Everything is on hold and other updates.

The Jones at my favorite local overlook a week ago.

Everyone’s world has changed in 2020. Here’s an update on me. I haven’t worked since March 18th and was eventually laid-off. I worked at a non-profit. One third of Minnesota’s non-profit work force has been laid -off. The non-profit sector is the largest employer in the state, followed closely by the government sector. The major employers in this city of 85,000 people are the regional medical providers and the tourist industry. Both have suffered a staggering number of job loses. The employment outlook is grim for the foreseeable future as long as there is a need to maintain Covid-19 social distancing protocols. The bright side personally is that the other person in our household has maintained her employment. We’ll be okay for the time being. I would like to return to my previous employer, but no way to predict when they’ll post my job. It may not happen until next year.

Checking out the lakefront construction on the A-train.

What have I been doing with my time? I started off my lay-off with a lot of anxiety caused by the pandemic and the uncertainty with what would happen next. I spent my days unable to focus on things. In May I started to feel somewhat less anxious and discovered staying busy was the key to getting through my days. I did numerous projects around the house and yard. Checking off a long list of overdue projects. In years past I would have spent all day on my bicycle. In the past few years that has become less of an option. I’ve never been able to recover from activity well. That has gotten worse year by year. I’m 57 now. I also haven’t fully acclimated to heat the past several summers. This limits how far and how often I can ride. I usually feel okay on the ride, but need a full two days to recover from even the shortest rides. I discuss this with my doctor every year. He connects it to my hypertension and doesn’t seem that concerned as long as we’re addressing that. My attitude is, as long as I can get out for bike rides, hikes, or walks, I’m okay. I limit the length and frequency. I’m grateful for the times I do get out.

Trying out my new tent on an overnight backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail.

I bought a new tent in May in hopes of being a able to get out more. I was able to purchase a new $300 Big Agnes solo tent. It was on clearance at REI. That combined with another 20% sale and my yearly dividend, it came to $64. I did get in one overnight backpacking trip in June to try it out before the heat reached us. I hiked in 6 miles and back out the next day. It did wonders for my head, but my body took a few days to recover. Right now I doubt I could do more than a two day trip of any kind. My energy level doesn’t bounce back when out for consecutive days. It’s frustrating, because up until about 2015 I could go non-stop for as many hours and days as I wanted, as long as I could go at my own speed.

Before and after pictures from the major upgrades I made to my motorcycle.

I bought this motorcycle new back in 2015. I was still car-free at the time. I hadn’t owned a car since 2002. I bicycled to work everyday, but even then I was having trouble recovering. Five days in a row of bike commutes left me with no energy to ride bicycles on the weekends. The plan was to commute a few days on the moto and a few days on the bicycle so I could spend some time riding my bicycles on the weekends. I ended up leaving that job a few months after getting the motorcycle and eventually replacing that job with a job I needed to have a car. I bought a car in March of 2017.

Since owning this motorcycle I’ve known about a company based in the UK that made a upgrade kit for my model of motorcycle. The companies name is Rally Raid Products. It essentially converts a reliable, high mpg, street bike into an all-road capable bike by replacing the entire suspension and wheels/tires. It increases suspension travel and increases the front wheel diameter from 17″ to 19″. A bike that would be perfect for exploring the hundreds of miles of forest service roads located in two nearby National Forests.

I did all the wrenching myself.

I did all the work on the motorcycle myself. In the process I flared up the tendinitis in my elbows. Tendinitis that was already flaring from all my busy work in May on home projects. I was so excited to complete this project. A project that started in February when I made the decision to spend the money and ordered all the parts. I even took out a personal loan and put a lien on my motorcycle to pay for it. Something I never do. Then Covid-19 hit the world. The 4-6 week turn around time on my order turned into an agonizing 15 week wait for all the parts to arrive. I was so eager to get out on the motorcycle. Ironically I have the time. But now I can’t operate the throttle for more than an hour without the tendinitis flaring up. I’ve learned from past experience the only thing to heal the arms is rest, often times it takes months.

