Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reflecting on the Root: Lanesboro and the trail

In a lot of ways, Lanesboro is kind of in it's own little world.

Tucked deep in the valley of the Root River, the self-proclaimed "bed and breakfast capital of the world" has a natural feel of seclusion to it. It's a hefty driving distance from most metropolitan areas and high river valley bluffs rise up on each side of the town to separate it from the outside world (and create terrible cell phone reception).

Major highways are nowhere to be found in the downtown area of Lanesboro. As a matter of fact, the busiest roadway through town is probably that of the Root River Trail, the premier bike trail in the area and a big part of the reason I decided to do a three-day, 290-mile bike ride out to southeastern Minnesota last week.

Admittedly, my expectations for Lanesboro were pretty high going into the trip. The community has long been described to me as being something of a Utopian community, where all the citizens are friendly, the pastries are tasty and the industry remains untouched by the Wal-Marts and McDonalds of the world. It's as if the town was straight out of "Prairie Home Companion" or something.

Add in a 60-mile bike trail, a vibrant arts culture and an Amish presence in the area, and my intrigue for Lanesboro was through the roof. My affinity for bike trails is pretty obvious, but my appreciation for Amish culture is a little more subtle. I think their sense of community and ability to get by without modern conveniences are both traits to admire (albeit admire from afar, as I am currently writing this on a laptop while listening to music on my mp3 player).

So did Lanesboro meet my expectations? Was it worth biking 140 miles through wind and rain?

Well, yes and no.

From what I saw of the Root River Trail (I only biked on about 15 miles of it due to a bridge being closed outside of Lanesboro), the lofty descriptions I head about it were absolutely true. It is a wonderfully-maintained trail with picturesque river valley bluffs seemingly around every corner. Some bike trails were built for speed; this one was built to enjoy the scenery.

I also can't complain much about Lanesboro. The local shops and boutiques are fun to browse through even if you're not planning on buying anything and there is also a wealth of great eating options (I ate at Riverside on the Root and Rhino's Pizza & Sub Shoppe, both delicious choices) to enjoy. For the outdoors enthusiast, there's kayaking, golf, fishing, hiking and, of course, biking all readily available near downtown. The town also has a thriving arts culture, with a local theater company, a history museum and an art gallery to indulge in.

Bear in mind, all of these attractions are located in a town that's smaller than Nicollet population-wise.

So how did Lanesboro not live up to hype? What blemishes could I possibly have for this Utopian town of cycling goodness?

Call it a variety of small factors and an unforeseen aspect of biking there instead of driving there.

Timing was definitely a factor. The local theater company didn't have a show playing the night I was in Lanesboro and the art gallery or history museum were both closed while I was in town (their hours are more afternoon-oriented). Due to the relatively tight schedule, I also didn't have time for an Amish tour or any kayaking.

Some of Lanesboro's "attractions" didn't really appeal to me either. The town's well-known bed & breakfast culture means little to a lone tent camper and it's lack of a grocery store proved frustrating when it came time to buy provisions for the long ride home.

Beyond all that, my initial predictions of the trip proved incorrect. I thought biking out to Lanesboro instead of driving there would make me appreciate the destination that much more, kind of like how food tastes better after a hard day of work.

However, to some extent, biking out to Lanesboro actually made me appreciate the journey more than the destination.

Had I simply driven to Lanesboro, I undoubtedly would've spent more time there and less time in the towns along the way. There wouldn't have been the memories of eating at Marv's Bar & Grill in Hayfield, tent camping at a park in Grand Meadow or sleeping on some random person's porch in Ellendale (still can't believe that happened). Instead, I would've concentrated the three days on taking in all the sights, sounds and activities of Lanesboro.

Does that mean I would have rather driven to Lanesboro instead of biking there? Heck no! It was great exercise and I had a blast experiencing all those small towns along the way.

All it means is that Lanesboro wasn't the only lasting memory of my trip. And that next time, maybe I'll take a full week off.

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