Monday, October 30, 2017

Fall Colors Bike Tour 2017

On Sunday, 10-08-17, I decided to take my new Seven Expat SL that I got about two weeks earlier on a short tour. I had expected to get the bike in early August and already had a route and plans made for a week tour in the Black Hills later that month. Since I didn’t get my bike I never went to the Black Hills, so I planned a quick 6 day tour in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

I would begin the tour from my home in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis., MN. I had a general route in mind, but I didn’t know exactly where I would stay each night. The planned route was 316 miles.

I wasn’t sure how fast I would travel with the new bike with 4 panniers. I had never tour with front panniers before. Also, at the start of the tour it had been 11 months since I had a total knee replacement on my left knee. Although I already had a little over 9,000 miles on my road and gravel bikes since the operation, I didn’t know how the knee would hold up with the additional weight of all the gear. There was also the unknown on if I could ride my touring bike on the Gandy Trail on the Minnesota side north of Danbury, WI. I couldn’t find anyone with the Minnesota DNR who knew what the condition of the trail was nor knew anyone who has biked it. That should have been my first clue. I knew one person who had recently been on the trail with a motorcycle who gave me some general conditions, but he never rode the full length on the trail on the Minnesota side.

Seven Expat SL

Planned route

The first day, 10-08-17, I rode from my home to St. Croix Falls and stayed at Interstate State Park. The weather was warm for my first day of travel. I rode mostly paved roads, but I got to travel some gravel roads as well. The bike handled as well on the gravel as it did on the pavement. My bike tires were WTB Horizon 47mm tires that felt like I was riding on air. The tires are very supple, but I had some concerns in the back of my mind on how puncture resistance the tires were going to be on the trip. I never did have a flat tire from any debris and I rode on the shoulders of some busier roads. Although the shoulders of these roads weren’t full of debris as compared to other roads I’ve been on.

After the first hour

Beautiful day

Three tail lights

Stopped at a small park in Schafer, MN

On my way to St. Croix Falls....
Along one of the gravel roads

Once I got to Taylors Falls I decided to go to a small drive-in restaurant to get some food before heading to the park for the night. It was probably going to be the last warm day of the season and the town was filled with people. The cars were backed up in all directions especially the road to the drive-in.

The drive-in was filled with people. I pulled in on my bike and saw a couple, who had driven their motorcycles, sitting at one of the tables who were just being served. They told me it took about a half hour to get their food. Since I had some time, I decided to stay and get some food myself. They told me I could lean my bike on one of the benches so I sat with them at their table.

Drive-In in Taylors Falls
Campsite at Interstate Park
Once I ate my food I had to ride the mile or so back to the main roads where I would cross the St. Croix River into St. Croix Falls. The cars were still back up north of the drive-in and there were other cars parked along the road. There wasn’t enough room for me to ride on the road so I hit the narrow sidewalk. When I got closer to where all the roads came together there were more and more people walking, so I had to stop and let me pass. Now closer to the road intersection I was able to bike through while everyone else in the cars were stationary.

A few weeks earlier I had biked up to Talyors Falls from Stillwater on my road and I encountered road construction on Highway 8 into Wisconsin from Hwy 95 in Minnesota. Its a 2 lane highway that had orange barrels blocking off the left lane, so traffic was pushed closer to the right side of the roadway. There wasn’t really any room for a bicyclist to safely ride up the incline because traffic wouldn’t be able to move left because of the barrels.

The barrels were still there, but now I was on a loaded tour bike. I began spinning up the incline going no where fast. I still needed to keep an eye on traffic behind me because the barrels opened up for the vehicles to move left into the left lane from the right lane. Once I crossed this opening I continued a short distance, before having to make a right turn to cross the right lane of traffic onto  S. Washington St. My little legs were still spinning to safely cross the roadway and my small lungs were trying to expand as much as they could to get more oxygen. Now I just needed to make it up the 12 percent grade.

