Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hello Target Field, it's nice to finally meet you

When it comes to upcoming events or activities, anticipation has a way of sabotaging our enjoyment of them.

Quick example: The summer before my junior year of college, a few friends and I went to go see "Snakes on a Plane" in theater. Yes, that would be the Samuel Jackson action movie where he does battle against -- you guessed it -- snakes on a plane. Obviously, we weren't seeing it because we thought it would be an epic drama with captivating dialogue; it was because we wanted see Samuel Jackson beat up snakes and spout off his signature line of the movie (just for fun, here's the edited version of it). Because of that (and the fact that we went to a cheaper matinee show), we all thought it was an enjoyable movie.

Conversely, I went to see "J. Edgar" last winter fully expecting it to be an Oscar-caliber film. Critics were panning it at the time, but I figured it had an award-winning director (Clint Eastwood) and one of Hollywood's finest actors (Leo DiCaprio) behind it. On top of that, it was a biopic about one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in American history. How could that miss?

However, after suffering through more than two hours of convoluted storytelling, unexplored plot points and ghastly old person makeup, I began to understand exactly how it could miss. Considering the hype surrounding "J. Edgar" leading up to its release (some thought it would lead to DiCaprio's first Oscar), it was an extreme letdown. I remember leaving the theater frantically texting friends not to see it and debated on whether or not I should ask the cashier for my money back. After thinking about it, I determined that "J. Edgar" was the most disappointing movie I ever saw in theater, a strong statement seeing as how I saw "Batman & Robin" (click here for the gory details).

Now, taking away all the hype and buzz surrounding the two movies, most critics would say "J. Edgar" is a superior movie to "Snakes on a Plane." The acting is better, it's less campy and the main characters have considerably more depth. However, because of the separate expectations I had for the two movies, I enjoyed seeing Samuel Jackson beat up snakes and look cool for 90 minutes more than I did watching a biopic about J. Edgar Hoover -- a weird thing to say when you were a history major in college.

It took two years to finally catch a
game here, but it was worth the wait.
So what does all of this have to do with a blog post about Target Field? Well, as I was getting ready to leave for my much-anticipated bike trip to the Twins' ballpark, I worried that I was setting myself for a "J. Edgar"-esque letdown.

Admittedly, I was pretty pumped for this trip, probably more than I'd been for any other bike trip aside from RAGBRAI. Seeing my first game at Target Field was exciting enough by itself; the fact that I was making a bike trip out of it was just the icing on the cake. I must have packed and re-packed my gear five times the day before leaving and had trouble falling asleep Friday night because I so excited thinking "This is it, I'm FINALLY doing it."

The next morning, the anticipation got replaced -- at least somewhat -- by nervousness, as I woke up and started running through my head all the things that could go wrong.

What if I got lost on an unfamiliar road? What if I got a broken spoke or some other kind of bike malfunction I couldn't readily fix? What if I ran out of water in the middle of nowhere? What if the weather forecasts were wrong and I wound up having to pedal through head winds for 60+ miles? What if it started downpouring and caused the game to get cancelled? What if I couldn't find my parents (who had the tickets) and missed the game because of it?

The video of myself I took of
myself while biking turned out badly,
but I think the photo looks cool.
Some of those issues are things I've encountered on other trips, but this wasn't a regular bike adventure; this was a pilgrimage to see a Twins game. I couldn't go at a leisurely pace and shrug it off if something went wrong. If I got a flat tire or took a wrong turn, I could miss the start of the game or miss it altogether.

I embarked from Faribault bracing myself for anything, but as the ride began to unfold, it soon became clear that my worries were all for nothing. My bike was handling as well as ever, the wind was indeed in my favor and, because of my early departure, the hot temperatures predicted for that day hadn't come to fruition yet. The meticulous route planning also paid off, as I was able to navigate the back roads between Northfield and Farmington and readjust my route when I came across an unexpected dirt road.

Simply put, the ride went splendidly. I made it to Minneapolis with enough extra time to take a quick shower at the Anytime Fitness near Target Field and went to grab a drink with my parents at a nearby pub before the game. I even had enough time the play around with my camera and try to take pictures/videos of myself while biking (the video did not turn out so well, all you see is chin).

My dad and I have been to
a lot of Twins games
together, but this was our
first at Target Field.
The occurrences after the bike ride were equally wonderful. The game was an enjoyable one to watch, with our seats being comfortably in the shade and the Twins trouncing the lowly Chicago Cubs 11-3. Target Field also lived up to the hype I'd been hearing about it since it opened. It's a beautiful stadium to walk through and bask in, complete with breathtaking views of downtown Minneapolis, a bevy of concession options and a number of other quirks that make it unique to Minnesota (the Kasota stone exterior, for example).

Walking around the ballpark, it almost didn't feel like I was watching the same team after spending so many years going to Twins games at the lowly Metrodome. The fact that I got to experience it for the first time with my dad -- the man who introduced me to baseball in the first place -- made it all the more special.

The trip's fun didn't stop once the game was over either. Post-game activities included an outdoors blues festival, a trip to Fulton Brewery and my introduction -- and immediate infatuation -- with Russian Imperial Stout.

