By the time I hit the fourth or fifth swooping, bermed turn, I decided the Gravity Cavity had taken hold of me and I would never come out the other side. I was following Scott, and he pinned each of the first turns. I, on the other hand, was mangling the entries and exits while flipping my head side-to-side like a New York tourist trying to take in all the sights at once. But then it clicked–I found the rhythm and, despite not knowing what was ahead inside the Gravity Cavity, it was as if I could imagine the next turn in my mind. Welcome to Flowconsin.
I traveled to Wisconsin in October in search of a new mountain biking experience apart from the big trails of the west and the familiarity of east coast mountain bike trails. My destination: Cable, a tiny town in northern Wisconsin with primo access to the 300-mile CAMBA (Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association) trail system. Despite having only one full day and two half days to spend in Wisconsin, my CAMBA guides and I rode more than 60 miles of the best singletrack in the system, starting with one of the newest trails: Seeley Pass trail, which includes the Gravity Cavity.
On the drive out to the trailhead, I chatted with Don, who works at New Moon Ski and Bike in Hayward, about what to expect from the CAMBA trails. It turns out CAMBA celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and since 1993, the eponymous trail system has grown organically through various builds and connections. Don remarked how each trail builder over the years had left their unique imprint on the look and feel of the trails. The section we would be riding today was recently constructed under the direction of one of the architects of the famed Copper Harbor trails just a few hours away in Michigan, so I knew we would be in for a fast, flowy ride.
We had a great group for this ride, including Jeff and his whip-fast high-school-aged daughters Keeley and Kyra. Wisconsin claims to have America’s largest state mountain bike race series, and both girls are top riders in the high school division. With NICA high school mountain bike leagues sweeping across the country, Wisconsin is in the unusual position of already having an active and established MTB race series for teenagers that’s not part of NICA.
Don and I pulled up to the small, freshly cleared parking area which barely fit the four vehicles in our group. I pulled the Specialized Epic S-works I would be riding off the truck (Don’s personal rig) and marveled at how clean the bike looked and how light it felt. Once everyone was geared up, we rolled onto a gravel road called Camp 38 road. After less than half a mile, we made a left turn onto the sculpted and bermed Seeley Pass trail.
The Seeley Pass trail is a new linkage that connects the Cable and Seeley Clusters of the CAMBA trails with the popular OO Trailhead to the south. The members of CAMBA are working to create one of the largest cross-country mountain bike trail systems in the country, and clearly northern Wisconsin is a great spot to do it.
The Chequamegon (pronounced “schwamagin,” and standing for the C in CAMBA) National Forest covers 1.5 million acres in northern Wisconsin, an area that was virtually flattened by logging companies in the early 1900s. Today, most of the CAMBA trails are located on National Forest and Bayfield County-owned land.
With a county population of only 1,400 year-round residents, it’s surprising to find such an active mountain bike club that’s able to build and maintain hundreds of miles of first-class mountain bike trails. The club does count about 250 members, though many don’t actually live in the area. I spoke with CAMBA Executive Director Ron Bergin about how the trail system was able to evolve with such a small, albeit fanatical, group of volunteers.
Back in the early 1990s, “people [were] accustomed to coming here for the big ski events, big bike events [which really set] the stage [for building more trails]. The chamber of commerce actually played a big role. […] [T]hey pulled together the trail people to talk about trails. It wasn’t even necessarily mountain bike trails–just trails in general–but it quickly evolved into a discussion about what to do and it’s sorta how CAMBA got started. We need some trails, we need to organize these things, how are we going to go about it?”
With a vision to build trails that would draw not only event-based tourism but also more steady visitors, the CAMBA folks have always been more than willing to share their trails with weekend warriors, many of whom come from out of state. They’re truly proud of what they’ve built and enjoy seeing others ride the amazing singletrack.
CAMBA is “building this because they love it and they want everyone else to be able to share it,” says James Bolen, Executive Director of the Cable, WI Chamber of Commerce. “And so it’s not like this [trail] is mine, I don’t want you [to ride here]. They like seeing people out there on the trails using them and experiencing them. [Out of town riders] get that sense, so they feel like this is almost their home trail.”
The club does eventually see an end to the current trail building boom, but no one is ready to put a firm date on it yet. Trail densities are slowly creeping up, and with so many miles of existing singletrack, it’s rare to see more than a few riders on any given Saturday ride. Still, the desire to build more–and improve existing routes–clearly burns bright at CAMBA.
The newest CAMBA trails: Seeley Pass and the Gravity Cavity
After a few miles of fast, flow-style riding, we hit the famed Gravity Cavity, a trail that dips in and out of a small ravine seemingly dozens of times before rejoining the main trail. I’m told it’s not uncommon for riders to loop the Gravity Cavity over and over again because they can’t get enough–and it’s easy to understand why.
The weather was perfect for our ride, and the changing leaves were on full display with endless shades of yellow and orange. I was particularly struck by the clusters of aspen trees, which I naively assumed were only found in the Rockies. Tall, thick evergreens dotted the forest, lending an alpine feel to this otherwise rolling terrain. There aren’t many opportunities for long range views in this part of Wisconsin, but to me, just taking in the beautiful forest and secluded lake views was more than enough.
After about 11 miles of riding we popped out at the OO trailhead, which sports two massive parking lots and a spigot with drinking water for refilling bottles. Even out here in the open it was clear the light was fading fast, and we needed to start heading back. On the return it seemed like the pace was even faster. We took a couple gravel road shortcuts and were back at the truck before dark, the air much cooler than when we started. This was a big “after work” ride for me, but I couldn’t wait to get out the next day to explore even more!
Stay tuned for Part 2.