It’s suddenly summer. Last Tuesday we got 6 inches of snow here in Northfield but by Friday it was 65, yesterday 70 and today near 80. The trails along the MN River Bottoms dried out in a hurry so today I spent a few hours on the segment between Hwy 169 and 9-Mile Creek.
I captured some video of me riding a few of the log skinnies there and edited them into a 2-minute video, including two of my many crashes.
Last year, most mountain bike trails in Minnesota opened in late March (see my March 2012 blog posts). This year, we’ll be lucky to have any open by May. It snowed last night in much of the southern part of the state after raining all day and much more snow is in the forecast for tonight.
It’s hard for me to be content with the gravel riding I’ve been doing on the county roads south of Northfield. I get bored, the cold wind bothers my ears, and the brown landscape gets old. So last week I posted a note to Facebook here and Twitter here:
Is there an off-road area in the Twin Cities area right now where a mountain bike can be ridden without doing damage?
And I posted this to the MN River Bottoms topic in the MORC forum here:
MORC Dirt Boss (Lebanon Hills) Bob Shephard replied:
One route that I’ve been recommending is start at the Sibley House, ride the dirt to Cedar Ave, cross the bridge, and then ride the dirt along the north side of the river back to 494. Then turn around and head back. There are several trails on the north side around the bass ponds. All guilt-free dirt riding, and probably pretty muddy in spots right now, if that’s what you are seeking. If you want to add some technical stuff, a good play area is underneath of the 494 bridge, especially to the east side where they added all kinds of rocks, and you have a nice gnarly hill heading up to the paved bike trail.
So I gave it whirl on Sunday.
I parked on Hwy 13 in Mendota in front of the DuPuis House (named after my great great grandfather Hypolite DuPuis), rode down the hill past the Sibley House, through the tunnel under the railroad tracks, and made my way slowly through the ice and mud along the bluff to the base of the Mendota Bridge. Once the trail moved away from the bluff (couple of blocks), the double track proved to be mainly solid and snow/mud-free (right photo above).
The area under the 494 bridge had rocks, like Bob said, but I didn’t find them to be much technical fun, as they were either too scattered or too sharp-edged.
But rather than continuing on to the Cedar Ave. bridge, I back-tracked to two areas just north of the 494 bridge that I’d spotted on my way that looked more promising for some technical riding.
Left photo: The log skinny was more difficult than I anticipated because it was wet. I never did clean it from the direction shown, though after placing a little kicker log to help me get up on it, I sorta cleaned it with only a shoulder/hip dab.
Middle two photos: I rolled a couple of sawed logs into position on the sand. They were fat enough to require a ‘moving hop’ once on top. The sand was soft so crashing was painless.
Right photo: the steps provided a perfect spot for me to deploy an old motorcycle trials practice technique. I picked a relatively easy line (red) and once I cleaned it 3 times, I tightened it up (yellow) and kept at it till I cleaned it three times. I then tightened it up again (green) but was only able to clean it once. Just for fun, I tightened it up once more (purple) and tried rear-wheel hops to straighten out the final muddy turn but never got close to cleaning it.
Two hours of technical playing made my day. Thank you, Bob.
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:
I began contacting a few guys individually about the Mammoth trail in Chaska over a year ago. Much of the information about it on the MORC site had been removed, as it’s not a MORC trail and some portions of it go across private property. We saw some ‘no trespassing’ signs and in a few places, tree branches had been deliberately placed across the trail. Neither the Mammoth page on MTBR nor the Mammoth page on Singletracks provide much in the way of current information.
The common refrain I’d heard: go with someone who knows the trail the first time because they aren’t marked and it can be difficult to find your way around. The map (right) was emailed to me with the caveat:
That isn’t the most updated map but it will work. Unfortunately there is not an updated map available. Skull loop has been shortened due to loss of access to some private land and Tom Thumb Loop is slightly different than shown.
So on Wednesday, I finally went with my son Graham who’s ridden there before. And we still got turned around a few times. It was a warm, humid day, occasionally drizzling – perfect for leisurely wandering the beautiful area—so getting a bit lost wasn’t a problem. And the Original Sin loop (AKA the ‘washing machine’ loop) was every bit as fun as I’d heard. Among the many challenging technical obstacles we encountered:
1. the half log skinny (right) which, as you’ll see in the first half of the video below, rolls from side to side. And in the middle of the log there’s a narrow ridge that runs nearly the entire length. If you ride to the right or left of the ridge, the log flips you off. You have to ride exactly in the center, on top of the ridge.
I made it on my 4th try.
2. the long downed tree skinny that slopes downhill. It’s pretty fat and has all its bark so I was confident I could ride down its complete length and maybe even up. On my first attempt I applied both brakes to scrub off my speed after about 20 feet and my rear wheel locked up and slid off. I noticed that my tires were partially packed with damp dirt, so I mentally reasoned, Move my weight back a little further for better rear wheel traction; less rear brake and more front brake.
You may be wondering: Why brake at all on a skinny, especially one that you can roll down? I find it helps my balance on a skinny to keep pedaling. So on a level or downhill skinny, I apply both brakes just enough to provide resistance to the pedaling. And this downhill tree is steep enough that you’d pick up speed quickly, making a crash a little more scary with the numerous trees around it. Plus, the tree narrows considerably as it forks to the left around a tree at the very end. That part would seem to require a slow, delicate touch.
