Downtown Saint Paul's taller buildings peeked above the tree line and Pig’s Eye Lake. Left to right, Wells Fargo Tower, First National Bank Building, 400 Securian Center, Airye Condominiums (formerly Jackson Tower, Cray Plaza and Galtier Tower) the two buildings on the right.

Riding Across the City, Riding Across the Country

August 4, 2021

30 Miles

Downtown, Battle Creek, Highwood, City of Newport

My plan for this ride was to visit the southernmost point in Saint Paul. To do so, one must leave the city. The easiest route involves riding east of Downtown and then south along Point Douglas Road, weaving back and forth between a small piece of Newport and Saint Paul and finally, back into Saint Paul. (See the map below.)

The Saint Paul-Newport border (red line) runs just south of Red Rock Road. Courtesy Google Maps

Downtown

Just east of Eagle Parkway in Downtown I jumped on the Sam Morgan Regional Trail, which parallels Shepard, then Warner Roads.

Ahead,I caught sight of another rider ahead of me and before long, I caught up to her. We greeted each other and struck up a conversation. We cruised east and chatted, which is how I learned Gabrielle was in the midst of a cross-country excursion. The more she talked the more interesting her story became. She agreed to an interview with me so we pulled off the trail and stopped under the shade of a tree for a respite from the persistent early August sun.

Gabrielle and her Trek bike in the shade just off the Sam Morgan Trail and Warner Road.
Gabrielle and her Trek bike in the shade just off the Sam Morgan Trail and Warner Road.

Gabrielle’s energy, passion and joy for her tour revealed themselves throughout our conversation. She and Liliana, her friend, biking partner and trip organizer, had just parted company in Minneapolis. They first met up in the northern Idaho city of Sandpoint, about 46 miles north of Coeur d’Alene, and ridden together to Minneapolis – about 1,400 miles.

I asked Gabrielle how she decided to ride cross-country. “I wrote it on my bucket list a couple of years ago that I wanted to take a long bike ride. That’s all it said. And one of my friends said she was going from Seattle to Maine. My energy system was just like, ‘Ooh, that’s interesting.’ And I was like, ‘Can I go?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah.’”

“It’s an experience of a lifetime!”

Gabrielle on what her bike trip means to her

Gabrielle didn’t own a bike so she need to buy one, something especially difficult to do during the COVID pandemic. She ended up finding a hybrid bike in the right size at a Trek store in Ohio of all places and had it shipped to her Idaho home.

“I started this journey to lean into what really lights me up and see what my life looks like if I did these things and it’s exploded,” Gabrielle said. “It’s been so, so crazy.”

Gabrielle’s friends weren’t surprised by her plan. “I feel like I live such an adventurous spur of the moment life anyways. And so most people were like, ‘That sounds like a thing that you would do.’” Her parents, however, weren’t as excited. “My parents are definitely worried. They are like, ‘Who are you staying with every night? You’re staying with strangers? You’re a pretty girl on the road by yourself.’”

Gabrielle’s dad also offered encouragement. “My dad just called me the other day and he said, ‘I’m so in awe of you,’ and it just really touched my heart that he’s like, ‘I can’t believe that you said you’re going to do this thing and you’re actually doing it.’”

Gabrielle and Lilliana in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Courtesy Gabrielle
Gabrielle and Liliana in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Courtesy Gabrielle

If you think Gabrielle was a devoted biker before she began her cross-country adventure you’d be wrong. Her exercise routine consisted of walking about eight miles a day. “I didn’t bike. I didn’t have a bike before this. And the fact that I could just get on a bike without any training and just ride 60 or 70 miles, go up passes, just get pummeled by hills and still be able to do it. That’s probably the number one thing.”

That’s not to say that she didn’t experience physical challenges. “The most physically hard thing is probably the first few weeks of saddle sores. Honestly, it’s like, oh my gosh, getting on and off the bike every day.”

