Northwest Trail - Day Two: Rolling With The Punches

We continue with part two of the Northwest Trail story with guest blogger Hansi Johnson. Click here for part one. -Kid

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I awoke to the pitter-patter of condensation on my forehead. As light and as packable as our sweet tent was, it was a “little” tight with two guys inside and drying gear. Because of that I was a little closer to the tent wall that I would have liked.

The weather was certainly changing as well. It was about 18F or so when we went to sleep at 10pm, now at 6am it was 22F. A warm-up was happening and that did not bode well for fatbiking off trail.

We scrambled out of bed, loaded up the bikes, kicked out the coals and rolled on towards Floodwood. Along our ride we passed some really old farms, many obviously dating back to the original “ditchbankers” I spoke of earlier.

To drive through Floodwood you would not think that much of it. To ride into it after a long day in the bush and it is like Mecca. There are gas stations, a bar, a hotel and even a grocery store. Even more important though is the Floodwood Bridgemans! I'm not sure how many Bridgemans do breakfast, but this one did and we owned the place!

The owner of the cafe was named Rick and he cooked our meal, which we devoured. Rick was really excited to see some cyclists and it was fun to hobnob with him. We also learned a bit of local history and that was even cooler.

Once we filled our bellies and restocked our bags we shoved off for the St. Louis River. What a scene change! Compared to the East Savanna River this was immense. In my planning I was a bit scared of this section of river as I have only basic knowledge of it and that was from some paddling trips. That fear was alleviated as we started pedaling down it.

Numerous snowmobiles had ripped down it in the past few days, and thankfully so, because the snow pack had warmed up to the point where it felt like we were riding through molasses. Slow is not descriptive enough of a word.
Once again I found myself daydreaming about history. At this location in the ride we were hitting the edge of what was once one of the most valuable pine forests in the world. Of course within 70 years it was all gone, clear-cut to the dirt.

On this same stretch of river we also passed close, if not over, the railroad track that literally sparked the insane fires of 1918 that almost burned Cloquet, Minnesota to the ground. Riding on the “Louie” felt remote even though US 2 was always a mile or less away from its banks to the south. To the north though, well there ain't much over on that side.

We witnessed lots of bird life including a huge flock of Cedar Waxwings that were bathing and drinking in an open pool on the river.

The two of us pushed on as long as we could, but the pace was agonizingly slow and we started to realize that we were going to have to bail once we hit Paupores Road. Although I hated to break off the route we had selected, we needed to get to Thomson that night in order to finish the tour on Sunday. So with heavy hearts, but happy legs, we opted for gravel. It speaks to the adaptability of the bike in the fact that we had that option. Had we been on skis, we would have been walking at that point, although we might also have been moving a LOT faster!

Riding the road was actually an interesting break. We had pumped up our tires, so we felt like we were rolling effortlessly after a day and half of breaking trail. The roads had zero traffic so we rode side by side and talked BS the whole time. There were many spots to get back on the river and we kept probing to see if the riding had improved at all. In most cases it had not.

We did try however, and knocked off a few more river miles. Overall though, we left some future sections on the table for the next attempt.

As we neared Cloquet darkness started to gather and the winds were really picking up. We had assumed we'd be getting pounded by snow all afternoon, but somehow it had held off longer than expected. The storm had other plans for us.

A few miles north of Cloquet we found that the riding on the St. Louis was doable again. So we hopped on the ice and decided to roll into town via the water. It was a trudge. Those few miles took about an hour and half and we were starting to hit the wall. By the time we made it into Cloquet, it was officially dark. We plugged in our lights and worked the backroads to my home in Thomson.

This was our hood. Eric had grown up in Esko and of course I currently reside here, so we covered this ground quickly. In my official trip plan we were to hit the Dalles of the St. Louis. However in the dark and with the deep snowpack we skipped it.

In reality the Northwest Trail portage skips this section of river as well. From Cloquet, in fact, it was overland all the way to Fond Du Lac so we actually did this section in good form. This part of the route however is by far our favorite section and we have ridden it, many, many times so it was a real bummer to have to skip it. Again, more fodder for the next attempt!

Landing at home was a treat in itself. We had beds, food, and a great nights rest. Another huge perk of a “Stay Venture”!

Just before bed I read the weather report in the paper. It did not seem as bad as they predicted so we relaxed a bit. The ride in on Sunday would be a cake walk, victory lap for sure!

The restless demons from the previous night did not return, we slept deeply, and maybe even a little late.

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Will Hansi and Eric make it to Lake Superior? Find out Friday.

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Explore Fatbike Guest Blogger Mukluk Snow Biking Touring

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