Genosack: We Straddled and Paddled (Video)
The latest video from the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Genosack crew follows five friends on a four-day bikepacking journey along the 180-mile Straddle and Paddle route in Minnesota’s picturesque Northwoods. Watch the 45-minute video with 35mm film frames and a written perspective from photographer Peter Limberg here…
The Genosack squad, a Minneapolis, MN-based crew of ATBers, attempted the Straddle and Paddle bikepacking route in Northern Minnesota in the fall of 2021. Being one of their first bikepacking trips, they were pretty new to traveling by bicycle. With unexpected rainy conditions, a large group of people, and a lack of proper bike/camping equipment, they had to cut their trip short and couldn’t finish the route. Ever since this attempt, a redemption ride has been on the Genosack bucket list.
With a few more bike trips under the saddle and upgraded bike and camping gear, we were ready to give Straddle and Paddle another try. This September, we gave ourselves four days to ride the 180 miles. We kept the crew small this time: Mitch Gut, Justin You, Denery Kukowski, Trevor Nelson, and me. Four of us live in Minneapolis, and Denery was visiting from Alaska. It was his first time experiencing Northern Minnesota, and seeing it by bike made it a memorable experience for him.
We drove up from Minneapolis to the North Shore of Lake Superior. On arrival, we had no particular schedule for each day and no constraints requiring us to be anywhere. We took breaks when we wanted to and savored what Northern Minnesota had to offer. The best bike trips are the ones that have no expectations and just go with the flow. This was one of them.
We started the trip in true Genosack fashion, spending some time in Duluth visiting friends. The Duluth community is always refreshing and welcoming. Every time I go up there, I leave with a warm heart and reminders of how unique this city surrounded by Lake Superior is. That evening, we made camp about 30 miles south of where Straddle and Paddle starts. For dinner, we made a big, family-style meal. Justin brought three wild Alaskan salmon fillets that we cooked over the fire. I made a salad with fresh greens and veggies from the farm I help out at. We finished the meal with some Fat Tire beers, feeling content and with our bellies happy. We were ready to clock in some miles the next day.
We began at Lake Superior just outside of Tofte and traveled north toward the Boundary Waters, another staple of northern Minnesota’s nature. Climbing away from the Great Lakes was the toughest segment of the trip. We quickly realized that we’d overdressed and began to shed layers, vowing to live by the saying, “Be bold, start cold.” Shortly after, a truck pulled us over, reminding us that it was hunting season and that none of us wore orange. We put on our brightest clothes to make ourselves more visible but ultimately continued, feeling like idiots.
After 15 miles of steady climbing, we stopped at the Trestle Inn, a hunting/snowmobile restaurant with a lot of character. The restaurant is one of the only dining options on the route and is a must-visit. We turned heads as we rolled up with our bikes packed to the gills with camping gear. Our meal consisted of burgers, a few beers, and lively conversation with the locals. Just as we were about to be on our way, another crew of riders pulled up to the Inn. Coincidentally, they were friends we’d met on group rides in Minneapolis. A quick hello turned into an hour of friendly catching up—a typical Genosack thing to do.
With the most challenging part of the route out of the way, the next two days of riding up to the Boundary Waters were smooth sailing. The Sawtooth region of the trail was hit with a summer’s worth of rain shortly before we showed up. Others warned us of a high likelihood of the roads being washed out. However, the rain worked in our favor. The gravel compacted nicely, creating a smooth surface for us to ride on. We had the roads all to ourselves as the hours passed without any vehicles passing. The gravel was some of the best I’ve ever ridden on. With cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-60s, the weather was perfect for being out on the bikes. The ideal conditions and fall foliage left us all stoked.
The next part of the route leads up to Sawbill Outfitters, a hub within the Boundary Waters. There are options to take a break from the bikes by renting out canoes—this is where the “paddle” comes from in naming the route. We flirted with this idea the first two days of the trip but didn’t know if we could fit it in. By mid-afternoon on day two, we said we’d get resupplied, have lunch, and continue riding for the rest of the day.
