Friday, June 11, 2010

Bike trip destinations: New Ulm

Distance from downtown Mankato: 25 to 30 miles, depending on the route.

Route I took: Here is the route I took. There really aren't any bike trails between Mankato and New Ulm, so I pretty much just tried for back roads with relatively low traffic whenever possible. For the first five miles or so, it mostly follows the same route as the North Mankato Triathlon. However, rather than biking up Rockford Road, stay on Judson Bottom, turn right onto Highway 23 toward Nicollet, turn left onto Highway 25 and then follow Highway 14 into New Ulm after getting to Courtland.

General ease/challenge of ride: The challenge of this ride lies in the distance you have to cover. At 28 miles one-way and 56 miles roundtrip, it's not a ride for the faint of heart. The hills during the ride (first on Judson Bottom Road, then in New Ulm) are also something to be mindful of. And that's before going into the safety issues of the ride.

Safety of the ride: I feel unsafe even driving on Highway 14 for an extended period of time, so you can imagine how nervous I was during the Courtland-to-New Ulm stretch of the trip. The shoulder might be big on that road, but cars zipping past at 60+ mph don't do much to help make a cyclist feel comfortable. Upon looking at a map of the area, a safer version of that route would be to cross Highway 14 in Courtland, take Highway 12 north and take a left on County Road 21 into New Ulm. If you wanted to try a different route all together, you could go left instead of right at Highway 23 turn and take Highway 68 to New Ulm. However, I haven't tried either of these routes, so I can't attest to their safety.

Aside from the Highway 14 part of it, the trip wasn't too nerve-wracking. Once I got out of the Mankato city limits, there wasn't a whole lot of traffic to contend with on the other backroads. New Ulm itself isn't too tough to navigate through, but town also isn't exactly biker-friendly. There aren't a lot of in-town bike trails to travel on and several of the streets I biked through didn't have accommodating sidewalks for cyclists (no ramp, just curb).

Appeal of the destination: This was a trip I took last summer when I had a day off from work with nice weather to boot.

Admittedly, this breaks the mold a bit for bike trip destinations. Rather than traveling to a specific landmark or place, I decided to bike to a general town. Most locals would ponder over the appeal of this trip, as it's a long (and somewhat dangerous) way to bike to visit a town once described to me as being "insanely boring" by a New Ulm native. However, there was one overriding factor that made this bike ride inviting for me: unfamiliarity.

Being the relative stranger that I am to the area, as of last summer, aside from driving past it on Highway 14, I had never visited the town of German heritage, Terry Steinbach and Schell's beer. So, with a list of New Ulm landmarks in tow, I took off on my bike and prayed for no flat tires.

Contrary to what the New Ulm native told me, the town is far from boring. Maybe it's the German heritage in me, or the fact that the town has an exchange program with a sister city in Germany, but I found it to be wonderfully cultured and unique. In an attempt to keep my trip entry to a reasonable length, since I visited several landmarks that were interesting in the town, I'll keep my descriptions brief.

My first stop was Schell's Brewery, where I looked around the museum for a bit and walked through the beer gardens (best part of the trip: Getting offered a beer by a Schell's employee after telling them that I biked there from Mankato). Since history and beer are two topics of interest to me, taking a tour of a brewery celebrating its 150th anniversary would only make sense. However, with money and time being short, I decided to keep moving.

After visiting Schell's, I played a round of disc golf at the course just outside the brewery, hopped on Summit Avenue and headed up to the Hermann Monument/Martin Luther College area of town. I mostly just walked around the campus and admired the view from atop the Hermann statue. I wanted to check out the library at Martin Luther, but since I looked (and probably smelled) every bit like a cyclist who had just biked 30 miles, I decided against it.

On the advice of the man working at the concession stand of the Hermann monument, I then biked down to the downtown area of town and ate at Kaiserhoff's restaurant. Simply put: The food there was amazing. Granted, my opinion was a little skewed, as I was hungry from biking and probably could've eaten a shoe at that point. But the plate of ribs and bowl of cheesy potato soup I had really hit the spot.

After eating, I checked out the town's Glockenspiel (my timing was right, so I heard the 5 p.m. chimes, good stuff), walked around German Park and then headed back to Mankato. In hindsight, I wish I couldve spent more time with one specific landmark in the town. But since I wanted to "experience" New Ulm in a relatively short amount of time, my sightseeing pace had to be brisk. If I were to venture back there again, the areas I would like to explore more would be Schell's Brewery, Flandrau State Park (good camping according to the locals, and there's a disc golf course near the park) and the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.

No comments:

Post a Comment