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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mille Lacs

View from the boat launch...Cove Bay
I'm a firm believer in not letting an opportunity pass when I here it knock. This was the case for a mid-week adventure on Lake Mille Lacs in northern Minnesota. My dad was on the lake Saturday and showed me some pictures, the surface was a mixture of bare, two foot thick ,clear ice and patches of crusted shallow snow drifts. The time for a fat-bike ride across it's frozen surface was prime.
First and only pressure ridge on our way south to north

Spirit Island

Nearing the center of the lake

The Arctic ?

We took a little break in the center of the lake 
 If your from here, you all have at least heard of the lake. If your not from here...Lake Mille Lacs is the second largest inland lake in the state. It's mostly round, not too deep, at an average of 20-30 feet, and is approximately 18 miles long, north to south, and 14 miles wide, east to west. I was interested in an 18 mile north to south fat-bike ride when I put the call out to any takers.  Three answered ,but only two would be able to make it, Best in Schow and Stumpy. Noticeably missing was ArcFlash, he is a master at reading ice and always a good guy to have along on an outing. The three of us met in Minneapolis, loaded gear and bikes into my van and headed north by 7am. With some minor rush-hour traffic and a pit stop for snacks and caffeine we were on our bikes by 10 am. We departed from the south end of the lake near Onamia, specifically from Cove Bay at the public boat launch. From there we rode north west 2.5-3 miles for tiny, Spirit Island, not much more than a very large pile of rocks. It was interesting none the less with  massive ice heaves seemingly taking it over. From the island Stumpy used his GPS to give us a bearing due north. The goal was to get right to the middle of the lake, as far from shore in any direction as possible, as well as ride the longest route across the frozen surface.
your's truly 


Ice heaves near shore 

  Stumpy's not smiling for good reason..he just ran across some thin ice with water over the top of it.....we all did
Stumpy and the GPS kept us right on track and it wasn't long, with the aid of a nice tailwind, that we were in the middle of the lake. It was a bit hazy and in any direction not a trace of land could be seen. The ride across to the north shore went smoothly and without much effort. For the most part the abundance ice fishing houses seemed to be within 3-5 miles of shoreline, the middle of the lake was void of anything but an occasional tire or snowmobile track. The desolation of the landscape was awe inspiring...there was simply nothing there but ice, snow, and biting wind.  Before setting out I thought back to stories I had heard over the years of dangerous pressure ridges and open water even on the coldest days of winter.....this made me a little nervous. We crossed only one ridge on our trek north, it wasn't bad and presented it's self right away, before we even reached Spirit Island. Our way back would be a very different story. Upon reaching the north shore, we poked around a little, hoping to locate a restaurant in Wealthwood. This didn't pan out so we rode southwest to Garrison. As soon as we took our new trajectory we encountered pressure ridges and had to be mindful to find spots that were safe to cross. The tail wind was now a nasty crosswind that was cutting right thorough my jacket, making for a cold ride. The going was a little slower and took quite a bit more effort....... we were still having a great time.
Shanty town

open water 

Bridge constructed over pressure ridge 

In Garrison, we rode for the first decent looking bar/grill we could see from the lake, the Y Club. Thoroughly warmed and fed, we left Garrison at 2 pm and peddled into the wind. It took another two and a half hours to get back, following the curved shoreline of a round lake is obviously longer than a straight shot down the middle. We were also confronted with a dozen or more pressure ridges that demanded careful attention and some scouting for a safe crossing. A few of them had a good "pucker" factor if you know what I mean. At one point I thought Best in Schow was going in as he tested the thickness of the ice on the back side of the ridge. I also found myself briefly riding across clear green ice that was cracking under my weight, Stumpy was right behind me and was going fast enough that all I had time for was to yell "ride fast". Neither of us looked back, we kept motoring and put it out of our heads. Gradually the pressure ridges became easier to cross and less frequent. Soon we were back at our vehicle delighted with our accomplishment, happy to be on land, and thoroughly tired out...... now we just need a bigger lake.
Back Safely 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Satan, Santa, Milk Trucks, and a Rickety Ladder

When the weather gets cold, it's time to head for the warm depths of the underworld.
 One night in early winter our group of explorers visited four different sites. The exploration started immediately after work, when T-Roy and myself had some time to kill before the rest of the group met-up. We entered a run-of-the-mill drain and traveled up stream to a makeshift ladder extending approximately 15 feet to the continuation of it's course. It was constructed of two 2X2 rails with 1X2s for the rungs,each one fasted with a single nail extending no more than a half inch into the 2X2. There was no way either of us were climbing it, still we tried, backing down by the time we hit the third rung. With time running short we exited with a plan for a return trip and a proper ladder.

