Changes, So many Changes

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It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since I last rode a bicycle to work. For those readers who haven’t followed my previous blogs, I was known as the guy that would ride his bike to work every single day of the year no matter what the weather. From -32 degrees Fahrenheit to 101 degrees, from rain, to snow, to blizzard conditions to sideways sleet. I didn’t own a car from July of 2002 to March 2017. Bikes were my main mode of transportation.

Why did I stop riding bikes to work? That’s a long conversation. I’ll say this, it came down to changes in jobs and aging/health issues. Nothing serious. Back in 2014/2015 I hit a point I couldn’t recover well from five days in a row of bike commuting. I decided to save my limited energy for the recreational/adventure rides I love so much. Then in March 2017 I got hired at my present employer. I needed a car some days for the work I was going to be doing. So I bought a car. It’s the first car I’ve bought since 1995.

Recently I realized how much I was missing my bike commutes. I also realized I only need a car available to me at work 2-3 times a month. This past month I didn’t use it once during the work day. I decided it was time to get back into some limited bike commuting. This week I rode a bicycle to work and home both Monday and Tuesday.

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I can’t tell you how fantastic it was to be riding a bike to work again. I was reminded of how alert I feel by the time I arrive to work. I’m more productive and just feel better emotionally and physically.

From 2001 to 2015 I worked for one employer. I had a secure place to park my bicycles. Thinking I may work there forever, every successive bike I bought got more and more expensive. This caused a dilemma for me at me current employer. There is no secure place to park a bike at this building. Or I should say, no place I felt was secure enough to leave my bike locked up all day. I thought if I could bring my bike in the building I have plenty of room in my office. But, my office is a long walk from the front door and requires me to go up one floor, navigate that floor before going back down one floor to where my office is located. I figured it best if I asked permission. I finally had the opportunity to broach the subject with our company CEO. She was completely on board with my request. IMG_5716

I didn’t have my Brompton in mind when I made the request. Once I thought about it, the Brompton is the perfect bike for this mission.

Once again, I am a bicycle commuter. It has made me very happy. I will be a part-time bike commuter, but I’ll take it.

What else is new? I purchased a couple of Revelate Designs bags for my Pugsley. Currently I use my Pugsley as my all-road/trail bike. A friend and I are planning a bikepacking overnighter before Fall. Even though I have front and rear racks and an assortment of panniers to choose from for the Pugsley, I thought I’d invest in some of the fancy dancy bikepacking gear.

I haven’t test loaded them yet. I’m looking forward to using them. Stayed tuned for a trip report once this trip happens (might be mid September).

 

Before there was bikepacking…

As a friend and I have been discussing the possibility of doing a bikepacking trip, it brought back memories of my first bikepacking trip.

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My bikepacking rig back in 2007.

In June of 2007 I had already owned my fat tired Pugsley for one year. I had attempted my first Arrowhead 135 earlier in the year. I had my first DNF ever. (I would return in 2008 and finish in 12th place). At this time, in the history of bikes, these crazy fat tire bikes were just being introduced as commercially available bikes. Prior to 2015 the only way to get a bike similar to this was to buy one from the few custom builders that offered them. As early adopters started to discover the possibilities of what these bikes could do, stories of adventures taking place off the beaten track were starting to appear.  The term bikepacking was not yet widely used, or used at all. The availability of framepacks and giant seatbags that we use today was minimal. There were only a few custom bag makers making these new kind of bags. Often there was a waiting list to get one custom made to fit your bike.

I had caught the bug. I bought my fat tired bike for use on winter trails. I wasn’t a summer mountain biker and didn’t plan to use the fat bike at all when there wasn’t snow on the ground. Reading other peoples adventures of loading up their fat tire bikes for off-road adventures intrigued me. I was aware of a dirt recreational trail that ran for 60 miles across Northwestern Wisconsin from Superior to Ashland. It’s called the Tri-County Corridor Trail. It is a multi-use trail which allow hikers, bikers, horses, and motorized users like ATV’s. It is mainly used by ATVer’s. Before it gets to Ashland, Wisconsin it passes through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

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The Tri-County Corridor multi-use trail is more like a ATV super highway than a trail.

