Third Annual Fargo Sub-48 Bikepacking trip

September 30th, 2017

If my bike trips had themes, the one for the 2017 Fargo Sub-48 it would be; just how little training can I get away with and still make this happen? I did not start summer with the intention of riding only a hand full of times, then participating in a two-day bikebacking excursion. Quite the contrary, actually.

Photo purchased from Smugmug 10/3/2017

Photo by Rob Meendering. www.robmeenderingphotography.com (photo purchased from smugmug)

What can I say though? I bought two paddleboards and acquired a kayak from a friend this summer. Simply preferred to be on the water instead of in the saddle.

Thinking I may have become just a wee bit lackadaisical preparing for bike trips. Not just because I kind of shrugged off getting ready physically. I also waited until the evening before departing to start getting everything together. Now, this is normally not an issue because Most of my bikepacking gear is stored in a large plastic tub. What isn’t in the tub is either hanging in the closet or spread out nicely where it can ‘breathe’. i.e. tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad.

Let’s just say after the last little biking excursion, I wasn’t so resolute on putting things away where they belong. Then some items were pulled out of the tub and put into service since that last ride as well… Also not put back where it belongs. Friday, just a mere couple hours before setting off to drive to the other side of the state, these words were actually spoken in my house: “I have the tent, but where are the fricken poles? What good is a tent without fricken poles?” (Yes, I used the word fricken and not the other F-word)

That was only part of the mad scramble to get everything ready at the last minute. I actually logged on to this very website to review my gear list just to make sure nothing was forgotten. Thank the lord I did. With the fricken poles as well as the rest of my gear, I was all set for a two-day bike trip regardless of what Mother Nature decided to do.

Two-and-a-half hours after leaving home I pulled into camp in a much better situation than I did for the 2016 Fargo Sub-48. This year it’s still daylight and it’s not raining. Last year required the setting up of a brand new two-person tent in the dark and in the rain to boot.

After checking in with a ride coordinator and getting my nifty bag of swag, I set up my little one-person tent just a few yards from the lake. Spent a little time later getting the bike ready for the next morning and chatting with some fellow riders. Just like last year’s ride, the field is open to 130 participants. As the event grows so does the amount of cyclist wanting to peddle back roads and two-track trails of Michigan, while carrying your own gear necessary for two-days of riding and camping. Made sure to get my entry in for the 2017 version the first day tickets went on sale in the spring. This year’s trip is taking place on the west side of Michigan’s lower peninsula a few miles north of Muskegon.

Google maps.

When I climbed into the tent for the night I instantly remembered just how comfortable my sleeping bag is. Pulling the top of the bag up and under my chin, I proclaimed out loud “I love you sleeping bag” and not long after that, found sleep in spite of all the boisterous action still going on at the nearby campfire.

When I’m in the sleeping bag I don’t move at all and this becomes a bit of a problem because limbs go numb waking me up necessitating a switch of sleeping positions. In a couple of these moments of awakeness, I could hear somebody in another tent near me rolling around on his sleeping pad too, but it sounds like he’s sleeping on a bag of potato chips. Or maybe he was digging for another Dorito, I don’t know?

At 6:00 am I woke to the sound of a generator being fired up so the coffee-aholics can get their morning fix. Was quite chilly this morning but I was nice and toasty warm in my wonderful sleeping bag. Not too eager to meet the cold, I gathered up all my clothes, that were inside the tent, and brought them in the bag with me for a few minutes to warm up so I’m not putting on cold clothes.

When I climbed out of the tent it was still dark, but the eastern sky beyond the lake was just showing a hint of daylight. Made my way over to the campfire joining a couple of half-awake souls, like myself, that were trying to stoke up a fire from last nights embers. Soon we had a roaring fire to stay warm while we witnessed one of the best sunrises I’ve seen since my Great Divide ride. A few more joined the warmth of the fire, as comments were made how there are a lot of people still in tents missing the great show.

Saturday morning sunrise

Bone Ends food truck, which provided the Saturday night dinner last year, arrived to feed us delicious breakfast burritos this morning. With breakfast done, I packed away the tent and sleeping bag for a day of riding with a proficiency as if it was just yesterday this ritual was part of my daily routine. Not two-years ago.

After the 10:00 am riders meeting, which was pushed back a wee bit, and the customary group picture of all of us riding a Salsa Fargo bike, I was more than eager to start turning some peddles and enjoy riding backcountry again. Unlike last year, the departure of riders is much more sporadic. Right out of start I found myself peddling alone for a few miles.

Didn’t take long for more than a just a few riders to pass me at what I calculated an average 2 mph faster than what I was traveling. At last year’s ride. my riding and camping companion just naturally peddled at a slower pace than I was accustomed. Factor in too that she had developed knee pain right from the start, and we were passed at roughly the same 2 mph disparity I’m experiencing this year. Yes folks, I’m riding the same pace as an inexperienced bikepacker with severe knee pain, and I’m neither one.