So, I have all the time in the world, yet my motorcycle sits idle and my bikes get used once or twice a week. Looking at the big picture, I don’t have anything to complain about. We have a home, we’re paying our bills, and we feel safe. All of that is priceless to me.

I’ve been pondering a non-bike related post. I’ve had a list going in my head for several years of the top 10 greatest concerts I saw. The list is so difficult to rank. It’s expanded to a top 20 list with a list of honorable mentions. The rankings change often. Well, except for my top three. The top three finally settled in after a lot of contemplation about a year ago. They haven’t changed. In this time of social distancing I’ve been thinking about all the things we used to be able to do, like go to see live music in both large and small venues. That brings back memories of some of the great concerts I’ve been to and the amazing artists I’ve been able to see in person. Would anyone be interested in this? Maybe it would inspire you to make your own top 10 or top 20 list.

Which bike project did I choose for 2020?

A post I wrote back on October 5 I mentioned there are two bike projects I want to do in 2020. Both were significant upgrades to two bikes I currently have, one a bicycle and the other my moto bike. I want to do both projects. Each is an exciting, and expensive project. Unfortunately I can only afford one. The other will have to wait until another year. Depending on the day, I went back and forth between the two projects. It took me until March 19th decide on one. That’s when I committed to the moto bike project and ordered 95% of the parts I need.

My moto as of three days ago. Waiting for Spring.

I announced my decision on my Instagram account then. I thought I should update the blog since this is where I first talked about it.

What was the deciding factor? Two things. The first was something a friend said to me back in October. He said the changes to the Brompton, while very cool, won’t change the way I use that bike. However, the changes to my Honda CB500X will fundamentally change the way I use that bike. The second thing is that I have spent nearly my entire disposable income on bicycles for the past 15 years. I now have five bicycles dialed in for the riding I do. I don’t need, or plan, to buy any new bikes for awhile. It’s time to spend some money on something else for a change.

85% of the parts I ordered from Rally Raid Industries in the U.K. They manufacture and sell specific parts for my model of motorcycle. Most parts were in stock and came last week. I’m doing a complete Level 2 suspension kit and wheel kit, as well as a few other upgrades and accessories. Here’s some of the parts I’ve received:

I received tires and a custom radiator guard from other venders:

Two items were not manufactured yet; the wheel set and levers:

As of right now I have no idea when I’ll receive these parts. In normal times they take 4-6 weeks to produce orders. I don’t know how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect how the order gets processed. Once the wheel hubs are machined and the wheels are built they get sent to Bartubeless in Italy for a tubeless set-up. Not sure if that can happen right now.

Anyway, once I have everything, I can get it all installed. This will transform a very good budget street motorcycle into a very capable All-Road Adventure bike. It will have a fully adjustable suspension that can handle pavement as well as off-road riding. I can adjust it for the added weight of camping gear. I intend to use it for exploring the 100’s of miles of dirt and gravel roads in this region including several million acres of National Forest lands nearby. I’ll be able to scout bikepacking routes ahead of time, if I choose to. Overnight camping trips are a definite possibility when I’m not feeling like pedaling a bicycle. Last summer I struggled with the heat and lack of stamina on multi-day bikepacking trips. The moto gives me an option to still get out when I don’t want to be out on a bicycle.

This upgrade gives me the motorbike I really wanted when I bought my Honda. I thought the stock bike, marketed as an Adventure bike, could handle more off-road then what it really can. Now it will be able to take on anything within my skill level.

Getting in the drops.

My custom drop bar all-weather commuter bike.

My love of drop bars dates back to my first 10-speed bike. I got it for my 13th birthday in 1976. It was a dark blue Paris-Sport with racing handlebars. I rode that bike everywhere and everyday that summer. We lived in Ross Township, a northern suburb of Pittsburgh. I would ride it to North Park and ride the 5 mile bike path loop around the lake. By summers end I was riding 5 laps each time there.

The next summer I started racing it at the local Thursday night club races of the ACA, Allegheny Cycling Association. They had a 1K, four corner criterium course in the parking lot of the Pittsburgh Zoo. I raced every Thursday night. That summer I also did my first week long bike tour through the mountains of Western Pennsylvania.

