Category Archives: Destinations

A Twin Cities Gateway bicycle adventure, pre or post your soccer game

by Russ Lowthian

Before or after that next soccer game, at the National Sports Center, grab the handlebars of a bicycle for a true north Twin Cities Gateway bicycle adventure. Surrounding the soccer fields,  in Blaine, MN, the nine communities of the Gateway offer hundreds of miles of paved trail for you and family members to explore.

A Gateway bicycle adventure

Here are the maps of the bike-friendly Twin Cities Gateway communities: Anoka; Blaine; Coon Rapids; Fridley; Ham Lake; Lino Lakes; Mounds View; New Brighton; and Shoreview. All unique in their own way, each offers relaxed small town-type atmospheres with plenty to do.

So take a deep breath as you grip your handlebars

Enjoying a Twin Cities Getaway bicycle adventure you will feel as if you’re deep in the country as several communities here border the Mississippi River Trail. Along with several nature parks, it can expand your personal playground while visiting. Options, traveling by bike include stopping along a lake to go swimming or fishing; play a round of disc golf; go birding; explore one of the many parks; or travel the trail through the chain of lakes by bike or rent a canoe. You can even satisfy your inner sports desire by visiting the velodrome track on the grounds at the National Sports Center.

Stop along the trail in the Twin Cities Gateway for a some fishing.

Stop along the trail in the Twin Cities Gateway if wetting a line and catching some fish are a part of your agenda. 

Off-road trails and parks

You can take the Rum River Regional Trail down to where it meets the MRT, maybe stopping in historic downtown Anoka along the way? There is also the scenic trails in Bunker Hills Regional Park offering heavily wooded and prairie flower landscapes. Or, take the thrilling Coon Creek Regional Trail that connects to the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park and the MRT.

Stop along the trail in the Twin Cities Gateway for a round of disc golf.

Stop along the trail, in several of the parks in the Twin Cities Gateway for a round of disc golf.

For more extensive rides you can also explore the trails along the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve. Or, take the Rice Creek West Regional Trail back to the Mississippi River. This trail passes through Long Lake Park which has several trails that take you by the park’s namesake and Rush Lake. Another option is the trails in the Vadnais-Snail Lakes Regional Park which is filled to the brim and full of beautiful scenery as you switch from one trail to the next.

The velodrome at the National Sports Center

If you’re tired of riding trails and want more of a challenge, check out the velodrome at the National Sports Center. Especially their ‘Thursday nights under the lights’, the wooden track is open to the public for single speed fun. The season begins in late spring and through the summer. Check out their schedule for more details.

Twin Cities Gateway area bike shops and rental services

Car’s Bike Shop | 2661 County Road I, Mounds View, MN 55112 | 763-784-6966
Jerry’s Schwinn | 4136 Coon Rapids Blvd. N.W., Minneapolis, MN 55433, USA| 763- 421-4270
Pioneer Cycle    | 12741 Central Ave. N.E., Blaine 55434 |  763-755-8871

For more info on the Twin Cities Gateway 

Here you will find more details on where to stay, play, and explore this nine-city area.

More places to bike and explore in Minnesota

Check out the Minnesota Bike/Hike Guide.

‘Ride the Ridges’ out of Winona, are up for the challenge?

How far, how high? how tough you ask? With ‘Ride the Ridges’ (RTR) bike ride, out of Winona, MN, you choose the level of challenge you want with four routes options. Ranging from 18 miles to a Century, Ride the Ridges features something for everyone.

If you up for the challenge and believe you will exceed your planned level of endurance this summer here is a memorable way to test those glutes, thighs and calf muscles. In its seventh year, on Saturday, September 21, 2019, the Winona Rotary Club is expanding its annual road tour event. This ‘Ride the Ridges‘ event will take riders through some of the most scenic areas in Southeastern Minnesota.  Participants of RTR will pedal into lush valleys riding alongside cascading streams then up into the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Will you be up for the challenge?

Bike Routes on Riding the Ridges

The beautiful scenery and the challenging hills make this ride one to remember.

The beautiful scenery and the challenging hills make this ride one to remember.

Choose one of four RTR routes, each having hills, valleys, and spectacular views. All routes have rest stops and SAG support!

Registration, with a stunning jersey available

Early registration is through September 1 and includes a pair of RTR socks, rest stops, SAG support, post picnic and party. If you like the jersey, orders close Wednesday, July 17, 2019.

The RTR benefits the Winona Rotary Clubs – Feed My Starving Children program. Can’t ride, donations are always welcome!

Visiting Winona

Check here for places to stay, eating establishments and attractions when visiting.

What past riders say about RTR

You have to do this ride if you enjoy biking. Great roads, great event!

  • The beautiful scenery and the challenging hills make this event one to remember.
  • Ride The Ridges is as good as it gets when it comes to bike tours. It offers great scenery, safe roads, superb organization, wonderful volunteers, excellent rest stops, mechanical support and a choice of distances…….everything a cyclist could ask for.
  • Ride the Ridges had the best rest stops and volunteers. The food selection was excellent. The volunteers were extremely friendly. I also loved the HAM operators supporting the ride.
  • See more comments here.

For more places to ride this Fall

See the Minnesota Bike/Hike Guide and the Iowa Bike/Hike Guide.

Here in this bike pic, digging through our summer archives, we captured this fun photo of riders on the Rock-n-Roll the Lakes last summer in Albert Lea. See more fun photos on their Facebook page.

Benefiting the Bike Alliance, two rides creates a Minnesota doubleheader

by Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking.com

If you haven’t finalized plans for your #NextBikeAdventure consider a Minnesota doubleheader with the Rock n’ Roll the Lakes this Saturday and Tour of Saints, on Sunday. Both day-of bike bicycle touring events benefit the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota and offer several route options to fit your style of riding.

A Minnesota doubleheader of rides

This Bike Pic Thursday, digging through the archives, we caught these riders enjoying the Rock around the Lakes, in Albert Lea, MN, coming July 13th. 

Fun riding Rock N’ Roll the Lakes, in Albert Lea, MN, coming July 13th.

This Saturday, July 13th, Rock N’ Roll the Lakes in southern Minnesota takes place

A strong hours drive south on Interstate 35W from the Twin Cities, after passing the I-90 crossroad pull into Albert Lea and prepare for a day or weekend of outdoor fun. Known as ‘The Land Between the Lakes’ the city is also the hometown of the rock-n-roll icon, Eddie Cochran and Marian Ross (Remember Mrs. C from Happy Days?).

Today's bike pic, we look at the fun everyone is having now that summer is here. In this photo we captured the these two biker chicks riding 'Rock N' Roll the Lakes' in Albert Lea this last Saturday.

Two biker chicks enjoying ‘Rock N’ Roll the Lakes’ in Albert Lea last year.

With a fitting name for this annual ride, Albert Lea knows how to rock! Riders can choose from the 10, 30 or 50-miles SAG-supported routes. All three courses hug picturesque lake shores and offer a variety of beautiful southern Minnesota scenery.  Click here for more information and to register. Make it a weekend, check out these lodging opportunities in the area.

On Sunday, July 14th is the Tour of Saints in Central Minnesota

Rest stops with sinfully delicious food makes riders smile throughout the tour.

It’s not a race, it’s a heavenly little ride touring the saintly communities on the west side of St. Cloud, MN. At this time each summer more than 1,000 touring cyclists meander along quiet roads with rolling green landscape, from one saintly city to the next. A celebration of bicycling that will benefit BikeMN, the Tour of Saints bicycle ride starts and ends in St. Joseph.

Enjoy 18, 35, or 50-mile options. All three routes begin at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph and are designed to offer the most scenic and pleasant routes. Riders enjoy food and drink at rest stops on each course. Read more about the Tour and routes here. Make it a weekend reserve a room in St Cloud here.

The Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (BikeMN)

See how these two rides this weekend, the Saint Paul Bicycle Classic in September and the Mankato River Ramble in October benefit BikeMN.

If you have three days or more free and looking for a true north biking experience in Minnesota, consider Roseau.

A true north biking experience with family and friends in Roseau

by Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking.com

If you have three days or more open and looking for a true north biking experience in Minnesota, consider Roseau. A few miles from the Canadian border on a recent visit I found this area full of fun offering many off-road bicycling opportunities.

An outdoor bicycle paradise

Perfect for the whole family, the city of Roseau offers a paved bike trail, along with a number of quite street routes. Making it easily get around, to and from your hotel, by bike.

The quite city streets makes it easy and safe to connect to the trail to go downtown.

The quiet city streets make it easy and safe to connect to the trail, to go downtown.

On the eastern edge of the city, I found Mount Roseau. With no forest vegetation, it made it easy to see the countryside as I rode up, down and around the trails of this mountain bike park. At the top, the view was worth a few moments. But, what was really exciting was learning about the areas remote logging roads and trails in Beltrami Island State Forest. For the fat, gravel, and mountain bike fans this is a haven if you are craving a true north experience.

Roseau a true north biking experience

Minnesota’s North Star City, the community is located in an environmental transition area of the state where the forest gives way to the prairies of the Red River Valley. Only 13-miles south of the Canadian Border and 27-mile to Lake of the Woods, by auto, Roseau is a six-hour drive from the Twin Cities.  In this friendly Scandinavian community, visitors will find many recreational opportunities in the towns parks and nearby state forests parks.

