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Another weekend of bicycle camping

Posted Oct 10 2010 4:28pm
Three weekends in a row of beautiful fall weather. It's been 15-20 degrees above normal for us. It's been more like late August than the first 10 days of October. I will move on into October with no regrets because I have done three weekend camping outings in a row. Two by bicycle, one by foot. Leaving Duluth yesterday around 11:00. Our fall colors are a week or more past peak. More bare trees now than not. My destination this weekend was Willow River, MN and a State Forest Campground there. A tip from my neighbor who did a S24O a few weeks ago there. It was a campground I was not aware of 50 miles away by the Munger Trail. I chose to head down Rt 23 to force myself to try some new roads. It only took 16 miles of roads to get into territory that was only vaguely familiar.
Croosing the St Louis River and officially leaving Duluth.

A mile later on the 1.5 mile climb you pass this sign. Rt 23 passes through a lot of public lands that are managed for logging and recreation. Recreation is defined here as hunting and ATV riding.

Most of the next 20 miles looks like this. I've only ridden this stretch on bicycle two other times. Road atlas's mark this road as a "scenic drive". Which it is.
Dropping down into the Nemadji River crossing before climbing back out.
The river.

Some birches. No shortage of these in Northern Minnesota.

Very few actual places to stop for a break. So I pulled off on this recently made road or driveway or logging road(?).

I don't care for all that "energy" food that's marketed at "athletes". And I can't eat most of it since it all contains gluten. I bring real food on an overnighter. A ham and cheese sandwich with my homemade gluten free bread and some locally grown carrots from our farm share. The best carrots I've ever tasted.
Once again I have all my panniers and handlebar bag. None of them are full. I like to spread out the weight of my gear. I don't even need a handlebar bag. But it is so useful. I keep my camera, glass cases and snacks items close at hand. I don't even have to stop to access it. And it has that handy map case on top. For this trip I'm navigating with copies from my Minnesota Gazetteer map book.

At mile 35, in the tiny town of Ducette, I take a right turn onto Cty 47. My first new road of the day. It looks promising.
Of course when ever you turn off the main road in these parts, there is a strong probability you'll eventually see this sign. And if you're using a Gazetteer Map book, it will happen without warning. Also, with the map book, don't expect any thing to match up to what you actually see. Like intersections and road names.
I don't think I've ever worn shorts this late in October in this climate. It got up to 68 degrees both days.

One nice thing about gravel roads is they are always low traffic.
Off beyond these Angus Beef cattle, you can see that 20% chance of rain that was predicted. It never came over me while riding. Although it looked like I was heading right for it. It did find me in the campground about 7:30 pm.

These 26" x 1.75" Schwalbe's make easy work of the loose surface.

After five miles of gravel it looked like I had come upon some paved roads. I turned left here onto Military Road. The only reason I know it's called Military Road is because I compared the Gazetteer maps to Google Maps for this area before leaving home. Military Road was the first over land road built between St. Paul Minnesota and Superior Wisconsin.
Only a half mile later the pavement continued, but Military Road went right, back onto gravel. If I hadn't looked at Google maps I would have missed this turn for sure.
This went on for awhile. In all I did 11 miles of gravel riding.

If it isn't public land, it is well marked private land. I've never seen so many signs of this type in one day. I guess no one wants anybody else on their prime hunting grounds. I spent the entire day hearing gunshots and distant ATV's.

Walter's Road (again, not marked on the Gazetteer map) was another new road for me. This one I wouldn't even call gravel. It was sand with intermittent soft spots. Tricky riding to say the least.
Lots of tree plantations in the area. If I had had enough water, I might have walked off into the trees and set up camp in this plantation on some public day use land.
I had to cross Interstate 35 to get to Willow River.

The campground was right next to the Interstate off this frontage road. You can see the highway to the right.

This campground was quite a surprise. I've been by this place many, many times on the highway and never knew it was here. The only thing keeping this from being a great destination is it's proximity to the highway. You can hear the traffic. It was steady enough though that it eventually became white noise in the background.
Many campsites were in a Red Pine plantation.

There is a small lake or maybe a flowage on a river. It was hard to tell which. I almost took a very private walk-in site on the water. But then decided to take this drive-in site. I had my pick. There were only a handful of other campers. None within earshot or sight of my campsite.
I arrived by 3:30. Plenty of time to set up housekeeping and relax. I spent time having conversations with the locals. I'm referring to the chipmunk who was bound and determined to check out my food supply. And later a red squirrel. I told them in no uncertain terms, that other campers may find them cute and feed them, but I was not falling for there cute act. They would not be getting any of my food. A few threats of bodily harm may have been uttered at some point directed at anyone that had thoughts of getting into my food bag.

I've had this tent since 1999. A Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight. Susan and I bought it as a light weight 2 person backpacking tent. We only spent one night in it together. It was too small for two people. It's been my solo tent ever since. I knew it had a fast pack option. I'd never used it before. I left the tent body at home and managed to set it up with just the ground sheet and rain fly. I wasn't sure it would work, but it only took me a few minutes to set it up.
The fast pack option pretty much makes it into a tarp. A tarp that has it's own poles and zippered door. It was pretty slick. I'm surprised I've never tried it before.

With the warmer weather I was back to using my alcohol stove. A Trangia Stove. I love this little stove. I love that it is silent and has a simmer control. The simmer lid allows me to cook on it rather than just heat water. I like a hot meal at the end of the day. I like a stove I can cook on.
After dinner I spent time reading on my eBook reader and enjoying a hot cup of coffee with some chocolate smothered with maple almond butter.


I had to retire to the tent around 7:30 when that 20% chance of rain turned into a 100% chance. I read until 9:00 when I fell asleep with my headlamp still on . Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up and realized I was still wearing my headlamp and that it was "on". I slept for 11 hours. I've said this many times before on this blog, but I sleep better in a tent than anywhere else.
I awoke to a sunny, still morning. I took my time getting packed up and eating breakfast. I did some more reading and looking out at the lake over a morning cup of coffee. I headed out at 10:00.
Stopped at the hand pump to top off my water bottles.

Rode the mile back to downtown Willow River...
...and jumped on the Munger Trail. I decided to take the easy route home.


This county is overrun with ATV trails. The Munger is on the right, a well used ATV trail on the left. I'm tempted to put together a tour of ATV trails on the Pugsley. But I'm not sure I'd be welcome on the ATV trails.
The Munger Trail, south of Carlton, can be a bit mind numbing as it follows an old railroad right-of-way alongside Hwy 61.

I had heard the trail was closed for repairs for the next few months. They weren't kidding. I thought I'd try and see how far I could get. Ten miles from my house I was stopped by this barricade. They mean biddness. There was no marked detours. I made my own and took some roads the rest of the way home.

It was a nice getaway with 104 miles of varied terrain riding.....in SHORTS....in OCTOBER!
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