Winter cycling has been going on forever. And it certainly doesn’t require any special equipment to do it. But whenever it’s mentioned that you cycle in the winter, out trots the inevitable question: “do you have one of those fat bikes?” “No,” is my response. And, I must admit, I often feel inclined to add, “nor, am I into to cross-fit. Or vegan.”
See, that’s what generally gores my ox about fat biking. People won’t shut up about it. On and on about tire size and rim width, studded tires? Tubeless? Carbon? All this usually just for a jaunt across town, whether riding to work, the grocery store, coffee shop, or even the bar. But I get it, man, I really do. Fatties are fun. When conditions warrant, and especially with good snow, you truly can ride them almost anywhere. So when Surly Bikes brand manager Paul Zeigle asked me, “do you want to bike pack Duluth Traverse on New Year’s Day” then the answer was, “of course I do!” This would be my first foray into winter camping; I figured there was no one better to accompany than the Zeigle Scout if things were to go pear-shaped.
New Year’s Day dawned crisp. We drove up to Duluth and parked at Frost River, across from Bent Paddle Brewery, in a strategic move for post-ride beers. Unfortunately for us, though, BP is closed Monday-Tuesday. Not deterred, we loaded up the Surlys and climbed up (and up some more) to Skyline Parkway before wrestling our 60lb rigs on a stupid hike-a-bike up to the Brewer Trails. Once on the trail, the fat, wide tires had no problem rolling over the snow-choked singletrack and tight, twisting, switchbacks as we rode south on the groomed Duluth Traverse trails. It must be noted that COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores), the local trail club in Duluth, has done an outstanding job building a staggering amount of incredible singletrack in this region. We connected to a segment of the Willard Munger Trail, cut past Spirit Mountain and then on toward Jay Cooke State Park. Temps hovered in the low to mid-20’s, giving us pretty ideal trail conditions.
Arriving to the campground in the dark, we sussed out a good spot, got a fire going and commenced to melting snow and boiling water. Extra bonus: we received a nice visit from Kent Karjala, who was visiting his mother’s home nearby, aboard his Salsa Mukluk, replete with a backpack of Sierra Nevada. After a couple of cans, I crawled into my 20° bag wearing all the clothes I had for a night of frigid slumber, as the snow fell outside my tent.
I didn’t sleep well, but I didn’t freeze. When I woke up Paul had already broke down his tent and was making coffee. We ate oatmeal, loaded the bikes and headed back toward Duluth on a similar trajectory from the day before. The major exception was the first two hours, a largely hike-a-bike ordeal up some steep, chundery trails in the park that had a glorious ice-encrusted top layer, made only marginally better by the overnight snowfall. By the time we reached the Wabegon Bar & Grill we were more than ready for some hot pizza and frosty mugs. Further boosting our spirits, by some geographical sleight of hand, this little sliver of land is technically in Wisconsin. As such, filling our flasks with off-sale was not only allowed, but encouraged! Harumph!
Fully sated, we left Wabegon and warmed ourselves with a road climb back up to the Mission Trail. Warmer temps than the previous day gave us mashed potato trail consistency. Slogging back through Spirit Mountain, we rejoined the Munger Trail, forded a rocky construction zone, (thanks front-end loader guy for letting us pass) and with daylight quickly fading made it back to Skyline Parkway for a long grind up and over the ridge back into Duluth, before bombing back down steep 27th Avenue on to our car. Double bonus was the two cans of Torpedo IPA in the back seat that had not frozen overnight. A quick meal at Duluth Grill (worth a visit) then back in the car to Minneapolis. Special thanks to Paul Zeigle for the invite, and the loaner Surly Wednesday. I had a great time, was cooked for the next two days, and would do it again in a heartbeat. Don’t tell anyone, but I think I like fat biking.
Pintz Guzzled is #1