Pizza Farm Tour 2012
I just got back from a four day trip with several friends and some people I didn't know over into Wisconsin to visit Lovetree Pizza Farm again. It was a blast, here's the route we took and some photos and a bit about the trip.
I was pretty worried going into this trip. I've never tried to plan a route this long or involved for this many people, and it seemed like there could be a lot that could go wrong. My companion from last year's trip was helping me with the planning of it, that made things a lot easier. She handled getting people together and reserving the campsites and getting the money from everyone, I was in charge of the route and making sure we had good stops for food and to meet the sag wagon along the way. It seemed like a pretty good split, neither of us got too overwhelmed trying to figure everything else out.
Friday I worked about a half day but it was pretty slow so I took off pretty early and headed to REI to exchange my cooking kit with a new one. I picked up a few other things, a kit with salt and pepper and some cooking utensils, a dromedary 6 liter water pack and some dehydrated food, a camp towel, stuff like that. Then I headed back home and dropped everything off and then headed to the coop to buy some food for the trip, which I took over to our sag vehicle to load up for the trip. I didn't have enough space to bring the cooking stuff and the food on my bike, so I sagged that.
Saturday we got started pretty early, the rollout from Trotter's was at 8am. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get up in time so I was up earlier than maybe I really needed to be and got there about 10 minutes early before anyone else showed up.
Everyone got food and a few people ran to the nearest bike shop to get some last minute repairs done and people loaded up the last of what they didn't want to carry into the sag vehicle. We headed out through St. Paul then got onto the Gateway Trail to head out of town.
We were originally going to head out to Pine Point Park to meet up with the sag and have lunch but instead we decided to have lunch in Stillwater instead. We took the exit onto 75th into town and then stopped at the first place we found for food, a grocery store at the top of Myrtle hill. They had made-to-order sandwiches and a fair amount of other food to choose from. The sag wagon met up with us there, then we all headed down to the water to eat and get rested for the next leg of the trip.
From there we headed out north along the St. Croix Trail up to William O'Brien State Park, where we were camping for the first night. It was a pretty good road, the thing I didn't like was that they had rumble strips and the shoulder was pretty narrow. It was fine for riding single file but pretty difficult to ride alongside anyone and chat. There were quite a few hills along the way but nothing that was too insurmountable. The group really started to stretch out along some of these hills and I was a little worried that we would get separated. Really the park was along the road so it should be pretty easy to see but I was nervous that people in front of me wouldn't see it, or we would turn and the people behind us wouldn't make the stop.
William O'Brien was a lot of fun, we rolled in pretty early and had plenty of time to set up and head to the swimming area and have a good dinner and some beer. We started a fire and there was some guitar playing and some group discussions where we all went around and shared things, what bike part we would be, what we were looking forward to the most the next day, stuff like that.
We got up fairly early but not too early to head out onto the next leg. This day there were two potential routes for the first leg of the day. We could either keep going up St. Croix Trail and then cross over to Interstate Park on Hwy 8, but there was construction on the bridge and it was down to one lane in both directions. It's a huge hill too, it seemed like taking several fully loaded bicycles up that road might be a bad thing. After some consultation with the group we decided to take the other route, crossing over to Osceola and then taking County Highway S up the back way to get to the park.
That route turned out to be really pretty nice. The crossing into Osceola was a huge downhill and then a huge climb to get back up out of the river valley, and there was a Dairy Queen at the top where we stopped for awhile to get some sugar in our stomachs and get ready for the rest of the ride. Shortly outside of town we hooked up with Hwy S, which Low and I had taken back on our trip last year. At some point since then they had actually repaved the entire thing so it was all beautiful asphalt. It had a few hills and no shoulder but it was very low traffic and really pleasant.
We had a few little hickups where the people in the lead didn't see the turnoff for the park and I got honked at by a motorcycle because I had the audacity to merge across the freeway into the turn lane to get into the park. I thought there was plenty of room.
