First day in Minneapolis + yesterday’s challenge


I’m here at the home of Nate, Paula, and Hildie, and we’ve been having a lovely time so far! We had a nice vegan crockpot dinner, al fresco in the backyard. When it got dark afterward, a family of five or six raccoons came out to climb up on the grape arbors right near us for an extended midnight snack, which was kind of surreal to witness.

The earlier part of the day, I spent bicycling from the St. Paul hotel to their place about 13 miles west in Minneapolis, enjoying the sights… but a good chunk of the day was also devoted to bike-shop stuff.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that in addition to my train-ride disruptions, I had had a snafu taking up some of my attention and energy.

What happened is that about 25 miles into my beautiful 26-mile ride from Madison to Columbus, I noticed that my right trailer tire had gone flat. Argh!! This was only my fourth flat on this year’s journey, but the second on that wheel within about a month.

I was pretty sure I knew when it had happened: I had watched myself rolling over a chunk of steel-belted radial tire debris, and I cursed the luck that had put it in my path. (I had steered to avoid it with my bike’s tires, but then I saw the trailer wheel roll over it.)

As it turned out, though, I don’t think that was the culprit (unless it was an additional culprit, which is possible): I discovered the offending enormous nail (tack? thick rusty something) a little later.

Some of you may know that I hate changing flats.

I hate it so much that I refuse to do it.

A number of people—in “real life” as well as online bicycle forums—have stated or implied that this stance of mine is unacceptable.

“Oh, you have to be able to change your own tires!”

“Are you kidding? That’s an essential skill! Just practice a little, and you’ll be a pro soon!”

“No one should ever get on a bike without being able to fix a flat.”

Know what? I don’t care.

I have fixed flats. Probably half a dozen over the years. It’s not foreign to me.

But I hate it. And I choose not to do things that I hate, if I can manage to avoid it in any way.

I can’t tell you how empowering that feels. (And if you’re reading this and feeling tempted to chime in that fixing my own flats would feel even more empowering, please save it; I’m not interested.)

I love autonomy. I love making my own decisions about what is important to me in life. And I love living that. And I love modeling it for others, too. A (small) part of why I’m doing this journey, and doing it the way I am, is to show people that you can be adventurous, even if you’re not “perfect.” Even if you don’t like to camp. Even if you don’t like to bike up big hills, or on rugged gravel, or over long distances. Even if you can’t—or simply won’t—fix your own flats.

There are workarounds. Do what you love! Leave the things you hate, as much as you possibly can.

So. With that off my chest…

Since I refuse to fix flats, I do need to pull in other forms of creative problem solving.

What that looked like yesterday was, to start with, gambling that I could bike the remaining mile or so to Columbus without damaging the wheel’s rim. I looked at the map and saw that there was a park within about a third of a mile.

Good! I was hungry anyway—and a couple hours early for the train—so I could pull over there, find a shady bench, relax and remind myself not to get upset or freak out, have a snack, and come up with an action plan, which would probably include finding the nearest bike shop in town and heading over there.

When I got to the park and sat on that bench, though, opening a Clif bar, I checked Google Maps and discovered that this town was too small to have a bike shop.

Oof. Really??

Not one.

The nearest shop was about 14 miles away.

No way should I ride that far with a flat. Plus I didn’t have the time.

OK. Don’t freak out.

What about a Lyft? How much would that cost? Would the timing be feasible?

I checked.

$25.99 one way, and about 45 minutes to get there.

I could maybe afford that time, but definitely couldn’t justify the cost.

OK. Don’t freak out.

Maybe at the train station I would find a fellow cyclist who would enjoy helping me fix the flat…?

Maybe. But I couldn’t count on it.

But the station was less than a mile away, so at least I felt OK about biking that far.

I reasoned that it should still be easy and non-risky to the wheel to simply load the bike onto the train as is. Then unload it in St. Paul.

Unfortunately we would be arriving near midnight, so no bike shop would be open then.

But I had had the foresight to book a hotel as close as possible to the station. (I certainly hadn’t foreseen this complication, but I know that some sort of complication is always possible, so for late-night train arrivals, I’m willing to spend a bit more money than I otherwise would to get the very closest hotel.) As you may recall from yesterday’s post, it was only half a mile away.