As a result of this unique location, wildlife enthusiasts traveling by auto, bike or on foot can appreciate the outdoor paradise the area offers. Nearly forty percent of Roseau County is accessible through state and county parks, and wildlife areas. Surrounding Roseau there are tamarack bogs to the north, prairie grasslands to the west and sandy pine forests to the east. All areas provide ample opportunity for a gravel road ride or wilderness fat and mountain biking adventure. Along the way take in several wildlife viewing stations, pick blueberries or just go for a hike and explore. Plus, the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail, near Roseau, is on Minnesota’s premier bird-watching list.

Parks to explore in the area

Four of the most visited Roseau outdoor recreation areas are the Roseau City Park, Sprague Creek Natural Area, Hayes Lake State Park, and Beltrami State Forest.

Roseau City Park

The mountain Bike trail on Mount Roseau.

The mountain bike trail on Mount Roseau.

The  City Park here is located on 40 wooded acres, along the Roseau River. The park provides a variety of activities including paved trail and mountain biking on Mount Roseau.  The single track trail system offering over 6.5 miles of fun twists and turns for all skill levels. The park also offers various playground equipment, sand volleyball, a fishing pier, and Frisbee golf activities.

Click here to see our bike map of Roseau.

Sprague Creek Natural Area

Easy to ride to, the Peatland Scientific and Natural Area, is just north of Roseau. Once you arrive this area offers hiking trails that feature many bird viewing opportunities.

Hayes Lake State Park

Accessible by bike, Hayes Lake State Park is located 18 miles southeast of Roseau, on County Road 4. Located on the edge of Beltrami Island State Forest, this quiet true north park consists of 3,000 acres of pines, the lake, and wildlife to observe. The park also features a day use area with fishing pier, swimming beach, and campsites. The lake is a non-motorized recreational area where canoeing and kayaking are popular. While here, also enjoy the opportunity to view rare birds such as bald eagles, great grey owls, Sandhill cranes and a variety of warblers. Wildlife sightings found in the area include elk, moose, bear, and wolves.

Beltrami State Forest

From this forest road many logging roads and trails intersect and are ready yo explore.

From this forest road, many primitive logging roads and trails intersect and are ready to explore by bike.

Further east from the State Park and as I mentioned earlier, what really excites me about this area for a true north biking experience in Beltrami Island State Forest. The second largest of Minnesota’s 59 state forests, there are five rivers that have their headwaters here. Also containing scientific and natural areas riding the forest here is unique.

A family enjoying a true north bike experience in the forest.

A family enjoying a true north bike experience in the forest.

In this huge forest, there are more than 138 miles of logging roads and trail to explore on your bike.  Make sure you have a compass or GPS device along when exploring the trails. Pedaling around low flatland’s, peat bogs and ridges covered in pines, it’s easy to get lost. Along the forest roads, you might find evidence of a former homestead foundation or village. As s you explore, you will for sure want to stop and enjoy some blueberries when you hit a patch.

When not biking

From wheels to snow track the the Thrill Team helped to promote snowmobiling with this stunt track.

From wheels to snow track the Thrill Team helped to promote snowmobiling with this stunt track.

Being the birthplace of snowmobiling and Polaris Industries, in between daily outings take in a plant tour and the museum. At the Experience Center see artifacts from the earliest snowmobiles to Polaris’s movement into All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV’s). History buffs will enjoy the Roseau Pioneer Farm and Village, as well as the Roseau County Museum.

Another Roseau summer tradition is the 100-year old Roseau County Fair. Held in the middle of July, this annual event can add to your biking adventure if you visit at that time. Other activities around town include the community pool, paddling the Roseau River, the local theatre, a bowling alley, and arcade. In the downtown area, you will find many antique shops to browse and reminisce about the past.

Places to stay for a true north biking experience

On my last visit, while exploring this true north destination I headquartered at the AmericInn.  Roseau also offers a couple more hotels to fit your needs. Camping (RV and tent sites with water and electric) in the city park is also an option.

Roseau has something for every interest. Check your calendar and plan your next true north biking experience to Roseau, today.

Fond summer memories were enjoyed by this biker couple on the 4th of July Tour D'Amico Bicycle Tour last year summer. This year's 19th annual tour offers several new scenic routes through the Twin Cities western suburbs.

A family-fun 4th of July bike tour opportunity with delicious food

If you are looking for some biking fun, and food on 4th of July join Hiawatha Bicycle Club (HBC), on the Tour D’Amico (TDA) this next week. It will be the 20th anniversary of Tour D’ Amico, with some new scenic routes, rest stop locations and a buffet lunch provided by D’Amicos and Son at the end. The TDA 4th of July ride begins and ends in Golden Valley, MN.

The family-fun 4th of July Tour D’ Amico bike tour

The routes are scenic and fun

All four routes are scenic and fun for the whole family

Select your TDA route with options of riding 20, 29, 40, or 60-miles through the scenic western suburbs of the Twin Cities. All four courses mapped are well marked with SAG support, rest stops, and maps provide for you and your friends. See route maps here.

TDA and the 4th of July food

Hydration rest stops along the way offer tasty snacks

Hydration rest stops along the way offer tasty snacks

The annual ride is a partnership with D’Amico and Sons Restaurant, who provides some delicious samples at the Wayzata rest stop and a mouth-watering picnic buffet at the end. Other stops locations include the HyVee stop in Plymouth and the Hopkins hydration stop.

Celebrate the 4th of July with a D'Amico & Sons picnic after the ride, you deserve it!

Celebrate the 4th of July with a D’Amico & Sons picnic after the ride –  you deserve it!

Have fun, still time to register and save!

Find old and new friends on the Tour D'Amico Bike Ride

Find old and new friends on the Tour D’Amico Bike Ride

Capped at 450 riders, TDA day of registration cost is $45 (free for kids under 18 accompanied by an adult). However, the fee is only $25 for Hiawatha Bicycle Club members. So, if you are not a member, please consider joining HBC today ($25 single or $35 annual household membership) and your participating TDA price as a member $25. You will be saving $20 or more for TDA while enjoying a calendar full of HBC club benefits throughout the year. Find more info on our website at www.hiawathabike.org.

If you register for TDA online and want to save by becoming an HBC member, if you are not already a member, please use the invitation code ‘HBC Members’ to unlock the $25 (rather than $45) price. Alternatively, show up on the morning of the 4th and take care of everything then. See more details of the TDA event on Meet-up or the HBC club website.

Hope to see you on the 4th of July!

With spring here, we wanted to share another bike/birding hotspot we have enjoyed over the years that you may want to add to your list of places to explore.

Bike/Birding hot spots in the Twin Cities Gateway area to enjoy

With spring here, we wanted to share another bike/birding hotspot we have enjoyed over the years that you may want to add to your True Noth list of places to explore. Check out several bike trails in the north suburbs of the Twin Cities Gateway this spring and summer. Ground truthing the maps in the MN Bike/Hike Guide our interests were piqued by the many birding haunts that we noticed in the community of Shoreview.

An area once inhabited by Dakota and Ojibwe tribes, today the Shoreview community has many parks along its lakes. These parks provide both residents and visitors places to enjoy bird watching. While here, from these areas alone you can spot an impressive list of songbirds, hawks, and waterfowl.

Looking for some new birding spots to explore?  The Twin Cities Gateway has you covered starting with a local apple orchard. From there, we have identified several additional birding hotspots worth checking out.

A Birding Hotspot – Victoria Valley Orchard

Another birding hotspot to see hawks is the victoia Valley Orchard, in Shoreview.

A birding hotspot to see hawks is at the Victoria Valley Orchard in Shoreview.

As Summer will soon be upon us, many of the nesting sites in the apple trees at the Victoria Valley Orchard have fulfilled their use. One task finished, they are now a good place to spot many seasonal birds and hawks. Like many of the groves around the country, the orchard here is a rich habitat for nesting birds as they forage nearby. Here are a few of the birds that have been observed here: the Baltimore Oriole, Blue-Winged Warbler, Chimney Swift, Osprey, Red-Shouldered Hawk, several species of sparrows, and the Scarlet Tanager.

Location: The Victoria Valley Orchard is located at 4304 North Victoria Street, in Shoreview, MN. You are welcome to wander the orchard throughout the year to spot the different birds that live or pass through here. Commercially they are only open from early September through mid-November if you would like to buy some of the 19 varieties of apples that they grow. For more information please visit their website at http://www.victoriavalleyorchard.com/.

A Birding Hotspot – Snail Lake

A birding hotspot can be found along most of the paved bike trails that meander through the parks in Shoreview.

A birding hotspot can be found along most of the paved bike trails that meander through the parks in Shoreview.

Another birding hotspot on our tour in Shoreview is the trail along Highway 96. This trail borders the north side of Snail Lake. One of two areas to observe the birding activity here is at the grassy area just off the trail. With a few potholes and a line of trees partially blocking the view of the lake, you may spot several varieties of warblers, if they haven’t left. Plus, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the Red-Shouldered Hawks. A variety of other marsh birds that use this area can also be seen here.

Location: The trail location is on Highway 96 and across from the Shoreview Public Library. There is a public park at the south end of the lake for another viewing location.

