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- THE 2022 BEAR 100: AN IOWAN'S ACCOUNT OF NORTHWOODS GRAVEL
Ben Petty recently crossed the cheddar curtain for his first 100-mile ride up in the Northwoods. After making his way through Stevens Point, he and his friend did the Bear 100 and made it to Jar's Bar & Grill with photos and a story to tell. Story by: Ben Petty I’ve been riding and loving Iowa gravel roads for years, but it’s always good to try to get out and explore some new areas. I’ve done several combination type biking/paddling/fishing trips to the Driftless areas of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota over the years, as well as further into the Wisconsin Northwoods in the Seeley CAMBA area and around Tomahawk. However, I’d never done a really “long day in the saddle” up in the Northwoods gravel & forest roads, and was itching to take on that challenge. I came across the website for The Bear 100 out of Laona, Wisconsin, and was intrigued by the sound of it. I had a friend newer to gravel riding that had just purchased a gravel bike, and it worked out well to go with a buddy as there were multiple distance options available (31, 70, or 100 miles). I kept it on my radar for awhile, as I had been through a couple major knee surgeries on my left leg the year before and wanted to see how it held up at its first real test, the Mid South in Oklahoma in early March. I completed that gravel century (slowly, but knee pain-free!) and that gave me the confidence to sign up just a couple days after getting back to Iowa when I saw registration for The Bear quickly closing in on the 500 rider cap. I signed up for the 100 mile option and my friend Peter for the 31. We wanted to make a weekend out of it and not feel too rushed, so headed out of Iowa on Thursday, making our way to Stevens Point, Wisconsin later that day for our first night’s stop. I made it out for a short ride on pavement and gravel south of town that evening, and we spent Friday morning exploring the Green Circle Trail (which is a very scenic trail, at least in the western sections along the Wisconsin River and northern reaches of it that we explored), along with some fun and interesting sculptures we rode by in the Stevens Point Sculpture Park. Along the ride, we stopped by the Ruby Coffee Cafe (just slightly off-trail) for a caffeine break, and picked up some of their instant coffee packets to try out on future camping trips. After that ride, we loaded up and left Stevens Point, and continued our trip northeast to where we were staying in Crandon, Wisconsin. Race day on Saturday we made it to Laona in plenty of time, but not exactly stress-free as I was struggling a bit to get the route into my Garmin (it’s always something getting ready for these rides!) but managed to get it uploaded and to the line just in time for the start. After a little gravel trail at the start, we were soon into gravel and forest roads of the Nicolet National Forest, surrounded by woodland and cruising through some sandy gravel roads. The first 15 miles also had quite a few wet sections and some standing water at times, but I could usually find a line to slowly make my way through those without issue. As the route progressed, there were fewer of these wet sections to deal with. The route passed by the little village of Armstrong Creek at mile 45. There was a convenience store in town, and I was ready for a little break, so grabbed some food and drink and chatted with some fellow riders. After about a 15 minute break there, I grabbed a bag of my go-to energy bites (gummy bears) and was off for the back half. Of the 500 total riders, there were 207 registered for the 100 mile option, so while riding alone at times, I ran into other riders periodically throughout the day. Although I love my Iowa gravel roads, it’s fun to explore different places; one thing that’s different on this ride from most of mine is that being surrounded by forest land in often winding roads tends to throw off my “natural sense” of navigation; it’s much more difficult to find landmarks in the distance or know intuitively what direction I’m going (although I guess that just adds to the sense of adventure!). There were several stretches of some gnarly and beautiful, rocky rough forest roads in the 2nd half of the route, and a gorgeous river crossing around mile 61 at the Peshtigo River, where I admit to being a little envious of a couple I saw fishing and looking very relaxed. Although the weather was nice and mild that day, I’ll admit to feeling a bit worn down by this time, and was pleased to find an aid station around mile 80, manned by “Eric the Fox” from Embark Maple. I appreciated his support for the riders and contagious energy, and after chatting a bit and filling a bottle with their Elderberry hydration mix, I was off for the home stretch, and I was starting to feel ready to get there by this point! After correcting a wrong turn (thankfully not long after making it!), the last several miles were a beautiful gravel ride on the Rat River Trail, and I enjoyed watching its namesake river rushing around the boulders while cruising up this final section back to Laona. After 102 rugged and beautiful miles, I was at the finish at Jar’s Bar and Grill, and found Peter who had successfully completed and enjoyed his 31 mile route (and his first ever “official” gravel event!) We enjoyed visiting with other riders and the food and drink at Jar’s. It was a great location and race, very well organized and definitely whetted my appetite for further bike adventures in the Northwoods!
