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Overnight traveling by bicycle

Posted Nov 21 2008 4:25pm

I bought my Surly Long Haul Trucker back in February with intentions to use it for what it was made for. Self-supported bicycle travel. I've put over 1,800 miles on the bike so far this year, but prior to this weekend only 231 miles was loaded touring miles. That was my threedaytrip back in July.

This past weekend I took the opportunity to head out for an overnight trip. There wasn't much planning. I just decided I wanted to head east over in Wisconsin and practice my stealth camping skills. I arbitrarily picked 150 total miles for the two day trip. The calculations I made in my head were a bit off. I ended up doing 166 miles. The trip went extremely good and I had a great time.

DAY ONE: 76 miles
I headed over the bridge into Wisconsin with my camping gear and food for two days. As a Celiac I carry all my own food. I don't take chances eating away from home very often. I've never been able to pack light. But really, my panniers had a lot of empty space in them. Plus all of my gear is in the bags, including a sleeping bag, a thermarest pad, tent, tent poles, and a rather large cookpot. I wasn't using a handlebar bag or saddlebag, and nothing is lashed to the racks. Everything is packed away.
I got through Superior WI and headed east on Hwy 13 for a few miles. It is mostly flat with dips like the one above every mile or two when it crosses a river or creek flowing towards Lake Superior.
I wanted to get over to Hwy 2, so I crossed the few miles south on Cty D into Poplar WI. The above picture shows a field and the distant ridge line I would cross in Maple, Wi. Hwy 2 is the major east/west route across northern Wisconsin between Minnesota and the U.P. of Michigan. It had some heavy tourist traffic that was making me nervous. The only good part was the 25 mph winds at my back making for a very easy day. This wind would push me all day.

Around 50 miles into my trip I hit the town of Iron River. I stopped at a convenience store to stock up on water. I found a gallon of water for $1.59. I was able to top off all my bottles. Three bicycle water bottles and two, 1 liter Nalgene bottles. Since I was planning to stealth camp, I needed enough water to get me through the rest of the ride that day, my dinner, breakfast the next day and the first hour or two on the road.
To get away from the traffic on Hwy 2 I took Cty H southeast out of Iron River. This was a great decision. After a few miles the traffic dropped off to a trickle. The route had beautiful north woods scenery, interspersed with small lakes and a lot of vacation cabins and homes.
Here's an excellent example of some of the scenery (above and below).
Just before hitting Delta, WI I heard something rustling in the ground cover beside the road, and then the sound of something climbing a tree. I was thinking, by the sound of it, it was much bigger than a squirrel. I looked over my shoulder and spotted a bear hanging off the side of a tree. Odd, I thought. Most of the time you only see the back end of a black bear as it's running away from you. This one was staring right at me.
As I rode away, I watched it over my shoulder. I realized it wasn't full grown. I stopped, pulled out my camera, and rode back towards it. The whole time I was scanning everywhere for the momma bear that must be close by. This was risky business. I got the above picture with the 4x optical zoom on my camera while shooting into the sun. I took the picture and got the heck out of there before mom showed up. Click the picture to enlarge.
I rode another 20 miles before getting back to Hwy 2. Across those fields is the hwy. On the other side is the hillsides I was hoping to find a place to camp for the night.
I'm sure glad I left my fireworks at home.

At Ino, Wi there is a forest service road that goes north for exactly 20 miles. It is known by local cyclists at the sweetest, smoothest asphalt in all of Wisconsin. It is like riding one big, two lane wide, 20 mile long bike path through the National Forest. During those 20 miles only 5 vehicles passed me.
It was about 6:00 pm, I was in the 70 mile range for the day and decided it was time to start scouting for a campsite. I should probably note that camping like this is most likely not completely legal. I didn't pass any Forest Service Offices or self-pay kiosks, so I had to bend the rules a bit. Around mile 76 on the day, after generally gaining elevation for 6 miles, I looked up to see a stand of pine trees up above a steep embankment. I got off the bike, and struggled up the hill and found the above spot out of sight from the road. This was as good as it was going to get. I had expected to be in the woods being eaten alive by mosquitoes. This was so much better. A 360 degree view and very windy. The mosquitoes never had a chance in those open winds. The temperature was right around 70 degrees, cooling to the mid-50's by sunset. Easy to stay warm in those conditions.
One advantage to camping in these cooler temps on an overnighter is you don't have to limit yourself to dehydrated foods. I brought fresh veggies from our farm share to stir fry.
I also packed cheese to top it off with. However, I did use dehydrated rice. Last week I pre-cooked long grain brown rice and the dehydrated it on our dehydrator so that it would be quick-cooking out on the ride. Yum, Yum!
As I was cooking the sun was starting to set and the clouds started to color up.

