Day 29, July 19
New Ulm, MN, to Owatonna, MN
Dark storm clouds over St. Peter, Minn., as seen from Waldo's Coffee Company.
It was still early in the morning, and we entered St. Peter, MN, just 30 miles into the day's ride. We stopped at a little park near the center of the pretty town where the Adventure Cycling crew had established a rest and water stop. We no sooner had filled our water bottles when a Sergeant Jerry Yusta of the town police force rushed up to warn us that a severe thunderstorm was headed our way at 40 miles per hour and we should take cover immediately. He offered to shelter us up at police headquarters up the street. We opted instead for Waldo's Coffee Company two blocks away, which is something like Starbucks, only much better.
By the time we reached Waldo's the northern sky had turned blacker than any sky I'd ever seen before during the day. The street lights flickered on. The good folks at Waldos allowed us to park our bikes inside, and we reciprocated by hauling in all their outside furniture so it wouldn't be blown away. A coffee customer with a laptop showed us the radar display of the coming storm. It was huge and very impressive.
The storm hit the town like a hammer. Within 15 minutes the gutters outside the cozy coffee shop were overflowing. We were cool and dry, enjoying the best coffee of the trip. The pastries were also excellent. I bought two helpings of lefse, a Norwegian delicacy that I remember from my preschool days. A Norwegian neighbor lady made it, and I always showed up for a handout. It's a potato pancake made very thin, cooked on a griddle, sprinkled lightly with sugar, and rolled up.
Our colleagues elsewhere took shelter whereever they could. Jack Turner, a fast rider who was ahead of the rest of us, found an open church. A kindly lady there made him a pot of coffee and served him cookies. Others ducked into farm machinery sheds with open doors. One group pulled up at a house where the owner was bringing in her bird feeder. They asked if they could stand under her tree. She said yes, then opened up her garage for their shelter.
After two hours of stuffing ourselves, the storm had passed and we continued on our way. The long ride included 20 miles of the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail. It's a paved path lined with dense brush and tall trees. It was delightful, like riding through a long green tunnel.
It was raining again when I reached Owatonna. But we didn't have to pitch our tents in the rain. We camped inside the building that yearly houses the county fair beer garden. In the middle of the night, there was another big, noisy storm, but were safe and dry.