I parked my bike at the Interstate park office and went inside the building. I surprised the person at the drive up window taking money from the endless line of cars waiting to get into the park. I waited and waited. The person said he needed to take the money from the people who were driving in before he could help me. After waiting 15 minutes or so I was going to get on my bike and get in line with the rest of the cars, but was told I needed to register inside. Finally the person got on his radio and asked for another worker to come to the office. It took about a half hour before I got registered, but I got a camping spot. Again, it was a very nice, warm day so everyone in line were buying day passes to visit the park.

Biking to my campsite at the north end of the park I only saw a few campsites taken. I had the last campsite to the north which was along the St. Croix River. I made camp when two women and a dog pulled up to the site next to me. There was some distance between us and there were still leaves on the trees so it didn’t feel like we were camping right next to each other. The best part was I don’t recall the dog ever barking.  One time the dog came over to check me out with the owner quickly following. One woman was from Wisconsin and the other one was from the Twin Cities. They planned to camp a couple nights.

It was a nice campsite and there was the sound of running water some 50 yards from me. The St. Croix River was very high. 

Since I already ate at the drive-in so I just snacked a little and made coffee for the evening. Once I was done eating I hung my food up in a tree. I wasn’t concerned about the bears in this campground, but as I went north the possibility of a bear coming around was pretty likely. Tonight it was to keep the raccoons from getting my food. I don’t like sharing!

Total miles for the day: 59.4

The St. Croix River Dam about in the middle of the picture. Used to be the falls there.

Another view of the campsite

High water on the St. Croix River

Running water to the St. Croix River

ok...time for coffee
Hanging my food from the racoons

Day 2: Monday, 10-09-17

The temperatures were in the 40’s over night, so not bad. I didn’t need to start riding at day break, so I waited to get out of the tent just before it started to get light out. Today I would be riding the Gandy Dancer Trail that is a hard packed gravel that starts a couple miles away. I would need to stop at the Polk County Office to get a day pass.

Once I got dressed before getting out of the tent and breaking down the campsite it was time for some coffee and oatmeal.

Afterwards, I got the bike loaded up. I was ready to leave the campsite. It’s a longer incline back to the park entrance after getting out of the immediate north campground. Although there was an incline it seemed I was going slower than I should have been going. I got to the entrance and notice my rear tire was soft. Was it going flat or what! It was a half mile to the Polk County office to where I would be stopping anyways so I continued on slowly.

Breakfast on Day 2

Picking up my day permits for the Gandy Dancer Trail

Before I took off all the panniers I got out my digital pressure gauge. ok, the battery was dead. It was working a couple days earlier. I went inside to see if they had a floor pump, but they didn’t. I told them I would be back inside to buy a trail pass after I blew up my tire. It didn’t look like I was losing anymore air, so I tightened the valve core just in case it was slightly loose.  I used my frame pump to put more air in the tire.

Back inside the office I got two day passes for the trail on the Wisconsin side. Don’t need a pass  on the Minnesota side to ride my bike…that should have been my second clue on if the Minnesota trail is bike friendly, especially touring bikes with loaded panniers.

The woman asked me about my bike trip and she cautioned me about the bears along the trail.

When I got back outside I felt my rear tire and it felt the same as after blowing it up before going into the office. Good to go!

Getting to the gravel

Beautiful colors along the trail
Different perspective

Hey, where that pumpkin come from. There were bear teeth marks on it.

It wasn’t that far before I got to the actual gravel part on the Gandy Dancer. The trees along the trail were very colorful from the leaves turning. The bike was riding fine on the gravel. Although my overall average speed was only around 9 to 10 mph. Last year while riding my Seven Evergreen on a couple tours I was averaging around 12 mph and the terrain was hillier, but I was using only rear panniers.

I was hoping to see a bear along the trail so I could get a picture, but never did see one. I saw half of a pumpkin with teeth marks, so it was obvious they were around.

One of the bridges on the Gandy Dancer

I was trying to capture of the Tamarack tree turning colors. A little further up the trail I should have taken my phone out for a better image.
When I got to Luck, WI I stopped into the hardware store to buy a battery for my digital pressure gauge, then headed to a cafe I knew about but never had stopped in. Back on the Gandy Dancer for another half mile north of Luck to the Cafe Wren.  I was just pulling into the parking lot along Hwy 35 when a woman who was walking to her car with a bike on the back of it noticed me. She got something out of her car and said she works there and asked if she could help me. I told her I was looking for a place I could put my bike while keeping an eye on it while I ate. She said I could pull it into the entry way or there was seating in the back of the building. I biked around to the back and parked my bike. It was windy and not the most ideal day to sit outside, but that’s what I decided to do. Hey, I only had the bike for about three weeks.

