75 miles on the trek 7.5FX

Midtown Greenway Sign
Midtown Greenway Sign

It has been about 2 weeks since I first purchased my Trek 7.5 FX and I wanted to talk about my first long bike ride that I took with the 7.5fx on Saturday, May 16. The short story is that the bike did an amazing job getting its owner from the uptown area of Minneapolis to the end of the Gateway Trail near Stillwater, Minnesota. Needless to say, I was still very very exhausted after riding 75 miles that day.

The route that our biking group took was from the greenway trail in uptown over to St. Paul. We cut across St. Paul and eventually found the Gateway trail. This trail took us from St. Paul to North St. Paul to Maplewood to Oakgrove and eventually out near Stillwater. We were planning on biking into Stillwater, but due to time constraints, that part of the trip was nixed. Looking back it was probably good that we killed that part of the ride. Apparently the road into downtown Stillwater is pretty hilly and completely on the highway. I would describe the ride conditions as non-ideal – not only was it very windy, it was also very cold. I didn’t realize how much the conditions would affect my energy towards the end of the ride.

I started out the morning leaving my place to pick up some Cliff bars and gatorade. I was dressed in sweat pants and a sweatshirt. Right as I walked to my car, I noticed it was going to be really cold and windy. This put me in a bit of a conundrum…do I wear my running pants over the biker shorts or do I wear biker shorts and hope that the sun comes up and I warm up during the ride. I pondered this thought as I bought my cliff bars and returned to my house to get ready for the ride. In the end, I decided on a compromise – I would wear biker shorts, running shorts over the top, a long sleeve running shirt, and a hooded sweatshirt over the top. This worked out fairly well except the sweat shirt did nothing to protect me from the wind. During the ride, Erica, Matt’s fiancee, told me to pick up a wind wall – basically something that does a better job of protecting you from the wind.

I biked the 5.7 miles to Matt and Erica’s place and everyone got ready to go. My ride to the uptown area took me along Minnehaha Parkway, across 35W, up Lake Harriet and Calhoun. As a new bike owner and lacking some necessary supplies, Matt and Erica let me borrow some gloves which I am very thankful that they let me borrow. My hands were pretty cold on the ride up to their place because of the wind and air temperature. The ride would have been pretty crappy if I didn’t have my hands covered.

We headed up to the greenway, a bike trail that goes through many different parts of Minneapolis. All of sudden Erica said “Stop” and needed to check her tires out. After examining her back tire, she determined her tube had a hole in it and needed to be changed out. After spending some time trying to figure out how to change the tube ourselves, it was determined the best course of action would be to ride up to the nearest bike shop and get a tube changed there. Apparently the tube is pretty tricky to change on the tires that Erica uses. The guy at the bike shop showed Matt how to change it and told him how he wished he was biking to Stillwater instead of working. I had taken my camera with me instead of my sunglasses so this gave me an opportune time to snap some photos…

One Bike Temporarily Out of Commission
One Bike Temporarily Out of Commission
A view from the Minneapolis Greenway Trail
A view from the Minneapolis Greenway Trail

After the tube was changed, we were back in business. We headed towards St. Paul. The ride down Summit Ave was nice, easy, and down hill. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how down hill it really was which would play a factor in the return journey (along with the wind). I only wish I was better at taking pictures while riding. (Hopefully I can get better at this and provide more pictures). After a bit of biking through St. Paul, we reached the Gateway trail. I was able to snap another picture as we hit a stop light on a minor detour for construction on the trail….

Picture of part of the Gateway Trail
Picture of part of the Gateway Trail

As we continued to stay on the trail and go through parts of North St. Paul, Maplewood, and Oakgrove, I took in the change of scenery in the neighborhoods and people. There weren’t that many people on the trail either biking or walking. We did see a couple people riding horses as we moved further outside of St. Paul on the trail. Another notable siting was the group of juveniles that were being escorted along the trail. I am not sure if they were out for community service or exercise, but this was definitely a surprising group of people to see along the trail. This also sparked an interesting discussion about Erica’s experience mentoring an at risk student. We made a couple of stops for the restroom and water breaks along to the end of the trail just outside Stillwater. Erica and Matt were a bit concerned that I wasn’t drinking enough water. Looking back and after getting tips from my cousin, who lives and breathes bikes, I should have probably been taking in more liquids. We got to the end of the trail and turned around to make the return trip.