Birding Hotspot – Sucker and Vadnais Lakes

Now heading further east along Highway 96, our tour of birding hotspots takes us first to Sucker Lake. Then, across County Road F, the trail takes you into Vadnais Lake’s park area. Both these lakes and the park areas are a part of the Vadnais-Snail Lakes Regional Park and are reservoirs for the St. Paul Regional Water Authority. These lakes are fairly deep and the wetlands are composed of extensive tamarack and shrub swamps with large marshy areas. The forest area here is mainly mature pine plantations with some oak woods for nesting Pine Warblers and Red-Shouldered Hawks. A variety of marsh birds use the shoreline here. Along with the fall migratory waterfowl activity of both lakes, this area is also good for migratory warblers and Red-Breasted Nuthatches.

Location: Just south of Highway 96, take the Rice St. exit from I-694 and go north. The north access and parking is east of Rice St. on Sucker Lake Road. The south entrance is east from Rice St. on County Road F, then north on Sucker Lake Road.

Another birding hotspot is in some of the open meadows that paved bike paths pass through the par

Another birding hotspot is in Grass Lake where paved bike paths pass through some of the open meadows.

Birding Hotspot – Grass Lake

Another birding hotspot in Shoreview is Grass Lake, which is also a part of the Vadnais-Snail Lakes Regional Park system. The main vegetation here is the deep water cattail marsh with floating mats. On both the east and west sides of the lake, Oak woodlands can be found. On the north side of the park, there is a mixture of swamp shrubs and grasslands that are prevalent. Here at Grass Lake is where Marsh Wrens, Osprey, and Red-Shouldered Hawks commonly nest. Common Loons are often seen in the spring and summer along with many sparrow species that stopover during their migration.

Location: Grass Lake is reached by turf and paved trails from the parking area off of Gramsie Road. The parking lot can be reached by taking the Victoria St. exit from I-694 and going north to Gramsie Rd., then east to the MacKubin Rd. intersection. Entrance is on your right.

For more information on these birding hotspots and others, contact Ramsey County Parks and Recreation Department at (651) 748-2500 or www.co.ramsey.mn.us/parks for more information.

A 12.5-mile Bike Loop to Shoreview’s Birding Hotspots

For those interested in riding their bicycle to the above parks described, we have identified an easy path to take to have optimal bird watching capabilities. Please download the 12.5-mile Turn-by-Turn Route to begin your bird watching journey by bike to see some of Shoreview’s birding hotspots.

More map options can be found at the Ramsey County Maps.

As a family, a group of friends or on your own bike-bird opportunities in the Willmar Lakes Area are endless.

Family fun spring bike-bird opportunities in the Willmar Lakes Area

Looking for a bird-bike destination with endless opportunities for a family outing, a place to explore with friends or a getaway for yourself?

Consider planning a trip to the Willmar Lakes Area.  Head west out of the Twin Cities and before you know it you will be greeted to small-town charm and a sprawling countryside full of birding opportunities. To the naked eye it may seem like just another rural prairie community, but head out on a bike with your binoculars and the area presents its many birding haunts. Here along this major migrating flyway, you are sure to spot many species from the Minnesota Prairie Bird List, that nest in the area.

Now, as warmer weather approaches the trees and marshes along the trails and roads here become a special place to visit. Allowing birders and cyclists plenty of great outdoor space, in Kandiyohi County, for biking and birding.

A perfect spring bike-bird location in western Minnesota

The Willmar Lakes Area is the perfect place to visit anytime of the year for a weekend bike getaway.

The Willmar Lakes Area is the perfect bike getaway to visit any time of the year.

Species to check off your list when bike-bird opportunities arise in the Willmar Area

Besides the Red Crossbill that has been sighted around the MinnWest Technology Campus, in Willmar, many parks here along the trail are also worth checking out. Some of the great birding haunts in the area include; Sibley State Park, Mason Lake State Park, the Prairiewood Environmental Learning Center, and a couple of Big Kandiyohi Lake County Parks, easily accessible from the Glacial Lake State Trail. When visiting here are some of the other birds you may see to check off your list: the Short-eared Owl; Townsend’s Solitaire; Long-eared Owl; Black-throated Green Warbler; Connecticut Warbler; Snowy Egret; Common Gallinule; Blue Grosbeak; Eastern Screech-Owl; White-winged Crossbill and a Long-tailed Duck.

Getting around on your bike in Willmar is more than encouraging. Awarded the Bike Friendly Bronze status by the League of American Cyclist, the community has redesigned its streets and inner city trails to make it easy to pedal around and explore the area’s attractions and parks.

Getting around Willmar with your bike and binoculars

While biking, this is also a great area for bird enthusiasts. Sibley State Park is one of the most popular areas, so make sure you bring your binoculars and camera. Around the park, you will have a chance to see many of the 206 different species of birds that nest or migrate through the area. And with the Glacial Trail, it’s easy to get out to the park, by bike, from your hotel room in the Willmar Lakes Area.

About the Glacial Lakes State Trail

Built on a former Burlington Northern railroad line the trail is generally level and wheelchair accessible. The trail is paved for 22 miles between Willmar, Spicer, New London, Hawick, and the Kandiyohi/Stearns County line. This multi-use bike corridor offers many opportunities to look at wildflowers and wildlife along the way.

Bring the binoculars along, for some of the birds sittings along the trail you may see!

Bring the binoculars along, for some birds sittings along the trail!

Sibley State Park and Mount Tom

Once you get there, hike up Mount Tom. It’s worth the walk and will give you a bird-eye view, of a 50-mile radius at the summit, of the areas patchwork of forest, farmland, prairie knolls and lakes. Along with prime birding activities here with interpretive programs in the spring, it is also open year-around.

In the park, you will find nearly two miles of paved trails that link Lakeview Campground and the Interpretive Center. With a slight elevation change, another favorite haunt is the Pond View Trail loop offering more birding opportunities.

Other parks and trails

Enjoy the miles of scenic paved trails in the prairie lands of the Willmar Lakes Area.

Enjoy the miles of scenic paved trails in the prairie lands of the Willmar Lakes Area.

Willmar and the surrounding area makes it easy for everyone to enjoy the outdoors. With several parks offering recreational activities and trails, those who visit with their bike will find many haunts to pedal to, including Bergquist Park, Ramblewood Park, Rau Park (Scott Park), Thompson Park, and Swansson Park.  From the trail, you can also reach Robbins Island Park and the park at Green Lake.

Rural road bike-bird opportunities

There are also plenty of bike-friendly Kandiyohi County roads, paved and gravel, to help you navigate the area to reach other marshy areas popular with several bird species here.

More about the bike-friendly Willmar Lakes Area

Willmar also has the Yellow Bike program that places bikes at different spots throughout town. Community members and visitors can use these bikes free of charge during the day.

When you are not riding, the area also offers plenty of indoor attractions when you want to relax. Along with several museums covering different parts of Minnesota’s history, Then, after your ride enjoy a refreshing beverage as you take a break from the outdoor activities in this scenic prairie lakes area.

Breathing new life into the Minnesota oldest bike ride, that has connected families and friends for decades, moves to Shakopee, MN, Sunday, July 15.

Fun for everyone the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride is this Saturday

With sunny skies forecasted for this Saturday, June 15th, the new Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride is the place to meet up and ride with family, friends, and the Shakopee community!

On hiatus since 2017, the ride will now benefit the efforts of Free Bikes 4 Kidz (FB4K). After providing more than 50,000 free bikes to kids across Minnesota, this will help FB4K expand their program. At the same time continue the legacy of the state’s first organized recreational bike tour as the ride moves to Shakopee, MN.

MN Ironman Bike Ride

Over the year’s, the MN Ironman Bike Ride is always fun!

Free Bikes 4 Kidz is rejuvenating the oldest bike ride in the state

“This is an opportunity for us to bring families together for a day of fun while supporting our
efforts to positively impact more children,” said Tia Martinson, Executive Director for the
Minnesota division of Free Bikes 4 Kidz. “We’ve heard so many stories from people who are
passionate about this event. The ride will retain the same look and feel Ironman riders knew
and loved, but there will be many new activities afterward. Families and friends can continue
making memories together all day.”

This Bike Pic, yeah it's Friday, we captured this biker dude out with his daughter enjoying some spring riding as the grass greens up.

A great ride for family time.

The MN Ironman Bike Ride

Presented by Apple Autos, starting 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 15 at Huber Park in Shakopee, several route options are available. Depending on age and ability, several ride itineraries are available and they include a five, 37, 68.5 and 100-mile course. A Family Fun Ride will also be taking place beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Rider registration

Each registration allows Free Bikes 4 Kidz to provide a bike and helmet for at least one child, and early registration for the ride costs $55. The ticket price will increase to $65 on June 1st. Registration can be completed online at https://ironmanbikeride.org/. Riders can also register the day of the event for $80 on-site. For local lodging and visitor options, click here.

Riders will return to a “Big Taste of Fun”

The MN Ironman Bike Ride and Free Bikes 4 Kidz have partnered with The City of Shakopee and
JCI Shakopee for the “Big Taste of Fun” at Huber Park. The free event includes live music,
beverages and food trucks from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. There will also be a giant slip and slide
and a movie in the park after dark. “We are thankful for the partnerships that have been formed to make this entire day possible,” Martinson added. “We know Ironman riders will appreciate the opportunity to reconnect with each other during the ride and afterward at Big Taste of Fun. And as riders discover the bike-friendly attributes of the Shakopee Area this activity will benefit  the need for kids bikes all across the state.”

The MN Ironman Bike Ride is fun for all ages!

The MN Ironman Bike Ride is fun for all ages!