Gabrielle’s knees were another sore point. “I’m experiencing so much knee pain because I was sitting on my seat wrong for the first two or so weeks that I was like, I don’t know if I’ll physically be able to complete this.” Gabrielle adjusted her bike seat which nearly immediately eased her knee pain.

“It’s so fun sharing experiences with people. Happiness is best when shared. It’s a really great thing to travel with somebody.”

Gabrielle

The physical strains of such a strenuous and demanding ride are tough, but so are the mental challenges. “Headwinds are honestly worse than the sun beating down on you, because you get to the top of a hill and then you’re expecting to just cruise down and you actually have to pedal down. So the mental aspect of it is also huge. How do I make these uncomfortable moments enjoyable, because it’s so easy to be, oh, this sucks. And it’s hot and it’s this and it’s that. So, yeah, it’s just been so nice for my mental state as well.”

Look mom, no hands! Gabrielle (left) and Liliana. Photo courtesy Gabrielle
Look mom, no hands! Gabrielle (left) and Liliana. Photo courtesy Gabrielle

Gabrielle added, “It was east Montana that everybody said, ‘Oh, it’s flat from here on out.’ And it was not flat, I’m telling you. I’m not kidding when I say it was rolling Hills one after the other, for like 57 miles. That was the time where I was like, okay, I’m in the middle of nowhere, there’s no one passing me. I don’t know if I can complete this.”

A stunning day in Cut Bank, MT. Courtesy Gabrielle
A stunning day in Cut Bank, MT. Courtesy Gabrielle

One should expect unique, interesting, scary, and memorable experiences on a 2,500 mile, 15 state exploit and Gabrielle told me about several. Early on she and Liliana biked through Glacier National Park. “Going-To-The-Sun Road was a really beautiful experience in Glacier. That was the (Logan) Pass and having the support of everyone around you. I thought the cars would be mad, but everybody’s like, you’re a nice spirit. You’re amazing. So that was cool.”

Another remarkable memory was weather related. “The first week there was a huge thunderstorm and it was kind of scary because it was pouring down rain and the thunder was really close and I could feel it in my tent on the ground shaking. And I was like, wow, I’ve never experienced thunder like this. It was scary, and invigorating.”

From Gabrielle's Instagram feed.
From Gabrielle’s Instagram feed.

Then Gabrielle described a more humorous experience as she and Liliana rode in Theodore Roosevelt Park in North Dakota. “We were biking through that area and had to bike through a giant herd of bison. They were like from me to you. It was terrifying and also super exhilarating and fun, but I was like, ‘Should I be looking at them? Should I make eye contact? No eye contact? Should I just keep on going? Should I go slow? Should I go fast?’ Like, it was really like, woo.”

Traveling to little burgs brought other emotions to Gabrielle and Liliana. “We’ve also gone through really, really tiny, small towns that look like they’re really struggling and just to see all these areas and all these different demographics and it’s been eyeopening to view the country in this way; to smell everything and feel everything.”

Gabrielle eyeballs her map on her cell phone.
Gabrielle eyeballs her map on her cell phone.

Gabrielle relied on the app Bicycle Route Navigator to pick her route across the country. She and Liliana used the app WarmShowers to find places to stay overnight. “We’ve spent, over the month and a half, $200 on lodging. About a hundred of that was one night in a hotel where we couldn’t find anything and it was so hot. I was a hard ‘NO’ on camping! This (trip) is something that you can do on a really low budget.”

Probably her most treasured experiences involved the goodness of people. “People would see us riding and then go to the grocery store, get us snacks and water, and then drive back and find us and give it to us. This has happened dozens of times. It’s been such a healing and magical thing to see how nice humanity is.”

Liliana,Gabrielle (foreground) and some folks they met on the ride. Courtesy Gabrielle’s Instagram

And she added, “Sometimes we’ve met people and then go on weekend adventures with them.”