- ADVENTURES WITH DAD ARE ALWAYS THE BEST (SOMETIMES)
Story & Photos: Josh Rizzo My favorite memories of growing up with Dad involved biking too far, staying out too late, and splitting a Snickers bar upon finally reaching our destination. I never had a concept of mileage and just kept spinning the cranks on my coaster brake bike until we got back home. Dad, A “Closed” Sign, and a Sucky Ride That Turned Out Great A particular favorite story I remember is when Dad almost crushed our hopes but instead seemed to miraculously save the day. My sister and I were quite little when my Dad took us on a 20-mile out and back to a little convenience store in an unincorporated town. The only thing that gave us hope to make it to the turnaround point was my Dad’s promise that he’d buy us a snack at the convenience store. It was long after dark and we still had a few miles to go but Dad kept our spirits high with the anticipation of picking out anything we wanted in the store. We rolled up to the store and the outside light was off, windows were dark, and the “CLOSED” sign was on the door. My hope was crushed. But luckily my Dad’s wasn’t. He knocked on the door of a home that was right next to the store and asked if the man who opened the door also owned the store. Sure enough he did. He reopened the store, unlocked the cash register, and sold us each 1 snack, probably totaling three and a half bucks before wishing us luck on the ride home. I have no idea how I had enough energy to bike 10 miles back home that night but I think it had something to do with a little boy’s delight at a simple treat just when he thought luck was lost. Thanks, Dad. That was a real cool Dad move. Dad, Pizza, and a Face Full of Wheel Splatter Now that I’m a dad, I treasure every ride with my kids. I want to keep it fun and not push my hobbies onto them too hard, but I also want them to share my adventures as we stretch our limits together. Each summer, we bike to a local pizza farm together. It’s a 22 mile trip that’s normally beautiful as we roll up and down hills, twist through the woods, and say hi to the cows and horses on the many Wisconsin farms we pass. Last summer’s father-son ride to the pizza farm however, included 8 miles of pouring rain. When you’re 4 years old on a Trail-a-Bike, being pulled by a fender-less gravel bike and getting sprayed in the face with wheel splatter for 40 minutes isn’t all that fun. Now that that trip is removed by a full year, the Type 2 fun is something we talk about on almost every ride together. Let’s Take Our Chances Together Our year is already full of micro-adventures and recently we camped at a pizza farm, but hopefully most rides will be without the wheel splatter in the face. Although, heck, would we still talk about these stories if there wasn’t a sometimes-good-sometimes-sucky plot twist half-way through? Doubt it. I guess we’ll just have to see how this one goes and hopefully my kids will still like biking when it’s said and done.
- NEIL BELTCHENKO BIKEPACKS THE WISCONSIN WATERFALLS LOOP [VIDEO]
Neil Beltchenko from Bikepacking.com recently checked out the Wisconsin Waterfalls Loop with 2 friends. It was an early season ride and their group made a video of the adventure. From the Bikepacking.com YouTube video: Highly underrated as an adventure destination, the Northwoods region is home miles upon miles of dirt roads and tracks that knit together lakes, rivers, thick forests, and small towns. It holds a special place in Neil's heart, and last month, Neil and two friends set off to ride the Wisconsin Waterfalls Loop, a 380-mile route in northern Wisconsin. In our latest video, Neil shares trip highlights and a day-by-day itinerary of their ride...
