Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A World away- Twangfest

I feel like one of God's chosen people, having had the opportunity to share, with many fine companions, these varied and lovely realms of our natural world. -Fred Bear

A world away-the natural world as Bear speaks to. That thought kept passing through my head during the three days of Twangfest this fall. Each time I looked out over the surrounding countryside- every time I caught amazing sunsets from high above the encompassing forest. It was reflected in the deafening silence of the predawn morning, waiting for the landscape and trees around me to solidify from the darkness. This place is a world away from everything outside of where we were, if just for a few days. I relished it-every second.

I'm not sure why these thoughts were so vivid this year. We'd all been gathering for “Twangfest” for over 30 years, a group of old college friends who spent a weekend together bow hunting, camping and enjoying our friendship afield. I'd seen those sunsets before, framed by the tops of a massive oak trees and the tall ridges in the distance. In the dark, I'd watch tracers of car lights roam the roads and hiway below, all busy going somewhere. The blackness beneath our high perch base camp was dotted with farmyard lights and in the distance small towns glowed and twinkled. I'd seen that all before and liked it. I was here and “they” were all out there occupied doing other important things I'm sure.

I guess I “pondered” why it felt so disconnected from the outside world this year, but that term seems so old fashioned. Contemplate, reflect? I'll go with those words for they sound more profound, but mean the same thing. Maybe it's an age thing-the older I get, the more I appreciate just being out there. It takes effort and preparation and it's never easy, but there are small moments outdoors that sink into ones primal soul and make it all worthwhile. The snap of a twig or shuffle of leaves in the excruciatingly quiet dawn requires every ounce of attention to identify. Eyes strain to re-connect with a movement, careful to not twitch a muscle least the prey locks onto me instead. Every shift of wind is detected, noted and fretted over-something I don't give a second thought when removed of this place and this time.

Twangfest does detach the group, usually numbering between 6 to 9 guys, from almost everything for this short period of time each year. Smart phones intrude some, but the guys are pretty good about leaving business behind and escaping. It's like we are sequestered here in the woods, with bows and arrows, camo and gear among friends that seem we'd seen yesterday. Not a bad place to be, and one we don't leave once we are unloaded and settled. Any news from the outside world is unwelcome-I kind of take delight (or maybe respite) in not knowing what's going on, in being removed from it all. It allows us to focus on our camaraderie and concentrate on hunting, which yes, we do take seriously, though it's just one part of this yearly gathering.

When bowhunting, you find you get closer to the woodland critters. The flora and the forest floor becomes clearer. You look at things more closely. You're more aware. You know the limited range of the bow is only 40 yards or so. You must try to outwait that approaching deer. Careful not to make the slightest movement or sound hoping that your scent won't suddenly waft his way. That's when you'll know for sure and appreciate deeply what bowhunting is all about." - Fred Bear

Having the bow in hand does alter us-we're no longer an observer, but a participant, something hard to define, but I've found true none the less. As Bear reflects-you do look closer, one does become more aware and everything is clearer-something that maybe is missing from daily life. The Twangfesters in the early years had different priorities, we were all in our early twenties, still in college and a weekend in the woods centered around a lot of crazy fun, some hunting and maybe an impromptu touch football game-in camo. Wait...I guess much of that does remain, plus a lot of music playing and story telling built of many years of returning to this place. But perhaps it's now just the escape, the esprit de corps, that keeps us returning each year. The locations have changed a few times over the years, each spot with a different flavor, each place providing different memories and tales.

Fewer deer are taken these days-the hunters much more picky about the quality of our quarry. “Brown is down” (meaning does are fair game-for we all love venison) is whispered around camp, but in reality, long drives back home after the weekend, then dealing with deer processing probably hampers releasing an arrow from time to time. Chancy attempts are passed on, instead waiting on a opportunity to make a good shot. Filling tags has much less importance now than in early versions of Twangfest. It was said that just preparing, gathering gear (or buying new junk), washing camo and planning on stand placement is half the fun-maybe more. We can always dream of taking that big buck and imagining it happening is something that helps pass countless hours in the blind. Those aspirations also become great fodder for the boys back at camp-who doesn't love chatting up the pre-and post hunt each day?

