Local Photographer
Ariel Bracken


View Past Columns Here


Bike Rides 127
Ben Gets His Revenge

“You know what I want for my birthday more than anything?” asked my almost 16 year-old neighbor, Ben.

“What’s that?” I replied, focused on whatever project I had going in the garage and still engaging in the conversation, much like Charles Ingalls would.

“I want to go over to Albert Lea and have another shot at riding the trail that I never finished when I was 8 years-old.” He declared.

Ben was referring to a ride we’d taken in 2006 on The Blazing Star Trail. I wrote a column about that ride and to this day it still stands as one of the most popular in the Bike Rides series.

We cut that ride short when Ben’s asthma suddenly kicked in, an attack which could likely be attributed to the fast food feast we indulged ourselves in just before launching. We ended up skipping rocks at the lake and enjoying ourselves anyway.

This year we were disappointed to find Ben’s BMX bike wasn’t in proper running order, but I quickly resolved that dilemma by suggesting he instead try riding one of my mountain bikes.  Ben, after all, is taller than me now.  It was a glorious afternoon when we left for Albert Lea with the moon roof and windows wide open in the little red Nissan.

“Ready to go?” Ben asked, as we shut the car doors.

“Yep!” I replied ignorantly.

“No, you’re supposed to say “Rock and Roll!” Ben asserted, referring to a ritual we started way back in the days of the first ride.

“Oh yeah!” I replied, regretting I’d missed his cue.

“You want to eat before we ride or after?” I asked.

“After,” Ben replied confidently. “I’m not wasting any time before I take this thing down.”

That’s when I realized how serious he was about riding the whole trail this time. Later, re-reading the original story from his perspective, I could understand. For seven years he’s had to live with that defeat, which I’d subsequently documented in the paper for the whole town to see. Ben wanted to set the record straight and who could blame him.

At the trailhead, Ben eagerly assisted as I removed the pair of mountain bikes from the rear rack. We immediately put tire to pavement.

“Ready to go?” I asked.

“Rock and Roll!” Ben returned right on time and we were off.

There are a few formidable dips on Blazing Star. The first couple grades roll easily, then there’s a real doozy on the east end.  Ben got excited when he noticed the “Steep Grade,” warning sign posted. We flew down it reaching an impressive maximum speed of 23 mph.

In no time at all and without breaking a sweat, we reached the end of the five mile trail cleanly.  I took Ben’s photo right at the spot where the pavement ended to document the success properly for my triumphant friend.

On the return trip the grade is even more sudden and steep.  This suited us just fine, as these quick bursts of speed on two wheels can be very intoxicating. 

Traveling behind, I was trying my best to keep an eye on the trail, Ben, and my cycling computer:  22…24… then 28mph until it was no longer safe to look down, even for a split-second.

Afterward the Max Speed function revealed we’d actually topped out at 30.2 mph!! That’s very fast and we were both rightfully excited about this achievement.

It was Ben’s first time ever riding a mountain bike and he took to it nicely. Along the way we made note of the rich, summer green, wide-open prairies that occupy the landscape as you near Lake Louis State Park and The Big Island.  It was a weekday afternoon and there wasn’t another soul in sight for nearly the entire ride. The gift of a gorgeous July day was ours to behold.

For old time’s sake we stopped at the lake to skip a few rocks, as we reflected on and extended our summer afternoon playtime before rewarding ourselves at Albert Lea’s fine Quizno’s restaurant.

Happy 16th birthday on July 7th Ben.

Rock and Roll.

Traffic Tip: Think right, move right, stay right.

See more “Bike Rides” at dansbikerides.com
Hear Bike Rides Fridays on 91.3 FM at 1:00 pm

Ben (standing) and Dan (in the car), July, 2013

Dan (standing) and Ben (in the car), September, 2006

Ben at the end of the Blazing Star Trail

Maximum Speed = 30.2 mph!


Bike Rides By Dan Urlick

Rock AND Roll! (The Original Story of Ben)

Recently an over worked, tired and envious, “family” man asked me exactly what I do with all my free time. You’d think I’d have a good reply, considering the single lifestyle is hardly new to me. But, I had nothing. I must admit I started to think, what do I really do with my time?