- MUSIC, STORIES, & A NEW KNIFE RIVER BIKEPACKING CAMPSITE WITH BEN WEAVER & ALEXANDERA HOUCHIN
Join Cedaero and Cedar Coffee Company on July 2, 2022 for a very special event featuring Music by Ben Weaver, Stories by Alexandra Houchin, and a Ramblin' Bike Ride. This event is free to the public. Donations for the artists will be accepted. Meet at Spokengear/Cedar Coffee Company at 11:30. At noon sharp they will do an 8 mile ramblin' (party pace) bike ride to the Lake County Demonstation Forest. There is a new bikepacking campsite there on the Knife River Loop in an ancient stand of White Pines. They will settle in there for music and stories. Follow the facebook event HERE.
- KKD GRAVEL RAISES $8,500+ FOR DUCHENNE MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY
Kasner's Kick Duchenne (KKD) Gravel was held on Saturday, June 11 in Farmington Minnesota. Adam Klotz, race director, put on this event to raise awareness and support his neighbors and friends, the Kasner family, who have 2 boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The event had over 100 registered riders and raised more than $8,500. Sarah and Dan Kasner said, "The Kasner Family wants to thank all of the participants and supporters of the first annual KKD Gravel. We truly are in awe of the outpouring of love and support that we witnessed on Saturday of this amazing community." To learn more about the event visit kkdgravel.com.
- STRONGER TOGETHER: IDENTITY & ENDURANCE WITH ALEXANDERA HOUCHIN
It has taken time for Alexandera Houchin to weave layers of her identity together. First and foremost, Alexandera is an Ojibwe woman. She’s also an artist, a farmer, a mechanic, a cyclist and a person who cares deeply about her community on the Fond Du Lac reservation near Cloquet, Minnesota. “Stronger Together” takes an intimate look into Alexandera’s life while examining concepts of identity, forgiveness and what it means to merge seemingly different aspects of your soul in order to continue moving forward, one pedal stroke at a time. Photos: Burke Saunders To learn more, visit Freehug Magazine
- ENDS WEDNESDAY: GRAVEL BEAR FOUNDER'S COLORWAY
This is the last chance to get the Founder's colorway of our Gravel Bear shirt. Available till Wednesday June 15, this is the best way to support locally focused content on the races, stories, routes, and people you ride with. Shop now.
- BIKEPACKING WITH STRANGERS ON THE COON FORK OVERNIGHTER
Rob Pelton recently met 2 strangers & bikepacked the Coon Fork Overnighter in Augusta, Wisconsin. He posted an open invite via Facebook and 2 strangers showed up. Check out his video and route report here.
- Complete List of Maple Syrup Energy Gels for Long Distance Bike Adventures
Maple syrup is fantastically delicious on panakes but is also a natural, locally-produced, nutrient-rich energy source for endurance cycling. Here we round up all of the options on the market and share what makes maple syrup such a great energy source for athletes. What is Maple Syrup Energy Gel? Maple syrup energy gel contains way more than meets the eye. In springtime when the temperature is above freezing during the day and below freezing during the night, sap starts to run and a single maple tree can produce 10-20 gallons of sap. When you boil tsyhe sap down 40 to 1, you get maple syrup. It's golden in color, is incredibly sweet, and turns pancakes into magical circles of delight. In just the last decade or so, maple syrup gel companies have started to realize the incredible benefits of maple syrup for endurance sports energy. With a lot of artificial energy gels on the market, maple syrup gel is completely natural and contains many of the nutrients (and more) that you'll see in conventional gels. What are the benefits of maple syrup gels for athletes and adventurers? Maple Syrup is incredible. I mean, sure, holy crap it's delicious to just drink it straight from the pack with no pancakes. But it's also naturally full of many of the exact nutrients that support endurance sports like cycling while being easier to swallow and digest than conventional energy gels. Without any additives, just 1oz of maple syrup energy gel has: 110 Calories 27g Carbs 90mg Potassium .3mg Zinc .9mg Manganese .51mg Riboflavin 30mg Calcium 60 antioxidants Source: Pure Fuel maple syrup If you compare these maple syrup gel packets to a mainstream option like Vanilla Bean GU, maple syrup has more of every single one of these mentioned nutrients than the conventional energy gel. This is pretty cool because