My plan was to pack up my fat bike, ride across the bridge to Superior, connect up with the Tri-County trail, follow that to the National Forest. Once in the National Forest I would find a place camp. Dispersed camping without a permit is allowed.

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It turned out to be one of the best overnight camping trips I’ve ever done. Not only was I in tip top condition since I had essentially been training for the previous Arrowhead 135, and the next Arrowhead 135, non-stop for 18 months. This trip was a 120 mile round trip on a loaded fatbike. I didn’t see a single other bike on the entire trip. The only traffic I shared the route with was a couple of dozen ATV riders. I didn’t see another soul the 16 hours I spent in the National Forest. It was trip where it was just me and my bike, and the world I was passing through.

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Very soft low maintenance road in the National Forest.
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Dusty.

 

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My camp for the night on a remote abandoned logging road.

It was a great way to do my first ever bikepacking trip….even though I didn’t know that’s what it was called.

March snowbiking.

Here in Duluth and Northeastern Minnesota, one never knows when winter will end. Since I moved here in 2001 we’ve had snow to ride as late as the last week of April. There’s been a couple of years since I started fatbiking in 2006 that there’s been continuous snow pack from mid-December until mid-April. Then there was the Spring of 2012 when we had a complete thaw in the middle of February and not any snow the rest of the season. That was crazy unusual.

This winter started out slow for accumulating snow. We had just enough to cover the ground starting in mid-December. Thanks to a lot of bitter cold temps, it has never melted off despite the lack of any base. There’s been just enough to ride. January was very cold, but absolutely no new snow. Then February we got a couple of feet of snow, mostly in the last week of the month. That has set us up for two weeks of fantastic snowbiking. This past week has been dry and sunny. We’ve been losing a few inches every day.

I’ve learned to get out when the conditions are good because you never know when it will be the last time out on snow for the year.

 

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The above picture is from a great ride last Saturday. It was warm, around the freezing mark. With no wind and the sunshine, it felt like summer. The best part of March riding on days like this are riding with one or two layers, no hat and no neck gaitor, yet be able to stay completely comfortable. With no wind, stops can last as long as I like without getting cold.

Last Sunday was the switch to daylight savings time. I was looking forward to after work rides with enough sunlight for a ride lasting a couple of hours.

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With the temp again around the freezing mark and dropping as the sun went down, conditions were fantastic.I had a great ride on the second day of Daylight Savings Time.

The rest of the week weren’t as good for snow conditions. I didn’t get out again after work. We had sunny days with temps in the upper 30’s and lower 40’s. This made for very soft, and wet, conditions. Although, we didn’t lose all our snow, it was quickly disappearing.

Last night we had a low of 17F degrees. Cold enough to really firm things up. I am not a morning person, but I knew if I wanted to some good riding I would have to get out early before the temps started getting too far above the freezing mark.

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I managed to get myself up and out by 9:45. The temp had already warmed to 32F degrees. By the time I would get back home it would be 44F degrees. By 3 o’clock it was up to 52F degrees. Making a plan paid off. I got out, had a great ride, and may have gotten in one last ride before the snow is no more. No snow in the forecast. It’s likely we could lose most of our snow before it snows again, if it snows. Once the base is gone, it’s usually a sloppy mess if we get more snow.

Here’s a map and elevation profile from today’s ride:

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It’s been a good winter. I’ll try to summarize it in another post.

It doesn’t get much better.

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The Duluth Traverse in Brewer Park.

Two days and 5 hours of time spent outside on my Pugsley. I keep saying every winter it’s the funnest riding I do all year. This winter’s riding is no different. We’ve lacked much snowfall, we’ve had just enough to keep the ground white. There have been many nights well below zero degrees Fahrenheit this winter. That has helped what snow we do have to become really firm. It’s taken most of the winter to get a decent base on the trails I ride. Finally this weekend, it all came together to make for some really great snowbiking.

