Friday, December 12, 2014

Mastering Micro Freshies with Casey Krueger: Winter 2015 Piedmont

There was a time when new snow meant putting the bike up on the rack while the skis were fetched.  Things have really changed in that regard.  So many folks are rocking winter riding rigs now that the trails get super buffed within hours of a snowfall.  That sort of packing creates an amazing riding surface, traction to a point, but still plenty of mystery moves happening.  This is where some skills are born, like smearing the front tire and the back tire and drifting.

Its so fun and its so good for your overall riding skills.  Today Casey was rocking the Vanhelga tires by 45nrth and it was amazing to see what he could commit to with that tire tread.  Pretty much summer to be honest.

The warm up is here, but so far not as bad as it has been made out to be, in fact it has so far improved the conditions if anything.

Here is to crossing the fingers for the next few days!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Freehub Magazine re-releases "The Land of 10,000 Frozen Lakes" on

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I was surprised to learn last night (as I was getting ready for another Fat Bike Ride at Brewer!) that Freehub had reissued my article from their Winter 2013 Magazine on their Web Site.

That link is right here if you have not seen it.

"The Land of 10,000 Frozen Lakes"

Who knows this may be the year to repeat this trip.  If conditions keep going the way they are going, we might be ripping the Savanna Portage one more time......

These are some shots that did not make the cut on the story.  Some of them were also in Mountain Bike Action and their Feb 2014 No More Winter Blues edition.  In any case enjoy em and take a look at the Freehub posting as well.

This trip was also chronicled on Salsa's Blog that winter as well as on Universal Klister and tagged under "Northwest Trail", both of those in multiple parts.

Surfing the Ditchbanks 

Ideal, ideal conditions

Deep snow beats everybody all the time

Blizzard warrior 

Curly's Bar

Not ideal conditions 

Done, for real

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Duluth Fat Bike Scene Winter 2014-2015: Hanging with the Night Hawks........


The things that happen in the dark


Its own kind of magic 

Local Outdoor writer Sam Cook scrawled a great story recently on how the citizens of Duluth embrace winter and embrace the darkness that accompanies it.  I have a personal soft spot for it myself.  The colors, the deep blacks, the bright LED lights and the reflection of the snow all make it a visual feast.

I have always been super stoked to have the friends that I do, but the ones that are willing to give up some time to allow me to capture shots are near and earl to my heart.  So thanks to the Night Hawks, those of you that get out with me in the dark and try to make magic happen.  Last night that was Casey and Andy, but we also had some walk on's with Pam and Barry.....I look forward to a really fun, creative and awesome winter with you all.

The COGGS Annual Meeting 2014 and the Mission Creek Fat Bike Ride that started it off.......

Mission Creek Flood Damage

Fat Tire deep 

Old bridges

So I have ranted and raved for nearly a decade on this blog about all things outdoors, but one  consistent theme has been exploiting conditions.  In other words, the right tools for the job.  That could be skiing, climbing, skating, riding, fishing you name it.

Well right now there is no doubt that the Fat Bike rules the roost in our current conditions in Duluth.  There was a small window where both Fat Bikes and Nordic skis were both in the matrix but that window came and went (Although for several days this week it may change).  We had awesome early cold and early snow.  Over time that snow transitioned to ice, which for a lot of folks became a no go for Fat Bikes.....unless you had studs.  If you did, you know what I know and that was that it was FUN.  Ice,  wheels and studs = better than summer......Fast, smooth and ripping grip.

This weekend was so fun as there was the Global Fat Bike Ride on Saturday and then Sunday COGGS had a ride before the Annual (read party) Meeting at The Thirsty Pagan.  That ride turned into a river ride.  A slow moving technical exploration of the Mission Creek drainage. This is Fat Bike Territory without a doubt.

Duluth fashion statement 

I was struck on the Mission Creek Ride on just how far the idea of riding year round has come.  The Fat Bike, the shoes, the Pogies, the studded tires, the clothing, the lighting.  We are truly starting to see the products that go along with the activity evolve to the point where comfort is nearly a sure thing, but also performance is too.  Riding at night, fully warm at speeds verging on summer riding, only in the beam of a bright as day headlamp...that is a major change from a decade ago I can assure you.