That’s me in the white jersey (100% wool) at the 1979 USCF Illinois District Junior Men’s Championship race.

In 1978 I saved all my money from snow shoveling and lawn mowing gigs and with a little help from my parents I bought a real racing bike, a champagne colored Nishiki PRO. I got my amateur racing license from the USCF, or United States Cycling Federation and moved up into the “A” race at the Thursday Night Races. I was racing and learning from the best racers in Pittsburgh. This included future National Champion Matt Eaton, brothers Danny and Tom Chew. Danny would win the grueling Race Across America or RAAM twice in the 90’s. Also there was a first year Senior, a 19 year old Davis Phinney, who would later become America’s winniest racer. I was 15 and racing against this group once a week. I never won, but Mote importantly I never got dropped. And I learned how to race from those guys. I ended up qualifying for National Championships by placing second at State Championships. I finished 13th in the field sprint at Nationals in the Intermediate Boys Race.

At the end of that summer we moved to the Chicago area. I never found a racing community to replace what I had in Pittsburgh. I tried to race one more year and then lost interest without that supportive community.

My racing years formed my ideas of what bikes should look and feel like for the next couple of decades. Any bike without drop bars was silly to me. It took a very long time to move on from that.

Drop bar mountain bike set up as commuter bike in 2005.

Even the mountain bike I commuted on from 2002-2005 had drop bars on it. In fact all my main commuter bikes from when I was car-free between 2002-20015 had drop-bars. Drop bars have always been, and still are my favorite bars to use.

Drop bar LHT
Drop bar Belt Check (A custom Surly Cross Check)

Now if you were to ask me how often I ride in the drops, I would honestly have to tell you I can’t remember the last time I did. Perhaps in some nasty headwinds back in 2006 or 2007 when I was putting in big miles training for the Arrowhead Ultra 135. I was about 18 lbs lighter, younger and a bit more flexible during those couple of years.

As I have gotten older I am less comfortable in the drops, I’ve gained some weight around the waistline, I’ve lost some flexibility and my handlebar stems have gotten taller. But I still love riding drop bars. I like riding on the hoods, behind the hoods on the curve, and on the flat bar section. I don’t use the drops anymore…….

……until yesterday!!! I rode comfortably in the drops. What changed? Sooo many things in the past few years. I haven’t had the built in daily workout of bike commuting. My base fitness level isn’t at a high level all the time like it was when I was commuting by bike daily. I’m aging and I’m in those years where it’s much, much harder to maintain fitness.

Last year, for the first time in my life, I really felt like I didn’t have the base fitness to do want I wanted to do. I’ve always loathed gyms and “working out” indoors. But I realized I need to listen to the experts on aging. This past October I decided to join a gym and try strength training. It’s been 30 years since I did any serious strength training. I went and did my strength workouts consistently for four and a half months until last week when my gym closed for the Covid-19 virus.

What did four and a half months of strength training do for me?

I COMFORTABLY GOT IN A TUCK POSITION ON THE DROPS DURING A 1.5 MILE DESCENT YESTERDAY.

The strength training combined with 7 lbs of weight loss helped me do something I never thought I’d do again, ride in the drops on a drop bar bike.

Ride your bike (and do some strength training).

Best part of my day….

Over on Instagram today I posted this picture with the caption the same as the title of this post. We’re in the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic locally, like many locations in the U.S. The first two confirmed cases in our county have just been announced in the last day. The world around us changes daily and sometimes hourly. It’s unsettling.

My place of work closed down on March 19. That was only four days ago, but feels like a month. We were told it will be for 10 working days and we will be paid. I doubt we’ll be returning to work on April 2nd, the anticipated return date. Susan works at the hospital. The floor she works on is being readied as the initial Covid-19 treatment floor. She’s been packing up her office and moving to a temporary location. She is considered an essential employee but can work remotely.

