Canoeing Minnehaha Creek

I had ambitious adventure goals for 2013 and didn’t complete any of them. I had a pretty valid reason since my second son was born that year, and, well, that dwarfs every other adventure I could have had. One of those goals was to canoe down Minnehaha Creek, something I’ve always wanted to do but have never gotten around to. Last weekend I finally decided to get my act together and canoe a section of the creek with my oldest son and a friend. Goals for the day were pretty straightforward: 1) expose my son to the joys of canoeing (he’s never been on a canoe, he’s 4), 2) hang out with a good friend, 3) have a local adventure in my backyard, 4) enjoy gorgeous weather.

Check, check, check, and check.

One of the things that endears me to wear I live in the Twin Cities (and the Twin Cities as a whole for that matter) is the accessibility of trails, waterways, and outdoor recreation you can get to easily within a 30 minute or less drive. It takes me about 5 minutes to get to a canoe landing along the creek from my house, but there are many places you can put in so long as you do it between Gray’s Bay and Minnehaha Falls. That’s a pretty good stretch and affords a lot of opportunities.  The forest green Lincoln canoe that sits on the side of my house doesn’t get the usage it deserves, so this was a terrific opportunity to give it a run.

Since my son has never been on a canoe and he has an uneasy relationship with bodies of water that he can’t walk into from shore and are not in our bathtub, I spent days hyping up the trip by extolling the virtues of a day paddling a watercraft. He was into it, at least he was into the idea of it. My friend, Erik, had done it once before so I relied on his knowledge of the winding Minnehaha Creek and what stretches were more nuanced than others. Initially I had envisioned putting in at Gray’s Bay and going as far down the creek as possible, but Erik wisely suggested we might want to shorten the trip since we had a 4 year old in tow, and 4 year olds aren’t known to want to do much of anything for more than an hour at a time. The truncated version we settled on was to put in behind the Minnetonka Civic Center and pull out around the Knollwood Target off highway 7. Since I have kids and he does not, we had to take out my son’s car seat and load it into the canoe, which works just fine as long as you don’t mind a damp car seat, which no one did.

The trip started off great. My son was excited, we waved to a friendly kayaker, and saw a flock of geese take off and land on the water right in front of us. It’s the type of thing that I take for granted as an adult but watching my son enjoy these simplicities puts a new frame around most experiences, this one included.

We passed under many roads, paddled through “caves” – as my son puts it – and enjoyed the surrounding marsh land. Generally, things went really well, although we did have two tricky spots.

The first was around the Minnetonka Mills area, where the creek is shallower, the current is faster, and there are more rocks to run into. We bumped a few rocks along the way and some scraped the bottom. It really wasn’t a big deal (pretty fun in fact for a grownup kid) but my son was frightened by it and he thought we were going to sink and wanted to stop, which of course we did not. This however was the beginning of a long stretch that caused a bit of anxiety for the little guy, but we soldiered on. We began the trip with me steering and Erik in the front. As we learned halfway through the trip after switching positions, he’s far better at steering a canoe than I am, and I’m better an mindlessly paddling and being told what to do.

The Linc got a little banged up on the underside, but nothing we couldn't handle.
The Linc got a little banged up, nothing we couldn’t handle.

The second tricky section was around St. Alban’s road, just east of Hopkins Crossroad. See, the creek bends a lot and when the current picks up, there are more hazards in the water, the creek narrows, and you have to deal with low hanging branches that reach out over the water, there’s a lot more you have to consider. Not the least of which is a 4 year old who’s crying right behind you that he doesn’t want to hit anymore rocks. We did graze a sizable rock alongside the canoe that made us pretty unstable. I – being of sound mind and body – threw my leg out and plunged it into the creek to stabilize the boat so we wouldn’t capsize (it’s not that deep). Thinking I had just saved the day, I turned around just in time to see Erik falling off the back end. He – also of sound mind and body – realized in the moment of turbulence as his weight shifted and he was halfway out of the canoe, that he could either try to ride it out and fight to keep us all up, or, he could bail off the back. He chose door number two and bailed, getting soaked and cracking his elbow on a rock. We both laughed it off as a great time (his laughter came much later than mine, understandably so), but my son did not.

Got a little wet during this portion.
The spill.

After these two minor instances of distress, the rest of the trip was quite peaceful and calm. The little man eventually took a greater interest in the his surroundings as we counted the cranes and turtles along the way of which there were many.

Even though I’m sure there were times he thought it was curtains for him my son had a great time. How do I know? Because he’s still telling stories about it days after the fact. So even though there are times when the water is rough and you feel like you’re going down, sometimes the best thing to do is to keep paddling so you can get to the end, and upon reaching the end, you’ll look back and realize that the payoff was worth it. The payoff being the trip itself and not the final destination. I pray he doesn’t forget that, but if he does, we’ll just have to go on another adventure.