There is a big bad warm up predicted, so we are all riding our asses off before conditions truly go wacky, but like I have also preached forever....get it while its good.

Beer and Meetings

Treasurers Report

Thirst Pagan Basement details 

The best speakers podium EVER

The COGGS Annual Party, er I mean Meeting was amazing as well.  The vision is being achieved and the presentation by COGGS as to where we have been and where we are going in the next few years was spot on and well organized.  It had it all, stats, successes, challenges, cheers and even a standing ovation for Adam Sundberg who earned it.  The meeting was held int he mysterious basement of the Thirsty Pagan (thanks to Thirsty Steve!) and that made it even more fun, the whole event was so authentic and so core I am not sure you could find a more cool venue and cool folks to populate and of course an even cooler story to build it around, that being the Duluth Traverse and MTB success in our community.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Briggs Outdoors Muzzleloader hunt, does not disappoint! Deer season 2014 conclusion

The "Hump" stand
I have always found that deer hunting has many parallels to outdoor adventure sport and also to art.

The main one being that if you are truly a hunter you are always looking for the ultimate in perfection.  The right spot, the right winds, the right timing, the right deer itself.  This only done with the support of your loved ones, but eventually you will wear out even those die hard fans with your endless pursuits.....

I am not the typical trophy hunter.  I have always made sure that my pursuit of deer hunting is not wrapped in the egotistical aspect of horns.

However the past few years I have found myself with a wealth of world class Whitetail hunting options.  Places where truly BIG bucks live and that has somewhat changed my thinking.

The reasoning goes something like this when you know there are 150+ class bucks consistently walking the terrain your sitting on.

Ultimately I am hunting for food.  A deer pretty much covers our red meat supply for the family for the year.  Since I am blessed with having both great options for both early and late season I have the luxury to hang on for a bit and see if a bruiser walks by.  I mean anything with small horns, or a doe is the same thing, meat in the larder, so why not wait until the bitter end of the season to bank it?

Cleaning and dialing the 50's

I never get tired of the views on the Briggs Farm 

Late night sights

That brings us to the Muzzleloader season.  2013 and 2014 were very similar seasons for me.  Early season 2013 I passed on a myriad of small bucks and even more doe.  Of course that put more pressure on my late season Muzzleloader hunt.  Last year I passed on a bunch of doe and spikes and somehow on the last two days of my season was not given a solid shot to close it out.  First time in like five years I went without venison in the freezer.

It sucked and I will be honest I did not want to face that result again.  In fact my wife and kid did not either!
Early starts

View from a stand in "Area 51"

See anything out there?

So the pressure was on when I booked the weekend after Thanksgiving to hunt with Briggs Outdoors.  I was lucky enough to get Bobby Dahlberg of Cogburn bikes to come with me, his first black powder hunt and of course we were going to use bikes to make it happen!

Obviously new to this whole formula is the fact that unlike the last six years I have a limited amount of time I can put into my hunt this season.  In the past I was able to cobble together a full week with Briggs on the farm.  This new gig had me looking at four days max.

I did my research on the weather heading down and it was obvious that the window was on Sat and Sun as another major cold snap was shoving into place, along with high winds and possible rain.

That sealed the deal for me.  First nice doe within range of my 50 cal was going to have an unlucky day.

Upon arrival on Friday we had some issues getting our guns rolling. Its a long story but suffice to say we had to work like bastards to get some corrosion of the breach plug of a Knight rifle.  Bobby had just purchased a new CVA rifle as well and the two situations had us drinking beer and sighting rifles in at midnight.

Not ideal but hey it was all fun.  Unfortunately it may have impacted Bobby's hunt later on however.

Good conditions for hunting and for riding

View from the spotting scope in the farmhouse, big buck on the ridge line above the house, always gets you pumped to head out on the stand for the afternoon watch
Saturday morning dawned crisp and cold.  Both Bobby and I saw deer but no good shots presented themselves.  We headed in for breakfast and warmed up.  We took stock of the 30 plus stands that Briggs has on the property and came up with a bunch of half cocked theories as to where the deer would be that evening.

