Category Archives: Ball Club

02 May

An Epic Road Trip

Last weekend, a friend and I set out on what would be an epic road and cycling trip to Minneapolis.

With both of our bikes loaded up in the back, we set out on Thursday morning down PTH 75 to the border. It is a path so familiar that I can almost picture it in my sleep, yet I always manage to spot something new along the route.

I noticed that the speedway near St. Adolphe is on its third name. The former Winnipeg Speedway and Victory Lanes is now Red River Speedway. Perhaps it has been this way for some time. I’d check into it if I cared more.
I was struck by the number of new homes going up north and south of Ste. Agathe. I never would have thought that a flood-prone community like this would be the hotbed of new home construction. I hope that these homes are built with two or more floors so that the lucky homeowners have a place to keep their valued possessions dry.

I also noticed that there was a new wind farm south of the junction of PTH 14. It looked similar in size to the wind farm off PTH 23 near St. Leon.

Regrettably, one of the things that hadn’t changed was the low-lying bridge over the Morris River that floods like clockwork each spring and forces the closure of the highway. Fortunately, it was still open for us, but it still amazes me that the government has not replaced it. They have replaced numerous bridges over the Floodway, yet what is unquestionably the Achilles heel of the Manitoba highway system has received no attention whatsoever.

In reality, however, I shouldn’t be surprised. The NDP government has shown that its priorities lie elsewhere. Like building that $200-million saloon in Fort Garry and lining Mark Chipman’s pocket, for instance.

Before crossing the border, we stopped at the Emerson Duty Free store to use Manitoba’s favorite bathroom. Just as we stepped inside, this sign jumped out at me:

 
I should have asked one of the clerks where “Danada” was.

This is the exact sign that I got a picture of several years ago and it still hasn’t been corrected. Perhaps they’re leaving it as a conversation piece. More likely, however, they don’t care enough to change it.

I can only shake my head.

While waiting in the line at U.S. Customs, I noticed the following sign:

It’s “Douane”, not “Duane.” Looks like people on both sides of the border are guilty of bad spelling on signs.

After a short wait, we were on our way south on I-29. Interestingly, it was the first time that I had passed through one of the car lanes since the new building went up at the Pembina Port of Entry many years ago. Each of my recent crossings has been through the bus lane on the east side.

For those of you old enough to remember, there used to be a small, box-like building with pale green tiles on the sides that used to stand at that location. Facing the incoming traffic was a stone engraved with the name of President John F. Kennedy. Today, the stone facing the bus lane is engraved with the name of William Jefferson Clinton, the husband of the sitting President at that time.

At my request, we stopped at the Alexander Henry rest area near Exit 180.


The current structure bears little resemblance to the one that stood there when I was a child. It was built like an old-style fort with tall, spiked wooden planks, faded and weather-beaten, where kids like me could run around and play the role of someone like General Custer protecting the homesteaders.
It was when that fort was still standing that I last visited that rest area. Back then, we were still using rotary dial phones. Today, free Wi-Fi is available there. How times have changed.
I noticed a number of sugar beet trucks on both sides of the highway as we got closer to Sucker Town. Those same trucks would be dotting the highway on our way back as well.
Between Sucker Town and Fargo, scenes like this were commonplace on both sides of the highway:
 

Welcome to the Red River Valley.

We stopped at West Acres in Fargo for lunch and I picked up a sub at the Subway in the food court. After passing through the line, I am convinced that it is a condition of employment that each “sandwich artist” must have at least three rings in each ear and at least one in their lip.

After a lengthy break, at my suggestion, we proceeded east along US 10 through downtown Fargo.

It had been at least three decades since I had last been through downtown Fargo. At left in the shot above is the train station where my mother had once come from Winnipeg, back in the day when the train ran from Winnipeg to Fargo.

After crossing into the great state of Minnesota, we continued east along a route that I had not been on for 14 years and that my friend had never travelled before.
I noticed a peculiar sign past Mile 29.
This sign advises motorists of the presence of snowmobiles in the area. There were many such signs to follow. It was an obvious indicator that we were not on an Interstate highway.
We made a brief stop at Detroit Lakes to check out the snow-covered lake. On our way back to the highway, we were following this van:

The plate on the back reads, “WHITE EARTH OJIBWE”, “INDIAN NATION.” Yes, these plates are legal.

