Cuyuna Lakes Ride And Trip Report

I have been in desperate need of some training and actual singletrack riding. I felt like I was sick for the entire month of April and had been on and off the bike this entire spring, going more than a week at times without doing any riding. I was happy to have finished True Grit, but really wasn’t too excited about my overall performance and results. Additionally, I was not really feeling like I was any faster than last year. I was feeling stronger on climbs, but not really faster or in better shape overall.

I also had been working a lot the past few weeks on various projects and just needed to shut down and spin the pedals on some single track for the purpose of training and to clear my head and figure out what to focus on next. There is something about the trail that slows down the squirrel cage in my head and helps me focus. The problem is, I get really bored riding the same loop over and over again and become complacent and uninterested, which doesn’t help slow down the squirrel cage.

You can get really good at riding that specific singletrack, but I need to get better at riding any singletrack and learn how to react and flow thru stuff that is new to me. New trail also helps my brain shut down long enough to clear my thoughts and focus. Riding new single track for me is like meditation. I go fast enough that I have to focus on the trail and the trail only and after awhile, my head is completely cleared and I can think clearly and objectively. It takes a lot for my mind to shut down and stop spinning. I had multiple reasons to plan a little ride getaway.


My birthday was also coming up. My wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I told her, “nothing”. I just wanted to get out and ride my bike on some singletrack and was thinking about heading up to Cuyuna, since I could ride for 3 hours at a time and barely repeat any trail. Cuyuna is a little over 2 hours away and pretty much becomes a full day trip with the drive up and a good 3 to 4 hours of riding. My nearest local trail is a 35 minute drive, and although great trails…. I complete a whole loop in 40 to 45 minutes and then it is just repeat loops of the same trail.

So there I was… planning my overnight trip to Cuyuna. Not much planning really. I figured I could drive up, ride all afternoon and evening, stay overnight in a tent, ride again in the morning and then drive back home. Pretty easy way to get some mileage in and ride some trails that I am not completely familiar with. It would be my own little mini training camp. I could still get some work done in the evening around camp with my laptop and keep up with some of the projects that I am in the middle of.

The Cuyuna Trip


Cuyuna – Day 1

Wednesday morning I woke up, got the kids off to school, did  a little bit of work, had some coffee with my wife, packed up my car and headed toward Cuyuna. I was pumped and it felt good to head out. I had been working pretty hard the last few weeks and hadn’t taken much of a break. It was a bit weird to head out with some camping gear, minus the family though. However, I was looking forward to some solo time on the trails, to ride my own ride and have some deep thought time on my own. I think we all need that on occasion. It does the mind some good.

I arrived in Cuyuna and my first stop was True North Basecamp. I had camped at the Portsmouth campground within the Cuyuna Rec Area before, but had been wanting to check out True North. I didn’t see anybody around, other than some painters working on the outhouses, and I wasn’t sure how to check into a campsite. I wanted to get on the trails and ended up heading over to Portsmouth, which is right off the Cuyuna trail system anyways and really convenient. Not to mention, it’s only $15 for a non-electric site at Portsmouth and that is all I needed.

I picked out a campsite, set up my tent and headed out on the trails. My intention was to ride for a couple of hours, take a couple hour break to recover and then do another short evening ride before settling down for the night. I headed down to the west end of the trail system, which is where Miner’s Mountain, Sand Hog Hill, Sidewinder and Mucker Mountain is located. These are some really fun trails and you can get a little bit of climbing in to work over the legs. The trails were fantastic and I think I only ran into one other person. I didn’t ride super extreme, but I didn’t take it easy either.

I was able to ride for a couple of hours and barely repeated any of the same trail. I still don’t know my way around Cuyuna very well, but am getting a little better at piecing together a continuous ride without having to stop and look at the maps. There is another thing I dislike. I hate riding trails that are difficult to ride a continuously without stopping. This is why I like the long endurance point to point races. No repeated sections and you just ride. At any rate, I’ve been to Cuyuna a handful of times now and kind of have it figured out.


I headed back to camp to rest for a couple hours before heading out on my evening ride. I passed by the lake as I exited the trail up to the campsite and thought to myself, “I know it is going to be crazy cold, but I bet it will feel amazing”.  I couldn’t resist and dropped my hydration pack, helmet, gloves and glasses off at my campsite and headed back down to the lake. I walked in enough to cover my quads and it was an ice bath. Remember, this is Minnesota and early May. I believe last winter or the winter prior, we still had ice floating in the lakes at this time.

I decided I couldn’t walk in this far without taking a cold dunk and I dove under. Holy shit, was it cold! But, it was amazing and felt like I just did a total body reset. I got out of water rather quickly after that and rode back up to my campsite to dry out. There was enough sun to dry me out and stay warm for a little bit. The cold water dunk was great, but I felt like it sucked a little energy out of me. Regardless, I would do it again in a heart beat.


I grabbed some lunch, laid down for 20 minutes and then did some work on my laptop while rehydrating and resting before my next ride. I had precooked some chicken that I could roll up in a tortilla and didn’t worry about packing a stove or anything. I kept things pretty simple. I also, packed my own water, which turned out to be a good idea, since the water was still shut off in the campground.

I eventually headed toward the east trails for my evening ride, figuring I could do a couple laps around the trails in the Bob Sled trail area. I headed east on the trail from Portsmouth and then noticed a wrong way sign on one of the posts near the Man High Hill area. I don’t know the trails very well here yet, but swore that this was the way to the other end. I circled up Man High Hill to end up back at the same spot. I didn’t know any other way to get down there, so I went ahead up the trail thinking maybe the sign was out of place from some early spring trail work or something.

