Unseasonably weird weather has made April feel like May. With a sunny, warm weekend in the forecast and all signs of winter long gone, I decided to get out for an overnight camping trip on the Long Haul Trucker.
Saturday I loaded up and got out by noon. I headed east through downtown and then headed north once I got to the east side of town. I decided to do a low traffic loop that I did last July. This time in the opposite direction than I rode it last time.
I rode the new extension of the Lake Walk trail to get to the east side.
Then there was some climbing to do to get out of the Lake Superior basin. Once I got about 6 miles north of town the rest of the ride looked a lot like this road shot. The northern half of this trip was all in State Forest lands. Low traffic, few to none commercial businesses. Only trees, lakes, bogs, and vacation homes or hunting cabins. When traveling overnight, I skip all the popular energy food people use these days and eat real food. At least on the first day.
The last 25 of the 50 miles I rode on Saturday looked like this. No road crossings other than a few gravel roads. At times it was 10-15 minutes between cars. It was beautiful to be out on the road on a 60 degree (16C) in April. It's very rare in these parts.
I reached my destination at exactly mile 50. A small State Forest campground on a lake.
I stopped at the self-registration station to find the following notice
No fee to camp, that was a pleasant surprise. I had planned on having to pay.
The campground has two loops. One has drive in sites and one has walk-in sites right on the lake. Above is the site I stayed at last year. I camped under this huge white pine. Apparently the heavy wet snow did some damage to it. I had to pick a different site. Since there was no one using the walk in sites I had my pick. The biggest deciding issue was the huge amount deer droppings in all the campsites. It was hard to walk without stepping in it. Another issue was the 25 mph winds coming off the lake. I picked the site that had some bushes between it and the lake that seemed to provide some wind protection and had the least amount of deer poop. Being so remote, I brought along my MSR water filter. I figured I'd need to filter water from the lake to refill my water bottles and cook. I was very surprised to find the well pump in place and working. I just had to deal with an entire winter of rust buildup from the pipes. I pumped and pumped and could not get it to run clear. I decided a little rust sludge was better than filtering water from the lake. You may have noticed my bike looks like it's loaded for a week long expedition. ( I was painfully reminded of this by a roadie that pulled up to me just to ridicule my set-up. When I refused to answer his inquiries he pulled ahead, yet couldn't drop me. And, he couldn't ride a straight line on his fancy pants racing bike to save his life.) With a cold and windy night ahead I decided to pack some warmer gear. Warmer also means bulkier. I'll admit I couldn't pack ultralight to "save my life". But I'm really not as bad as many others. In the above picture is some Mountain Hardware insulated pants. They have a synthetic insulation material and it does not compress down at all. It took up one half of one of my front panniers. Of the four sleeping bags I own, the two warm weather bags are only good down to about 40F (4C). I wanted more warmth, so I went with my 0F (-18C) degree bag. It's down, but still takes up a lot of room when compressed. That and my thermarest took up one whole rear pannier. So I decided to just use my whole week long pannier setup and let people think what they wanted. None of the bags was full. I had plenty of room to carry more. Plus, if you notice, everything I'm carrying is inside a pannier. I prefer to do it this way instead of having 10 different items lashed or tied on top of the racks. Keeps the center of gravity lower and looks more organized to me. After more than 300 backcountry backpacking nights in the last decade, I have grown tired of dehydrated meals. They definitely have their usefulness. But when I can, I carry fresh ingredients when bike camping or backpacking for one or two nights. Here I start with a load of fresh veggies. Saute them in olive oil. Add some chicken from a foil pouch, spices, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, and rice. I top it all off with some cheese. Yummy. The rice, I should note, is dehydrated. It's long cooking brown rice. I pre-cook it and then dry it on a dehydrator. When you throw it in a dish like this it re-hydrates in just minutes. I enjoy a warm dinner when camping. And I enjoy cooking when camping. I finished cooking just in time to walk down to the beach and see the funky color of the days last light. The wind was still blowing hard. I was toasty warm in my down jacket and and winter pants. I was really glad I brought them along. Sunset over Indian Lake. Ten minutes after sunset and the wind died down completely. The air went still. If it had been July the mosquitoes would have been unbearable once the wind stopped. But seeing that it was April and we've had some really hard frosts in the last week, I knew there would be no bugs. With a forecast for clear skies I really felt there was no need for a tent. I decided to bivy it. This is my favorite way to sleep out if the conditions are right.
I slept for 10 hours. I sleep better out in the woods than anywhere else. I woke to another day with clear skies. The lake water was like glass. The temperature bottomed out at 23F (-5C). That was about 10 degrees lower than predicted. I was so glad I decided to bring the warm sleeping bag. I stayed plenty warm all night long. Too warm at times. I remember waking up a few times and seeing a sky filled with stars. That's one of the best parts about sleeping without a tent. Today I only had to go 1 mile before turning off the road I had ridden for 25 mile the previous day.
It was then 14 miles of gravel.
What a great way to start a Sunday. Waking up in the woods and then riding a wonderful stretch of deserted gravel road.
Eventually it had to end. I was back on the road again. Another 14 miles of paved county highway through the Cloquet Valley State Forest.
I finished the day with 5 miles of New Road . I had to throw that in since it's my mission this year. The ride today was 55 miles. Two days, 105 miles. I averaged 12.0 mph Saturday and 12.3 on Sunday. Seems to be my pace when riding a loaded bicycle. No matter the conditions are, I seem to keep a 12 mph avg when riding the LHT with a load.