Mabel Lake Campground is in the middle of nowhere, but we still managed to find some fun. There are excellent unpaved, but well-maintained, forest service roads in the Chippewa National Forest easily accessible from the campground. So of course we had to take the mountain bikes out for a ride on a beautiful day.
Along the way we encountered lots of downed and damaged trees from the heavy storms with straight line winds that had passed through many parts of Minnesota in the previous two weeks. The Forest Service had done a great job at clearing what must have been impassable roads quickly, but the evidence remained. It was so sad to see so many of these beautiful birches down.
There was no traffic whatsoever to contend with, and no dogs. But an even greater nemesis would plague us for much of the ride: deer flies! These evil pests are incredibly persistent and would follow us for a long way, mostly swarming around our helmets --another good reason to wear a helmet even on unpaved roads!
We could occasionally outrun them if we hit a fast descent, but they'd catch back up (or a new group would find us) on the flats and climbs. These annoying flies pack a painful bite, so we were kept busy trying to stay ahead of them. Both of us did get bitten several times, though, especially on our butts, right through our bike shorts. They are attracted to dark colors (especially blue, apparently, with black a close second). These bites would turn into huge welts and itch for days on me, as I seem to be more allergic than Barry.
As an aside, I found the MOST HILARIOUS EVER diatribe against deer flies online that you might want to check out, but be forewarned: it is not safe for the kiddos (lots of bad language but so so funny). Check it out at My Nemesis: The Deer Fly. I am thinking that his blue solo cup head apparatus might be a worth addition to our bike helmets during deer fly season. It would certainly keep people guessing!
Much to our surprise, we crossed the Soo Line Trail, an unpaved rail trail running through the state, popular with the ATV folks. We had no idea it crossed here. So, we rode that for a short distance just to check it out. But it proved to be impassable with huge puddles all the way across from the rains. And the deer flies were even more numerous than on the FS roads, so we quickly backtracked. It sure was pretty, though, and would be a fun time at a different time of year, sans flies.
We did stop to apply Deep Woods Off towelettes. Unfortunately, they were ineffective against the aggressive deer flies.
Once we got closer to the campground and Mabel Lake on the return trip, the flies thinned out, and we could better enjoy our ride. The countryside of Minnesota is gorgeous, and even with the annoying flies and itchy bites afterwards, this was still a great day and a fun ride.
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
Favorite Travel Blogs