I’ve been known to drone on about how great we have it as cyclists in Minnesota. I’ll speak often of the gravel in the southwest, the friendly bike paths in and around the Metro and the variety of places you can pull out a cross bike and just get down. The one thing I had neglected was ‘Mountain Cycling’. Never had I ripped down the trail on a suspension rig. As all of my “serious” racing was over for the year – I was up for anything. My friends invited me to head up to Cuyuna with them and in this spirit I accepted. The offer of a sick full suspension bicycle just sweetened the deal. Never-before-seen trail, never-before-ridden bicycle and tons of late season form – a surefire way to guarantee success. I decided to ride as hard as I could in order to acclimate myself to this new ride. After all no asphalt and no splinters, a fall here is safer than anything I’ve fallen on this year. This internal dialog went on during the week leading up to the trip, but even so I was (to put it gently) freaking the fuck out. My friends were generous with their advice in response to my body’s attempt to spare itself any future harm. Linsey Hamilton and Jen Fischer win the award for best tip: take an old kit.
Cuyuna turns everything red.
6:10 AM: Saturday. Roll out of bed. Dress. Make a pot of coffee. Fill travel mugs. Grab helmet. Shoes. Hear little feet pitter pattering up stairs. Feel guilt for waking the Beast which in turn wakes the Wife. Give good bye kisses. “Be safe!” from both Sam and Aleisha as they pull the covers over their heads. Out the door.
6:50 AM: Arrive at Alex’s. See Bruce’s bike on the roof. Let the gravity of that sink in… Was nervous, now panicking.
7:00 AM: Brueggers. I buy to build in some mercy. The jalapeno cheese hits the spot.
7:05 AM: Rolling. Alex grabs coffee cup by lid, spills entire cup of hot coffee in his lap. Swerve, brake, jump out in the road, remove burning clothes from body.
7:10 AM: Back at Alex’s. Wardrobe change.
9:00 AM (ish): Bruce searches through backpack, pulls out a road shoe (no cleat) and a mountain bike shoe (cleat). Phone calls commence.
9:30 AM: Loaner shoes worked out. Meet-up in Brainerd.
9:45 AM: Gas station stop for shoes, load up on junk food & beer. This ‘Mountain Cycling’ may not be so bad after all. Revel in the fact that liquor store in Brainerd opens before 8:00 AM, and sells Surly. Make a note to reconsider retirement plan.
10:30 AM: Arrive at trail head north of Crosby, remove bike from roof. Super awesome Yeti is mine for the day, weighs a “bit” more than my road bike. Alex – my tour guide / mechanic / Sherpa (“bro” in the vernacular) for the day – gets the shocks set up and shows me all the buttons and knobs. These are more complicated than previously thought. Ride around the parking lot is a revelation in comfort. Squish squish. Neato.
10:45 AM: Kitted up, met Ben and roll out. Gravel road, familiar. First left onto the trail, foreign. Bruce in the lead, Ben, your intrepid author then Alex. Pace feels quick with the trees buzzing by, but things seem to be going well. Lots of small ups and downs. Not hard to get the bike up in the air, and landing is rad with all the cushion. Head into a sharp turn and realize I needed to scrub speed. I’ve been warned that my front break predilection on the road isn’t a good idea here. Grab rear break. Wheel immediately locks up, I must look pro dragging the wheel around behind me like that. Make a note, disc brakes work. Really well. Make it through the turn alive, remember the joy of doing slides on the rear wheel with a coaster brake as a kid. Having a blast. Effortless to maintain speed through the corners and over bumps (I’m later told this is called “flow”). Some climbing, but nothing extreme.
11:45 AM: Talk to Robby and Jeff, they’re meeting us at the other end of the park. Long gravel straight in front of us to meet them. Someone makes a joke about going fast. Commence sprint. Switching up to the big chain ring on my bike fails, chain too short, save it, spin spin spin. Bruce shifts, throws chain off the front, pulls a miraculous save by Fred Flinstoning the bike with thigh on top tube at 25 mph. No one dies.
12:00 PM: Meet up with Robby & Jeff – head out to the other part of the trail. This is the busier area. Everything here has a name (and some sort of difficulty rating that our Leader ignores). More climbing, but nothing too intense. I’m committed to the middle chain ring, later we will be wed. Pace picks up more now and I’m dropped every turn. Thankfully Alex is behind me (just in case) laughing at my inadequacy all the way.
12:30 PM: I feel okay, we’re rolling, having fun and for the most part I’m in control of the bike. When we hit sketchy technical stuff I can usually get a foot down, or bail in such a way that I’m still standing. It’s happened once or twice, and since we’re looking I can usually avoid the section the next time around.
12:45 PM: New hill to go down, steeper than anything I’ve seen yet. It’s a trail cut into the side of a hill, not much on either side. I get air (rad), come down on the right (downhill) side of the trail. Too far. I try to correct uphill to get back on the trail and hit a soft spot. Over the bars, kicking the bike off (thanks again cross) and somehow fold myself up like a taco and roll down the hill. While rolling I see weeds, get poked and hear a bang. After what seems like ten minutes I stop moving and collect myself. Alex is yelling something. I give him a thumbs up and yelling turns to giggling, the kind of Thank-God-You’re-Not-Dead giggling that’s common among cyclists who crash. With assistance I make it back up the hill and sit for a few. Alex gets the bike up – it is none the worse for wear except for the tree the bike hit. The Yeti lives up to its name. This was the source of the bang as its now missing most of what makes it a tree. We continue the loop of loosing and then collecting our shit on the side of the trail. I feel sturdy enough to ride again as Bruce comes back to check on us, apparently they have been waiting awhile. We opt out of elaborating on other than saying I fell. We decide that this would be a good time to head down to the cars as Ben needs to leave, and the rest of us feel like a beer. The ride back to the car is interesting. Vision is blurry. Beer now in hand.
1:00 – 1:30 PM: Beer, antics, blueberries.
1:31 PM: Alex and I are pretty gassed at this point and more or less fall off the back when we climb a big gravel road. Again I’m thankful for the gearing as I’m reasonably sure I can pedal this bike up anything as long as fast is not required. The GPS confirms I’m moving up the hill at 3.5 mph. Glaciers move faster than this. We’re talking and not breathing hard. We get to the top of the hill. Big clearing, lakes on either side. This place, in addition to having great trails and what I’ve been told is the best off road riding in the mid-west, has jaw-dropping views.
1:45 PM: Take it in, delay riding.
1:55 PM: Start hunting for a trail to ride back down the 200 feet we just climbed up. Off the back at first turn. Having a more moderate version of fun post crash. Arrive at the same big shale berm we’ve passed three times before. Go for it. Dumbassery – brake in the apex. Tumble tumble, fall. A few more scrapes for the collection.
2:05 PM: Back up, rolling. More playing around, but Alex and I are both cashed. We dutifully climb back up with the rest of the group and start down. Alex gets a flat, we exit. Coast back down the gravel road with the flat and our thoughts.
2:15 PM: Pack up and take a swim in one of the clearer lakes I’ve seen in MN. Cuyuna has it all.
3:00 PM: Drive home and Bruce and I meet up later at a birthday party.
7:30 PM: Bruce, myself and the rest of the Balance gang meet up for Dano’s birthday.
Midnight (ish): Sleep
A good day.