About Free Bikes 4 Kidz

Free Bikes 4 Kidz is a non-profit organization geared toward helping all kids ride into a happier,
healthier childhood by providing bikes to those most in need. The public donates gently used
bikes; we organize thousands of volunteers to clean and refurbish them, and then we give them
away to kids in need. www.FB4K.org

Pedaling along the bike lane in Amsterdam

A memorable experience exploring Amsterdam by bike for the first time

by Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking.com

On the front end of a bike/barge trip in the Netherlands earlier this year, I added three days to explore Amsterdam by bike. Taking the extra time was a great choice and using a bike as
my mode of transportation was by far the best way to see the city. This allowed me many opportunities to sample the fare this bike-friendly mecca had to offer. Winging it a bit, I rented one of the locally popular trekking bikes to roam alongside the canals like a true ‘Amsterdammer’, even though I stuck out a bit wearing a bicycle helmet. I was comfortable navigating the bike lanes, even with motor scooters buzzing up from behind and pedestrians
stepping out in front of me. As bikes are an important part of Amsterdam, I felt as though I was a part of the city.

Amsterdam is a bike-friendly place to ride, if?

Pedaling into one of Amsterdam's parks over the canal.

Pedaling into one of Amsterdam’s parks over the canal.

The cool thing about using a bike to get around this city is that you can easily get anywhere quickly. Amsterdam is perfect for bicycles. The city has generous bike paths throughout; some even have specialized traffic lights, with the bicycle symbol illuminated. It seems Amsterdammers go everywhere on their bikes. They attach wagons and load them with cargo – sometimes their children. They also like to chat on their cell phones, run red lights, daringly weave in and out of traffic and the vast majority of them do not wear helmets. Most of
the Dutch bikes all have the same basic look. Old fashion looking, reminiscent of bikes you would see in movies from the 1950s, with wide-set handlebars

Need a bike, rental shop options are endless

One of the bike rental shops working on their fleet of bikes.

One of the bike rental shops working on their fleet of bikes.

Looking on the web for a rental bike, there seemed to be an ample supply of bikes available around the city. I assumed that I could wait until midmorning to go out and rent a bike for the next couple days, my mistake. Even though it was a midweek day, the best bikes in two shops I stopped at had most of their fleet checked-out. Only a few of their older, well used, bikes remained. Luckily a bike was being returned that fit me well. So I was on my way, taking with me a valuable lesson in renting bikes in a popular tourist area. Unless you can reserve a bike ahead of time, get there early to get a pick of their best.

Navigating Amsterdam and what you can see

Pedaling along the bike friendly streets in Amsterdam

Pedaling along the bike-friendly streets in Amsterdam

Handy bike maps are available, free, at most hotels and bike rental shops. With a couple of versions in my pocket for occasional review, they worked well for me. Pedaling the streets along the canals, there is way too much for the eye to see, from gorgeous architecture, charming flower boxes, crowded cafés, etc. So forget your iPod, your ride will have its own soundtrack.

Passing through the Red Light District in Amsterdam

Passing through the Red Light District in Amsterdam

Some of the sounds you may hear include the whirring of a canal boat’s motor, the peal of church chimes, the hum of motor scooters as they zip up behind you triggering your brain to move over to the right to let them by and the tinkle of a bike’s bell, maybe yours? I found that my right hand stayed pretty close to the bell on the bike’s handlebar, warning sightseers to move out of the bike lane.

My first day riding in Amsterdam

The City Center is packed full designated bicycle parking lots.

The City Center is packed full designated bicycle parking lots.

As I mentioned above, I started late checking out a rental bike. Then getting acclimated to the designated bike lanes and tourists walking out in front of me. It was amazing how much I experienced in such a short time. I had no planned route; it was fun to get lost in the city with its maze of streets (straats) and canals (grachts). Of course, those maps in my pocket were
helpful in finding my way back to my hotel. In the first few hours, I rode through Amsterdam’s finest sections including the Jordaan District which could be referred to as the heart of the city. Then I rode past the Anne Frank House where I had a tour scheduled the following day. Next, I passed the house of Rembrandt and then by the awesome architecture of the Rijksmuseum. Finding my way back, I wandered through China Town and then the Red Light District before meeting friends for dinner.

Overcoming the intimidation

Locking your bike to a bridge in Amsterdam can be a hazard.

Locking your bike to a bridge in Amsterdam can be a hazard.

In just a few hours riding my bike around Amsterdam my confidence was high … and so was my thirst. Meeting friends for a beer, several who just arrived in town for the bike/barge cruise, there was some envy as I pulled up on my rental bike. Several asked as I walked in with my helmet still on, “where have you been?” I replied with an accomplished grin, “I’ve biked all over town!” As I shared with them my first day’s adventures in Amsterdam touring the city by bike.

A full day to explore Amsterdam

Riding along the street Cafes in Amsterdam

Riding along the street Cafes in Amsterdam

With a loose itinerary, only the Anne Frank Tour scheduled mid-afternoon and dinner plans in the evening, I was off. First, I found myself at Amsterdam’s bustling flower market, where crowds come to buy or just admire a wide array of flowers. After enjoying a cup of coffee and the fragrance of the market, I pedaled across a series of canals to one of the city’s street markets. Here, I found another Dutch treat, a herring stand. In warmer weather vendor stands tend to spring up around the city offering this delicacy. If you appreciate sushi or at least pickled herring, give it a try! You can order herring in a bread roll and eat it like a sandwich. Though “the Amsterdam way” is to eat the herring cold, with only diced onions and pickles as garnish. It was delicious and one of my favorite must-have snacks on the trip.

Enjoying Amsterdam's street markets

Enjoying Amsterdam’s street markets

Now pointing my bike towards the Central Station, up through the city center at the river’s edge, I took a ferry across to the north side of Amsterdam. Following the designated bike route several kilometers, I found this part of the city was newer with many parks.

Another perspective of the city

Take the ferry across the river into North Amsterdam

Take the ferry across the river into North Amsterdam

After the Anne Frank tour, which was well worth the extra time of waiting in line, I was off to the east side of Amsterdam. This area, with several blocks of modern architecture, in between canals, gave me another perspective of the city. I planned to take in a few more tours, but I ended up spending more time on the bike. On my way back through the inner city of canals, as late afternoon turned into happy hour along the way, the activities along the sidewalk cafés were entertaining to see.

Sure, you could see Amsterdam in other ways. But, in a city with roughly 250 miles of cycle lanes, over 140 bicycle rental shops, and estimated million-plus miles collectively pedaled by
bicyclists each day, why would you want to waste carbon fuel?

So in my opinion, assuming you survive the pedestrians wandering out in front of you, biking here is the best. A half million Amsterdammers can’t be wrong. Just be sure to look both
ways before heading out into traffic and don’t be afraid to ring your bell!

My second Southeast Asian solo bike tour saw me again crossing the border to bicycle Cambodia. After my first trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2014, I promised myself a return for an extended tour. Fortune smiled upon me and I returned for a 16-day solo tour.

A promised return for a solo bike tour to Cambodia and Vietnam

by Chris Olson

My second Southeast Asian solo bike tour saw me again crossing the border to bicycle Cambodia. After my first trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2014, I promised myself a return for an extended tour. Fortune (and little savings) smiled upon me and I returned for a 16-day solo tour.

Setting up the Trucker

Setting up the Trucker

Solo bike tour preparations upon my arrival

On this trip, late in November, I enjoyed one day in Ho Chi Minh City. This allowed me a chance to overcome jet-lag and tweaking my Surly Trucker DeLuxe for the 16-days ahead. I landed in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Many residents continue to use the city’s former name and that use is reflected in signs throughout town. I stayed outside the tourist area, in a neighborhood northwest of downtown.

Attempting to sync my body clock with the time change and 22-hour flight, I drank plenty of coffee and assembled my bike. My Surly frame splits into two separate pieces, equipped with S&S couplers, that makes it easy to pack into an S&S suitcase. With this set up the bike can be checked as regular airline luggage with no additional cost. I spent the remainder of my first day taking in the smells and scenery of the neighborhoods, eating and most importantly acclimating to the heat humidity.

A slow start to my solo bike tour and it was a holiday at home

The morning of November 23rd, Thanksgiving Day, I was on my bike early. It wasn’t long before the heat and humidity began partnering with the jet lag for a troublesome first day. On my previous visit to Vietnam, I had four days of heat and humidity acclimation and conquered my jet lag before I began that seven-day tour.

This trip I had only 18 waking hours before pedaling.  Shortly after I merged onto the busy street winding my way out of Saigon, I was joined by a young girl, about 16 years old, who rode up alongside me and wanted to practice her English. In her school uniform, with badminton racket sticking out of her backpack, we conversed for the next four miles while weaving through the morning rush hour traffic. After 36-miles of extreme heat, traffic congestion and many 30 to 60-minute rest, I realized I needed to stop for the day.

Ba Den mountain at a Mekong tributary

Ba Den mountain at a Mekong tributary

My first night

In the city of Go Dau, I found a guesthouse, registered and slept for 2 hours with the fan set on high. After I woke, the owner’s brother took me by car to his favorite pho restaurant. Virtually all restaurants are family run, this one no exception. I watched as the cook dipped the noodles, beef, and veggies in broth for the perfect amount of time before serving. I happened to be the only one currently eating in the tiny restaurant and all seven family members gathered around to watch me savor a unique Thanksgiving dinner.

Hello, Cambodia on my 16-day solo bike tour!

