Each trip started about the same. I’d check the weather, have a bite to eat, and load up my backpack. I’d tighten or straighten anything on my bike that felt tweaked.
I lived on a hill, hence my neighborhood’s name: Highland Park. I’d mostly coast, making my way to a local coffee shop across from St. Kate’s. This is where I’d get caffeine and start to plan my route as well as begin a sketch in my book. The ride was usually 10-12 miles in total, so I liked to use this time to get my mind ready for the long trip, and the caffeine bump helped get my body ready.
I’d finish my drink and get back on my bike and coast downhill for about a mile, ending up at the Mississippi River. I’d weave back and forth between the walking and bike paths, strategically planning my future turns to avoid disrupting the other pedestrian’s path. I’d bike this stretch along the river for a couple miles, admiring the almost-forest that sprawls down to the riverbank. You could see birds and squirrels enjoying the scene as well. Occasionally I’d see a bald eagle perched less than 20 feet away. This was a great escape from the rigidity of being in a big city.
After a few miles I would turn off the river path and head west into Minneapolis. Once across the bridge you end up on East Lake street, a largely Mexican neighborhood which feels more vibrant than where I just came from. It feels less cookie-cutter and white picket fence and more real. People rushing to catch public transportation, cars being worked on in the street as opposed to, say, bringing their car to the shop. Kids were outside running around chasing each other with sticks. Food trucks and authentic Mexican restaurants helped permeate the air with a scent of chiles and other spices; it was a break from the smell of chain restaurants near my neighborhood. The unkempt buildings and landscapes now scattered with litter gave a glimpse into the neighborhood’s past.
After a mile or so I’d take adjacent streets and head north to the area known as Riverside. This area has a large Somali community, and it was a fun place to bike through. The best trip I had through the neighborhood was when I saw a two-story scaffolding set on wheels turn out of a parking lot and into the street. It was filled with neighborhood kids yelling and shouting in excitement. Many would have been appalled to see these kids “steal” construction equipment, but they used what was available to entertain themselves for an afternoon. I couldn’t help but laugh, knowing a younger me would have done the same.
After leaving Riverside I’d head back over a bridge and onto a path along the river. Now was the time to head back uphill, and I’d go down Summit Avenue. This was the most awe-inspiring street to take. With its own bike path you become a part of the traffic, while looking at the wide stretch of historic homes. This was always a time to reflect on my whole bike ride. From my start of a sketch in a coffee shop to the different roads and cultures I’d passed, I thought of how to shape the final sketch while sitting in front of the Cathedral of Saint Paul. After I’d finished sketching or had a solid idea on what I’d create, I’d head home and shower before going to my room to paint for the night.
These bike rides played a massive role in how I create my art. The less well-kept parts of Minneapolis and the upscale parts of Saint Paul I traveled showed duality, and neither is completely good or completely bad. They contrast and complement each other in many ways. A lot of my art deals with duality, and trying to recognize polarizing attributes in everything.