On a recent evening, like most summer nights, I took a spin around Lake Harriet on my circa 1985 10-speed Raleigh. I’ve been living in Tangletown since I was just a boy, and riding around the Chain of Lakes, especially Harriet, has always been a highlight of my day.
I remember hot summer days in the pre air conditioning era where I would ride my 26-inch Schwinn to the South Beach just to cool off. Other neighborhood kids were often there. too, so a game of tag or Marco Polo would usually develop. On rare occasions, one of us boys would have a little change with us, so we would ride to the band shell and buy some popcorn.
Summer days seemed longer then. Now, in my older years, I like to take a casual spin with my wife. It helps us wind down, think about the week ahead and most importantly fosters the perfect environment for uninterrupted quality conversation that, today, seems so hard to come by. During my ride tonight, though, I realized that I, the casual and meandering bicycle rider, is but a dying breed. We have been replaced with several other types of cyclists.
The ride started as usual, west on 46th Street to the Parkway, down the big hill, and left onto the path. I took a deep breath, smelling the air and taking in the evening. My transfixion with the tranquility of the lush green trees, the white sail boats gliding effortlessly across the lapping blue water, back dropped by the majestic cityscape could only be interrupted by a deafening command: “ON YOUR LEFT!”
Fending off a heart attack, I swerved onto the grass and slammed on my brakes. I looked to my left and a Lance Armstrong blur went racing by. “When did they change the Tour de France route to go through Southwest Minneapolis?” I sarcastically asked my equally startled wife. I got back on the saddle and continued to pedal, and did my best to forget about Lance and his dangerous riding.
Halfway around Harriet, I could start to hear music coming from the band shell. I asked my wife if, when we got up to the band shell, she would like to stop and listen and we agreed that would be a nice cap to the evening. We forged on and rolled by someone capturing the evening on a piece of canvas, young couples holding hands and laughing, and several walkers being dragged by their enthusiastic canine companions.
“This very well could be my favorite place on Earth,” I thought to myself as I archived the evening in my brains’ “pleasant memories” file. Then it happened again. “ON YOUR LEFT!” I instinctively swerved and slammed on my breaks, this time more frustrated than scared.
I looked to my left. It was a 20-something on a fixed gear bike with jeans that might have been painted on, a skateboard helmet, Maverick’s (from Top Gun) sunglasses, and a backpack. He, like Lance, was going at least 20 mph. A little agitated, I said nothing, and got back on the bike, and continued to the band shell.
We arrived at the band shell and found a place to sit in the fresh cut grass to listen to the music. I started to think about the bike ride, and wondered why everyone else on the bike path was in such a hurry. Our parks have so much to offer, so what troubled me most was that so many riders don’t seem to be appreciating the beautiful scenes they are whizzing by.
Is there no such thing as a casual spin through the park anymore? I remember when the parks and bike paths were a place to come and slow down, to relax, and to get out of the hustle bustle of the city life. Now it seems the paths are being used as a velodrome. So, I write this not to sound like a bitter old man that time has passed by, but rather to solicit a renaissance of casual, meandering bicycle riders. Dust off that old Huffy, pump up the tires, and roll down to the lakes. Some of my best memories are on two wheels, and with the help of Lake Harriet, I know some of yours will be too.
Brendan Keating has lived in Tangletown his entire life, and can often be found relaxing in the parks around the Chain of Lakes.
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