With this question in mind, I decided to invite the eight year old neighbor kid on a Saturday afternoon bike ride with me. This young man’s name is rather symbolic of his story. It’s Ben, as in been through a lot, perhaps. Ben stays mostly with his grandparents next door to me. I won’t go into details, but considering the challenges this young man has faced, he is doing quite well. Throughout the summer Ben and I rode bike together a lot. This would be the first time, however, we ventured out of town.

I selected the Albert Lea Blazing Star Trail, the same trek I described in my last column. It’s a short drive, and a short ride. Perfect.
For the trip I packed extra water and energy snacks. I pictured this storybook all day adventure. The twelve-mile journey, longer than any other we’d taken, would be both an educational and bonding experience.

“That’s right this parenting thing can’t be all that hard”, I naively hypothesized. A good work out, some words of wisdom from yours truly and we could have the next Dali Lama here. I already had my Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech half written.

It was a hot day in September, so I decided to treat us to a top down trip in my KIA, via the back roads. This summer we started this little ritual. Before we venture out on any type of mission I say, “Ready to go?”

Ben replies, “Rock and roll!”

When we arrived in Albert Lea, we decided a little fast food was in order.  I’m not sure what triggered it, but as soon as we sat down to eat Ben’s nose began spewing blood. It almost looked like someone left the strawberry syrup spicket wide open on the shake machine. We compiled a sizable heap of bloody napkins before Ben’s nostrils relented.  Unintentionally, I think we spoiled the noon rush at Mickey D’s.

I started the ride slow, picking it up a little as we rolled along. After the first hill I noticed a funny look coming over Ben’s face.

“Need a rest?” I asked.

“Yep” He replied.

“Okay, under the highway bridge ahead, in the shade.” I instructed.
I could see the burger; super size fries and chocolate shake churning like a cement mixer in Ben’s eyes. I also noticed Ben’s water was almost gone as he was chugging it rapidly, attempting to dowse the junk food sodium fire rapidly dehydrating his system. After a rest, we proceeded. It wasn’t long and we stopped again.

“Can we go back now?” Ben gasped, as he gulped his last drink of water.

“Okay Ben we’ll turn around.”  I sighed.

“Are you mad at me?” Ben asked, sensing my disappointment.

“Well, can’t you suck it up a little Ben? I mean, we drove all the way over here.” I whined, as my vision of a great column and the Dali Lama quickly faded.

“I got asthma you know.” Ben replied “I don’t want to get so far away we can’t make it back.”

At that point I felt I was qualifying for jerk of the year, right up there with former Mayor Eaton, except I know when to quit. After all, I was the one who outfitted Ben in a number three super size, then stuck him in the hot sun to dry up like a beached rock bass.

“I’m sorry Ben. It’s okay, we can head back now.” I said.

On the way we stopped at the edge of Albert Lea Lake to skip rocks. I was forgetting all about the bike ride and the Nobel Peace Prize as we simply enjoyed the day together.

I’ve never been too proud to admit when I’ve learned a lesson.  Drawing in your head exactly how a day should look can only surely spoil it, especially if there’s an eight-year-old kid anywhere in the picture.  As I recall some of my greatest memories in life, they were commonly unrehearsed and spontaneous.  Equally true, some of life’s greatest disappointments have been futile attempts to recreate that same type of magic. So, this week’s column isn’t so much about biking, as it is skipping rocks and getting schooled by an eight year old on managing my expectations.

A-hah! That’s what I do with my time, Ward Cleaver!

We returned to the car, buckled up and I turned to Ben.

“Ready to go?” I smiled.

“Rock and roll!” Ben smiled back.

Traffic Tip: As a driver, exchange eye contact at intersections and traffic lights with riders, it’s a simple, non-verbal way of saying “I see you, I will not kill you.”


View Past Columns Here

Buy the books!

Email Me!



Copyright 2011 Lyon Communications

Website design by Hick Chick Designs