Autumn Kaleidoscope and Howling Wolves: A first Chequamegon Bikepacking Experience on a Fat Bike

Alright, let’s just get this out of the way because being from the Midwest it would be rude to not first talk about the weather. We lucked out. The October colors were at peak floristic phenomenon, one of the days approached summertime temperatures, and it didn’t rain the entire time we were on out the trail. All that considered, bikepacking the Chequamegon is a marvelous slog, which becomes near graceful the more days one is seated (and standing) in the saddle. 

Autumn splendor

For me, this trip started in springtime with covid restlessness. Dave Schlabowske, Bike Czar now retired from working with the Wisconsin Bike Fed, had documented this trip in generous detail for any other swashbuckling wanderers to follow in his pedal strokes. I was intrigued and started planning, even bought gravel tires for my regular road bike, which I ended up not using anyway. A last minute choice led to riding trail bikes instead of retrofitted road bikes, which proved favorable. 

I picked up this Farley Trek fat bike because I want to ride off-road in every season and refuse to store and maintain more than two bicycles. I’m not a huge fan of obsessing about gear and weight and overthinking packing strategies, but sometimes it has to be done to get where you want to be. This bike ticks all of those mountain biking boxes and handles more. It’s a remarkable general practitioner of sorts, which I admire in anyone and anything. 

Our chosen rigs taking a rest. Us too.

My friend Philip Salamone agreed to join on the trip, this being his first experience with any kind of bike touring. This detail didn’t concern me as he’s the kind of guy will nonchalantly observe, “Yeah this weekend was great. Did like 30 miles of single track on Saturday.” Phil is a fantastic artist and teacher and chill, engaging company. Phil brought his mountain bike, a hardtail with 29” tires.

Before embarking, we stopped for breakfast at The Brick House for breakfast and coffee. I struck up conversation with a couple of guys who looked like riders and were walking a dog. One of the guys was of the lanky and sleek cyclist variety and the other made me think of who you’d expect to see on a 1970’s baseball card in the position of Pitcher. He sported a generous bushy mustache and a quietly unflappable manner while wearing shorts and a t-shirt as we all sat breakfasting at windy 52 degree picnic tables. “I wonder what they’re doing here, dog and all,” I thought. “Maybe they’re locals.” Turned out they were from Madison and had the same plan as us.

The morning after camping at Moose Lake.

We began outfitting our bikes with bags and I noticed and one of their rides was of the European porteur-style featuring a massive rack and 20-inch front wheel. It became clear the dog was a part of the crew and sat shotgun. “Huh. That guy is screwed,” I thought to myself. 

Finally, we locked up the truck and made our way out onto the first of many, many gravel roads. Up the first steep incline we witnessed the snaking slides of skinnier-tire equipped gravel or road oriented rides, and we immediately knew we’d made the right choice in bikes. Well…I should say Phil started talking about that, I inhaled and exhaled with purpose and every once in awhile saved up the additional breath to respond, “Uh huh.”

The winding wilds of Wisconsin. This is the easy going terrain.

Moving Southeast from Cable, within the first hour we encountered a handful of singletrack and ATV trails laden with deeply exposed roots and basketball-sized rocks like the throat gullet to bouncing hell if everything on your bike isn’t tightly affixed and tightened to a gentle creak. We stopped for lunch about a dozen miles in alongside the winding road, our bikes leaning against the incline of a roadside moraine. Realizing we were only one-third of our way to the campsite, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. 

That said, my bike handled everything quite well. I ran with 19psi in the rear tire and 17psi up front. It was faster on the smooth gravel while still somewhat forgiving. When not on rough single track portions I had my fork locked out for less bounce=greater climbing efficiency.

We encountered a recently retired gravel bike rider who had years ago bought a cabin in the area for a love of the Birkebeiner Ski Race. He said there are two types of people who ski in the race: Those who participate once and decide that’s enough, or those who become hooked and want more. He was smilingly of the latter. 

A breath with a tapestry of Tamaracks.

The road gradually relented to often being an actual gravel road versus a collection of potholes and granite bowling balls to dodge, but still with remarkable ascents and descents. I realized that on the ascents, I finally knew the reason it was so hard to find pants that fit my bubble butt in high school. It was to propel saddlebags bouncing on 3.8” tires up rocky inclines. Finally, halfway through life, this big ass has purpose other than shredding jean crotches when squatting. 

We arrived to Moose Lake, our first night campsite, and I was totally wrecked, delirious with exhaustion. My sentences trailed off into the beginnings of the next sentence while I wobbled around the campsite. We each prepared one of those just-add-boiling-water backpacking meals and I ate the whole two servings of Chicken Risotto, then began to again feel human.

Check out that hill as modeled by Luke and Beulah.

As we sat on the provided picnic table, one of our new Madison acquaintances pedaled on by. We shouted greetings and took them up on the invitation to join at their campfire. It turned out the bikes, the dog, the moustache – all arrived in a fine jumbled order. They’d left sooner than us and arrived in about as much time as we had. I decided that our new friend and hound Beulah were the combined patron saint of the Chequamegon Trail spirit. Do you have a bike? Are the tires wider than skinny? Do you want to smell lush pines and the humid sweet rot of autumn leaves? Then go north and embrace your unbuttoned collar flapping in the downhill Kettle Moraine wilderness!

The next morning was in the low 40’s as we headed out; I find temperatures in the 40’s-60’s are generally preferable to the mid-70’s of the day before. Keeps the muscles fresher, less sweat, or maybe it just wicks off of you. Anyway, I find the third day of any ride is when you really start to get into the groove. The second day you’re still getting there, and I was still getting there. 

