Monday, July 21, 2008
The endless search for the Midwests best singletrack
Margaret and I took the week to kill two birds with one stone. We went to Southeastern Minnesota to visit family and to see if the reports of epic mountain bike riding were true. After nearly a decade of living in the mountains of Vermont and Montana we have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the singletrack mountain biking movement in the midwest and slowly but surely we are seeing it arrive and this trip proved it to me. It is not that I have any hard and fast criteria to define "epic singletrack" but suffice to say it is a moving target. Certainly the riding, the terrain and the soil have the biggest part to play. Volume or amount of riding is also key, we hate to feel like gerbils in a cage, we love long rides and the longer the better. Things to do after the ride also play a role. IE finding a good meal and beer is always nice, maybe some music, swimming or something and or a sweet coffee shop is great too. So with all that said we have been making a pointed attempt to go to the places where we are hearing rumors of all this happening. The area in Southeast Minnesota and Southwestern WI is perfect for Mountain biking. It is called the Driftless Area for a reason. It is also called the Blufflands as well. Mainly it is the area with dramatic terrain and valleys that drain into the Mississippi river. Although not huge vertical compared to the east or west, it has consistent rises of 300 to 500 feet in many places and that is certainly enough to create awesome mountain biking.
We started our tour at the Lowes Creek Mountain Bike Trails. We were pretty impressed with the amount of trails and the technicality of the trails. Although it is pretty flat the people who build the trails made up for the lack of vertical with twisty fun singletrack and it is all extremely well marked and it is obvious that the crews took the time to build awesome bridges and cobbles. My favorite ride was the Onion trail descent.
Next we hit the Human Powered Trails in Lacrosse, WI. I really love these trails. The Winona, Lacrosse area has perhaps the most dramatic relief and also the most extensive greenspace potential for singletrack and the HPT trails are just a glimpse of what could be possible there. They have true climbs and true descents for both entry level riders and hard cores alike. We actually took the TNT trail up from town to access the main cluster and I was amazed at the amount of climbing we had to do to reach the top. IF you could actually ride the whole trail I would bet it would be a solid five hundred feet of ascent over a couple of miles perhaps, it is as we say, in your face. After slugging it out at the HPT trails you can slide down into Lacrosse and check out the Bodega Brew Pub and dive into one of its 400 beers. Like I said food is a key ingredient as well when it comes to riding, you ride, you eat and why not eat well? My parents who live in Pickwick, MN fired up their Wood Fired Pizza oven for us and forty of thier best friends so we gorged on some of the best pizza you can imagine while we gazed down on historic Pickwick and its mill pond. While at the feed I spoke with many people who are involved with BLEW or the Bluff Lands Environmental Watch. While speaking to them my head was swimming with the realization that while the bluffs are being protected and the singletrack movement is happening there might someday be a chance to see Mountain Bike Riding as extensive there as in Vermont at the Kingdom Trails.
Some of these thoughts were realized when we headed to the Levis Mound trails the next day. This must be one of the only IMBA Epic trails in the central midwest and it shows it. The riding was incredible. Easy routes to follow, great twisty and fun singletrack with huge views and interesting terrain. While Levis had the most extensive and certainly the most interesting riding we found it lacking in places to hang and have a beer, however with that said we had not ventured into historic Neillsville,WI and thus we cant actually say for with authority that there is not a cool pub to hang out at. Hopefully there is. Instead of heading to Neilsville we hit the historic Trempealeau Hotel for some great bluegill and walnut burgers, made even sweeter since this is where Margaret and I were married four years earlier.