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Column: Slow ride

A lot of people took advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend to relax. To welcome summer by getting together with family and friends. To eat large slabs of meat cooked over an open flame, drink cold beverages and think patriotic thoughts.

Not me.

By 8:30 a.m. last Friday I had embarked along with my father and brother on a leg-deadening, butt-numbing and ultimately frustrating attempt to ride a bicycle from St. Paul to Chicago.

That's 450 miles. In three days. I never said it was a good plan.

The trip started well enough. Aside from a steady east-southeast wind blowing in our faces the weather was about perfect as we set off down Summit Avenue with a mixture of enthusiasm and confusion about how, exactly, we had talked ourselves into this.

Day One was unremarkable. There were a few healthy-sized hills early on but the bulk of the riding was on relatively flat roads along the Mississippi River. If not for the 150-mile distance it was the kind of pleasant, scenic ride a sane person might take.

Day Two was another story altogether. At 130 miles it was shorter than the trip's first day. But it also took us through south central Wisconsin, a region with topography clearly designed by someone who enjoys pastoral scenery but hates bicycles and everything associated with them. We climbed more big hills than Sir Edmund Hillary. We were up and down more than John Travolta's career.

Put it this way, when something called Wildcat Mountain isn't even one of the day's five biggest hills it says something about the route. And not something encouraging.

Through it all the wind kept blowing in our face. It was like pedaling a stationary bike in a wind tunnel, but more painful.

In the end, the wind and the hills were too much. At least with the prospect of a 170-mile ride looming on the third day. Eighty miles in, demonstrating for the first time in the weekend something resembling common sense, my brother and I called for a ride. Our father continued on. He might say he was more determined than we were. I can think of some other words that work better.

I was disappointed with my decision almost immediately, even though I knew saving energy for the third day's ride made sense. And that's what I told myself right up until the time we decided a third day of riding unreasonable distances into yet another stiff east wind was more trouble than it was worth.

It seems like we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble and figured that out at the beginning. Better late than never, I guess.

The trip ended with a Sunday morning car ride from Madison to Chicago. We ate lunch at a restaurant rather than standing outside a convenience store. We sat on seats designed for comfort rather than weight savings. It was an imminently more sensible way to travel.

There were bumps the rest of the way. The hotel didn't have our rooms ready when it was supposed to. The bar wasn't open when it was supposed to be. But at least we could sit without pain.

Despite the hard work, it wasn't a bad way to spend the long weekend. We didn't get to grill or sit in a lawn chair, but we accomplished something, even if it wasn't exactly what we set out to do.

And we woke up Monday morning to a strong west wind.