I walked inside and saw the woman who just spoke to me outside. She said the others could help me and then she disappeared. I later found out she was the owner of the restaurant. I ordered my meal and coffee and sat outside to eat. The waitress brought me my food and offered to bring it all back in if I wanted to sit inside. I was dressed to sit outside, but the waitress wasn’t. It probably looked a little odd with me sitting outside on what others would think would be a marginal day to so.

Cafe Wren in Luck, WI

Having soup and sandwich at the Cafe Wren

The meal wouldn't be complete without a cup of coffee
With the shorter days and my lower overall average speed, I decided to make arrangements in Siren, WI to stay. If I stayed in Siren for the night that would make tomorrow a longer day because of the distance and with the unknown conditions on the Gandy Dancer.  I decided to call the motel that I called earlier in the week. It was also going to get down to around 20 degrees tonight, so it would be easier to get going at daybreak if I stayed in a motel.  I called the owner of a motel in Siren who said he was going fishing, but he would leave the key in the door for me.

Looks like my Seven Expat SL
Picked up a Subway sandwich, stopped at the Holiday for a banana in Siren, WI

 Before going to the motel south of town I continued into Siren where I stopped in at Subway to get a chicken sandwich. Next I stopped at Holiday to get a banana for my oatmeal in the morning. Now I headed back south out of town to the motel where I found the key in the door.

 I got my bike in the room with my stuff unpacked. Next it was to get the stove going to boil some water for coffee to go with my sandwich.

Tomorrow I wanted to get to Pattison State Park further north in Wisconsin. Looking at the map it would be around 60 miles. The unknown was the condition of the trail north of Danbury Wisconsin on the Minnesota side. The trail goes north out of Danbury up in Minnesota then turns back NE into Wisconsin.

Before I left for this trip I called the state park a few days before and was told they were starting to shut down the water at the park. If I got to the park before they closed I could get water in the office. I needed to leave at first light.

I tried checking my tire pressure after putting in a new battery in it, but it kept giving me strange numbers. I tried several times and it sure wasn’t working properly. I pumped up my tires to what I thought they should be or more like that they were filled..

Total mileage: 37.0

My room in Siren, WI

My Minnesota Randonneur's wool

Day 3: Tuesday, 10-10-17

I was up early and peeked outside. Yep, it was cool out with lots of frost. Got the stove outside to make my oatmeal and coffee.

I picked the trail back up in Siren. Although it was cool out there wasn’t any wind. I brought along some cycling booties for over my shoes and warmer gloves. My Garmin was reading 21 degrees.

The trail took on a different appearance with all the frost. I stopped to take some pictures along the way, but I wasn’t taking as many as I would have liked to because of a couple reasons. I have an iPhone 6 and did the latest IOS 11 update two days before my trip. This caused some major problems with my phone. The two biggest were my battery draw was 2 to 3 times faster than normal so I had to keep my phone turned off. Then when I started it back up it would take much longer. On top of that there was now a long delay to get the camera working. Needless to say it was very frustrating dealing with that every time I wanted to take a picture. When I got home I took the phone to Apple for a repair, but the software update cause a hardware failure, so I had to get another phone.

My small camera kept draining the battery due to the cooler weather even thought I tried to keep it warm. I had to charge up both batteries last night in the motel, but when I took it out today I took 2 pictures and the battery was already drained. The camera spent the rest of the trip in the bottom of one of my rear panniers.

Gandy Dancer Trail north of Siren, WI. Garmin reading 21 degrees
The sun getting a little higher

What can I say..I'm glad I'm not swimming'

Another bridge

Yellow River near Danbury, WI
By the time I got to Danbury I decided I was going to ride Hwy 35 to Pattison State Park instead of riding the Gandy Dancer. I needed to get some food so I stopped at a grocery store. I told the cashier that I was going to ride the trail at first, but I didn’t know the conditions of it. Now I decided to ride Hwy 35 instead. She told me she was on the trail with a 4 wheeler last week. She believed I could ride the trail with my bike. This was my 3rd clue. She advised me not riding on Hwy 35 due to all the traffic because of the on going road construction. Now I know better, most of the time, listening to someone who gives advise about bike travel from someone who doesn’t bike. Well, I guess I really wanted to ride the trail so that’s what I started out doing. I didn’t want to listen to the noise of traffic anyways.

The first couple miles of the Gandy Dancer Trail had very loose dirt that made for slow going with a fully loaded touring bike with 47mm tires. I kept going thinking the ride was going to get better further up the trail, but it really never did. Yes, some spots were good, but now that I have ridden it I don’t need to do it again. Eventually I took some gravel roads to get off the trail, but I needed to jump back on the trail in spots. There were several areas that if I had a narrower tire width it would have taken me much longer with some walking thrown in. I was going slower than I had hoped and was concerned about making it to Pattison State Park office before it closed to get water.

What the hell is going on here...soft dirt just north of Hwy 35 in Danbury, WI. There were several sections like this.
I got off the trail in Markville, MN. I'm on Cloverton Rd. approaching Rutabaga Rd in Cloverton, MN.

Back on the trail taking a break to get some food. I bought some peanut butter and some bagels back in Danbury.
Came across this building. There was water over the trail in spots not too far from here.

Still on the trail somewhere.

Lots of nice scenery

Another view

When I eventually got to Pattison Park they were closed, in fact, they weren’t going to be open at all during the week just on the week-ends. I was able to find one spot where the water hadn’t been shut off, so I would be able to cook dinner and breakfast in the morning.

After biking around I found a site, then went back up to the office to fill out the permit for the camping site. It sure was quiet in the park. I tried finding a spot with some sun because it was cool in the shade. The sun was too low in the sky, so there wasn’t much coming through. I set up camp and made dinner…and coffee.

It was supposed to get down to freezing tonight. I didn’t have anywhere to go tonight  so I hung around the campsite. There was a bench at the site so I laid down on it before heading to the tent to sleep.

Total miles: 58.8

Campsite at Pattison State Park, WI

Time to eat and have some coffee

Day 4: Wednesday, 10-11-17

I woke up to temperatures of 32 degrees or so. There was a frost but not as much as the day before. Same morning routine of breaking down camp and cooking breakfast.

Once the bike was loaded up I was on the road. There was going to be a combination of paved roads and gravel roads today with the first part of the day riding on low use roads. Looking forward to riding some fairly smooth roads, since my sit bones took a beating yesterday.

Woke up to some frost at Pattison State Park

Having my favorite breakfast....oatmeal, dried cranberries, raisins, cinnamon, almonds and a banana & coffee

It was about 32 degrees...maybe
Heading down Hwy 23...traffic was very light

It was a pretty uneventful day, which was good. Traffic along Hwy 23 was light. I noticed more leaves dropping than they have been dropping the last couple days, but there was still plenty of color along the route.

When I got to the town of Nickerson I pulled off the main road and took a short lunch break before heading on to Banning State Park in Sandstone.

Stopped in the town of Nickerson for lunch

The park office was closed when I got there, but I found running water. I called the reservation line to get a camping spot. After telling him that I was at the park office now, riding my bike, want a campsite, etc. Then he wanted to read me the cancellation policy, but I told him that it really wasn’t necessary.

There was one other campsite taken in the park. It was another quiet night in a park. Much different than when the weather is warmer. While setting up camp, cooking something to eat and making coffee a couple deer came by to keep me company as they were feeding. No matter what I did they never got alarmed, but occasionally they were alerted to some noise or smell coming from another direction.     

Tonight the low temperatures are supposed to be back in the mid 40’s.

There was a strong wind blowing all night. There were a couple times when it really got my attention.

Earlier I made a phone call to see if the cabin I might stay at in Mora was still available. I spoke to Jerry who said they still had room for me, but they have started shutting down the other cabins this week.

Total miles: 50.5

Arrived at Banning State Park
Got the tent up...

Looks like I'm boiling water

One deer
Two Deer

Day 5:  Thursday, 10-12-17

I woke to warmer temperatures, but there was a mist in the air. Even a light sprinkle or two. This morning I left most of my stuff in the tent while I made breakfast. Once breakfast was done and eaten, I began breaking down the tent and packing for the ride to Mora, MN.

A DNR person came driving down the park road when I was riding back out to the park entrance. When I mapped out the route I saw there was a road(?) leading out of the park onto CR 61 so I didn’t have to go back out the way I came in yesterday. I never saw it coming back out, but now I was at the park office. I knew the road was before the office coming out. I saw a woman inside as I continued on. Then I remember a couple people wanted a picture of me on my bike, so I turned around to go back to the park office. I asked the woman if she would do me a favor and take a picture of me and she graciously agreed. By that time the guy driving the DNR vehicle waved me over. He asked me if lost an item back at the campground. After showing me the object I said it wasn’t mine. He asked me about my travels and where I was headed. That’s when he told me about a bike trail going west out of the park to CR 61/ Hwy 23.. This would save me from going further north, then back south. I missed the trail last night riding down to my campsite and you can’t see it when leaving the park.

Breakfast in Banning State Park


Somewhere along Hwy 23 CR 61

Hinckley, MN
It continued to be a dreary day due to the light mist/rain until about noon. Today was the windiest day of the trip with the wind out of the south. Of course that’s the direction I’m heading. Today was another day of mostly paved roads, but there were a few miles of gravel, too.

I made it to Mora, and the sun started to come out. I decided to check in first where I was going to stay. After checking in I decided to ride over to the grocery store to get some food to eat. I biked to Coborn’s grocery store and wheeled my bike inside the store and locked it up. After grabbing some fruit and a few other items I noticed a deli at the far end of the store while I was checking out. I didn’t want to be that far from my bike and not in sight of it, so I asked if there was a door toward that side of the building. There was so I walked my bike out one door, walk over to the other door, wheeled my bike to the Deli area and locked it up in the food eating area next to it. Once I got a sandwich I found a local coffee store. I peddled over there and grabbed a coffee before riding back to the cabin.

The cabin where I spent the night in Mora, MN
I like the light
I sat outside enjoying the day surrounded by pine trees with my food and coffee.  While sitting outside Jerry came by. We started talking about different things where I learned that Jerry’s father bought the land in 1946 and the cabins were moved from one area to where they are located now. Jerry also was retired from the Minneapolis Police Department. Although, Jerry retired many years ago we had some things in common.   

Once it got dark outside I went inside the cabin for the night. I would be getting up early and on the road around 07:15 am.

Total Miles: 47.3

Day 6: Friday, 10-13-17

I rode back home. On the way home I stopped at the Adventure Cyclist Bunkhouse in Dalbo to check it out.  While there I spoke to Donn Olson the owner who got the idea in 2005 when 2 cyclist stopped and asked him if they could camp in his yard. Don then realized he was on the Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier cycling route. Don called Adventured Cycling Office and told him that everyone was welcome to camp at his place whether he was home or not. The place has grown from there. Don said he felt like he had to be around all summer for people to use his bathroom and to take showers, so the place evolved since then. Its a fascinating place if you get a chance to stop by. I’ll post a video of the place that was taken by fellow cyclist Graylan Vincent. I met Graylan last year in Michigan while I was on a bike tour. Graylan rode from Newfoundland to Seattle and when he stopped in Dalbo he recorded a video and posted it to Youtube. 

When watching the video Graylan opens the outhouse door. Since last year Donn has installed a flush toilet inside.

It sure was good to get out for a nice quiet bike tour that was full of wonderful colors. The knee held up just fine.

Total miles: 60.2

Total mileage for the six days was 313 miles.

Bike packed and ready to go

The sun came out briefly and lit up the trees in the distance

Donn Olson's Place for Adventure Cyclist to stay while biking

Donn moved out all the furniture the week-end before because his daughter had her wedding there...check out Graylan's youtube video for what it normally looks like

Back home....
All but one image taken with my iPhone 6. The first image of my bike with my name taken with my Nikon D4.

Chuck Ryan

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