the beautiful North-shore Trail both as a cathartic mental and physical exercise
and as a platform from which to relish an authentic Irish Coffee Stout
exquisitely handcrafted in Stillwater, Minnesota.
The shelters along the North Shore Trail are top notch.
effort to comfort myself for being forced to bail on the upcoming epic that is
the Trans-Iowa (April 27/28) due to a myriad of unexpected complications in
family schedules, I took up the authentic and as yet unaccomplished challenge of
trying to make it to Grand Marais from Duluth via the 150 mile North Shore
Trail (NS Trail) on a bicycle, unsupported, on snow.
is an account of Pierre Oster and the brothers Evingson
doing the route perhaps ten years or so ago, but they may have received some
kind outside assistance or did it over the course of two separate efforts…Farrow
did the route unsupported several summers ago in good style, but did not access
the trail until the Jean Duluth Road and Zimmerman Road intersection and left
the trail briefly to resupply at approximately the midway point. Bragging rights for completing the full route,
unsupported from the Lester River Pavilion to the Grand Marais parking lot is
waiting for the right man or woman!
was to be fully packed and ready to leave right away after work on Friday, (my
wife had agreed to pick me up in Grand Marais on Sunday afternoon), as I
figured I could reasonably do the full 150 mile route in approximately two and
a half dayz. But a huge snowstorm forced
me to reconsider.
Burnin' daylight on a beautiful Sunday morning
started to snow heavily on Thursday night and did not end until Duluth had received
over a foot of fresh snow and Two Harbors, nearly two feet of heavy wet snow.
The whole North Shore corridor received record snowfalls. For a record fifth time this winter, my school
where I teach was forced to call off classes on Friday due to difficult
traveling conditions. After shoveling
snow for much of the morning, I grabbed my trusty man-dog, Hondo, and drove out
to the Martin Road where the North Shore Trail officially originates.
purists the route actually starts at the parking lot just off of Superior
Street where the bridge crosses the Lester River and thus to be considered
“untainted” and/or unabridged and therefore recognized by the DBD Honor Board, one
would need to leave from that specific Lester River Access point.
Martin Road access point, I was not surprised to see that the trail was un-ride
able. Hondo and I slogged up the trail
for a mile or so, and sadly with each “post-hole” step, my resolve weakened.
But as luck would have it, just as I was getting Hondo back into my car, a huge
truck pulled up complete with a trailer carrying four snowmobiles. Feigning allegiance to the NRA and local
snowmobile tribes, I was able to engage and ultimately ingratiate the occupant
of the mammoth truck. During the course of our conversation, I ascertained that
he too was checking on trail conditions.
The rotund, but amicable fellow conveyed to me that given the fact that
the parking lot was closed at the Martin Road, he was on his way to Two Harbors
with sleds for himself and three buddies coming up from the Twin Cities. Due to
the new snow, they had changed their rendezvous point to a motel in Two Harbor.
Their new plan was to access the NS trail via Hwy 2, (due north of Two Harbors)
Saturday morning. He thought that while snowmobile
traffic would be very low, if-at-all near Duluth, there would be sufficient
snowmobile traffic once one got past Two Harbors. He said that he knew of
several other guyz that were eager to get one last ride in. I let it be known
that I too would be heading out for one last ride…I did not let on that I’d be
on a bicycle…
The condition of the trail was mostly pretty good. Yet there were a few spots that made for bushwacking...
with a sense of possibility, when just a few minutes before meeting the
snowmobiler, I had none, I optimistically resigned myself to wait until
Saturday morning and then ride the asphalt to Two Harbors. The problem with
this revised plan was, of course, twofold: 1. The purity of the effort would be
compromised and; 2, I would lose at least six or seven hours of ride time. The fact of the matter was that I knew that
if I waited until Saturday, I would lose the time needed to make it all the way
to Grand Marais by a reasonable time of day (so as to allow time for my wife to
pick me up and then the drive time back to Duluth). Yet, also I reasoned that any effort was
better than no effort. Therefore I resigned
myself to a less ambitious goal: To make Finland (about the half way point to
Grand Marais) via the NS Trail from Two Harbors and then ride home on Sunday
via Hwy 61. The plan would still involve
near 160 miles of riding and would negate involving my wife’s drive time. Yet of the total distance covered less than
half would be on the North Shore Trail.
at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday from my humble abode on my fully loaded and trusty Moonlander,
I rode up to Two Harbors on the scenic highway, and then headed up Hwy 2 where
I gained the North Shore Trail. The weather was perfect complete with a vibrant
blue sky, a robin-egg blue Lake Superior, and a full sun. My heart soared as I
broke the bounds of domestic responsibility, if only for a day or so. The temperatures
were in the low 30s. Riding the asphalt segment was uneventful and I found the NS
Trail to be in relatively good shape (Alaskan-style).
My new Big Agnes (extra wide) integrated bag and pad make for a great set-up
morning, I had ridden all the way to where the trail runs parallel directly
north of Finland (by something like ten miles). From Finland I took a fun
access trail back down to Finland. On
Saturday night, I bivied in a top notch trail shelter after riding nearly
fourteen hours, including a nice break in Two Harbors. It got quite chilly that
evening, but I was warm and slept well after enduring a very bizarre encounter
with a most peculiar man. The following is a recollection of that fantastical
Found this sign next next to an abandoned trailer
It was just
about the onset of darkness, approximately 9:00 p.m., when he came flying by
the shelter, of which I was making ready for my bivouac. As is my usual
response, I waved and smiled at him as he passed in a gesture of amicability.