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The view from Brewer Park looking towards downtown and Lake Superior.

And great views thanks to some sunny days. With the temperature below zero at night and creeping into the mid-teens (15F/-9C) during the day, it made for some of my favorite winter weather. At 15F degrees the snow is not wet and the trails stay firm. After many below zero rides, 15 feels warm.

Sunday I went in a different direction and rode a network of non-bike specific trails out to one of my favorite overlooks, Bardons Peak.

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The view of the St. Louis River as it flows towards Lake Superior from Bardons Peak.

The trail conditions were super fast. I normally have my fat tires inflated to 3-7 psi for snow riding. Today I was running them at 11 psi. It felt like I was flying over the snow.

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While everyone else if hoping for a quick end to winter, I’m hoping these conditions hang in until April. There’s been several years I’ve been able to ride snow until mid-April. Maybe it will happen this year as well.

I can breathe again without pain. And other news.

It’s been nearly 6 months, and two seasons have passed since I last wrote a blog post. What has motivated me to put down some words and pictures after all this time? I’ll tell what. I got the E-receipt for renewing the domain name for this blog. I figured I better use it considering it’s costing me the price of a new bicycle chain of moderate quality.

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In a snowstorm on the Duluth Traverse in the Piedmont Trail system.

The pictures are going to look the same. We are in the midst of a wonderful winter. I’ve been doing my favorite winter activity, riding snowy trails on my Pugsley. Hard to believe I’m in the middle of my 12th winter of riding on my beloved purple Pugsley. I’ve gone from being an early adopter of fatbikes to an old guy riding around on an old relic from the early days of fatbiking. But WOW, have I had fun on my one and only fatbike. I’ve ridden it more than 10,000 miles on snow alone. Ten years ago to the day today, Feburary 5, 2008, I rode it to a 12th place finish in the Arrowhead Ultra 135. One of my proudest, and toughest, accomplishments.

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At the finish line.

That was the last time I raced it. Nowadays it’s what gets me out in the woods in the winter. It’s where I love to be.

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I’m riding on trails that didn’t even exist until three years ago. It’s magical because I can see my house down below the ridge from the overlooks this trail passes.
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My house is down there.

Most of the times I’ve had on this bike have been wonderful. There was one mishap the Saturday before Christmas that wasn’t so fun. I’m running an old Surly Larry tire on the front of this bike. It worked plenty good enough for the snowmobile trails I used to ride. Now I’m spending more time riding singletrack trails. I can’t push this tire when going around snow covered berms. It has a tendency to wash out. That’s exactly what happened to me on that Saturday a couple of months ago. I went down fast and hard. Landing on my side. I felt intense pain when I went to stand up. And when I tried to start riding again. I’ve cracked a rib before. This is what it felt like. Intense pain with every breathe. I continued to ride along in a lot of pain. After about 20 minutes the pain subsided a bit to where I could take a deep enough breathes to keep going.

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I had either cracked a rib or bruised it quite bad. Here’s the kicker. Exactly one week later I was out for a ride and the darn tire washed out on me again on a berm. I landed hard on the same side. Talk about pain!!! I was injured enough that I couldn’t laugh or breathe in very much for a good six weeks. Only in the last few days have I finally been pain free. I still got out on the bike, and I did some cross-country skiing as well. It was all done with a certain degree of pain happening for the duration of the activity. Getting out of bed was quite difficult as well. At least I was still able to get out  and take advantage of the nice winter conditions.

My plan is to start blogging again. Perhaps a goal of once a week when I have something interesting to share would be something to shoot for.

Friday after work multi-surface fatbike ride.

Wow, I didn’t realize it’s been three months since my last post. It wasn’t intentional. Sometimes I need a mental break from sharing my life. It’s nice to ride and not think about my next blog post.