After we got to the park we headed down to our campsites which was a huge downhill. Thankfully there is a back way out of the park for peds and bikes only that makes it quite a bit easier. Our sag wagon driver was already out on a bike ride in town, she rode down to meet us shortly after we got there. We all unloaded a lot of our gear and set up our tents and drank some beer before heading out the rest of the way to the Pizza Farm. I was a little worried because it was starting to get a bit later than we were wanting to head out but it seemed like we still had time to make it the 22 miles there and 22 miles back before it got too late.
We stopped in town for some food at a small Indian vegetarian restaurant which ended up taking forever. That's one thing we learned about this trip, stopping at nearly any restaurant with 11 hungry cyclists was sure to eat up at least two hours worth of our time. They actually forgot about my order and so I was left waiting for food while everyone else ate and then had to devour it as quickly as possible because now everyone was waiting on me.
We changed up drivers for the sag vehicle so the person who had been driving could ride with us for this leg. Another rider who was feeling pretty tired offered to drive which made this work out. This was probably one of the harder legs of the trip, lots of long narrow roads without much shade and lots of pretty big rollers. We ended up getting pretty strung out and eventually had two main groups of riders about 10-15 minutes apart, this was probably the most split up that we were the entire time. I was a little worried because they were some pretty back roads and if you made a wrong turn you could end up way out in the middle of nowhere but somehow we managed to all make it OK.
While we were heading down one road, one of our riders pointed out that we were actually riding right by the Bicycle Farm. Originally we had thought about camping there after the Pizza Farm but decided that it would have been too difficult logistically because there was no grocery or liquor store nearby, and we weren't sure if we could limit it to the 12 people or less they thought they had space for. Turns out that since we had a sag wagon the groceries weren't really an issue, and we only had 11 people so that wasn't an issue either. So we could have camped there, maybe on another year we will. It does make the third day of riding quite a bit longer but it makes the second day shorter so it kind of balances out. We stopped there and chatted with Steve Clark and his son, eating a bunch of raspberries and filling up our water bottles.
A couple people headed down to go skinny dipping in their lake (they have hydrobikes there too!) right as the rear contingent of people rolled up and met us. I had left my bike out at the entrance to the farm to signal to them that we were stopped. They were concerned that it was getting too late for us to really stop so they wanted to press on, I left the other group since everyone pretty much knew where we were going and there were only a couple of miles left and pushed on to the Pizza Farm.
We simply ordered one of everything when we got there, we knew it would be a bit before everyone got there but it would also take a bit for the pizza to be ready. Our sag vehicle had already gotten there and set up an area with beer and blankets to sit on which was really nice.
While we were waiting for the pizza we went to check out the goats and cows that make the cheese they use on the pizzas, and a few people went to check out the puppies they had in a little pen as well. There was an adorable sheep with a lamb that came out from the barn and then grazed by us. One of the farmers asked us to stand in the road going into the farm by the fence while he drove the sheep and cows from out in the pasture to the barn, so we did that.
After the livestock were back in the barn we headed down to the pizza oven to see if our food was ready, it was just a few minutes later. I forget exactly what kinds of pizza we had, but they were all good. It was hard to remember to get pics of the pizzas before they were devoured, as you can see in the next couple of shots it didn't take long for each pizza to be devoured. The time between the two shots of the first pizza was only 2 minutes. It was really excellent pizza, superb 3 day old sourdough crust and really fresh ingredients that you wouldn't always think of to have on a pizza. Everyone on the trip said that it was worth the distance that we travelled and some of the best pizza they'd ever had. That made me really happy, I was worried that we would take all these people all the way out there and they'd be like 'what, this is it?' I was pretty sure it wouldn't go that way knowing how awesome the farm was from being there last year but you never know what people's expectations will be on a trip like this.
We only finished 3 pizzas before we decided that we were really at the end of how long we could stay there and still get back to camp before dark. So we put the last pizza in the sag wagon and took it back to camp to eat when we got there. It was cold by then but still really good.
The lady who owned the sag and had ridden up with us didn't feel like she could make it back and the other lady who had driven up to the farm still wasn't feeling great about riding so they both headed back in the vehicle together, the rest of us set out to retrace our steps back to the campsite. We were moving at a pretty good clip and got separated a bit, I was off the back for several miles because I stopped to clean my glasses or something like that and couldn't seem to catch up with the group in front of me. I knew I would make it back to the camp fine but still didn't want to be totally behind everyone just in case they didn't remember where we were supposed to turn off to head into the camp the back way. Thankfully I caught them before we made it to town. We stopped at a park / landing at the top of the road into the camp and I tried to take a couple of pictures of the beautiful sunset along the river but the pics didn't turn out.
