American Paradise on a Bike
by Bob Aldrich
There is a point in your life when you look back remembering a simpler, less complicated, less rushed, less complicated, less rushed, more essential life.
Nostalgia is nothing more than trying capturing the best part of that moment, when you felt an unencumbered joy in the present, unfettered by worry or fear about the future, and not yet old enough to feel the weight of the past.
The Dakota Rail Trail is one of the easiest ways to get there.
Like most bike trails, it is a straight line from A to B. It runs from Wayzata to St. Bonifacius along an old railroad line for thirteen miles. Truth be told, bicycle trails can be a bit tedious. They are straight, with no more than a 3% grade, since they were once railroad beds, and the railroads were not built with scenery in mind.
The Dakota Rail Trail flies in the face of all of these ineluctable facts and presents instead a portal into the success story of America.
Shafer Park, in the heart of Wayzata, lies on the shore of Lake Minnetonka, where you park your car in sight of rows of boats along the lake, waiting to be taken out.
The trail rises out of the park and runs parallel to Highway 15, but not for long. Quickly, the highway is gone and you are riding down a tunnel of luxuriant green, elms, ash, maple and oak.
Soon there is a golf course on the right and then you cross the first of several wooden bridges, redolent in the smell of creosote, and you have to stop. You might not want to, but you can't help it: Lake Minnetonka lies before you on both sides, boats slow down as they run the channel, kids fish under the bridges, and there you are, right in the middle of a country so vast and rich and full of promise that all you can do is take it in.
There are houses so big that they have statues, magnificent views of the lake, three and four and five car garages, and then there are warehouses that surprise when they come into view, all business, loading docks and wooden pallets.
Next the Minnetonka Drive-In unfolds before you, pure Americana: burgers, shakes, fried chicken, and homemade root beer. If that's not enough of America, then stop at the Big Stone Sculpture Garden and Mini Golf just down the trail. Is there homemade root beer and mini golf in Europe? Asia? Australia?
As you head west, there are fewer roads, a chance to air out your legs and get serious about cycling for a bit before you come to St. Bonifacius, an unassuming little community where the city offices are next to the Little League ball field.
There is, near the end of the ride, a road that goes from asphalt to dirt, and in the early evening the dust casts a pall over the light that makes it look like magic. The sun is setting, everything is golden, there is a barn in the distance and every wetland you pass has more birdcalls than you've heard in years.
All is well on this nice little bike trail through America.
Sidebar: The Facts
From Minneapolis/St Paul, go west on 394, exiting at Wayzata Blvd exit. At Central Ave, take a left, heading south to Lake St. Head west on Lake St. until you come to the Historic Depot. Take a left at the stop sign and continue west in the parking lot at Shaffer Park until you come to the Trail User parking spots.
The trail is accessible on the west end in St. Bonifacius at Highway 7.
Leaving the parking lot, head up the trail to Ferndale Rd, crossing it. Head west, paralleling Highway 15.
2.0 Cross Orono Orchard Rd.
3.3 Cross Spates Ave.
3.4 Cross Old North Shore Road.
Large wetlands on the north side of the trail.
4.0 Wooden bridge crossin Lake Minnetonka. This is the community of Minnetonka Beach, and the trail crosses several driveways, marked by white paving stones. Be alert for cars.
5.7 Cross Shadywood Rd.
6.5 Cross Sunset Dr.
7.4 Minnetonka Drive In. Burgers, malts, chicken, and homemade root beer! 11-9:30, seven days a week, open seasonally.
8.4 Cross Shoreline Drive. A major street, proceed with caution.
10.8 Big Stone Sculpture Garden and Mini Golf
12.2 Cross Halstead, a dirt road.
13.3 St. Bonifacius. St. Boni's Bistro is open for breakfast and lunch, T-F, 10-2, Sat-Sun 8-2.