We have a full freezer and enough other food to have at least something to eat for some time. So we haven’t been stocking up. But with rumors of a “shelter in place order” coming soon I decided to venture out today and see if I could pick up a few items. I headed out by car at 11 am. The roads were eerily deserted. The two grocery stores I went to were stocked. A few non-perishable items were out, but I was able to get everything on my list. From what I’ve been reading, I wasn’t expecting that. Bonus was both stores produce departments were fully stocked. Must be people stopped cooking good food and are eating stuff out of cans of and boxes.

I even picked up a 6 pack of TP and kitty litter. Don’t want to run out of either.

Why did I go to two grocery stores? With two special diets in the house that’s our normal routine. Shopping only at one store limits our options.

By time I got home I was so ready for a bike ride. I needed to do something that felt normal. With a sunny day and a temp of 48F degrees I had to get out. That’s the warmest temperature I’ve ridden in this year so far. I headed up to Skyline Parkway because there is no one up there in March. I know that as a fact because it was part of my daily bike commute for 14 years. I was shocked to see bicyclists, runners snd walkers along the whole way as well as more cars than normal. I guess with everything closed people are discovering the outdoors. It was nice to have company, at a distance of at least six feet of course.

I returned from my ride tired but mentally refreshed and ready to fix dinner for Susan and myself.

Stay safe, healthy, and ride your bike.

My first “no-snow” ride of the year.

After announcing yesterday I would no longer be risking injury by riding my non-studded fatbike on the local icy trails, I ended up out on a bike ride. I broke out the all-weather A-train and had a nice ride on perfectly dry roads. The sun was shining and a brisk wind was blowing. What a joy it was to ride quietly along on a drop bar bicycle for a change. Don’t get me wrong, I love my snowy fatbike rides, more than any rides I do all year long, but the change of pace was refreshing. It’s good to mix things up now and then.

This is what I woke up to this morning. Not an unusual sight for us this time of year. We still have two months before Spring blossoms and things greening up. Spring arrives very late in the Northland.

Ride your bike.

Snow biking cancelled for the rest of the season.

One week ago.

I’ve had an amazing time this winter on my Pugsley, the 14th winter of riding on the purple beast. I’ve gotten out most every weekend and some weekdays after work for most of the year. We received a lot of snow in late November and December. That snow pack has survived a mostly mild winter and warming temps the last three weeks. Each week I expect it to be the last week, but enough snow is hanging on to keep me out on the Pugsley.

We’ve had warming and then cool downs that get well below freezing. I didn’t expect to be able to ride this weekend, but realized it would still be possible. There’s still snow to ride.

But I’m choosing not to ride snow today despite the temps staying below freezing all day. Really it’s perfect out right now.

We’ve had the usual freeze/thaw cycle that we get this time of year. It creates icy spots on the trails where ice flows form or spots that get a lot of direct sunlight. It’s the only time of year I could benefit from studded tires on my fatbike. I’ve never gone to the expense because there is so much riding I can do throughout most of the winter where I have no need for the security of studded tires. Last weekend I figured studs would only have been needed for about 5% of the distance I covered. That amount is easy enough to ride, or push, my bike around.

With some light rain and drizzle earlier in the week combined with more melting, I expect more ice. Most years I just head out. Sometimes you just have to get out and see for yourself if it’s rideable. If I start falling down because of ice I just turn around and go home.

This year I’ve decided that tactic would be irresponsible. With the local hospitals gearing up for an influx of COVID-19 patients, the last thing they need is to use resources to treat me and a broken bone.

As hard as it is to not ride snow when there is snow to be ridden, I’m choosing not too.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be out on dry roads or out on dirt or gravel when the snow is gone. My plan moving forward is to be more aware of the conditions and take fewer risks.

Ride your bike and stay safe.

Prioritizing my bike budget.

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A picture of my moto and Brompton I posted on my Instagram account on 10/04/19.

