Monday, September 2, 2013

Munger Bungo 2013 Pre Ride

Though I created this route a year ago and this was my 4th time riding it, I've never managed to actually have time to write about any of the previous rides.  I suppose many things got in the way.  Last year, I had to re-write the entire second day after a flood trashed Duluth.  Now, finally most of the damage is repaired (okay, it's sort of done).

So this report serves two purposes, first it's the first ride reporting of what is surely the most interesting and scenic ride I have ever created, but it is also a guide for those about to ride the actual ride on September 7, 2013.  This report is not necessarily just "entertainment" - there is real information that will help riders know what to expect.

A note to GPS users.  Turn based GPS navigation does not work well in Duluth because many of the turns use routes that are not on standard maps.  Following a track does work.  I have no clue what kind of track may be available.  I had originally recorded a track, but the the number of detours rendered it pretty ineffective so I will not post it since it will run you all over any backtracking we had to do. The cue sheet in Duluth has been created specifically to use visual cues to help you know where you should turn.  You should have it in front of you even if you prefer a GPS.

Finally, the ride is starting 1 hour later than last year and the overnight is farther by about 15 miles.  The pre ride maintained a pace of 16-17 mph with a tailwind and had minimal stops at controls (5 controls before the overnight plus a 6th stop for water in Rush City).  That landed us at the overnight at 1:00 AM.  The loop from the overnight to Two Harbors is about 70 miles this year with 2 miles of sandy gravel.  The pre ride did this loop in 5.5 hours with a 20-30 minute stop in Two Harbors with rain/thunder.  There are no longer control stops in Duluth other than the Munger Inn.

To give you an idea of pacing:
170 miles to the inbound Munger Inn @ 
15 mph average with 3 stops at 20 minutes each  = Arrival time of 6:30 pm 
20 minute break at the Munger Inn/Duluth for cards/food and 10 minutes in Two Harbors (pretty aggressive since you haven't stopped much previously) and 70 miles @ 15 mph = arrival at the overnight at 11:00 pm.  Expect Duluth to slow your average, it's a big city with stop signs, traffic lights and some less than perfect pavement.

You only have about 150 miles from the overnight to the finish.  Two Harbors is more than halfway to the end.  The overnight itself doesn't close until nearly 7:00 am on Sunday, so if this is your first time and you are a slower rider, don't despair.  No 600k is easy, but time really should not be your enemy.  As long as you stay hydrated and well fed, you will be fine.  And honestly, it's having fun that matters, you get TCBC miles no matter how long it takes so choose your style according to your own goals.

The Pre-Riders
All pre riders have to provide support for the ride.  On the RUSA site, they suggest that the term pre-ride is probably wrong and "worker's ride" is more apt.  There are 6 volunteers for the Munger Bungo and 3 of them did the pre-ride.

The most important function of the pre-ride is to check the route sheet for typos, changes, road construction, anything that might screw up the ride.  No one wants to see a "Road Closed" sign in the middle of the night.

Road Pixie: Ride creator.  Taking notes on the pre-ride riding her trusty Summer Knight (built by Vincent).  Will be running the overnight.
Vincent: Navigating and running support at the finish of the official ride.  Riding an "experimental" frame.  This will be his first 600k since PBP 2007.
Glenn: Navigating and preparing for the Last Chance 1200k.  Provided support for the pre-ride in the form of Cristina...
Cristina: Drop bags, sleep stop, and overnight food support (pre-riders need these things too)

Your Pre Ride Crew (Cristina, Road Pixie, Vincent and Glenn)
The Munger Bungo begins in Stillwater, Minnesota, an old river town on the St Croix River.  Of course, we are starting in a parking lot.  The ride begins at the Super 8 on Hwy 36.  As you can see from the picture, it is just getting light at 6:00am.  The forecast for the day being favorable with winds from the south and a high in the mid to upper 80s.  By the time we officially stop for the overnight, we will have ridden 230 miles.