My companions arriving at Twang after 32 years leave behind for a few days diverse careers-a couple battery executives, a pair of teachers, a musician and a VP of new talent in Nashville, a sales exec and a couple others who manage to drop in from time to time. We've gone from college bachelors donning camo each weekend to starting jobs, changing jobs, raising families, saying good bye to some and even welcoming grandchildren. Perhaps a new generation at some point will join us in the woods, also thankful to be worlds away. share, with many fine companions, these varied and lovely realms of our natural world.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Winds of Change

“The Winds of Change”

That line begins it's life from a speech by British Prime Minister Harold macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa in February of 1960. The seeds of independence were beginning to take root in Capetown at that time. Thirty years later, the pop group Scorpions borrowed the phase again- “The future's in the air-I can feel it everywhere-Blowing with the wind of change” My revival of that line here is a long way from South Africa or a German rock band formed in 1965.

The words rushed back to me as I listened to the wind howl through the trees outside one morning, clanging chimes loudly and catapulting anything not tied down into the woods near the house. It seemed a cyclone had blown in overnight, kind of unusual for Wisconsin, not known for such gales. Out west, sure-I was used to non-stop wind whenever my buddies and I head to North Dakota. It's a constant, even in the dead of night we'd discovered. Usually those winds drive ducks and all manner of waterfowl along for the ride. Cold and wind seem perpetual in “nodak” during October.

Molly Morning
We usually make the trek west just before Halloween, which signals the imminent changeover to winter and our last chance for puddlers and divers before winter slams the potholes shut and frozen. Some years arctic air arrives early and breaking ice for dogs and birds becomes the modus operandi, a challenge (not pleasurable) for anyone and everything.

The winds of change arrived this year to be sure. A record high temp preceded us (86 in Bismarck) and it stayed in the upper 60's and 70's during our stay with little to no breeze. All that is fine and dandy, but not exactly favorable to waterfowl hunting. Apparently, the ducks didn't get the memo that late October is when they should be streaming through the pothole region where we hunt. They too must have just stayed put, enjoying the bluebird days wherever they do such things. Needless to say, we walked far and wide for the few birds we did take-scarcity, the order of the day (s). I shudder to think just how much each duck cost per pound on this trip, but again, that's not the reason for doing such things-besides, we re-cooped some of the cost in unused ammo.

Not only the weather was altered, but also the make up of our hunting party. My buds and I are all in our middle 50's, but the average age dropped considerably this year when 3 young sons of a couple of the guys joined us. I was all in favor. It kind of takes the pressure off the four elders to constantly torment and tease each other for now we had new blood. No missed shot would go unnoticed. There was also the advantage to have young backs to carry overflowing bags of decoys to far flung ponds or fit legs to circumnavigate the biggest of potholes.

The newbies were fun and changed the dynamic of our group. Devising a strategy for 8 guys is different from half that. It was almost like making a war plan, involving synchronizing watches, dividing the troops and being sure the correct retrievers tagged along with their owners. Things move slower but broader, from rolling out of bed in the morning to spreading out among all available wetlands in the search for game. There may have been fewer ducks aloft, but steel still flew-the youngins still working on their distance judging. If one shot were fired, then three, then down the line until guns reached the limit of their plugs. I think the ducks had little to fear at some of the volleys .

