.P.R.M.
After finishing with Lake Calhoun, I spent a little time around nearby Lake of the Isles.
The Midtown Greenway passing under the Uptown Transit Center
I exited the Midtown Greenway at Nicollet Avenue and proceeded north into the heart of the big city. Unknowingly, I passed by an area that tourism officials call “Eat Street”.
What these bureaucrats like to call “culture” is, in reality, a collection of run-down, dirty, mom-and-pop-style restaurants that most people would be embarrassed to take their dog to. Despite my blocked nasal passages, I could still smell the foul odors coming from these restaurants and they weren’t exactly a ringing endorsement.
I did have an appetite, but I didn’t need a tour of the nearby Hennepin County Medical Center, so I kept going.
Passing the Hilton Minneapolis, I noticed one of the many depots for Nice Ride MN, where you can rent a bike. Swipe your credit card, take a bike for a ride, and return it to one of the many other depots around the downtown area.
After locking up my bike at the IDS Center, I stopped for a lengthy lunch break at Gaviidae Common before moving on.
I always make a point of touring Cancer Survivors Park in downtown Minneapolis every time that I am there.
Continuing on, I went past Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins.
I then followed the river trail and went past the historic Stone Arch Bridge.
Overlooking the Bohemian Flats park.
A view of the Mississippi River.
It was already mid-afternoon and with my tank already depleted, I decided to call it a day and turn around. My total mileage for the day was 36.06, not bad considering the condition I was in. It was an absolutely fantastic experience that I would highly recommend to any cyclist looking to escape the melancholy of the S.P.R.M. Please make sure you leave your inherent foul attitude at home first.
The next day, I decided to stick a little closer to the hotel. I was out on Bryant Lake Road near US 212 when my camera suddenly died after nearly four years and over 38,000 pictures. Fortunately, I was near a major shopping mall and Target was open at 8:00. Yes, that’s 8:00 am on a Sunday morning. No, I wasn’t in the S.P.R.M.
I picked up a replacement, the successor model to my dearly departed loyal soldier and, after a brief return to my hotel room, I was back in business in short order.
My first stop was the Bryant Lake Regional Park near the hotel.
In the afternoon, I went north and linked up with the Cedar Lake trail once again. West of 11th Avenue in Hopkins and into Minnetonka, the trail is not paved, but it is a crushed-gravel surface that’s still pretty good.
Come Monday morning, it was time to get back on the bus and head north. It was an incredibly depressing ride. The trip had been such a good experience that I didn’t want to leave and the prospect of returning to the S.P.R.M. was making me feel ill.
The ride back was also quite scary. Seated opposite the driver, I could see him reading his e-mail on his BlackBerry, writing notes on a paper nestled against the steering wheel, and rummaging through papers and his CD collection. He was even packing his bag on the road.
Meanwhile, our tour guide was fast asleep. She was little more than a passenger on the trip and she made me appreciate the good tour guides I have had so often on this bus trips.
We were also treated to another annoying movie. Bench Warmers is the most juvenile and worthless production that has ever come from Hollywood. Bar none.
As we passed the Crystal Sugar plant north of Drayton, I saw a billboard that read “God Bless America”.
There should have been one nearby that read “God Save Canada.”
It was at that time that, so close to the border, I felt like we were about to cross from West Berlin into East Berlin.
Our last stop before re-entering the S.P.R.M. was the Pembina Duty Free Americas store.
After having yet another positive experience in the Twin Cities, I wanted to throw up knowing what I was about to return to.
We pulled up to the customs office and a young man with tattoos on his arm came on board, followed by a younger woman. He asked the driver how many people were on board, then he got on the microphone and asked everyone to pass their Je Declare forms forward.
“Everyone here Canadian citizens, no permanent residents or other special status?”
“Everyone’s aware of their exemptions? Alcohol and tobacco. Anyone have anything they shouldn’t have?”
The two of them split the stack of Je Declare forms, making sure all the boxes had been ticked with an answer. One couple didn’t tick anything in a box, so the guy went to the back to find out why. A few minutes later, he returned and sent us on our way.
He didn’t even ask to see our passports.
I feel so much better knowing that our borders are so secure.
After crossing the frontier into the S.P.R.M., a gust of wind nearly took control of the bus. The driver had an iron grip on the steering wheel and managed to get us through it in one piece, but it was only a stroke of good fortune that he wasn’t involved in one of his many other activities at the time.
In the immediate aftermath of the gust, with threatening skies still very much overhead, he started packing his bag again and persisted most of the way back to Winnipeg.
At the Salisbury House on Pembina, we got a new driver.
Mr. BlackBerry was replaced with Mr. I’ve Never Driven A Bus Before.
He couldn’t figure out how to release the parking brake and only after a half hour on the phone with someone from the office did he get it released. Even when we did get moving, he had a lot of difficulty negotiating some tight corners and he really wasn’t aware as to where he was going.
We finally got back to our dropoff point and I got back home safely, albeit almost by accident.
As good as the experience was, I felt like it was a cruel hoax. I saw how good life can be south of the border and it made the S.P.R.M. look like a rotten, third-world country by comparison. My eyes have been opened like never before.
I need to seriously look at emigrating to the United States. Or leave Winnipeg, at the very least.