Sunday, January 23, 2011

Second Dance With the Gandy Dancer State Bike Trail: Bear Scare

Prologue: Yep! This post has taken WAY too long to be born! Resolution for New Year: don't procrastinate posting.
November 9, 2010. It was time to finish this trail. I had decided to break the 47 plus mile trail into three parts: Leg #1 (St. Croix Falls to Luck) 14.4 miles X2; Leg #2 (Luck to Siren) 17.2 miles X2; Leg #3 (Siren to Danbury) 15.5 miles X2. On my September 8 posting, I reported on Leg #1.  This posting covers Leg #2, the middle section of the Gandy Dancer. It won't be finished yet. Going straight through would certainly finish this faster, but since I often bike alone, I have to double back to where I parked my car. Doubles the miles, you know (hence the "X2"). 

I did not get on the road as early as I should have. I stopped at an outdoor outfitters store to pick up some bright orange garb since it was hunting season and I didn't fancy getting shot by arrows, bullets, or any other projectiles. I got two wicking long sleeve shirts and one wicking t-shirt and layered them up knowing I would get hot as the biking progressed. It was a bright, cool day, but starting to get late into the fall and the sun was down at 5:00 p.m. This old lady was going to have to make tracks because it would be at least an hour before I arrived in Luck where I was going to begin.

It's a good idea to know the territory where you are going to bike, at least a bit. I'm not a hunter, but I was pretty sure it was bow hunting season, and not gun season yet. I also knew I'd be going through woods, and a relatively low populated area. Orange was the way to go. Besides, being really visible on a bike is always a good thing.

There was no direct route from Menomonie to Luck, and so I finally arrived about noon. I had left off in Luck (in Luck or out of Luck!) for the first segment of the Gandy Dancer. Parking by the public library on the main street was a good place to leave the car, and to "visit the facilities" as my mum used to say, before embarking. Besides, I found THIS inside:
Luck is a West Denmark settlement, site of the first cooperative creamery in the United States and has one of the oldest Danish Lutheran congregations in the U.S. also. And it has a giant yo-yo in the lobby of the public library. GIANT.

The yo-yo started out as a toy in ancient Greece, but also was used as a weapon. Any 6th grader could tell you that. (Well, probably not the Greek history aspect, but definitely the weapon aspect.) It's handy to have your weapon return to you, so you can use it again to bounce off someone's noggin. In Greece, a toy. In the Philippines, a weapon."Yo-yo" is Tagalog for "come-come" or "return". This may or may not be true, but I like to believe it is, and why not? Makes sense. I've seen it demonstrated too many times for it not to be true. A Filipino American, Pedro Flores, opened the Yo-Yo Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara, CA (1928), Donald Duncan bought the company in 1929 for quite a sum, but got it back with great reward. Later in 1946, Duncan Toys Factory opened a plant in Luck, WI. and the town dubbed itself the "Yo-yo Capital of the World". Hence, the giant yo-yo in the library. You have to see it.

After the history lesson, I hit the trail. It really was a beautiful day, pretty cool, but soon I was peeling layers.
You can see how orange I am. You also can see how close to winter the landscape is. No leaves, no green anymore. I should stand out.

This feisty fellow had a rack.......6 points? It was a little hard to count from the distance, but his body was large, and he wasn't moving until I made lots of rude noises. He was in such a mood.

It is 6.1 miles to the next town, Frederick. Several stream crossings and wetland viewings and I was there.
The above landscape is part of someone's extended back yard. How lovely to have a brook going through it.
The path was elevated from the woods on either side. With no leaves to block the view, I could see a long way down a stream.
Frederick! At mile post 20 (if you had biked straight through from the beginning at St. Croix.) For me, it was just 6.1 miles since I had started at Luck.