Trucker waiting outside the Cambodian customs

Trucker waiting outside the Cambodian customs

Today the air was thick with humidity from last evening’s torrential downpour. After a light breakfast, filling my water bottles and checking my map I was off for a full day in the saddle. Crossing the river and leaving out of town I suddenly braked when I saw waffles, my favorite treat from the last trip to Vietnam.

I brake for all roadside Asian waffle stands

I brake for all roadside Asian waffle stands

One of my favorite carbs

The young man making the waffles made me five and then invited me to join him at a “coffee klatch” down the hill. The two of us were the only men in a group of twelve, enjoying the famous Vietnamese drip coffee for a onetime price of 35 cents. With Google translate as our aid, we carried on for almost two hours before I was on the road again. I still had eight miles to ride to the Cambodia border.

Border crossing at Xa Mat Vietnam

The border crossing at Xa Mat Vietnam

The border crossing at Moc Bai, Vietnam and Bavet, Cambodia was not as busy as anticipated for the largest crossing between the two nations. Alerted to the various border scams by travel journals on “Crazy Guy on a Bike,” I ignored the money changers and visa “helpers.” The entire border process took only 30 minutes, leaving Vietnam and entering Cambodia.

Driving a bicycle in Vietnam vs. Cambodia

The traffic differences from Vietnam were immediately noticeable with many more SUV and large trucks on the road. The motto ruling Cambodian roads is “might makes right” and cycling in Cambodia is not for the fainthearted. I also witnessed a greater military presence than the last trip. This was prevalent throughout my trip due to political unrest building before the July 2018 Cambodia elections. The sky threatened rain for the last half of my ride and the clouds were welcome friends as they blocked the sun. Not knowing where I was exactly staying each night, I missed my destination town of Prasat. Continuing on I finished my 59-mile day ride in tiny Kampong Trabek.

Motorbike ramp leading to dirty rooms but good food

Motorbike ramp leading to dirty rooms but good food

 

Rats lurking near my room

Here, there were no clearly marked guesthouses, so by asking those in town, I found a small bar and restaurant with rooms in the back to rent. The room I checked into had not been cleaned from the last guests so I laid my hammock across the bed. The bedding was used to plug the large gap at the door bottom. I convinced myself, this would keep the rats I had seen earlier out of the room. The proprietors made me dinner and after visiting with them and their two daughters, I retired for the evening.

Onto Phnom Penh with fewer smiles

The next morning, waking to the faithful’s call to prayer, I began riding toward my goal of Phnom Penh. Searching for food and coffee I remembered Cambodia coffee is usually in small cans of Nescafe, thick with sugar and milk. So, Nescafe it was when I stopped at a bakery for breakfast. As I ate, I reserved a hotel in the heart of Phnom Penh, through Booking.com. Having clean bedding and air conditioning would be a welcome luxury.

35 K to my hotel

35 K to my hotel

The children along the way were always entertaining to watch

Pedaling through the countryside I stopped and watched as three young children herded a flock of goats across the busy highway. Further along, roadside vendors began selling interesting foods including bowls of chicken heads; piles of deep fried frogs; and beautiful fruits. Fruits we could only hope to see in grocery stores in the U.S. Sadly, the most noticeable difference as I came closer to Phnom Penh were fewer smiles, waves and “hellos” from people along the road.

Cambodian Family maneuvering the highway

Cambodian Family maneuvering the highway

Mid-afternoon with 55-miles pedaled I arrived at my hotel. In the luxury of air conditioning, I immediately researched the locations of the Cambodian Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. These were my two must-see memorials of this trip. I discovered the museum was only a mile walk from my hotel and the Killing Fields about ten miles. After laying the groundwork for a Sunday in Phnom Penh, I ventured away from the hotel and took in many sights. Along the way I found a tiny coffee shop making lattes that I could enjoy while watching the activities in the neighborhood!

An to get some valuable travel advice

I had also arranged to meet a fellow Warmshowers host from New Zealand that evening. She has been living in Cambodia for four years while completing her Doctorate in pediatric dentistry. Her bicycling and travel advice was invaluable as was her insight of the current political unrest. Knowing tomorrow would be extremely difficult day emotionally, I returned to the hotel to organize my panniers and get to bed early.

Bearing witness to genocide and the need to stay an extra day

This Sunday morning I walked a mile to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. A former Phnom Penh High School, the campus was used to imprison, torture and kill those who were perceived as threats to the Khmer Rouge regime. Between 1975 and 1979, over 17,000 Cambodians passed through Tuol Sleng Prison, also known as Security Prison 21.

Approximately 525 non-Cambodians were also tortured and killed here, including two Americans victims, one born in Minnesota. Of the seven people known to have survived this prison, two were on site. Selling their autobiographies, recounting the few stories they wish to share with visitors and urging all to never let this happen again.

Vietnamese roadside cuisine

Cambodian roadside cuisine

Advice on renting a tuk-tuk

After spending over three hours at the museum, a solemn walk brought me to a small café for lunch. While dining, I met two European travelers visiting family. They advised me on the costs of renting a tuk-tuk, a motorbike pulling a small cart to transport people. This is the equivalent of an American taxi. Returning to the hotel, I rented a Tuk-tuk to take me to the Killing Fields, also known as Choeung Ek, southwest of Phnom Penh.

It was here the Khmer Rouge murdered 8,900 of their fellow Cambodians. This site is now home to a Buddhist Stupa containing over 5,000 of the victim’s skulls. Total, the Khmer Rouge was responsible for a genocide claiming the lives of one in four Cambodians, or 2.2 million between 1975 -79.

Stephan, Soporn and me at Vicious Cycle in Phenom Penh

Stephan, Soporn and me at Vicious Cycle in Phenom Penh

 

A needed one more day in Phnom Penh

As I headed back to the hotel I realized I needed one more day in Phnom Penh to uplift my spirits.  A day riding free of panniers and discovering the city. I returned to the hotel, then rode my bike and rode along the waterfront. Entering a vibrant market district, I discovered my destination – Vicious Cycle– a bike repair, rental and organized tour shop. Owner Stephen and head mechanic Soporn, both of Phnom Penh, welcomed me and insisted on a photo. They had not seen an S & S coupler before and thought the engineering was significant. From here I rode to the French Alley Cafe’ where I had agreed to meet the European couple for dinner.

Monday’s city ride and Tiny Toones

Inspirational mural at Tiny Toones

Inspirational mural at Tiny Toones

Planning for my boat ride up the river

My second day in Phnom Penh began hot, humid and sunny as usual. Strolling through the neighborhood I had to sample a few different lattes then back to the hotel where I arranged a Tuesday morning boat transport. This would be a full day, eight-hour speed boat ride, up the Tonle Sap River, then across the lake of the same name. With the passage for tomorrow’s journey reserved I grabbed my trusty steed and I decided to try to get good and lost for a couple hours. I saw a fair portion of the city this way. Then, with the help of Google maps, I was able to wind my way through the Phnom Penh traffic back to my hotel.

Classroom at Tiny Toones

Classroom at Tiny Toones

In the afternoon, I hired a tuk-tuk to bring me to Tiny Toones. This is a school for homeless and at-risk children in a “more difficult” area of the city. Yesterday, when I shared with the European couple where I planned on going, they advised caution. The tuk-tuk driver raised his eyebrows as I showed him on my map. The “roads” in this section of Phnom Penh were mere alleyways and it took over 40 minutes of searching, along with a phone call to the administrator of the school to finally pinpoint the entrance.

More on Tiny Toones

Shhort the school’s Administrator, along with K.K. the school’s founder met each other as kids in Kentucky. Their families resettled there after fleeing the Khmer Rouge. They returned to Cambodia to help the children in Cambodia who, most likely, we’re not going to be as fortunate as them. Tiny Toones uses dance, music and visual arts as the common learning thread throughout the school. In Cambodia, families pay for schooling and often cannot afford to send or bribe school administrations for much sought-after education.

Shhort and myself at Tiny Toones

Shhort and myself at Tiny Toones

Returning to the hotel, I picked up my fresh laundry and met the European couple at the rooftop restaurant of their hotel. Five hours of stories and contemplating the future of Cambodia found me arriving in bed late, with great anticipation for tomorrow.                                     –

A day on the Tonle Sap River

One slip and "tour over"

One slip and “tour over”

Leaving Phnom Penh, Tuesday morning, I aged a year watching the deckhand cautiously nudge my fully loaded bike along the edge of the boat. I took one photo of what I thought maybe the last time I see my Trucker. I then turned my back and knew if I heard a splash it was “tour over.” Settling in for a look back upon a unique city I may never see again, I breathed a sigh of relief as the boat (with my bike) left promptly, 20 minutes late.

Floating villages along the Tonle Sap River

We passed three floating villages along the way to Chong Knaes, our destination. These villages are populated by people who fish for a living or transport goods along the river and its tributaries. While occasionally getting fresh air, I did use the opportunity to catch some needed sleep and prepare for the days ahead. Arriving at Chong Knaes, I relived the anxiety of the morning as they successfully unloaded my bike.

Floating village on the Tonle Sap River

A Floating village on the Tonle Sap River

A low tire in a small town

As I wheeled up the boat landing I noticed the front tire was extremely low. Luckily, most Cambodian towns, no matter the size, (throughout Southeast Asia as well) have at least one motorbike repair shop.  The mechanics, boys no older than 12 years of age, filled my tire and sent me on my way after refusing an offer of payment. Chong Knaes is the gateway to Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temple complex. The small village is located 16-miles south of Angkor Wat. I had reserved a room at a “boutique hotel” run by an Australian couple and their French Chef.