it's 100% natural, can come right from our local maple trees, and has the nutrients you need to produce energy and feel great while pushing yourself physically. Maple syrup is also low-glycemic. The carbs are natural derived and produce long sustained energy production rather than energy that rises and crashes quickly. It provides quick energy that lasts long and prevents you from hitting a wall during a long ride. A note on salt: yes or no? I would break maple syrup energy gel sources into 2 main categories: salted and unsalted. Coincidentally, we have 3 salted and 3 unsalted maple syrup packets in this list. Personally, I prefer salted. Salt plays a key role in physical activities as it helps with hydration and restores what's lost from sweat. I also find salted syrup to be absurdly delicious but then again, so is maple syrup by itself. Those who prefer something simpler or don't want the taste of sweet and salty may prefer the unsalted options here. Embark Maple - Viroqua, Wisconsin What I love about Embark Maple is that they're local, their products are organic, and they're really active in the endurance cycling scene in The Nxrth's coverage area. Whether it's the Arrowhead 135 deep in heart of winter or riding gravel at Dairy Roubaix, you'll see them all over the place spreading good energy and supporting hard working cyclists. They make three flavors of packets, Salted, Coffee, and Elderberry and they're all made with simple, nutritious ingredients. Of all the maple syrup options I tried, they're the only ones with a close-able cap. They're also the largest packs at 3oz each which means one pack can give you a ton of fuel and can be opened and closed without getting sticky in your bike bags or jersey pockets My favorite is Salted. Candidly, I tried salting my own maple syrup and it tasted funky and got sticky all over the kitchen. These are delicious, convenient, and made by organic maple farmers who support the races you're probably signing up for. Pure Fuel by Anderson's - Cumberland, Wisconsin Anderson's Pure Maple Syrup has been been making organic syrup for over 90 years. After realizing that maple syrup has the same nutrients that endurance athletes need they created Pure Fuel. They're avid supporters of Northwoods cycling and sponsor Fat Bike Worlds, Fat Bike Birkie, and Apex Cycling team. They just updated their packaging to now include a little loop that connects the main syrup pouch to the tear-off lid. You've probably seen plastic tear-off tops tossed on the ground at races, and this little improvement helps to stop that.This is the only maple syrup packet with a connected top piece which I instantly appreciated after losing track of other tear offs. Pure Fuel has nothing added whatsoever. It's 100% pure organic maple syrup without additives that you'll find in the majority of conventional energy gels. Pure Fuel was the first maple energy that I discovered and I love the family history behind these products and their commitment to fueling athletes with nature's simplest form of energy. The Maple Dude - Granton, Wisconsin The Maple Dude maple syrup has literally almost been around since the bicycle itself. Okay, not quite, but it's been in the family since 1858 (8 years before Brooks saddles was founded in England). They make a wide variety of maple syrup products including maple sugar, popcorn, suckers, candles, and of course, maple syrup for pancakes. Their 'Maple Shot' packets are their 1 ounce packets of maple syrup. They include the 1 ingredient they've been perfecting their entire history, pure Wisconsin maple syrup. As a natural, simple, energy source, these are really simple to add to your bike bag and use when you need a boost. Untapped - Richmond, Vermont Untapped is by far the most built out maple syrup energy company out there. They're from Vermont and have an extensive lineup of maple syrup, mini waffles, and hydration options. If you're taking a lot of maple energy packets, it's really nice to have flavor variety. Even if you have a favorite flavor, it's still nice to change it up sometimes, and Untapped has you totally covered. Like many others on this list, they have the simple maple syrup option, but I personally like salt in mine. Their raspberry and cocoa both have salt and their coffee syrup has 27g of caffeine. Even their waffles are vegan organic and are made with their same pure maple syrup. Those and their syrup packets fit perfectly in a jersey pocket or stem bag and make awesome energy snacks when you're