The First 200K
Stillwater and Washington County are known for hills and the first 50 or so miles of the ride are rolling with a good descent down into the valley proper at Marine on St Croix.  The morning is misty and clouds are parting.  Glenn and Vincent have the cue sheets and Road Pixie has a pen to take notes on any issues they have with navigating.  This can be picky stuff like "it should be US8 not MN8", etc.

It was a beautiful morning, we saw a bald eagle eating a large crow, sandhill cranes, and it seemed like an awful lot of frogs were up early.

We passed up and down the rollers and easily reached the Taylor's Falls area in a bit over 2 hours.
We ran into much more traffic on US8 than I have seen in the past.  This is the first time I have started this ride at 6:00am - every other time it has started at 5:00am.  There is a good shoulder on US8 during the big descent.  We stopped halfway down at the geological marker for photo ops.

The big view of the river
Glenn at the geological marker
Taylor's Falls is home of the Rocky River Bakery.  They have great donuts that I personally dream about (and I don't like donuts).
Road Pixie's Summer Knight outside the Bakery (try the Croixnuts)
 I ate two and bought cookies for the road.  This is a small town bakery so please if you are using the bakery, buy something there; the baker is happy to sign your card and sell you delicious stuff along with water, juice and soft drinks.  If you just want to use the restroom and go, use the Adium Station across the street.  There are several other places to stop along the way to the next control, Hinckley in 50 miles.

The climb out of Taylor's Falls is very gradual as it winds along the St Croix.  This is a quiet backroad bordering on Wild Rivers State Park.
Climbing out of the St Croix Valley
There is a short stretch on MN95 before turning north to Sunrise Minnesota, birthplace of Richard Widmark (the film noir star).  This year, riders are also treated to a lovely trip on Government Rd, which has been around for over 100 years.  

Look carefully and you will see winged lions and markers for buildings that haven't existed since the 1800s.  There is a very lovely view of the valley to the east on this road.  It was on this stretch that the first of the "incidents" occurred.  
Glenn and I turned around after a climb to find Vincent nowhere in sight!  Thinking he had a flat, we pedaled back.  Nope, his rear fender had cracked in half (not some cheap thing but a Honjo no less). This took out his rear generator light since there was nothing to mount.  Fortunately, he had two of them (being a good randonneur).  The other was mounted to his seat post.  We broke up the old fender into pieces and I put it in my seat bag.  Randonneurs do not litter!
Rush City - We have arrived "Up North"

We stopped in Rush City (about 60 miles), for drinks.  This is an easy place to stop and sits next to a beautiful turn of the century hotel, still in use.

Glenn in front of Grant House
Vegetarian Rider on Board - Tomato and Pesto available
on request
 From Rush City, a quick 11 miles on Old Highway 61 (new signs are aplenty) to Pine City.  Here we depart 61 for backroads up to Hinckley.  The tailwind is helping at this point and we make good time.  Tobies Marathon is our stop as we are eager to push on to Moose Lake.  The day is warming quickly.  Others may want to stop here at Subway, McDonalds or any number of fast food options.

Fire Monument Rd is crowded from the Labor Day weekend.  We make our way the mile or so to the start of the Munger Trail.
The Navigators are totally clear on where we are
The Munger Trail is one of the longest paved trails in the US.  It is also in the north where frost heaves and roots are common.  There are also 1 or 2 bridges that have rough entry or exits.  We continue on, the wind still blowing.  The sun is in force and Glenn's thermometer reads 86 degrees.
Starting the Munger Trail

Welcome to Willow River
We arrive in Moose Lake around 3:30 in the afternoon out of water and ready for a snack.  We scramble down the short trail to the Holiday Station and hit Dairy Queen for a second snack.  200k down!

The Second 200k

Rocky Pass going
Into Duluth
Out of Moose Lake, we continue on the trail.  After an emergency sprint to Carlton, we start down the Munger Trail.  This section is what I am most interested in.  It has been under construction for over a year to repair damages from the June 2012 flood.  We are happy to report that the ENTIRE MUNGER TRAIL IS OPEN!!!!  Of course, that doesn't mean it is finished.   There are 9 sections ranging from a few yards to a quarter mile that are still gravel.  We cruise to the Munger Inn arriving at about 6:30 pm.