On the return trip, Matt and I were pretty hungry. Fortunately for us, there is a burger king on the way back that we stopped at to get food and water. I had chicken nuggets, fries, and a glass of water. Matt ordered a burger, fries, and some coffee. I thought this would be enough to get me back to Minneapolis. Little did I know the effort that would be required once we would hit St. Paul on the return trip. As we were leaving burger king, I asked Matt about how far we had left and he said “about 20 miles”. Little did I know that it was actually closer to 30 miles!! Thanks Matt!

As we were getting closer to the twin cities, it was nice to see familiar land marks. Seeing these land marks increased my confidence and belief that I would make it back to our starting point in uptown. During one of our stops, I was able to snap a distance picture of St. Paul….

We're getting closer to civilizaton...a distance view of St. Paul
We're getting closer to civilizaton...a distance view of St. Paul

Once we got off the Gateway trail and back on the streets of St. Paul is where the “fun” began. It was pretty much nothing but hills for the next 3-4 miles. On the way down, I didn’t even think about what it would be like to bike back up these hills. Additionally the challenge of biking in the wind and the cold made it even more difficult. The bike up Summitt Ave contains many stop lights. Everytime I made it near a stop light, I was sort of hoping that the light would turn red and let me have a little rest. This didn’t happen…every time I hit a light, it was green and I continued pedaling up hill!

We eventually made it back to uptown. Everyone was pretty tired. Erica gave me a ride home. I was exhausted and very appreciative that I wouldn’t have to bike home. I found this ride to be both fun and challenging. I also learned a few things about the bike and what upgrades to immediately consider. First, I am going to pick up pedals with clips and biking shoes. I am going to do this in the next week or two. Matt was nice enough to let me have his basket pedals, but I can see the advantages of upgrading to the pedals with clips. Second, I am going to pick up a handle bar upgrade. One of the things I noticed was how tired my arms and shoulder were after maintaining the same position on the bike for so long, it’s probably a good idea to pick up this upgrade. Third, I am going to get a saddle pack so I can carry a spare tube with me in case I have problem with an inner blowing.

One other thing I learned was how many calories I was burning and using from biking. We stopped at burger king for the quick refuel before heading back to the cities. When I got home, I drank a lot of water, ate spaghetti, and eventually I decided to order a thin crust pizza after my nap. Being a runner and knowing how much energy running can take and comparing the energy is take to bike, this surprised me a little bit. The only thing I wish I had done better was to take more pictures. I promise to get better at taking pictures from my bike as the summer progresses.

I Like Breakfast Group: Breakfast at The Strip Club in St. Paul, MN.

**** UPDATE ****
Tim, the owner of The Strip Club, reached out to me via a comment in the blog. I highly respect this fact. I think it shows Tim does care about the experiences his customers have at his restaurant. I let Tim know that I wasn’t looking for a refund or compensation and that if I return with the group or personally, I will re-review the Strip Club and note my experiences again.

**** END UPDATE ****

I recently met a group of people who enjoy breakfast as much as I do. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and it has been argued that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Every couple of weeks, we meet up on a Sunday to go to different restaurants in the twin cities to celebrate breakfast and catch up with what is going on in people’s lives. Today, the group went to The Strip Club located in St. Paul. This was an important milestone for the group because it was the first time that the group had ventured outside of Minneapolis to try breakfast in St. Paul. Even though I have not been involved very long with the group, I get the distinct feeling that the group prefers Minneapolis and the west side of the twin cities as compared to the east side and St. Paul. This is mainly because everyone appreciates the city life of Minneapolis. I think the majority of people in the group actually live in the city of Minneapolis. Before I go on, let me just say the Strip Club is a restaurant that focuses on creating unique dishes with different types of meat, it is not an actual strip club.

Restaurant Strip Club
Restaurant Strip Club

The location of the restaurant was easy to find especially for someone who does not frequent the east side of the twin cities that much. It was located one block off the Mounds Blvd exit on I-94. There was also a view of downtown St. Paul. Because I only had my iPhone on me, I decided it would be best to walk outside the restaurant and get a picture of downtown St. Paul. Here is what it looked like from just outside the restaurant….

