Mountain Biking Weekend on the North Shore

I have a group of friends who I met whitewater kayaking and we have been doing a yearly mountain biking trips for a number of years. Last year we were overwhelmed with the crowds at Cuyuna and with my friend Nora moving to Duluth we decided to change it up and use her house as a base for the weekend. This time of year in Minnesota the weather can be a bit finicky and when I woke up weather was questionable for the flight north but by 10:30 it had improved enough to make the trip VFR under the clouds. After an uneventful flight and my plane was tied down the adventure could really begin. After lunch we headed over to a flowy city trail in Lester park. It was just a fun easy warm up with pretty fall colors and beautiful river views.

Saturday we had planned to bike the Mission Creek trails but a big blob of heavy rain was descending on the area. Cancel that plan. There was a new trail that had a “soft” open near Split Rock further north so plans changed and we piled in the truck. Thanks to the internet we had the beta on parking and trail access. The trail begins at the end of a rough, rocky steep jeep trail with just a little sign. We nailed the time of year with the trees close to peaking in color. It was a gorgeous ride with some challenging rock features and bridges. This trail was designed to be more technically than the popular flow styles found elsewhere on the North Shore. We all enjoyed it immensely, with added enjoyment that it was such a new trail and not yet heavily trafficked. Be forewarned the Green, Blue, and Black ratings are relative to this trail and are much more difficult than other mountain biking trails. That said, on the blue and green sections walking was always an option (I was able to ride all of the features, some getting the heart pumping faster than others).

Saturday night we had boating plans. A band that Jeff, Danielle, and Jen had seen before was playing on a harbor cruise and we had tickets. I was not disappointed, the band had a great energy and the crowd kept the boat rocking. The only bummer was the early start and early end times, but it allowed us to enjoy the band’s after party at a downtown club. Somehow we lucked out and scored our self coined “VIP” couches were we could relax, drink, and dance. There may have been a bit more drinking than planned as Jeff kept making trips to the bar and coming back with another beer for me…

Sunday morning the plan had been to do another ride but the previous evening/overnight rains soaked the trails making those plans disappear. Instead we toured the Glensheen mansion and grounds. It was impressive the amount of intricate woodwork and ornate light fixtures – and the amount of coal needed to heat it back in the day (150 tons per year). When I got home Jean’s first comment was what I thought about the murders there. I was confused and she couldn’t believe it wasn’t part of the tour. Some searching educated me on a double murder at the mansion back in 1983. Huh, craziness. Guess the hope is to highlight the buildings and grounds…

I had been watching the weather all day for the flight home and it wasn’t looking good. Low clouds, fog, and poor visibility doesn’t make for a good day for flying. Around noon-ish things started to improve only to drop back to crap. Ugh. Nora, Jen and I had a late lunch and driving back to Nora’s I checked the real-time weather at the airport. It looked close to good enough to fly so we headed for the airport. Climbing the hill out of town we drove into dense fog. Confused, I checked the weather again (while 5 miles away) and the airport was still calling for better visibility and ceilings, so we continued. Arriving at the airport we could see that to the west it was cloudy but with acceptable visability. To the East it was socked in. Plane loaded, weather checked, flight plan filed we requested a west takeoff towards the better weather and were soon rolling down the runway. It was an IFR flight but one with a reasonable risk profile should there be any issues enroute. A short 45 minutes later we were landing in the clear skies in Minneapolis. Whew.

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