I commented on the above picture on Instagram yesterday that I had a dilemma. First let me say I have 5 bicycles and 1 motorcycle. All of which I’m very happy with. They all have a purpose and a specific use that fills a need of mine. For the first time in more than a decade I don’t have a strong desire for any new bikes. The ones I have get the job done. I must also say that nearly all of my disposable income since about 2005 has been devoted to my passion for two wheeled vehicles. Without a need to buy a new bike, I turn my bike budget spending thoughts towards upgrades I would like to do on my existing bikes. There is something on every one of them I’d like to upgrade. The two bikes above are the two I have much bigger dreams about. Major upgrades that would require substantial cash outlays.

Here’s the dilemma. If I decide to go ahead with these projects, I could only realistically afford to do one in 2020. Let me explain the two projects.

Honda CB500XA Rally Raid Conversion

I bought my motorcycle new in 2015. It is the first motorcycle I’ve ever owned. I was a beginner motorcyclist at the age of 52 when I purchased it. When I bought it I hadn’t owned a car for 13 years. I got everywhere by bicycle. All of my human powered adventures stated from my front door. My world was very small and I wanted to expand it. I also was aging out of the everyday bike commute. Commuting everyday left me too tired to go on adventures on the weekends. I don’t recover like I used to. The motorcycle would allow me to take some days off from the bicycle commute during the summer weeks. I also hoped to do some exploring and camping by motorcycle in the nearby National Forests. Maybe use it to scout routes for bikepacking trips.

The CB500XA is categorized by Honda as an “Adventure” bike. After buying it I realized it could only do light gravel and was designed for 90% road use / 10% gravel or dirt. It’s a entry level budget bike. It has the great Honda engineering and reliability but many entry level parts and suspension components.

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Taking a shady break to cool off while bikepacking in the Superior National Forest, August 2019.

I discovered this summer I was having increased difficulty acclimating to heat as I age. On the bikepacking trips I did this summer I was getting sick from the heat and found my limit was about 30 miles of loaded touring per day on gravel in moderate heat. On the trip in the photo above we stopped at a junction of forest roads and talked with three guys riding dualsport motorcycles. I decided right then that I should explore the possibility of doing some trips on my motorcycle. I wanted to do what they were doing.

I was aware there is a U.K. based company called Rally Raid that makes a conversion kit specifically for the Honda CB500X. It provides a kit to upgrade the front and rear suspension. It adds suspension travel and the ability to adjust the suspension to the terrain and load. The kit includes strong, spoked, off road wheels that replace the original cast aluminum wheels. It increases the front wheel diameter from 19″ to 21″. It also include an engine guard with bash plates.

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A picture of a 2015 CB500X, just like mine, but with the Rally Raid upgrades. Note the spoked wheels, chunky tires and engine guard.

What the kit essentially does is turn a great budget commuter bike into a very capable off-road bike. Not a true dirt bike, but a bike that can handle gravel and dirt roads as well as some serious non-maintained forest service roads. This is an upgrade I seriously would like to do. I would use it to explore the several million acres of National Forest lands that lie within a 90 minute drive from my home. There are hundreds of miles of forest service roads traversing these lands and National Forest campgrounds. I foresee overnight trips by motorcycle.

2013 Brompton S6L

The other upgrade project I’m excited to be considering involves my Brompton folding bike. The above pictures are what it looked like the weekend I bought it in January of 2013. I bought it as a fascination. I was intrigued by the incredible feat of engineering that allows the Brompton to not only be the folding bike with the smallest and fastest fold, but it is super friendly and a joy to ride. It is built to take a lot of abuse and last a really long time.

Despite the high quality build with many proprietary parts.  I discovered early on there are a lot of aftermarket parts available to help personalize and upgrade a Brompton. I was interested in replacing some of the plastic proprietary parts that come on it with higher quality Ti parts or CNC’d aluminum parts.

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Some of the aftermarket upgrades from Brompfication.

New bits for the Brompton 002
Beautiful CNC’d chain tensioner that replaced the all plastic original tensioner. Also from Brompfication.