In terms of riding bikes, this summer has been different than any summer prior to it. I’m no longer commuting by bike. It’s still a hard adjustment to make. I loved my daily bike commute, in all weather. My rides now are almost all leisure rides. The past two months I’ve ridden only three of my five bikes. My Pugsley, my Brompton, and my Xtracycle. With the abundance of new mountain bikes trails being built in my neighborhood, I’ve been learning to be a mountain biker with my fatbike. Riding after work I much prefer to be out in the woods on the fatbike than riding in traffic on the roads. It’s so much more relaxing.

Friday evening Susan had other commitments so I had the evening to myself. I wanted to go ride some trails. The mtn bike trails weren’t really an option due to all the rain we’ve been having. We didn’t always have mountain bike trails in my part of town. This has only happened in the past 1-5 years. There’s always been lots of unofficial trails in the open spaces and woods in town. Many of them have been there for years, are hard-packed and more immune to rainy periods. I decided to string together a loop containing a mixture of rail trail, abandoned railroad right-of-ways, gravel roads, and neighborhood trails. The pictures are in order, but I didn’t stop and take pictures of everything.

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Crossing Kingsbury Creek on a snowmobile trail bridge.

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Riding the abandoned DWP railroad right-of-way. If you know Duluth, this rail line parallels the Munger Rail Trail a little further up on the same ridge line.

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Heading for Ely’s Peak and the tunnel under it. The arrow points to where the tunnel goes through the rock hillside.
The trail curves to the right in a horseshoe fashion eventually leading to the tunnel under Ely’s Peak.

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Ely’s Peak tunnel eastern end. The tunnel is 520 ft long. It curves so you can’t see the other end when standing at the entrance.
I’ve been coming to the tunnel for 12 years. It used to be spooky because I never used to see anybody here. But it’s become more popular as more people learn about about. I’ve never saw anybody else here until two year ago. Now I see several groups of people every time I come out to it. Eventually it will become part of the local trail system.

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Inside the tunnel approaching the west end.

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A DWP rail trestle west of the tunnel. It is extremely rough due to years of ATV traffic. At one time some one nailed down strips of plywood in the middle to try and smooth it out, But the plywood has deteriorated.

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The DWP rail corridor west of the tunnel.
This intersects Skyline Parkway where it meets Beck’s Road. I turned onto Skyline and headed back towards home. The western portion of Skyline Parkway is gravel.

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Skyline Parkway at Bardon’s Peak. The body of water you see is the St. Louis River about 7 miles before it flows into Lake Superior.

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Another view from Bardon’s Peak looking towards Duluth and Lake Superior beyond.

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This is a snowmobile trail in the winter. It connects Magney Snively park to the DWP and Munger Trail. I took it back to the DWP.
Once back on the DWP rail corridor I took it back east through Spirit Mountain Resort and then home. Here is a link to the route I took.

It was a nice way to end a Friday. Only the first mile and the last mile were on paved roads. It was a 17 mile loop done completely within the city limits of Duluth.

 

 

Rainy, Foggy, Misty, Soggy.

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We’ve been in a rainy, wet period of weather the past week. Everything is getting really soggy. We haven’t seen much of the sun. Now that I’ve become more of a recreational cyclist than a ride-everyday-commuter-cyclist, I don’t have to wake up everyday with the prospect of a very wet commute. I also don’t have as much motivation to get out and ride when there is pouring rain, gusty winds and temps not much above the freezing mark. That was the case Saturday.

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Saturday I ended up getting quite a bit of things done around the house. Sunday was looking the same. It changed around 3 pm. There appeared there was gong to be a brief break in the rain. The winds were calmer than on Saturday and the temperature crossed up over the 40F degree mark.

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I really was feeling the need to get out on the bike. I took advantage of this break in the rain and got out. I put on my new Angry Catfish/Northern Frameworks cycling cap. Jumped on the bike and headed towards the lake front. I rode my A-train built by Alex Cook, the same builder who now works under the name Northern Frameworks. A house brand for Angry Catfish.

