Hello Amy – A Letter About Riding Outside

January 2015

Hello Amy,

Glad to help with any information about riding in our area. My wife and I were gone for a week over the Christmas holiday so I am now getting caught up on e-mails.

You may also be interested in a ride that I did last summer with three friends that took me several years of exploratory rides to put together. It involved a big loop of logging roads, outlaw all terrain vehicle trail, bush whacking, and two fords across a large river. One of the unknowns on this loop required we carried inflatable pool toys to float our bikes if we encountered deep water. The first attempt at completing the loop early this summer resulted in an unfortunate broken collar bone for my buddy Mike. We got a chance to try the loop again late summer and were successful after a six hour day.

I am assuming that you found us through our web site (,

so I’ll try not to repeat to much from there, other than the amazing facts of Cook County at the tip of the arrowhead region of Minnesota contains the highest and lowest points in the state creating 1700 feet difference and has 1000 feet elevation gain in the first ridge coming off of Lake Superior. With the county made up of over 90 percent government land, we really do have over 2000 miles of ride-able routes made up of county, state, or federal gravel forest roads, fire or logging roads(“two tracks”), snowmobile trails, and ski trails. These facts combine to make for some excellent riding.

As for your questions concerning bugs and animals, both of them can certainly be a factor when riding here. Avoiding flats or other breakdowns during late May, June, and early July, is wise if you don’t want be involved in compulsory blood donation. The three little nasties, black flies, mosquitoes, and ‘no-see-ums’, gleefully swoop in for a snack while riding less than five miles per hour. Some riders slather themselves with yet to be proven toxic bug repellent, I choose the always keep moving technique.

The other two common flying, biting insects are the deer and horse flies. These crafty insects lounge on a trailside plant and spring into action upon spying movement in their field of vision, flying to their intended victim for a taste. I have had numerous experiences watching and feeling a biting fly inserting its proboscis through the thin ventilating fabric on the back of my glove while I was holding on tight during a challenging trail section. It’s not unusual to be riding along at a speed you think is too fast for the little beasties only to look behind you or your buddy and see a dozen of them wheel sucking your helmets. Down hill speeds of 25 mph or greater seem to loose them as does cutting in front of your ridding partner to transfer your load to him. One more non chemical strategy is to encourage your riding partners to dress in earth tones, particularly browns similar to moose or deer colors, while you dress in sky blue or light greens.

Lastly the ground dwelling Yellow Jackets with their machine gun like stings have been happy to hurry several us on our way when we were blundering along on a little used over grown trail or bush whacking to try to make a trail connection. Lycra riding shorts give little protection.

Thankfully the forest tent caterpillar, (incorrectly but commonly referred to as army worms), population explosion is mostly over with. Two summers ago was the peak of the infestation, there were isolated pockets last summer. During the height of the infestation there were places along the main highway where the worms desire to cross the road was unstoppable. The resulting carnage along with the warm pavement created a peculiar smell you had to endure when riding. Since it was at times impossible to avoid riding over the determined caterpillars you got the added experience of the popping, crunching sound along with bug goo sprayed on your back. After the caterpillar population exploded the predator, a house fly like fly that the locals called the friendly flies, preys upon them and normally keeps them in check, exploded about a season later. These flies would crawl around on you by the dozens enjoying your warmth and some people hated that worse than the caterpillars.

Wow, this makes it sound terrible to ride here, (I’m furthering my secret goal to keep the area to myself) but wait there’s more involving large fauna. Of course all this may be way more than you were expecting or needing, oh well.

We are fortunate to have, white tail deer, moose, black bear, fox, wolf, coyote, and cougar here, all large and interesting animals, plus healthy populations of many small animals and birds. The three last predators are generally hard to see from a bicycle as you are moving too slow to surprise them. Though my years of riding here I have been fortunate to see the fleeting glimpses of all the canines, but never the big cat, which are rare here. One of the great things about riding here is the opportunities to see many animals and animal sign for the observant. Flushing a grouse, or snow shoe hare, watching ravens, eagles and hawks is very common.

Due to their size and some times unpredictable behavior, moose are best viewed from a car or a distance. Much of the forest here can be quite thick and surprise encounters with a 1000 pound animal can be a bad idea. During the spring while cow moose have a calf they will act aggressively to any perceived threat. A person moving fast on a bicycle can look a lot like a predator to a moose. Two friends of mine were riding along a snowmobile trail when a cow moose come bolting out of the woods to give chase. They were relieved to be going down hill at the time and were able to lose it. Last summer one of these same friends who is a forester came face to face with a cow and calf when she rounded a bend on a hiking trail. She screamed and turned away only to be struck down by the cows hoof, which broke her lower leg. She told me she thought she was dead. During the fall when the bulls are in rut they tend to see any thing moving as a threat to their man hood. I once had two bulls enter the water to swim across a narrow lake towards me wanting to include me in their sparing. I didn’t stay around to thank them for wanting to include me in their game. A now dead former game warden had many stories about sneaking into hunting and fishing areas to check licenses, of dancing around a tree with a bull moose (no he didn’t die of a moose encounter). So while I see moose regularly from a vehicle I have been lucky to not have a close encounter on a bike, I suppose it’s only a mater of time. Fortunately if you stick to the well used, open trails, and ride in a group you are less likely to have a bad encounter.

I do see black bear several times a summer while riding and when the conditions are right that they can’t easily sense you, you can get quite close. While it’s always a bad idea to get between a mother and its young (I have been attacked by a hen grouse), bear almost always run rather than fight.

Now finally getting to my favorite rides in the county. I will write up a description as you asked in the next few days, I need to get on with some other tasks today. I could send digital pictures as well if you need them.


Mark Spinler

Superior North Outdoor Center

Grand Marais, MN

Back to Top