Northwoods Minnesota Loop
One of the advantages of living in rural northern Minnesota is the availability of many outdoor recreational options -- and many lightly traveled roads. One loop I like to bicycle is close to our house and 50 miles in length. I've done it in a day, but this time I decided to camp overnight halfway.
So, I loaded up my REI Novara Randonee and BOB trailer. BOB usually stands for "Beast of Burden," but on some uphills it feels more like "Bucket Of Bricks." My trip started at Hugo's Bar, from which point I headed north on County Road 44, passing the Cloquet River and Indian Lake Campground. (Indian Lake is a great starting point for a different sort of outdoor adventure: a trip down the Cloquet River by canoe or kayak.)
Farther up County Road 44, I passed the Brimson Fire Hall and post office, scene of a great farmers' market on Saturdays in the summer. At the 12-mile point, I headed east on Forest Highway 11, a paved scenic byway. Passing the Bassett Church, I was amazed at the recent renovation progress on this old building; it looks great.
I soon came to a series of small hills, and knew I'd reached the Toimi Drumlin Field, a remnant from the days of the glaciers; drumlin ridges are gravel, usually about a mile long and with small creeks running along their bases. I flew down, pulling the BOB, but downshifted my way up to the top of the next hill. (I could sense that I'm not as young as I once was.)
One worthwhile stop is the old restored Toimi School, where folks can get a sense of what life was like at a Finnish School at the turn of the twentieth century. Still on Forest Highway 11, I reached my destination for the night, Sullivan Lake Campground. Its forested setting makes you feel like you’re in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, but with road access. There are eleven sites, most of them right on the water, and it’s usually very peaceful. There was only one other site occupied on this particular night.
I set up the tent, cooked supper, and had a quiet, enjoyable evening.
The next morning, I had just a half mile to ride to the next turn on the route, which took me onto Lake County Road 2. I headed south (heading north would’ve take me to Ely, the jumping off point for wilderness canoe trips). The brand-new blacktop was a joy to cruise over. This area is one of the better places in Minnesota to catch a glimpse of a moose. I’m sure I just missed seeing one, after spotting wet moose tracks crossing the road. I did find a small deer antler on the road, so that was some consolation.
After about 12 miles on County Road 2, I cruised downhill to the last turn, heading west on County Road 14. It had a rather rough blacktop surface, but reconstruction is slated to occur soon, which should make it nice and smooth for future riders. Along this stretch I spotted a black wolf; seeing a wolf is not out of the ordinary, but a black one is a bit more rare.
A few miles later, I was back at Hugo's Bar, after logging 50 miles, spending a night camping out, and enjoying an overall excellent trip.
Tip for this adventure: Hugo's Bar is great place to start the ride, and/or to stop for a pizza, pop, or beer.
Favorite local bike shop: The Ski Hut in Duluth.