Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Okay, okay, we know — nothing in town can compare to running around Lake of the Isles, Calhoun, or Harriet, and there are plenty of other beautiful outside options as well, including along the Mississippi River. But we're thinking outside the box here (or inside the box, depending on how you look at it). And for our money, the best (indoor) run in town can be found at the YMCA in downtown Minneapolis. The track runs along the largely glass-encased perimeter of the Y's gym about a half-dozen floors above street level, meaning runners are treated to a panoramic bird's-eye view of the skyline. And the track is also relatively long, with 10 laps equaling a mile. Furthermore, climate control means you can enjoy a comfortable run in the middle of January. One drawback is that the track's oval shape gives it something in common with NASCAR — all left turns — but still, during winter, this is as close to the real thing as you'll get. At the least, it's certainly superior to a treadmill.
Some people hop planes to get their fix of the ancient. What the cave-painting scouters and ruins-climbers might not realize is that they could find an equally stunning historical site just two and a half hours southwest of the Twin Cities, in Comfrey. There, half-covered by prairie grasses, is a rock outcropping that carries more than 4,000 images, dating back 7,000 to 9,000 years and marking the beginning of Minnesota's recorded history. The carvings, known as the Jeffers Petroglyphs, depict thunderbirds and bison, turtles and arrowheads, and tell the parables, prayers, and history of the Native Americans who left them behind. A nearby visitors center, open May through September, offers presentations about the site and helps explain how and why Jeffers is one of the oldest continuously used sacred sites in the world. To experience some of the best of small-town Minnesota — think thrift shops and fresh pie — take your time on the drive to Jeffers and back, and stop in at the not-too-distant Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum or the Pipestone National Monument along the way.
Sure, you can make all the jokes you want about Mbakwe — how he's played for the Gophers since the Clem Haskins (hell, the Jim Dutcher) era — but the sixth-year senior's recently completed college career is a case of perseverance. Three colleges and a number of injuries extended the 6-foot-8 forward's university days. His own failings — including a drunk-driving arrest last year that violated probation — have contributed to his trials. Yet when Mbakwe is on, he becomes an imposing presence on the court, ruling the boards (he was one of the leaders this season in rebounds in the Big Ten, a league that should issue pads for inside players) and providing a spark during a season that has seen as many ups and downs as Mbakwe's career. Mbakwe is tapped as an NBA prospect for next year, and he certainly has the seasoning and maturity to make it as a pro.
Spend a day at Fort Snelling State Park — an entire day, from morning till evening — and chances are you'll exhaust yourself before you exhaust all the possibilities of things to do there. For the sheer variety of activities, its profound natural beauty, its historic significance, and all the educational extras of a state park, it's hard to find an equal to Fort Snelling. Bring a bike and explore the park, or pedal a few short miles along the exquisite trail to Minnehaha Falls and back. Or hike over a small bridge and circumnavigate the wilds of Pike Island along a trail that will take you to the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, a place considered sacred by the Dakota Indians. If you start early enough, chances are good you'll see deer wandering in the park. When you return from your hike, haul out a picnic in view of the stunning Snelling Lake, glinting in the sunlight. Take a nap on the wide, sandy beach, then go for a dip in the lake. Morning or evening, try your luck from the fishing pier. And if all that isn't enough, you can wander through the interpretive exhibits in the visitor's center, or hike up a steep trail to the historic fort, where you can spend a couple more hours relearning a fascinating part of the state's early history. Fort Snelling has something for just about everyone, whether you're looking for a day's worth of calorie-burning exercise, a magnificently lazy afternoon of leisure, or an unforgettable family bonding trip with the kids. True, a visit will cost you money — a paltry $5 for a daily parking pass, or $25 for a year-round pass — a small price to pay for maintaining this jewel of a park in the heart of the metro area.
The most enjoyable bike ride in the Twin Cities begins and ends with spectacular waterfalls. Start your trip from the Stone Arch Bridge in downtown Minneapolis, with its amazing view of St. Anthony Falls. Then head south along the leisurely and wildly scenic trail that runs alongside the Mississippi River, adjacent to West River Parkway, which will bring you to the gorgeous and dramatic Minnehaha Falls. Hardly a moment will go by when you're not riveted by one sight or another: the majestic river, the old mill ruins, a memorial to the victims of the 35W bridge collapse, the Weisman Museum perched like a public sculpture across the river, U of M rowers gliding ethereally along the water. One of the best parts of this journey is how well it is complemented by food. You'll find sensational picnic spots all along the way. Just as enticing, you can travel light and stop for an unbeatable lunch at either end of your trip. At the north end, Spoonriver, Grumpy's, and the Mill City Farmers Market stand hard by the Stone Arch. The North Loop, one of the hottest restaurant neighborhoods in town, is just a short jaunt away, where you'll find Sapor, Smack Shack, Black Sheep Pizza, and Be'wiched, among others. At the south end, the incomparable Sea Salt serves some of the freshest seafood in town and Sebastian Joe's ice cream. From falls to falls and back is only about 12 miles, so you'll still have energy for the rest of your weekend.
It might seem counterintuitive to try to ride a bike sans pants. However, the annual Freedom From Pants Ride asks participants to do just that. And they do, with great enthusiasm. Last year's Fourth of July gathering was a blast, despite scorching summertime temps. Along the way, riders high-fived pedestrians (a few were inspired to strip to their skivvies as well), passed around flasks, shared six-packs of beer (where did they keep them?), squirted one another with water guns, and even took a dip in Lake Calhoun. The experience was, well, freeing. Who knew that riding (almost) in the buff could be so much fun?