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Sailing Lake Minnetonka

My wife and I do not live the life aquatic.  Although this is the land of 10,000 lakes we do not own a boat, nor do we have access to a boat (other than our canoe, which seldom sees the water, which I’m trying to change).  We’ve had a peculiar desire to try our hand at sailing, which is difficult if you don’t own a sailboat and have no discernible sailing acumen.  Lucky for us, I found a deal via Amazon Local for Sail Away Sailing School on Lake Minnetonka.

It was a simple two-hour excursion on a boat that was captained by Joan (that’s Captain Joan to you!) Gilmore, who was terrific and knowledgeable about explaining sailing to beginners such as ourselves.  We learned basic ideas about sailing, parts of the boat, how the geometry of a boat plays with the wind and waves, etc.  There was another couple on the boat with us who were also going through a training period although they were more advanced and had their sights set on sailing in the Caribbean on a catamaran.

If you’re ever in the market for a good afternoon trying something new outdoors, I highly recommend checking out a sailing lesson led by Sail Away Sailing School.  It’s very accessible, affordable, and is a great intro level to sailing.  Although sailing is not an “extreme” sport (at least not how we were doing it), it is both very relaxing without being boring in ideal weather conditions, because there’s always something to monitor and keep track of.  It’s a good blend of doing something active while not being too strenuous.  There are plenty of other activities for that.

What’s the future of our sailing careers?  Who knows.  For now, my wife and I would be happy just to go around Lake Minnetonka by ourselves someday, but sailing to all points of the earth does sound like it’d be a great adventure….to me anyway.

Adventure Goals for 2013

As 2012 is left behind and a new year begins, I have some goals (lofty in some respects, realistic in others) to have a more adventure filled year than 2012.  The biggest adventure I’ll be having, is that my wife and I are expecting our second son in March.  Nothing on this list will give me more joy than the joy I’ll be experiencing on March 19th (assuming baby #2 is punctual).  With all of these things I aim to accomplish in the new year, they will only happen if I can successfully balance adventure and family.  It’s very important for me to spend quality time with the fam, and adventuring out in the wild while my wife is at home with two kids both under the age of 4 would put me in the running for worst husband of 2013.  So, there needs to be a balance.  As part of that balance, I’m looking to try to have more local adventures.  Things I can do close to the Twin Cities or the rare northern Minnesota trip.  Obviously I’d love to take my wife and sons on all of these excursions, but the boys aren’t old enough for most of them yet.
With that in mind, here are the things I hope to try to do in 2013.

Run a 50 mile Trail Ultramarathon
Last summer I ran my first ultra, the Afton Trail Ultramarathon.  It was a great experience, albeit a very tough and challenging one.  This biggest commitment of this isn’t the race itself, but the time investment the training necessitates.  By my estimation, if I can run 30 miles, what’s another 20?  Right?  Right?  I’ve got my eye on you Superior Trail Race.

Climb at Barn Bluff in Red Wing and Blue Mounds State Park
Taylor’s Falls is great for a Twin Citian such as myself, and there’s still a lot of routes I haven’t done there, but a trip to either Barn Bluff in Red Wing or Blue Mounds our in Luverne would be a lot of fun  I believe Barn Bluff is mostly lead climbing, so…
***Bonus Goal ***
Learn how to lead climb..

Mountain bike Cuyuna Trails
Two falls ago I biked Cuyuna and loved it.  I hope to be able to take another crack at it.
***Bonus Goal ***
Mountain bike way more often than I did in 2012.  After getting a new bike towards the end of 2011, I found it tough find time to hit the trails.  Shame on me.

Paddle the Minnehaha Creek Watershed point to point
This is basically in my backyard so I have no reason not to do it, other than low waters because of a drought and the need for an aluminum canoe.  But other than that I don’t have a good excuse.  It’s pretty meandering and easy from what I understand.  Bonus points if I take my (then) 3-year-old son on his first canoe ride.


Hike section of the Superior Hiking Trail
I love hiking in northern Minnesota, but haven’t been able to hike the SHT for a few years.  Even if I can only get up there for one or two days, it’d be worth it.  I’ve never been up there for the fall foliage….

Run a marathon; either Grandma’s or Twin Cities
I’ve ran a lot of half-marathons and an ultra-marathon  but I haven’t run a regular road marathon since I ran Twin Cities in 2008.  I’d like to run Grandma’s since I’ve never done it – new experience – but Twin Cities is a lot more convenient.

Sleep outside in the backyard with my son
On the eve of his 2nd birthday I set up the tent and we camped outside in our backyard.  Awesome and memorable.  

Birthday camping is the best!
Birthday camping is the best!

