Sunday, July 17, 2016

Touring with Butch

This past winter, Brent and I hatched a plan to take a week long bike tour leaving from the twin cities and a returning under our own power. We had kicked around some routes but I ended up plotting out a trip up to Duluth and up the North Shore then back down through the Chequamegon. It was a pretty ambitious route by my standards, and it was a learning experience for me, as I have never gone on a bikepacking trip with someone that is touring.
This is a key point. Butch was touring, and was prone to go on 60 minute vision quests while I sit a the cafe or bar in town, wondering where the heck Butch is? Then he shows up with a tale of a Swedish wood carver explaining his craft and lamenting tourists. We drink beers and then proceed. Nothing wrong with it, we just never discussed the the details of how and where we would ride. As such, my mileage expectations were unrealistic (even for me).
Butch built this troll about 10 hours before we started. 1x10 with 2.5 hookworms and slime tubes. He would put some Duluth Pack Panniers on it when we hit Duluth.

I rode a Ventana El Comandante with an ovalized 1x11 drivetrain. Arch Ex with Bontrager rubber. zero flats. Bontrager tires are like the Shimano of the tire world. Not the lightest, most supple or the flashiest. Just high quality and consistent. 
 We left the St Paul on Monday morning and headed out of town on the Gateway Trail, then headed north along the MN side of the St. Croix. 
Redwing Rd. 
Wild River SP. 
Government Rd. 
Ticked off miles until we started to have some storms. Luckily, Zach and Ike at Treasured Haven Farm were kind enough to let us take shelter in their produce washing shed. They deliver organic CSA shares to Minneapolis! Check them out!

After the first series of storms blew through, we jumped back on the bikes and motored into Pine City. Dinner at Chubbys and watched the radar. Decided to seek out some more solid shelter given the nature of the storms that were predicted.

Baseball dugout fit the bill (thanks for the idea Morgan!). We were kept awake for much of the night as storm after storm rolled over us (or maybe it was Butch snoring?). Quite the light show.
It rained like a cow peeing on a flat rock. All night.

In the morning, we rolled into Hinckley for some vittles and it became apparent just how much it rained overnight. The reports started rolling in. Eight inches. Ten inches. Fourteen inches. There was standing water everywhere.

Section roads usually looked like this
The only spot that the rain got the best of the Munger Trail.
Luckily we were taking the Munger Trail north so I was not worried about the water since rail beds tend to be engineered to a higher  standard than roads. This proved true as we hit Willow River. Lots of ATVs using the trail as a means to get from one side of town to another.
Proceeds to crush can on forehead

We blasted our way into Jay Cook SP and hung out by the river with with some locals that had long boarded 9 miles carrying a bottle of Schnapps. GEDs, manufacturing jobs (MN still has them!), and the utility of a good lighter were discussed as we got our Huckleberry Finn on with these dudes.

Butch got skunked in Duluth as Frost River and Bent Paddle were closed, but bought some Panniers at Duluth Pack store while I took a nap by the harbor.  Managed not to run over anyone on the lake side trail. What a mess, from a navigational and transportation standpoint. Once we got north a bit we knew it was time to find some flat ground and get horizontal. Fire. Shore. ZZZZs

The next day, we decided to make it a recreational day. Big tail winds saw us to Gooseberry for a Lake Superior spa day.

 It was like something out of a Hemingway story. All we were lacking was to roast a goat and drink new wine out of a skin.

Instead we ate sardines and drank #merica.
Refreshed, we rolled on to Silver Bay via the Gitchigumee and some ATV trails.


Deathrider Chalet put a roof over our heads for the evening (thanks Josh!). Did some recon and route finding and decided to curtail our northerly route in favor of some south shore exploring.
What a dump.....Seriously this is by the solid waste facility

The next day we rolled all the way back to Duluth so Butch could hit up Frost River and Bent Paddle. I also got to witness this pokemon thing. Every schmuck with a phone was standing on the bike path looking at their phone like a zombie. Not sure how I feel about this.
Upon exiting Frost River, I was rushed and embraced by a wild eyed, bearded man, who turned out to be ALVIN! Alvin is a fellow Nebraskan that works for OB up in Ely, and we got to also meet his fiancee, Alexia, over beers and Russ Kendall smoked fish and cheese. Divine.

Sated, we rolled the Dicky Bong (I can't make this stuff up!) across the St Louis river and into Superior, WI. Tri-County Corridor to Brule. Exhaustion set in and we ended up sleeping under a sign that said, "No Overnight Camping". (Sorry)

The next morning we rolled the dice, and let Google pick a cycling route from Brule to Danbury. Holy Buckets! If I had been on a road bike I would have wanted to kill myself, but 2.4's were the ticket. We destroyed 60 miles of ATV trail and sand roads in an incredibly remote part of northern WI. I saw two bears, some Badgers, and all sorts of critters.

Once we hit Gordon (its on the way to your vacation?) we laid in some provisions at the only store in town. We set up shop on the bench out front of the store, and served as a constant source of olfactory amusement for tourists with Illinois plates. I would have killed to have had a knife and a over-ripe durian at this point. Instead we ate twizzlers and drank Bent Paddle. It was 10am.
Telling you man, Hemingway.

Last section of the sand roads was pretty tough as the head wind and heat started to ramp up. Finally popped out on Hwy 35 and headed for the first shady looking (literally and figuratively) bar for some relief.
I feel like taking a moment to point something out. In Wisconsin small towns, all places that serve food are bars. The only establishments that only serve food are either schools or daycare centers. So when I say we stopped at the bar, I mean that we also got food with our drinks. Don't want ya'll getting the wrong idea.

From Danbury, we Gandy Danced our way to Luck before exhaustion set in. Crashed in trailside shelter knowing that we had a 20 mile pull to get to Watershed Cafe in Osceola. In the AM I was a man on a mission. Raged down the Gandy then cruised "S" into Osceola. Hit Watershed right after the doors opened. Downed liter of coffee, double stack of waffles (with real maple syrup!), eggs, hashbrowns, toast and Sausage. Fact. Best 20 dollars you can spend. You are free to disagree with me, but you will still be wrong.
Then it was back to the cities. All told, we knocked out over 500 miles in 6 days. Had a great time exploring this area. Here are a few takeaways should you consider a similar trip:

  • Start in Hinkley. It cuts 2 days of gratuitous travel time off your trip, and you still get to experience all of the Munger Trail which is SWEET! 
  • Roll the widest tire your bike will clear. Always.
  • Don't drink crappy beer.
  • We never paid to camp anywhere, but this comes with its own set of perils. You will setup camp in the dark and be on the road as soon as the sun is up (unless you want that vagrancy/trespassing ticket for instant skid row cred). I rarely spend money on lodging unless its really crappy out and it benefits my mental health. 
  • Don't be all racer Boi like me. Find a partner that will get you to stop and smell the roses....or at least drink all the local beer.