Monday, September 12, 2011
SAG for velomobiles
I first caught sight of the velomobiles along Highway 12 near the Missouri River, where they had camped (Mobridge on Lake Oahe). Singly or in groups of two to six, the brightly-colored vehicles cruised past fields of sunflowers and wheat. I caught up with them at a gas station where they pulled in for snacks and to get directions around a detour.
The first day, as the riders followed Highway 12 from Mobridge to Aberdeen, there wasn't much for a SAG driver to do. The official detour around a construction site would have taken them far to the south. The smaller roads that bypassed the highway to the north included a section of gravel. I waited by the beginning of that segment, but most of the riders went through under their own power. Three of them decided that their machines were unsuited to the conditions, and I ferried that group across. I camped with the group in Aberdeen. In the morning, one North American rider with an electric-assist system needed a ride to a bike shop in Willmar, Minnesota, so I drove the long stretch on Highway 12 to drop him off, then back to Benson, where the group was camping.
Some recumbent cycling friends from western Minnesota had shown up there, but I barely had time to talk with them when the sheriff stopped by, looking for someone to direct the riders away from a dangerous intersection in town onto a safer and shorter detour. I spent a while parked on the side of Highway 12, with an improvised sign pointing the way to the shortcut. The City Manager stopped and talked for a while. He had spent several years in Germany and had biked across the country while he was there.
The night in Benson looked as if it might be a wet one. Weather radar showed a storm approaching, and lightning announced that it had nearly arrived, but as it drew close to the campground, it split and went to the north and south. The campground offered a quiet circle road. On a weekday evening, ROAM riders had it to themselves. I took a quick test ride in a Go-One EVO velomobile, finding that it felt amazingly smooth and light. Mark Lynch, who was driving along in his Mazda Miata, coordinating direction-finding, passing out water, and generally helping with organizational issues, as he gathered information about velomobiles, took the opportunity to try out some additional ones. People from town drove through and stared, or stopped to talk.
The next morning, I had a couple of velomobiles to transport to the Twin Cities. One German rider was suffering from tendonitis, and North American rider Merrill Gay needed a rest day, so we loaded up a red Quest and Merrill's Alleweder for the trip to Minneapolis. Merrill rode with me int he truck. We dropped off the velomobiles at the campground in Baker Park Reserve, stopped at my house to pick up four trikes and three crockpots full of casserole that my husband Dale had set to cook that morningl We stopped to pick up some cold local beer and went back to Baker Park.
We hooked the trikes together into a train, and riders enjoyed taking it around the park on the beautiful paved trails. Everything was going well. Recumbent riders and velomobilists from the area were picnicking with the ROAM riders. Dale arrived and brought coffee.
Then the disaster. Dale was riding on the front of the four-trike train, with our friend Liesl in the second position, and two strong local riders on the back. We hadn't thought to warn the two strangers about the need to slow down in curves. As the trike train wound its way through the woods, they accelerated just as Dale started to put on the brakes. The sudden power from behind was more than he could overcome, and the trike train left the path and smashed into a tree. A pedal on the front trike sheared off and made a hole in his thigh, while a wheel on the other side of the lead trike "potato-chipped" from the force. Liesl, who had been braking, came out okay, but the trike behind her snapped its fork. The two riders on the back were uninjured. Cell-phone connections in the park were poor, and Dale couldn't reach me, so Liesl ran back to the picnic area. I picked up Dale with the truck, loaded the trikes in, and drove home. Our plans to ride through Minneapolis and St. Paul with the velomobiles -- with Dale borrowing Merrill's Alleweder while I would take some of the ROAM riders on the trike train -- were ruined.
I dropped the trikes off for inspection and repair. Two were okay, but two needed extensive work.
Dale didn't have any broken bones, but his thigh was twice its normal size, his shin was scraped and swollen, and he had a nasty wound. He couldn't get out of bed to visit the campground at St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park the next evening, but I had made the reservations there and had to stop by to help with check-in. Leaving Dale with his leg up and bandaged at home, I had one last visit with the riders before they left for Wisconsin, then I returned the truck to the rental center.