Nonetheless, a case of beer came into the picture. Our eyes became bigger than our stomachs, and we took all of our food out. We became stationary, settling into our food comas. Riding our bikes for the rest of the day sounded like a chore, so Mitch pitched the idea of cutting the day short and getting a campsite at SawBill, but only if we could canoe. The idea sounded far better than pedaling on a full stomach, so we got ourselves a campsite, bought more beer, and rented a canoe that fit all five of us. Most of us had never experienced the Superior Country by boat, so the whole adventure was hilarious and a definite highlight.
The morning after, we reaped the benefits of our campground in Sawbill. We took hot showers and charged all of our electronics. The campsite felt luxurious compared to our other sites, which had a more rustic feel without running water or flushing toilets. Our detour in Sawbill meant we had much ground to cover over the next two days. However, with the crew in high spirits, we were up for the challenge. The trail took us along doubletrack ATV trails for most of the day. We came across the washed-out roads with vast puddles that the locals had warned us about, too.
At times, we had to hike our bikes. We were muddy and soaking wet, but we continued on and made the most of it. There’s no better feeling than hydroplaning through a big puddle, not knowing how deep it is, and kicking up massive walls of water. At one point, I saw Mitch go through a puddle with the water flying well above his head—probably the closest you can get to surfing on a bicycle.
After getting out of the ATV trails, we did some cleaning/maintenance to our drivetrains and were back on the road. There was a bit of climbing, putting us onto a ridge that overlooked miles of fall foliage. We began to notice that the farther north we traveled, the more the leaves had turned. Fully in awe of the vibrant colors, there were multiple times when I thought to myself, “Is this real right now?”
We eventually got put back onto the pavement, which was a first for the trip. There was a convenience store at Devil Track Lake that we needed to get to, and we were running short on time, so the pavement came in handy. Luckily, we made it, resupplied our food, and bought wine and beer for the night, some of which we cracked right away in celebration of our ride through the ATV trails.
It was starting to get dark, and we still had some mileage to cover before heading to our campsite. Our 15-mile ride from the convenience store to the campsite consisted of fast-rolling hills with a few decent hill climbs, all of which we did in the dark on gravel roads. Vibes were high, we were all having a blast, and nobody seemed affected by the nighttime. For some reason, this portion of the trip was a highlight for me. I caught myself smiling ear to ear after multiple hill descents—along with everyone else.
Once we reached our intended campground on Kimball Lake, we realized hunters had completely taken it over, and no spots were available. We decided to bike down the road a bit, where we found a gravel parking lot on the lake. Our options were limited, so we made it our home for the evening. We had ourselves a nice kumbaya of freeze-dried meals and Bota Box wine. After getting cozy around the fire, we retired to our tents, except for Justin, who decided to cowboy camp next to the fire for the night.
On the last day, the sun finally broke through the overcast clouds, hitting the yellowing leaves and warming us up. We headed toward Grand Marais, the last stop on the North Shore before you hit the Canadian border. It’s a big tourist destination with a beautiful co-op, bars, restaurants, and “the world’s best donuts.” We ended up at the Angry Trout Cafe, a well-known restaurant right on Lake Superior. After stopping for fish sandwiches (which we still talk about today), we were back on the bikes by late afternoon. We still had 40 miles to pedal back to our cars; we would return past dark.
With the sun at our backs, the route took us through more backroads with multiple climbs and fun descents. In no time, we were in the middle of nowhere again, which, at this point, was our comfort zone. There was a brief pause when Justin got a flat tire. Surprisingly, it was the first one of the trip. We quickly patched it up and proceeded onward. Shortly after, the trail spit us out at Lutsen Ski Resort, where we descended toward Lake Superior.
“We have to jump in Lake Superior,” Mitch kept saying all day. Denary had never been swimming in the Great Lake, so it was a must. By the time we got there, it was dark. The waves were fierce and unnerving, but that didn’t stop us. We stripped down to our birthday suits and jumped in. Despite being a little sketched out, it was well worth it.
By 9:30 p.m., we finally made it to our cars. We took a moment to celebrate our victory with a cold one and headed back to the big city. With no expectations for our trip, we were able to have a relaxing, challenging, and fun time all at once. The best plan is no plan at all, and this trip was a testament to that.
Genosack is a crew that appreciates the unexpected experiences and people you meet along the way, and we can always make a good time out of whatever the journey throws at us. I’m grateful I get to experience Minnesota by bike with this great community of people.
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