Rock climb Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin with my uncle
My uncle who lives in the Northern suburbs of Chicago takes a trip north with a group of guys to climb at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin.  He has invited my brothers and I on the trip numerous times but the timing has never worked out.  Crossing my fingers for 2013.

Participate in the Hoigaard’s challenge
This is a prime candidate to be the first thing on my list I don’t accomplish.  A friend of mine recently asked me if I was interested in trying to accomplish the Hoigaard’s Challenge.  This includes participating in all three of the following events: The City of Lakes Loppet (XC skiing, Feb. 2-3), The Tri-Loppet (paddle, MTB, trail run, June 23), and the Surly Trail Loppet (trail half-marathon, Sept. 21).  Complete all three and you get a pin.  Neato.  I’ve done the Surly Trail Loppet before and really enjoyed it.  The Tri-Loppet is particularly appealing to me because I’ve thought of doing tris before but I don’t swim a lot (not those distances anyway) and I don’t have a road bike.  I do however enjoy mountain biking quite a bit, so this is right up my alley.  The City of Lakes Loppet however…although it’s something I want  to get into more, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve XC skied in my life.  That’s why if we ever get around to actually signing up, we’d just be participating.  Not competing.  But hey, gotta start somewhere right?

What are your goals for more adventure in 2013?  Leave a comment below.

Little Adventur(er)

When I often dream of my NEXT BIG ADVENTURE I think of some far off exotic locale with beautiful scenery and new challenges, be it physical or logistical.  It also includes making memories that will last a lifetime.  The company you keep on such adventures and the shared experiences is usually the best part of the adventure itself.  During the course of my long break from work over the holidays, I was able to have just that type of adventure…with my son.

Looking for something to do around the Twin Cities with not a lot of time on our hands and something easy we could do indoors, my wife and I took our son to Edinborough Park Playpark in Edina.  My father was in town for Christmas, so it was also nice to bring him out for this little excursion.  Edinborough is madcap mayhem for young kids.  There is a large room with a smooth floor that’s great for carts and tricycles, basketballs and hoop, and an inflatable bouncy room with a slide.

Bouncing Bonanza
Bouncing Bonanza

This is a fun place to let kids go wild and run around, but the real adventure is in the next room where the 37ft. high “Adventure Peak” awaits.  With tons of nooks and crannies and a lot of different types of slides, this is a dream for kids who are adventurous.  My son is only 2.5 years old, so it provided the perfect amount of adventure to discover unexplored rooms and little nooks, courage to try new slides that were fast, long, and curvy, and curiosity about what was around the next corner.  He particularly liked the helicopter/ submarine.

Fin's Adventure Peak
Fin’s Adventure Peak

If you have a young one at home that needs to get out and have a little adventure, this is a close and cheap ($6 for kids, adults free) option during the winter months where getting outside with a toddler is a little more challenging.  Not every adventure has to involve the summit of a far-off distant peak or bombing an new mountain bike trail. Some of the best adventures are the smallest ones, spent with the smallest people.

 

"Let me tell you about my boat."
“Let me tell you about my boat.”

Vertical Endeavors – Minneapolis

Climbing is not something that comes naturally to me, nor would I claim to be great at it.  I’m, just, o.k., but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to get better.  I have dreamed of doing big climbs in far off lands, tackled complex problems while bouldering, and pushed myself past my current limitations.  At the moment however, my abilities are currently limited.  Since climbing outside year round in Minnesota is pretty tough to do, climbing indoors in the next best option.  Enter Vertical Endeavors.

With multiple locations in Minnesota (and one in Illinois) Vertical Endeavors is the premiere rock climbing gym.  A new gym opened about a year ago in Minneapolis and it’s a fantastic space.  It has multiple types of climbing available with 50-60 ft. climbing walls, and a lot bouldering options.  For someone like me who is a relative beginner, it’s awesome to be able to try new things and challenge myself one route at a time (routes and problems are changed often).  The staff is friendly and helpful, and the space itself is warm and inviting, despite that fact that you’re climbing on face rock.

Like

  • Lots of different routes/problems to try.
  • Variety for beginners to more experienced climbers.
  • Clean, kept up well.
  • Good music usually playing while you climb (I’ve never realized how ridiculously soothing it is to climb to classical or jazz music).
  • 10 punch card pass.  These go on sale, and when they do, buy one! If you’re like me and can’t afford a full membership, the punch card is a good way to go.

Don’t Like

  • Catch 22: I like that more people are into climbing, but if you can, avoid busy Saturday or Sunday afternoons when there’s a lot of people there and 2 different birthday parties of 8 11-12 years old going at the same time.  You’ll spend more time standing around than climbing.

