Spring is what you might call LATE in in Northern Minnesota…another way of saying we haven’t seen 50 degrees in five months. But as we approach May, it’s now only a matter of time [no matter how deep our pessimism] before we get out riding in earnest.
In that same spirit of optimism, below are some iconic rides in the Northcountry for 2013. Some of the rides are pretty challenging, but most offer several distance options that cater to a wide variety of cyclists.
May your hearts be warmed with anticipation.
April 28: Minnesota Ironman. The original Ironman that continues as a bike ride. It’s an annual rite of spring that runs no matter what the weather may bring. All things being equal, this year’s edition ought to be a doozie. Hypothermia, torrential rain, riders mummified in layers of poly and spandex…yup, its the MN Ironman.
June 2-8: Cycling House Wisconsin Training Camp. The camp convenes about 45 minutes west of Madison, WI in the Driftless region. So the story goes, the glaciers receded before they flattened this part of the state. The area has 1000 feet of climbing every 10-15 miles. This year includes a preview of the WI Ironman course along with the legendary food, fun and coffee that TCH is known for.
June 15: Menomonie Gran Fondo, Menomonie, WI. Running as part of the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival, this ride has several options that take-in the route the professional cyclists will ride. The 87 mile route is classic and has over 5000′ of climbing, but the big draw is the mojo of thousands of cycling fans gathered at one of the premier Midwest races. Be prepared for hard-core riders on a mission to crush the opposition.
June 22: Superior Vistas Bike Tour, Ashland, WI. The Bayfield peninsula on the south shore of Lake Superior is flat-out, oh-my-gosh, drop-dead gorgeous – and has long stretches of perfect pavement. There are three categorized climbs through the interior of the peninsula and a grand, swooping descent down to the lake shore at Cornucopia, WI. [The climb leading back to the high point of the peninsula is aptly named Leaving Cornucopia.] Somewhere around mile 85 there’s a 1 mile dogleg of broken pavement and chuckholes named THE HELL OF THE NORTH – a thinly veiled reference to Paris – Roubaix. I found this cheeky bit of humor indescribably funny after 4000 feet of climbing!
July 14-21: Habitat 500. This week-long 500 mile ride is a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity. Last year’s ride featured the endless blue sky and farms of south-central Minnesota. This year the tour comes north past lakes and national forests before turning around at Grand Rapids. The rest stops are outstanding – with food themes for each day and incredible cold pressed coffee every morning. The mix of people is rather ideal. There’s everything from people pedaling folding travel bikes to triathletes on $5000 carbon wonders: all contributing to a fun and laid-back community. It’s the Cadillac of charity rides.
August 3: Mesabi Tour. The Mesabi Trail is one of the longer Rails to Trails projects in the United States. This Tour showcases 63 miles of riding in the Iron Range of Minnesota, past numerous pit lakes and through stretches of quiet forest land. The word that comes to mind is special…a real gem. Because the ride is very family-friendly, you will see just about every kind of 2 and 3 wheel vehicle known to man. Watch out for deer and bald eagles, inline skaters wearing ear buds who can’t stop or turn, and dog owners who allow Fido to use all 20 feet of his retractable leash.
September 7: My Annual 200 K on the North Shore of Lake Superior. This is my own ride that I hope to register with RUSA this year. The ride along the lakeshore is so very pretty in the early morning, and reaches its climax on the summit of Mt Josephine [CAT 4] – where you can see out to Isle Royale National Park. Across the border the ride loops through Pigeon River Provincial Park and four more categorized climbs. Going through customs into Canada on a bike is pretty different, and contributes to the adventurous vibe. The ride ends with a second climb and descent of Mt Josephine down to Grand Portage. Canadian drivers seem to love honking and waving as they pass you.
September 28: Headwaters 100, Park Rapids, MN. This is one of my favorite century rides. Fall colors and the climbs along Wilderness Drive in Itasca State Park contribute the ride’s great appeal. In the park the pavement is excellent as you climb 1100 feet over 16 miles on perfectly spaced rollers. The area surrounding the Headwaters of the Mississippi River also features hardwood forests, and low traffic. The legendary chicken and wild rice soup at rest stop #2 is a treat worth waiting for, and also signals that the bulk of the 3200 feet of climbing is done. Be prepared for cool, stormy or cold weather [usually at the same time] followed by sun and wind. I carry an arsenal of clothing.