We headed back into camp to eat the rest of the pizza and cook up more stuff for dinner. I pulled out my sausages that I'd bought at the coop and tried to just cook them on the grill over the fire. Turns out that my tongs from my new cook kit didn't work all that well for picking up and flipping meat, so I used my hands and ended up losing one polish sausage to the ashes. That was kind of a bummer. But the people that had the sausages were happy to have them, I don't think we really cooked up too much else for dinner that night. We probably should have had more but everyone was pretty tired and cooking seemed like a pretty big chore.
We didn't really do much that night, just sat around the campfire and drank a few beers then headed to bed pretty early. Everyone was pretty beat by the day's ride, we'd been at it most of the day with only a few small stops and it was by far our longest day of the trip.
The next morning we rolled out a little bit late, everyone had breakfast which took quite awhile to make. We decided to actually cross the river on Hwy 8 because heading this direction it would be a huge downhill where we wouldn't be blocking traffic all that much. We tried to all bunch up at the top but two people had peeled off to hit a store or something and a few of our riders got tired of waiting and headed out down the road before us. It was actually pretty cool, the car behind them as they crossed the river actually slowed way down and didn't honk or anything, in fact it turned on it's hazard flashers to warn cars behind it that it was moving slow. That was pretty awesome
By the time we had everyone and headed out we were several minutes behind the lead group. Our destination was Fraconia Sculpture Park along St. Croix Trail which from the map was supposedly only 2.7 miles away. It turned out to be more like 7 or 8 miles away with a lot of big hills along the way. I stopped partway through and had the group wait while I verified that we hadn't passed it or something.
We finally made it to the park and everyone stopped again even though we hadn't gone very far. We ate more food and wandered around and looked at all the art there. I kind of wish I had of had more time or had of walked around with someone instead of walking around by myself so I could have talked about the pieces with someone.
This thing was pretty cool, pedal powered paint spinner or mixer of some sort.
From there our next stop was going to be in Marine on St. Croix, which was about halfway back down to Stillwater. We got pretty widely separated on this stretch as well. The people that I was riding with stopped to rest up a bit and wait for the people behind us but when they caught up they said they were just going to keep riding, I guess they had just stopped a few minutes before us. We got our gear together and headed back out after them, saw them just around the bend getting back on the road. They had apparently taken a detour over to a nursery that had huge sprinklers going and got themselves cooled down by riding through them. We didn't know that's what they were doing but wanted to get the group back together so we didn't stop but kept riding on to try to catch them.
Before too long we were all in Marine on St. Croix, we stopped at one place that said "Espresso and Bikes" but they weren't actually open so we headed to another restaurant for lunch. It was really pretty busy there and they only had one person working the floor so it took awhile to get everyone served and back out on the road. A couple people left early with all of their stuff, they were heading back to Minneapolis that day because they had work or other commitments and couldn't do the final leg of camping with us.
Heading out of Stillwater across to the Wisconsin side is pretty horrible. There is a huge, really steep hill that you have to climb to get up to the highway on top of the bluff. I think only one of us made it all the way up it, almost everyone else walked up. From there the original distance that google maps had given us to get to the park was only 7.2 miles or something, but with the extra roads around the park I didn't know how much more we had left. We moved out along the road with some nice rollers and didn't end up getting too separated. We were less sure what the stops / turns were along this section so I think most people weren't confident getting too far ahead of the group.
We managed to find the route OK, only when we got to one of the extra roads that we needed to take we had our first call for the sag wagon. The lady who had traded off and drove up to the Pizza Farm the night before was feeling too tired to make it the last few miles into camp, so we called for the vehicle and all waited around with her to make sure she was safe before heading on.