I asked how she was documenting the trip? “ I brought a journal, but I’ve only written in it like once. I’m mostly documenting everything on Instagram and posting stories and taking pictures and sharing with people to inspire them to do something that really lights them up.”

Gabrielle and I rode together to the dangerously chaotic intersection of Burns Avenue and Highway 61. She continued east on Burns, making her way toward Wisconsin Highway 35 and Stockholm, WI, where she planned to stop for the day, while I went my way.

Point Douglas Road near the junction with Warner Road was partially unpaved in 1938. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
Point Douglas Road near the junction with Warner Road was partially unpaved in 1938. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Battle Creek, Highwood and Newport

Meantime, I turned south along Highway 61 and wove my way to the Point Douglas Regional Trail. For the most part the trail safely shadows Highway 61 (often on Point Douglas Road) south past Battle Creek Park, the Highwood neighborhood, then Saint Paul’s border with Newport, finally ending another block to the south at Bailey Road.

In Newport, the perilous and hectic Bailey Road took me over Highway 61 and three rail lines. Gerdau Steel, the large buildings in the background, is in Saint Paul.
In Newport, the perilous and hectic Bailey Road took me over Highway 61 and three rail lines. Gerdau Steel, the large buildings behind the green highway signs, is in Saint Paul.

I hung a right on Bailey (a.k.a. Dakota County 38) and took it over Highway 61, where it became Maxwell Avenue, continued west and then south to Red Rock Road. Another right and I was finally on Red Rock but still in Newport.

Entering Newport on Bailey Road.
Entering Newport on Bailey Road.

Red Rock Road is among the oddest streets in Saint Paul. First, the southernmost point in the City is on this street, where it shares a border with Newport. In effect, Red Rock Road and the land around it is a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River and some of its backwater channels.
Second, Saint Paul’s sections of Red Rock Road is nearly two and a half miles long but you’ll not find houses, apartments, nor residential structures of any sort. It is heavily industrial with businesses that include metal recycling, grain shipping, chemical processing, an asphalt plant and more. Third, there is a T-intersection where all three streets are Red Rock Road.


A third of a mile further south and I was back in Saint Paul at a most interesting intersection – where Red Rock Road meets Red Rock (west segment) and Red Rock (east segment, previously Stinchfield Avenue.)

Red Rock Road, headed south, just before reentering Saint Paul.
Red Rock Road, headed south, just before reentering Saint Paul.
Looking north on Red Rock Road, Red Rock Road is also to the left and to the right. At one time the section to the right was named Stinchfield Avenue.
Looking north on Red Rock Road, Red Rock Road is also to the left and to the right. At one time the section to the right was named Stinchfield Avenue.
Red Rock Road is one of the most heavily used truck routes I’ve experienced on my bike in Saint Paul. By one account some 1.8 million tons of commodities are moved each year on Red Rock Road.
Red Rock Road is one of the most heavily used truck routes I’ve experienced on my bike in Saint Paul. By one account some
1.8 million tons of commodities are moved each year on Red Rock Road.
The southern edge of Gerdau Steel’s property, between Red Rock and the fence, is immaculate, with the grass cut in precise rows and trees carefully planted to follow the curve of the property.
The southern edge of Gerdau Steel’s property, between Red Rock and the fence, is immaculate, with the grass cut in rows so precise the groundskeeper at Target Field would be jealous, and trees carefully planted to follow the curve of the road.
Inside Gerdau’s fence, however, it’s the antithesis, with rusting equipment and buildings and weeds galore.
Just feet away, inside Gerdau’s fence, however, it’s the antithesis, with rusting equipment and buildings and weeds galore. The baby blue American Hoist crane was built in Saint Paul.
The view north on the western section of Red Rock Road.
The view north on the western section of Red Rock Road. Look! Here comes a truck.
The back side of the mammoth Gerdau Steel plant. Eagle Lake is in the foreground.
The back side of the mammoth Gerdau Steel plant. Eagle Lake is in the foreground.
It is visually startling to see this heavily industrial area surrounded by natural areas, including Eagle Lake, right.
It is visually startling to see this heavily industrial area surrounded by natural terrain, including Eagle Lake, right.
Trucks passed by almost nonstop as I traveled north on the western part of Red Rock Road.
Trucks passed by almost nonstop as I traveled north on the western part of Red Rock Road.
Martin Marietta, a defense contractor, has apparently diversified. The company has an asphalt plant among the Red Rock Road businesses.
Martin Marietta, best known as a defense contractor, has a presence on Red Rock Road. This asphalt plant is one of 10 owned and operated by Martin Marietta in the Twin Cities metro, according to the company’s website.
Trains also serve several businesses.
Trains also serve several businesses.
Did I mention that there is heavy truck traffic along Red Rock Road?
Did I mention that there is heavy truck traffic along Red Rock Road?
Gavilon is an agricultural commodities business with operations across the US. This facility primarily handles grain which arrives in trucks and ships out via river barges.
Gavilon is an agricultural commodities business with operations across the US. This facility primarily handles grain which arrives in trucks and ships out via river barges.
Gavilon’s grain elevator.
Gavilon’s grain elevator.
This truckload of grain was one of about 10 I saw while on Red Rock.
This truckload of grain, one of about 10 I saw while on Red Rock, is pulling into Gavilon to unload.
The end of the western spine of Red Rock Road and the entrance to Gavilon’s mill for grain trucks are one-in-the-same.
The truck entrance to Gavilon’s property is also the end of the western spine of Red Rock Road.