Molly and Mallard
As usual, filling gamebags was not the priority, but rather enjoying time outdoors together in a beautiful place. We made a point everyday to find the highest point around, park the trucks, let the dogs out to stretch and watch the sun go down. I think the “kids” appreciated it, not realizing in the early days, we'd still be collecting evening decoys at that time of day and slugging them back to the pickup. Now, we just take the time and savor it and the company. Perhaps the highlight of those evenings was the decision to tailgate on one of those hill tops. Why not? Grills were trucked in, coolers and lawn chairs set up and Wisconsin brats sizzled over flame. Times like these are made perfect, not only by the food, friends and scenery, but by stories told-many of which had us in stitches. That crowns a great day hunting out west.

Selfie with 1187 & Molly Mae
All to quickly the trip is over, and the task of packing, cleaning and driving is before us-8 or 9 hours for most back to central Wisconsin. Within 40 miles, the pothole region, with ever present water and rolling hills, is behind us-replaced by a dead flat plain, corn and soybeans. On the horizon, plumes of black smoke-here and there, accompanied us for almost 200 miles. Puzzled at first, I soon realized the source-farmers burning wetlands of cattails and marshgrass, then following with the plow and disk. Change was bowing in on the marshes as well. CRP land, so vital to not just waterfowl, but wildlife in general, was disappearing in every direction we looked. Sky high commodity prices last year had driven CRP acreage into virtual extinction everywhere in North Dakota. The change just in the past year was dramatic-far less habitat meant fewer birds and animals. I understand farmers need to make a living, but a few more acres of corn, fueling the questionable ethanol industry, comes at a high cost for the environment and wildlife.

Change is inevitable. Some, like sharing the outdoor life with new family and friends is the very best kind. Others, like the transformation of the landscape, would be better left untouched, the way the wind and weather formed it and what drew us to it's beauty many years ago. Let's hope the breeze shifts in a positive direction to sustain what we have come to love and keep future generations coming back and living life out of doors.
"USA Pond"
Story Time
Andrew-New Generation
Buck Pond Hike
"Twin Lakes"-Posted
End of Day Storytime
Sunset at Allens
Boot Pond Morning Decoys

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Two days, Two Hunts, Same Outcome?

Go afield with a good attitude, with respect for the wildlife you hunt and for the forest and fields in which you walk.  Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person. -Fred Bear

Fred Bear has always been one of my favorite outdoorsmen, perhaps because of his reserved and respectful character about hunting. He was a childhood idol and I pulled back many a Fred Bear recurve during my early years bowhunting. That was a long time ago and recurves have been replaced by high tech compounds and carbon arrows, none of which make the “outdoor experience” any better-in fact, those modern “advances” really don't matter.

Sure, better equipment, bows, guns, ammo, fishing gear and alike can make our sports more successful-if measured in harvested game. I think the older I get, that measure of success has changed-no, it surely has, because that theme has found it's way onto these pages more than a few times. Part of it is time-in my younger days it seemed time moved ever so casually and it was unlimited. Now in my mid fifties, there seems to be an urgency, that every second spent in the “forest and field “ as Bear speaks to, is it should be. There are only a finite number of minutes left for me out there.

Thoughts of years left on this planet were not filling my head the other day as I walked back to the truck, lab trotting alongside, double barrel broke and cradled in the crook of my arm. The day's hunt over. The game pouch was weightless. The last few minutes of daylight streamed through the trees far across a prairie valley-switchgrass and tall Big Blue Stem filling the fields in amber. Molly had done her job. I was satisfied in her performance, nailing down a couple rooster pheasant, her tail whipping violently each time she closed the gap on a bird. I could just waltz along following her zig zagging course through the grass and brush. The pheasant did well too-managing to put a tree or two between themselves and my shotgun leaving me with an empty vest and disappointed dog-retrieving is half the fun. Molly would drive back and forth searching out what should be a dead bird, and I felt disappointed for her I didn't connect. But that's how these things go and luckily her memory is short-there are always more birds to seek out and smells to smell.

