Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Time Gravel in Northern Minnesota

"Where The Pavement Ends and The North Begins"

I had initially traveled to northern Minnesota to visit my folks and get in a bit of spring gravel riding. Reports were that the forest roads were in pretty good shape and I was looking forward to getting in a few miles. The forecast earlier in the week had called for snow and rain, but I really was not expecting what was to come. The weather conditions rapidly deteriorated on the drive north Friday afternoon. Driving north from Minneapolis there were times that I felt my bike would be ripped off the roof rack by the easterly winds buffeting us all the way to Virginia.

The precipitation didn't start until around 8 p.m., but once it started it came down quickly and by the time we got up Saturday morning there was around 5 inches on the ground with more in some places and more on the way.

After breakfast I headed north of town to hit the gravel forest roads. Knowing full well that the going would be difficult, I wanted to make sure that I found a good starting spot where I could do a couple of loops in different directions and travel on roads that had been driven on. This would at least allow me to follow truck tracks through the snow rather than break trail the entire time. I actually felt that my 29er was a better choice than the Pugsley. The snow was heavy and wet and the narrower 29er tires cut through it nicely. The gravel beneath the snow provided me with good traction.
The forest was absolutely beautiful although I was hoping to be riding on dirt and in somewhat different conditions.

The snow was intermittent as the day progressed and temps hovered right around 35(F)-1.6(C). Riding was slow but steady and some roads were easier to ride than others depending upon how much local traffic they had received. The locals love cruising the woods on the weekends and provided me with some good tracks to follow.

There are not many locals that venture out in the winter to ride bike. They are ice fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, xc skiing, sitting in the local pubs, or just hunkering down in the warmth of their homes and cabins. With this in mind, you can imagine the looks a cyclist attracts especially on a day such as this.

It was on this stretch of road that I encountered "Sooch" who is a local legend in his own right. He was out cruising the roads in his truck and as he approached me, rolled down his window and hollered something to me with his big moustached smile while giving me the thumbs up sign. I returned the thumbs up sign and we continued on in opposite directions. I don't think he recognized me, otherwise I'm sure he would have stopped. His gesture motivated to me to keep the wheels turning.

As the day progressed the snow was melting on the more well traveled stretches of road, but the wind was also shifting and eventually would be blowing out of the north and the temps were beginning to drop quite quickly.

It was great to see the rivers open and flowing with large amounts of water. Hopefully a good sign that water levels will remain high and just maybe, with all the moisture, we can avoid having a dry fire season. It's amazing how quickly a forest can dry out in the spring, despite large amounts of winter snow.

Another of many frequent snow squalls that went through the Northland Saturday afternoon.

The road home to a nice pasta dinner, a glass or two of wine, the company of my parents, wife Patti, and a nice hot shower.


Doug said...

Awesome pictures.

Pondero said...

Like Doug said. Just awesome, except I kept scrolling down quickly searching for something that looked like "spring".

Vito said...

Welcome to April in Minnesota. We have more snow forecast for the upcoming week. It's Mother Nature's cruel joke.

Joboo said...

Yeah, northern Mn. where snow isn't unheard of even in May, for opening fishing weekend!!
It used to be that the cold and snow kept the riff-raff away, not so much anymore!! ;)

Yeti said...

Great pictures. I love the combination of BW and almost monochrome color pictures.

Apertome said...

Beautiful photos! That's certainly not spring, as I know it. Sounds like tough going, but a wonderful ride, all the same.