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Bikepacking the Marshfield Mondeaux Loop | Wisconsin Gravel Bike Camping Route

In late April, I completed a 156-mile gravel bikepacking loop in northcentral Wisconsin. This is Part 2 of my Ride Report.

On Monday, April 29th left home, riding my Priority 600X, loaded for a few days of Wisconsin bikepacking. My goal was to ride the gravel farm roads and forest roads, including about 15 miles on the Pine Line rail trail in northcentral Wisconsin. After a week of heavy rains, the flotation of the 29 x 2.4-inch MTB tires proved to be a wise choice over my lighter gravel bike.

By day’s end, I had reached my camping destination in the Chequamegon National Forest, north of Medford. This section of the National Forest surrounds the Mondeaux Flowage. I found an old logging road that gave me access to a secluded campsite. After rigging my tarp and hammock, I enjoyed a simple but satisfying hot dinner. Then it was a full 10 hours of sleep as the rain continued, off and on until morning.

My breakfast was already prepared – cold soaked oatmeal with craisins (sweetened cranberries) and pure maple syrup! I heated some water on my tiny alcohol stove, cleaned my utensils, and packed the bike panniers.

I slept well and was happy for the long underwear – which I continued to wear as I prepared to ride through the forest. I also wore my insulated jacket to conserve heat as I shoved off for the morning ride. One item I’ve added to my packing list is a light cycling cap that fits under my helmet. This cap came in handy the day before during occasional drizzle. I wore it again this morning to ward off the chill generated by the repeated fast downhill runs.

My campsite was on free, dispersed camping forest lands. As I began heading west, I encountered an area of private property with lakefront access to the Mondeaux Flowage. Much of the National Forest and Wisconsin state forests contain a patchwork of private lands. The Mondeaux Flowage is a small reservoir that was being fed by a series of small streams that were overflowing with the Spring rains.

The terrain was continually rolling, and the forest roads included short but sharp climbs, followed by fast descents. The gravel continued to be wet and soft, so I needed to gear down to 2nd and even 1st gear on the longer hills with the heavy bike. Within 10 miles, I needed to stop and shed the long underwear and insulated jacket. I kept alternating between full-finger gloves and my cycling gloves – one choice was too warm and the other not warm enough in the cool, damp morning.

After 62 miles the day before, my legs were complaining about the continuous hills. My average speed dropped to under 10 miles per hour, so it took me a full two hours to reach the small hamlet of Perkinstown. Perkinstown consists of a cluster of lakeside cottages, a cemetery, and a combination bar/gas pump/convenience store. It was time for an early lunch.

My lunch on the trail usually consists of granola bars, GORP, jerky, and other snacks. Since I was tired and thirsty, I added a Coke and a bag of Dot’s Pretzels to the feast. Then, with my water bottles topped off, I headed south. Within a few miles I passed the Perkinstown Winter Sports Area (closed for the Summer) where you can enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing down the highest hill in the area. The forest is also crisscrossed by hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails.

Here is a video of the rolling terrain along Winter Sports Road, which passes the Perkinstown Winter Sports complex.

Since my turn off the Pine Line trail yesterday, I also continually passed markers where the Ice Age hiking trail crossed the roads. This trail highlights the geography left by the receding glaciers many thousands of years ago.

Soon I crossed Highway 64 and rode south on a paved county road for a few miles. In this area, Highway 64 marks the diving line between farm country and the “Northwoods”. For the rest of the day, I would pass through farm country where the acreage of fields exceeded the woodlots. I only travelled three miles before turning west onto Burma Road, then south onto Clark Road for more Wisconsin gravel bikepacking.

One more short jog west and I turned south onto Stirling Avenue. I would be on this long gravel stretch for the rest of the day. Photos don’t capture elevation, so I didn’t bother taking many photos. But Stirling Avenue is one of the hilliest roads in central Wisconsin. The hills are LONG and continuous! Once again, the local town crews had freshly graded the roads, so I was forced to seek out the hardest packed tire track – sometimes on the far-left shoulder of the road.

Mile after mile, I climbed the long hills. Coasting down the backside of the hills wasn’t all joy either, since the loose gravel kept me searching for a line that wouldn’t swallow my tires and throw me off the bike. I was back in Amish country and saw dozens of farms and many buggies on the roads. Once I even got passed by a horse and buggy – unfair due to WAY more horsepower.

The Sun had warmed the day and I needed to stop and drink often. But the warm temperatures also meant that the first clouds of gnats had hatched, and I did my best to maintain a pace just fast enough to leave them behind. Every time I stopped a new swarm of gnats found me in seconds.

Finally, I reach the crossroad leading to my camping destination, Mead Lake County Park. But the hills weren’t over. Before I could rest at the park, I had a few miles with some of the longest hills of the day. I pulled into the park about 5:00 PM and prepared supper in the picnic pavilion, looking out over the sunny lake.

Tonight’s menu was ramen noodles with garlic potatoes and diced chicken. This was an example of an inexpensive but hearty meal that consisted of grocery store staples. I had prepacked the dry ingredients at home, the sealed them in a freezer bag. All I needed to do was boil water and add it to the bag. I opened the packet of chicken and also added a few crushed Fritos from the previous meal. With the hot ingredients “cooking” in the foil cozy, I organized my gear for the night.

It was Tuesday evening and many campsites had reserved tags for the weekend – which marked the opening of fishing season in Wisconsin. But tonight, I had the entire campground to myself. With no one else in camp, I chose a few prime trees to set up my hammock – right in the center of the campground loop and a short distance from the bath house with running water!

For the day, I had biked 56.3 miles on nearly continuous hills with 2,493 feet of climbing. No wonder my legs were tired and my water bottles empty when I reached camp. After supper, I enjoyed the access to running water to clean up and change into some fresh, non-salty clothes. Then, just like the night before, it started to drizzle. I retreated to my tarp and readied my gear for the next day. Thankfully, the light rain knocked down the aggravating gnats and I had no problem enjoying a restful night in my hammock.

During the night, the drizzle changed to a steady rain. The next day would be another slog on soupy roads, but I only had about 40 miles to go to reach home – and beat another storm that was forecasted.

By morning, I was rested and ready for my oatmeal, craisins, and maple syrup, all mixed with “fresh” milk from my freeze-dried stash. A short clean-up and everything was repacked on the bike. The panniers were quickly loaded with multiple bags – clothing, hammock, cook kit, and tarp. By 7:15 AM I was on the road.

Before I made it back to the main county road, I met a couple who were collecting worms and nightcrawlers from the center of the gravel road into the campground – which illustrates just how soaked the surrounding land was!

I reversed my route up and down the long hills for a few miles before turning south on gravel. Then I realized how strong the west wind at my back was – just riding south required balance to keep from getting blown sideways. My route home was mainly straight east, and this was a blessing. Every mile that I needed to jog south was a slog on the soft, wet roads. Riding east with the wind at my back was hard enough. If my route had required me to ride into the 20-mph headwind, I would have considered taking the morning off and waiting for the storm front to pass.

The west wind was strong and cold. I needed to rest occasionally, but the breaks were short because within one minute I was chilled by the wind. Even with the tailwind, it required nearly four hours to pedal the 37.5 miles home. I had climbed another 1,525 feet of elevation on the route.

All told, I had ridden 156 miles over 3.5 days. I had tallied 5,645 feet of climbing in otherwise relatively flat central Wisconsin. And I had repeatedly been thankful for the option to ride my 29er mountain bike for this Wisconsin bikepacking gravel loop.

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Wisconsin gravel bikepacking


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