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Plan "C": S24O bike/backpack trip

Posted Jul 23 2011 10:36am
I've had this past week off. Things did not go as planned. Same thing happened last year. Let me start with last weekend. For the fifteenth season in a row Susan and I drove down to Madison, Wisconsin. This is one of the few traditions we seem to have developed in our relationship (we don't really celebrate holidays or many other typical celebrations). Fourteen of the last fifteen years my parents have driven over from southwest Michigan to meet us there. We take a three day weekend and spend two evenings seeing productions at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin . It is a 32 year old production company that does Shakespeare and other classic theater in a natural setting on a wooded hilltop inside a naturally acoustic amphitheater. Excellent productions in a unique setting. I highly recommend you check this out if you live in this region. It draws people from Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities, as well as many other points.

Plan "A", there is 350 miles of great cycling between Madison and Duluth. The plan the last two years was to take my LHT along and tour back to Duluth. Both years a heat wave has hit the week I was to do this. After a June with temps in the 50's and 60's in Duluth, I was not prepared to ride in weather with heat indexes above 100F (38C). I need a good three weeks to acclimate to heat...and I'm not sure I'd ever acclimate to 100 degree weather. Until I'm acclimated my body seems to overreact to heat. I sweat so heavily I can't drink enough water to replace it at the same rate I'm losing it. People tell me, "Drink lots of water, you'll be fine". It doesn't work for me. I can sweat buckets. I had to cancel my plans. Made me sad, but it was a good choice.

Plan "B". Backpacking. I haven't done as much backpacking the past few years as I would have liked to. Mainly because it's something Susan and I do together and she's had injuries and health issues that have prevented her from doing much walking/hiking. I had to go into work Wednesday morning for a brief meeting. I figured I'd rent a car and drive over to the U.P. (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and further explore some of the backcountry in the Porcupine Mountains . I'd leave right after the meeting. Susan and I did some backpacking there in 2008. I've been wanting to go back ever since. I waited until the last minute to try and reserve a rental car. Guess what? No rental cars available at the airport. Duluth is a tourist destination. And all those tourists had taken all the rentals. Plan B canceled.

I still wanted to get outdoors and sleep in a tent. That's what bike touring and backpacking does for me. Gets me outdoors for extended periods of time and I get to sleep in a tent. All things I love to do. Susan and I did get to have a wonderful evening together Wednesday. Dinner at our favorite local Thai restaurant and some fine music at UMD's Weber Hall .

Plan "C": This year normally cool Duluth wasn't immune to the heat wave around the nation. We had our first 90 degree weather in five years along with the dew points in the 70's. This type of weather is rare here. About Tuesday I noticed the dew points and heat was predicted to break on Thursday. Highs in the low 80's with much lower humidity. At the last minute I threw together a S24O.....an S24O with a twist. This time of year it's hard to get a camping spot without a reservation. Again, this area is a vacation destination. To complicate matters, Minnesota State Parks have been closed the past few weeks due to the government shut down in the state. I was browsing the Wisconsin DNR site and noticed 1 of 3 backpack sites at Pattison State Park available for Thursday night. I reserved that site. Even though this park is in another state from where I live, it's only 19 miles from my house. I have bike camped there once before in a drive-in site on the first night of a three day trip. That being the only time I've visited this park.

S24O bike-backpack 002
I needed to take my backpack to carry my gear. The backpack sites are 1.6 miles from the trailhead. I tried to figure a way to fit my backpack on my Surly LHT. I decided it would be easier on the Blue Truck/Xtracycle. The partially loaded backpack is on the left side and the rest of the gear is on the right side organized in tote bags.


S24O bike-backpack
After loading up the bike I fueled up with a piece of Gluten-free blueberry pie I had made. Local blueberries weren't quite ready earlier this week, but my parents brought us 10 lbs of fresh blueberries they purchased in Michigan.


S24O bike-backpack
I set out at 1:20 in the afternoon. It was well into the 80's by then. The trip required crossing the bridge into Wisconsin, riding through some Superior, WI neighborhoods and then taking WI Hwy 35 south to the park. Th park sits on top of that low ridgeline way up ahead.


S24O bike-backpack
Park sign along Hwy 35.


S24O bike-backpack
Just over the top of this hill is the park entrance.


Things got a little interesting when I checked in. The young woman working in the Park Office didn't see me pull up on a bicycle. When she was checking me in she asked me for my license plate number. I said I arrived on a bicycle. She already knew I had reserved a backpack site. She gave me a bewildered look and excused herself for a moment. I could see through a little window into the back office. She was discussing something with another park ranger. She came back out and said she'd never had anyone arrive on a bicycle before. She told me I couldn't ride the bike on the trails, but I could walk the bike in to the backpack sites. I said I had no intentions of riding the bike in. I was planning on locking the bike up at the trailhead. She got more flustered. She seemed to think that was a bad idea. That's when the other park ranger came out from the back. He also thought it was a bad idea to lock my bike in the picnic area near the trailhead. I had a feeling this park has had it's share of car break-ins or something. That's when the guy told me I could lock it up down by their maintenance building in an area restricted to park personnel. I thought this option was a great idea and thought it was nice of them to offer it. I thanked them and headed off to lock up.
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All locked up behind the dumpsters and next to the maintenance building.

