Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Northwoods Rides

A couple of years back, Pal Andy came up with the idea of doing some mountain bike rides out of his cabin, which is on the eastern edge of the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin. The concept was to do off-road rides more in the original spirit of the activity rather than riding laps on purpose-built singletrack trails.

The common thread has been a drive up to the cabin the night before, setting out on the road into the forest and then traversing any and all surfaces that present themselves. These rides would not be complete without either getting a bit lost or doing some swamp wading, and they're better if we end up doing both. If we arrive back without being exhausted, wet, dirty and scratched up, we haven't done our jobs.

Day loop: Andy and Eric M. I wasn't on this one, but it was the birth of the concept. They apparently saw a bear cub, got a little lost on the equestrian trails, did quite a bit of swamp wading, and Andy was bonked out so bad he was nothing but babble for the last 6 or 8 miles. Eric hasn't been back.

Downpour Segment
Day loop: Andy and I; Peace 29er. (Pix) This was my first go at wandering around in the northwoods, and it made quite the impression. My family made the trip up, but only Andy and I went riding. He served as tour guide and made it quite clear that he knows the territory really well. I can't remember for certain, but I don't think he even brought a map. Got dirty, rained on, lost and scratched up. Ate wild berries like bears. Came home and did some swimming and eating as a group; the family and I went from there to a vacation on Washington Island (a longer drive than I had expected.)

Route Chat
Day loop: Andy, Nate; Peace 29er fat front. (Pix) Nate joined us the next year, and the 3 of us rented a car and stopped for fish fry on the way up Friday night.

Cabin Driveway
Cabin to cabin and back again: Andy, Nate, Chuck; Peace 29er plus front. (Pix) This was a new twist on the existing theme. Nate drove me and everybody's drop bags up to Phillips on Friday, where we would leave supplies at his family's cabin and then drive to meet Andy and Chuck at Andy's cabin.

While in Phillips, we got groceries and then met up with Nate's dad, who has a job relocating problem bears. As it happened, he had a couple of bears already on his truck, so we went with him to release them. I got to open the trap gates and we watched them run off into the woods. We had fish fry with Nate's folks and took the stuff out to the cabin before taking off for Andy's place.

Andy's and Chuck's families were along for this one, and Andy's family accompanied us on the rollout. Chuck and Nate were on cyclocross bikes; Andy and I were on mountain bikes. Labor Day meant that there were lots of ATV riders out on the trails.

There was a bit of confusion on the way into Park Falls, followed by some swamp wading and bushwhacking. After a stop at the convenience store, we picked up the Tuscobia trail to the west and then dropped south to Oxbo. Made it to Nate's cabin just before sunset, in time for a dip in the river. Grilled brats and corn and ate like kings (but not nearly all the groceries we had bought) before dropping exhausted into bed.

Woke up Sunday morning thinking it was maybe 06:30 to find that the sun was much too high in the sky for that—it was actually 09:15. We made a hasty breakfast and set out on the return trip. Lots of roads that morning and the skinny-tired riders left me in the dust a couple of times. Chuck met up with his family at Solberg Lake and they departed for Madison. The remaining trio rode back to Andy's place, had a dip and ate, returning to Madison on Monday.

Tree Portaging
Cabin to cabin and back again, again: Andy, Nate, Madison Steve, Utah Steve; Peace 29er plus front. (Pix) Chuck was replaced by two Steves this year; Madison Steve joined Nate for the drop bag run and general tomfoolery for a couple days before the ride; the other joined Andy and I in the rental car for his first Wisco fish fry on the drive up to Andy's cabin.

Everybody rendezvoused at Andy's on Friday night, where Nate and Madison Steve gave us the scouting report. As expected, there was water everywhere from the recent heavy rainfall. Any deliberate forays into swampy areas were crossed off the itinerary.

We got up reasonably early the morning of and headed out on the road, picking up a cross country ski trail at Round Lake to visit the historic logging dam replica. From there we caught some ATV trails and gravel to Smith Rapids covered bridge, then skipped some equestrian trail and swamp wading to find an old railbed, now used as an ATV trail. There was some getting lost before crossing 182 near  Blockhouse Lake and catching some pavements to Park Falls.

We rallied at the convenience store in town before picking up a section of the Tuscobia Trail. Caught an ATV route south to Oxbo, where we took a brief rest. Then there was some bushwhacking around Mason, Evergreen, and Swamp Lakes before picking up a gravel and pavements to the cabin.

It was dark and chilly by then and the river was high, so not much swimming happened. The floods had forced mice out of their natural habitat and into the cabin, and they were running around in plain sight as we cooked and later as we sat around the fireplace. The traps were overwhelmed. I didn't sleep well.

Day Two found us catching a gravel to the Kimberly Clark wildlife refuge, where there was more bushwhacking to get back to an eastbound gravel and pavements to Solberg Lake. After a brief rest, more ATV trails to Sailor Lake; pavements mostly up to Riley Lake, an ATV to the railbed from day one and finally the Round Lake trails and home.

Looking forward to next year.


Kate Geisen said...

What a cool tradition! I did an adventure race in the Northwoods this summer and was floored by how beautiful it was. Also by the incredible number of mosquitos. Permethrin-treated clothes and vast amounts of repellant helped. What did you guys do about them, or are you just not as tasty as adventure racers? :)

Michael Lemberger said...

We typically do this after Labor day, so the bugs haven't been terrible—regular repellent with a little Deet has been enough. This year was actually after first frost and kinda chilly...

Michael Lemberger said...

Also, I would guess that adventure racers and adventure riders taste similar to the bugs ;-)

Kate Geisen said...

Saw this and thought of you!