I had a wild light show to watch while I ate my dinner. And on top of it all, no sounds from any humans. No traffic at all on the road. And the nearest person had to be at least 5 miles away. As soon as the last light was gone the wind stopped, almost as if someone flipped the switch on a wind machine. The mosquitoes descended quickly on my campsite. I headed into the tent.

DAY TWO: 90 miles

I always say I sleep better in a tent than anywhere else in the world. This time was no exception. A full nine hours of dreamed filled slumbering. During the night the temps dropped into the high 40's. When I got up the sky was already filled with sun. It lasted an hour, clouded up completely, and then cleared again a few hours later. Today would have lighter winds and temps in the mid-70's and low humidity. Absolutely perfect conditions, as far as I'm concerned. I do not like hot weather.
I finished riding the sweet asphalt. It seemed to go on.....

(a small, bog surrounded pond off the side of the road)

....and on....

....and on....

....and on....and it was heavenly!

The Forest Service Road ends at Cty C. Going north it takes another ten miles to get to the shore of Lake Superior on the Bayfield Pennisula at Cornocopia, WI. It's just west of the Apostle Islands. It was here that I would learn I had a longer day than I had planned. I had already gone 25 miles. A road sign read, Port Wing 15. I knew it was another 50 miles home from there. Doing the math a couple of times in my head kept giving me the same result. I would have to do a 90 mile day to get home. I wasn't too concerned. I was feeling awesome. I started to force myself to eat and drink almost non-stop to make sure I wouldn't bonk before making it home. It worked.
Hwy 13 would be my route most of the rest of the day. It was the most rolling of the roads I had ridden so far. This was actually a pretty good climb out of Cornocopia.

A few miles past Port Wing, I pulled into a State Wayside Rest Stop for some lunch and a break from the bike. It was one of the few spots along this highway that takes you right along the shoreline. There isn't the constant access to the lake that you get driving the North Shore in Minnesota.
An inland sea in the middle of the Midwest. The muddy water is from a nearby river emptying into the lake.

Highway 13 is also part of the bigger Lake Superior Circle Tour Route. And on this day there were more motorcycles than automobiles driving this road. While taking my break several groups of riders came and went. The two above came in, and right away starting heading across the grass to where I was sitting on the picnic table. It was a younger guy and an older guy. Father and son I would learn. The younger guy came right up to my bike and started looking it over while asking me about my trip. We made small talk. I asked where they were from. The father said he was from Rice Lake and his son was from Waterloo where he worked as a designer at Trek Bicycle. He continued to check out the LHT. I eventually asked what he worked on at Trek. He said road bikes, specifically the Madone and Lance Armstrong's TT bikes back when he was racing the TDF. Wow! That was cool I thought. We talked some more about the LHT. He said Trek's 520 touring bike was long overdue for a redesign. Could the success of the LHT be driving some interest in this market at Trek?? Anyhow, it was a brief conversation with two very nice people. I never did ask him his name.
The rest of the ride went well, all considering. My legs stayed strong until the end. I was very tired once I got home, but was very pleased I could knock off 166 miles with a loaded bike in two days. I purposely stealth camped to practice doing this kind of camping. I hope to do much more bicycle travel in the future including an extended tour or two. It's the cheapest way to go and I prefer the solitude to staying at noisy campgrounds. Although I have to say I'm not completely comfortable doing this kind of camping, and don't think I ever will be. But I do possess the necessary camping skills to make it successful.

Here's a quote from Kenny Bloggins that was on the Surly Bikes Blog:

"The LHT is a kick ass bike. First you get on and you're all "It feels weird. Low. Heavy. I don't know guys." And then you put a bunch of crap on it, bags filled with your clothes and a tent that you bought for car camping but you don't want to buy another one just for this so you'll live, and a bunch of other stuff, and then you try to lift your bike and you're all like Woah, I can't pedal this much weight. And then you try. And you can. And it doesn't feel that much different to ride than it did without all the extra stuff loaded up. A bit more effort up the hills, but not that much. And that's when the light goes on and you go Oooooohhhhhh....I get it now."

This is exactly my experience with the Long Haul Trucker. It's been worth every cent!!

<a href=""&am to Bayfield County Loop</a><br/><a href="">Fin more Bike Rides in Duluth, Minnesota</a>
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