Sakatah is backPublished 3:25pm Saturday, October 5, 2013
Dan Urlick, Bike Rides
I busted away on a late September, Wednesday afternoon to celebrate passing the halfway mark. A midweek ride never feels quite as free as one taken on the weekend, but at least the view gets better somewhere around the top of the hump.
The afternoon forecast said simply awesome so I threw the Raleigh on the rack before my traveling job took me to Waseca that morning. After work I turned north up Highway 13 for the 10-minute drive to Watertown, Minn.
Aqua city is a quaint little lake town (population 2,000) positioned right at the shores of Sakatah Lake, and at the heart of Sakatah Singing Hills Bike Trail. I haven’t ridden Sakatah in several years and there’s a reason for that: My last visit found the old state trail was mostly in a state of disrepair.
Sakatah’s 39 mile path is one of the original successes of Minnesota’s conservation effort known as the “Rails to Trails” program, which usually works pretty well, but not in Sakatah’s case. Over time, the railroad tie pattern stamped into the ground after decades spent supporting millions of tons of locomotive, bled to the surface and molded the cracking black top into a washboard pattern, aggressive enough to skip the CD player as I bounced along. This is not only a testament to how rough the trail was, but how long it’s been since I’ve ridden Sakatah—I was still using a CD player.
When I arrived at the trailhead in Watertown, there was a quaint bike shop occupying the building which used to house a coffee shop. I consider that an even trade so I stopped in and met Linda, BW’s Bikes’ friendly owner.
“Which direction are you heading?” she inquired.
“East to Faribault,” I answered.
“They’ve just finished repaving that section,” Linda said.
“Really? That’s good news,” I replied, strolling around the neatly kept shop.
“Have a nice ride,” she said as we parted ways at the door amidst a swarm of hovering wasps.
“That’s the only kind there is,” I mused, hurrying past the pests.
Linda was right; the trail was in fantastic shape, smooth and a couple feet wider than before. Through the thick corridor walls of greenery, images of the lake fluttered in the periphery as I opened sail and cut the wind like the captain of the Oracle.
For those who don’t understand the value of riding a nice long trail vs. road biking, let me explain: The trail is the only place you can let your guard down and your mind go. On the road you must keep a majority of your focus on traffic. If you let your attention sway, the result could be fatal. On the trail, all you really need to do is remember to keep right (apparently for some folks this is still too much). The safety of an open path gives your mind the freedom to set sail way out to sea and the experience doesn’t feel like exercise so much as it does… a regatta.
There is another negative to Sakatah and that’s this leg’s proximity to the always noisy highway 60. While it’s a problem that is easily remedied with a decent set of ear buds, vehicle noise is still a nuisance.
Those in Mower County who’ve been tasked with routing the Shooting Star Trail from Rose Creek to Austin (and I hail your efforts) should note: Please take whatever steps are necessary to get as far away from Highway 56 as possible. In Sakatah’s case, the highway’s unfortunate presence to the south is easily balanced by the view of Sakatah and Cannon Lakes to the north, but there are no such lakes between A-Town and Guns N’ Roses Creek, just straight up cornfield.
Sakatah is off the ‘D’ and back on my ‘B’ list, beautiful but imperfect… like so many of us.
Thanks for sailing along.
Traffic Tip: Chugging uphill? Remember: Other riders travelling downhill may be approaching rapidly. Don’t kill their buzz by obstructing both lanes.