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My bicycle camping weekend

Posted Sep 28 2010 6:32pm
Like many weekends this summer, and now fall, I've had tentative plans to get out camping. Either backpacking or bike camping, doesn't matter, I just enjoy camping out. Most of those tentative plans didn't work out this year. It's been a bit disappointing. I usually backpack with Susan. But she's been resting an injured foot all summer. For me to go solo, I'd have to rent a car. So bike camping is the easier last minute choice. This past weekend the forecast was calling for rain Saturday. When I woke up Saturday the skies were clear. The rain had gone south of us. I hurriedly packed up some gear and food and managed to get out of the house by 12:15. I headed east through town along the lakefront (above, with view of lake freighter below).
It was a gorgeous day in my book. Light and variable winds with a 57 degree temperature. Perfect!
After eleven miles of town riding, I took a left and headed uphill and away from the big lake. There's not that much elevation change, but it seems like you gradually climb on and off for 7 or 8 miles. Then it turns into gently rolling terrain, with northern Minnesotan woods and wetlands. Once I made that turn there was 39 miles of low traffic roads and no services. Unless you consider two country bars "services". The only structures are off the road back in the woods and mostly out of sight. A mix of hunting cabins, vacation homes and year round residences.
And climbing
And climbing.

At some point when most of the climbing was done I stopped for lunch on one of the many lanes or driveways that disappear off into the woods. As I was enjoying my lunch (real food, no energy bar type crap) all of a sudden every red squirrel and crow in the vicinity started making a racket. And then I heard directly over head of me the flap of some wings that clearly had a massive wingspan.
It was a huge bald eagle. Much further away in this shot taken with a camera that is limited to a 3x zoom. It was a thrill, with more to come. Over the next five miles I saw more than 100 raptors in the air circling around. We had a huge storm system come through the previous two days. I think all the migrating raptors that come through this area this time of year had laid low during the storm and were now continuing their migration. A bit of a bottleneck due to the storm. I wish I had a way to have captured the scene, but my camera couldn't do it. It was amazing.
The rest of the day was a continuous, almost monotonous, display of northern woods beauty. Hard to adsorb it all.

Wooded stretches

And wetlands

And more wooded stretches.

My destination came almost exactly 50 miles after leaving my house. Indian Lake Campground, a DNR managed State Campground. I have stayed here on two previous overnight bike camping trips. It's quiet and feels very remote despite being only 40 miles from a large metro area (Duluth/Superior combined population a bit over 100,000). Quiet and remote was what I was graving.
This is an un-staffed campground with no electrical hookups or running water. Only pit toilets and a hand pump to access well water.
The campground has two loops with 25 total campsites. One loop has 7 walk-in sites, the other loop is drive-in sites. I occupied a site on a little rise above the lake,which could be seen through the trees.
I decided to bring one of my tents. Didn't really need a tent with no rain in the forecast for the rest of the weekend. But I brought it anyhow. I didn't know if the campground would be busy or not. I prefer a tent for some privacy in a crowded campground. It turned out I had the entire loop to myself. I would call that "awesome".
I brought along my newly purchased eReader. I'm loving it. It's my very first mobile electronic device. What's next? A CELL PHONE!! I don't know. I still don't have a need for one. That's crazy talk. I spent most of the evening enjoying a hot meal, followed by hot tea while I read my Nook.
The wind was still and the temperature was dropping rapidly throughout the evening due to the clear skies. It was down to 37 degrees by 9:00. A frost warning had been issued for the outlying areas like where I was. I had passed on bringing my lightweight down summer sleeping bag. It only stays cozy down to about 40 degrees. With the forecast what it was, I opted to bring my Marmot 0 degree 750 fill down sleeping bag. Talk about luxurious camping. I've taken it down to -15 with a bivy sack before. But it stays very comfortable in the 30's without overheating. I love this bag. It has kept me warm and cozy on many cold nights in the backcountry.

