One of my favorite trails in the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System is the Timber Shaft trail in the Yawkey Unit. The trail’s Double X rock sections and man-made skinnies are at the top of a hill with gorgeous pine trees and boulder-infested gullies. So I was stoked to ride it on a fat bike on Friday before the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout festivities. The trail’s snow conditions were perfect and the weather idyllic.
I purchased an iStabilizer Flex tripod mount a couple of weeks ago so that I could use my smartphone camera to take photos and video of myself riding. It’s not quite a GoPro put considerably cheaper.
Below is a 35-second video of me riding some of the areas pictured above:
The trails in Cuyuna’s Yawkey Unit are about as good as it gets: reasonably hard-packed, just wide enough, and fun. Haul Road trail is truly amazing, almost as fast as riding on dirt. And you really can get some speed on Bobsled. Wheeeeeeee.
However, there are a just a handful of spots on Yawkey’s south-facing trails where there’s a little bit of ice from snow melt so this morning, Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew (CLMTBC) member John Schaubach and I rode around and put dirt on them. That’ll make things a little less tricky for tonight’s s Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout group ride.
I came up to Cuyuna yesterday to get in a little riding before this weekend’s Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout. I met Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew (CLMTBC) president Aaron Hautala at 2 PM and we rode every trail in the Yawkey Unit, some twice. He and his fellow CLMTBC members had snowshoed the entire network of trails in Yawkey last weekend when the snow was sticky and their timing could not have been more perfect. With yesterday’s colder temps, the trails are hard and fast. In some areas, if you wander too far off the center (the ‘bacon strip’), your tires find the softer snow and you’ll slow down quickly. But generally, it’s primo.
This morning I’m meeting CLMTBC member John Schaubach to do it all over again. Saaaaweeeet. And tonight we’ll do it all again for the night group ride, when Aaron, John and I will be escorting the beginners around Yawkey.
I first fell in love with mountain biking when, out of curiosity, I attended the grand opening of the the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails in the summer of 2011. Within two weeks, I bought a mountain bike, started this blog, joined IMBA, and became addicted to the sport.
My love affair with Cuyuna further intensified when I first rode (and raced) a borrowed fat bike in the snow at the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout back in March. The Sunday after the race, participants were allowed to ride their fat bikes – one day only– in the Yawkey Unit, my #1 favorite section of the trail system. Heaven! But only one day? I couldn’t complain too loudly because I didn’t own a fat bike.
So when I heard earlier this fall that the Yawkey Unit would be open to fat bike riding all winter, I contacted Aaron Hautala, president of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crewand asked him for details on how the new policy came to be. He fed me bits and pieces of the year-long process and I decided to pull it all together into a blog post because it’s a story of perseverance and collaboration among private and public interests, all for the good of the sport, the natural environment, and the local economy.
In the fall of 2011, Jenny Smith, owner of Cycle Path and Paddle in Crosby, sent a letter to the DNR asking that Cuyuna’s trails be opened in the winter to allow snowshoeing in the park. While her letter didn’t specifically ask for winter fat bike access, she made the economic argument that the successful introduction of mountain biking in the warm months could be extended into the cold months with other winter activities besides cross country skiing.
On October 25, the CCSRA Advisory Council unanimously passed the following motion:
To explore funding opportunities to pilot a “Winter Tourism Package” for the CCSRA to allow winter biking, snow shoeing, skiing, and access to parking beginning in December 2011 in order to provide an economic boost to an area negatively impacted by the recession. Motion was made by Representative John Ward and seconded by John Schaubach.
Steve Weber, DNR Manager of the CCSRA, began exploring the options for a winter trail program with his DNR colleagues. In an email to them, he wrote:
It became apparent early on that the majority of our existing mountain bike trails are too narrow and steep for winter mechanized grooming. However, I do believe there are some winter riding possibilities on the existing mountain bike trail but that is going to require a lot more research and testing before we can offer it to the public. Time permitting, perhaps we can do some testing on that this winter… After some research, I discovered the perfect area for a winter bike trail and conceptually designed a trail in the Sagamore Unit.
Steve showed the Sagamore Unit trails to local Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew(CLMTBC) members who were gung ho about the plan and offered club assistance. His plan for a pilot project to see if there was desire and ability to open this unit up to winter riding in the future was approved by Courtland Nelson, Director of the Division of Parks and Trails. Plans were then made to brush the trails immediately and to secure the equipment necessary for grooming the trails in the winter. A group of CLMTBC riders began regular riding of the entire trail system to identify which trails and units would be best suited—experience and safety—for winter biking.
As the winter of 2011-12 set in, CLMTB club members began talking up the idea of a winter cycling event, and the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout was born. The race for the event was held in the Sagamore Unit and the Yawkey Unit was opened up for a one-day winter pass which CLMTBC promoted with this video:
CLMTBC riders had identified the Yawkey Unit very early on as ideal for year round riding because its:
Trail footprint is manageable to maintain, groom.
Trails provide a great experience for riders: scenery, range of difficulty and elevation
Trails provide a challenge on a fat bike all within feet of each other.
In April of 2012, CLMTB proposed to the MN DNR and the CCSRA Advisory Council that the Yawkey Unit be open year-round. In November, the plan was approved: the Yawkey and Sagamore units would be open all winter, with Sagamore to be groomed by the MN DNR and Yawkey to be groomed by CLMTBC and area snowshoers.
On Dec. 28, the Brainerd Dispatch featured a front-page photo of CLMTB members Aaron Hautala and John Schaubach riding in Yawkey, along with a brief paragraph explaining the winter riding rules.
So props, kudos, and high-fives all around to CLMTB, the MN DNR, and the CCSRA Advisory Council for making this happen. I expect to be riding Yawkey and Sagamore next weekend and I’m all signed up for the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout coming up in March.
Here are some recent CLMTB videos of riding fat bikes this winter in Yawkey and Sagamore:
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.