cranking. Lastly, their hydration products are called Mapleaid which has only 4 ingredients or less, including maple syrup. I didn't care for the Ginger Mapleaid; the ginger was too strong and it didn't sit well in my stomach but Lemon Tea Mapleaid was great. Endurance Tap - Coldwater, Ontario Endurance Tap is from our Canadian neighbors up in Ontario. They're designed around the idea that the best solution is often the simplest and that with nutritious, performance-built fuel, athletes can achieve their best performance. They only sell a few products and they're all super practical including a 28-serving bulk syrup bottle to fill your own energy flasks and reduce waste. Their flagship maple syrup packets are Classic and Caffeinated. They're salted and both include ginger, which interestingly enough, I couldn't taste. Which is fine because the purpose of the ginger is a digestive aid. They add it to help digestion on the hottest days with the most intense physical activity. When I'm working out, my stomach can get some gut rot with traditional energy gels and I found Endurance Tap was really easy to stomach on long rides. The Caffeinated variety is the same recipe plus 35mg of caffeine from green coffee bean extract. Lastly, they make stroopwafels from their maple syrup in both regular and gluten-free 10packs. I just recently had to go gluten free and really appreciate having this option. I only tried their regular stroopwafels (prior to going off gluten) but I hope to try their gluten free 10-packs soon. Maple Rise - Vermont Much like several other of the options on this list, Maple Rise only has one ingredient, pure maple syrup. But the thing that makes them unique is that their maple syrup is heated and whipped. The end result is that it tastes like normal maple syrup but has a creamy thicker texture. Because of the thicker consistency, this one most closely resembles the thickness of a traditional energy gel. Originally founded to provide a boost to people who suffer from low blood sugar episodes, Maple Rise started making these for athletes who work hard and prefer natural energy. They also have larger containers of maple cream as well as maple crystallized sugar. Maple syrup energy gels for bike adventures all year Being somebody who has always stashed a bag of gummy bears in my stem bag on long bike rides, I've enjoyed replacing them with maple syrup packets on a lot of rides. Personally, it's great to have an excuse to drink straight maple syrup and I got the energy I needed without having my energy crash on any rides. Better yet? Maple syrup doesn't freeze so you can enjoy it for the entire fatbiking season without having to engineer a way to keep them warm on the course. These maple syrup packets have the convenience of traditional energy gels without all the additives and artificial ingredients. Many of these maple syrup packets are from trees tapped right in our home states by people who support the races we ride. Give em' a try and enjoy nature's delicious energy.
- CEDAERO TURNS 5: SEWING MAGIC IN TWO HARBORS, MINNESOTA
Dan Cruikshank started Cedaero as a sister company to Spokengear Cyclery and Cedar Coffee Company in Two Harbors, Minnesota. Now turning 5 years old, we chat with Cedaero to learn how it all came together and what challenges they've overcome. Learn more on the Cedaero website or follow them on Instagram. Interview with Dan Cruikshank: You're 5 years into Cedaero. What inspired you to build a bike bag company? Forgive my rambling, but that’s a long story. I’ve come to know that I’m blessed with a mind that works like an entrepreneur. I love to tinker with things. I can’t stop thinking about what products and services I would want for myself, and how can I offer them to everyone. Back in 1985 I was on a canoe trip deep into Quetico Provincial Park north of the Boundary Waters with my friend Jeff Knight. The idea for Granite Gear was born from the spark of an idea around the campfire that night. Over the next 28 years it was always like an adventure to figure out the next business hurdle to overcome. We expanded from canoe packs to ultralight backpacking, as well as packs for the US Special forces. Jeff and I built Granite Gear into a brand we were both proud of, and wound up selling the company in 2014. I looked back with fondness on the early years of brand building with Granite Gear. I wanted to build another brand from the ground up, taking all I’d learned and applying it to a new company. I’ve always been into