Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Time to Bail

Lenroot Lodge

It's taken me several days now to process this past weekend's adventure into the woods of northern Wisconsin. Our time spent there riding was phenomenal, but it was also not without disappointment.

We drove up from the Twin Cities on Friday morning, quickly unpacked and readied ourselves and our bikes for an afternoon of exploring and warm-up for the big day on Saturday. For the past several years all of us have participated in the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival which takes place in September every year. We are all familiar with the course itself, but this trip would give us the opportunity to explore more of the single-track and forest roads. As the Chequamegon 40 course only scratches the surface of what is available to ride in Chequamegon National Forest.

Where The Hell Do We Go?
Friday afternoon would provide us with the only sunshine and dry conditions we would experience on this trip. However, as with every amigo adventure there were those humorous moments such as the one up above. Obviously there was some confusion as to which direction we should proceed in. Since it was obvious we were going in circles in this maze of trails not a half mile from the resort. What made it more humorous was that we never even went in any of the suggested directions. After finding our way back to the pavement of "OO", a main thoroughfare in the area, we decided to ride some gravel in a northerly and uphill direction.

Our ride took us down Northern Lights Road and then the very long gravel climb up Boedecker Road. This route led us to the Fire Tower Trail, which leads to Fire Tower Hill. If you're familiar with the Chequamegon 40 race you know that Fire Tower Hill is the stuff of legends. It is steep, really steep, rutted and strewn with loose rocks both large and small.

"Fire Tower Trail"(not to be confused with Fire Tower Hill)
Fire Tower Trail would take us up the unfamiliar backside of the hill. Of course once we found ourselves at the top there was only one thing to do. Go down the all too familiar side of the damn thing only to turn around and climb up it. You see, we are not a very intelligent group and for some reason keep coming up with these brilliant ideas. I was somewhat hesitant because I wanted to save my legs for Saturday's long ride. Of course it only took one look from the others and I followed suit. Unfortunately, I did end up having to walk up portions of the climb. After this we enjoyed a mostly downhill ride back to the Lodge where we spent some time on "BS" and enjoyed a hot shower and a cold beer before heading off to the Sawmill for pizza dinner and map study.

The friendly folks of northern Wisconsin love their animal mounts, along with ATV's, cheese, and ice cold Leinenkugel beer. This particular mount kept a close eye upon us throughout both of our evenings at the Sawmill. It was Saturday morning that we discovered that there are three very important times; breakfast time, beer time, and closing time. I would add a forth to this list later in the day Saturday.

We arose early Saturday morning wanting to get an early start for what we thought would be a ten hour day in our saddles. I awoke to the ominous sound of thunder and Bob's voice stating that we have rain. We had rain indeed, a lot of it, along with thunder and lightning. To top this situation off, Drew, who we assume is the owner of the Sawmill and Lenroot Lodge overslept. This situation pissed off not only the gal who obviously had been there for some time trying to get in touch with Drew, but several patrons including ourselves who were waiting. Finally, a gentlemen who was waiting in one of vehicles rolled down his window and yelled, "We're heading up the road! See you at "beer time". This of course brought a round of laughter from us and we too decided to head up the road for breakfast. As we walked back to the lodge in the rain Matt aka "Flash" told her that we would also see her at beer time. She chimed back that she would be happy to join us for a beer as she disgustedly kept trying to ring up Drew's number.

We ended up at a tiny hole in the wall called "R" Place. Where we feasted on a greasy breakfast of eggs, ham, bacon, hash browns, and toast. Not the best choice of pre-ride food, but it was good and filling.

We left a vehicle at the end of our proposed route and one vehicle at approximately the halfway point. This is where we would eat, refill hydration bladders and bottles, change out of wet clothes (I decided to just keep going with a wet muddy kit). This was also our starting point. From here we headed in a southerly direction from the "OO" trailhead on the Makwa Trail. This would take us to the Hatchery Creek trails then to Sugarbush and back to the Makwa Trail.

I no sooner got on the bike and I could tell that my legs had no snap to them and it was going to be a long day. For all the rain we had the trails initially appeared to be in awesome shape. That would last about one mile and then it began to pour rain and would continue to pour rain for the next ten miles or so. This area is absolutely beautiful and the single track was phenomenal.

We rode for several hours I made the decision to not go into the Sugarbush loop. A group is only as strong as the weakest rider and we decided early on that nobody would be dropped. As it turned out, I was definitely the weakest link in the chain and my thanks goes to Matt and Turbo for hanging back and keeping me company on the single track. My plan was to stick to the forest roads and explore a bit. I would then meet the others at the halfway point for food, water, and a reassessment of our plans. It was here I thought that I would just bail and head back to the lodge. My feelings were that this was the right thing to do in order to give the rest of the group an opportunity to get their miles in without being held back.
"Quiet Forest"
So, as Matt, Bob, and John headed into the Sugarbush loop I chose to ride the Phipps Fire Trail for about ten miles and meet them back at our halfway point. The Phipps Fire Lane parallels the Birkie Trail and has many side roads that I decided to explore. Being by myself also gave me the opportunity to stop and do some photography along the way.