I slept like a baby for 10 hours, staying in the bag until the sun was well up in the sky. When I emerged from my tent there was a coating of frost on everything. The temp was 32 degrees at 8:30 in the morning. I'm guessing it might have gotten down to 29 or 30 degrees at the lowest. I had filled all my water bottles the night before. They were partially frozen. And so was the hand pump. It wouldn't pump water until after 10:00.

I spent my time reading over my breakfast and morning coffee. The morning was still and quiet. The frost was causing some of the birches and poplars to loose there leaves. It was like a gold colored rainfall of leaves. It was so quiet, you could hear each leave hit the ground.

I finally got moving around 10:45. This is the road out of the campground.

I saw these two very young deer alongside the road. They stood and watched me pass by. I figure momma must have been a hit by a car at some point. They looked to be on their own with no momma in sight and no one to snort at them to tell them to run.
On past trips to this location I did a loop route. This time I went back the same way I had come. I had enjoyed the ride the previous day so much I decided to repeat it in reverse.
The road seemed to go on like this forever. The first fifteen miles I'm guessing the cars were 10 minutes apart. That decreased the closer I got to town.

On and on.

And on...

Eventually I made it back to Duluth and took the touristy route through town.
It was a badly needed and magnificent get-away. Of course, riding a bike is my favorite way to travel.

My overnight gear list.

Okay, I have to say I'm not a fan of gear lists, or weighing my stuff. I carry what I fell I need. And I'm pretty good at knowing what I will and will not use. If I'm not going to use something, I don't bring it. Having declared that, I have to say I am neither an ultralighter, or a bring-everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink kind of packer. I pretty much fall smack in the middle. So as a service to those that don't want to go ultra-light, I'll talk here about what I brought on this trip. If you want to travel ultra-light, DON'T READ MY RECOMMENDATIONS.

As you can see in the above pictures of my bicycle loaded, I used a full set of touring panniers. Front low riders, rear panniers, and a handlebar bag. None of the bags were full on this trip. I had room left in all of them. Why use all the bags? Mostly because I like the way the LHT handles with the load distributed roughly with 60% of the load on the front wheels and 40% on the rear. Here's a description of what I carried.
For water I brought 3 water bottles for the frame mounted cages. One liter Nalgene. A insulated mug. In these low temps, an insulated mug is a must to keep drinks hot for longer than 5 minutes. In the net bag is one MSR cook pot with a MSR Dragonfly stove nested inside it. I've been using my alcohol burning stove for solo trips. But alcohol doesn't burn well below 50 degrees. So I brought the Dragonfly instead. I brought the big bottle of fuel just in case the pump was frozen and I needed to boil lake water for drinking water.

Blue food bag, black stuff sack has kitchen utensil, paper towels, dish cleaning stuff.

Tent: Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight. I use separate stuff sacks for the tent body and tent fly to make packing more efficient. So above I have bags containing the fly, tent body, tent poles, stakes, and ground cloth.

Marmot zero degree bag on left, thermarest sleeping pad on the right.

From L to R: black stuff sack contains wool outer wear. A hat and gloves. Gray bag is my hygiene bag. Wet wipes, medicines, toothbrush and paste, headlamp, earplugs and some other misc things that I had no other good place to pack. Yellow compression sack has my camp clothes: two thermal shirts, hiking pants, and down pullover. Black Mountain Hardware stuff sack contains some winter pants . They are synthetic and don't compress very well. They are incredibly warm and allow me to sit around all evening without getting cold. And finally you can see a pair of running shoes for around camp. That's a luxury item so I don't have to walk around in my cycling shoes, which I've done. But I prefer not to if I have room for shoes.

I also carry a small bicycle repair kit and two spare tubes. All of the above go in my front and back panniers. The only thing I carried in my handlebar bag is my food for the day, glass cases, wallet, camera, hand cleaner and wind breaker. The handlebar bag is nice because I can access all that stuff without ever getting off the bike.

The bike may look heavily loaded for an overnighter. But I used everything I brought along on this trip with the exception of the repair tools. None of the panniers is full. And everything is neatly inside the panniers. Nothing on the top of the rack or lashed to the outside. And no saddlebag.

I simply carry what I need.
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