It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person.” That was more the thought as I fiddled with the two 20 gauge shells in my hand, then slipped the brass bell off Molly's collar. She happily jumped in the truck-perhaps thinking we were off to another hunting spot or at least to be rewarded with a treat. Two days earlier, at this same field and covering much of the same ground, I'd connected on a nice big colorful rooster. Molly raced to collect the still lively pheasant as it tried to make an escape, but the proud lab would have none of it and returned the bird to my hand. That hunt was much the same-beautiful fall evening, cool temps, the dog getting birdy a few times and a quiet walk back enjoying the sunset warm the colors in the west sky.

A bird in the Hand....” as they say, was the only difference. Yet, it didn't really make that day any more successful or satisfying. It would provide a good meal at some point and I was thankful to bring back some game, but really, that wasn't the point of being out there. Two hunts, two days, same outcome as far as what is really important and the reason I needed to spend a few minutes afield. Bear's quote, to me, really lands squarely on everything I believe when I lace up some boots, slide the gun into a case and step out the door. It's not about limits being reached or perfect shots, but rather it's about cleansing that soul and making me a better, happier person.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dogs, Guns and Time

Christian B
A dog, a gun and time enough.” - George Bird Evans

Whenever bird hunters or about to be bird hunters share a few minutes or hours together, these three topics will always come up. There is no doubt, there is no debate- dogs, guns and having enough time to do them both justice will be discussed. Birds as well, but as unlikely as it would seem, they are a minor part of the story and whether or not a game bag is filled.

This fall we have been blessed with awful weather. Awful as in the original meaning of the word-things used to be “worthy of awe” which is how we get expressions like “the awful majesty of God.” Yes, awful indeed and days that are not to be missed outdoors. Bird hunting with my good friend Dave Borman and his son Christian of Ladysmith would have to override all other activities these perfectly awful days. Bike riding gear and a fat bike were stowed in the truck-just in case, but I think we knew deep down, their tires would see no dirt. Not when dogs, guns and time were on the agenda.

We have hunted together for well over 30 years, sometimes in the central forest region near my home, others busting brush in the Blue Hills in search of grouse or woodcock. An annual trip to North Dakota is a priority,  putting our pups and and packs of shot on ducks geese and pheasant is something not to be missed. This year is no different. The ND hunt is a few days away and to tune up the labs and our reflexes, it was decided we'd wade tall swamp grass on a game farm, then try our luck on a state wildlife area in hopes of getting the dogs on as many birds as possible.

Barley, Dave's excellent senior chocolate lab, needed to be afield a few last times-although showing her age, when the weather turns cooler and shotguns are slipped into cases, a spark of youth fills her gimpy little body. The tail starts wagging and she won't let you near the pick up without her tight against your leg, not to be left behind. And why not?-she is one of the best upland labs I've hunted over and it's her life, and it might as well be until she can burrow through the cattails no longer. It was a chance to see if she had the vigor for one more trip out west. As we hunted together once again, the little brown dog proved she still had the goods, confirming my black lab Molly's hits on birds or finding her own. I trusted Barley completely for over the years she is seldom wrong when the tail starts excitedly whipping her backside. “Yep-there is a bird there.” 
Molly May

Molly is in her adult years now-proving herself a solid performer, turning into this serious all business creature when she catches her first hot scent of a bird. Her solid body plows blindly through brush and saw grass letting her nose lead the way-albeit, at times a bit far. As I see it, I just need to keep up and it's tough to slow her down when a rooster is sprinting down cornrows or through a bean field.

Of the pheasant and grouse the pair of labs found and put up-we managed to take about 80%, not bad for using flushing dogs on our first hunt of the year. I'm just happy if I manage to connect once and a while-especially on grouse, who always have a knack of putting trees between me and them during their startling escape. I actually enjoy watching the dogs work the most-and if they can find birds, zero in on the scent cone and get them flying, they have done well and it's a good day. It's hard to explain witnessing a good bird dog do their thing to someone who has never had the privilege to.