Cambodian school on stilts over the water

Here I repaired my flat and was directed to the non-tourist area of town where I found dinner, again beef and rice. Watching a soccer match between local schools proved to be the highlight of the evening. I then wound my way through the maze of streets to the hotel for conversation and advice on how to experience Siem Reap tomorrow.

Pedaling the world’s 7th wonder

7th wonder of the world

Main Temple and entrance to the Angkor Wat

I found my breakfast ready and in the fridge near the hotel desk. The chef had prepared it to take with me today as I planned to leave before dawn. Leaving the hotel I rode through the maze of dark alleyway streets to the main road through Siem Reap. Last evening’s advice included directions to the only building where $36 tickets are sold to enter the Angkor Wat complex.

A huge area with only six gated entrances

Imagine an area many miles square with only six gated entrances where tickets/passes are checked – I think you have a rough idea of the complex. The entire archeological area set aside by the Cambodian government encompasses 154 square miles that include forests and small villages. The area is home to both the famed Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom temples built in the 12th century by the Khmer King Suryyavarman.

Dieity  statue in Angkor Wat

The day was cloudy so hopes of a brilliant sunrise over the temples were not realized. The silver lining was arriving before the throngs of tourists to this seventh wonder of the world. These grand temples and stone carvings built with ancient engineering mesmerized me. There were many tourists on bikes; with bike rental shops in Siem Reap and no lack of bicycle racks at either complex.

Trees growing throughout the temples remains

I rode the “ring” roads around each complex entering at the main walkway at Angkor Wat while riding to different ruin access points in Angkor Thom. Thom looked much more ancient with its iconic trees growing through, around and over the remains of temples, walls, and walkways. The vendors here were more aggressive than other areas I encountered along this journey. Most bicycle tourers, I know, travel to meet people and experience cultures. Purchasing souvenirs can become problematic while touring. I did purchase a $1 coffee, the most expensive coffee of the entire trip.

A close shave

After lunch, I scouted the non-tourist area of Siem Reap for a barber shop. After making a shaving motion with my hands, a young lady kindly pointed to a shop down the alley. My beard was the longest ever and I had not shaved my head for almost two weeks. The young barber, under the tutelage of his father, produced a straight-razor in which he slid a new, long blade. Now I became nervous. The young man proceeded to give a fine shave and really got enjoyment from people crowded around him as he shaved the “barang.” I spent the final two hours of sunlight mailing postcards and meandering through the city markets tasting different foods.

Cambodian version of Danish Abelskiver

I came upon what some westerners would believe to be Danish Abelskiver. Not being able to pass on this tasty treat, made with rice and coconut milk, I bought four. To my surprise, each contained either a small piece of green onion or single kernel of corn.

Sweet taste treat - Cambodian abelskivers

A sweet tasty treat – Cambodian abelskivers

With approximately 30-miles on my tires, viewing the 7th architectural wonder of the world, receiving a fine shave and enjoying Cambodian taste treats, it was a fulfilling day!

Into the countryside with several coconut stops

Every morning on this trip I have woke to a rooster crowing, even in the hearts of Phnom Penh and Saigon. This Thursday was no exception, though I managed a little more sleep before my tires hit the pavement again. My goal was to be in Stoung, about 61-miles away, this evening. The earlier starts had an enormous impact on my daily riding. The cooler sometimes cloudy mornings allowed me to stay a step ahead of the humidity as it mixed with a high sun later in the day. I also could allow longer, shaded breaks to enjoy a full coconut.

I found, after drinking an entire coconut full of juice, heat and humidity had no effect on me for the next couple hours.

Coconut break at rural Cambodian market

Coconut break at rural countryside market

Another joy of bicycling through Southeast Asia is seeing uniformed children biking to and from school. This morning, I saw hundreds of children riding along the highway waving and shouting “hello!” Early on I attempted to be one of the friendliest tourers on the road, but I stopped waving. During my first three days of riding, I came upon the scenes of two fatal accidents that may have been avoided if those poor souls had paid more attention.

Playing it safe around the kids

The distraction of waving and the careless drivers, coupled with no enforcement of traffic laws brings danger to these children. The children are packed together in their own unique peloton, many giving rides to other siblings or friends.

I did not want to see children losing control and creating an accident with highway drivers who do not care. It was along this stretch of road I experienced an oncoming tour bus passing a semi-truck, which was passing another tour bus. I, of course, found myself far in the ditch as I saw this happening before my eyes.

Another coconut before finding breakfast

Out of town, I realized I had not eaten yet. The coconuts being very filling, I rode to the next town, Dam Daek where I stopped for breakfast. Though I could not communicate through words, the chef made me the most delicious and welcoming meal of the trip. Here the custom of cooks and restaurant owners serving you. Then sitting across from you and watching you eat is a little unnerving and takes some getting used to! Though the friendliness is enjoyable!

Beautiful presentation & delicious breakfast Cambodia style

Beautiful presentation & delicious breakfast Cambodia style

I stopped later on this leg of my journey to enjoy another coconut. Encouraged by two young children, with their waves and shouts I surprised them by my highway U-turn. They could not hide their excitement of this foreigner at their mother’s roadside stand. Though we could not communicate through words, when prompted by their mom, they began to sing the children’s song “Head, shoulders knees and toes!”  This “concert” was captured on my phone and continues to be one of the trip’s highlights.

Trying to avoid the trinkets

Riding into Stoung, I took the first guesthouse available. It was first and foremost a restaurant for Angkor Wat tour buses. Tourists could purchase items to remember their travels without the bicycle’s conditions of limited space or weight. At this inn, $15 got me a clean room with air conditioning and a fan, though the fan proved more effective. Stoung’s roadside vendors primarily sold dried fish hung on roadside racks.

Riding through the town, I found an unmemorable dinner, passed a group of young monks on their walk back to the Wat and stopped to get a bottled tea for my morning ride. The girl selling beverages from her cooler reminded me of a lemonade stand back home; as she opened the cooler to display her wares I saw a mix of bottled teas, pop, and beer. After purchasing a tea and a 10 ounce Black Panther stout from the 8-year-old, I made my way back to the guesthouse. After journaling my day, I slept well.

Cultural differences and travel warnings on my solo bike tour      

The guesthouse owner had opened the gate early since I had said I was leaving by 6 a.m. Riding through town, children were already on their bikes heading to school. I made 20-miles on one bottle of tea and a Cliff bar which propelled me to the town of San Kor. Here I ate breakfast at a communal table outside a busy market. Though I am open to trying most any food, the meat in this morning’s soup consisted entirely of intestines. I savored the noodles, veggies, and broth and managed to let the intestines fall from my chopsticks to the dirt under the table. Here the town dogs lounged waiting for a morning snack.

Dealing with dogs on my journey

As a cyclist, I noticed dogs along the roads in towns and cities posed no threat but dogs in the countryside would snarl and give chase in an instant. From other cycling travel journals, I knew to be cautious of the Cambodian canines. Travel warnings from the U.S. State Department make it clear. If a person is to travel in the countryside, remote areas or spending a large amount of time outside, getting the rabies vaccine before your trip is wise.

In 2017, Cambodia saw the largest increase in rabies cases ever and the vaccine can only be found in the three largest cities. It was also in San Kor where I witnessed a dog get hit by a truck and just left in the road. I did not witness anyone come to the dog’s aid and it continued to get hit by subsequent vehicles. I can understand a person not wanting to risk their lives in these dangerous roadways for an animal that may most likely die; there are different values and perceptions placed on animals in Cambodia, then in the U.S.

Smiling stone Buddhas at Ankgor WAt

Smiling stone Buddhas at Angkor Wat

 

 

 The luxury resort & spa that was eerie and virtually deserted

I managed to book a room at a resort four miles outside the town of Kampong Thnor, arriving about 1 o’clock with 60-miles ridden for the day. The pictures of the resort betrayed what truly laid in wait for me. I arrived at an almost vacant, eerie and vast lodge complex. The 200 plus hotel was more of an abandoned office building. I was one of the two rooms booked for the evening.

This building I was in was a half mile from the main office and restaurant. The immense concrete parking lot was covered with weeds and looked like it had not seen a vehicle in years. I told the manager I would not stay here and asked for an alternative. Costing $10 more I was reissued a small cabin that was much closer to the restaurant/office and had wi-fi. I showered away the daily dirt, napped then decided to get an early dinner. Being the only patron in this vast dining hall, the best part of my stay was the food. The feast included a fresh salad with beef and salted crab.

I planned to leave early again in the morning, so lights out at 8 p.m.

Dangerous roads and the bamboo bridge on this solo bike tour

Bamboo bridge from my 2014 bike tour

The bamboo bridge (photo from my 2014 bike tour)

This Saturday morning found me packed and leaving the most bizarre excuse for a resort/hotel ever imagined. I rode around the maze of empty cabins to the cavern of a restaurant. The door was open so I walked in, said “hello” a few times loudly and received no response. Setting the key on the reception desk, I left. A mile away, through the small village and almost to the main road, a motorbike pulled alongside. It was the young manager from the hotel accusing me of leaving without paying.