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I didn’t totally escape the rain. It was starting to mist fairly heavy the last few miles. But as always, once I’m out on a bike for a ride I rarely regret it. And I almost always enjoy the ride.

Cycle on.

Two days, three seasons, two bike rides, one hike.

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The Cross River at Hwy 61 in Schroeder, Minnesota. You don’t even need to get out of your car to see this waterfall.

SATURDAY

Susan and I tend to spend many of our weekends at home. I do my bike rides from home and she splits her time doing fiber projects and sewing inside, or gardening outside when we have nice weather. This weekend we did road trips both days.

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Using the Pugsley to shuttle the car.

First up was our Spring maintenance check of our section of the Superior Hiking Trail. It’s an adopt a trail section volunteer thing. I say “our section” because we are starting our 16th year with the same section. The trail itself has only been around for 31 years. To get to the trail we drive about 90 miles up the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to Schroeder, MN. Snow on or along the trail on May 13th.

The title of this post mentions three seasons. The first two seasons we experienced on Saturday. Too our surprise there was more then the usual snow still hanging around on the trail this year. Strange considering the mild winter we had only 90 miles away in Duluth. It’s the most Spring snow we’ve seen in all the years we’ve been doing this.

Wildflowers on the forest floor.

The second season we experienced was Spring. The forest flower was sporting many wildflowers. The trees had yet to leave out here. Ninety miles away in Duluth the leaves were 3/4’s of the way out.

The section we maintain starts at the Cross River and follows it for nearly two miles. It feels remote and the only access is by foot. It has many drops in elevation as its waters race towards Lake Superior. It’s always a beautiful walk along this wild river.

Along with 7 miles of hiking I also got in a bike ride. I drop Susan and our maintenance gear off at the trailhead we will start from. I then drive to the trailhead we will end at. Drop off the car and ride the bike back to where Susan is. I hide the bike in the woods. We pick it up after we’re all done hiking. It works quite well.

Another one of the nearly 4,000 blue blazes we painted. Back in 2006-2007 we were hired to paint the blue blazes on 200 miles of trail.

 

The weather was about as good as we could ask for. Light winds, sunny, and a temp in the mid-50’s. Perfect for hiking and trail work.

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The only view of Lake Superior on this section of trail. But it’s a pretty good one.

SUNDAY

Susan likes to attend the Shepard’s Harvest Festival when she can. It’s an annual sheep and wool festival held down near the Twin Cities in Lake Elmo, Minnesota at the Washington County Fairgrounds. It happens to be near a St Paul suburb I lived in for 8 years in the 90’s and also a couple of years in the 80’s. I spent many years bicycling around the area. I decided to accompany Susan for the ride down. I brought along my Brompton so I could get a ride in while she spent time at the festival.

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The Brompton fits nicely in the “boot” of our car.

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The weather forecast was for 82F degrees, low humidty and light winds. Much like summer conditions for those of us from Duluth. Warmer than I prefer but tolerable. I hadn’t ridden in anything warmer than upper 50’s so far this year. I dropped Susan off at the Fairgrounds and drove 3 or 4 miles to a trailhead along the Gateway Trail. It’s an 18 mile long rail trail that starts in St Paul near the State Capital building and travels easterly and then north through St Paul suburbs and then into the country. It ends at a regional park.

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I used to live a few blocks from the trail. In the early 90’s it was still an abandoned rail right-of-way. The rails, ties and ballast had all been removed. The surface was dirt and grass in most places. The only users were dog walkers and local horse owners. Back in 1991 I was given a  1988 Specialized Rock Hopper Comp. I had never ridden a mountain bike. I started taking it our for rides on the future Gateway Trail. I think it was in 1993 or 1994 when they paved it and made it into an official trail. I was thrilled. I put hundreds of miles of riding in on that trail. I know every inch of it. I also spent two years doing it on rollerblades when I developed tendonitis in my arms and was told to stop riding my bike.