We were stunned by the golden beauty of this forest – my phone pictures really don’t do it justice.
The sole “mechanical” of the trip.
Tightening this bolt.
I wasn’t kidding when I said
we lucked out.

We delighted in the golden tapestry of wetland habitats unfamiliar to me in Southeastern Wisconsin, surrounded by gatekeeping Tamaracks whose needles turn bright before dropping. In the sun they twinkle giving the golden Maples a run for their majesty. 

We pulled into Clam Lake to camp at around 4:30pm looking forward to the deep dish pizza we’d heard so much about from The Chippewa. We sat on picnic tables devouring slices and drinking beer, laughing giddily about our fortune to find such wonderful pizza pie in what might seem an unlikely home while drinking New Glarus gas station beer. Felt so good it was like we were cheating. 

Retrieving our deep dish pizzas from The Chippewa.

Overnight, back at our campsites at Day Lake (which – sidebar – if you run a campsite that caters to bicycle travelers it’s really handy for guests to be aware if the water pump is partially dismantled) we heard a massive howl of wolves and coyotes. We’d neglected to hang our food as it didn’t seem distant enough to attract bears – but I rose in the middle of the night to affix the saddlebag to my bike just in case. 

Summer and autumn colors commingling at Clam Lake.

Our third day started a little slow in a fog of pizza and beer, but we felt strong and replenished, rewarded with some of the most vibrant forests we’d seen the entire trip. About half of the roads were paved as we made our way back to Cable, which by comparison felt like a luxurious auburn-tinged carpet laid just for us. Streets wound through forested vacation estates with tumbling kettles and dramatic moraines. During lunch a guy whizzed by on a golf cart and asked if we were ok. We gave the thumbs up and, having seen so many mud-splashed ATVs and orange vested pickup driving hunters with bed-caged bellering hounds all looked at one another, “…a golf cart?” Turns out a golf course is nestled within all of that forest. 

Roadside lunch, Phil sketching as painters are known to.

We arrived to a ghostly empty town of Cable as the temperature dropped with winds that started mid-afternoon. The town was so empty we saw deer strolling casually down the middle of the streets. We counted our luckies that could no longer be seen twinkling through the grey and opted for a long drive rather than a wet tent in the morning. In saying goodbyes to our new friends, Sean and Luke, while I was closing the car door, Luke added the Wisconsin adage for universally sweet concern, “Watch for deer.” 

Phil and I filled up on Chinese food in Hayward, pounded gas station coffee, and each made it to Madison and Milwaukee respectively by 2am. I brought the bike inside, took a shower for the first time since Thursday morning, and laid awake for about about 30 seconds wondering when I’d do it again. Maybe next time for a week rather than a weekend?

The Axiom Fatliner Rack fits on the first generation Trek Farley Fat Bike

I was looking up racks that would fit on my first generation Trek Farley Fat Bike. It took some research, but I found the Axiom Fatliner rack, which does fit on this first generation Farley. There wasn’t a ton of information out there, so I wanted to post this so that anyone in a similar position could use this as a reference, and you may also find this Bikepacking.com article of use, as I did. The Axiom Fatliner came with multiple mounting options. I imagine most bikes would use the dual mounting option for two braze-ons on either side of the seat post, but (as seen below) the first gen Trek Farley only has one single in-frame bolt hole. I have a dropper seat post, so I didn’t want to install a different clamp with mounting points, and it probably wouldn’t change much anyway.

I found the rack for a pretty good price locally at Milwaukee’s Bikesmiths shop (I think it was $45…?). They have a bustling internet sales business, and if you’re local you can also pick up in-store and save on shipping costs. This is a nice option and you can generally acquire your parts quicker than if they were shipped. Make sure to look up their shop hours if you’re in a hurry.

Detail of the included solo-bolt bracket, which you will have to bend to the desired angle. I used my workbench mounted vise, wrapped the bracket in a towel so it didn’t mar and easily bent it to the desired angle.

As you can see, it’s far from an elegant application. The rack is about 6 inches above the tire, meaning the weight of my saddlebags will be carried higher than preferable. But such is life when you’re making due with what you already own and are spending $45 on a rack instead of a more elaborately equipped $2,000 bike. I’m happy the Axiom Fatliner option exists for the Trek Farley.

The rear triangle mount is, again, awkward from a design standpoint, but it gets the job done. I generally don’t like all of my weight to be on bolts, but I don’t plan on using this but for a few trips and it should accomplish what I need.
The rear view of the
Axiom Fatliner on the
first generation Trek Farley.
Strangely tall, oh well. It’ll do.

I’m using this bike on a trip to False Cape State Park on the Virginia coast. One hikes or backpacks in about 8 miles to camp on the beach. I don’t know what the trails are like, so I figured I’d bring the fat bike in case I’d be riding on sand for some distance, instead of my regular touring ride. I’m pretty sure 3.8 inch tires will work better than 700×38. This way I can put the weight of our food in saddlebags instead of on my back…it will also be a lot quicker to get to the water station a few miles away for refills.

Anyhow, if you’re looking to rack equip your first generation Trek Farley, the Axiom Fatliner is an easily workable option.

Delighting in the Fleet of Prairie Grasshoppers

The Perfect Milwaukee Bike Camping Trip

Bicycle camping is a fantastic way to get to see the areas we generally breeze by in a car.

Morning Quarry
Morning at the Lannon Quarry Lake in Menomonee Park. 

I went bicycle camping with my nine-year-old to Menomonee Park, also known as Lannon Quarry when I was growing up. The trip proved to be the perfect one day out, one day back bike camping trip from Milwaukee. Read about our experience in this article at Wisconsin Bike Federation.