There is not a lot of flat terrain in this area and some to the forest roads were really soft from the rain. Some trails were made more difficult by the soft, loose, rock filled gravel used to fill areas that were rutted and washed out such as the road above.

The last few miles on Phipps Fire Lane were slow going. The rain had given the surface of the road a peanut butter like consistency. Although the photo above gives the appearance of flat terrain the Phipps Fire Lane and most of the other roads and trails are pretty much rolling and I felt that I was spending a good deal of time pedaling uphill.

The Road Less Traveled
Every side trail seemed to have its own unique characteristics which made exploring them a good deal of fun and caused me to somewhat lose track of time. I knew I was pushing my luck not being at the halfway mark when the others got there, but I continued to explore not realizing how far I actually had to go.

On The Birkie Trail
One of the side trails I took intersected with the Birkie Trail and it was here that I had a choice. Take the Birkie Trail straight back to the vehicle and the halfway mark or go back to Phipps and continue to head north on that ribbon of gravel. I knew the Birkie would be soft from the rain and the hills would really tap my legs of whatever they had left so I decided to take the gravel instead. MISTAKE!! Not only was it further, but it was also slow and hilly.

Need A Drink? Follow The Signs
I would have preferred more trail markings, but apparently it is also important for intrepid explorers to know in which direction certain watering holes are.

Phipps Fire Lane
I continued to head north on Phipps knowing that I had pushed my luck and since I had the keys for the vehicle the others could very likely be sitting there waiting. After coming out to "OO" I had another climb to get to the trailhead and the halfway vehicle. Sure enough, as I topped the hill I could see the lads waiting for me at the picnic table. No frowns or angry remarks. I was all apologies of course and we started pigging out on whatever food we had left in Bob's truck.

Bob, Flash, and Turbo ready to rock and roll to the Rock Lake trails.
I reassessed how I was feeling while enjoying the sandwiches I had made for myself. They consisted of giant bagels with Trader Joe's tomato and basil hummus, provolone cheese, and prosciutto. I will definitely be fixing up some of those again. In the time I had one down Flash had all three of his peanut butter sandwiches down the hatch. This along with some Trader Joe's salt & pepper chips, trail mix, and an energy drink and I was ready to go. The rain had stopped and it was very humid. The others changed into dry kits and we re-buttered our butts and hit the trail.

We picked up Janet Road downhill from the halfway mark and headed north to Boedecker Road which we had ridden the previous day. We rode Boedecker to Telemark Road and followed that north to Rock Lake Road. The minute we hit the rollers on Telemark Road I told the lads to not wait for me and this is where I would lose contact until they returned to the lodge several hours later.
Boedecker Road
I pushed on to Rock Lake Road and continued on the rollers until it became obvious that it was time to bail on the ride. As I was heading back down towards Seely, the lodge, a hot shower, and cold beer I came across Fire Tower Trail and for a split second thought of taking another side trip. However, my legs spoke and I listened. You see, I am not Jens Voigt. I tried telling my legs to "Shut-up!" but they would not listen to me.
El Mariachi - No Longer A Virgin
As disappointed as I was with having to bail, it really was a fun ride and I'm definitely wanting to go back again. I think that this will definitely become another annual amigo trip. I rode for five and a half hours. The amigos would end up riding for nearly eight hours and ended up with about 80 miles. Awesome day in the saddle that is worth of celebration!

The beer tasted really good and I was starving. I ate some trail had a recovery drink, but I decided to wait for the others before. It was at around 7:30 p.m. when I received a text from Turbo...
Riding a Single Speed Makes Sense
Broken derailleur, walking, lost contact with Matt and Bob. Please respond to this to confirm you received it. Cell phone service in this part of the world is very iffy. I immediately sent a text to John to confirm the message, but he wasn't receiving my message. I would later find out that his battery went dead. We now officially had an epic!

Turbo realized that he was not far from a forest road and decided to walk his bike out to the road where he was more likely to get help. After waiting for Turbo at the trailhead Bob also decided to ride down the forest road and this is where he had encountered Turbo. In the meantime, I was back at the lodge waiting to hear something from someone and thinking that I may end up having to call the local Sheriff's office to report three missing mountain bikers. Question was...How long do I wait to make that call?

Turbo finally showed up at the lodge and told me all of the details. He dropped Bob and Flash off on "OO" so they could make the long climb back to Bob's vehicle at the halfway point. We reunited and enjoyed an evening of food, drinks, and stories.

We were fortunate enough to be entertained by some of the locals. There happened to be a wedding celebration at the Sawmill that evening. I think it's the first time I ever saw a bridesmaid wearing a nice dress topped off with one of those red and black lumberjack shirts. I felt like I was at back home. I also felt somewhat better about bailing on the ride when I did.

Tomorrow I head north again...


Kenny said...

Well done, my friend. I wish I was back at the lodge with you!

Ali B. said...

Coming home with a dramatic story is always fun! Safe travels & rides to you this weekend!

The Old Bag said...

WD and I love these trails and roads -- we need to hit them more than one weekend a year. What variety!

Have you been to Cuyuna yet? Minnesota's own awesome.