The Upper Peninsula and especially the Keweenaw have held a special place in my head and heart since probably before I can remember. To a kid growing up near Detroit in the '70's, both were representative of wildness, wilderness -- in ways that were collectively inspiring and terrifying. Two traverses of Isle Royale by foot and canoe, eating whatever we could hook and going hungry otherwise, could safely be said to have hooked me on minimalist wilderness travel from my pre-teen years, and I haven't been able to loose that hook yet.
Not that I'm really trying.
Not that I'm really trying.
Then, just after college, I met some friends that were doing interesting things in the Keweenaw, and happily slipped into their vortex as they brushed out glades on Mt. Bohemia, then skinned and skied the copious lake-effect snow all winter. This was a decade+ before the lifts went in, and Steve, Brian, Red, and others had the place more or less to themselves. It's different now. For that and other reasons Jeny and I opted to leave skis at home on this trip, but I couldn't pass within spitting distance of the Keweenaw and not have us poke our noses in.
An unremarkable crossing of the lift bridge brought us to Hancock, whence we immediately ascended into a blistering whiteout. Snow came in sideways on the wind, slowing Clifford to a tentative crawl as the road and all visible navigational aids vanished. We crept gingerly into an empty parking lot, understanding intuitively that the trails were probably softer than ideal, and everyone else was doing something more apropos on such a day. Not having the luxury of waiting a day to ride, we added extra windproofs and stuck lights onto bikes, anticipating that the soft conditions would probably keep us out longer than we had daylight for. Somehow the snow stopped within moments of leaving the trailhead, but the ceiling remained at treetop level for the duration.
We were down to minimal pressures within minutes, but psyched to realize that the trails had a solid base underneath the fluff, allowing us to ride with effort, but not having to walk.
We'd end up seeing a dozen+ people out on the trails, most skiing, a few riding, and at least two ripping around on various grooming contraptions, rolling and packing the new snow for our use and enjoyment.
Once we had blood flowing and layering right, the temps seemed just fine and all attention was focused externally, enjoying sinuous trail weaving through low-angle winter light in the boreal forest.
Although internet maps showed the location of several fatbike specific trails within this system, the maps on the ground did not. Eventually we were pointed their way and spent a chunk of the afternoon ripping up and down these twisty roller coasters. They reminded me of some of the Hillside trails in Anchorage, and were clearly used year-round.
As the light waned we somewhat reluctantly worked our way back out, never quite getting the view of the canal that we'd hoped for, but climbing and descending some bonus hills while trying.
Not surprisingly we ended up closing the loop after dark. There's a certain feel that comes with being out after everyone else isn't -- sort of makes you feel like you're stealing a march, getting bonus miles or something. Or at least extracting your money's worth from the day, and then some.
This was our first extended ride of the trip, but the accumulated driven mileage and attendant travel details (sleeping in a new bed every night, strange sounds waking us up, bad food and too much of it) had us both feeling a bit beat down.
We knew it wasn't the Maasto Hiihto trails that made us feel so. They were exquisite -- another gem to be visited in the future, and a place that the locals are incredibly lucky to have out the back door.
We found pizza, root beer, and baked goods in Houghton, then slowly ambled through the storm to Marquette.
Thanks for checkin' in.