The following is a true story, only the names have been changed, to protect the guilty.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

North Shore Trail

The North Shore Trail stretches 146 miles from Duluth to Grand Marias, several miles inland from the shore of Lake Superior. The trail is primarily for snowmobiles, but other forms of travel such as ski, foot, and bike are acceptable, Chris and I chose bike!
This shelter was awesome, I wanted to stay
Several months ago, while enjoying an evening campfire after the North Woods Adventure, the wheels were set in motion. Mr Finch told me of his plan to ride the entire North Shore Trail in the winter. I agreed to his idea, and over the next couple months we  recruited several others to join in, but when push came to shove it would only be the two of us. Chris' wife was kind enough to shuttle us up to Grand Marias early Friday morning. From there we would simply ride back to their house in Duluth.
first night
Our goal of riding the 150 miles was not that lofty since we planned for three days of winter bike-packing. Fifty miles a day should be easy for a couple of Arrowhead die-hards, right? Wrong! The unseasonably warm and snow free winter has made the trail hell. We were unwilling to start right in Grand Marias, but instead left from Pincushion Mountain Trail head. No one (snowmobile) had even been out on the trail for the year yet, and from Pincushion we still had to push our bikes up hill for a good mile, at which time we finally got to groomed trail. That was kind of a wuss move but the first few miles would have been pushing up hill and we were eager to get to some trail we could actually ride.
Even the groomed stuff wasn't that good. By the time we got rolling at 9:30 am the temps were already around 30 deg F and the trail was soft. It appeared the groomer had been out the previous night and trail had not really set-up yet. If it were not for a single, twelve inch wide ribbon, down the center of the trail, where the grooming apparatus left a hard packed track for us to float on, we would have been S-O-L.
Crash on a down hill when I just slightly came off the sweet spot
Once we got into the rhythm of "reading the trail", and finding the perfect hard packed line, the miles were ticking off........ slowly. By mid-day I started having doubts about achieving 50 for the day. By 3:30 pm we had a ride time of five hours and only 30 ++ miles when we arrived at a very inviting shelter. Our plan was to camp at shelters along the way, the next one, twelve miles down the trail was our target . At our rate of travel we would have another 3 hours, based on the tortoise-like pace the trail had afforded us on the last seven. We were here to have fun, at the moment we needed food and the thought of slogging for another three plus hours had us saying "F" it, were staying here for the night and having a good time.
I was pleased with our decision  I think Chris was too. We set up camp before it got dark (at 4:30 pm), built a big fire and feasted on all manner of dried, salty, and sweet, food.
Energy Snowcone
The next morning the trail was even softer than the day before, but the center, hard packed, ribbon of solid rideable snow, remained. We were both in good spirits and had a much faster pace than the day before. Our new plan was to make it to Finland for dinner and stay at a shelter a couple miles out of the small town.
Chris is holding his tooth/crown in right hand, which just fell out. He is also enjoying an energy snow cone
Our hopes were dashed when the sleet started coming down around 1pm. It appeared to be snow as it fell, but when it touched our clothing it melted instantly. Within a half mile or so, my whole jacket was wet. At 34 deg it was miserable, and if this continued it could be dangerous. Fortunately the next shelter was only a few miles ahead. When we got there our goal was to start a fire and get warmed up. Everything was soaked, even the tiny branches under the pine trees that are perfect for starting a fire. I grabbed a bunch of these and enough Birch bark to fill a five gallon bucket. The bark was soaked too, and after about ten attempts to get it burning it finally went.
Now that's a porta potty
When the sleet turned to rain around 2:30pm we were trapped in our little trail-side shelter. We decided to stay put for the night when our only option would be to ride to Tofte, approximately ten miles, and stay the night at a hotel. We could have made it, but the only thing we could have accomplished would be, lightening our wallets on lodging fees, and further relegating ourselves to whimpdom.
Second night, home sweet home
The extra cloud cover brought nightfall sooner, and by 4:30 pm it was pitch black. All we had to do now was cook and eat, and keep the fire going. It was a really enjoyable night shooting the breeze with Chris, snacking on food reserved for our big ride that was now shattered, and taking turns running out into the rain to gather firewood.
This is really fun to ride in
The next morning the trail was complete mush. There would be no riding today except to get off the trail and down to Hwy 61 to the town of Tofte. We had to push the bikes down hill to make any forward progress, with almost no riding for the first few miles. As we neared the lake the snow became less and less, with virtually nothing left right near the lake.
Airing-up in Schroder before we ride the road to Tofte
Although it was a cloudy windy day and we had just bailed out on or mission, my spirits soared as we reached the lake. The North Shore is one of my favorite places on earth and being near it has a way of erasing those negative thoughts. The last four miles of riding pavement up the shore were very enjoyable, it didn't hurt that we were also going three times faster than we had been going the two previous days. I'm not a fan of averaging 6 mph.
Yes we are happy and i made him put his hands up 
In the end we ended up with one third of our 150 mile goal, I'm cool with that, I still had a great time. Thanks  Chris, for including me in the ride, and the hospitality. Big thanks to Vi for the van ride up and back. Extra big thanks to my wife and kids for allowing me time to pursue these adventures.     Chris' ride report, check it out, he also has some great photos in older posts
When I find it, I'll post the pic of me doing the same pose with a different bike 12 to 14 years ago at Father Baraga's Cross


  1. Nice write up Josh! That was an awesome trip, thanks for breaking trail and getting those fires up and going so fast. I did a write-up on if you want to link it over.

    1. I saw your write up, it looks great, it was late last night when I wrote this and forgot the link. I'll do it now

  2. You amaze me Josh. Great adventures.