View of downtown St. Paul from the Strip Club
View of downtown St. Paul from the Strip Club

I arrived a little bit early to the restaurant and found the restaurant had several tables together waiting for our group of 10 to arrive. I think its always nice when the restaurant is ready for large parties especially when you call and tell them you will be having a large party. The atmosphere of the restaurant was pretty good with the music in the background and a small upstairs seating area. Our group was seated in the main area. One gripe I and many other people in our group had about the atmosphere is that it was very warm in the restaurant. This could be because our large party or having an open kitchen. It would have been nice if there was some way to open a window or get more air circulating throughout the inside.

Since I was a little early, I ordered coffee as we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. The coffee was good. It didn’t taste like Starbucks or Caribou so that was a welcome change. The wait staff did a pretty good job of keeping everyone’s coffee cup filled up as we waited to order the food. I admit that I took a look at the brunch menu before I stepped foot in the building! That is how much I like breakfast. Several things caught my eye including the Logger’s Tower and Fenian French Toast. Also, since I knew we would probably be there for at least a hour, the North Coast Pranqster’s Golden Ale tap beer sounded worth trying.

The server assigned to our table was efficient and effective at taking the group’s order. A few comments about the menu versus what was posted online. The online menu mentioned an item called Apples and Oatmeal which sounded pretty good, however, the restaurant menu that we ordered from did not have this item listed. Additionally, I wanted to try the North Coast Pranqster’s Golden Ale listed online, but when I asked when beers were on tap, that was not one of them listed. I understand that the restaurant is small and tries to make dishes with fresh ingredients and offer unique beers in limited quantities, but if that is the case, instead of listing the current beer, why not put a note on the menu saying that beers will change based on availability. I really wanted to also try the pork sausage on the menu. I tried to subsitute out the ham for the pork sausage, but my server said she couldn’t do that. She could take out the ham and charge me for a side of pork sausage. I opted not to do this. I ended up ordering the Logger’s Tower which is a triple stack of pancakes, grilled ham, fried eggs, scallions, rosemary, and a side of syrup. For my beverage I ordered a pint of Red Hook IPA beer. Below is a picture of my plate of food without the syrup…

The Logger's Tower - My meal at  The Strip Club
The Logger's Tower - My meal at The Strip Club

The actual delivery of the order took a little while. This was partially due that several people in the group ordered hamburgers that needed to be thoroughly cooked and the number of people in our group. The wait time didn’t bother me or anyone else in the group too much as it gave everyone a chance to catch up. Plus by the time we were receiving our food, everyone was really hungry. Somehow I am always the last to receive my food in large groups, so I was especially please when my plate finally came out.

The Logger’s Tower was especially tasty! Even though I stayed with the grilled ham, I enjoyed it. Additionally, the pancakes were cooked perfectly. We actually spent a few minutes discussing various ways to mess up pancakes such as over or under cooking them, having too much batter, or making them too fluffy. The pancakes were made just right. The fried eggs were a nice touch to the item. I am a big fan of eggs at breakfast. What topped off of my meal was the syrup. I am not sure if it is homemade or anything, but it was really good; and was just enough to cover the plate and not leave the food soaked in syrup.

Other people at the table ordered grape fruit which was very large, a caramel roll which everyone sampled, the loaded burger, and the Scandahuvian Smoked Salmon and Potato Hash. I heard positive comments about the grape fruit, caramel roll, and the Scandahuvian Smoked Salmon and Potato Hash. However, our burger expert at the table was disappointed with the loaded burger. He was expecting more for the price. So you might want to avoid the burger for brunch.

After everyone was finished eating, is when all the fun and confusion started. The server put everyone’s order on one receipt. Most of us didn’t have cash on hand and needed to use a credit card. We made the request to have bill evenly split 10 ways. Another thing that the group noticed was that tip was already included. I understand that for large parties tips are typically added in, however, I saw two problem with this. First, the tip was at 20% and second, I saw no where on the menu that tips would automatically be added in for large parties. From the many restaurants, I have frequented the standard practice has been to print something on the menu to make your customers aware of this policy. I personally don’t like it when someone determines the amount I am going to tip. I tend to tip at least 20% when the service is good. So I just see the server short changing themselves on this one.