While biking over to St. Paul that evening, my friend Nick and I also came across the psychedelic Northern Spark arts festival on the Stone Arch Bridge. Neither of us had any idea what the festival was or why it was clogging bike traffic on the bridge, but considering it featured booming music, puppet shows, eclectic works of art and bikes decked out with everything from Christmas lights to paper- mâché dragon heads, we were at least intrigued.

Yep, the Stone Arch Bridge was
quite a scene on Saturday night.
Once we finally got to Nick's place to crash for the evening (thanks again for the hospitality), I once again found myself laying awake, this time on Nick's futon mattress. Instead of the anticipation and nervousness of the night before, my mind was awash with disbelief:

"Did this day really just happen? Did I actually pull this off and did I EVER expect it to be this cool?"

It is a rare -- and welcome -- occurrence to have something you've built up so much in your head turn out exactly the way you wanted it to. The trip wasn't entirely picture-perfect -- I opted to have Nick drive me back to Faribault the next day instead of biking it due to EXTREMELY ominous weather conditions -- but considering the concerns I had at the start of it, I couldn't be happier.

After all the buildup and anticipation, it was nice to finally say "hello" to Target Field.

I was planning on concluding this post with a video of my trip, but since I haven't perfected the art of filming myself while biking, here's a clip of Charlie Parr performing at that blues festival instead. I figure my readership will enjoy hearing his guitar more than they'd enjoy hearing my voice anyway:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Target-ing a bike trip to a Twins game (get it?)

Well, I'm finally doing it. I'm finally going on the bike trip I've been wanting to do for almost two years. A day ride that mixes city trails with country roads, goes past a waterfall and ends with catching a Twins game.

That's right. This coming Saturday (two days from now), I'm hopping on my bike and going to my first game at Target Field.

I mentioned my intent to do this in a post a couple of months ago. Really, it's something I've wanted to do ever since I biked past the Twins' newest baseball cathedral for the first time two summers ago. I love biking and I love baseball, so it only makes sense to combine the two into one glorious ride.

Given my long-standing desire to pursue this trip, one would think that this specific date has been in the works for some time. However, that's definitely not the case. I didn't know I had the weekend off until recently and even then, I wasn't aware that the Twins were in town until I looked up their schedule after being apprised of the unexpected days off.

Even after learning all of that, I still wasn't totally sure I wanted to pull the trigger on the trip. The game is an interleague matchup against the Cubs, and since interleague bouts are considered "premium games," the tickets are more expensive than regular games. Plus the game starts at 1:10 p.m., meaning I'll have to leave my apartment no later than 7 a.m. if I want any chance of biking the 64 miles (bike route here) I need to cover to make it Target Field on time (definitely not a morning person, so that'll suck). On top of all that, Saturday's weather forecast calls for clear skies and high temps, meaning I get to look forward to 90 degree heat and sun bearing down on me for most of the ride.

Those were all drawbacks I had to consider when deciding what to do with the weekend. But after thinking about it, I decided to dismiss them on the basis of something I've come to realize about myself: That I've been too caught up in making excuses not to do the trip instead of just shutting up and doing it. That's why I've been wanting to do the trip for so long but never got around to it; I kept talking myself out of it.

I think that's something a lot of people struggle with when it comes to doing something adventurous or challenging. It's easy to go the "safe route" with things and stay within the comfort of regular routine. It's familiar and you know you have reasonable control over what happens to you.

But if you're anything like me, there's always a small part of you wondering "What else is out there?" or "I want to challenge myself." It's the reason why so many people have a bucket of things they'd like to do and places they'd like to see before they die.

We crave adventure and yearn for challenge, but most of the time, the vast majority of us do little about it. Either we get too caught up in everyday life or we get scared and start making excuses. Or some combination of both.

Sometimes, all it takes to get past that is telling yourself "Screw it, I'm going to go for it," which is exactly what happened to me. It might not be the most planned-out-in-advance trip ever, but sometimes, you have to be spontaneous to break through that wall of self-doubt. (note: The spontaneity is also why this post is being written a mere two days before the trip. I wanted to write about it in advance, but it's hard to do things "in advance" when the decision is spur of the moment)

As an added bonus, I spoke to my dad earlier this week and convinced him and my step mom to join me for the game. Topping that off, my dad told me that the Famous Dave's in uptown Minneapolis has an all-day blues festival going on, essentially planning out my post-game activities for me.

For my regular readers, I'll be packing my laptop and -- internet permitting -- doing Twitter updates throughout the day. If there's some downtime during the day, I'll also try to hammer out a blog entry and possibly post photos/video.

Just typing out this blog entry made me more excited for the trip. Here's hoping for some glorious tail wind.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rollerblading to work? Yep, it happened

“The first time Dad tried Rollerblades he had a bad wipeout on the sidewalk in front of our house- his feet went flying out from under him and he bruised his tailbone. "If God had ment us to have wheels on our feet he would have put them there," he said a few minutes later, searching the linen closet for the heating pad." -- Evan Kuhlman, The Last Invisible Boy

Sometimes, the best way to keep life interesting is to make normally simple actions as difficult as possible.