Continuing east, we ended up in New York … Mills.
 
Near Mile 92, we passed Oink Joint Road.
I am not beneath digitally altering pictures for a joke, but even I, bearer of a vivid and sometimes twisted imagination, could not have come up with this name.
Our next stop was Ernie’s Liquor/Tobacco/Gas Station/Grocery Store in the eastern end of Staples. I walked in and the handful of clerks turned to gaze at this alien creature wearing an Atlanta Thrashers jersey. I wasn’t a local and I might as well have had a flashing blue light on my head to advertise it. This is what happens when you take the road less travelled.
While my friend picked up another coffee, I went across the street to get a good shot of the nearby US 10/MN 210 markers. After we took off, I can imagine some of the chatter that took place there for the rest of the day.
“I wonder what that guy in the Thrashers jersey was doing taking pictures of a highway sign.”
“Beats me. Takes all kinds.”
“He was getting up really close to it. What’s the matter? Never seen a highway sign before?”
I have seen a highway sign before, but I’ve never had such a good shot at a US 10 and MN 210 marker before.
Moving on, we turned to follow MN 210 at Motley and went through Baxter and Brainerd. We both made the observation that we hadn’t seen any S.P.R.M. plates since leaving Fargo. That fact disappointed neither of us.
In Brainerd, we hit their version of a rush hour.


Brainerd is a town of just over 14,000 people. I didn’t think that they would even have a rush hour. Maybe it was source of pride as a way to signify that they’ve really arrived as a community.
We turned off and eventually arrived at Garrison, a small community located on the western shore of Mille Lacs Lake.

Again, the lake was covered in snow, but if you’ve never been out this way, it is quite a scenic area. Nearby is Grand Casino Mille Lacs for those of you inclined to throw your money away. There’s a hotel where you can stay as well.

We followed US 169 south towards the Twin Cities and arrived at our hotel in Eden Prairie.


It would be my seventh stay at this hotel and it would again be a good experience. I recognized many of the staff from past visits and I was thrilled to be there in good health. When I was there around this time last year, I had a fever and was badly sick.

However, I really didn’t need to know that the front desk clerk who served me likes long walks along the beach. No, I didn’t ask. He had it printed on his name tag. Why is a question that I don’t have an answer to.
The following morning, we took our bikes out of the back of the truck and headed for downtown Minneapolis. The trail was only a couple of miles from the hotel and after navigating through some construction, our first stop was Lake Calhoun.
I had circled Lake Calhoun last year, but this postcard shot of the Minneapolis skyline never gets old. It was a challenge to keep my attention focused on the trail instead of looking over at the skyline.
After covering the Lake Calhoun area, we took the Kenilworth Trail.
  
The infrastructure for cyclists was no less awe-inspiring than it was in my visit last year. There are signs pointing the way almost like an Interstate highway. There are often separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians. When there aren’t separate lanes, pedestrians keep to the right. The system works because the people make it work. They respect each other’s space.

When being passed by other cyclists, it was “On your left,” and “Thanks, I appreciate it,” after getting over to the side.
Dog owners, of which there were many, kept their pets on leashes. Through two full days of covering these trails, we saw only one person with their dog off the leash. Even in that instance, the owner pulled her dogs to one side to let us pass.
My friend also observed that he hardly found any dog crap lining the trails. People actually pick up after their pets. I saw a couple stopping to pick up after their dog and I felt like taking a picture of it.
It is the exact opposite in Winnipeg.
Pedestrians three and four abreast spread themselves across the width of the trail as if they are strolling through their backyard. They swear at you for having the audacity to be there.
Dog owners turn the many trails into off-leash dog parks. It is increasingly rare to find a dog on a leash. Even in those rare instances, the dog is at the end of a long leash where the dog is taking the owner for a walk instead of vice versa.
We continued on, going past Target Field, ending up near the Hennepin Avenue bridge.