Clearly the termination of Red Rock Road but not of my exploration. The alluring path beyond the cement and steel barriers meant my reconnaissance would continue on foot.

Truly the end of the road for Red Rock Road.
Truly the end of the road for Red Rock Road (west branch).
This well-traveled path led to…
This well-traveled path led to…
…more crumbling asphalt, infiltrated by patchy underbrush, weeds and grass.
…more crumbling asphalt, infiltrated by patchy underbrush, weeds and grass.
The fading pavement (a long-abandoned road?) continued its disintegration as I hiked farther...
The fading pavement (a long-abandoned road?) continued its disintegration as I hiked farther…
...before finally disappearing beneath bushes, cattails and other aquatic plants.
…before finally disappearing beneath bushes, cattails and other aquatic plants.
To the west, marshland and Pig’s Eye Lake.
To the west, marshland and Pig’s Eye Lake.
Looking east, a freight train passes and behind it, the hills of Highwood.
Looking east, a freight train passes and behind it, the hills of Highwood.
Downtown Saint Paul's taller buildings peeked above the tree line and Pig’s Eye Lake. Left to right, Wells Fargo Tower, First National Bank Building, 400 Securian Center, Airye Condominiums (formerly Jackson Tower, Cray Plaza and Galtier Tower) the two buildings on the right.
Downtown Saint Paul’s taller buildings peeked above the tree line and Pig’s Eye Lake. Left to right, Wells Fargo Tower, First National Bank Building, 400 Securian Center, Airye Condominiums (formerly Jackson Tower, Cray Plaza and Galtier Tower) the two buildings on the right.

Without waders I couldn’t traipse any further. So, with my entree’ into the southern part of Pig’s Eye Park complete, I jumped back on the bike and headed southbound, retracing the journey on the western leg of Red Rock.

Headed back south along Red Rock Road, which seemed infested with potholes.
Headed back south along Red Rock Road, which seemed infested with potholes.

I can’t explain why i didn’t notice this on the ride north but Red Rock Road’s pavement was problematically packed with a plethora of potentially painful and perilous potholes. Turns out I was far from the only person to notice. According to the Saint Paul Port Authority, Red Rock Terminal tenants agreed to pay for the mill and overlay (resurfacing) of the road, scheduled for late 2021.* Tenants will have up to 10 years to reimburse City of Saint Paul for their share of the $1.2 million project.