I know that sounds weird, but bear with me for a second.  Anyone who's ever had a regular job with regular hours knows what it's like to get stuck in the rut of routine. Days blend together, activities seem bland and life gets boring. After awhile, you find yourself drifting through life and possibly having this conversation with a therapist.

Weekend getaways and the occasional vacation can help remedy this, but I've found that an easier way to deal with it on a day-to-day basis is to add little quirks to your routine, even if it means adding a slight degree of difficulty. That way, even the most trivial of activities can seem like an accomplishment or adventure.

It's the reason why I wrote a column last year about my experience of grocery shopping on a bike. It's also the reason why, on a recent sunny day, I decided to put away my car keys AND leave my bike at home when it came to go to work. Instead, I resorted to another form of wheeled transportation: rollerblades.

I have a confession: Despite growing up in the "State of Hockey," I've never really been big on skating, whether it be on wheels or blades. As a matter of fact, until recently, the quote at the top of this post would have summed up thoughts on rollerblading pretty well. 

This is probably how I looked
rollerblading as a kid.
I took a few too many falls at the local roller rink as a kid, got frustrated and eventually decided that activities without skates were less embarrassing. Consequently, whenever my school did field trips to the rink, while other classmates skated around to bad 90's music, I kept myself busy playing air hockey and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" in the adjacent arcade area (beating that game was one of my highlights of fifth grade, even if it took 2 weeks of allowance money to do so).

I only really got into rollerblading this year. I bought a pair of used rollerblades after college (the classic "I'm bored and need more hobbies" purchase), but after a few initial uses, they pretty much never came out of my closet. Rollerblading became the odd-man-out for my exercise-oriented activities. It didn't come naturally to me like running, nor did it offer the camaraderie of team sports or the traveling/adventure aspects of cycling. I couldn't blade more than a couple miles without my feet and hips getting sore and it always felt like more of a chore to use them than it was enjoyable, never a good sign.

In the last couple of months though, I've had a change of heart. I bought new wheels, watched a few YouTube videos on proper form (paying extra close attention on how to stop) and started doing regular blade sessions around the neighborhood.

So where did this new-found rollerblade ambition come from? It might have been my desire to reverse the embarrassing memories of rollerblading as a child. Or it could have been an attempt to validate my ownership of the skates and turn them into something more that dust-collecting wall decor.

More than likely though, it can be attributed to the aforementioned boredom. Ever since finishing the Falls Duathlon last month, life's been a bit mundane. I'm not really training for any event at present (taking some of the incentive out of doing hard workouts) and the days seem to be following routine around work, bike rides and the occasional trips to the gym. Even weekends started to feel formulaic: Visiting family, visiting friends and embarking on the occasional downtown night life excursion. Those activities are all fine and good, but when done in repetition, life can start to get a little bland.

I needed a new challenge to spice things up, eventually deciding that rollerblading to work would be cool to try. So after getting comfortable with rollerblading on residential roads, I decided to give the work commute a shot. I already knew a low-traffic route to work via biking, so I figured as long as I took it slow and watched for cars, I would be fine.

I won't lie and say it was a glorious triumph. Crossing the railroad tracks on the way to work was an challenge, as was trying to come to a complete stop on a downward slope. I also came to find out that the roads around town have a lot more cracks and potholes in them than anyone could ever notice in a car (you pretty much feeling EVERYTHING in rollerblades). 

The rollerblading home from the office was even more of an adventure. I couldn't get my work done before dark, so in an effort to keep my clumsy rollerblading as far away from nighttime traffic as possible, I changed my return route to use the city recreational path that follows the Straight River downtown and eventually winds around the southern edge of town by the middle school. The path crosses with Prairie Avenue after the middle school, a road that runs right past my apartment. It's a much better route for avoiding traffic, but it adds an extra couple of miles to the trip (my complete rollerblade route can be viewed here).

As I would come to find out on the trail, cars not being able to see me wasn't the only thing I had to worry about. Even with my headlamp, I had trouble seeing objects in front of me (rocks, small branches, dirt/sand) that I normally would've been able to avoid. Consequently, I took a couple of stumbles along the way and ended up with an all-too-familiar scrape on my knee (it's like being 11 years old all over again).

A few blocks from home, I also had the added excitement of having to speed away from a barking dog that was chasing me. It wasn't a huge dog by any means, but considering the fact that the it was unleashed at 10:30 at night, I was pretty terrified (this movie scene comes to mind). Note to whoever owns a dog near the corner of Mitchell of Prairie: Please keep a more watchful eye on your pet.

However, once I got past the angry dog and finally made it to my apartment. That old feeling of gratification and accomplishment came back to me. Even though my day only consisted of going to work, watching a movie and reading a few chapters out of a book, it felt exciting.

Maybe the next time I go to a roller rink (Do those still exist, or am I too old?), I'll do some actual rollerblading. Unless they still have the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" arcade. Then all bets are off.