From there, we followed West River Parkway to the Stone Arch Bridge.
From there, you can get some spectacular views of the downtown skyline and nearby St. Anthony Falls.

  
As I do each time I visit Minneapolis, I made a specific point of stopping at and touring the Cancer Survivors Park in front of Marquette Plaza.

I am not a cancer survivor, but many of you are no doubt aware of my connection to the late Carli Ward, the subject of my second book. Carli passed away from cancer at the age of 25 and I always make this trek in her honor.

The slogan on this poignant memorial could just as easily apply to Carli.

I would have liked to have spent more time downtown and perhaps tour the skyway, but the weekday crowds made it difficult. Instead, we decided to hop the light rail and head for the Mall of America in suburban Bloomington.
For those of you, like my friend, who had never taken the light rail before, I would strongly encourage it. It is an experience that makes Winnipeg’s attempt at the so-called “Rapid Transit” look utterly foolish and ridiculous.
The train leaves downtown, then speeds along Hiawatha Avenue before rocketing through the tunnel alongside the airport. It comes out and circles around to the Mall’s east side, where you can take the escalator up to the entrance.


What did we do with our bikes? We just wheeled them in and stood them up on the racks provided beside the doors.

We circled around the Mall and went a few blocks down nearby American Boulevard. In front of one of the many hotels in the area, there were a few youngsters burning off some excess energy on the grass. They shouted at us on our way past, “Canada is the greatest country in the world!”
I find such a belief inexplicable when comparing the Twin Cities to Winnipeg.
We passed by nothing but smiling faces on our travels throughout the four-day trip. Yet everyone in Winnipeg is grumpy. Rage permeates every nook and cranny of the city. It is as if the entire population of Winnipeg has been infected by alien DNA, much like what happens in the classic movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Throughout my many visits, it never ceases to amaze me as to how two peoples so close geographically can be so different in every way.
I shot back at the kids, “No, it’s not!”
We returned downtown shortly thereafter on the same train ticket. For the amazingly low fare of $1.75, you can ride anywhere in the transit system for 2½ hours. From there, after a wrong turn, we retraced our path back to the hotel.
On our way up the 58’ hill on Smetana Road in Minnetonka, I noticed this sign:

How kind of them to provide free trash for their residents.
All in all, it was an incredible day. And we got to do it all again the next morning.
We began Saturday’s journey at Lake Nokomis, located in the southeast corner of Minneapolis.

We passed Lake Hiawatha, where I stopped for another stunning shot of the Minneapolis skyline.

We followed the Minnehaha Parkway and ended up at Minnehaha Falls. I had last been there in November 2009 and would have liked to have seen it again, but, unfortunately, they were in the middle of kicking off a marathon. The best course of action was to get out of Dodge, so to speak, and we followed the trail south to Fort Snelling State Park.

The park is nestled along the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and provides some scenic views of both. The trails in the park were not as well maintained, but we were away from the crowds enjoying scenery that was no less interesting.

We reached the Fort Snelling Mendota Bridge and crossed it.
If you’d like to see the view looking down from the bridge, you’ll have to get one on your own. I have a fear of bridges like this and all I was thinking about was getting to the other side without falling over the edge.

On our way back, we stopped for a shot on the Minnehaha Parkway. It snakes its way through a residential neighborhood along Minnehaha Creek and connects to Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun.

While looking down at the creek, we both noticed how clean the water looked. There was a noticeable absence of litter. In Winnipeg, waterways like this are used as garbage dumps.
My friend had some errands to run, so he left and I continued on, following Minnehaha Parkway west to Lake Harriet.

Crowds were bordering on oppressive on the trails, but again, there were no close calls or collisions. These friendly Minnesotans know how to get along. A gathering of cyclists and pedestrians of less than half the size would fill the emergency room of every hospital in Winnipeg.

I circled Lake Harriet and stopped at the bandshell at the northwest corner of the lake.


From there, I continued north back to the familiar confines of Lake Calhoun. Badly in need of some sustenance, I went looking for a Subway and finally found one tucked away in the Calhoun Village strip mall north of Lake Street. I could have used a lunch break much earlier, but the disadvantage of following residential trails is that there are few restaurants in sight of the trail. There are times that it seems like there is a Subway on every street corner, but, in reality, there isn’t.