The condition of the road has apparently caused the US Postal Service to refuse to provide service to Red Rock businesses. The look of this mailbox affirms that.
The condition of the road has apparently caused the US Postal Service to refuse to provide service to Red Rock businesses. The look of this mailbox affirms that.

This may not seem like a big deal but one tenant told the Port Authority the poor road condition is the top complaint of its customers. This tenant added he believed Red Rock Road had not been repaved in 50 years!

Products shipped via trucks include reels of steel...
Products shipped via trucks include reels of steel…
… and reams of rebar.
AMG Resources processes scrap metal. Pig’s Eye Lake is just beyond the piles of scrap in the background.
AMG Resources processes scrap metal. Pig’s Eye Lake is just beyond the piles of scrap in the background.
A giant claw sorts scrap metal at AMG. This would be a helpful tool to have around the house.
A giant claw sorts scrap metal at AMG. This would be extremely useful around the house.
The back of Gerdau Steel and in front of it, Eagle Lake. Looking west to east.
Another look at Gerdau Steel and Eagle Lake. Looking west to east.
A worker in a hazmat suit cleans out a tank car at the Hawkins Terminal.
A worker in a hazmat suit cleans out a tank car at the Hawkins Terminal.

Upon returning to the intersection of the three Red Rock Roads, I rode on the east segment of the road toward the Gerdau Steel plant. The eastern section of Red Rock serves only Gerdau and is posted as private. I didn’t let that impede my travels.

Heading toward Gerdau. Note the sign warning passersby this is a private road.
Heading toward Gerdau. Note the sign warning passersby this is a private road.

This road confounds Google maps, labeling it as Stinchfield Avenue but listing the address for Gerdau Steel as 1678 Red Rock Road. Several old City maps also list it as Stinchfield Avenue.

Looking north on Red Rock (east section.) Everything on the left is Gerdau Steel property. The foliage on the right side of the road is a buffer for the two railroad lines that run next to Highway 61.
Looking north on Red Rock (east section.) Everything on the left is Gerdau Steel property. The foliage on the right side of the road is a buffer for the railroad lines that run next to Highway 61.
One of the truck entrances to Gerdau Steel.
One of the truck entrances to Gerdau Steel.
The plant is so big that even with a wide angle lens I couldn’t get a shot of the entire plant.
The southern half of Gerdau Building 1. I took shots of the plant interior through the two open doors
Ribbons or bars of steel stacked up, apparently ready for shipping. I peered through a large open door to get this picture.
In Building 1, ribbons or bars of steel stacked up, apparently ready for shipping. I peered through a large open door to get this picture.
In another part of the same building steel bars and wood are stacked, apparently awaiting shipping.
Steel bars and wood sit in a once humming part of the same building,
Trees and the lower building make it virtually impossible to comprehend how large the plant is.
Trees and the lower building make it virtually impossible to comprehend how large the plant is.
The end of the Red Rock Road eastern segment.
The end of the Red Rock Road eastern segment.
It's also the Gerdau office parking lot.
It’s also the entrance to the Gerdau office parking lot.

The parking lot is nearly empty and Building 1 strikingly quiet because 222 employees were laid off in 2020. Gerdau closed the melt shop, which created molten steel, and the rolling mill, which produced sheets of metal. Now only about 60 workers remain, in the steel finishing facility. That’s why the south end of the plant property looks like a Rust Belt city during the height of the 1980s steel industry collapse.

The nearly empty land south of Buildings 1 through 4 on August 4, 2021.
Racks of finished steel and a a locomotive and several rail cars filled Gerdau property just south of the plant in 2012 when the company employed nearly 300 people.
Racks of finished steel, a locomotive and several rail cars filled the same area just south of the plant in 2012 when the company employed nearly 300 people. Courtesy Finance & Commerce.com
Equipment and industrial waste strewn about, slowly disintegrating.