We decided that we didn't need to meet up with the sag in Stillwater so we had her continue on to the campsite while we headed out to do the last leg. Right outside of Stillwater our Brompton rider had the only real mechanical of the trip, a flat tire. Replacing the tube resulted in another flat tire. While he and Low were working on that the rest of us headed into town and stopped at the coop to devour a quart of ice cream between 5 people. It seemed to take forever for the two that were behind us to get back into town which worried me a bit.
While we were there I got a text from our sag letting me know that the google directions to get into the park were wrong. This was actually the second case where they were wrong, according to the google directions for William O'brien we were supposed to take a back road into the park but the entrance was right off of St. Croix Trail. I'd noticed that one but didn't know the area near Willow River so I hadn't seen it there. Turns out instead of heading in a back way we had to ride all the way around the park and then halfway south to get to the entrance. I consulted google maps on my phone while we were waiting and figured out what the new route would most likely be and hoped for the best.
When we finally made it to the camp, our sag driver had made up a huge batch of pesto pasta for us all to eat. That really hit the spot, we were all starving by that point in time. We all set up our tents and unloaded our gear and then we all piled into the now empty sag vehicle to head down to the swimming area. It was quite a ways away from the campsite and we weren't sure if bicycles were allowed along the trail heading there or just the road. It was really refreshing to wash off all the grime from the road. We hung out there until it was starting to get dark and then headed back to camp to make up some more stuff for second dinner.
That night was the only real bad weather we had on the entire trip. There was a huge thunderstorm that rolled in. Our sag driver had heard it start raining then checked the weather on her radio and heard that it was going to be really bad. She went around and woke everyone up to have them either get in the vehicle or head up to the bathrooms. By the time I got dressed it was really pouring so I didn't head the whole way up to the bathrooms where I guess most of the other people were, it would have been fun to be able to talk to them. Instead I holed up in the vehicle and listened to the weather reports and waited about half an hour for the worst of the storm to pass.
The next morning we all really slept in pretty late and then made up a pretty big breakfast with a whole lot of eggs. We were starting to run out of other breakfast food. We didn't have very far to go on this day but still I felt pretty bad that we all slept in so late. Since all of our tents were soaked it also took quite a long time to get all our gear stashed, and then once we were mostly ready to leave one woman couldn't find the key to unlock her bike so we waited quite awhile for her to find it and then get unlocked so she could ride.
The ride back to Stillwater wasn't as bad as I was expecting it to be. I had mentioned that I was worried about the hills heading back out since it seemed like we were mostly heading downhill for a lot of it going in so it would be uphill going back. I got some crap for this attitude from the other riders, apparently I wasn't being positive or optimistic enough. I've never really been an optimist so I guess that shows, I did feel bad that I was bumming out other people's good vibes or whatever. I guess that's something that I need to work on for the next trip, pep talks to get people excited and motivated about the next day's riding. If I was more confident in my own riding abilities maybe I would be more positive, maybe those huge hills wouldn't look like huge obstacles but rather fun challenges to be overcome.
I love that last sign on E right before you drop across the river and into Stillwater. Dangerous Hill, Bike Route. I think there used to be a sign that said 'No Shoulder' as well.
The woman who had sagged the night before rode back to Stillwater to meet us there and then ride the rest of the way back. We all decided to meet at the same grocery store at the top of Myrtle. It was really hard to climb Myrtle fully loaded. A couple of us did it, but I and a few others got up to the last turn where it looks like you are at the top and then you see there's another block and a half and just gave up. I think that physically I possibly could have made it but mentally I just gave up, got off and walked the rest of the way.
We all met up at the store and had some food, then some people headed out to the nearest public restroom on the outskirts of town. The rest of us finished getting gear together and then followed them, but we weren't sure exactly where the gas station they were going to was. We were at what we thought was the edge of town but hadn't seen it yet, so we stopped and tried to call but everyone's phone was off. We sent two people scouting back the direction we had came and then finally heard back from one of the riders and found out we still had another couple miles to go to meet them. We grouped up again then headed back out to meet them, once we were all together we continued down 75 to the Gateway Trail.
The Gateway was pretty nice, it's mostly downhill and flat and shaded going this direction so it was a really welcome change to baking on the side of the road in the 100 degree heat. We stopped once or twice to group up and refill water bottles and use porta potties but for the most part kept moving pretty well.
