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.