Tour 2015: The Movie

Waiting for the Albuquerque-Santa Fe Rail Runner to pass, on the Santa Fe Rail Trail.

Our recent Grand Tour 2015 took us by car through 15 states, visiting relatives (some we didn’t know before–3rd and 4th cousins in the Pietz line), old school classmates, national parks and monuments, state capitols, hero monuments, and landmarks.

We also took our bicycle, a Bike Friday Tandem Traveler “Q” model, which spent most of the 14000 km trip perched on top of the car to catch whatever insects were prevalent where we traveled.  But, from time to time, we sought out bicycle trails and rode about 2% of the total (288 km).  The tour marked the one-year anniversary of my cardiac bypass surgery and subsequent pulmonary emboli, the latter for which I was still taking anti-coagulants (warfarin, which we called by it’s more common usage–rat poison).  So, we generally followed doctor’s advice not to stray too far from the car, and limited our rides to 15-38 km, though I’m sure that 20km might be considered “too far.”

For the past 3 years, we’ve been documenting our bike rides (and a few hikes) with a GoPro sports camera mounted on the front (and sometimes the trailer) of our bicycle, and this trip was no exception.   We talked about the art of making videos in an earlier post, from a technical standpoint, with some discussion of editing and integrating sound, and the importance of creating a story, rather than just a replay of the ride.  From a content standpoint, there are two ways of making a video record of a bike ride: one is to simply turn on the camera and let it run, picking out highlights later in editing, and the other is to film points of interest as they go by.  We haven’t yet taken the time and effort to use multiple cameras (a luxury us pensioners can’t justify) or to stage “selfies” by setting up the camera beside the trail and riding past it (which takes extra time, and we’re slow enough as it is), and, since we ride the same bike, we can’t shoot scenes of each other easily.

Santa Fe Bike Trails

Our first ride was in Santa Fe, from our condo downtown to my granddaughter’s house 20 km south of the city, intended to be on city trails and frontage roads.  However, without a detailed map, we missed turns and ended up on busy highways on the way out and way off course on the way back, depending on the kindness of strangers (with a pickup truck) to ferry us between where we ended up and where we should have been.  The distance was a bit ambitious for our level of training and the high altitude (2100 meters, 7000 ft), so it was fortunate that getting lost actually made the return ride about 8 km shorter.

Waverly Rail Trail

During the first day of my 50-year college reunion, we registered early, then went for a bike ride on the Rolling Prairie Trail, camera running.  Regardless of the method, a 25-km ride generally yields between 20 minutes and two hours of video, which needs to be whittled down to a short “story” of impressions of our ride and interesting things we saw along the way (other than endless trees drifting by at 15-20km/hr).  Nevertheless, we do get carried away sometimes, so the films tend to have lots of bridge crossings, runners and riders on the trail with us, meeting or passing, and foliage whizzing by, the apparent speed amplified by the narrow (2-3 meter) trail width, for viewers used to auto highways.  Still, none of the travelogues have particularly exciting footage or a compelling story, other than the novelty of two old and overweight people rambling along flat trails at less than half the speed of the Tour de France peleton.

Pheasant Branch Trail

This is a one-shot video: we filmed segments along the entire trail, but only kept this long shot, which follows a fast downhill on the Pheasant Branch Creek from U.S. 12 to the end of the paved trail at the nature preserve.


Yes, it says “Part 1,” but we never got around to making Part 2, which essentially covers the route we took two years ago on our excursion through Madison.  This ride was with our son and grandson.  Hopefully, we taught the young man a few pointers about trail safety (keeping to your lane–about which, more later) and pacing yourself on longer rides:  One reason we didn’t make Part 2 was because the younger contingent were far behind us most of the second half.

Trout Run Trail

The Trout Run Trail in Decorah, Iowa, is not a rail trail, but circles the city along the river, up the creek to the trout hatchery, then up through the cliffs south of town.  We chose not to tackle the cliff portion this early in our bicycling season, so rode to the first switchback and then back to the city campground.


