|Day One EP riding on Big Sandy Lake, heading toward Battle Island.|
Its all just residue. Detritus. Layers upon layers of dirty time I thought to myself.
As soon as Eric and I hit Big Sandy Lake I was already day dreaming about what the portage must have been like 250 years ago. If I burned all these big lake houses down and tore the signs out and ripped the roads away, all those modern layers, I would be looking at the soil all those ancient travelers staggered upon. Its still there, that watershed, that cooridor and we were traveling on it while the modern world hummed around us.
I had thoughts like those a lot. How ironic that the Northwest Trail actually still physically exists. Oh it has been brutalized, tortured and raped, but due to its timeless in-accessability its core remains, tucked in between powerlines, homes, highways and railroads and Duluth's city streets.
One thing was for sure that first day. Missshepeshu the Ojibwa Water God was smiling upon us.
|Misshepeshu The Big Cat that sleeps under the water|
|Hoar Frost rimmed the world we rode in|
|Big Sandy Lake, Minnesota...layers of dirty time|
The lesson learned on Day One of the tour was that those who show up get the goods. I had a demonic smile on my face all the way across Big Sandy. The sun was shining warmly on my body, the riding, while slow was not physically taxing. I had all I needed in the world on my bike. Food, shelter, booze, my camera and I had three days to do nothing but ride and explore with a like minded buddy. For a moment, I even felt a bit sorry for the poor suckers who passed on coming...well not that sorry.
|The Squiggly Savanna River|
Luckily this first meeting was on one of my recon rides, so when Eric and I rolled up on Day One of the tour, she was pretty excited to see us. However, nobody was as excited as us after she told us that the first six miles of the Portage had been groomed for snowmobiles the day before.
Another gift from Misshepeshu!
|Start of the Savanna Portage, Savanna State Park, Minnesota|
|Ahh! Ramen and Tuna|
Deep down inside though, we both knew that it could not last. The hardest part of the day was coming up soon, and we contemplated the challenge. At some point the grooming would stop, we would leave the park and we would be at the heart of the matter.
|The Heart of the Matter|
|Fat Bike ripping!|
You want somebody who can take a good solid shellacking, then forget about it and move on and hopefully laugh about it at the same time. Eric Peterson was perfect in this regard and I have to say I was really, really lucky to have him aboard. There were moments where we were moving negative miles an hour for miles and when you looked down the trail, you were looking at an hours work or more.....pushing. Grass, alders, tree branches, knee to waist deep snow drifts, all things that like to grab pedals and snag handlebars. Yet we soldiered on, looking for better conditions. Because that is the golden rule in a winter bike tour, wait a few hours and conditions will change, and heck they might even get better! Thus the need for short term memory loss....you need to forget the pain of the past few hours and enjoy the fun for the next few minutes if you get it.
The middle of the Savanna Portage was an exercise in believing. In having faith that all the recon and the research would pay off. I had faith, but man there were some moments where I had my doubts. Eventually we saw an wide open clearing and our hearts started hoping....
|Pay Day: Fantasticsh!!|
To me they were potential Fat Bike Super Highways.
My whole trip plan was hatched on hoping that these Ditchbanks were rideable. In my earlier recon rides, I had only been able to get on the tail end of one of them and I left that ride with mixed impressions. Now, here we were at the crux of the crossing.
Regardless of my my past experiences, Eric and I were high-fiving and giddy when we arrived at the Ditchbank. The open scale, the feeling of space after being pinned in that tight claustrophobic trail was so amazing. On top of that, the sun and wind had really sublimated the snow cover and the riding was euphoric. It was perfect backcountry riding and to me this was the pinnacle of the whole trip. To have guessed, plotted and theorized that this "could be" awesome riding and then to have worked hard and find out that it was, was sweet nectar.
This pay off was as good as any powder day I have ever had, as good as any fat assed fish I have hooked up and as good as any sweet single track I have ripped and we gulped it in like a fine beer for miles.
|Nowhere to be and no need to get there|
|Looking for camp|
|Jagged tracks mean slow going|
We also raised our flasks in thanks to Misshepeshu for the gift he had given us on that first day of our tour.
Sleep came fast, but I had some unbelievably vivid dreams. It was like the spirits were talking again and this time it seemed like they were warning me.
A storm was brewing somewhere on the east coast.........