biking. Ever since I was a kid, the bicycle gave me freedom and joy like nothing else in my life. I’ve toured around Lake Superior, and I’ve commuted by bike for many years. So it was natural that I wanted to make packs for cycling. I had a few ideas. At that time all the bike pack makers were doing pretty much the same thing and I figured I could make something a little different than what was out there. Then the entrepreneur in me took over and I thought it would be great to have a bike shop as well in our small town of Two Harbors. Also a great coffee shop. After a couple of years of planning and building we opened Spokengear Cyclery, and Cedar Coffee Company on Memorial Day in 2016. The plan was that Cedaero would be phase 2. Over the next few months I moved all the sewing and cutting machines from my home garage/ sewing studio to the back room behind the bike shop where I’d been tinkering and scheming and I hired Karl Mesedahl - a master at tinkering himself - to help me build the Cedaero Brand. I had a few orders already, and had developed the concepts for several packs including custom bolt-on frame packs, and we delved into steady production 5 years ago. The synergy of having the 3 Brands under one roof is awesome. We have been building a community around bikes, coffee and adventure here. Looking back so far, what are you most proud of that Cedaero has accomplished? The products are the obvious thing we are proud of. With each new product we strive to create a durable, unique, colorful and functional piece that will accompany you on so many adventures! We want these packs to function flawlessly so you can focus on the ride. Beyond the products themselves, I’m most proud of the team I’ve assembled around here. Having great people is the name of the game, and it all starts with that. The people I work with just "get it” when it comes to having fun and building a brand at the same time. It sure is a lot easier to go to work with folks you care about and trust. The conversations in the shop range from serious production problem solving to “What should we have for lunch on S'mores Friday?". Sometimes the conversations go totally random like “OMG we should call that cat on the towel Slender James” which is a completely different story ;). If you want to join in the shenanigans download your photo to the Cedaero Adventure Team link on our website. https://cedaero.com/pages/cedaero-adventure-team-1 What were some of the bumps you ran into along the way? Well, it’s not really an adventure until something unexpected happens, right? COVID 19, Bike Boom, delays in the supply chain, to name a few. That’s where the team gets down to business and figures it out so we can get on with doing what we do best. When you live with an adventurous spirit the bumps don’t slow you down too much. Two Harbors seems like a wonderful place to HQ a bike bag company; what's the land and the community like up by you? Well there are the bugs, lot of biting flies and ticks. And the cold. Really cold. Seriously, don’t even think about moving here! All that stuff keeps the riff-raff out. The rest of us who can get past the bugs and the cold enjoy the connection with the boreal forest, the big lake, the Superior highlands backcountry and community of hearty locals. Our building sits on 6 acres in a cedar grove. We can ride a few minutes out of town and be on remote gravel and B roads for days. One of the current projects we are working on is building a bikepacking campsite just 8 miles form the shop on county land. It’s going to be on a river in a grove of ancient White Pines. It will be the first bikepacking campsite in the region. We plan on making a network of these sites around Lake County. We'll keep you informed as it progresses. You've done some fun projects from Pogies to 906 collaboration bags. What has been your favorite project? I suppose the “Ode de Trout" packs we made for the Salsa Blackborrow introduction still truly stands out. Last year we bought an ambulance, converted it into a Cedaero Adventuremobile and drove it to a few events with sewing machines in the back to sew custom packs for folks as they watched. That project was a lot of fun! But it seems like every time we make a custom frame pack for someone, and it goes from an uploaded photograph of a bike to a finished pack in the colors the customer picked, there is some magic that we make. It’s fun to create a new favorite pack every day! My favorite today was the unveiling of the “Rainbow Road” edition packs.