Low and behold, I eventually ran into a group of riders coming the other direction and the women at the front of the group let me know I was going the wrong way. I still didn’t know how to get to the other end and asked for directions. She seemed more interested in letting me know that I was wrong and going the wrong way than helping me out…

Luckily, the guy behind her was helpful and explained where the new trail was that went down to the other end. I guess there was a sign on the other side of Portmouth Campground, that said this was a dead end trail and pointed you toward the new trail that would take you around to the other end. I obviously missed it, as I would never have seen it coming directly from Portsmouth Campground and didn’t see it earlier in the day when I came back to Portsmouth from the other end. This was actually good news though, because the 2 way traffic on these trails was a bit dangerous. Regardless, I was fairly close to the other end of this new 1 way section and just finished riding the last part to connect up with the other trails.

I enjoyed the trails at the other end. Bob Sled is a lot of fun and I only wish it was longer. There is just not enough elevation for it. That is what is so great about Marquette and Copper Harbor up in Michigan; you get trails like Bob Sled that are 4 to 5 times the distance. There are a few short loops down in this trail area that make you do a small climb at the start, so this was a good little workout for the evening before heading back.

I was fairly tired and opted to take the rail trail back around to the south side of Portsmouth to see if I could find this other connector trail, so I would know where it was for my morning ride. I found it and recognized it from the Cuyuna Whiteout Fat Bike Race. We just rode it from the wrong direction in the fat bike race, but the trail connections all made sense and I headed back to camp for the evening.


It was great, not having to pack up quickly and drive home. I started a fire, grabbed some food, got my laptop out and put my feet up. Seems crazy to get my laptop out while sitting next to a campfire, but the fact that I could be productive while sitting around camp was pretty amazing. I guess it is all a matter of perspective.

Cuyuna – Day 2

I woke up in the morning to what felt like rain inside my tent. It was completely dry outside, but my tent is a really cheap 1 man tent. When I say really cheap, I mean it was like $19 or $29 dollars. I can’t remember which, but it doesn’t breathe worth a darn. There is nothing better than stepping outside first thing in the morning to the singing of birds and the sun coming up. I was missing something, though. I needed a cup of coffee, so I jumped in the car and headed for the Holiday gas station in town to grab a cup of coffee before I set out for my morning ride. I need to get a portable camp coffee maker. If you have a suggestion on one, let me know.

I wanted to get a good ride in this morning, but I needed to be on the road by noon or 12:30 at the latest to get home before my kids got off the bus from school. I was on the trails a little after 8:00 am and headed down toward the west end. I basically repeated the same areas from the day before. I just wanted to get some climbing in and work on my single track bike handling skills. I hadn’t slept the greatest and was still a little fatigued from riding the previous day, but I was still having a good ride.


I rode the Miner’s Mountain trail area for a couple hours and then stopped at the main trail parking area to refuel before heading down to the Bob Sled trail area. I had been trying these tortilla roll ups with sunflower seed butter and jam, but they just hadn’t been working out very well. They are a little cumbersome to eat on the trail and they didn’t seem to settle well in my stomach. I use sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter because my son is allergic to peanuts and it’s easier for us to just keep all peanut products out of the house.

I really enjoyed the new one way single track sections that take you down to the other end. Even though they are really easy to ride and you flow through them… it was great practice on flowing the bike through a corner and testing the traction limits while not losing momentum. There is something to be gained out of easy flowy trails after all. By the time I made it down to the Bob Sled area, I was pretty tired and just did one lap around Bob Sled and then headed back to my campsite at Portsmouth.

The ice cold lake caught my eye again and I couldn’t help but take another dive in before heading home. That was soooo cold, but damn, it felt great. I’ve done some ice baths at home after hard sessions on the trainer and I feel like it helps with the fatigue or at least cut down some of the inflammation in the muscles after a hard work out. At any rate, it doesn’t really matter what it does. I just know it feels great and refreshing and my jump in the lake was a great way to end my short trip to Cuyuna.

Cuyuna Ride Summary And Training Thoughts

I was on my way home from Cuyuna Lakes after getting 60 mile of single track riding in over the previous 24 hours. I actually did not feel overly fatigued either. Although not a full 3 day training camp; there has to be something said about getting some mileage in over the 24 hour period without burning myself out in the process. If I would have done the 60 miles in 1 shot, I am pretty sure I would have been burned out and maybe not have gotten as much out of it. After a days rest, I feel like I came out of that trip stronger and faster in single track. I would do it again. In fact, I was going to make the exact same trip this week, but I couldn’t work it out.

I have the Mohican 100 race coming up in a few weeks and I was a bit nervous that I wasn’t ready for it at all. Now I feel ok about it. I noticed that I had set a bunch of PRs on Strava without paying attention to what or where I was riding. I felt really good about that, although I did some aggresive riding, I kept the effort (by heart rate) below threshold compared to the last time I rode at Cuyuna in October on an all out hammerfest with a buddy.

I am far from being able to put on a stellar performance at Mohican, but feel like I got some confidence back in my riding after this trip. A little bit of confidence can go a long way sometimes. I will probably focus on trail riding a lot more this year. I did a lot of road riding last year and last fall and although it was good for some muscular endurance that I desperately needed, I think I got a lot more out of the trail riding. I also think that the single track fat bike riding over the winter was a huge help to my single track skills.

I’ll probably write up something else again prior to the Mohican 100 to share how the rest of my spring riding and training goes. I am looking forward to the race a little more now and looking forward to getting out on the trails a bit more this spring. At this point, I have about 2 weeks of hard riding that I can fit in before settling down before the race. Which really means, I probably can fit in less than a handful of good training rides between the normal ebbs and flows of life… I’ll keep you posted…

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