Most of the videos lie dormant on’s servers: I consider a video successful if both of my loyal followers watch it (some have zero plays). But, amazingly, one video in this group, “Jackson,” has gotten a lot of airplay, more than 500 viewings in the past month, since I cross-posted the link to a Facebook group of ex-pats and current residents of my home town.   The video follows our ride from our B&B in my old neighborhood onto a bicycle trail that follows the river through town and circles the west side.  Of course, there is no way to tell who watched it all the way through, or whether they saw the link on Twitter and thought it was a pirated long-lost Michael Jackson music video and clicked on it by mistake.  But, 500 (out of the total group membership of 1380) either means it was interesting or that small town folks will watch anything that features their town.  The compelling beat of Massimo Ruberti’s frenetic  techno “Sabotage” on the sound track probably didn’t hurt, either.

I’ve collected a range of likely soundtracks, from one of the internet repositories offering royalty-free music under a Creative Commons licensing policy: most public video streaming services strictly enforce copyright and license rules in submitted work.  The trick is finding a suitable backdrop that is appropriate to the course that fits the edited length, then reedit to match the scenes to the phrasing and actual length.  Some results are better than others, and some require truncating the selection to match the film length.  In some, two or more shorter works are appropriate.

Root River Trail

The Root River winds through the cliffs in the Driftless region in southeastern Minnesota, 50 km north of Decorah, Iowa, where we rode the week before.  A large section of the trail was closed in the middle for bridge replacement, but the part between Whalan and Lanesboro is the most scenic, so we rode it two days. We stayed at a large campground on a bend in the river across from the trail, upriver from Whalan.


We drove to northern Minnesota to ride the Paul Bunyan Trail, but the mosquitoes were too dense to camp and Staples, 40 km to the west of Brainerd, had the nearest affordable motels. Staples also had a bike trail from downtown to the regional college and the Legacy Garden north of town. As long as we kept moving, the mosquitoes couldn’t catch us.

Paul Bunyan Trail, part 1

When we originally planned this trip, we intended to ride the length of the 200-km Paul Bunyan Trail and return, camping along the way, but a more practical plan called for riding out-and-back short segments from trailheads. The portion we actually rode was from the Northland Arboretum to the village of Merrifield, on North Long Lake, 15 km north.

Paul Bunyan Trail, part 2

Some of the videos get a bit long, despite best editing efforts, so this one got split into two segments, one for each direction. Part 2 has a surprise in the middle, the first of several large snapping turtles we came across in our travels. They apparently like to nest under the warm asphalt trails and dig out during the day.

Heartland Trail

We moved on to Park Rapids, at the western end of the Heartland Trail, which intersects with the Paul Bunyan trail at Walker, 60 km east. This was our longest ride of the trip, a pleasant 19 km run to the town of Nevis for coffee. This video is mercifully short, as we ran out of memory on the camera midway through the outbound leg, and didn’t notice.


Our final midwestern ride was on the hilly Lake Itasca State Park trail, from the Visitor Center 9 km to the Mississippi Headwaters.  Shortly after we decided we had enough footage and turned off the camera, we had a scary near-miss encounter with a group of cyclists coming uphill who didn’t expect a fast tandem coming downhill and were riding around a curve on both lanes of the trail.  We cut between them, down the middle, losing a water bottle in the evasive maneuver.  One point for the “film it all and edit later” method, though maybe we don’t want to see the harrowing aspects of our travel mode, where you can be killed or seriously injured even at what would be minor fender-bender speeds in a car.

Polson Skyline Trail from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

After our tour of the Minnesota trails, we headed back west, stopping for a week in Montana for a family gathering, taking a day to check out the new Skyline Trail in Polson, riding a 14 km loop from the base of Polson Hill to the top of the Skyline, then down through town and onto the rail trail back to our starting point. This video is in several shots, leading up to the summit, then three long segments, on the trail and road. We kept the drag brake on during the downhill part, to maintain control on the steep grade and curving narrow trail, with full speed only on the road, to which we switched after the trail turned into a pedestrian sidewalk.