Alas, I never got that far. My next attempt lasted all of 3 seconds and made me glad I had on all my body armor. More front brake was exactly NOT what was needed, as my front wheel immediately slid off, though in retrospect, I may have just applied it a little too hard when my front wheel was at a slight angle.
As the drizzle began to turn to rain, I decided it would be prudent to call it a day and make plans for a return engagement. I’ll stay on the Original Sin loop, however, as that loop doesn’t cross any private property.
See this 90-second video clip of my four attempts of the two obstacles:
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.
The entire Lebanon Hills MTB Park will be closed most of the day on Friday August 10 until 3 PM as the Leb Dirt Bosses and Dakota County Parks staff prep for the opening of the new trailhead and skills/terrain park. The current parking lot will be closed and the new one (paved) opened for the first time. Access to all the trails at Leb will then be behind the new trailhead building.
South/adjacent to the trailhead building is the new skills/terrain park. I got a chance to pre-ride it a bit on Monday with the guy who constructed it, Tim Wegner, owner of Trail Source. (Last fall, I blogged about Tim and his contributions to mountain biking, as did Chance Glasford in his blog.) Dave Tait, one of the Leb Dirt Bosses, joined us for the photo/video shoot.
Above: Dave and Tim riding some of the separate beginner and intermediate level skinnies, rock sections, and logs.
All of the advanced rock sections have multiple lines. The series of photos above shows Tim (left) riding an intermediate line down the one side of the rock pile, Dave (center) riding an advanced line down the middle of the same pile, and me (right) riding up the pile.
Riding down these three rocks (above) is challenging because of the gaps between them. Weight back, wheelie, unweight, repeat. Dave made it look easy. Ride up the rocks for a bit less of a challenge.
The same rocks (above) can be criss-crossed in a variety of ways, intermediate-to-advanced. I predict they’ll be popular with intermediate level riders looking to advance their skills as the rocks 1) have round edges and 2) are surrounded by strategically-placed wood chips to soften the, um, unplanned landings.
This rock section (above) is considerably more difficult when ridden this direction because of the slight downward approach to the extremely narrow skinny of rocks in the middle. Dave was able to clean it a couple of times. The video (see below) of him riding it the other direction (easier) also shows the right-turn, then left-turn narrow wooden skinny approaching the rocks section.
Two other tough obstacles: 1) the skinny made of uneven upright logs (left photo above) has a couple of slight bends in it; and 2) the large round bolder in the middle of the field can be tackled from all directions, not all of them successfully (right photo) I discovered.
There are two connected bermed turns in the NW corner of the park. Beginners can take them slow but there’s room to get a good run at them if you want to go fast.
The south end of the park has three lines of rollers and jumps. Tim shows that you can have fun just riding down the them at various speeds; riders can pump and manual over them, too, of course. The back two runs end with two large berms.
Dave shows (photos above in the 50-second video below) that you have fun jumping there, too.
I spent a couple of hot and sticky hours on the mountain bike trails at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis on the morning of the 4th of July. Most of the single track is intermediate level, with just enough elevation to have fun on the twisting turns. There are a few intermediate technical obstacles along the way (left photo above), and one XX loop with a berm, one jump, a rock garden, and one very difficult man-made skinny:
The biggest challenge for me on this skinny was having two turns (a left, then a right) that could not be negotiated without hopping the rear wheel on my 29′er. I could make one of the turns but not both.
After a half-dozen attempts, I got off my bike and studied it. I saw that I was not positioning my front wheel correctly so that hopping my rear wheel would place it at the widest portions of the skinny (right photo), allowing me to ‘straighten the turns.’
After another half-dozen attempts, I was still losing my balance on one or both of the turns. More study revealed that the skinny at these turns was slightly uphill, which meant that my weight needed to be forward a bit to be completely centered. Doing that, plus focusing my eyes ahead on a tree once I positioned my front wheel, allowed me to clean it on my next try.
There was just enough daylight left to get a ride in on some of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails, so I took Switchback from the campground over to the Mahnomen Unit and rode Crusher, Miner’s Mountain, Chute, Ferrous Wheel, Trammer, and Rocky Flats.
Early this morning, I took Drag Line from Portsmouth over to the Yawkey Unit, riding Man High Hill and Haul Road on the way and then Bobsled a couple of times.
Cool discovery #1: I had assumed both Switchback and Drag Line were just plain old connecting trails. Wrong. They’re both hugely fun intermediate level trails. Lots of rollers and a surprising number of berms for two-way trails. Non-stop pleasure riding, both directions.
Cool discovery #2: I took it a little easy on all the trails, as I was by myself, but it was so much more fun riding these trails than last year, I couldn’t stop grinning. Why? I’m in better shape, of course. But my skills are better, due mainly to A) what I learned about braking, turning, and ‘the attack’ position at the Leaders’ Summit skills class; and B) spending about an hour at Eagan’s Lexington Pump & Jump Park where I learned (thanks to Chance Glasford), how to pump, ie, accelerate without pedaling.
By 8 am this morning I was starving so I headed over to the Heartland Kitchen & Café, my favorite breakfast spot in Crosby. I lucked out, as some of the IMBA guys were there: Hansi Johnson, Midwest Regional Director; Andy Williamson, Great Lakes Region Director; and Aaron Rogers, Trail Specialist.
I coaxed the café’s proprietor, Maureen Christopher, into posing with them for a photo, since Maureen is such a fan of the mountain bikers who’ve helped her business thrive since the park opened last summer.
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.