January 17, 2009: Swan River, Marcell, Bigfork, Effie, Northhome, Bemidji, Deer River, Cohasset, Swan River (with detours)




I should start by saying that I hope this never happens again.

Started out in the morning with Jamie picking me up from the house at 7am. This was supposed to be our Lake of the Woods ride, although since Pat managed to melt his engine last weekend, we postponed the ride a month or so to give him time to rebuild it.

Jamie told me the night before that he wanted to be back home for his daughter's soccer game at 9pm. We figured that leaving at 7am and riding the route I proposed would get us back with plenty of time to spare. The route:

Start in Grand Rapids, ride to Cohasset, Deer River, Cass Lake, Bemidji. Catch lunch. Ride up the Blue Ox trail out of Bemidji to Northome, then down to Effie, Bigfork, Marcell, and back to Grand Rapids. I estimated roughly that it was 212 miles. Roughly. To be safe I would have added 10% to that (to make it 233), but we never really got that far in the planning stages.

I suggested to Jamie on Friday night that maybe we wanted to consider just trailering to Swan River instead of Grand Rapids. It would add a little mileage to the trip, but we had all day, right? (Next time we should really do the math before making last minute changes like that. Turns out it's probably about 30 miles one way.)

And so that's how it started. We departed Swan River at about 8:15 on the sleds, heading north to hook up with the Penguilly Trail. Right off the bat, between Swan River and the Penguilly Trail, we missed a turn. Never saw the intersection. Don't know how we missed it. Add about 10 more miles to the trip.

Got up to the Taconite Trail, hung a right to go to Cohasset. Wrong. Cohasset is a left. We both read a trail map/sign along the way and both thought it was left, so we're not sure now what went wrong - if we misread the sign or if the sign was wrong. Anyway, by the time we figured it out we were a good 10-15 miles up the trail at the Clearwater shelter. No loss though - by going this way we were really just running the route in reverse, as my planned route had us coming back this way.

Continued up the trail, got some gas in Marcell, and rode and rode and rode. Got gas again in Northome, and got some food in Bemidji. Studied the maps in Bemidji while we ate. Should have maybe studied more.

Left Bemidji...wait - before I go on, I must say that I was overall disappointed with the trails around Bemidji. They were, on average, poorly marked. The Blue Ox was very poorly groomed. They obviously had some recent snowfall and high winds which made some decent drifting, but that aside it was still poorly groomed. I should have taken a picture of some of the signs - a yield sign 3 feet before the intersection that you need to yield at. Or better yet, the yield sign on the on the other side of the intersection (we both couldn't help but chuckle at that).

So, we left Bemidji, and headed to Cass Lake, then off to Deer River. Heading down the Soo Line trail, we missed our left turn (through a combination of not seeing the trail intersection - it's dark now - and the map that we were using not being accurate about where the intersection occurred). By the time that we get that all straightened out we've gone 10 miles past where we needed to turn. Turn around and head back.

Up the trail, cross Hwy 2, and come out at Lake Winnie. Hang a right at an intersection right at the road (this one is on the map, or so we thought). Keep going. Awesome trail - conditions were great, trail was windy but fun, and signed very well. Lots of arrows for the turns. Keep going. Go through a small town. This was somewhat odd - neither of us could place the name of the town - we knew we weren't to Deer River yet (and boy weren't we ever, but I'm getting ahead of myself). Keep going a few more miles. Trail intersection. What?!? There's not supposed to be another intersection. There's also a sign there that says "Squaw Lake 3m". The arrow points back to the way we just came. Great, now we know the name of the town. Get the map out.

This is the biggest 'oops' of the ride. Squaw Lake is halfway to Northome. This is about...23 miles out of the way. How did we get here? Apparently we missed an intersection that we needed to take a right at, but we TOOK a right at Lake Winnie. Mass confusion. Back to Squaw Lake, get gas, and keep backtracking. By now it's getting late - probably about 10pm or so.

We examined the map closely, determined pretty closely (within a couple of miles) where our missed intersection had to lie. When we got to the missed intersection it was clear how we made the mistake. To say it wasn't our fault wouldn't be exactly correct, although it was very poorly marked (ok, it wasn't marked), and the dark conditions made it very difficult to see. The signs (those excellent signs I spoke of earlier) also misled us.

You see, when we came down the trail originally, moving along at perhaps 40mph, we came to a hard left. There are no less than 3 reflective arrows pointing left, plus a sign with some mileages that are all to the left. This is no different than any of the other countless hard 90s that we've encountered on this trail in the last 15 miles or so. Hang a left and give it some gas! What we missed is that the trail ALSO went straight, which is what we should have done. However you don't see the trail going straight at night all that well - the sign with the mileages is in the middle of the intersection and points left. A large reflective orange diamond with a black arrow is on a post and points to the left. No markings indicating that this is actually a trail intersection. None. None of the mileages on the sign are for towns on the straight part, only for towns on the left part. During the day this is probably clear as a bell. At night, not so much.

After getting on the right trail there we did fairly well the rest of the trip. Made it back to the truck at about 12:15am and on the road about 12:30. Could hardly keep our eyes open on the truck ride home. Home at 1:30.

We ended up being disadvantaged by riding the route in reverse from how it was intended, although we didn't realize it at the time. By riding it in reverse, we committed ourselves to the entire ride without modifications very early in the day. Had we run it as intended, we could have taken a shortcut or two in the afternoon/evening to make it back in a shorter amount of time.

This was the longest ride I have ever gone on, by a good 40-50 miles. It's also the longest time I've spent riding. I've had longer riding days, but they have always involved a breakdown and more time in the truck than on the sled. I'd rather not have a repeat of this one though - it's just a hair too long...

We were very fortunate with no mechanical issues whatsoever. Jamie took the rhubarb award though. I wrote more for this paragraph but decided instead to be nice and end it here. :)

Total miles this ride: 408
Total miles this year: 1024



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