Cocksure Bike Rider Gets Knocked Down A Notch Or Two - A Most Unusual Bike Trip (By Normal Touring Standards) - CycleBlaze

August 16, 2005

Cocksure Bike Rider Gets Knocked Down A Notch Or Two

Frontenac State Park

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I never wear a wristwatch.  Until this bike trip, that is.  Knowing I average about 10 m.p.h. on these knobbies, I thought a watch might come in handy for judging distances ridden and for estimating what time I will arrive in the next town.  I use it to determine when to get up in the morning, when to start listening to the Twins baseball game on my transistor radio, and when to retire for the evening.  I'm glad I brought this little luxury.[1]

After lingering around my campsite, drinking coffee and reading George Plimpton's Paper Lion, my watch read 9:25.  It was time to start taking down my tent and getting on with my day.  My casual attitude clearly indicated that I didn't know what I was in for.  

One last sandstone cliff before ascending out of the Whitewater River valley.
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After snapping the previous picture, there was a continuous two-mile climb.  At the top, the landscape reverted back to level farmland for a while.  I started noticing huge flocks of small birds lined up on telephone wires.  Whenever I got close to them, they would fly off en masse and land again on the wires about 100 yards ahead, only to repeat the process all over again every time I got close.  There were hundreds of these birds and when they flew off together they looked like dark, fast moving clouds.  For some reason, I think they were starlings, but there's a good chance I'm wrong about that.

I also saw a large, well-fed redtail hawk that also took flight as I approached.  Unlike the starlings (?) it did not return.

Sometime around noon, I arrived at the little town of Theilman.  I can't exactly explain why I was so fascinated by this sleepy little town, but I'm going to try.

THEILMAN: The Little Town That Could [2]

After a few miles on Highway 4 North out of the town of Plainview, you begin to notice the landscape has turned exceptionally pretty.   You have entered state forest land.  You gaze at the high bluffs all around the valley of the Zumbro River and its little tributaries.  You are impressed by the peacefulness, the vastness, the greenness and the sparse traffic.  Soon one white steeple appears above the green trees.  Then another.  

You're starting to feel the heat and humidity of the day and you're building up a great thirst.  You cross the Zumbro River and look up the road to the right and catch a glimpse of a pop machine.  You cannot help but steer your bike up the hill to investigate.  You have entered the unincorporated town of Theilman and you can't help but sense some kind of weird aura to the place.  

At least that's how I came to know Theilman, and the weird aura I felt was that of a ghost town.  

The pop machine was in front of Ray's Tavern and Theilman Community Center.  That's right, tavern and community center all in one, but it was not yet open for business.  I had no change in my pocket and there were no other businesses in town, which meant no ice cold soda for me.

There was a small park behind Ray's Tavern and Theilman Community Center and, with great disappointment, I sat at a picnic table and drank warm water.  That's when I noticed that there seemed to be no movement at all in this town.  There were about 30 or 40 modest houses and a few of them had cars parked out front, but I never saw a single vehicle in motion the entire time I was there.  I hadn't seen any pedestrians either.  Nobody. No McDonald's.  No Wal-Mart.  No Holiday Inn.

Yet, I couldn't write Theilman off as a worthless nothing-town because I was fascinated by three interesting buildings across the street from the park.  They seemed so out of place here.

One of them was St. Paul's United Church of Christ. I liked the shape, I liked the construction of plain white boards, and most of all I liked the steeple. It was the same steeple I saw poking up above the trees as I approached Theilman.
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In the next block was St. Joseph's Catholic Church, built in 1903, and the Thielman Opera House.
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There just HAS to be an amazing history behind that big block opera house being located in such a small town.  Perhaps, Theilman was once a much larger and more prosperous town than it is now.  I don't know. [3]

Two things I DO know about the Theilman Opera House is that it was built in 1913, and it has a seriously big crack above the window on the left.
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After spending a peaceful 45 minutes in Thielman, I knew it was time to get moving.  It was getting very hot and I was less than half-way to my planned destination for the night.  There was a long ascent out of town followed by a long series of rolling hills that wore me out.  I cursed out loud at the sun and the humidity.

Highlights included a couple more hawks, a field containing thousands of white butterflies, and a long, exciting downhill ride toward the Mississippi River.  Also there was the hypnotizing whirr of my tires on pavement, frequently mixed with such quaint sounds as crickets, the wind blowing through trees or corn stalks, or the voices of cows, roosters, and songbirds.

My arrival into Lake City jolted me back to the urban world of four-lane traffic, road and building construction, condos, horns, busy people hustling here and there, and a long line at the grocery store's check out counter.  Oh how I longed to be back in sleepy Theilman.

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Seven miserable miles later I made it to Frontenac State Park.  I could not stop sweating.  Once registered, I proceeded up a ridiculously steep hill between the station and the campground.  I cranked down to granny gear and refused to stop until I got to the top of that damned hill--despite the sweat dripping into my eyes, my lungs on the verge of bursting wide open,  my thighs crying for a break, and my heart swearing at my stubborn brain.

Thank goodness, there was a reward at the end:  beautiful views from a couple hundred feet above the Mississippi River.

Keeping in mind that this is a phone picture of a picture developed at a drug store, it still looks pretty scenic.
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I took a shower at the campground.  That was the only thing that stopped my uncontrollable sweating.  Then I sat at my picnic table, uncorked the bottle of German Riesling that I purchased in Lake City, and wrote in my notebook.  Cicadas were screaming in the trees.  I liked it.

All cleaned up in Frontenac State Park.
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[1]  That watch was awarded to me for something or other by the company I worked for.

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[2]  The essay on Theilman did not have its own title in the original journal.  I just decided to add it for the CycleBlaze version.

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[3]  If I had a smart phone back then, I would have Googled it.

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Today's ride: 46 miles (74 km)
Total: 119 miles (192 km)

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