My friend Jeff and I had such a successful bikepacking trip together in August up in the Superior National Forest of Minnesota that we decided to go again. We traveled about the same time and distance as last time, about 90 minutes. This time we went east and south away from the south shore of Lake Superior rather than east and north up the northern shore of Lake Superior. Our destination was the remote north woods of the Chequamegon National Forest.
Neither of us was at all familiar with this area. We based our planning off an article and route we found on bikepacking.com . The route was a three day route. We only had Saturday and Sunday so we decided to do an out-and-back route on the first leg of the route. We downloaded the GPS track onto our phones and used a GPS app that allows offline tracking. Important because we had no cell service in the National Forest. I’ve only owned a real smart phone for two years. This offline tracking technology was fascinating to me….and extremely helpful. We noticed on the map one section of the downloaded route didn’t follow any roads or recognizable trails. We were a bit nervous about that.
The forecast was calling for rain on Saturday, but nicer on Sunday. Saturday morning had a huge system of storms going through the area. It was supposed to stop for the afternoon and redevelop for Saturday evening. We got very lucky. We drove through a huge deluge of rain just before arriving at the trail head. Then the sun came out and we never got rained on again for the rest of the trip. The day time temps were around 84F degrees and a little too humid for us. I personally don’t do well in hot, humid conditions. It should be in the mid-sixties not the mid-eighties this time of year.
Something we didn’t count on was having our route being used by 3,000 mountain bike riders riding in the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival 40 mile race. The race joined up with our route for about 2.0 miles on a narrow, muddy, rocky ATV trail. We ran into it when only the first 200 of 3,000 riders had come by. A detour for us would have meant at least an extra 15 miles. We asked the race volunteer what our options were. He said we could go on the course if we stayed to the side. The riders were 34 miles into the 40 mile race when we joined in with our loaded bikes. It was a bit crazy trying to stay out of the way and navigate the rocks and mud holes. It was a bit stressful. But now I can say I’ve ridden in the Fat Tire Festival Race….sort of.
We left the race course about 5 miles into our 31 mile day. From then on we didn’t see more than a dozen vehicles for the rest of the trip and nobody other than the people in the vehicles. It started feeling remote very quickly.
The next six or seven miles was a section of relentless, short steep ups and downs. The area has seen a lot of rain the past two months and the road was a mix of gravel, ruts, and sections of sand. The fat tires I had were a good choice for this section.
The heat and humidity combined with grunting up the short steep hills had me soaked in my own sweat. Luckily the thick forest canopy kept the direct sunlight off us.
As we got closer to the section of the route that didn’t show any roads, we discovered we were in a section of the National Forest where the CAMBA trail system exists. The GPS Track took us right down some the nicest, flowiest single track I’ve ever ridden. It was fantastic riding that as part of our route.
By time we got off the single track trails we were about halfway and already feeling done fr the day. The hills and heat were wearing us down. The rest of the way was nice smooth gravel. The hills continued but weren’t as steep. There wasn’t more than a few hundred yards of flat ground the entire day. We had over 2,300 feet of climbing despite not having any one elevation change of more than 50 feet. We were constantly shifting gears to adjust our cadence to the continuous change in elevation.
We started our day riding around 12:30 and reached our destination, Moose Lake NF Campground around 4:45.
The campground had 15 rustic sites. Only one site seemed to be occupied. The people at that site came back after dark and left in the morning before we got up. We picked a nice spot on the lake next to a small swimming beach. It was nice to be able to go for a swim to wash off the dirt and sweat. Since this is the north woods of Wisconsin we had to deet-up to keep the aggressive mosquitoes at bay.
The only real mishap on this trip was a broken rear derailleur cable on Jeff’s bike. It happened about two miles before we got back to the car on a mostly downhill stretch. If it had happen earlier in the trip it would have been okay. I haven’t carried extra derailleur cables with me in 6 or 7 years. I just happened to throw some in my bag before I left for the trip. We would have been okay.
As grueling as this trip was, it has to be one of my favorite 2-day adventures I’ve done. I didn’t know what to expect from this area. I didn’t expect to like it better than the Superior National Forest, but it exceeded all my expectations. It was a memorable trip.