I’ve been thinking a lot about touring and biking lately, but the “touring” may not be what you think. The Tour de France bike race is held every year in July. In conjunction with that Tour, the Tour de Fleece is a spinning and knitting event enjoyed by many fiber enthusiasts.
During the last month, I’ve enjoyed watching the Tour de France, knitting for the Tour de Fleece, and doing a little of my own biking.
Tour de France
Two days ago marked the end of this year’s Tour de France. If you are not familiar with it, the Tour is a 23 day bike race covering over 2200 miles throughout Europe. Most of the race takes place in France, with the last leg traveling up and down the Champs Elysses in Paris.
I started watching some of the television coverage of the Tour a couple years ago and have become more interested in it each year. The race can be a little confusing when you first watch it, but with time, it becomes much easier to understand.
Each stage of the Tour is different. No two stages are held in the same location and the distances vary each day. The biggest difference among the stages, though, is the type of biking that is done. This year there were two days of time trials – the first day and the second to the last day. There are several days that are considered mountain stages – with steep inclines to challenge the riders. Some days are focused on distance, others on sprint-racing.
The overall winner of the Tour needs to excel at all types of racing. This year’s winner was Chris Froome – a leader in bicycle racing. Froome has won the tour three of the last four years – this win makes him four for five. There are racers that have won five times, so Froome will probably be back to see if he can join that prestigious club.
Tour de Fleece
The Tour de Fleece on the other hand, may be well known among knitters and spinners, but does not enjoy any television coverage. The dates for this Tour coincide with the dates of the Tour de France. The rules are much looser, although the intensity can approach the same level.
The Tour de Fleece was started in 2006 by designer, spinner, and knitter, Star Athena. This Tour is somewhat organized by bloggers and designers through the knitting forum site, Ravelry. Leaders form teams – some large and some small – that communicate their success through the site’s forums.
In order to participate, a spinner or knitter commits to work toward his or her own self-imposed goal. Some spinners just commit to spinning every day. Those of us who don’t spin (myself included, at this point), can join as hand-cyclists, a.k.a. knitters. Although I was without a TV for about half of the tour, when I was able to watch coverage, I did so with my knitting project in my hands. I was able to finish one (previously started) project and make serious progress on a couple others. Eventually, I hope to learn to spin, so I can participate in the spinning part of the Tour de Fleece.
My daughter is a spinner; her husband knits. They are both bikers and have been watching the Tour de France together for several years. The three of us are planning to travel to France next year to watch a couple stages of the Tour live. We intend to watch a mountain stage – or two – and the finish in Paris. We will also spend time traveling through parts of Italy and France.
Biking in Minnesota
The reason I was unable to watch the Tour coverage this year, is that I was on vacation with my parents in Minnesota. The resort where we stayed for part of the time did not include Tour coverage in their TV listings.
Instead of watching cyclists, though, my family and I spent some time doing our own cycling.
Minnesota has hundreds of miles of beautiful, paved bike trails throughout the state. I was familiar with some of the trails and had decided to bring my bike, so I could take advantage of them. There are three exceptional trails in the area near the resort where we vacationed – the Heartland Trail, the Migizi Trail, and the Paul Bunyan Trail.
The Heartland Trail is a 49 mile trail that travels from Park Rapids through Dorset, Nevis, Akeley and Walker, to the trail’s end in Cass Lake. Each town offers trail access and parking, with a couple additional trail access points available north of Walker. For biking enthusiasts, this interesting trail is superb. The trail passes over creeks and inlets of water, along lakes, and through wooded landscape. The small towns along the way offer opportunities for refueling (eating) and shopping – if you want to carry your purchases.
The Migizi Trail covers up to 19 miles in Cass Lake Minnesota. There is an out-and -back portion that visits the Norway Beach Recreation Area. The trail joins a portion of the Heartland Trail in order to complete a loop around Pike Bay. There are four access points on the trail so larger or smaller parts can be covered depending on the choice of logistics.
My favorite way to explore the Migizi is to bike the complete loop around Pike Bay for a total of 13.8 miles (omitting the Norway Beach extension). The trail is fully paved, primarily flat, and full of picturesque views. For less ambitious bikers, I’d recommend biking the part of the Migizi that is not connected to the Heartland Trail. Starting at the South Pike Bay Picnic Area and ending at the Wayside Rest on Highway 2 covers the most beautiful part of the trail in about 8 miles.
Paul Bunyan Trail
The Paul Bunyan Trail runs from Bemidji to Brainerd, a distance of over 100 miles. Other trails, including the Heartland Trail join or intersect in order to produce a nearly unlimited number of options for riders of different levels.
This year, several members of my family biked around part or all of Lake Bemidji. The ride uses the Paul Bunyan Trail for over half of the route – from Lake Bemidji State Park to the south end of the lake, near the Paul Bunyan Park. Since I haven’t biked much recently, I opted to do the shorter portion of about eleven miles, although when I finished, I regretted not committing to the entire 17 mile ride.
Starting at Birchmont Beach on the north end of the lake, we rode up the highway for a little over a mile until we came to the state park. The trail through the park is about two miles, followed by another two to three miles of straight trail through woods and prairies. The last five miles or so runs along Lake Bemidji, and since we rode in the evening, we were able to watch the sun begin to set over the lake. For those who chose to continue on, the trail winds it’s way through the town of Bemidji before returning to Birchmont Beach – an additional six miles.
I look forward to returning to Minnesota next year so I can ride on other trails, but more than that I’m hoping to find places to ride closer to home.
When we travel to watch the Tour de France next summer, my son-in-law would like to try out the Paris route along the Champs Elysses – they close it to traffic early in the morning to allow amateur bikers to try it out before the professional racers arrive. Maybe my daughter and I will join him. If not, we’ll be knitting as we cheer him on.
It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day (I’m writing this in the morning); I think I’ll try to go for a bike ride this afternoon.