- BUILDING THE SERPIENTE DE LA ARENA BIKEPACKING ROUTE
Shane Hitz has long wanted to create a fatbike specific bikepacking route in Northern Wisconsin. Here he shares his planning and scouting process for that route, "La Serpiente de La Arena" (Spanish for the sand snake). Story by Shane Hitz The idea of this route was a long time in the making. A couple years ago I discovered he sand roads around Butler Rock and I was recently thinking about those roads with the intention of creating a fatbike specific bikepacking route. The thought of creating a bikepacking route through areas too difficult for tires narrower than 2.8” was really intriguing to me. I’ve been to the Butler Rock area many times since that initial time there. In fact it’s the area that I used for the 2021 Tour de Nicolet route. But the roads I used on the TdN, although sandy, are some of the easier in that area to ride through. I wanted to dive deeper into the area, making this more of a challenge and find all that the area had to offer. On April 16 of this year I made my first scouting trip with the goal of discovering as many roads as possible that are rarely used. I used the fat bike for that ride and laid down tracks on over 85 miles in the area. Some of it was still ice covered. I came away with a good understanding of what I wanted the bikepacking route to look like. When I got home I mapped my bikepacking course based on what I had found in April as well as past knowledge of the area. One of my other objectives was to map the route through the Nicolet Roche but to use only the two track instead of the singletrack trail but still stay really super close to the singletrack, at times crossing paths with it. I would follow the general direction of the singletrack from south to north. The reason for this was to create a route that could be ridden even when the singletrack was closed for the season or to give the rider the choice of riding the two track or singletrack or a mix of both. Or a person could decide to make the Roche their camp location and ride singletrack for the day, making this a three day adventure. For my trip I decided that my best point to start at would be in Lakewood. There are numerous places to start, which I labeled on the map. Where I chose has a super nice paved ATV parking lot with bathrooms and it’s right in town. A bike rack is placed near the bathrooms, which makes me feel that the town welcomes and promotes cyclists. It would be a safe place to leave my vehicle overnight. The bathrooms would provide a great place to change out of my bikepacking clothes after the ride. There are also a few restaurants in town for after the ride. Three weeks later on a Monday morning I set out on my overnight trip. I had a few camp spots in mind so I was pretty chill on my pace and let the day come as it may. A mile or so of atv trail connected me to some super curvy and hilly blacktop. A person starting this route might be initially thinking that this will be super easy and quick. A roadie came at me, zipping along. Probably a great road for local cyclists with its curves and hills skirting along the edge of Paya Lake, the lakeside cottages empty for the week. A couple short bits of gravel until mile 10 and then I hit endless gravel. At mile 14 I got off of the main gravel road and onto four miles of atv trail that brings me into Crooked Lake. Being a Monday nothing was open in Crooked Lake so I just passed through and back onto some atv trail. The groomer was out smoothing out the sand making it extra difficult even with the fat bike tires. About four miles of this super loose sand and then the surface started consisting of more of a gravel base making things a lot easier to roll on. I found a super cool two track that atv’s were not allowed on which connected to another road and as a bonus I avoid going down County Road W. Great find! Some more miles of super loose sand and sections of gravel in between to break things up before coming to Butler Rock and it’s super high view point if you decide to hike up. I don’t always take the hike up but today I did and I sat and ate lunch at the top. The day was windy with gusts in the 40’s predicted. It was at least that gusty, maybe higher. Continuing on was more of the same loose sand before coming to a firm gravel road for a few miles. I spot a snowmobile trail that has a sign posted for no atv’s. I take it hoping to find a nice path through and be off the beaten path a little. A distance in and the trail forked. I take the more overgrown direction and soon the truck tracks that kept the grass at bay made a loop to turn around but I kept going, regardless. It starts to get more overgrown as I hike my bike around fallen trees and soon I am carrying my bike over downed trees before coming to a total trail blockage of downed trees, impossible to get my bike through. I turn back to the last split and ride that out to the main road. Making it out to the main road I still consider this a win cause I did use about three miles of snowmobile trail and avoided that much of the main gravel road. I also came across a sign posted that I was alongside Waupee Lake Swamp State Natural Area. This happened to be a nice find with its views of the small lake off to my left and one that I would not have found if I stayed on the main gravel road. Continuing on the gravel I made my way to the most southern portion of the route. After one small river ford I came to an area that was recently burned from a forest fire only to discover a half mile later that I was riding into that fire. The winds were so strong that it pushed it across one gravel road. My route went around the back side of it and as I rode in the direction it was pushing towards a police car came in with its emergency lights going and soon