 

n 2014 I challenged myself to see if I could ride more than 1,000 miles on the Brompton. The first year I had had the Brompton I only rode it 400 miles. I ended up riding 1,400 miles, mostly commuting miles during the summer months. I learned a lot about the Brompton that summer. I found I really enjoyed riding it. It made a great commuting bike. I also enjoyed longer rides on it. The longest being 42 miles. I learned a few things I’d change if there was a way. I never liked the gearing. It has a three speed IGH with a 2 speed derailleur. It took me about 500 miles before I could shift without really thinking about it. It’s not the best design for ease of use. I ordered mine with the “lowered gearing” for hilly areas. I would have liked more gear range and a lower “low” gear for the Duluth hills. The proprietary side-pull brakes are extremely squishy. The bike is stable enough that I would routinely hit speeds of 35-40 mph going down Duluth hills. I never felt unsafe at those speeds…until I had to stop at the bottom of the hill for a stop sign. I never felt the brakes were sufficient or strong enough. Taking either wheel off to fix a flat or for routine maintenance is tricky. Every time I do it I have to re-watch a YouTube video to refresh me on the steps involved. There is nothing quick release or easy with wheel removal. The brakes don’t even have a quick release. You have to loosen the brake cable to open the calipers enough to drop the wheel out.

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Brompton conversion with a Rohloff IGH and disc brakes. Image from Kinetics-UK.

 

The good news. I found a solution to every one of the things I would change about the Brompton to make it an even better designed bike. Ben Cooper owns Kinetics in Glasgow, Scotland. He specializes in the following: Folding Bikes, Recumbent Bikes & Trikes, Electric Bikes, Cargo Bikes, Tandems, Custom Framebuilding. He makes a kit that allows you to use Rohloff IGH and disc brakes on a Brompton. In order to do this he makes a new rear frame triangle that has wider hub spacing to accommodate a Rohloff hub and a disc brake. He makes a new fork to accommodate a front disc brake. This would solve every issue I stated in the previous paragraph. Wider and lower gearing, improved stopping power and ease of maintenance with quick release wheels. This is my dream Brompton. It comes at a hefty price. Anyone that knows anything about Rohloffs know they aren’t cheap. I have a Rohloff geared bike already and I wouldn’t hesitate to have a second Rohloff geared bike in the house.

I’m very excited to make both of these projects a reality. It’s difficult to decide which one to do first. Any thoughts?

 

Winter can go on forever…..

…here in Northeastern Minnesota. There are years winter can last 6 months. This is one of those years.

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Trailhead parking situation on May 4th.

Now that I have a car I’ve been really enjoying starting my rides from different locations. My plan is to start getting familiar enough with the 100’s of miles of natural surface and gravel roads in the local State and National Forests that I can start formulating different routes for day rides and multiple day bikepacking adventures. There are more 6 million acres of managed forests within a two hour drive of my home in Duluth.

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Snow and the sounds of water running everywhere.

This weekend my destination was about 85 miles up the north shore of Lake Superior.  I had been keeping an eye on the weather with the hopes of doing an overnight trip. I had heard they had gotten 12-15 inches of snow in some places earlier in the week. I wasn’t sure if the National Forest campgrounds would be snow free and open yet.

 

Turns out I was right. The above campground is the one I was planning to overnight at. It wasn’t even plowed out. So I planned a day trip. I mapped out three different potential loop rides in the area between Finland, Minnesota and Temperance River State Park. I chose a 19 mile loop that would take me through Finland State Forest and Superior National Forest lands. All 100% gravel.

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Crossing the top of a small ridge.

My ride started on a ridge above Lake Superior. Since it is Spring time next to Lake Superior, the weather can change drastically as you get closer or further from the big lake. This ride had temps ranging from 60F degrees to 41F degrees and everything from sunshine and blue skies to clouds and rain. I stopped to change layers at least 4 times as I crossed two small ridges as I moved farther away from Lake Superior.

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In many places there was a foot of snow or more and water running everywhere.

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Two thirds of the way in on my loop I had mapped out I came to a junction. The direction I planned to go was on a Forest Service Road. It wasn’t plowed from the recent foot of snowfall.

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Forest Road not plowed.

