Lake Superior Bikepacking Two-Nighter

July 09, 2018By David Gabrys

This past winter I plotted out a 2 night bikepacking trip that would involve a significant portion of the Duluth Traverse trail, and put us on the North Shore of Lake Superior for both nights. In early June a friend and I set off from West Duluth on our plan to ride singletrack, gravel, snowmobile trails, and one short section of railroad. I prepared my Salsa Cycles Woodsmoke with 29” x 45mm carbon rims and 29 x 2.8 Coronado tires with tan sidewalls. It was the maiden voyage with it all decked out in the 29+ bikepacking set up.

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It was exciting to have the new tan sidewall prototypes of the 29 x 2.8 Coronado tires with the light and supple construction, and to be riding them for the first time on terrain they were designed for. The center of the tread pattern has shorter lugs with moderate spacing to roll fast, while the taller reinforced side lugs provide cornering traction for the fun singletrack sections on the Duluth Traverse. The 29+ diameter, combined with a tubeless set up also meant for a super smooth ride while loaded down.

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This would also be a great test for the Outershell Handlebar Bag, which is made in San Francisco and almost perfect for my Fuji XT-2 camera. I was also using a Revelate Sweetroll Handlebar bag and easily mounted the Outershell bag on the front of the harness to carry my camera.

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On a previous test ride with my X-Pro1 camera in the bag, I was concerned about the camera rattling so I retrofitted some thick open cell foam to place on the inside. There is a cutout in the center so my 35mm and 14mm lenses will nest perfectly inside while still attached to the camera body. This configuration worked like a charm.

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Now back to the riding. The Duluth Traverse trail connects West Duluth to East Duluth via a mix of singletrack and roads. It isn't just any singletrack either. It's IMBA Gold Level singletrack with a healthy mix of flow, technical, and rocky sections. We had a blast riding them with our loaded down bikes, knowing we would eventually get to the coast of Lake Superior that evening to camp right next to the crashing waves.

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Huge rock formations are characteristic of the Duluth hillside, reminiscent of the coastal regions of Sweden.

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Being the world's largest freshwater lake, and located north of the 45th parallel, Lake Superior remains very cold until the middle of July. When the wind comes off the lake in June, the temperature can drop from 80 degrees to low 50's in an instant. This is exactly what happened on the first day of our ride - a fog hovered over Duluth. We could feel sudden cold blasts of air slicing through the 80 degree air that sat towards the top of the Duluth skyline. It was like having natural air conditioning while you were riding. Pretty awesome.

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As we approached the end of the Duluth Traverse, the trail meandered through pine forests of Hartley Nature Center.

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As soon as we arrived at the edge of the water, we could feel the cold pressing on us. The air temp was 53 degrees, while it was closer to 80 degrees on top of the hill. Wool jerseys were put on, and we pushed forward heading north along the coast.

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40 miles into our day we arrived at our remote camping spot, right on the water, stoked to be there taking in all the fresh air and crashing freshwater waves. The flat slate rocks were perfect for chilling on and drinking a few beers as dusk set in.

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Camp was super basic, and primitive. Just how we wanted it.

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After the sun went down, the strawberry moon rose on the east side of the lake. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect evening. I couldn't stop having fun with the camera, trying to catch waves as the broke in front of the moon.

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Day two was a much mellower day in terms of mileage. It started with some delicious camp coffee.

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Although there was less mileage, the plan was to take a snowmobile trail that led to railroad tracks that would eventually bring us right into Two Harbors and Castle Danger Brewery. We made it to the gate where the snowmobile trail started.

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A quarter mile past this sign the trail was covered with water. It appeared rideable, but we immediately sunk up to our hubs in mud. Thinking that the water might subside a little ways up, we hiked on higher ground through the woods to see how long the water went down the trail. As far as the eye could see, there was water. Instead of bushwhacking for 7-8 miles through a swamp, we decided to make a dash to Two Harbors so we could have a few beers and chill on the water.

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The wind had shifted overnight and was blowing hot air in from the south. We capped off a perfect weekend with a growler of beer out on the lighthouse right over the water in Two Harbors. This is one of the places I look forward to every summer, because it is so serene and calming. With only a 2.5 hour drive from Minneapolis, it immediately feels like you are in a different climate and geology, as if you had arrived in Scandinavia. So awesome. I'm already looking forward to the next trip to this giant freshwater sea.