Inexplicably he slammed on the brakes of his sled-jet and made an athletic move
off of the vehicle’s couch that belied his massive girth. As he ambled toward me, I quickly began to take
stock of any defensive weapon that I may have at my disposable—my little
Leatherman was my final thought as he was on me.
help?” he asked in a confused, slightly agitated voice.
waving at me like you needed help?” He continued.
“I was only
waving to you to be friendly,” sez I.
sure look like you need help!” he states as he pulled off his fully encased
helmet, revealing a creased, wrinkled face belonging to a man probably in his
late sixties or seventies.
hell are you doing out here on that thing? Is that a motorcycle?” Apparently
looking at my two panniers on the rear of my bike, he stated “Is that an
itz just an oversized bicycle, those are where I keep my camping gear” sez I as
I nonchalantly moved towards the bike and my frame pack where my little
Leatherman was stowed away. Upon hearing my explanation, his erratic eye
movements suggested an effort at rudimentary cognition. After an exceedingly long and awkward silence,
whilst he stared at my bike, he finally volunteered that he had, at an earlier
time in his life, been a good downhill skier.
That he had won a bronze medal at Afton Alps back in the early 70s.
that— 1.) He was relatively harmless, and; 2.) He was incapable of
comprehending the conceptual aspects associated with winter cycling, I did
sense a chance to develop a rapport with this strange man. Thus I replied that
my daughter enjoyed alpine skiing at Spirit Mountain in Duluth. Apparently not hearing me, he then embarked
on an agonizingly long-winded, albeit benign narrative regarding the several occasions
in his youth, that he had camped out in the winter. Maintaining that tents and shelters were for
sissies, he boasted of how he had camped out one particularity wintery night in
which it had gotten so cold out and snowed so hard that he had built up three
fires around his sleeping bag and that even with the heat from the fires he had
still melted down, down, down five feet into the snow. So deep had he melted down into the snow when
he awoke in the morning, he had to dig and climb out of a significant chasm.
The Moonlander fully loaded and ready for anything...
continued to nod and feign amazement at his stories, all the while hoping with
all my heart that he would soon grow tired of his own voice and remount his
snow machine and leave. During the
course of his lecture, I learned that he had a hunting shelter just a few miles
away. Finally he commenced with the
words I had been so longing to hear. Namely, “Well I suppose I better be…” THEN
he had an original thought, compelling
him to stop dead midsentence! He even stopped putting his helmet on, an instead
looked me in the eye and excitedly exclaimed, “I have a great idea, I am gonna
head back to my cabin, get my girlfriend and some sleeping bags and some
firewood and head back here and camp out with you!”
stunned, dry mouthed, astonished, astounded, bewildered aghast, horrified, I
could only produce, “Sure it’s a free country.”
sped away, I was initially dumbfounded, numb, inconsolable and then I hastily began
to develop a plan to move out and find a different spot to camp….but after a
few minutes of racking my harried brain, it dawned on me that there was no way he
would come back. The guy was just
blowing steam, living back in his glory dayz, I surmised that I would never see
was back to arranging my sleeping bag and pad, getting my stove going, and
making everything ready so that I could lay back and relish and cherish and
savor my authentic Irish Coffee Stout exquisitely handcrafted in Stillwater,
Minnesota by the artisans of Lift Bridge Brewing Company. I had been saving
this piece of liquid art for weeks, waiting for just the right ambiance. I love solo camping now more than ever because
it is the only time in my hectic life where I can truly relax. Imbibing this
singular fermented nectar comprising a “delightful combination
of whiskey, coffee, and cream…aged in whiskey barrels, then blended with a big
Milk Stout, and finally infused with locally roasted coffee,” would act as a
perfect complement to a day well played. Such was how the
initial hour or so after my strange encounter with the once semi-great downhill
skier, holder of a bronze medal, was spent. Just as
I took the last measure of the fermented barley elixir of the gods, I heard
that familiar high pitched buzzing sound of approaching snowmobilers.
Netcar of the gods
not believe that he was back and was accompanied by another sled. They pulled up, he alone dismounted and
labored over to my humble abode. For
some perplexing, incomprehensible reason, the first words out of my mouth were,
“Do you guyz want some jerky?”
and don’t worry we’re not gonna stay, I just brought my girlfriend here to
prove that you are really here on a bike,” came his reply.
tell from his mannerisms that he was exceedingly pleased with himself; no doubt
sensing that he had surprised both the woman and me. He did not introduce the
stout woman, nor did the woman make a move to leave her snowmobile or remove
her massive helmet. It was dark out and
so I could not discern much of her appearance. Yet, her mannerisms toward me implied repulsion as if I were something vile. She just stared intently at me as if I was the ELEPHANT MAN. I felt naked, unloved, and vulnerable.
I am not an animal!
that you have seen IT, letz get back home,” he shouted to the woman. He stepped back onto his sled and started it
up. And just like that, the whole strange encounter lasting less than ten minutes,
they were gone. It took me a good hour
to once again recapture a sense of complacency and relaxation and then I
laughed out loud!
Finland @ 8:45 am on Sunday morning, with a heavy heart (for I know that I
could have made it to Grand Marais as the trail was in ride-able shape, if I
had just another day to ride North) I gained the asphalt and headed for Hwy 61
and then back to Duluth. It was a good effort with 20+ hours of ride time and
probably 165+ miles of riding with at least 70 miles of that on the North Shore
we are Men...the DBD must ride this entire route from Lester River to Grand
Marais early in the winter next season before the interlopers from the
south upstage us, I know for a fact Dittmer, et. al. have their eyes on this
jewel of the North Shore! It is only a matter of time before someone makes this
entire route! We need to be the ones that do it!! We need to be first!!!
information about that Coffee Stout: