February 13, 2009: Hwy 2 to the Knotted Pine and Back

Pat and I got a late start on Friday evening but decided to try and get out for a ride to see what the trails were like and test his machine (he's only successfully completed something like 2 rides this whole year where he didn't need to be towed out or get picked up).

I rode from the house down to the corner of Martin and Lavaque Rd where he picked me up since my father-in-law still has my trailer. The Hermantown Trail from Fish Lake to the Martin Rd was in tough shape - there were a number of rocks and such that you had to watch out for and the trail was fairly icy - I doubt I'd ride it again until we got some more snow (although I would still call it rideable right now).

After he picked me up we gassed up at the Lakewood One Stop and then finally got up to the Hwy 2 lot around 7:15pm. We were surprised to see a number (perhaps 10) vehicles in the lot. We chatted briefly with a guy from the cities that had gone up to Grand Marais and back that day - he said the trails weren't bad but were a little rough. We opted to head up the Yukon Trail to the Knotted Pine and were very happy that we did - the trails were beautifully smooth and had a couple of inches of fresh powder on them - you couldn't really ask for better trails at all. We never saw a single sled on the Yukon on the way up to the Knotted Pine or on the way back.

On the way back we explored the "Yukon Spur" trail. The intersection is about 9 miles north of the start of the trail (at the North Shore Trail). The spur trail, as it turns out, comes out on Bear Pit Rd which intersects with Beaver Crossing about a half mile or so inland from the NST intersection at the crossing. If you're coming down the shore and are intending on going up the Yukon (or the other way around), the spur trail will save you about 15 miles instead of having to go back nearly all the way to the Hwy 2 lot and then up the Yukon. Definitely a savings! I always like to explore some new trails that I haven't been on, although usually time and/or gas in the tank doesn't allow for it, so I'm glad we got a little exploring in (even though we ended up back at the truck at about 11:30pm).

Next weekend should be a 300+ mile ride, probably up to the end of the Gunflint (starting at Hwy 2). Should be fun!

Total miles this ride: 114
Total miles this year: 1322

February 7, 2009: Home to Pequaywan Inn and back

I managed to sneak out for a ride on Saturday afternoon. I left from home and was supposed to meet up with Jamie (and his whole family) and Pat at the Normanna Pit in the mid-afternoon. I arrived at the pit but no one was there yet, so I headed down the trail towards the Martin Rd to see just where I would meet up with them. I passed Ruth and the kids at the Lester River shelter, but no Jamie and Pat... Thought that was odd... I stopped at the shelter for a little bit (and checked on my geocache while I was there), then headed back up the trail to catch up with Ruth and the kids. When we were just about to the pit Jamie came up from behind. After chatting with him for a few moments I learned that Pat was having problems with his sled overheating (he had replaced one of three radiators in the past week after tearing it off with a rock). We ended up continuing on down the trail while Jamie went back to help Pat.

We hung out at the Normanna pit for perhaps 15 minutes, then headed down the trail and up the Pequaywan trail towards the Inn. We stopped at the first shelter (I believe it's Hanson's shelter) to take in the sunset and wait for Jamie and Pat to catch up.

We waited for what seemed like forever (30 minutes maybe?), then decided that they must have had larger problems and weren't coming. The decision was made to continue on to the Inn on our own. When we got to the Inn, after we had just shut the machines off for a minute or two, they came rolling up behind us. We all went in and had something to drink (Jamie's family started off as getting just something to drink, then a basket of fries, then all of a sudden most of the family was eating). :)

On the way home Pat was telling me how well the machine was running. Bad idea. Next thing you know it's acting like it fouled a plug (not surprising as he's running mixed gas after his recent engine rebuild), but the plug wasn't fouled. Back to the garage for him (I have to say that I feel really bad given all of the time and effort he's put into the machine and the little bit of riding he's gotten out of it in return this year).

I had originally told Natalie I would be home around 8pm. I ended up getting home about 8:45, although everyone had been sleeping since 8 anyway.

All in all a good ride for me, but a bummer for Pat...

Total miles this ride: 98
Total miles this year: 1208

January 25th, 2009: Beargrease

Sunday was the start of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. I've participated in the race as a volunteer for a little over 20 years now, with about 17 of those years being with the Beargrease Amateur Radio Coalition (BARC).

This year I worked net control, which is like the central hub of BARC's activity, for the start of the race (typically the busiest time for net control). On Sunday evening I headed out on the trail with Rick, KB0BDN, and rode the sled from Billy's Checkpoint up to the Hwy 2 checkpoint north of Two Harbors.

The temps were pretty cold, in the teens below zero, so it was a challenge to stay warm a couple of times. Rick runs the "trail sweep" for the race, meaning that he rides behind the last musher to make sure that there are no problems, etc (he's a trained EMT). He doesn't ride right up next to them, but rather hangs back a few miles, normally at the last road crossing that they crossed until they cross the next one, then he moves up to that one. I rode the sweep with him last year pretty much as an after-thought, and this year he invited me to come along again.

For most road crossings we didn't hang around very long (10 minutes or so), but when we got to the Drummond crossing outside of Two Harbors we had an hour wait to let the last team get to the next point (which was the checkpoint itself). Standing around for an hour (it was about 8:30pm at that point), in the cold and wind, was a challenge.

We got to the Hwy 2 checkpoint at about 9:45, at which point I warmed up a little bit in the truck, and then headed back home (about a 45 mile ride), and got home around midnight.

All in all a fun evening. I never look forward to the race, but once I'm in the middle of things I really enjoy it and usually wish I had allocated more time to get more involved.

Pictures that I took from the race (some on Sunday and some on Wednesday showing the finishing team) can be found here.

Total miles this ride: 86
Total miles this year: 1110

January 17, 2009: Swan River, Marcell, Bigfork, Effie, Northhome, Bemidji, Deer River, Cohasset, Swan River (with detours)

I should start by saying that I hope this never happens again.

Started out in the morning with Jamie picking me up from the house at 7am. This was supposed to be our Lake of the Woods ride, although since Pat managed to melt his engine last weekend, we postponed the ride a month or so to give him time to rebuild it.

Jamie told me the night before that he wanted to be back home for his daughter's soccer game at 9pm. We figured that leaving at 7am and riding the route I proposed would get us back with plenty of time to spare. The route:

Start in Grand Rapids, ride to Cohasset, Deer River, Cass Lake, Bemidji. Catch lunch. Ride up the Blue Ox trail out of Bemidji to Northome, then down to Effie, Bigfork, Marcell, and back to Grand Rapids. I estimated roughly that it was 212 miles. Roughly. To be safe I would have added 10% to that (to make it 233), but we never really got that far in the planning stages.

I suggested to Jamie on Friday night that maybe we wanted to consider just trailering to Swan River instead of Grand Rapids. It would add a little mileage to the trip, but we had all day, right? (Next time we should really do the math before making last minute changes like that. Turns out it's probably about 30 miles one way.)

And so that's how it started. We departed Swan River at about 8:15 on the sleds, heading north to hook up with the Penguilly Trail. Right off the bat, between Swan River and the Penguilly Trail, we missed a turn. Never saw the intersection. Don't know how we missed it. Add about 10 more miles to the trip.

Got up to the Taconite Trail, hung a right to go to Cohasset. Wrong. Cohasset is a left. We both read a trail map/sign along the way and both thought it was left, so we're not sure now what went wrong - if we misread the sign or if the sign was wrong. Anyway, by the time we figured it out we were a good 10-15 miles up the trail at the Clearwater shelter. No loss though - by going this way we were really just running the route in reverse, as my planned route had us coming back this way.

Continued up the trail, got some gas in Marcell, and rode and rode and rode. Got gas again in Northome, and got some food in Bemidji. Studied the maps in Bemidji while we ate. Should have maybe studied more.

Left Bemidji...wait - before I go on, I must say that I was overall disappointed with the trails around Bemidji. They were, on average, poorly marked. The Blue Ox was very poorly groomed. They obviously had some recent snowfall and high winds which made some decent drifting, but that aside it was still poorly groomed. I should have taken a picture of some of the signs - a yield sign 3 feet before the intersection that you need to yield at. Or better yet, the yield sign on the on the other side of the intersection (we both couldn't help but chuckle at that).

So, we left Bemidji, and headed to Cass Lake, then off to Deer River. Heading down the Soo Line trail, we missed our left turn (through a combination of not seeing the trail intersection - it's dark now - and the map that we were using not being accurate about where the intersection occurred). By the time that we get that all straightened out we've gone 10 miles past where we needed to turn. Turn around and head back.

Up the trail, cross Hwy 2, and come out at Lake Winnie. Hang a right at an intersection right at the road (this one is on the map, or so we thought). Keep going. Awesome trail - conditions were great, trail was windy but fun, and signed very well. Lots of arrows for the turns. Keep going. Go through a small town. This was somewhat odd - neither of us could place the name of the town - we knew we weren't to Deer River yet (and boy weren't we ever, but I'm getting ahead of myself). Keep going a few more miles. Trail intersection. What?!? There's not supposed to be another intersection. There's also a sign there that says "Squaw Lake 3m". The arrow points back to the way we just came. Great, now we know the name of the town. Get the map out.

This is the biggest 'oops' of the ride. Squaw Lake is halfway to Northome. This is about...23 miles out of the way. How did we get here? Apparently we missed an intersection that we needed to take a right at, but we TOOK a right at Lake Winnie. Mass confusion. Back to Squaw Lake, get gas, and keep backtracking. By now it's getting late - probably about 10pm or so.