Crossing the St Louis River
Cristina is waiting for us having checked in and gone grocery shopping.  We are treated to the finest hotel food one can hope for.  I have microwave pasta alfredo, fruit, cookies, snickers bars, etc.  Vincent has a microwave veggie pizza, I forget what Glenn ate, I'm sure it was good.  Of more interest was the weather...the sky had begun to turn ominous and a look at the smartphones shows a major storm approaching.  But that south wind is still blowing and if we wait, it will shift north.  So we suit up and head out in the rain after only an hour.  There are plenty of places to hole up in Duluth proper if the weather gets bad.  But there is quite a bit of lightning as we head into the neighborhoods of West Duluth.  I leave my front bag and my camera at the hotel (pictures taken during thunderstorms normally don't look good anyway).
Gravel section on the downhill of the Munger Trail into

The rain is not really hard, but a factor as we move through the streets and find ROAD CLOSED.  Just what riders will not be seeing next week since we are experiencing it now.  We mill around and figure out how to get around.  It isn't really pleasant.  I have to re-route for the ride next week.  The rest of the ride across Duluth is actually pleasent.  The storm passes very quickly and heads out over the lake.  Our trip down the Lakewalk Trail, usually a view of rocks and beautiful shoreline is even more spectacular as bolt after bolt of lightning crashes down on the lake in the far distance.  Really, there are some times I really wish I could bring a 35mm Nikon with a tripod - fortunately professionals abound so it looks just like these fabulous photos.  This was Vincent's favorite section and Glenn talked about stopping to hang out on a lawnchair and watch the fireworks.  But we are intrepid and continue on.

We finally get out of Duluth and head up the shoreline to Two Harbors.  By this time, it is about 8:30 and it's been dark the whole time from the storm so our lights have been on since we left.  It should be smooth sailing all the way up Scenic 61 to Two Harbors until we hit ROAD CLOSED.  Yes, Scenic 61 is officially closed just south of Knife River.  Time to follow the official detour.  Which is on gravel, only gravel on the North Shore is actually sand.   For us, it is wet sand, very hard packed and actually pretty easy to ride on.  For the record, we did check out what they are doing for construction and the road is not passable, not even on a bike.  But we get sand and grit all over the bikes.

We roll into Two Habors at about 10:00 and the rain is gone.  I have a hot dog and chocolate milk and lose the rain gear in favor of some arm and knee warmers.  Vincent and Glenn follow suit.

The ride back is uneventful since nothing can happen now that we don't know about.  Then the next fo Vincent's woes start: his backup rear light fails (no one has any N batteries).  I give him one of my two spares (because randonneurs always share....).  It's midnight when we are rolling back onto the Lakewalk and the deserted trail is now populated by groups of people walking around (really, this is one very popular trail).  There is a laker moving through the lift bridge and we hear both the sound of the horns and see the bridge dropping back down.  Very cool.  The night is cool and fine.  We stop to clean ourselves off at an outdoor water fixture on the way in.

At 1:00 am, we pull into the hotel again.  We have a single queen bed, a cot, a floor pad, 4 people and 3 bikes in a room built for 2; the little air conditioner really works hard to cool it off.  But we actually fit pretty well.  We ponder what time to leave as we eat again (randonneuring is all about eating you know).  The weather forecast looks nice for the next day.  So we figure, why not max sleep?  This control doesn't close until 6:40am, we can leave at 6:30.  I set an alarm clock for 5:45.  Our stop also has us leaving at dawn, so only about 4 hours of night riding total for our ride.  We leave feeling well rested.

Yowsers!  That wasn't there 12 hours ago
The ride up the Munger is beautiful as the sun comes up behind us. And my camera is working again... It also appears that things can really change overnight on a trail in the woods.   Probably, all the downed trees will be cleaned up by the ride, but you never know...
Beware speedy riders, the Munger Trail has a posted 30 mph speed limit now!