We all put down our cards and gave the server the instructions to split the bill evenly. 2 minutes later, the server comes back and states they don’t accept American Express. I noticed this fact when I walked into the restaurant and luckily I had a visa on me, however, another person in the group did not and had to have his bill added with another bill. This is not a major strike against The Strip Club, but it is something that was discussed at the table. For the type of establishment that it is, we somewhat expected them to take American Express cards. This was just a minor hiccup compared to the next time we saw the server.

After sometime of a delay lasting 5-10 minutes, our server came out and informed us that the maximum amount of cards that could be processed on a single receipt was 6. I have never actually heard this before. We requested that the receipt be split into at least 2 receipts so everyone’s card could be run through. This seems like a simple request. The delays in bringing the table the bill and the fact that it was very very warm in the restaurant by this point made the entire table want to leave as soon as we could.

After the server came back, I saw something on the receipt that I’ve never seen before. A line item that said “Card Charged” and a line item that said “Cash Back” . Apparently, the server choose a unique way of dividing up the bill. These two line items caused a whole bunch of confusion at the table especially since none of us are used to receiving cashback from a credit card transaction. Unfortunately, the server did not inform us the process that was used to split out the bill and we were unable to determine how it was clearly split out or who owed who money.

The final impression I received was as I was getting my cash back from the server the server made the comment – “I’m f*****”. I can relate that the server was frustrated, but this comment should not have been made in front of a customer. I think it would have been better if the server would have spent the time separating out the bills into 10 individual receipts. I am not sure why this could not have been done.

Overall, the experience at The Strip Club was mixed. I would even say more on the disappointing side. The location was decent and the restaurant seemed prepared for the group. The food was tasty especially the Logger’s Tower, but the overall experience of dealing with the bill and the temperature inside the restaurant made our group wonder if it was worth another visit. I would say if the restaurant can improve how it handles large groups it might be worth coming back again. At this time, even though the food was for the most part excellent and due to the many other excellent establishments in the twin cities, I’m unsure if I can truly recommend The Strip Club to my friends.

The nerve these guys have – Ryanair now charging for boarding passes?!?

Saw this one on UpgradeTravelBetter.com, it looks like Ryanair is now charging for the privilege of issuing a boarding pass at home. All I have to say this one is wow…what will these guys think of next…charging for the use of bathrooms in flight?…oh wait… they are already thinking about that.

If this fee sticks, this is going to really surprise me. Ryanair is based in Europe. I would think that the EU regulators and consumer adovacates will raise quite a storm about this. I understand the need for airline to generate revenue from new fees, but this is taking it to the extreme.

Chutzpah: Ryanair to charge £5 (and up) for boarding passes | Upgrade: Travel Better.

How to develop a rewards program strategy….

I have spent countless hours pondering this exact question and getting asked this question by many of my friends.  Many co-workers and friends alike are intrigued at the amount of time and “number” running that I have done to find the best cards and programs that will help me with my goals.  It is only when I start bringing up terms like “spend profile” do I get a really hard time. I hope with this post that I will be able to provide  insight on how to develop a rewards program strategy.

Understand your goals…

The first thing you have to do before you even start applying for credit cards is determining what your goals for the rewards you are trying to earn. Do you want to get cashback as your rewards? Do you want to bank frequent flyer miles or hotel points? Do you want to save points for a specific product like a big screen tv or computer? Most people choose cashback or some frequent traveller program. Most don’t try to earn points to redeem products because the redemption rates are very unfavorable and it usually easier to buy the product you want.  Be aware that each type of card has their own individual pitfalls so its best to look at the terms of the programs very closely.

Understand what you spend your money on…

After you know what you want to do with your rewards, you need to understand where you spend your money. Some credit cards give bonuses for gas or grocery purchases. It is important you understand this. I have coined the term spend profile. If you know that you spend the majority of your money towards gas and groceries, this will help you focus on cards that give more points or cashback for gas and grocery purchases.

Understand your current rewards programs…

Maybe you already focused in on a certain rewards program or you can project that you will be flying a certain airline a lot this year or you will be staying at a certain hotel chain many nights this year or maybe you already have miles or points built up with a certain rewards program. If this is the case, you may be interested in continuing to earn points in that program or taking advantage of a signup bonus to get your points to a certain balance. This will also be a factor in your decision process to determine which cards to apply for.