I really couldn’t get angry, he was probably fearful of having to cover the costs if I got away. Showing him the receipts from last evening’s dinner and the separately paid receipt for the stay, he was embarrassed. He urged me to return for the breakfast included with my stay. If last evenings dinner was any indication, I wouldn’t be back on the road until the afternoon so I passed.

LBN Hotel, Kampong Cham overlooking the Mekong River

LBN Hotel, Kampong Cham overlooking the Mekong River

The most dangerous ride of my life

On the return ride through the town of Kampong Thnor (or Thma; Thna depending on which map, website or sign was being read) I found a coffee shop for the earliest caffeine of the trip. Two cliff bars later I was out on Cambodian Provincial Highway 71 experiencing the most dangerous riding of my life. The roads had no shoulders and at least a foot of the road edge was crumbling enough to force me farther into the traffic lane. Here again, I witnessed a double pass, drivers having no concern for human life.

Though I love Cambodia, this day I knew if I ever returned, I would not tour by bike on this highway. I believe it needs to be said; if you are planning a trip to a destination where traffic/driving is heavy, research that area. The site Crazyguyonabike.org has incredible firsthand knowledge of riding conditions the world over. From my research, I knew this stretch was dangerous. Though I am an experienced urban/highway shoulder rider I did not expect the callous disregard for human life on the roadways.

Cambodia’s 3rd largest city

There were two trips ‘firsts’ today: first a youngster who said “hi” instead of hello; and another wearing a bicycle helmet.  Wheeling through areas of logging and rubber plantations, I entered Kampong Cham, Cambodia’s 3rd largest city, from the west. While here three years ago, I never rode through the city, just along the waterfront.

Hitching a ride through the market

Hitching a ride through the market

The bamboo bridge

One of the most unique tourist attractions in Kampong Cham is the Kaoh Pen Bamboo Bridge from the city to the island of Kaoh Pen in the Mekong. In March of 2014, I rode the bridge to the island and relaxed at Kampong Cham beach. This tour, now early December, I saw the bridge in its annual rebuilding. During the Mekong region’s rainy season the bridge washes down the river each year and is rebuilt in a Sisyphus type scenario. Splurging on a room at the new LBN Hotel, five stars by Western standards, I spent $36 dollars. The room had a view overlooking the Mekong and its river walk, plus breakfast was included.

The Riverwalk in Kampong Cham was entertaining, with many dinner options

Saturday night on the Riverwalk offers many food vendors, organized calisthenics, live music, families playing games, strolling monks and only a handful of western tourists. I ate dinner at the Smile Restaurant on the Riverwalk. Smile is a project of the Buddhism for Social Development Action. They train disadvantaged youth in service and tourism industries giving them marketable skills and education.

At dinner, I was joined by a 74-year-old Australian of Sri Lankan descent. He assesses Cambodian projects being funded by German banks and reports if the investments are attaining the desired goals. Foreign investment in Cambodia is everywhere. Many corporations and countries are attempting to gain a toehold of influence in this poverty-stricken and increasingly graft run country.

Returning to my hotel, my locked bike had been brought inside by the 24-hour hotel guard. Most places I stayed allowed me to bring the Trucker inside for the evening though those that did not have a 24-hour guard watching customer’s motorbikes. It was there the Trucker was snuggled under the watchful eye of the guard on duty.

My last night in Cambodia on my solo bike tour

On my last Sunday in Cambodia, after a delicious omelet in the hotel and a final 40-minute ride through the city, I turned east and rode the Kizuna Bridge over the Mekong River. The Kizuna is one of many bridges funded by Japan. This evening’s destination was Kraek and today I encountered three Khmer weddings.

After inquiring, I understood these Khmer celebrations usually last three to four days with music and food throughout. The music was earsplitting, I could hear noise three miles away before reaching the party. The wedding rental business must be one of the busiest and profitable in Cambodia. The sad reality is the amount of trash generated, abandoned at the roadside with no infrastructure to collect it.

Still noticeable remnants of  the “American” War with Vietnam

The road continued in its narrow and crumbling state, though undulating rollers, which were welcome from the flat terrain so far on this trip. Finding tonight’s guesthouse I unpacked, reorganized and embarked on a ride through the town. This area of Cambodia saw years of conflict during the “American” War with Vietnam and the subsequent invasion and occupation by Vietnam in 1979 to overthrow the Khmer Rouge.

Returning to the hotel room I began noticing what looked to be dark cracks along the walls and floor. Upon closer inspection, it seemed every ant in Kampong Cham Province had found its way to my room lured by a stale piece of baked good I had placed in the wastebasket. Doing my best to secure my remaining food, I brought towels from the guesthouse desk to wipe up and rid the room of what ants I could.

This meal did NOT go to the dogs

This meal did NOT go to the dogs

 

 

 

Dinner with dogs

For dinner, I strolled along the highway to find the only open restaurant.  Inside large tables, with pots placed in the middle, were chunks of burning wood to cook your meal. I was supplied with gray marinated beef and numerous vegetables by the young couple running the place. I was soon joined by the town canines who were not interested in competing with me for the food at my table. They had their dinner from the remains on the table next to me.

It is really an experience to see a dog eating at a table next to you while the proprietors don’t make a move to get them off the table or out of the restaurant. I returned to the hotel by 8, journaled my day and fell asleep.

Crossing back into Vietnam on my solo bike tour

Waking Monday morning I was itching and covered with mosquito bites. I didn’t remember swatting the little buggers during the night but had the bumps to show for in the morning. The past few days I had noticed more mosquitoes, but this last evening was crazy. I am glad I took the malaria pills and Japanese encephalitis vaccine, before this trip.

Trucker waiting outside the Vietnamese customs

Trucker waiting outside the Vietnamese customs

I love riding in the early mornings here, children going to school, proprietors setting up shop and families sharing breakfasts at small roadside restaurants. My goal this morning was to arrive early at the border crossing as I entered back into Vietnam.

Passing through customs leaving Cambodia

Rolling up to the border I was able to rest the Trucker against a rail and walk to an open customs window. The Cambodian guards were having difficulty with their retina scanner. After 30 minutes of trying one, then another scanner, they finally found one that worked to their satisfaction. I refused to place “extra funds” in my passport receiving a cold stare as I handed it over. Locals lining up behind me had either U.S. dollars or Cambodian Riel peeking out from their passport as a way to ensure their border crossing.

Approaching the Vietnam customs, I locked my bike outside and walked through a huge building; more of symbolic puffed chest toward Cambodia than a practical government building. I took the long walk through this port of entry. Not seeing a soul, I passed the official passport check station and walked right up to the guards at the exit.

These guards panicked, alarmed that I had strolled right through to them, without being stopped by the customs official and having my passport stamped. As one guard escorted me back, the other was yelling for the person responsible for monitoring passports and missing me. Five minutes after handing over my passport, I was back at the exit station. The two guards there scrutinized my passport since they had nothing better to do.

Back in Vietnam

Returning to the front of the building, I grabbed the Trucker and rode the 100 odd yards to the exit where yet another customs official scrutinized my passport. All cleared and back in Vietnam, I tucked away my Cambodian Riel and American Dollars and returned the Vietnamese Dong currency to my wallet. Though it is illegal for the Vietnamese to accept dollars, when paying for larger ticket items like hotel rooms, they will quietly accept it.

It could have been a marriage with coconuts as the dowry?

Today’s 62-miles were uneventful; keeping an eye on the traffic while dodging puddles from last evening’s rain. I did stop twice for coconuts, I swear they have an ingredient that rejuvenates, like no other. The second stop was run by a mother and her two adult daughters. This mother was very serious about me returning to the states with one of her daughters and hope of an immediate wedding.

After emphatically stating “NO” three-times I was back on the Trucker and gone. Riding through the large city of Tay Ninh, gateway to Ba Den mountain, I pondered whether to stay for the night or keep riding. Ba Den Mountain was used as a signal post by American forces during the war and is now an amusement park complete with vendors, rides and a tram to the top of the mountain.

Setting my sights on a guesthouse I had stayed at 11 days prior

Tay Ninh is also home to the Cao Dai Temple.  This religion was founded here in 1926 and is formally known as “The Great Faith [for the] Third Universal Redemption”. The temple is adorned with paintings of the “Left Eye of God” the symbol of Caodaism. It was still before noon so I set my goal as Go Dau with hopes of staying at the same guesthouse I had 11 days prior.

When I arrived, the owner was very happy to see me and chatted again about his time in the U.S. He rode his bicycle with me to the restaurant.  It was then I learned his brother had taken me to his favorite pho restaurant, not the one having a business arrangement with the guesthouse owner. During my fantastic dinner of shrimp fried rice, we were hit with a sudden severe storm which knocked out power to most of the town. This must be a common occurrence since all along the street generators fired up and it became business as usual.

Returning to the guesthouse (in the dark, rain and without a shoulder against oncoming traffic on the divided highway) I was met by the owner’s brother in law and a friend from Cambodia.  They proceeded to tell me, as I quietly listened, all the problems with the American government today. After an hour of international insight, I called it an evening and retired to my room.

Shopping and breathing in Saigon on the last leg of my solo bike tour

Enjoying acclimation to the heat, humidity and exhaust day 14 was my last planned day to ride. As I repeated the tour’s first day of mileage and divided highway, I happened upon a grand opening. Here at the 7-mile mark a new combination coffee shop/ motorbike/car wash just opened. This idea makes great sense in Vietnam. Ready to pay for my latte, the woman behind the counter thanked me profusely for coming. She insisted my morning caffeine was free as long as I came back some time – I just might!