We got to Carlton just as the last of the bad weather rolled out.  We waved as it passed, a northwest breeze was starting to blow.  That wasn't quite as nice as we though since we headed southwest for 

Clouds in Carlton in the early morning
 quite some time (until about Moose Lake).  A tail cross is still better than a head wind though.

The trip to Moose Lake was pretty and we continued to wake up and think about second breakfast as we approached.  Once there, we stopped and I had some Texas Toast while Glenn had a breakfast sandwich.  Vincent was having a hard time with his stomach and had gone to potato chips.  For the record, going from the 300k in early February to a 600k is August is pretty amazing.  But his spirits were high and we continued to banter jokes back and forth.  He had done quite a bit of pulling the previous day, so I tried to return the favor.

The Final Push

 Out of Moose Lake, we had about 110 miles to go.  It is only about 145 miles from the overnight to the finish and because there are 85 miles between the overnight and the next timed control, our next control at Pine City did not close until 3:40 in the afternoon.  Plenty of time.  But it's generally bad form to get too far behind so using the 10 mph rule, we guessed in a vague "time out" for Moose Lake around 11:00 am.  We rolled out around 9:30 am, already well ahead of the limits.   I did some more careful routing in Moose Lake, measuring turns with a bike computer and looking for landmarks.  Outside Moose Lake, we also discover problem number 3 for Vincent, the bearings on his bottom bracket have sand in them; they squeal in protest.  He sighs and we laugh together.

With 30 miles to Hinckley, we expected to really fly.  However, the storms the previous night had really done a number on the trail.  Sticks, limbs, trees were down.  3 or 4 of them were too big to ride around.  Beware, there is a good deal of poison ivy on both sides of the Munger Trail.  Not a good idea to walk around trees.  Best to go through them.  At this point, disaster struck a 4th time, with a clunk, Vincent's bottle cage snapped (cheap VO stuff).

When we finally pulled into Hinckley, the NW wind was blowing in earnest and we got a nice push 15 miles to Pine City.  There we had a 45 minute stop for food and a bit of rest.  Only 100k to go.

The next 22 miles to North Branch are a straight shot down 61.  We passed Rush City again and kept going all the way to North Branch, getting there about 3:30.  The wind had moved NNW and the expected sun had not materialized.  People in the Holiday station complained about the cold.  We really thought it was pretty nice....

The final 40 mile stretch through Lindstrom starts out pretty benign, but gets hilly.  By the end, people usually accuse me of trying to kill them.  That includes the RBA.

The final section - North Branch to Stillwater
It's about 30 miles from the end, Glenn is a bit ahead and I hear a strange thunking, pinging noise.  What follows is ..


So we stop and look and at first we don't find anything.  We wonder if the headset might have a problem.  So we continue our ride going up and down 20 miles of sometimes steep hills until Stillwater is in our sight.  Vincent is a bit behind and we wait, wondering what may be the problem, until he appears and we ride into the finish.

It turns out, alas, the fifth straw has broken and in fact, that strange noise was the down tube starting to crack.  By the end, it has cracked all the way around.  Only the builder could have ridden 30 miles of hills on a frame with a cracked down tube, but there you go.

DOA: Vincent finishes his first 600k in 6 years, the bike is dead.
Alas, the frame is dead.  Not to be repaired.  The good news is now Vincent can build himself another one; so there is cause for joy anyway (really, it was experimental after all - just goes to show that not all experiments totally work out). In his own words, "I have a broken bike, but at least I broke it on a ride, riding it the way it was meant to be ridden".  Now there is a true randonneuring spirit!  

We meet Cristina at the end for a picture.  Vincent is tired enough that he drives his car across the parking lot to take the picture.  I personally confess to having done that myself at least twice.  Our final time 36:25.

We end where began
Glenn is now off to the Last Chance, Vincent gets a new bike, and I get to celebrate my 10th SR in 5 years.  All in all, a good day.

Though the weather may be different, the trail may or may not have trees laying on it and there may or may not be mechanical problems, the ride will go on September 7.  Pace yourself well and you will see us on ride day.

See all the photos from the Munger Bungo Pre Ride

No comments:

Post a Comment