Bikepacking: Tour de Chequamegon

We were short on calories, but not on type II fun.

Between my upcoming Europe trip, cyclocross races, and a short BWCA trip this summer, I don’t have a ton of extra PTO saved up for bikepacking. It was a no brainer, then, to take advantage of the holiday weekend and spend two nights in the woods.

Cory and I rolled out of the Cable municipal parking lot on Saturday morning — our bikes heavy with luxuries like hammocks, extra fleece leggings, and our Kindles. Since our mileage was only going to be in the mid-thirties each day, we both agreed that the extra weight was worth the comfort once we got to camp.

The route begins with a series of climbs up to Camp 38 Road. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the same road the the Hungry Bear 100 ends on. Known for its deep ruts and baby head-sized rocks, Camp 38 definitely keeps you on your toes — even more so when every Wisconsinite and their grandma is out 4-wheeling in the woods, enjoying a couple cold ones before noon.

We ended up pulling over a couple times to let the 4-wheelers have their fun, and overall they were all really considerate. All but 3 teenage boys wearing nothing but helmets and American flag boxer briefs slowed down so they wouldn’t kick up sand.

Our relief from our motorized brethren came in the form of singletrack. It was clear that no one had come through since winter to inspect how rideable the trail was. I think we ended up hoisting our bikes over at least 4 downed trees. Aside from that and the leaf coverage, the singletrack was in great shape — easy enough to ride on a loaded bike, but flowy enough to break up the monotony of gravel roads.

Saturday wrapped up with some gravel roads that led to our first site at East Twin Lake. The campground was small, but tidy. Cory and I pitched the tent, hung our hammocks, and spent a couple hours reading. We were both famished by dinner time and that’s when I realized that I hadn’t accounted for our larger-than-normal athlete appetites when I packed our food. We’d definitely be hungry over the next two days. Being the easygoing one of our partnership, Cory shrugged it off. It was a problem for future Cory.

We took a little walk around the campground and watched the sun set at the boat launch. One of the signs posted at the launch said, “Don’t shoot swans.”

“Who’d shoot swans??” I joked. “They’re like the most graceful and elegant bird! Must be a Wisconsin thing.”

Sunday was more scenic gravel roads and fairly uneventful until we got to the ATV trail. I had originally been looking forward to this section since it broke up our riding a bit, but was definitely ready to be done by the end.

I suspected it would be muddy and maybe a little flooded, but I didn’t really think that I’d have to change into my Chacos and shoulder/push my bike for nearly 5 miles. The trail was obviously popular among 4-wheelers and we dragged our mud-laden bikes into the weeds on either side each time we heard the roar of their engines through the woods. It made sense that they were all keeping their speed up on those sections. If they had slowed down, they would have gotten stuck.

It took us about an hour to go those 5 miles and we were both relieved to roll into our “hike in” campsite (literally 100 feet of hiking) at Moose Lake that was off on its own peninsula, set off from the rest of the campgrounds.

We both ate tortillas with peanut butter as a post-ride snack, washed the swamp water off our legs in the lake, and basked in the sunlight from the comfort of our hammocks until dinner time.

By dinner, emotions were running high as both Cory and I eagerly waited for our Mountain House Chana Masala to fully hydrate. After two spoonfuls my eyes met Cory’s and, crestfallen, I told him it tasted like vomit. He took his first bite and, based off the look on his face, I knew he agreed. We both tried to power through our portions by not thinking about puke and drinking lots of water, but we weren’t able to finish one packet between the two of us. Luckily I had ginger candy with me to get the nauseating taste out of our mouths and memories.

We were both still really hungry. We made a pact to not talk about the vomit-flavored chana masala again.

Over the warm light from the bonfire and grumble from our stomachs, we pulled up a map on my phone and found a shorter way to get back to Cable the next morning. If we left by 7am, we’d be in town by 9am for breakfast and beat the incoming rain. No brainer.

As we settled in for bed, I learned firsthand why people shoot swans. And honestly, I don’t blame them.

This is what a swan sounds like. Imagine that for at least a full hour, but with an echo from being on the lake. It sounded like a clown at a kid’s birthday party.

7am came quickly. I drank my hot chocolate and analyzed the storm clouds while Cory drank his coffee. We both downed our homemade oatmeal bars then set off for Cable. In a testament to how poorly I deal with hunger, I couldn’t get the “eggs, bacon, and toast” song from Parks & Rec out of my head. I sang it to myself the whole 20-something miles into town.

Cory and I took turns pulling and got into Cable minutes before the rain started. After loading up on baked goods and warm drinks at Velo Cafe, we happily made our way to Hayward for the main event: second breakfast.

Tips:

  • I’d personally go with a mountain bike for this route. Between Camp 38 Road, the singletrack, and the ATV trail, having a bit more traction and some suspension is not a bad idea. That being said, we saw some others who did the route on gravel bikes and one person on a Big Dummy.
  • Bring Chacos or other similar water sandals for the ATV trail if it has rained prior to your trip. At many points, the water was above my knees and it’s too rocky to walk barefoot without losing traction.
  • There’s a water pump at each campsite so you don’t need a filter.
  • Book the hike-in site at Moose Lake for some privacy.
  • Velo Cafe has amazing baked goods — even if you’re not on the tail end of a calorie-depleted bikepacking trip.
  • I’m bringing candy bars for our next trip.
  • The bugs weren’t bad on Memorial weekend.

This trip took place on Ojibwe land. Here’s a good starting point if you’re interested in learning more about the history of indigenous people in this area and how horrifically the US government treated them.

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