Vietnamese street vendor making savory omelettes

Vietnamese street vendor making savory omelets

Closing in on Saigon, I rode past the usual grouped retail shops. A stretch of landscape shops would give way to a mile of woodcarving artisans, then motorbike repair shops followed by pharmacies. No rhyme or reason that I could tell, though it seems to make it easy to negotiate and fix prices. The shops I hated to see were the ones selling caged wild birds sold as pets. It was along this group of shops I saw a man on a bike with a platform on the back selling beautiful birds of prey, each tethered to a board.

Bicyclist with cages mounted on back selling beautiful birds.

Bicyclist with cages mounted on back selling beautiful birds.

The air thickened as I rode into Saigon

Each mile closer to the city center saw the air thickened to the point of being able to grab it, a sickening exhaust-humidity cocktail. The buff across my face was worth its weight in gold.  After a fried rice breakfast in Cu Chi, I stopped for another coffee. It was here the young lady behind the counter brought me three large green teas as I chatted with the owner and drank my coffee. As I said goodbye to them both, she brought me another bagged tea to hang from the handlebars!

With every Vietnamese coffee comes a side of iced green tea

With every Vietnamese coffee comes a side of iced green tea

After checking into my hotel in the early afternoon, I immediately took all my dirty clothes over to the laundry. By the early evening, they would be cleaned and folded for $3.50. With time to relax, I walked to a fancy new restaurant serving Vietnamese and Cantonese dishes. The shiitake soup was wonderful and the entire staff was dressed in Santa or elf outfits for the approaching holiday.

Then I returned to Amy’s coffee a short walk from the hotel. The owner seemed surprised to see me again. He immediately brought an iced coffee without asking. Though I paid for it, my system could take no more caffeine today. Instead, I ordered apple juice and was very happy with that as my nightcap.

The last two days of my solo bike tour were spent walking Saigon

Leaving the Trucker behind, I put on over nine miles walking on Wednesday as I made my way to Ben Tanh Market and other sites around Saigon. I purchased a few items to bring home, ate well throughout the day and arrived back at the hotel during rush hour. To show others what the road was like at this hour, I donned my helmet and jumped on Trucker to record an 11-minute video. Here I am, with a Go Pro attached to my helmet, riding from the hotel, down the neighborhood street to the main road and around the huge roundabout at rush hour.

Later, I washed the evidence of Cambodia and Vietnam from the Trucker’s frame and let it drip dry overnight. Tomorrow I will take it apart to be packed for my flight back. If the stars align, I will see it in Chicago when I arrive.

Shopping for tea and packing

Thursday morning scouted for various teas to enjoy back home and was pleasantly surprised to find lotus flower tea. Soon after, the bike came apart and the components were smuggled past the front desk and into my room where I could pack without a crowd gathering to watch. Re-wrapping fragile components with bubble wrap and padding the corners of the cloth case with clothing proved again to be a tight fit. Then it happened!

The cloth along one side of the zipper on the top side of the case ripped the entire length. All I could do was finish packing and grab a roll of canary yellow duct tape (it’s in my DNA, I carry duct tape) and proceed to reinforce the case. Now the hope was airport security would not decide they need to open it?

I challenged myself, the rest of the day, to find different street vendors and sample their foods. One reason being, I may not return to Vietnam for a while and the other is to spend my remaining dong since it won’t go far in the states.

With gear loaded, 22 hours later I was back in the U.S.

With my new Deuter backpack, I purchased in Saigon, as my carry on, I went to bed early preparing for a 5:15 a.m. taxi to the airport. Checking in for the flight to Narita Japan, the counter agent did not weigh either my cased bike or my checked bag so no worries there. I also watched security through a propped door as they x-rayed my bag. I believe the protocol here was to wait until a passenger’s luggage was screened and if all was well you could proceed to the gate.

My bags passed and 22 hours later I landed at Chicago ‘s O’Hare for an evening with my daughter and son-in-law. Now for the last leg of my journey, a five-hour drive home, from Chicago to Minneapolis for the Holidays.

Practical details and tips for planning a Cambodian journey

Think I travel light? The joke with all my past travel companions is “where is he hiding the kitchen sink?” Being called a pack mule doesn’t begin to describe me; never a boy scout yet always prepared.  This trip I attempted to turn a new leaf by limiting the items I packed.  The following items were not necessarily used but carried with me.

But first let me start with:

The Trucker crank section nestled in the case

  • The Surly Long Haul Trucker; 26” wheels; outfitted with S & S couplers, Dynamo front hub and Sinewave converter for devices.
  • An S & S carrying case for the bike. So I can check it in as normal airline baggage -using: bubble wrap, pipe insulation, and tennis balls to slide over frame ends.
  • Surly Pannier racks; front, rear, and handlebar Ortlieb bags.
  • Coupler wrench & thread lube; 3 extra spokes; extra tubes; tire levers; patch kit; mini pump; extra brake and shifter cables; head/tail lights; helmet; bell (a must for answering the school children’s bells); bungee cords. Chain lube; extra chain links; adjustable wrench; spoke wrench; needle nose pliers; swiss army knife; and Allen wrench/screwdriver multi-tool.
  • Android Nexus 5; iPhone; Go Pro Hero and 64 GB SD cards; Charging cords/adapters
  • Keen sandals; pair of Crocs; pair wool ankle socks; 2 pairs padded shorts; pair no pads; underwear, 1 pair long pants (zip offs); 3 long sleeve shirts, 3 short sleeves; 1 wool beanie; 3 Buffs (can’t live without ‘em); 1 yellow windbreaker.
  • 6 epi-pens; malaria pills; z-pack, ibuprofen; Tylenol arthritis, Pepto Bismal, Neosporin ointment, toothpaste/brush/floss; liquid soap; hand sanitizer; deodorant; Misc. bandages/gauze pads/tape/Q tips; Katadyn Micropur tablets/ 2L Hydrapak container; washcloth/ towel; 50 SPF sunscreen; toilet paper
  • Small mirror; clothesline; spork; ENO hammock; Chimes ginger chews; Nuun electrolyte tablets. Clif bars; G.I. can opener (the same one used on my first tour at 12 years old), hardcover journal/pen; People for Bikes stickers ( given to children in lieu of candy); 5 Sea to Summit various sized dry bags and backpack; Ziploc bags; duct tape; sunglasses and bifocals
  • Passport w/ extra photos; medical information; decoy wallet; waistband pouch for money and passport; 9 million Vietnamese Dong (about $400); $400 U.S. cash

Reservations along the way

The only reservation I made before I left Minneapolis was for the Minh Chau Hotel in District 10 in Saigon. They had done a superb job 3 years prior and though the ownership had changed, the service was wonderful. Not a fancy hotel by any standards but a large room with a queen size bed and full bath cost $19 per night.

This was about 3 miles from downtown Ho Chi Minh City where the costs climb slightly but the rooms, beds, and baths shrink exponentially. The other plus was the Minh Chau was in the heart of a neighborhood; coffee shops, restaurants, 2 schools, laundries and morning markets made for an authentic, day-to-day vibe. The day after I arrived, I booked my final two nights here and they agreed to store my bike case and packing materials for my return.

Google Maps

I relied on Google maps as I looked ahead each day, searching for guesthouses or if the city was large enough hotels. In the larger cities, I would scan for the words “guesthouse” or “hotel” as I rode through town. Only once I saw no indication of places to stay on Google maps or Booking.com. Of course, this was also the small town that most people waved me away after my game of charades to find lodging.

Lodging

Guesthouses and hotels outside the large cities of HCMC, Phnom Penh and the tourist city of Siem Reap are rented by the hour, 2 hours or night.  Most family living is multi-generational in a 2-3 room dwelling with extremely little privacy. These places offer an inexpensive getaway to couples looking to be alone. Sadly, this pricing and availability also enable sex traffickers and tourists to continue victimizing Southeast Asians.

In Phnom Penh

I spent 3 nights at the luxurious Mekong Dragon Boutique Hotel at $39 per night.  This booking.com reservation was made from the road 5 hours ahead of time; they had all my information and an iced mango juice (in a martini glass!) as I walked through the door. This hotel was close to the sites I was to visit the following day and enabled me to experience the true feel of Phnom Penh city life.

Approaching Siem Reap

I made reservations for a small hotel and received the Booking.com confirmation number.  For $16 a night, I stayed 2 nights in the clean and friendly Angkor Beauty Boutique Hotel, 2 miles south of Siem Reap happily hidden in a maze of alleyways and roads.

The Samrith Hotel outside the small city of Kampong Thnor was questionable?

The booking site sorely misrepresented this location as a luxury resort & spa though it was eerie and virtually deserted. Booking.com also allowed me to make a reservation for a hotel that closed six months earlier. They notified me two hours later to make different plans.

The luxury LBN Hotel to the Mekong hotel

Three years ago in Kampong Cham, the Mekong hotel was one of a handful of places to stay overlooking the Mekong River. I stayed here and marveled at the large construction project next door. Fast forward to this trip and that project is the luxury LBN Hotel, the tallest building in Kampong Cham. I stayed for one night at $36 with a delicious breakfast included.

If you decide to visit Vietnam or Cambodia, there are plenty of places to stay and sleuthing to discover them takes little effort. You may be surprised at their definition of “clean” but the hospitality more than counters most issues that may arise.