Once we were off the trail we all got over onto Summit and then most of us took that all the way back to Minneapolis. The last place we stopped was right across the Marshall / Lake Street bridge. The brompton rider and I both felt like an iced coffee at the Dunn Bros there but everyone else wanted to head home, unload, then go to the sag wagon to pick up the rest of their stuff. So we all split up and the two of us sat in the air conditioning for a bit, then I headed home and the trip was over.
All in all it was a really great trip. Having the sag wagon made a huge difference in how easy it was and how enjoyable it was. It was great having coolers full of food and beer waiting for us at each campsite. I actually spent a lot of time wondering about how I could actually carry everything that I needed in order to be able to eat food and not have a sag wagon. I think I would need a front rack and two extra panniers in order to do it right.
I was bummed that I forgot the handle to my new cooking kit so I didn't get to use it for anything. I tried to use my stove once to boil some water for oatmeal but I actually couldn't get it lit by the time that a burner on one of the two green two burner stoves that we hauled in the sag opened up. Having those stoves probably made cooking a lot easier than it would be on a bike only camping trip. The new tent worked out great, it's really roomy. I'm not sure how bad it would have been to actually carry it on the bike though, I only rode with it the first day and then sagged it the other days.
One of the best things about this trip was having a charger for my phone and GPS. My neighbor saw a facebook post that I made asking for reviews of different chargers and said that he had one that I could borrow. I had a total of 16 fully charged AA rechargeable batteries when I started out the trip, plus it had a solar charger to recharge them. It was small enough to be easily strapped to the top of a pannier and seemed to charge nearly full in 5-6 hours along the road. I'm not sure if it would be enough for all my power needs on an extended trip but it did great on this trip. I really liked being able to keep my phone on but in airplane mode the whole time so I could just pull it out and take pics without having to wait for it to power up. I wouldn't have been able to record the whole mileage for the trip on my GPS either without the ability to recharge. The distance turned out to be 180 miles or so for the whole thing, not too much but not all that shabby either.
I'm not sure if we're doing this exact trip again next year. Low said she wants to do another trip but maybe to a different destination. She doesn't really have time for any more trips this summer which is kind of a bummer, she's an excellent person to work with on organizing large rides like this. I felt like we really did pretty good as a team putting everything together. So it might be two summers from now that we do the Pizza Farm trip again.
Personally I'd like to organize a couple more trips for this summer, I am pretty sure I still have more vacation time coming and if not I could probably take some unpaid time off to do more of it. There's just something that I really like about spending your whole day doing pretty much nothing but riding fully loaded on trails and roads that you've never been on. I'm just not sure how to really find people interested in going with me - I posted up about this ride quite a bit before it happened but I don't think one of the people who showed up was there because they saw me posting about it. So I'm not sure how to find other people that want to go. It is a whole lot more fun to do with a group of people, I don't know how much fun I would have riding solo and camping alone. I get enough alone time as it is in the cities, I don't need to go out seeking more solitude. Having someone else to split the organizing duties with would also be nice, but I don't really have anyone to turn to there either.
So I'm not sure what I'll try to do for another ride like this, but I probably will try to do something. If anyone is interested in either joining another camping trip like this or helping me organize and promote it please either email me or leave a comment on this post.
The day after the ride was the fourth of July so I had some time to rest and kick back before heading into work. The only thing I did all day was laundry and grocery shopping, then I headed out to the Freedom From Pants underwear ride in the evening. That was a lot of fun but I found myself doing what I always do at large parties, just sticking with talking to the people I already knew and not really connecting with a lot of other people. I'm going to try to work on that more, maybe that's something I can focus on in therapy. I always get kind of shut down when I'm around that many people that I don't know.
Now I'm back to work and it's pretty slow so I had time to write all of this up and post it. That makes me happy, I thought it would be a few days before I finished this post. I was going to publish the maps for each day's journey as well but I couldn't get the google maps to embed properly so that's kind of out. Anyone interested in doing this trip can also either just email me or leave a comment and I'll try to get you a copy of the route so that you could make the trip yourself if you are interested.