Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bike trip destinations: Green Giant Statue Park

Distance from downtown Mankato: 45 miles from Mankato pretty much anyway you slice it.

Route I took: It's a pretty similar route to the one I took to get to the Amboy Cottage Cafe. Take the Red Jacket Trail to Rapidan, County Road 9 to Highway 66, Highway 66 to Good Thunder, County Road 1 out of Good Thunder and Highway 30 into Amboy. Once in Amboy, head south on Highway 169 and follow that all the way to Blue Earth. The park will be on your right (and fairly easy to find too, the statue is pretty big).

General ease/challenge of ride: Like the Amboy trip, there is some definite difficulty to take into account in terms of wind and lack of shade. The wind wasn't as bad the day I made this trip, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky and Highway 169 isn't exactly known for its canopy of tree cover. By the time I got home, the sunburn on my back was bad enough to the point that it's still peeling more than a week later. The distance is also something to be wary of, as it's a 90-mile roundtrip and certainly not for the faint of heart. One upside: The hills and elevation change are very minimal once you get out of Good Thunder. Most of the difficulty in my trip came from bike problems (see below).

Safety of the ride: For how wary I was about traveling on Highway 169 for an extended stretch, it really wasn't anything too nerve wracking. The traffic south of Amboy isn't nearly as bad as it is north of Mankato headed toward the cities and the shoulder is wide enough to give you adequate distance from vehicles. The parts of the trip that made me nervous were Highways 66 and 30 and County Road 1. As mentioned in a previous post, none of those roads have a shoulder to ride on and Highway 66 has tire strips on it to further narrow your distance from traffic. Thankfully, traffic on those roads is generally pretty mild.

Appeal of the destination: I spent the majority of a column I wrote last week talking about how the trip wasn't worth the destination. I wrote it as the sunburn was still scalding on my back and after I had just made it home before dark. I encountered three flats on the way down (a precursor to getting my worn-down tire replaced) and needed the assistance of a stranger at the self-proclaimed "World's Smallest Wal Mart" in Blue Earth to get out of that mess. There were no bike shops in town and the best advice a Wal Mart clerk could give me was that the nearest shop was in Fairmont (a lot of good that'll do with a flat tire). Really, it felt like way too much trouble to go through in order to see a 55-foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant.

While I still feel that way about the trip, my stance on it has softened somewhat. It is a LONG way to bike for a statue, but the Green Giant is an important slice of Minnesotan pop culture and a pretty cool historical landmark as well. Erected in 1978 to signify the completion of the transcontinental Interstate 90, the statue is also a representation of Green Giant and General Mills companies, both Minnesota institutions. According to most resources, the statue draws about 10,000 visitors every year, which is easy to believe because it is plainly visible from I-90. The park also has a gift shop and information center about the statue and Green Giant Vegetables, but it was closed when I visited (to the park's credit, it was pretty late in the day).

Other appeals about the destination: It's within walking distance of several places to eat in Blue Earth, it's near the historic Fairibault County Courthouse (erected in 1892, pictured right) and it's also a part of the Faribault County Fairgrounds. After a quick walk around the park (again, it was late and I needed to hit the road) I found out that the park has ample campground space, a good viewing area for live music and an area that looked like it could be used for either horse-pulling competitions or demolition derbies. Both will be going on at the Fairibault County Fair next week. For anyone packing a tent for a bike ride, camping at the fairgrounds is dirt cheap.

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