Dave recently added a new gun to his collection-mostly for the tougher birds out west, but really as an excuse to get a new gun-his eldest son Andrew would be joining us for this years adventure and would inherit Dave's older scattergun. Perfect reason (in all our minds) to pick up a new smoke pole. Obviously, it should be tested, so he was anxious to run a some shells through the camo'd barrel. After watching the first few birds wave goodbye after his shots, we dealt him (and his new gun) a good deal of ribbing-justified, of course. In no time, they became comfortable with each other, much like my well used over and under, and birds started to drop. Christian, a full time education student, has less time to hone his shooting skills, but made some good clean kills on a few birds. As nice as new guns are, and we discussed this, we always seem to wax on and on about the venerable 870-one of our first guns and as trustworthy as they come. We always have one along as a spare, knowing full well, they can be counted on without fail. With my double and Dave's auto loader, we sometimes forget to pull the trigger a second, or third time, not having the '70s slide action to prompt the followup shot.

There were plenty of times while loading or unloading guns and dogs or when just stopping for a minute in the field, we remarked how peerless these days were. How matchless October outings can be like we were living, with bells on collars, vests stuffed with shells and the sound of a round chambered with authority. I love that sound. The scent of wet dog, gun oil and decaying leaves waif around us-a most incomparable perfume. I wish I had bottles of it for days I'm stuck in lifes' other distractions though not everyone would appreciate the fragrance I suppose. Those smells, those sounds, the talk of dogs, guns and time I cannot get enough of. Time is always too short here. Always. 
Dave & C-Man and the Tiny Vest

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall Rides

Lyle on Sidewinder

I was drinking in the surroundings: air so crisp you could snap it with your fingers and greens in every lush shade imaginable offset by autumnal flashes of red and yellow.” Wendy Delsol

Fall is without a doubt the best time of year to ride. Spring is buggy, muddy and has a chill that I can never warm up to. Summer sticks with the bugs but replaces the cold with sweltering air you can barely breathe. Winter? Well, there is nothing really wrong with pedaling in snow, but it still doesn't quite hold up to Autumn.

In my racing days, fall signaled the end of the riding year, rolling in the final races of the season, concluding with the Chequamegon 40-the Christmas and New Years of the fat tire world. The workout season is over and it's time to “just ride.” That philosophy of non-training now carries me throughout the year and I can pedal to no strict regiment or because I have to. Okay, not quite true, I do “have to” ride in the fall. As Delsol writes, I so look forward to “drinking in the surroundings,” many times frantically not knowing what to do or where to go first. There are so many things pulling me in different directions, if only October were twelve weeks long. The black lab prances after work, convinced we'll be toting a shotgun chasing birds, the backpack waits to be slung on a shoulder and a tree stand impatiently expects my return. There are leaves to shuffle under foot as well and wildlife to photograph. But the mountain bike leaning in the corner is most anxious because I am. Those knobbie tires need to run over the carpet of yellow, orange and red in the woods, not always quite sure were the trail lies hidden beneath.
Yellow Carpet Ride

Eventually, each fall pursuit will get it's share of my time, but never enough and I feel the same way. Luckily for me, others concur and my bike is more than willing to share some singletrack with company. Biker friends from Madison arrived at their favorite trail (and mine) on what could only be described as a perfect autumn weekend. Trees in full color, that “crisp” air surrounding us and the scent in the breeze that only waifs by when leaves tumble to the earth.