Once back on Point Douglas Road (on the east side of Highway 61) I paused for one final, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to capture the immense size of Gerdau. After that I rode pretty much straight home, except for a couple of stops – to catch my breath and a quick detour to pick up a sports drink.

Even across Highway 61, the Gerdau Steel plant was too large to in the frame.
Even across Highway 61, the Gerdau Steel plant was too large to fit in the frame.

Footnotes and Postscript

* A crew completed the mill and overlay of Red Rock Road west the first full week of November 2021.

**If you do want to take a peek at the entire Gerdau plant, you may, thanks to the power of Google Earth.

In response to several questions I posed via Instagram, Gabrielle responded with voice recordings of the details and her thoughts on the remainder of her odyssey.

From Gabrielle's Instagram account.
From Gabrielle’s Instagram account.

Gabrielle accomplished her cross-country journey in early October. Her 4,200 – yes 4,200 – mile ride ended in Bar Harbor, Maine and profoundly affected her, mentally, physically and spiritually. She called the trek “reinvigorating” and added, “I learned so much about myself. I learned about what my body can do. I learned the power of my mind.”

The end of the ride as posted on Gabrielle's Instagram account.
The end of the ride as posted on Gabrielle’s Instagram account.

Gabrielle went on to say, ”There’s a zest for life that I’ve never tasted before that. It really alivened (sic) and invigorated my soul in such a deep, deep way.”

Liliana and Gabrielle did reunite, in Sunbury, OH, just northeast of Columbus. When they resumed the ride, Gabrielle mentioned she felt a different energy and became worried their time together would fracture their friendship. Happily, the rest of the trip was “super, super fun” and they remain the best of friends.

I asked Gabrielle to describe herself, and not surprisingly, she offered a thoughtful and complex answer. “I’m a mixture of extroverted and introverted. I am curious. I can do hard things. I am confident. I am smart. I am real and down-to-earth. Some think I’m funny,” prompting a chuckle, and the acknowledgment that, “I can be goofy.” Her last word on this was, “I would consider myself a total babe.”

Gabrielle said she’s mulling what her next adventure will be but another long bike trip is a possibility. “Getting to Europe with nothing – no money, no nothing but our bikes, and trading and working for everything we get. It’s an interesting idea we heard from these British guys that did it.”

Gabrielle continued her her voice message by talking frankly about reintegrating into ‘her real world,’ “My mind was so excited and my body was so depressed. So extremely depressed. Very lethargic. It was really hard to get out of bed.”

Her body, said Gabrielle, went from biking 80 miles every day for three months to not biking at all and, “not really knowing what kind of movement to do. It was really, really tough.”

Added Gabrielle, “I really wasn’t expecting that but I guess it’s normal to experience for people who do long trips this post-trip blues in a sense.”

Happily, Gabrielle wrapped her message by saying, “I’m starting to feel good. I’m starting to get into more of a routine.”

Lastly, the map of this ride. Click on the map to enlarge it.

10 comments

  1. What an awesome connection to make. I’m continually envious of your ability to strike up a conversation.

  2. Really enjoyed your post! I’ve always been intrigued by that area of St. Paul.
    Do you live in Highland? Check out Highland Heritage Project .org.

    1. Hi Jbellmosio. Thank you very much for your thoughts. I recommend you visit the Red Rock area because there’s nothing else like it in Saint Paul. If you do, go during temperate weather because some of the businesses shut down for the winter.

    1. Thank you Don. I can’t imagine anyone knowing more about the streets and neighborhoods of Saint Paul than you. Red Rock Road(s) is a fascinating place. I looked in your book to see about Stinchfield Avenue. You mentioned the nearby Stinchfield Street but not Avenue. A puzzle that I haven’t found any answer to.

    1. Hi Gary. Thank you for continuing to follow along. Highwood is much “less urban” than any other part of Saint Paul. Red Rock Road, specifically, is safer to visit with the fresh pavement. I wonder if that will encourage truck drivers to go faster?

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