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One thing I didn't realize until I was on the trail and saw this marker, was that I would be hiking most of the way on the North Country Trail . I didn't realize the route came through this park. The NCT is a 4600 mile planned footpath stretching from New York State to North Dakota. The Superior Hiking Trail is part of that system.

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The route starts by threading its way between Interfalls Lake and the drive-in campsites.


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A faint blue blaze trail marker on the tree.
I didn't know what to expect since I've never hiked any trails in this park. I was pleasantly surprised to find a very wooded park. And despite being only 1.6 miles from the main campground, I was surprised to find it felt like I was in a much more secluded area. The only clue it wasn't as secluded as it felt was some sounds from the nearby highway. And those faded as the traffic decreased later in the evening.
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A thick forest canopy helped keep the midday heat from penetrating the forest floor. It seemed much cooler than it had been while on the bicycle out on the asphalt.


S24O bike-backpack
The way was well marked. All three backpack sites were grouped together in the same area along the Black River. Yet they were far enough apart with a healthy curtain of trees to provide a fairly solitary backwoods experience. All three sites were occupied, but I rarely heard any noise from the other sites other than the occasional sound of wood chopping with a hatchet.


S24O bike-backpack
Again, I didn't know what to expect but was very pleased to find the site was located right on the banks of the Black River. My particular site was nestled under the cover of three huge White Pine trees with a fragrant covering of pine needles throughout the campsite. A newer bench and picnic table next to a fire ring were also there. The park map, specific to the backpack sites, they had handed me in the park office said swimming in the Black River was permitted. However, I thought I'd pass. As attractive as a dip in the river sounded. We've had some recent rains and the current of the river was flowing very fast and the water was nearly "black" and muddy as well. There was a 31 foot waterfall just down river from this site that I didn't care to get swept down to.
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Three towering White Pines.


S24O bike-backpack
"His" and "Hers" vault toilets.

Picnic tables, benches, and vault toilets....the height of backcountry luxuries.

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First night in my new-to-me tent . It's a keeper!


S24O bike-backpack
My Rivendell MUSA cycling shorts transition superbly from cycling to hiking. They also would have made a wonderful swimming short if I had decided to risk the stiff currents in the river.

I had a great evening relaxing around this campsite. I don't know when I became a techy. But I came with a Nook eBook reader and an iPod touch. I finished the last 60 pages of one book and read the first 50 pages of another one. Then I listened to two podcasts on the iPod. Then as the sun went down I sat on the bench and listened to some Mozart violin concertos. I could still hear the sounds of the river through the earpieces over the music. Normally the sound of the river is all I need, but the Mozart seemed to enhance the experience on this evening.


S24O bike-backpack
After a good sleep, I had a leisurely breakfast with coffee from my Planetary Designs french press mug . I have a copy of Henry David Thoreau's Walden on my Nook. It was nice to sit under the large pines with the birds singing, the sounds of the river and read a few pages of Walden.


S24O bike-backpack
I started my hike out by 9:30. My pack was the lightest it's ever been. I've never been an ultralight backpacker, but I have been slowly purchasing lighter equipment over the past 7 or 8 years. Namely a lighter bag, pad, stove and mess kit, and now a true ultralight tent. It was great moving along under a much lighter pack. I think my current gear now falls within ultralight parameters.


S24O bike-backpack
I made it back to the lake and main park area pretty quick without much effort. This park is only 8 miles from Superior WI and gets a lot of day use. The picnic area and beach is very popular. I think the only reason they never see people arriving on bikes is because of the busy highway. Most people aren't willing to ride that stretch even though there is a 4-5 foot wide shoulder.


S24O bike-backpack
This park has the largest waterfall in Wisconsin and the 4th largest this side of the Rockies. Yet I'd never been to the other side of the highway to see it in person. I decided today would be a good day to view the falls with the river flowing so high. So I took the tunnel under the highway to get to the falls area.


S24O bike-backpack
This is where the river goes over a 165 foot drop into a narrow gorge.


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This is the bottom part of the falls. I couldn't capture the entire falls from this viewing platform. I couldn't believe I hadn't taken the time to see these falls before. You'd never guess these spectacular falls were even here as you drive by on the highway only a few feet from the top of the falls.


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The view to the valley as the Black River flows towards it.


S24O bike-backpack
Leaving the park entrance you can see Superior, WI and the hills of Duluth beyond it. It's practically all downhill from here.


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Once in Superior it's only a matter of getting across the bridge and then two miles to home.

Another successful S24O. I was home by noon, yet it seemed more like 48 hours. I hope to do more trips this year. I'll let you know if I do.

As I write this on Saturday at 12:45 pm the temperature in Duluth is 56F/13C degrees with 20 mph winds, and on and off rain. Our cool weather comes back. I prefer this to 100 degrees on the heat index.
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