The bike paths seem to go very close to the downtown district in most of the small towns I have been through.
This is handy for visiting the businesses there, and the..........................library! Why the library? They always have a nice restroom.
Alongside the bike path was the Soo Line Depot/Frederic Historical Society Museum with local history and railroad lore. And the town mascot, I guess, a cute cuddly black bear. If only all bears were so...........stationary. (Foreshadowing!)
Most of the Gandy Dancer follows along State Highway 35, which means traffic can be heard. After Frederick, though, the trail curves away from the road, leaving traffic noise behind. I heard lots of noisy leaf rustlings from busy squirrels. Winter preparations were being made, and they were hard at it.
Biking along, I'd hear a rustle rustle rustle and turn my head to see bounding squirrels dashing up trees to escape the racing orange creature (me). The squirrels appeared to be well fed, and large. They made a lot of noise. I then heard a RUSTLE RUSTLE RUSTLE! I thought to myself, "that's a really large squirrel". I glanced to the left and did a double take. That was no squirrel, running parallel to the trail, not 50 yards away. That was a bear. A bear cub, of good size. I had startled it, and it was running fast. Several things went through my head. 
1. At last I have seen a bear.
2. I didn't want to see a bear.
3. It's only a cub.
4. It has a mother. It has friends.
5. I should take a photo.
6. I should get the #*#*# out of here!
Item #6 won, without a split second of deliberation. I pedaled as fast as my 58 year old chubby legs would take me. I realized I could not out-run a bear if it wanted me, but I was going to give it a go. For a couple of miles, keeping up the pace, I'd quickly look behind me to see if Mama was hot on my track. No Mama. No Mama.  I stopped to catch my breath where 130th Street crossed the path. There really was not an alternative. I would continue on to Siren, my destination, turn around and go back once again to Luck where my car was parked. Going on to Siren, no problem. Returning through Bear Country...........that was a problem.
A small small small town appeared to the east of the trail: Lewis. There is nothing here to visit or stop for, so I biked on to Siren, passing lakes now, instead of streams.
Siren coming up. Advertisements of the usual offerings in Wisconsin. I wonder how many "Pour House" establishments there are in our fine state?
A not very picturesque, but serviceable parking area for Gandy Dancer trail riders is right by the path in Siren. Since it was getting late in the afternoon, I didn't explore Siren. I turned around and headed back to Bear Country. I REALLY didn't want to go through there in the dark!

The trip back was not enjoyable for me. I realize that bears are everywhere. They probably are viewing me on every bike tour I go on, and I don't know it. But, see, now I DID know it. As I approached the segment of the path that curves away from the highway (I'm now a fan of the highway) I considered taking the road and not the path. But I didn't. I'm stubborn. Scared, but stubborn. So I just pedaled as fast as I could go. And I reconsidered something that I had noticed earlier: 
POOP. Poop with hair in it. Earlier, I had thought that a lot of people were walking their large dogs on the trail and not picking it up. Now I thought, that's not dog poop. To back up this theory, as I was pedaling madly along, I saw some big ol' guy not too far from the trail with his pickup and he was loading up a feeding station. Either it was for deer, or it was for bear. Who cares? It will attract both. This was about in the spot where I met Junior Bear. Oh, great. I am riding through their dining room. And apparently, their toilet. And yes, I did take a photo of this poop. For scientific purposes.
I blasted through Frederick, passing the museum and statue of the cute cuddly bear. Ha! The sun was going down, and I wanted to be in my car soon. It had been 17.2 miles to Siren, and double that by the time I got to Luck. Plus the bear scare. I was tired. I did stop to take some sundown photos. The late fall and early sinking of the sun made for poetic and melancholy scenes. 
Hooray for Luck! I felt very lucky indeed. I felt a need to visit the...............library.
The sky was on fire. I got a visual reward for the bear scare, and my car was waiting, the library was waiting, the yo-yo was waiting, and I learned something. Next time I am biking with someone slower than me.
Trail information contact: Wisconsin DNR, Polk County Tourism, Polk County ParksTrails From Rails.
Trail head location: St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin (Polk County Information Center) south of the Highway 35 and Highway 8 intersection.
Length: 47.1 miles (but I did "Leg #2" section from Luck to Siren-17.1 miles-and then doubled back).
Usage: (Summer) walking, biking non-motorized. (Winter) Cross-country skiing (untracked?) snowshoeing and snowmobiling (if 6 inches of snow).
Highway crossings: Small roads, mostly in the towns. Highway crossings have trestle bridges or tunnels.
Surface: Limestone screenings.
Scenic: Pleasant.
Signage: Well marked directional and mileage signs. Missed the historical information though.
Regional trail system: Yes, cooperates with Minnesota. It sort of is its own regional trail system, being so very long if you count the northern section from Danbury, through Minnesota, then back into Wisconsin up to Superior. In the future, it may be linked with the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail that I previously reported on. That runs From Amery to Dresser, which is about 4.2 miles from St. Croix Falls.
Rest stops: The downtown of Luck is charming and has a new library with nice restrooms and a giant yo-yo in the lobby. Frederick has a historical museum rest stop, but at this late fall date, it was closed. Siren has a downtown with businesses, but I did not explore Siren yet. 

Those are the facts, Jack. I have one more segment of the trail to finish, but that is for next biking season. In the meantime, I will be cross country skiing some bike trails, and I will give a report on that!
Mantra: Keep on pedaling and............well, just keep on pedaling.