I've often thought it would be fun to ride from Northfield to the Lebanon or Murphy trails in the cities on gravel. Sunday was a great afternoon for just such an adventure north. The humidity was dropping, and the wind was out of the northwest. This meant an into the wind out and back, with a nice tail wind all the way home. With the wind direction, I figured Murphy would be the goal for the night. I left Northfield at 4 pm figuring that about 6 hours of daylight would be enough for a ride there and back.
Heading in the general direction of Murphy, I set off to find whatever gravel roads I could going north. I left pavement just north of the Northfield Hospital and rode into the wind. I looked at a map a bit before I left, but it's pretty hard to get actually lost. On the west side of everything you have Interstate 35, and on the east side you have Cedar Avenue or Highway 3. With these rough boundaries, I figured if I just rode northwest I'd eventually get there.The gravel roads were in really good shape. The recent rains have kept the dust down, but the surface was plenty dry and quite hard. Parts of the route verged on what Gnat has dubbed Hero Gravel. Even into the wind, the miles seemed to just clip along. The route I took followed some winding gravel with nice rolling hills. My legs felt great, the gravel passed easily beneath my wheels.Speaking of wheels, the Crests laced to 240's make for an impressive combination. The build seems plenty stiff for the smooth roads I'll be riding. They spin up wonderfully and seem to just roll. I generally find myself in a few gears harder than I was used to riding on the XT/Flow/XDX wheel set and these certainly coast better. I set up a set of Race Kings tubeless on these and I'm very happy with their performance. They were east to set up with a floor pump, the are holding air well, and they roll very well. They seem to grip very well, and I've heard that they wear like iron. After about 180 miles on this setup I'm sold. Fargo at rest.I really like riding without a plan. Especially on new to me roads, it allows for a huge sense of freedom I think. Without a set route to think about there is no need for a pace. There is nothing to think about in terms of getting anywhere at a set time, and there are no points of reference to look forward too or to strive towards. I had the singular goal of getting to the Murphy Hanrehan Park, and getting home before 10 pm.
I knew beforehand that the trail system would be closed when I got there due to rain. I had no intention of riding when I got there, I only to see how it best I could get there and to use the facilities. There was one slight flaw in my plan of not looking at a map. It turns out Murphy is a pretty large place. I ended up on the wrong end of the park. On the southeast corner of the park, there is only trail access for horse and walking trails. They are pretty explicit on intended use with no biking signs posted very clearly.
Looking at my iPhone map this was actually a bit of a problem. I would have to back track quite a bit to either get to the northeast side of the park, or to get to the road on the southwest side that runs up to the mtb portion of the park. As this trail access point did not have bathrooms, I needed to make it up to the mtb trail head. There was a trail that made it's way to the gravel ring road. It was about .6-.7 miles based on my rudimentary map reading skills. With no real option, I just ran it. It was kind of a nice break from the saddle and semi tired muscles.The park is really beautiful on this side. It's a mix of broken, rolling prairie with tufts of woods thrown in. I love looking at the tall grass waiving in the wind. As a midpoint break during the day, this was about as good as it gets. I have to admit that I did ride my bike through a few places that were submerged with water, or where horses had left presents all over the trail. I gotta say, I was again happy that I had fenders installed in both of these cases!The gravel road bordering the park is a pretty low key affair. It's flat on the south side and really nicely rolling heading north on the west side. There were some unmistakable WTB Vulpine tire tracks along the dusty shoulder. These are not terribly common tires other than on XT Fargo completes. Perhaps another Fargo had recently been through.Horse traffic on the road. I got off and walked past them, but the horse still freaked out a bit. I definitely give these animals a ride berth. I've spooked horses in the past on bike, it's not a pretty sight. Thankfully there were no riders on them when it happened, but it's something I'd like to avoid.The rest at the trail head was really nice. I took the chance to down a few Clif bars, stoke up some fresh Nuun bottles and to stretch out for a bit. Though the shade was a nice break from the sun, I didn't have long to stop. It was 7:15 at this point and I had at least 30 miles to get home.
Given the time constraints, I did look at the map to get me back to Lakeville's Airlake Airport as quick as possible. That's where the gravel starts again. The ride past the Burnsville Mall, Buck Hill, and Crystal Lake is actually pretty nice for being the suburbs. Traffic is quite light along the whole route, and even for tar it's quite pretty. A portion of Highview Avenue has a nice bike path along most of the busiest sections of the road. With the wind at my back and smooth rolling roads, I clipped along nicely. Truthfully this was on a slight downhill with the wind, but I was in the flats just cruising along. The route transitions back to dead calm gravel just behind the airport. I only saw one car on the road from Lakeville back to the north edge of Northfield. Even with tiring legs, the gravel and wind combined to make for a very pleasant roll home. The sunset at about 9:10 that night was just gorgeous. I was very glad to have been out in the country with an unobstructed view. It was a great reward at the end of a very rewarding ride.Have a good one. Get lost somewhere.