While enjoying a much-needed break, I noticed that a fellow cyclist came by. He simply stopped outside the Subway, put his kickstand down and walked inside without locking his bike up to anything. It is a scene that I haven’t seen since my last trip to Gimli. A small town feel in a major city.
I wanted to go farther, but my tank was running on fumes at this point, so I made my way back to the hotel in the late afternoon to wrap up a 75-mile weekend.
I do not travel well and though I was looking forward to returning home the next day, I was just wishing that home wasn’t in the capital of the S.P.R.M.
On Sunday morning, we took I-35W north to get one last glimpse of the Minneapolis skyline.


We continued north and headed for Duluth, located on the southwest tip of Lake Superior.

At my request, we took the exit to cross the first of two bridges over St. Louis Bay and into neighboring Wisconsin.

This is a mid-span shot on the Bong Bridge:

The scenery when crossing the bridge is breathtaking. When you reach the other side, however, the city of Superior leaves much to be desired.

Rows of dilapidated homes line the streets of the run-down community. It looks like a place where time has stood still for the past couple of decades.

I did, however, take the opportunity to grab some shots of a Wisconsin highway sign. A variation of that sign is now my Facebook profile picture.
We did stop near Barker’s Island and I got some shots of the resort, whaling ship and the Duluth skyline.

We headed back for Duluth via the Blatnick Bridge.

This is the confluence of US 53, I-535 and WIS 35. 5-3-5-3-5-3-5. Note to highway planners: There are other digits besides “3” and “5”.



We crossed back into Minnesota and made our way to Canal Park and the waterfront area.

Looking at the skyline, the homes on the hill facing the waterfront are laid out like a Newfoundland fishing village. Hordes of seagulls were circling over our head. Duluth seemed equal parts Gimli, Kenora and St. John’s. Strangely, I would find myself missing Duluth more than the Twin Cities once we left. I only wish that we had more time there, but I knew that we had a long journey still ahead of us.

We did, however, find time to tour the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center.

I found it quite an interesting place and I was glad that we took the time to see it.

There was a guestbook and I added the entry, “Curtis Walker, Winnipeg, SPRM.” If you’re reading this from the Visitor Center and scratching your head wondering where the SPRM is, you can look up at the title of my blog and figure it out.

We made our way through the touristy Canal Park area and stopped at the Subway for a lunch break.

After a couple of brief photo stops, we headed west on US 2 for what would be another scenic drive.


We stopped for a bathroom break in Grand Rapids, where I picked up another shot of a misspelled sign while waiting to relieve myself.



It’s “Chisago”, not “Cisago.”

Moving on, we passed through the town of Ball Club.


Yes, there is such a place. Those of you who remember listening to the late George Kell on Detroit Tigers’ television broadcasts might recall how Kell would always refer to the Tigers opponent not by their proper name, but by the generic “Ball Club” moniker. It was the “Toronto Ball Club” and the “Oakland Ball Club.” The Yankees, however, were special. They were simply the “Yankees.”

We then passed through the Chippewa National Forest.

I couldn’t help but notice this particular sign:

This lake would be illegal in Canada since it is called “Six Mile Lake” rather than “Ten Kilometer Lake.”
After a long drive, we eventually made it to Sucker Town. Travelling down Washington Street made me feel like I was in a time warp. So little had changed over the many decades since I had last seen it.
We stopped briefly at the South Winnipeg Mall before a final stop at the Super One Foods across the street.

I didn’t take advantage of that deal on “Hienz” Ketchup. I did, however, pick up two bottles of Spicy Hot V-8 juice, something that is unavailable north of the border. This $5 purchase was the only thing I had to declare at the border.

At Les Douanes du Quebec, we were greeted with a “Bonjour” from a guard who appeared to be over the age of 30. It was the first time in recent memory that I had been served by a guard who had obviously reached the age of majority. He sent us on our way quickly and we soon returned home.

It was a tremendous experience, but it was bittersweet as it may very well have been my last visit to the Twin Cities. Those who know me know why and I’ll leave it at that.