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Today was a bit of a return to my old stompin’ grounds. It’s changed some. I didn’t see any one on rollerblades. Back in the 90’s about 50% of the users were on rollerblades. Today I saw more bicyclists in a couple of hours than I would see in a month back then. It’s really caught on. And there’s been a few improvements like two bridges and one underpass where there used to be surface level crossings of major road crossings.

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A new connector trail, Brown’s Creek State Trail that joins the Gateway Trail to Stillwater, MN and the St Croix River. It’s a 5.9 mile rail trail that was not here when I last rode the Gateway. These rail lines used to connect St Paul to Duluth. That’s why there’s a “Duluth Junction” 140 miles away from Duluth.

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After the ride I picked up Susan and we made the drive back to Duluth. When we arrived in the Lake Superior Basin the temperature of 50F. 32 degrees cooler than what we had left behind in the Twin Cities. The wind was blowing off the cold lake with 20-30 mph gusts.

I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my old “neighborhood” as well as a trip up the shore of Lake Superior. What a wonderful weekend Susan and I had together.

Two days, two bikes.

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Our Spring here in the Northland arrives later than many places in the lower 48 states. One way to know when it has finally arrived is by noticing when I bring out the bikes I don’t use in the winter. Sometimes that happens in March and sometimes later. This year I’ve been enjoying riding my all-weather A-train, so that has slightly delayed the emerging of my “summer” bikes. This weekend I had the itch to ride my other bikes. I took out two bikes in two days that I haven’t ridden yet this year. Yesterday I wrote about getting the folding Brompton out.

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Today it was my Ellis Cycles frames turn to see the sun.

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I call it my “fast bike” because with 32 mm wide tires it has the skinniest tires of all my bikes, with the exception of the Brompton. It’s also a very lively frame. It’s very responsive to any input of power.

What a joy it is to ride this custom bike. I say that every year. But it really is a delightful bike to ride.

Cycle on.

Another awkward interaction with a cyclist.

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My last post mentioned I was so happy to get in two rides over the weekend after being down with a cruddy cold for two weeks. I had four good days where I felt perfectly normal and healthy. And then, the cold symptoms started coming back mid-week. I was so upset.

Today I was feeling like the cold wasn’t going to repeat itself and was feeling good enough to get out for ride. A short one, but a ride none the less. I realized it was May already and I had yet to ride my Brompton in 2017. I really enjoy this little folding bike and look forward each Spring to getting it out. I tend not to ride it in winter to spare it from all the salt and sand on the roads. I have other bikes for that.

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As always I thoroughly enjoyed being back on this fun little bike. As I was tooling along, climbing a small hill, and minding my own business I heard the familiar sound of mountain tires rolling up behind me. I didn’t give the rider the satisfaction of acknowledging his presence by glancing over my shoulder because it was obvious by the sound of his tires he was putting in a big effort to catch me and overtake me on the uphill. I maintained my leisurely pace and let him catch me. When he had finally pulled up alongside me I looked over and made eye contact.

This is where it always gets awkward for me. As a true introvert I am woefully incapable of making small talk with people I don’t know. I can do a friendly greeting and “beautiful day out” type stuff. Anything beyond that and I get tongue tied. This guy was on a fatbike of some type with a set of 29er wheels. He says to me, “Those tires roll good?” I have no clue from what perspective he’s coming from, which throws me. Is he making a statement about my “silly bike with small wheels”. Or is he intrigued by my Brompton. I don’t know. So I say the first thing that pops into my head, “Oh yeah” I say. And then, the awkward silence ensues. It feels like an eternity. I don’t know what to say next and he doesn’t say anything. So he just pulls away and rides off. I don’t know if I came off as an asshole, or if it was just as awkward for him as it was for me. In the end it was just all kinds of uncomfortable. Yet the entire episode lasted all of 20 seconds.

What can I say? I’m not good at conversation.