|Ecstatic Scandinavian. Learn why!|
I have not had the pleasure of meeting any of the fine folks that design weather forecasting models. My gut feeling however, is that they fall into one of two camps.
Optimist or pessimist.
Sunday morning, last day of the Northwest Trail tour. I rolled out of the sack and checked three weather sites while having breakfast.
One said doom and gloom. Raging blizzard coming. The other two said, it was going to miss us, the day will be warm and possibly windy.
Majority rules and as an optimist, I was also an easy sucker.
We shucked a good chunk of our gear at my house in Thomson. I also decided to wear as little outerwear as possible. The temps had warmed up considerably, nearly 33 degrees when we were rolling out.
Moisture and heat management are key components of winter Biking. Because of that I went with an ultralight shell and some lightweight Capilene under that. Just as an aside I decided to toss in my ski goggles....
While we had been enjoying the sun of the "Scandinavian Riviera", Lake Superior had been busy puking Lake Effect snow on the Duluth area. The snow pack was significantly deeper the nearer to the Gitchee Gumee that we traveled. Because of that, many of our classic routes were not going to be passable. With that in mind we decided to go via snowmobile trails and chose Munger to Mission Creek to access the St. Louis River at Fond Du Lac.
Fond Du Lac is also the former site of the historical Ojibwa summer village and then later the John Jacob Astor Trading post, so it was a key point of reference of our portage experience. Fond Du Lac is where most of the actual trading and commerce went on during the fur trade. Its where the shouldered burdens were dropped and the trinkets counted. Where fortunes were made and lost. The head of the lake.
After about the first hour we passed near the Buffalo House.
Sunday morning, slow going, got all day. What the hell. Lets get a bloody mary.....
|Mission Creek Ambiance|
|U-Boat Big Fat Larry|
|Pure D-Town Backcountry. Mission Creek Park.|
At that point it was snowing hard, but nothing too concerning. Once we hit pavement we decided to juice up the tires for the city streets. It was at that moment that I think we both realized how hard it was snowing and how high the wind was getting and how far we were from Lake Superior.
|Me dialing up the PSI. Note the wet clothes, another four plus hours to go.|
It was not a scenic moment. Standing over the monument, in the screeching wind and the driving snow, I still had to think about how crazy it was that just over 150 years ago, on that exact spot there was a thriving native population. None of the infrastructure around me existed and nobody in their right minds would have ever dreamed about how big Duluth would grow. We would be struggling through that urban environment for the rest of the day.
At this point our destiny was set. We had to ride Grand Ave all the way to the middle of town. Grand is an extremely busy road that has sections of 35 mph and sections of 55 mph. Grand is the main artery for travel in the west end of Duluth. In the summer, in good conditions it is a little un-nerving to ride a bike on. In a howling gale its down right terrifying.
Immediately upon riding on Grand I realized that all hell was breaking loose. There were cars in the ditch, cars swerving and fishtailing into on-coming lanes. People were stuck in their cars at intersections. Sirens blaring.
It was Chaos and I felt calm. I am at ease in Chaos. I feel comfortable there (now you know a bit more about me than I would like to admit). I have always felt that way. I felt that way when Elmo was buried (I also felt total panic too) and I felt that way during the flood. It is normalcy that scares the hell out of me. Chaos? Chaos means anything goes and I can deal with that. I was right at home.
|Storm Riding the Louie|
The snow itself was piling up so fast that when I would look back for cars, my track was literally disappearing as I rode. We finally reached Boy Scout landing and decided we should check the river, who knows, maybe the snowmobile tracks might be safer than dodging cars. Not so.
At this point the shit was hitting the fan and going to hell in a hand basket all at the same time. I was wet right through and my camera gear needed a good solid drying out as well. So we decided to stop at our second bar of the day.
The Alpine Bar in Gary.
|Safe harbor at the Alpine Bar in Gary-New Duluth|
|The magic beer!|
It was 2.30 and we were three drinks in and had a long way to go. We powered down the rest of the drinks the friendly regulars bought us and stumbled for the door.
Luckily the only thing stiffer than the face peeling wind on our faces had been the Alpine's drinks so we were semi numb and ignorant of the ass kicking we were about to receive.
|Backcountry conditions, Suburban setting|
As we were pumping up my tire, we joked about what we would do if a plow came while we were riding. Eric had several escape plans, most involving getting off his bike and running.
Well, when the plow REALLY came we had no time to react.
I heard the scraping noise before I saw the plow. I glanced under my arm and I all I saw was blade and a huge boiling wave of snow in front of it. I had no time, I just yelled at Eric and braced for impact. The first round of snow actually pushed me away from the plow. It felt like surfing a wave, I managed to balance and even think to myself, hey this is not so bad! Then the second wave of snow, from the second plow blade hit me and sent me flying. As I went down I watched the plow catch up to Eric and the sick little monkey inside of me wondered if he could ride it better than me and stick it. He couldn't.
Finally we made it to our next stop. The North Pole Bar. It seemed only fitting to keep drinking and at this point the conditions were so bad, we might as well get fired up and turn this into a bar hop.
|North Pole Bar. West Duluth. Winds were so high we had to lay the bikes down.|
At the North Pole Bar we were about just over half way to our goal. The Lake Superior. But the Lake was what was causing all this havoc. The storm was coming directly off the Gitch and because of that, the closer we got the harder it got.
Also, the harder Duluth was getting rocked as well. If we had seen pandemonium on the way to West Duluth, we saw double that upon arriving at West Superior Street. But that could also be because at this point we were five drinks in as well....
It was also at the this time that we began to see A LOT of cameras pointed at us. Nearly every car that passed us had a phone or camera pointed out of it. People were cheering us on. Several folks popped their heads out of second story apartments to yell at us. A father and his son asked Eric if they could have their pictures taken with them.
Some folks took it the other way. A guy flipped us off from his buried Accura as we rolled past and others tossed obscenities at us like snowballs. Yet we kept trudging on.
At this stage in the game I had made up my mind that I did not care what it took to get to the Lake. I was going to get there if I had to walk the full way. Because of that I truly felt like I was on a mission and I was able to ignore all the BS that was going on around me. I am sure there were plenty of people that were annoyed with us because they thought we were just out joy riding in the storm, but in reality we had a goal and a place we were trying the reach.
|Lone Snow Biker of the Apocalypse|
|From Swamps to overpasses|
By this time I am struggling to shoot any sort of shots. If I saw something I thought I wanted to shoot, I had a millisecond to pull it off. That said, I admit I had one shot in mind and my frames reflect that. Not a lot of creativity in a 40 mph gale and snow coming down at an inch an hour in the dark! But I did try!
|William "Fricking A" Irvin|
Game over. Three days. First bike crossing of the Savanna Portage, a long introspective ride nearly half the length of the St.Louis River and an urban assault in the worst storm of the winter.
|Even more ecstatic Scandinavian!|
Once in and settled with some fish tacos and a Star Fire, Eric related for the first time that day that there was a point where he did not think we were going to make it. That is saying a lot from a guy with two Arrowhead 135's under his belt....
|Totally snow covered and wasted camera shot|
|Back where we started!|
Thanks to all the folks that made it happen. Including Eric for being a trooper and coming along and all the killer folks who loaned me the gear to survive it. That includes Todd McFadden, Mike Riemer, John Gaddo, Jason Boucher and the Ski Hut and Continental, Mick Dodds and Dave Cizmas.
|Storm after it passed on. Beauty. A real blower....|