We examined the map closely, determined pretty closely (within a couple of miles) where our missed intersection had to lie. When we got to the missed intersection it was clear how we made the mistake. To say it wasn't our fault wouldn't be exactly correct, although it was very poorly marked (ok, it wasn't marked), and the dark conditions made it very difficult to see. The signs (those excellent signs I spoke of earlier) also misled us.

You see, when we came down the trail originally, moving along at perhaps 40mph, we came to a hard left. There are no less than 3 reflective arrows pointing left, plus a sign with some mileages that are all to the left. This is no different than any of the other countless hard 90s that we've encountered on this trail in the last 15 miles or so. Hang a left and give it some gas! What we missed is that the trail ALSO went straight, which is what we should have done. However you don't see the trail going straight at night all that well - the sign with the mileages is in the middle of the intersection and points left. A large reflective orange diamond with a black arrow is on a post and points to the left. No markings indicating that this is actually a trail intersection. None. None of the mileages on the sign are for towns on the straight part, only for towns on the left part. During the day this is probably clear as a bell. At night, not so much.

After getting on the right trail there we did fairly well the rest of the trip. Made it back to the truck at about 12:15am and on the road about 12:30. Could hardly keep our eyes open on the truck ride home. Home at 1:30.

We ended up being disadvantaged by riding the route in reverse from how it was intended, although we didn't realize it at the time. By riding it in reverse, we committed ourselves to the entire ride without modifications very early in the day. Had we run it as intended, we could have taken a shortcut or two in the afternoon/evening to make it back in a shorter amount of time.

This was the longest ride I have ever gone on, by a good 40-50 miles. It's also the longest time I've spent riding. I've had longer riding days, but they have always involved a breakdown and more time in the truck than on the sled. I'd rather not have a repeat of this one though - it's just a hair too long...

We were very fortunate with no mechanical issues whatsoever. Jamie took the rhubarb award though. I wrote more for this paragraph but decided instead to be nice and end it here. :)

Total miles this ride: 408
Total miles this year: 1024

January 10, 2009: Home to Meadowlands and back to Canyon

Started out in the late morning with finishing up my sled repairs from my last ride, then I rode around the back yard with the kids for a good half hour (that was a blast, riding circles over and over, for them and for me).

After that, I left home and headed up to Canyon to meet up with Jamie and Pat. Our intention was to ride up to the DQ in Grand Rapids for dinner, although it didn't work out quite that way. On the way up (and the trails were absolutely beautiful BTW), Pat's sled died a few miles NW of Meadowlands. We putzed with it on the trail for about an hour and decided to give up on it and haul it out. We pulled it back to Meadowlands and then Pat rode double with Jamie back to Canyon. We loaded my sled up with Jamie (so it will pre-loaded for next weekend's major trek), and then Pat and I went to retrieve his dead sled. By the sounds of it, he's got a compression problem in the motor, so he'll have to do a compression test to see if it's worth salvaging or not. The motor has about 6k-8k miles on it I would guess, but I think he said the sled's at 16k (that's like having 250k-300k on a car).

Miles this ride: 95
Miles this year: 616

January 1, 2009: Home to Dixie's and Back

Rode in the second annual family ride this year from home up to the Normanna Pit where we all gathered (since the North Shore State Trail was closed below Jean Duluth Rd for bridge repairs), and then we all rode up to Dixie's Saloon outside of Two Harbors.

The ride up the Dixie's was pretty much uneventful - nice ride on some nicely groomed trails.

The ride back to the pit went fairly smooth as well.. The real kicker was the ride from the pit back home...

Let's start with some basics:

1. It's dumb to ride alone. I do it a fair amount, and try and let people know my route and when I expect to arrive (in case I don't show - I want them to know where to find the body).

2. There are ice ridges and ice walls on Island Lake. If you live up here, you know that.

3. See #2. I knew it because I was on the lake the week before and SAW them. I knew this because I had slowed down for multiple ridges earlier in my trek across the lake.

Now.. I'm not quite sure how I did it..but I managed to hit one of these walls doing between 40 and 50 MPH.

It doesn't look like much (and it's a little dark - the picture was taken right at dusk).

As soon as I hit the ridge I knew I was in trouble. I had no idea what happened, but had enough sense to bail off the sled as soon as it happened. I was quite lucky to have a safe landing back on the ice (not head first or any other odd positions), and was quite lucky not to have the sled land on me. They always say that any accident you can walk away from was a good one. I was able to get right up, with nothing but my pride hurt. The sled wasn't quite so lucky. I rolled it 180 degrees. I am amazed that I didn't break more on it than I did... The windshield popped off (it's held on by something that is similar to a rubber band - they're made to pop off with some force), although I didn't break or crack it. I did break a trailing arm on the left side of the machine, although there was a fair amount of metal fatigue going on there anyway I think. After I collected my wits, I was eventually able to drive the sled home - my turning was limited because the trailing arm had dropped on the ski, but otherwise things seemed ok.

A little bit of welding later and TLC and it's back to good as new!

Total miles this ride: 191
Total miles this year: 521

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