after the forest service fire department came with sirens on. I went around the front side of it safely as the main fire was still a ways from my route. It was a good reminder of the consequences even a small campfire could have. I reached the blacktop that brought me towards Mountain and Bagely Rapids National Forest campground. With the wind at my back I made quick time on the five miles of asphalt. Rolling into the campground I had my pick of sites with only four other sites taken. With the forecast for possible severe storms I picked one with the safest looking trees. I also was lucky to have a site on the river. A quick meal of Mountain House was what my belly needed after a hard day in the saddle. After dinner I got rid of my trash from the day and from dinner and then refilled all of my water before going to bed for the night. I had the roar of the river as background noise however it was a restless night with the possibility of storms weighing in the back of my mind. I woke up early the following morning with only a sprinkle throughout the night. Any lost sleep was for nothing. I got everything packed up, ate a meal bar and an apple for breakfast and made my way onward. My first five or so miles were made up of atv trail on the old railroad grade, the surface being super loose but not bad at all on a fat bike. Two nice bridges overlooking the river was the highlight of the five mile stretch. Also, in the middle of that five mile stretch was the town of Mountain consisting of a restaurant and two bars and a gas station. On a Tuesday morning the only thing open was the gas station. Turns out they had a great selection of ready to eat hot breakfast sandwiches. Thinking about the unseasonable heat and humidity I would be facing that day, I also grabbed a bottle of Body Armour. After the grade I crossed highway 32 and onto a logging road with active logging going on. Passing two log truck semi’s bouncing along down the rough logging road I thought about the enormity of the amount of timber that was hauled out of the area from the 2019 blow down, a super powerful straight lined wind storm that took out trees in a line from Jack Lake to Mountain. For anybody not familiar with the area, as the crow flies it is roughly 30 miles in distance. I was heading into the blowdown area and would be in the hardest hit part of it later in the ride. After crossing highway 64 I came across another snowmobile trail that I decided to check out. This one worked out to actually take a short cut to where I needed to go and it was a more exciting way to get there not only because it was off of the main gravel road but also had some nice down hills and ended with a run through a tall stand of red pines. Once back on the gravel it was not long until I made a left onto another atv trail. This one was another that had soft beach sand. Lots of turns and punchy climbs meant hike a bike in a few spots. Midway through this short two mile section I came across a giant bullnose snake laying on the trail. I picked it up with a long stick, its head flattening and getting wide as I did, to get it off of the trial where it would be safer. I was glad I took this road and came through at the time I did cause I got to see such a cool and unique snake. After the atv section was another nice, easy pedal down a couple miles of blacktop and a right turn onto Old Grave Road, a beat up logging road which turns into two track leading to Nicolet Roche. Being here many, many times I knew exactly what to expect, which was a mix of sand roads and washed out roads littered with baby head rocks to super smooth forest two track. After crossing the bridge on Van Alstine road I headed north on two track that I have never been on. Very unexpectedly I had a white wolf trot across the road about 20 yards in front of me. It was the highlight of the entire trip! Of course things happened so fast I could not get a picture but it is something I will remember forever, much like the moose that jumped out of the ditch right in front of Candace on one of our waterfall bikepacking trips in the Upson area. Just a very cool memory to hold onto. Heading north across highway 64 I climbed the super steep Humble Hill, known from the old Humble 44 Nicolet Roche race. When you climb (push a loaded bike) up this hill with all the baby head rocks scattered all over it, you think that you are at the top but then it flattens for a second and steep again until finally you crest it. The downhill after is so fun though. It is void of the baby heads and is super smooth as compared to the climb, yet you still expect some bad spots judging from the road surface of the climb. My descent was great though. A few more climbs highlight this section of rough forest road, each summit featuring a great view of the endless miles of straight line wind carnage, the open landscape now exposing all the hills and valleys. Another section of snowmobile trail and then onto primarily blacktopped surfaces to finish out the ride. The exception is the unique ride through Cathedral Pines State Natural Area. The gravel road narrows here to one lane through a tunnel of dense trees and moss lined ridges which make up the edge of the road. It is such a fitting way to end the ride and roll back into civilization.
- DEEP DARK PORTRAITS UNDER THE RAIN IN THE WOODS: JOSH KOWALESKI'S GRAND DU NORD PHOTOS
Le Grand Du Nord took place last weekend where Josh Kowaleski from Pointed North Photography was set up in the rain shooting riders' portraits around mile 100. Each photo tells its own story and captures a slice of joy and resilience. Josh will be shooting portraits again at The Fox and Heck of the North later this year. Find more photos at Pointed North and follow along on Instagram to see what he's up to next.