I could do this!

Let’s see… search Google Maps for the closest bike shop to the hotel.

About six blocks. Nice!

OK… what time do I have to check out of the hotel? What time does the shop open?

11:00. 1:00.

Argh… but doable.

Is there a vegan-friendly restaurant nearby, and/or a park, so that I could spend my time there between 11 and 1?

Yes and yes. Both within a block of the bike shop.


I made some calls, to the bike shop and hotel, to confirm these things.


Now, I knew that the nearby bike shop would almost certainly not have the replacement tire I would need; most bike shops don’t carry Brompton-sized tires. (At this time, I was assuming the tire had been shredded by the car tire fragment. That may not have been the case, but as I later discovered, the nail had damaged it enough that it would indeed require replacement.)

So, that would be an additional step. But fortunately, I carry two spare tires, after my Warmshowers hosts on my very first night—way back in September—warned me sternly of just such situations. I also carry two spare tubes. (I may not be willing to do the work, but I do make sure to at least carry the tools and materials so that somebody can!)

Still sitting on the park bench, I visualized the whole sequence in my mind:

Bike to the train station. Load the rig onto the train. Unload at 11 pm, and bike as “gently” as possible to the hotel. Check out of the hotel at 11 am, and bike as gently as possible to the restaurant and/or park, depending how hungry I was. At 1:00, proceed to the bike shop. Have them use my tube and tire to make the repair. Then, go to the sole Brompton-certified shop in Minneapolis (none in St. Paul) to have them replace the tire. (At this point, I picked up the phone and called that shop to make sure they had the 16” Schwalbe Marathon Plus in stock. They did. Could they replace it on a walk-in basis? They could.) I would also buy a new spare tube there, to replenish my stock.

Then—wallet lighter but mechanical confidence restored—I could proceed to my hosts’ place and get on with my enjoyment of the journey.

And… that is almost exactly what unfolded:

I managed to load and unload the rig on the train with no problems.

I got to the hotel around midnight.

I checked out at 11 this morning, and headed to the restaurant. Sadly, they were slammed and running behind, so I found a nearby Chipotle instead.

After lunch, I went to the bike shop near the hotel. It turned out to be inside the train station! The irony is that they stay open until 9 pm—later than any other bike shop in town, the owner told me—but still not late enough for me to have handled the whole thing last night upon arrival, which would have been soooo slick! (I had checked those hours while sitting on the park bench, though, so I knew what to expect.)

The person who did replace that tube at that shop was a boy who didn’t look more than 11 or 12. I wasn’t sure if he might be the son of the owner, but he addressed her by her first name, so I’m guessing not?

I sat next to him on a matching comfortable chair (the bike shop was recently expanded to also be a coffee shop, and he sat on the chair to do his work, without a greasy apron or any other such “wrenching” apparatus) and thanked him for helping me with this repair.

“Oh, you’re welcome! Surprisingly, this is actually one of my favorite things to do.”


I mean… there it is.

I hate, hate, hate to do that task. Here was someone who loves to do it. And now, I’m paying him to do it for me.

Win-win. This is the kind of life I love living.

When the tube was replaced, I headed out the door for the 12-mile ride to Perennial Cycle, in Minneapolis.

What a cool shop! They had folded Bromptons stacked artfully on shelves. In fact, a customer was just walking out the door with his beautiful brand-new deep red one.

Of all the Brompton shops I’ve visited so far this year around the country, most of them haven’t actually had the bikes in stock, or at least not prominently displayed. It felt cool to see that.

The mechanic got straight to work on replacing the tire shortly after I arrived, and even noticed a piece of embedded glass in the spare I had been using! He removed the glass in front of me, but showed how it hadn’t gone all the way through, so he deemed the tire still OK for use as a spare.

So then… that was it. My wallet was indeed lighter (those Marathon Pluses aren’t cheap, but they are worth every penny) and now I was free to complete my day’s journey. Nate and Paula live less than a mile from the shop, so it was easy-peasy.

So that’s the story! Now it’s late and I need to sleep. Nate says he will show me some good neighborhood fruit foraging trees tomorrow!

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