Like myself, Lyle, Kelsey and Kat had no interest in a discipled ride of heart rates and average miles per hour. We were turning pedals and rolling tires to just soak this season in at whatever pace necessary not to miss it. Favorite routes like Sidewinder and Wolf Run (at Levis Mound) were revisited, this time with so much more color and snap. Riding some in reverse of usual added a new dimension, nearly like discovering a brand new trail. Other mountain bikers had similar ideas and it was nice to meet here and there along the trail. “Remember this,” I thought to myself, as the bike carved corners and scattered popple and oak leaves behind. This season would soon be gone and homage must be paid by stopping frequently, taking a few pictures and breathing it all in.
Kelsey & Kat & Yellowjacket

Days like these pass quickly and too soon the bikes roll to a stop at the trailhead leaving me to wonder how much I missed out there. There is always more to take in. While my friends refueled and readied for another ride, the other fall interests tugged me away from taking another spin...reluctantly. More hours in a day? More days in this month? I can only dream, dream of just one more ride in this perfect time of year.
Sidewinder in Fall

Wild Ride

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Quintessential Northwoods Cabin

1. of the pure and essential essence of something:
  1. of or pertaining to the most perfect embodiment of something:
Sitting in the soft yellow light from gas lamps above and over my shoulder, scratching notes in a old spiral bound notebook-those definitions were all I could think of and the first words penned on the blank sheet of paper. This was the quintessential northwoods cabin. It had no modern conveniences, but it had everything.. Rough weathered wood and tar paper walls, small wood stove, assorted chairs and old deer hunting backtags pinned up as reminders of seasons past. A perfectly honed hatchet and ax leaned on a small stack of oak kindling, ready, willing and anxiously waiting to add warmth to this small space when cold November winds return. Not needed on this 80+ summer day, I imagined the scent of wood smoke here greeting cold hunters returning from a long day on the stand. It must feel like heaven.

A long faded blaze orange jacket hung on a peg next a shelf lined with .20 gauge shells, a tattered box of 6.5 X 35mm cartridges and half empty bottle of scent eliminator. This was a cabin for fall-for the chill of the first snow on the ground, to be filled with opening day optimism or just a quiet place to escape and hike in the woods. For now, I'm scribbling notes in the dog days of summer and love the serenity of everything that is here and not here.

These four walls belong the time when leaves have long since turned. Wading through ferns down the steep ridge to the lake below has a much different feel now than when the old patched duck boat is turned upright and slipped into water lilies with a couple cork decoys in the bow. Even more fitting is after solid ice forms and a thin coating of snow blankets everything white. Ever present deer tracks are crossed accessional with a wolf print, worthy of exploring further by snowshoe clad cabin visitors.

This is the “perfect embodiment of” the hunting cabin. Although I'm a stranger here and trespassing at the wrong time of year, it feels like home. The “Shack” belongs to a good friend, who'd started laying logs and painstakingly chinking between them many years ago just outside of Rhinelander. Mitch was kind enough to let me stay here a few days while in the area and maybe just happy to have another person rest under it's roof outside of a few short days each fall. No water or electricity and nothing fancy with but an outhouse for connivence....perfect. Mitch and I are of like minds and he knew this would fit me well during my stay.

Hunting cabins are not cottages, or blocked up old travel trailers or pole sheds, to me they need to be like this one. Logs, wood stove, minimalist in nature and having a singular purpose. As cliché as it sounds, the only ambition of a cabin like this is to be a humble escape from modern life. Mitch lamented not being able to spend more time there and as I settled into a no smartphone, no internet, no electricity life during my brief stay I knew why. I wrote more, photographed, spent time reading the tattered journal on the table of years past-accounts of weather and people and success or not of years gone by. I added a few pages of my own in the leather bound book, happy to share my warm weather experiences of what now will always be a special place with some perfect moments.

I stayed up later and woke earlier, the sense of time hardly disturbed by the clicking of an old wind up clock on a shelf. Feeling alive and awake even at a just dawning day, was easy-a quick jump in the cold lake below assured me of that. It's only the initial shock of hitting the water that I was anxious about each morning. Beyond that, I'd sometimes linger waist deep, surrounded by a veil of fog surrounding me in air cooler than the lake. Dripping wet, it was a long climb back up to the confines of the shack, but pressed hot coffee would be steaming on a waiting table and worth every minute in this morning routine.

