Jim Klobuchar – A Biking Hardhead Reforms

Photo:  Jim Klobuchar and Ecumen CEO Kathryn Roberts at the recent Ecumen Leadership Conference

A lot of people will be biking this weekend; a Memorial Weekend treat follows from Ecumen blogger Jim Klobuchar.  Have a great weekend!

I was raised to practice the creeds of confession and reasonable remorse as the safest way to deal with my fallibilities; also to reduce our incarceration time in purgatory. In later years I found this to be not only a modest code of conduct but a pre-emptive strategy to deal with the wails and catcalls of the more than 200 men and women who ride in the week-long bicycle tour that I organize.

It will be our 36th in June, begun in the mid 1970s when most of America was unaware of the joys of romping through the countryside on a multi-geared bicycle. It was so long ago that riders showed up in Oskosh b’Gosh pants, baseball caps and rubber tennis shoes. Everyone biked with a full load of gear in paniers hanging from the rear racks. There were no biking trails. We rode on dirt roads when the pavement ran out. One year the highway department scheduled a detour on the highway near Sauk Rapids, MN and we walked our bikes four miles through a cornfield.

One stubby little guy, who later became part of the lore of the ride, arrived with a beanie on his head topped by a little spinning propeller and wearing black street shoes.. The practical jokers of the ride were totally merciless. It was not unknown for one of our folks to check out his saddle bags after riding 35 miles to lunch– and finding two 10-pound dumbbells neatly packed in his rainjacket.

Eventually we graduated into Tour ‘d France biking shirts and foot clips, 32-speed bicycles, lightweight helmets, GPS direction finders and heartbeat monitors. The ride became more than a ride. It is a now an open-ended reunion of people who have been doing it for years, who know all of the secrets of their road pals and are loosely united in the same way the survivors of the rack were united in the Middle Ages.

Most of them are still strong distance riders, many of them past the age of 50, 60, 70 and more.But they do remember the early years when we went 100 miles a day, or then 90 and later 75. They sent focus groups to negotiate with me, appealing for humane distances.

The turning point came 15 years ago when we began in a hot wind out of Monticello in central Minnesota heading for the town of Osakis, 87 miles away. The wind was coming straight out of the northwest, at least 25 miles an hour. Coincidentally it was exactly the direction we were going.

We lunched in the basement of a little church en route. People slept on the floor for more than an hour. By midafternoon a cloudburst struck and by 9 p.m. most of us, drenched, reached park where we camped. At 10 p.m.somebody rattled my tent and asked if I was the leader of this biking group.

“Why do you want to know?”

“There’s a guy on the phone at the police station who needs to talk to you,” he said.

It turned out to be one of my riders, wanting to know if his wife had called, worried about him.

“Why are you phoning? We’re here in the park in Osakis. Where are you?

“I’m in Grantsburg, Wisconsin.”

“What are you doing in Wisconsin?”

“When I started out in that wind, and we stopped for lunch at the little church in Rice, and then you all went back into the headwind—it nearly blew my off the bike. I said ‘these people are crazy.’ So I turned around and headed strait east for Wisconsin. It was a 25-mile an hour tailwind. All the way. It was glorious. I was totally happy. I’m still happy. I’m halfway through a T-bone steak. If my wife calls—“

I told the cop if his wife called, tell her to try all the motels in Grantsburg. The cop thought that was nice and chivalrous.

But I did conduct an examination of conscience the next year. You will be delighted to learn that the average distance of our six days in the bluff country of southeastern Minnesota will be 42 miles a day, and my popularity has suddenly soared.

About Jim Klobuchar, Ecumen "Changing Aging" contributor: In 45 years of daily journalism, Jim Klobuchar’s coverage ranged from presidential campaigns to a trash collector’s ball. He has written from the floor of a tent in the middle of Alaska, from helicopters, from the Alps and from the edge of a sand trap. He was invited to lunch by royalty and to a fist fight by the late Minnesota Viking football coach, Norm Van Brocklin. He wrote a popular column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 30 years and has authored 23 books. Retiring as a columnist in 1996, he contributes to Ecumen’s “Changing Aging” blog, MinnPost.com and the Christian Science Monitor. He also leads trips around the world and an annual bike trip across Northern Minnesota. He’s climbed the Matterhorn in the Alps 8 times and has ridden his bike around Lake Superior. He’s also the proud father of two daughters, including Minnesota's senior U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.