A trusty steed and smiles to spare

My column from the June 6, 2012, Mille Lacs Messenger.

People must enjoy seeing an old guy ride around on an old bike.

In an impromptu tour of Sauk Centre on Memorial Day weekend, I received more cheerful smiles, nods and hellos than I’ve compiled in years.

Sauk Centre, of course, was the model for Sinclair Lewis’ Gopher Prairie in the novel Main Street, which made small town America a symbol for all things phony, drab and artless. To me it seemed like a great place to live, with the Sinclair Lewis campground on Sauk Lake, and a dam and river to fish beside, and a cafe called the Ding Dong — apparently because it sat by what used to be railroad tracks and is now a bike trail.

It’s ironic, perhaps, that part of my bike tour took place on the Lake Wobegon Trail, named for another fictional small town created by another Minnesotan, but this one symbolic of all things down-to-earth and profound in their simplicity.

Also ironic is the Sinclair gas station on the Original Main Street, just down from the Main Street theater, the Main Street office complex, the Main Street cappuccino joint, etc. The people of Sauk Centre apparently embraced the man who made their town famous, even though it was at their expense.

This was our third Memorial Day weekend in Sauk Centre, where my wife participates in a horse show every year. Diane has a fancy Morgan mare that she likes to ride in circles in hopes of winning a blue ribbon.

She was done for the day but had some grooming to do, so I set off on my bike. On the way back to the fairgrounds, I saw two boys who had laid their bikes in the grass tucked up under the Lake Wobegon Trail, where their dads had probably sat tucked up under the railroad bridge. They smiled, too.

If you’ve ever been to a horse show, you know that horse people spend more on their trucks and trailers than many of us spent on our homes. Seriously. And you will not be surprised to hear that as I pedaled back through the fairgrounds, our truck and trailer stood out as the worst by a country mile. Seriously.

My wife paid more for her fancy Morgan mare than we paid for the whole rig, though that’s not saying much, since the Chevy and the trailer were each $1700. We also spent more on food and drink than we did on lodging. We were the only ones who pitched a tent.

I’m not much of a horse person. I sit in the bleachers reading a trashy romance and taking pictures and videos whenever it’s Diane’s turn to ride.

Or I go for a jog on the Lake Wobegon Trail. Or a bike ride on my own trusty steed, a red Schwinn Speedster, which I bought for less than 1 percent of what the truck and trailer cost —  15 bucks — but which has become my most prized possession.

I spotted it on Craig’s List along with its companion girls’ model, a Schwinn Breeze, and couldn’t believe my luck. The bikes had been ridden sporadically and stored in a St. Cloud garage since they and the garage were new, about 50 years ago. The old guy who sold them to me was moving. His wife had Alzheimers, so they were off to assisted living.

Hopefully, the wife and I, 49 this year, are a few years away from that fate. She’s got more blue ribbons to win, and I’ve got more smiles to compile.

As I pedaled like mad to pick up speed on the hill descending toward the fairgrounds, I realized why the Main Streeters were smiling.

The old guy was grinning like a school boy.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.

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