Bobby went for a food plot, stuffed full of Brassica that he had seen on his morning hunt.  Looking at the bright sun and noting the wind I thought I would go for warmth versus food.  The south facing hillsides were being painted brown by the solar gain.  All the snow was literally melting off, despite temps in the teens, while the north facing slopes were boot deep in snow.  I thought if I were a deer I would rather deal with zero snow and sun on my face.

Bobby rolling out for the afternoon hunt


Off to the climb

Sometimes you ride, sometimes you push, there is always a pay off on the return however!
Turns out both of us were right.  I started seeing deer within 15 minutes of sitting in the stand.  Small bucks and doe started working my zone, however they were not at a range I felt happy with.  A 50 cal  muzzleloader with open sights cuts down the distance your comfortable with shooting that is for sure!

At one point I had 6 or so deer all grazing at about 200 yards.  A really nice buck even came through chasing doe.  The sun was dropping and I will be honest I was getting antsy!

Finally a nice pair of doe came in at about 70 yards.  Still pretty far, but within my zero range and I decided to take the shot.

It worked out.

Bobby had a similar experience only he had about 15 deer en masse on his stand.  Unfortunately his shot went high and he missed his chance.  Again, this most likely had something to do with sighting a brand new rifle at midnight from the front porch of the house, after multiple beers and a lot of BS.

Late nights and couch surfs

Tree Jockey
That night we dined on tenderloin and again talked strategy for the AM hunt.  I was convinced that Bobby needed to hit the sunny side of the valley.  I went for a slightly west facing stand.  Due to the bluffs however I was in the shadow and it was cold, cold, cold.  I saw nothing for deer.  Bobby saw a buck but overall with the high winds and plummeting temps we did not see much and I was glad I had taken the opportunity I had on Saturday.

While we ate breakfast we started gazing through a spotting scope that Briggs had lined up on the south facing bluff we had both hunted.  I took some time and looked across the sun bathed ridge line. One by one we counted deer on that ridge.  They were bedded down and basking.

Bobby had to roll out for home for some family obligations.  I already had my deer so I decided to chill by the fire and watch football with Briggs.  Later, after Bobby hit the trail, I got up for a beer run and decided to look through the scope for another gaze at the deer.  I ended up seeing a massive buck, not far from the stand Bobby was sitting on that morning.......

Clean bore

Cogburn, the best hunting bikes!

Sunset on a great hunt

While I always hate to see another year pass.  I have to say that it was a relief to close it out with some meat for the freezer.  Its a love hate thing sometimes, deer hunting.  You want to do it everyday, but you also start to feel the pressure from family, from friends from chores lining up at home to just get it done.  Well like usual, Briggs Outdoors delivered the goods for another year......

Monday, December 01, 2014

Duluth Winter Riding Conditions are perfect right now!! Winter 2014-15 Mission Creek

Winter riding conditions could not be better in Duluth right now.

The classic set up is occurring to create perfect riding conditions.  Extreme cold and just the right amount of snow.  Not too much, not too little.

Fat Biking's white lie is that you need a ton of snow for it to be fun.  The reality is that you want just enough to smooth out the trail and give it some texture.  Too much and you have soft slow conditions, even when groomed, too little and well what do you need fat tires for?

Right now Duluth has that perfect mix.  The trails are extremely hard and fast, but with just enough snow to get super fun grip.

I am running a much lighter bike this season and with more aggressive tires and it is like night and day versus my old set up, especially in these conditions.  The Beargrease with Dillinger Fours is a perfect mix, especially at Piedmont and on some of the more techy local trails around Thomson.  I can honestly say its intoxicating enough to not miss summer riding.....

COGGS and its amazing volunteers have already rolled over Mission Creek and Brewers Park, the stampeding hordes have further smoothed it over.  Couple that with a thaw here and there and you have the best winter trail riding I can remember and with minimal effort from the club to have to maintain it.

Meanwhile the ice is shaping up nicely with folks already riding some of the city creeks.  The big water however is still a ways out...