Feeling transported to Europe

“Don’t you feel like we’re in Europe?”

This comment, coming from friend Jim while he and I and our families were up in Anoka on a recent Saturday, merits some background explanation. It was, after all, a long, winding trail that had gotten us to that point.

It was a trip we had talked about for the past two summers. Jim, who works in Anoka but lives in Linden Hills, had wanted our two families to spend a day up there. It wasn’t the end destination that was the draw, however. It was the means of getting there and back that drew enthusiastic responses from my wife and me.

The plan was to incorporate both bikes and commuter rail to get to our agreed-upon destination — a Mexican restaurant near Anoka’s Rum River. The eight of us met in Linden Hills and biked to the Cedar Lake/Kenilworth Trails. Had our day only included this trail, it would have been successful per my scorekeeping. The Kenilworth Trail is one of the region’s most beautiful bike trails, passing parks, fields, meadows, and woodlands, all within the city limits. And, on this particular morning, the trail was packed with bicyclists, hikers, strollers, meanderers, and, seemingly, shoppers, given the number of people walking the pedestrian route with grocery and shopping bags in hand.

And that wasn’t even the European part yet. When we arrived Downtown, we biked right into Target Field, took the elevator down to the lower level, and jumped onto our waiting commuter train (Jim is nothing if not an excellent logistical travel planner). Within moments of taking our upper deck seats, we were smoothly whisking away along rails that had, at one time, been intended solely for freight.

“I’ve never seen the city from this viewpoint,” one of our party said.  It was, indeed, a different view of the city, seen from backyards, industrial lots, warehouses, and large, open fields. Different from our light rail trips, the Northstar allows you to settle in, take a look around, get a lay of the land. Stops are less frequent, allowing for greater contemplation and reflection and less jockeying for the next available seat. I was almost moved to pull out a deck of cards and introduce the game of pinochle to our merry band.  Is that not, after all, what East Coast commuters are wont to do?

All too soon we arrived in Anoka. I say “all too soon” because, quite frankly, I wouldn’t have minded if the rail portion of our excursion had been extended — we were enjoying it that much.  

The traveler to Anoka is left in a field. Feeling somewhat like what I imagined early immigrants to the Midwest felt like when deposited at a strange station, I looked around, blinked a few times, felt a slight sense of disorienting panic, but was quickly calmed when Jim shouted, “This way!”  

He was leading us to a path in the far corner of this particular neighborhood — a corner I never would have found on my own. It was a three-mile bike path skirting the Rum River.  

Had I not just been on the Kenilworth Trail two hours before, I would have nominated this path as one of the state’s most beautiful stretches.  It met all of my requirements — wooded, occasionally bordering fields and grasslands, with gently sloping hills and curves. Finally, at path’s end, we crossed St. Francis Boulevard to our intended destination. But the restaurant was hardly the point. It was the modes of transportation that had so, well, moved us.

And so, when asked, “Don’t you feel like we’re in Europe?” we could only reply, “Yes.”

Glenn Miller is the owner of Miller & Associates, a corporate communications and video production firm (glennmillerandassociates.com). His wife Jocelyn Hale also writes a column for the Journal.