Osha approved 

Santa or Satan ?
  We met half of our group in Lavender Town and fueled up on burritos before connecting with our two guides for the evening. Our agenda was to explore Satan's and Santa's Cave. I had never been to either and was excited that my request, via, friend of a friend, back in the summer, was going to happen. Once inside I was beginning to question my enthusiasm, this cave was dirty. Not dirty like you would expect a cave, but dirty like fesses. There was an at-one-time enclosed sewage trough running through the first open room. This had a big hole smashed in it from which the sweet odor of gray water was enlightening the room. I poked my head in briefly and didn't really make out any turds, but like I said it was a quick look.
purple boot marks the way 

natural cave ?

  Moving on.... I 'm pretty sure the first part where we entered, was what is known as Santa's, the second section was Satan's proper, judging by pictures referenced in UE blogs and websites. This "cave" was just as dirty as the first, with the main tunnel having a very wet and soupy black floor. It didn't smell too bad, but I sure as hell wouldn't be eating any open faced turkey sandwiches down here. Off of the main tunnel were several branches running perpendicular. These branches looked much more like an actual cave, there was nothing man made about them. They were quite wet and muddy, which made me regret wearing less than the shittiest clothes I have. From our starting point the main tunnel pitched downward,as it did the black water got deeper. None of us were really in the mood for this type of adventure and it was agreed to turn back.  The main room, from which the cave gets it name, complete with a Satan's head effigy carved into the sandstone walls, evaded us on this night.

 The night was not over yet, we were just getting started. From Santa's we drove to Mahogany Town where our guides would show us the Milk Trucks. These caves/tunnels I was familiar with, but had never ventured deep enough to see the famed trucks half buried in sand. The system of tunnels were immense, occupying our time and holding our curiosity for a couple hours. Once we had seen enough we began to make our way back to the vehicles...the long way.

Going down 

  On the surface, our lack of motivation to climb a steep hill, and choice to walk a much longer and flatter route led us to one more surprise. I'll leave it at that and offer only a picture........ Happy exploring.
where are we anyway ?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Intended Purpose

Marginal ice
By now just about everybody and their brother, and sister, have a fat-bike. In my immediate area all the open land that no one used to ride is now quite common for the curious fat-biker. All the local trails get groomed in very quick, simply by the high volume of riders. Breaking trail or finding something new to ride is getting tough................. so we search.       

ArcFlash is the self designated ice thickness tester 

Best in Schow,The Mayor, ArcFlash, and Corky

First opening onto a lake

 Last Saturday we found just what we were looking for, an amazing route in an area our group had only been to once before. The first ride dubbed the Mayor's Ride was one of the most memorable in all my years on a bike. The outing on Saturday was of the same caliber. We started out on a four-wheeler trail that we had done some recon on the previous week. At that time the trail ended and we decided to bushwack around the area and see what we could find. We ended up building a fire cooking lunch and then headed home. By mid-week the three of us that had been on the ride were itching to get back out there with the rest of our crew.
Bikes don't shift too well like this

Wide open


Lunch time
We assembled five riders, all on fat-bikes, loaded with lunch items,water, and snacks... and for the most part, no time constraints. We got going early enough for a Saturday ride, hitting the trail at 10 am. We made two, partially frozen creek crossings right away, which set a good tone for adventure. When we got to where the trail had previously ended, we were delighted that it now kept going. It's not like we need a four-wheeler track to follow in the minimal snow, but it was fast and seemed to follow a route we would enjoy anyway. Initially the trail remained in the woods, but after a few more miles it got out onto a lake. From there it cut through long stands of cattails and onto other bodies of water and repeated the cycle several more times. After we emerged on a very large body of water, we had a grasp on where we were and started making our way to a lunch stop. Riding across most of the lake we settled on a calm,windless spot in the woods to build a fire and cook lunch.
Standard Imperial Fat-Bike Rider issued ultra-light weight everything utensil 

OK....nobody smile

All natural Halloween mask for next year


safety first
 Afterwards we set out for more exploring and eventually looped back to the lunch spot due to thin ice and open water. We had been out for about four hours at this point and began to head back. It was a bit of a slog in the final few miles as the exhaustion of playing all day was starting to come over us. The final challenges were the creek crossings, they were now deeper and not frozen. Soaking wet feet  or a detour didn't matter by now so we all rode through the axle deep water. We finished at 4pm, six hours before that we had no idea it would be such a memorable day.
AF up ahead testing ice thickness....If he falls in then we know it's not think enough

Water was way up