I thought about riding the vehicle tracks. But if they stopped in a couple of miles I’d have a long hike-a-bike to get back to my car. I chose to turn around and double back the way I had come. It would mean a 25.6 mile day instead of a 19 mile day.

As I came around a corner to Echo Lake the temperature literally dropped 6-8 degrees.

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Ice still remaining on Echo Lake on May 4th.

The skies had clouded up and it was raining lightly. It certainly didn’t feel or look like May.

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I absolutely loved this ride. It felt remote with very few vehicles passing me. No cell service. And I realized the potential for many more rides in this area. I’m looking forward to exploring these Minnesota forests much more.

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The Jones Plus SWB complete was spectacular.

The Jones is meeting all my expectations for a mixed terrain bike so far. I like having the 27.5 x 3.0 tires. The ride is ultra comfortable. I think most people would be riding a drop bar gravel bike for these types of roads. But I really like the upright position of the short cockpit and Jones Loop bar. There was 1500 ft of climbing on this 25 mile ride. The Jones climbs effortlessly considering it’s a heavier steel bike. Last weekend I bought the saddle bag. It’s made by Cedaero, the same local company that made my custom framebag you see in the picture. It had the perfect carrying capacity for the layers I was carrying for the ride. It’s called the Drummond Draw Seat Bag. I bought it last week when I went to ride the Drummond Grade. I’m guessing the bag is named after that road. It’s only a few miles from shop where the Cedaero bags are made.

More adventures with the Jones to come.

 

Getting to know the Jones Plus SWB

Gravel bikes and all-road bikes are all the rage these days. When I jump on board a trend I don’t always follow the status quo. My new all-road bike is a rigid 27.5+ mountain bike. But not your standard mountain bike, it’s a Jones. I bought it as more of an all purpose bike. I have access to IMBA Gold Level mountain trails right in my neighborhood. I have hundreds of miles of dirt and gravel roads in the immediate area, and millions of acres of National Forests within 1-2 hours of drive time. The Jones is my idea of one bike to rule them all.

I plan to use it for some overnight camping and bike packing trips as well. Last year I did the same types of riding on my fat bike. The plus tires on the Jones seem narrow in comparison.

Now that I own a car I no longer have to start all my rides from my house. What a luxury to start an entirely new ride from somewhere other than my house. Every ride since 2003 has begun from my house. But not anymore. Saturday I decided to scout out some new to me gravel northwest of Two Harbors.

I started at the Lake County Demonstration Forest and rode the Drummond Grade north to almost Brimson. It was a good ride and only my fourth ride on the Jones. The road was very low traffic. Only counted 12 vehicles in 2.5 hours.

The Jones no longer looks brand spanking new thanks to lots of gravel dust and some mud. It was April 27th and winter still lingered in the spots that don’t get all day sunshine.

I already have an idea for a short bikepacking overnighter using this route. The route takes you into the Cloquet Valley State Forest.

One of my plans after buying this bike last November was to have it completely outfitted with options for packing by Spring time. I’ve been spending between $100 and $200 a month since then on bags and other things for loading up this bike. I think I have sufficiently acquired everything I need to properly overload this bike. Something I am all too good at doing. One last item arrived today.

It’s a Manythings Cage from King Cage. I have a triple bolt mount on the underside of my down tube on the Jones. This cage will allow me to strap and carry a full size Nalgene bottle, or a fuel bottle or a small stuff sack in that spot. It’s the first piece of bike equipment I’ve ever owned made with titanium. It’s shockingly lightweight. Really weighs next to nothing. Getting fancy here.

This ride let me settle in and really enjoy the ride of the Jones. The biggest take away from my first 2+ hour ride was how incredibly comfortable the riding position is on this bike. The first quarter mile it feels like you’re sitting strangely bolt upright. But then it just starts to feel oh so right. I’ve been using some version of a Jones bar on two different bikes since 2007. So I knew what to expect from the handlebar. This new wider loop bar feels amazing. And I really do move around on the bar and use it’s multiple hand positions.

I’m looking forward to loading it up sometime soon and seeing what it’s like on an overnighter.

Winter Camping in Spring or Spring Camping with a touch of Winter?