Things I Need to Try

  • I’ve never done lead climbing before, this is the perfect place to try.
Off Route
Off Route
Capt. Pete

Trail Run: Minnesota River Bottoms

The old adage of “practice how you play” certainly applies to trail races.  A lot of my training up to this point for the Afton Trail race 50k has been on streets and “managed” paths and yes, even the treadmill. But with the warm weather showing up sooner than expected I’ve been able to get out on some trails and train the way I’ve been wanting to.  I should have gotten out even sooner when there was snow on the ground but it is what it is.

One of many trail heads 

Since it was so warm and beautiful out yesterday I decided to make the short trip from my house and drive down to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge/Minnesota River Bottoms.  I had never ran this trail network before and now that I have, I’m very eager to go back.  Starting at the Bloomington Ferry Rd. access point, I went for a 22 mile out and back.  Because of the quick and drastic snowmelt, the trails were muddy.  Really muddy.  My Scott’s were constantly caked in mud and I was sliding all over the place.  Whenever possible, I tried to run on the “shoulder” of the trail so that my feet could find better purchase in the soft ground.  On multiple occasions it was unavoidable that I would plunge my foot into icy and muddy water up to the ankle and just when I thought it was drying out it’d happen again.  Often times I thought this is what I Atreyu must have felt like in the  Swamp of Sadness.

Despite the trail being in less than ideal conditions (including having to cross a waterway by way of a fallen tree), it was an awesome time.  The undulating trail is relatively flat overall and though there’s not very many steep climbs, the terrain does change.  Transitioning from running on mud, to sand, to hard-pack, to gravel, to dirt service road, and back to mud forces you to not only change your running strategy, but makes you work different muscle groups as well.  The refuge itself is beautiful, and it wasn’t overly packed with people, despite being housed in the large suburb of Bloomington.  In fact, if not for the occasional reminders of a highway I would run under, or a factory I’d catch a glimpse of on the other side of a lake, it’s very easy to forget that you’re in a major metropolitan area.  The trails wind through beautiful trees and marshy areas and there are a lot of migratory waterfowl flying around and overhead.  At one point on the return leg, I saw a pack (herd?) of no less than nine large white-tailed deer out for a forage in the warm weather.

Thank you bridge.
Water crossing option #1
Water crossing option #2
Option #2 it is

Thanks for nothing
This was my turnaround point

Training in all types of conditions and preparing for all variables is all part of the training process.  Whether it be a trail or road race, mountain bike race, backpacking trip, or climbing event, ideal conditions are rare.  It is therefore imperative to put your mind and body into a space so that it can handle whatever, whenever.  Hopefully running on mud trails will put me one step closer (pun intended) to be in that head space.

MTB Trail Review: Lebanon Hills

With summer gone and free time to mountain bike less and less frequent, I took advantage of the good weather until it really starts to get cold.  Over and over again I read and hear that Lebanon Hills is the trail of choice in the region if not the state.  The MORC trail review for Lebanon hills says “Plain and simple: This trail has developed into one of the “must ride” trails in Minnesota“, and I’d have to agree.  Not only is there enough mileage here to keep you busy for a good chunk of your day, but there’s something for everyone here.

Map courtesy of MORC

I’m on record that I’m a bit more of a novice trail rider.  The intermediate trails – especially “Dream II” – are fantastic trails that are equal parts good climbs and fast descents.  These trails gave me enough technical challenges but also made it fun to fly around curves after a climb.  One thing that quickly stood out to me was rocks.  Lots and lots of rocks.  Even on the intermediate trails, Lebanon Hills loves to test your ability to navigate large and small boulders and your ability to pick a clean line and stay with it, both uphill and down.  Good challenge.

A rider flys over one of many bridges in Lebanon Hills

If intermediate trails are too, well, intermediate, Lebanon Hills also offers a lot of technical riding in their “Expert Loop”.  I tried it, and at times it was a ton of fun, but I wouldn’t say that I really excelled at it.  Huge log piles, tons of rocks, drop offs, you name it.  Numerous times there were large rock fields that kicked my A and I came to a grinding halt.  Had I known what I was getting myself into I would’ve approached the trails differently, but when you’re flying around corners essentially blind not knowing what to predict, it’s different.  My favorite sections on these trails were the massive log piles.  I had never hit logs stacked so high, so it was a good test.  My least favorite had to have been climbing up hill with at least 7 good-sized logs spaced about 10 feet apart from each other.  I’m not too embarrassed to say I probably only made it over 4 out of the 7 cleanly.  Better luck next time.

Not my favorite
Good times

There’s a lot to like at Lebanon Hills, and when there seems to be a constant movement to continually make it better and more of a destination, which isn’t the case for a lot of trails around the metro area.  I’d have to agree, it’s a must ride.

Check out my ride here (although the time’s a little off since I forgot to start my watch after a break, like an idiot).