Riding the 116 south:
We’re already too late, I thought, as I finished breakfast. I was eyeing the dark clouds that seemed already to be moving in, and I did not want to repeat the rainstorm drama of yesterday. Half of my gear that I had on yesterday was still wet, which is why I (fortunately) brought duplicates of everything except boots. Yes, they were wet and all day today I had to wear plastic bags over my feet inside the boots to keep my feet from being cold and wet. The plastic bags worked great, though, and the whole day’s riding ended up being great!
We weren’t sure what we wanted to do so we went back to the reliable (as a source of enjoyment) FR25. At first, we were going to continue the “game” of riding each 25(letter) going up from 25D, which is what we ended on yesterday. But, we realized that as we went farther down in elevation toward Black River, motorized travel was prohibited except on the main road, and it was going to be a while before we found roads that took off from 25. Besides, all those letter roads dead-ended, and I hate that.
After Black River, and after we had turned north, we found a little road with a four digit number, but since it had just rained, it was very muddy and slippery. It’s good trail etiquette to leave those alone because all our motorcycle tires were doing was making ruts and marks, so we turned around and went back to the main road. We got out the trusty map, which, by the way, is falling apart because it got damp yesterday, and chose a different route.
Checking the map again:
We saw that FR72, which went west, took off from 25 not far up the road from where we were, and then we could travel north on FR116 for a while until it intersected with FR68, then take 68 back to the 25. Then we could decide whether to go back on 25 the way we’d come, or continue around the loop back to Hwy. 191. It was a “six of one, half dozen of another” thing; it was equidistant either way we chose.
We got back on the bikes and soon we found 72. But, at the same time a little rainstorm was brewing, and wouldn’t you know it, it started to pour right there as we went into 72. The 72 was narrow doubletrack, and as it was raining, very slippery. We could see farther up the rain was heavier, and since neither of us wanted a repeat experience of being very wet and cold, we turned around and went back to 25. What to do? We went north on 25 for a while and got out of the rain. That’s one thing about these rainstorms, they are (mostly) very localized. We can usually ride out of them quickly, but the one on 72 didn’t look like we could.
Up the road where it was dry, we stopped and revisited the plan.
My faithful little Yamaha TTR225:
“Why don’t we just take 68 in?” I suggested. “It’s where we were going to come out anyway. Let’s just do the loop the opposite way.” Hal agreed, although I think he was disappointed we weren’t going to ride 72 right then, but I have good instincts and something told me that it wasn’t a good thing to do at that point. Luckily, we barely rode a mile or two up the 25 when we found the 68.
It was a wide, well-maintained road and looked well-traveled. That was okay, we wanted to explore and find out where these roads went. This one climbed in elevation and curved fairly gently through green trees, but soon we found ourselves up into more fire-destroyed areas where cutting had taken place. There were a few pickups parked on the side of the road and people out getting the fallen trees for firewood. I hoped that it was okay because around the next couple of bends in the road there was a forest service truck coming towards us.
We kept going up in elevation, the road continued to be wide and in excellent shape, and soon we intersected with what was supposed to be FR116, but was marked with a different number. We consulted the map again. It had to be 116, just designated this other number, I think it was 249E, for some reason. We were up very high at this point, and could see more rainstorms moving across the valleys to the south. So, we waited a few minutes, then turned south onto the road. This road was in good shape, too, and lots of people were on it. Soon, we looked to the right and found ourselves on the south side of Big Lake! We had been over on the other side a few weeks ago. This means we were also not far from 273 and Sunrise Ski area. It was fairly amazing to me how we had connected all these routes and ended up in familiar places. At least I knew roughly where I was.
Once we were on 116, which was then marked as such, we traveled quickly. First, we went down in elevation and found wet roads where the rainstorm had moved through minutes before. Then, we began to climb again, the road curved up and down the grades, and the sun came in and out. On several of the climbs, though, the road was washboard-y and rough. It wound through beautiful forest scenery, untouched by fire. After a few miles, though, I started looking for our old friend, FR72. I knew it had to be around there somewhere. I was right. A few miles up the road, there it was! We turned east again and then I knew we were headed back to the 25. I figured we had about 6-8 miles to go before we intersected with 25.
FR72 was no better on this end, but it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t as slippery. It was alternately muddy and rocky, and the trees and foliage were close to the road. It was “spitting” again from the sky, but we pulled over to take a break.
By this time we needed some water and a snack. On this trip, our favorite snack has been a mixture that we made from pretzels and roasted peanuts. We were walking around and looking at things, and we seemed to be right at the place where a tree had once stood, but had been hit and burned by lightning. This was not in a burn area, yet pieces of charred wood were everywhere. The tree had probably been hit and exploded into burning pieces. My boots had a layer of mud covered with charred blackness. My bike was muddy and dirty, too, but that made me feel like I earned it.
Dirty boots are a sign of a good ride:
Hal was leaping and running around, chasing a little white butterfly with his camera. We both dissolved into gales of laughter when we realized how funny it looked. Since we were both covered in mud and dirt and wearing full-on dirt riding protective gear, it seemed twice as funny. But, I guess you had to be there. Soon we were ready to continue riding, and we got back on the bikes. I was right, it was only about 6-1/2 miles until we found 25 once again.
We continued riding it clockwise and were nearly at Hwy. 191 when we stopped at another little road, FR 574. Hmmmm. Should we ride it? It was getting to be the end of the day, and I think we wanted one last little bit of real riding before we hit the road and returned to the lodge. Besides, there was the thought that it might come out on Hwy. 191. This was our last ride, our last little bit of fun. So, we took the 574. We waved to some people in a trailer, camped out in this fairly remote spot, then climbed the “road,” which was just rocky doubletrack that someone had taken a tractor in and compressed a few times. The grade was fairly steep, though, and the road got smaller and smaller, and more muddy. Finally, there was a barrier that someone had made by pushing dirt into a berm. We rode around it, then thought better of it because we were really not on a proper “road” at all, it was just some bent long grass at this point. So, we turned around and went back down.
It was only about 10 miles back to Hwy. 191, and as we started to ride the last seven miles back to the lodge, I realized that this was the end. Our wonderful days of riding were coming to an end, and although I was tired, I hated that I won’t be on my bike in this beautiful area again tomorrow. This trip has been like a dream come true for me.
A few miles down, we saw that the 574 actually did come out on Hwy. 191, and we could have taken it. It probably would have been fun, too, but we didn’t know if it was even a road. We beat the rain back to the lodge, parked the bikes, got our gear off, and sat and had coffee as we watched the rain roll in behind us. It was a happy, cozy feeling for me, and I will miss these perfect days.
Tomorrow we return to reality. This trip has been heaven, but I will be glad to be back home. I think, though, that after a couple of days, I will long to be out again, but there is plenty of riding near home to be done. Our summer trips are over now, and we will not be on the road again until September.
The final image of the day was shot with my Olympus camera as we drove up the road to find cell phone service to phone home. We were lucky and saw a flock of wild turkey! As elusive as they had been yesterday, I finally captured them from the car at the end of the last day. Here they are:
Wild turkey hen and kids at the side of the road:
Home again tomorrow. Until then I will enjoy every last moment.