I’ve been watching the weather with hopes of getting out on a short, overnight backpacking trip with my very new Mystery Ranch Glacier pack.

My pack ready to go Friday morning. I specifically had Friday April 19th in mind. My place of employment gives us Good Friday off as a paid holiday. When the ten day forecast came out it called for 60% chance of rain. I know forecasts change. Seven days out we were having a winter storm with a foot of snow. I let Jeff know I was planning anyway. He said he was in. With one day to go the forecast was for a high of 60F and cloudless blue skies and an overnight low of 36F degrees. The best weather so far this year.

Despite the hundreds of miles I’ve hiked on the Superior Hiking Trail as a hiker, backpacker, volunteer and paid contractor somehow I’ve never hiked any of the sections between Two Harbors and Duluth.

Both Jeff and I used to live in one-vehicle households which complicated getting out. Now that we both have vehicles we decided to both drive so we didn’t have to do an out-and-back hike. We chose to do the section from Rossini Road to Lake County Demonstration Forest.

We started at Rossini Road and hiked “north”. On the short drive up, 50 minutes for me, 30 minutes for Jeff, the view from the road made it appear the forest floor was mostly snow free. Our biggest concern was snow/slush covered trail or muddy/standing water conditions. Those concerns were valid, but the frustration caused by those conditions was minimized by the beautiful weather. It was sunny, 60F degrees with light winds. By far the best day of 2019 so far. Plus, the sun doesn’t set until 8 pm this time of year so there is no urgency to get to camp by dark.

We quickly discovered we’d be walking in snow most of the hike. At least 85% of this section of trail still had snow on it. From 1″ to 2 feet deep. It wasn’t slushy, but it was very wet. We would posthole in deeper snow, sometimes punching through to standing water. It was slow going and tiring……but the weather! We were walking through snow and only wearing short sleeve shirts. It was fantastic to be out hiking in the woods on such a beautiful day. The smells of the woods had us looking forward to the backpacking and bikepacking adventures yet to come this year.

I named the following picture “The White Pine Inn”

This was more tree fort than deer stand. Deer stands are common sites in the north woods. This wasn’t your typical deer stand.

We stayed at the second of two campsites on this section. It’s by Ferguson Creek and is called Ferguson Campsite.

We filled our water bags at the swiftly flowing creek before climbing a short hill to the campsite. The campsite was on a side of a deep ravine facing south. We were hoping it would be snowless.

It wasn’t. There was just enough open dirt in the center right of the above picture for us to set up our shelters. Jeff was hammocking. I had my tent in fastpack mode; ground sheet and tent fly. I left the main tent body at home.

It got down near the freezing mark. My wet boots were frozen solid by morning, but our water didn’t freeze. I was able to bring my down sleeping bag, rated to 0F degrees to keep me toasty warm all night. It fit nicely in the sleeping bag compartment on the Glacier pack.

It felt like winter camping with those temps and all the snow.

This hole in the snow was where we buried our food bags. A new method Jeff suggested rather than bear bagging it. It worked. No critters found our food. It’s likely the local black bears have awakened from their winter sleep and were active, and hungry.

The hike out was short and very nice in the morning sunlight. We skipped a mile and a half snow covered spur trail to the trailhead and did a road walk instead. We both had sore knee and hip joints from all the walking in snow.

It was a wonderful early season backpack trip. The snow added some challenges. It was tiring hiking in the snow. It made route finding a challenge. We followed a pair of faded footprints which lead us off trail at one point. The blue blazing was inconsistent and not always helpful. For those of you that know Susan and I worked as contractors to blue blaze the whole trail, we didn’t paint blaze this section. It was built after we did our blazing project.

I had high expectations of my new Mystery Ranch Glacier Pack. It exceeded those expectations. Having put 3,000 miles on a Dana Design Terraframe (the same designer of my new Mystery Ranch pack) the new pack felt completely familiar, but better. It has new design elements and new features. It was like putting on a new pair of shoes and realize they fit you perfectly and never cause a blister.

It was a great start to a season of outdoor adventures.