I felt more alive here-maybe it's the novelty of simple life, or perhaps only because moments and places like this cabin are few and far between that make them all the more appreciated. I think both. I didn't realize it before stepping foot through door of this place, but yes, this tiny ten by twelve foot cabin embodied exactly what we sometimes miss and other times need most in our life if even for the briefest visit.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mud Lake Trail

Snarky Bridge-Mud Lake

Late summer is made for exploring and I was lucky enough to discover not one, but two little trail gems in northern Wisconsin recently. RASTA (Rhinelander Area Silent Trails Association) in Onieda County had dished me up a riding treat at their Washburn Trail west of the city in a previous trip (featured here on WOF) so I was anxious to put wheels down on a newer trail- Mud Lake.

The Mud Lake Trail is located north of Rhinelander, with a trailhead on Crystal Lake Road (4693 Crystal Lake Rd, Rhinelander,WI). I meandered some of the back roads to find the trail, figuring as a long ago staff member at the nearby Camp Tesomas, I'd remember my way. With extensive help from a GPS, of course I did. A much more direct route would be to take Cty. Hwy W north out of Rhinelander, left onto River Road and then right on Crystal lake road near the Hodag Fest grounds. A small trailhead will be on your left containing a map and room for a few cars to park. Further down the road at 5061 Crystal Lake road is another parking area.

RASTA's primary goals are to: “Contact/coordinate with silent sports groups in Oneida County, develop, sign and maintain sustainable single track mountain bike and snowshoe trails on public trail systems, and organize volunteer work groups for the maintenance of the trails.” Although they also work on several XC ski trails (Including Washburn Lake) it seems like the real movers and shakers in this group are the singletrack builders. Of course, what was once just the realm of warm weather months, singletrack in the northwoods is now home to year round use with fatbikes and snowshoers hitting the trail in snow season as well.

New Flow
Mud Lake consists of around 8-10 miles of nearly 100% singletrack-there are a couple small sections (that I rode) of old wider skidder trail and logging road crossings. Not knowing the trail (remember- “exploring” here!) I just took off west, figuring I'd, ...well, figure it out. A local had told me trails on one side were tougher, and the other, easier-I forgot which was which. Like other trails in the area, there are a lot of constant ups and downs and babyheads poking through all over ready to launch one's bike. The Mud Lake appeared quickly, a beautiful small bog lake with pine and hardwoods lining the shore. The trail stewards had built a snarky little bridge connecting to an old log to cross a drainage into the lake-I loved it. A small thing, but it immediately gave this trail some flavor.

The trail makes use of of the terrain very well, twisting and turning out a lot of milage in a small footprint of land. Old race direction arrows pointed here and there and I soon settled into following them since I had no idea where I was-luckily the sun helped give me an idea how to get back if needed. I stumbled onto a newly constructed section, the mini excavator still resting nearby after moving dirt and rock for a flow segment. As a trail builder myself, I just had to take a peak at their work. Well done, with smooth banked corners, good water drainage and rock armoring. The trail eventually meanders toward and into a pine forest section, a fun tight singletrack area with some good speed if you let off the brakes. If bouldering is your thing, there are also a few opportunities to check your skills on and off them here.

Bouldering-Mud lake
Somewhere along the line I missed a turn-if I could make any suggestion for the trail, it would be to add some signage-more maps and trail names on sections. There are few along the course, but frequent trail/two track crossings lead me astray and into the Camp Tesomas system-not entirely a bad thing when one is rambling on two wheels. Eventually the Mud Lake trail dropped me back off at the trailhead, just in time to beat the light showers starting-no rather just sweat off the helmet! This is as hard or as easy a trail as one wants to make it (although it would be a second tier trail for true beginners). There are harder cut offs that loop riders back to the main trail with some tough fall line climbs requiring extra effort if singlespeeding it. Well built by the volunteers, constantly tweaked ( a trail like this is never “done”) by the singletrack builders and highly recommended as a destination for any mountain bike enthusiast.