Today’s ride is 46 miles long with an option of taking an alternate route that offers an additional 20 miles. To answer the question in all of your minds… Heck NO I didn’t ride the additional miles! I began the day with a prayer just to complete 46 miles.

As the miles ticked away clear skies and sunshine warmed the air to mid 60’s and I was soon able to strip away the jacket and gloves, riding along in my preferred shorts and t-shirt. Roughly halfway into the ride, there is a stop for lunch. Let me just say right now, any amount of stopping for a break can prove difficult to get going again. Too long of a break and it becomes really hard for me to get the legs pumping again, without a fair bit of discomfort attached to it.

My stop for lunch lasted about 20 minutes but had I known what type of terrain waited right after, I would have simply grabbed a few items and hit the trail right away, then stopped and snacked AFTER the series of leg burning, lung torching, soul-crushing hills. Ok, maybe they weren’t that bad but taking a break immediately before made those hills feel like mountains.

At the riders meeting this morning, it was casually mentioned our route passes a bar roughly 6 miles out from tonight’s camp. Wait! What? Not sure what kind of shape I’m going to be in at mile 40 but I’m certain it’s going to be just right for a cold brew. A few miles away from the bar yet my lack of conditioning is really starting to come to a boiling point. My legs feel like lead and it’s going to take more than a bit of willpower to finish today.

Coming to an intersection I’m a little unsure of which way to turn, so I stop to look at the map. Just as I decipher where I am in relationship to the map and point my bike in the right direction, three other riders come up and we peddle on together. Miraculously we’re just a few hundred yards from the bar. We all pull in as if no other option but stopping exists. About a dozen bikes are already resting against a fence and we add ours to the collection.

Don’t think that’s what this bar had in mind welcoming bikers.

All those that peddled a bike to this local were sitting at tables out back. Ordering a beer at the bar I headed out and sat at a table with three young guys from Ohio. After they decided what to order off the menu I took a quick glance too and decided to pass on the highly recommended pizza (because that is what’s on the menu for tonight in camp) and ordered the second recommendation, a beef burrito.

Had a nice conversation with the trio from Ohio. When they decided to get back to the ride I still had a bit of burrito and beer to savior. Right after they left a couple took their place at the table. After introductions, I asked Dane and Stephanie where they were from. Their response gave me a bit of a pause. “That’s where I’m from,” I said. With a little more info we discover about three miles separates our homes.

No idea how long my keister sat idle at the bar but I figured it to be somewhere between; ‘This is going to be torture’ to ‘No fricken way!’ At any rate, I walked out front to see that more than half the bikes registered for the ride were parked outside this little watering hole. It’s a bikers bar now!

Taking over the High Tower Bar.

The first few minutes of riding, discovered much to my delight, the legs feel better than before the stop. I’m crediting the burrito. Maybe feeling a bit too good because the stretch of paved road right out of the bar seems like its been going on for way too long and had me thinking I may have cruised right past an indicator flag signaling a turn to follow the route. Stopped to get out the map to make sure I didn’t miss a turn somewhere. All looks good… onward down the same road.

Less than half-a-mile after making my confirmation with the map, here came a fellow rider going the opposite way. Crap! I did miss a turn and so did this guy. We stop and he’s thinking like me, seems like we’ve been on this road for a while and should have departed the pavement a long time ago, but another confirmation of the map still says otherwise, so we continue on again.

Rode the final miles to camp with Troy. As much as I enjoy to peddle alone, taking in the serenity of the countryside, it was nice to ride and chat with somebody. Although Troy certainly is one of those guys that probably passed me miles back. More than a couple times I had to tell him that I need to back off the pace a bit. The burrito was giving out on me.

Saturday night camp

Pulling into camp, the first order of business is setting up the tent, because it was packed away wet from the morning dew, and to get out of these darn cycling shorts. Unfortunately, a shower is out of the question, as those do not exist at this camp. No flush toilets either. Fortunately though, the temps stayed cool today and the trail wasn’t dusty. Had this ride taken place the previous weekend, when temps reached the 90’s, tonight’s campfire would have a whole different aroma.

After having a delicious dinner of fresh, handmade, wood-fired pizzas, I sat around the campfire for a couple of hours and enjoyed the company of some great fellow riders. Before too long though my body had told me enough is enough and it’s time to get some rest for the night.

Wood-fired Pizzas wherever the party is.

In the comfort of the sleeping bag, I’m wondering if the activities of the nearby campfire will keep me awake. So, decided to take out the iPad and read a few pages of a book I’ve been reading. Barely made it through one page before my eyes became too heavy to hold open.

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