The Ice Road Less Traveled

Like many in the bicycle industry February means a trip to snow bound Minnesota for QBP's annual Frostbike event. This dealer show held by the largest US distributor brings thousands of dealers and vendors to the chilly and always hospitable city of Minneapolis. Like many others, we made the pilgrimage and the weather lived up to expectation. A day before we drove in, freezing rain followed by ten inches of fresh snow fell on the city leaving roads icy and slick for days. At this time of year four-wheel drive or snow tires are required equipment. 


QBP Headquarters - Bloomington, MN

Although we made the trip to Frostbike for work, another plan was hatched weeks earlier by a small group of us to take advantage of our latitude and head even further north to Bayfield Wisconsin, home of the Apostle Islands ice caves and the ice road to Madeline island. For those of you unfamiliar with this region, the Apostle islands are a national park extending into Lake Superior's crystal blue waters. The Apostles are a favorite destination for kayakers in the Summer as they offer a back country experience usually found only in the Pacific Northwest. At this time of year it is cold-- often below zero-- and covered in over four feet of snow. Back country travel requires snow shoes or skis; in our case it was a chance to put our fat bikes to the test. 

Nick from Fyxation Lake Superior wheelie

This year the mainland caves off Meyer Rd. are the primary attraction for visitors given that this was the first time in six years that Lake Superior's ice was strong enough to allow access to the mainland caves. The caves are sandstone, eroded by eons of wave action and spring activity forming undercuts, caves, and natural bridging rock that is awe-inspiring. Spring water makes its way through the sandstone creating spectacular domes whose ceilings hold thousands of icicles and faces carry massive ice formations. The Park Service was caught off guard this year by the huge number of visitors to the caves. Fueled by social media, the mainland caves were visited by over 76,000 people, a huge contrast to the 2000 park visitors who made the trip last year.

View from the caves off Madeline Island

For us, this trip was a chance to visit the caves and put in some miles on our fat bikes. We knew ahead of time that the Apostle Island National Park is closed to bicycling, including on Lake Superior within 1/4 mile of the caves, so our trip to the mainland caves would have to be on foot. Since this was the first time the mainland caves have been open since the mainstream use of fat bikes there was some confusion around their use near the park, even on the ice. We were travelling with Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed so a meeting was held with the Superintendent for the parks who reiterated that usage was restricted, but the Bike Fed will likely continue discussions with the park. Fortunately for us, the 2 mile long ice road leading to Madeline island was open so with temps at -8F we set out across frozen Lake Superior for the island.

Julian Kegel and Dave Schlabowske crossing the ice road 

Dave and I were joined by Julian Kegel of Wheel & Sprocket that chilly morning. Dave is a year round bike commuter and Julian has guided ice tours on the glaciers of Alaska so the cold was manageable that day. Layers are key and hand, feet and face protection are a must at these temperatures. By the looks from the passing cars there have not been many, or any, bikes on the ice road. With the growing popularity of fat bikes, it's my guess there will be many more visitors to this one of a kind frozen playground in the future, so remember, share the road with ice road bikers!

photo by Dave Schlabowske


Article by Nick Ginster

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