Saturday, December 31, 2011

New year, new beginnings

Not really conducive to the tone of
my blog post, but I figured my readers
would enjoy a little Calvin & Hobbes.
Well Mankato, it's been fun.

After 3 1/2 years of biking on the Red Jacket Trail and doing training runs up Glenwood Avenue, my residency in the scenic Minnesota River town came to an end yesterday. I am now *mostly* moved in at my new apartment in Faribault and I'll be starting my new job as a page designer for the Faribault Daily News and Northfield News on Jan. 9.

I have mixed emotions about moving away from Kato. I'm obviously not thrilled about leaving the city's blossoming bike culture, as it was a big part of what got me interested in cycling in the first place. I'm also a little downtrodden about moving away from the downtown location I was previously located at. Loud noise from the bars notwithstanding, it was pretty nice to be within walking distance of work, the post office, the grocery store, the library and several decent restaurants.

On a larger scale, it's also a little unnerving to be moving away from a place I've become so accustomed to over the years. I know it's not a good idea to get overly complacent with a situation, particularly in a career as volatile as journalism. But it's hard to avoid when you find so many things to enjoy about a community, which was definitely the case with me in Mankato.

On the other hand, as George Harrison once said: "All things must pass." Despite being nervous about the unknown, I'm excited for the change that comes with a new town and a new job. I don't know much about Faribault aside from its association with the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail, but I'm looking forward to getting acquainted with the community and seeing what the town has to offer. I'm also anxious to continue my career in journalism and get back into a routine that includes work (sorry, but eight weeks of being unemployed is more than enough).

I suppose it's only fitting that the new job and new town would come about at this time of year. New Years has always been a time of new beginnings and resolutions to better yourself in the coming year.

It's too early to tell if I'll grow fond of Faribault like I did with Mankato, but my resolution for 2012 is to make the best of the situation and put forth my best effort at my new job.

Happy New Years everyone!

***Note: With my new location, the focus of my blog will shift from being Mankato-centric to being more oriented toward Faribault readership. However, due to the two towns relative proximity to one another, I will be sure to keep my readers updated if any big news happens out of Mankato in the health & fitness realm.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mankato city planners looking for bike route input

Even the most pessimistic cycling advocate would have a hard time denying the progress Mankato has made as a bike-friendly community in recent years.

In addition to adding several in-town bike paths, city planners built the Minneopa trail last year and the Greater Mankato Convention & Visitors Bureau released a trail map earlier this year complete with suggested area bike loops.

Aside from that, the Greater Mankato Bike & Walk Advocates verified cycling interest in the area with the successful Mankato River Ramble this past October. The inaugural tour ride drew more than 1,500 participants and drew rave reviews from all participants.

The League of American Cyclists recognized Mankato's efforts this past spring by awarding them with honorable mention status as a bike-friendly community. A prestigious honor no doubt, but Mankato city planners and bike advocates are looking for more next year.

"That really helped us assess where we're at as a bike-friendly community," Greater Mankato Bike & Walk Advocate founder Tom Engstrom said. "They told us what we need to improve on, and the city is taking steps to do that."

A big part of that step has been the city planners providing a large poster board map of Mankato for cyclists to draw out their regular bike routes with markers. According to Engstrom, the objective of the map is for city planners to get an idea of where cyclists regularly ride in Mankato. From there, the city will use the input to determine whether it's appropriate to label bike lanes on those routes.

Greater Mankato Multisport Club founder Chris Crocker said that local bike advocates are also looking into posting signs throughout the city directing cyclists to the various trail systems in town.

"We're hoping to go to the city with ideas of how to have better signage in Mankato and North Mankao," Crocker said. "The trail system infrastructure has already been built. But since the trails aren't all connected, there's no signage to help you find anything if you're not familiar with the area."

The poster board map had previously been available to cyclists at Flying Penguin Outdoor Sports and will be on hand at the Bike and Walk Street Film Festival, which will take place from 1-4 p.m. on January 14 at the Blue Earth County Library.

The festival, hosted by the Greater Mankato Bike & Walk Advocates, is open to the public and will feature about an hours worth of short videos on other bike-friendly communities. Engstrom hopes the viewing will help spark a brainstorming session from those in attendance.

"It'll be cool to watch them as a group," Engstrom said of the videos. "It'll help us learn how things work elsewhere and it might give us some ideas of things we can do here."

After the videos, an open forum will be held where those in attendance can make suggestions on how Mankato can make itself a better community for non-motorized commuters. Area cyclists will also have a chance to mark down some last-minute routes on the map, as Engstrom plans to present the map and the results of the forum to city officials shortly after the festival.

Immediately following the festival, Engstrom and other cyclists plan on going on a short bike ride through town that will likely end at Pub 500 for drinks and social hour.

Both Engstrom and Crocker expect a good turnout for the event and also expect the community's input to have a major impact on city planning in the near future.

"You have to give the city a lot of credit," Crocker said. "People want the community to be more friendly to bikers and pedestrians and the officials are listening."

For more information, contact Tom Engstrom at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like...mid October?

Like most Minnesotans, I enjoy seeing a little snow around the holiday season.

Snow has always been a symbol of transition for me; the point where fall definitively ends and winter definitively begins. It's the time of year when road bikes and light parkas get traded in for sleds and snowshoes. Besides, poor road conditions be damned, it's nice to look gaze upon some snowy scenery while listening to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas."

But that transition hasn't been nearly as definite this year. Despite a sizable snowstorm earlier this month, the landscape is most predominantly brown with Christmas less than two weeks away. Temperatures are projected to hover around the mid-30's for the rest of the week and the only precipitation in the forecast is (gasp!) rain. The calendar may read "December 13," but as far as weather conditions go, it may as well read "October 13."

The holiday purist in me is aggravated by this decidedly wimpy winter weather. Brown Christmases are meant for palm tree lovers in Florida, not Minnesotans who grew up on snow and hockey.

However, the exercise fanatic in me couldn't be happier with the weather. Instead of workouts taking place exclusively within the confines of a gym, I'm still able to hop on my bike or go for a run if I please. Instead of having to bundle up like this just to go outside, a light jacket or a sweatshirt are still proving to be sufficient. Aside from exercise, it's also nice being able to drive on the road without having to worry the snow and ice that are synonymous with holiday season car accidents.

I can't say that I want the weather to stay like this all winter. But considering how many months there are until spring, I'm ok with this for the time being.

Just for fun, here's a Calvin and Hobbes comic to encapsulate the mood of snow-loving Minnesotans: