I spent a few days with some buddies at a cabin near Lutsen over the weekend. We hiked the state park trails at Temperance and Cascade but I brought my 29’er in case any of the COGGS mountain bike trails around Duluth opened up/dried out in time for my drive back home to Northfield. Alas, no such luck. The trails were all too soft yet because of the late-season heavy snowfall and cold temps.
I was going to head back home to ride the metro-area MORC trails but torrential rains there closed all the trails that had just opened up a week ago. So I sent a text to CLMTB Crew president Aaron Hautala in hopes that Cuyuna Lakes would be open. YES! They had heavy rain overnight but the trails dried out quickly and were tacky fast.
I got there by 3:30 on Saturday and promptly ran into fellow Northfielders Todd Orjala, Ken Drivdahl, and Steve Schmidt. After riding all the trails in the Mahnomen Unit (see inset B on the DNR map), I pooped out by dark and was planning to make the drive home but got rescued by CLMTB Crew member John Schaubach who offered me dinner at his cabin and a place to pitch my sleeping bag for the night. YES!
John and I went for an early Sunday morning ride in the Yawkey Unit. He showed me how the CLMTB Crew had painstakingly spread a layer of Cuyuna’s red dirt/gravel mix on top of many sections of the trails that were primarily clay. John said that they refer to this mixture as ‘Cuyuna Gold’ because of its ability to harden the surface of a trail while still providing good traction. It’s amazing the amount of work that’s gone into doing this and what a difference it makes, especially after it’s rained. Props to Cuyuna Dirt Boss Nick Statz, Yawkey Unit Dirt Boss Dave Taylor, and their team of CLMTB Crew volunteers for working with the DNR to make this happen.
The rain ended our ride at 9 am so we promptly headed to the Heartland Kitchen & Café in Crosby for their stunning Sunday buffet. I’d blogged photos of proprietor Maureen Christopher before but this was the first time I’d met her sweetie, Jim Christopher, who was the beauty on duty for the buffet. After two hours of gorging ourselves, John and I staggered out and I departed for home, sated and grateful for yet another Cuyuna weekend.
I had a consulting gig in Brainerd last Thursday and my client put me up at the Country Inn in Deerwood, about 4 miles from the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails. Of course I brought my bike, even though my shoulder was still giving me a little trouble. I was hoping for a miraculous Cuyuna Cure. I was a bit stunned when I walked into the lobby of the inn to see a virtual shrine to mountain biking. Evidently the owner, Dan Brown, is a biker and has experienced an economic bump from all the mountain bikers flocking to the area. I didn’t get to meet him but I suspect it’ll be Real Soon Now.
On Thursday night, I stopped by the Heartwood in Crosby where Minnesota High School Cycling League director Gary Sjoquist was doing his high school MTB racing presentation, as there will be a Cuyuna area team next season. I ran into two of my Cuyuna geezer pals, John Schaubach and Steve Weber, and Cycle Path and Paddle proprietor Jenny Smith snapped the photo of us (above right) doing the smartphone dance. I arranged to go for an early morning ride on Friday with John.
The day dawned cool, clear, and still. With the fall colors, it could not have been a more perfect morning. We took Easy Street to Mucker Mountain and then Little Sidewinder over to Hopper Hill where we ran into Dirt Boss Nick Statz doing trail work. The cool thing about riding with John is that he’s a walking history book of the Cuyuna Lakes area, having grown up there. And as a member of the the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail Crew, he’s intimately involved in all aspects of the park’s development. So every time we stopped for a break, I got an education.
John stayed on to help Nick and a short time later, I ran into Twin Cities area mountain bikers Greg Henningsen and Scott Christensen who were up for the day. My shoulder was feeling stronger than I expected (thank you, ibuprofen) so I followed them around for hours. By 5 pm, I’d ridden every trail in both the Mahnomen and Yawkey Units (insets B and D on the revised Cuyuna DNR map, now with directional arrows on the trails).
It was one of those it-doesn’t-get-any-better-than-this days that I’m still savoring. Thank you, Cuyuna.
Ben strongly urged me to get it fixed, saying that bad (expensive) things can happen. I was due at a friend’s cabin on Mille Lacs so there was no time to find a local bike shop to fix it.
I arrived in Crosby-Ironton on Sunday at about 10 am and was still undecided about what do to. I drove by Cycle Path & Paddle and thought I was hallucinating. The sign said OPEN. At 10 am on a Sunday? Be still my heart. There’s no way they’ll have a mechanic on duty now.
The Cuyuna gods smiled upon me. Owner Jenny Smith wasn’t there but mechanic Ryan Anderson was and within 45 minutes, he cheerfully fixed my wheel, trued my rotor, and did a few other adjustments. Total labor charge: $16. I tried to tip him $10 but he wouldn’t take it.
I decided I had to spend more money at the store or the Cuyuna gods might extract payment in other ways. I bought a “Shred the Red” hoodie and t-shirt and asked store employee Becky McKay to take my photo. She coached me on how to hold the shirt so “Shred the Red” was visible on the hoodie. Other than my wife, I don’t think anyone has ever coached me when I’ve asked them to take my photo. Very cool.
I met up with Aaron Hautala in the park’s Yawkey Unit (Inset D on the PDF map of the park; screengrab image on the right) and after a warmup (hah!) up and down the amazing Bobsled trail, we headed over to Timber Shaft and its challenging double X rocks. I’d been itching to ride Timber Shaft since I first walked it as a newbie last summer after purchasing my bike.
Here’s a 3-minute video of Cuyuna Lakes Dirt Boss Nick Statz riding Timber Shaft on his fattie in March:
The photo above shows one of the Timber Shaft rocks that gave me trouble (there were, um, others). I thought the left line (red) would be tougher to clean because of the sharp left turn required to get around the small rock (red circle). Not so. While the green line was a straighter approach with a slight down and up, after 5 tries, I hadn’t cleaned it. I kept spinning my rear wheel as I tried to accelerate (green check mark) to get up enough speed to get over the big rock. I finally figured out that if I delayed acceleration a few more inches, the bike was more level and traction was better. As long as I unweighted properly, I was able to get over the rock clean just fine. Lesson learned. For now.
Aaron and I then rode all the other Yawkey Unit trails (Tugger, Little Rock, Grizzley, Man Cage, Manual Drive, Skip). WHEEEE! When he had to head home, I followed him, as it’s a short bike ride. The lucky guy lives adjacent to the park.
I rode back to the park and decided to re-ride all the Yawkey Unit trails again. When I got back to Timber Shaft, I ran into John Seery and Michael Knoll from Michael’s Cycles in Prior Lake who I rode with back in late March at the MN River Bottoms. They and two other friends were tackling the narrow and rocky upper section of Timber Shaft and one of the guys fell and sliced his leg on, you’ll never guess, a sharp rock. Shred the Red became Shed the Red.
Michael had a first aid kit, patched him up, and he promptly got back on his bike and cleaned the section where he’d fallen. Take that! Off they went to the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby to get him stitched up. Just another way that mountain bikers bring economic development to the area.
By chance, I ran into Aaron later in the afternoon. He’d returned with his five year-old son Caleb who has gotten quite adept at riding Man Cage. I also happened upon Cycle Path & Paddle proprietor Jenny Smith out riding Haul Road. I told her she saved my butt by having her shop open on Sunday, and for being savvy in hiring these two talented young adults at her store, Ryan Anderson and Becky McKay.
So after 5+ hours of riding Yawkey, I reluctantly headed home. Cuyuna, I do love thee so. I will be back. Soon.
The plan was to pre-ride the race course at the Sagamore Unit at about 6 pm but the high daytime temps and sunny skies had softened up the packed snow so much that Cuyuna dirt boss and race director Nick Statz was worried we’d create deep ruts and ruin the course for Saturday’s XC race. He suggested we all ride the Yawkey Unit instead and we agreed.
We first headed back to the Yeti spaghetti feed at the Legion where Nick Statz’s daughter introduced me to her personal Cuyuna Yeti.