Have you ever gotten those reminiscent feelings that come with something you are so familiar with from the past, but have been completely removed from that experience for so long, that when you reexperience it, it becomes much more special?
As a kid, my family would head “up north” to a place called JW Wells State Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It revealed a stark contrast from suburban life in the Chicagoland area. It was a summer getaway, to escape the heat, to escape the hustle and bustle, and to live life simply, or at least that’s what I assumed my parents were hoping to achieve, even with three rambunctious children.
To me, this experience is forever engraved in my mind, mainly because it was my first real taste of what I know today as the great outdoors. A place that was vast, open and free of shopping malls, interstates, and McDonalds. We would stay in a cabin with basic accommodations; just convenient essentials like bunk beds and lights.
This memory was all forgotten to me after moving to Colorado and spending the last third of my life there. But after moving back to the Midwest a few months ago, it was a goal to get back “up north” to experience what I remembered as a highlight of my childhood.
On a recent weekend, my wife and I decided to do just that. With a big help from our friend, Josh, we were able to make the trek up to his cabin to spend the weekend alone, in solitude amongst the birch and pine. A beautiful yet simple cabin, positioned alongside a river; it was absolutely perfect.
In the moment, I was reminded to slow down, enjoy my cup of coffee and stare out the window as the snow slowly fell to the ground. We played vinyl records, enjoyed each other’s company, and didn’t pick up our phones.
What would a trip be without bikes? Yes, I know there is more to life than bikes, but the riding conditions were primo. Shallow snowpack allowed almost all the singletrack trails to be ridden on a fat bike without any grooming. So, we went further north on our first day to pedal Mt. Ashwabay. The ski area was still closed, and the parking lot to the trailhead was empty. We had the place to ourselves, a few chipmunks, and birds. We pedaled, hooted, and were giddy to lay down some fresh tracks on such a neat network of tails.
The next day we went to Rock Lake, where the snow was falling, and the tracks were lean. Again, no one in the parking lot when we got there, and no one when we left. It was Global Fat Bike weekend and we got to enjoy the solitude we were looking for. It was a pretty special moment to have the trails all to ourselves, and it was a pretty special weekend to live life on the slow end.
Lindsay and I kept talking about a cabin in the woods on our drive back to Minneapolis, and how nice it would be to have one of our own. But for now, going up north to a place that feels so special and pristine is good enough. Sure, living in the mountains was great and the vistas were spectacular, but there is a special draw to the woods in the Upper Midwest.
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I’ve always had a bike since I was a kid, riding the dirt jumps in the park behind my house. It was not until 2010 when I finally got on a mountain bike again. Things kinda took off in 2012 when a friend and I took on the Colorado Trail in 10 days. It was an eye-opening experience that lead me to take on the Arizona Trail Race 300 in 2013 – my first bikepacking race. Basically, after that, the rest is history.