After biking 60 miles through the spectacularly colorful north woods, hiking sections of the North Country Trail and resting beside a crackling campfire, my brother and I could muster only a simple parting on Sunday evening.
“That was epic,” we said in unison.
Indeed, our weekend trip to the CAMBA trails near Hayward exceeded our expectations and exhausted our supply of superlatives.
By rough estimate, we biked 60 miles in the Delta, Seeley and Cable clusters, sampling a bit of everything from the mountain biking buffet: easy jeep tracks and gravel roads through the towering pines and golden maples north of Drummond, and the crazy good single track that winds from the Highway OO trailhead outside of Seeley to the Ojibwe Trail near Cable.
My brother, Steve, had targeted the Delta Cluster after reviewing the CAMBA maps on a trip north in August. Nearly everyone we talked to about our plans for Friday had the same reaction: “I haven’t ridden the Delta in years.”
The 40-minute drive north to the Delta area from Cable has become an unnecessary effort in recent years, with the new single track sections CAMBA has added near Hayward. But with the fall color at its peak, the less-technical West Fork and Tall Pines Trails were perfect for soaking in the festival of foliage. The long stretches of golden forest had a Wizard of Oz quality, and the tapestry of red, orange and green was woven beautifully.
CAMBA has rightly responded to the demand for more single-track in its extensive system, but the riding in the Delta and Drummond Clusters is perfect for less-aggressive bikers who want to experience the woods without fear of great bodily harm or exhaustion. Even novices can easily negotiate the jeep tracks and gravel roads that dominate this portion of the CAMBA system.
We finished our afternoon with a hike on the North Country Trail, taking an even slower approach to our enjoyment of the bogs, ridges and wetlands.
On Saturday, we set out from Highway OO to tackle the Seeley Pass and the flow trails built in the past couple years in the deep ravines just south of Cable. This section of trail going north is part of a 44-mile collection of single track that runs from Fish Hatchery Park, outside of Hayward, to the Telemark Resort. The final link was finished this summer.
We spent six hours climbing and swooping through the woods, and took repeated runs through “Gravity Cavity” and “38 Special,” the bermed descents that deliver an exhilarating ride.
Even in a shortened version, the Ojibwe Trail was a highlight of our ride. The leaf-covered single-track took us up tall ridges, towering over deep potholes, and at eye-level with the tops of sturdy pines.
Just as we reached the OO Trailhead, we met up with Gerry Wright, and a small group of riders finishing off their “Big Enchilada,” the entire 72 miles of single track between Hayward and Cable. They soaked in every flicker of autumnal fire.
This was one of those trips that tops the charts at perfection: perfect weather, perfect trails and perfect companionship. (Wins by the Badgers and Packers were bonuses).
Even a slight setback – we found our favorite camp spot taken when we pulled in about midnight Friday– turned into a plus. Thanks to a short chat with Wright after the Chequamegon Fat Tire, I had a backup site in mind, and it proved to be just as beautiful: a small campfire ring and a bed of pine needles on a ledge above the Namekagon River.
It was indeed “epic.”