Have a primary and a secondary card…

Determine what your primary credit card will be. This is the card where most of your purchases will be charged to.  This will be the rewards program that you want to earn the most points in. Since there are always draw backs to rewards cards, your secondary card will be there to help reduce most of the drawbacks and can be used when certain situations are met. For example, say your primary card earns hotel points and your secondary card earns cashback, but has a feature that does not charge foreign transaction fees when you are overseas. You would use this secondary card when you travel overseas or when your primary card might not be accepted.

Next steps…

Once you understand your goals, develop your spend profile, factor in your current rewards program earnings, and determine your secondary needs, this will help focus your search on the “right” credit cards for you. These factors may not be weighted equally. It may be the case that you have 200,000 points in a certain program and you want to continue earning points with that program even though you may spend the majority of your purchases on gas and groceries. There will be compromises that you will have to make. You will have to decide which is more important to you. In my next post, I am going to discuss my specific credit card strategy and why I like the Starwoods Preferred Guest American Express card and the Schwab Invest First Visa Signature card.

The blessing and curse of student loans

I read this article on USA Today about the pressures of paying off students loans. I can certainly relate to this pressure as I have spent the majority of my extra income from the last 4 years paying off  over $50,000 in student loans years earlier than I am required. I may have made a choice to pay down those loans early, but I’d rather get rid of debt as quickly as possible.

I found a few things interesting about in this article.  First, how hard student loans are to discharge through bankruptcy. The article seemed to indicate it was easier to discharge gambling debt through bankruptcy than student loans. This doesn’t seem right to me.

The second thing I found interesting was regarding the cost of private loans. Private lenders claimed that once the law disallowed the discharge of private student loans that these loans would become cheaper. According to the article, the interest rates on private student loans have not become cheaper. I don’t know enough about the current private student loan environment, but from my own experience, as the interest rates have dropped, so to have the rates on my remaining private loans. This is probably because the interest rate on my loans are variable and tied to the market rate.

I certainly think that the government needs to take some action to give students relief from their loans especially in the current tough economic times. The banks that gave these loans out have certainly been granted billions of dollars in relief. I see no reason why students can not be granted some relief as well. The article makes an excellent point that many students can not afford to search for a job in a career related to their major because they are taking lower paying jobs to keep up with student loan payments.

The final point I’d like to make is that student loans can be both a blessing and a curse. They can help students pursue their dreams but sometimes at a fairly steep price. Looking back, I wish I had paid out of pocket for more of my college costs. Starting out with a negative net worth and mountain of debt is no fun as recent graduates are quickly coming to realize.

College graduates struggle to repay student loans – USATODAY.com.

Link of the Day: What Can Travel Teach You About The American Dream?

I saw this article on BraveNewTraveler.com. I think the concept of the “American Dream” is slowly changing for some younger people here in the States. However, for the majority of people (even I would argue the majority of young people age 22-35) the concept of owning a house, having 2.5 kids, and marrying a lawyer/doctor is still the basic idea of the “American Dream”.

My challenge to you is to think outside this concept. Think about the things you keep saying I’ll wait to do when I am retired or think about those things that you keep thinking would be “nice” to do but for some reason always get reprioritized.

Once you do this, maybe you will see your idea of the “American Dream” is not the same as what others have in mind.

What Can Travel Teach You About The American Dream?.

Game Changing News for those who collect miles and points – American Airlines One-Way Mileage Awards!!!

According to Dansdeal.com (a site I frequent for deals and news), American Airlines has just launched one-way awards. I’ve been waiting for US-airlines to allow their frequent flyer members to redeem one-way awards. Previously and on all other US airlines, if you wanted a one-way award, you would have to book the roundtrip award ticket, plan on losing half the ticket, and half the miles paid for that award. Now with American, you can get a one-way award for half the cost of the round trip. This opens up new possibilities and flexibility for me as I plan my around the world trip. Basically if I wanted to fly somewhere to Asia and Europe and do a bunch of overland travel, I could book a one-way award with American and do it without being locked into a schedule whereas with other airlines, I would have to set a return date and keep paying fees to change the return date or lose the return portion of the trip. I’m also glad to see American participates in the Starwoods Preferred Guest (SPG) program. This further validates my plan to continue to earn SPG points in an effort to maintain flexibility as far as airline partners are concerned. I might even apply for American Airlines credit cards now.

DansDeals.com » Blog Archive » AA Launches One-Way Mileage Awards!!!.