Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bike trip destinations: Schmidt's Meat Market

Distance from downtown Mankato: 16 miles using back roads and bike routes. It is probably a mile or two shorter distance-wise if you want to navigate Upper North Mankato or hop on Highway 14, but I'd rather not deal with high-traffic roads.

Route I took: The route I used is exactly the same as the first portion of the route I took to get to New Ulm last summer. It is also part of the 34-mile Red Jacket Loop that's listed on the new Mankato bike trails map. Take the downtown bridge into North Mankato, go straight on Belgrade, take a left onto Lee Blvd and then cross Lookout Drive onto Judson Bottom Road. Take Judson all the way to County Road 41, where you then hang a left and ride on that until you hit the T on County Highway 23. Take a right onto 23 and follow that all the way across Highway 14 into Nicollet. Once in Nicollet, take a right on 4th Street and a left on Pine Street. Schmidt's will be on your right.

General ease/challenge of ride: At 32 miles round trip, it's a fairly challenging distance for recreational cyclists. But for regular century riders, it's cake. There's pretty decent wind cover for the majority of the ride and there's two notable hills: The incline up Judson Bottom leading to County Road 41 (about 4 miles in) and the long climb on Highway 23 near the Nicollet South Bike Shop (miles 11 and 12). Both hills are tough, but neither is unbearable.

Safety of the ride: I've always enjoyed this ride just because of how ideal it is for safe cycling. Aside from having to cross Highway 14, there aren't too many troublesome intersections to worry about. Rumble strip haters can also breathe a sigh of relief because they're nowhere to be
found, meaning bikers have an easier time keeping a safe distance from vehicles. Since a portion of the route is part of a designated bike loop, cyclists have the added comfort of an extra-wide shoulder on County Road 41 that functions as a bike lane. The only road on this route that's a little iffy to bike on is Judson Bottom because it has no shoulder and road itself is in pretty rough shape. However, the traffic there is usually pretty light.

Appeal of the destination: As its namesake would indicate, Schmidt's main appeal is in the sale of meat products. In that regard, few have a better product to offer than the family-owned meat market that's been serving Southern Minnesota since 1947. The mere aroma of meats and seasonings as you walk into the store is enough to make your mouth water.

As far as specialty items go, it's tough to tell what Schmidt's does best. I've always been partial to their beef sticks, but according to an article in the New Ulm Journal, they recently won awards from the Minnesota Association of Meat Processors for their beef jerky and ring bologna. According to a 2010 article in the Free Press, they have 65 different varieties of sausage and 15 kinds of brats. Pretty much whatever taste you might have for meat -- whether it's bacon, jerky, beef sticks, sausages, bratwursts, steaks, ground beef -- is sure to be satisfied with a trip to Schmidt's.

Beyond meat products, Schmidt's also has a wide variety of cheeses (they have cheese curds!), crackers and seasonings stocking their shelves. They also have their fair share of salad and dressing products to accommodate their less carnivorous patrons. For gift-stumped customers, they have pre-packaged gift boxes in a variety of prices that feature summer sausages, beef sticks, cheese blocks, crackers and other goodies.

Looking past the retail aspects of the store (tough to do, seeing as how it's a meat market and all), Schmidt's also has an appeal for it's continuity. Long-time family-owned businesses have a certain aura about them, almost as through they're a portal through time that have found a way to endure through the ages. A few nods to the past are even still on display in the store, from the old meat processing equipment hanging on the walls to ever-visible Schmidty the Butcher statue they've got in the store (pictured right).

Schmidt's certainly has changed over the years. Their store has gotten much larger, their product lines have expanded and their business focus has shifted away from custom meat processing and into retail items. But the fact their on their third generation as a family-owned business tells customers that they have maintained a certain level of quality with their products. And one taste of their summer sausage backs up that claim.

As a whole, the ride also has an appeal for some of the spots you can stop at along the way. Minnemishinona Falls near the turning point of Judson Bottom and County Road 41, and Nicollet South Bike Shop is located off of Highway 23 if you want to look at bike products or need to get a flat tire repaired (yes, that happened to me once on this ride). Those two locations are
marked on the route map with ice cream cones, mostly because the markings available on are quite limited.

The Minnemishinona park area isn't nearly as developed as its Minneopa counterpart, but it's still a pretty cool site to check out and it's currently in the middle of a major overhaul. A steel truss bridge was recently constructed over the falls (Free Press story here) and a trail is being built around the bridge that will eventually link up with the bike path that travels up Rockford Road.

**Note: The photo I have of the falls is from last summer, I was going to get picture of the bridge when I did this ride recently, but it started to rain as I was coming back from Nicollet. Combine that with the flat tire, and I was in no mood to stop anywhere, unless it was a bar.

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