TMAT Gunflint Loop Ride Report

Last week a fellow rider and myself trailered up to Two Harbors and set off from there to explore the “Gunflint Loop”.  This was just a week after the historic floods that hit that area so we didn’t know quite what to expect in the way of washouts or road closings.  We also hoped to have enough time to explore a bit on the Canadian side of the border in the “Canuck Loop”.

This is one of the most scenic areas of Minnesota.  I have visited the area several times before as a tourist but never on motorcycle, so I was excited to explore some new territory. Once unloaded in Two Harbors we headed for the nearest road on the TMAT. Unfortunately Alger Grade was a known washout from the storms, so we had a slight detour around it. We followed the Gunflint Loop GPS track the rest of the day north and north east and passed just to the west of Beaver Bay and Silver Bay. The gravel roads were in very good condition and even a little dry after a week of hot sun. We made our way past Tettegouche State Park and through Finland. Cramer Road was especially scenic with creeks and streams that were way above their normal water level. We followed what we hoped were a couple double track shortcuts but both turned out to be dead ends. We shot past Nine Mile lake, Four Mile Lake, and Toohey Lake, then transferred onto “The Grade” which led to Saw Bill Trail. Sawbill was a fun stretch of roller coaster like gravel that led to Sawbill Lake and Campground. It was getting a bit late so we decided to camp there. The fact that they had cold beer and hot showers influenced our decision greatly. Temps were perfect for tent camping.
The next morning after some freeze dried eggs and a hot shower were were off exploring again. We were a little tired of the National Forest gravel roads so exploring some tougher tracks was a priority. We decided to try to find a shortcut around Pine Lake and the old trestle bridge that once went over it. An ATV motorcycle trail partially gets you south of it, and from the gps it didn’t look much farther to get north to Lima Grade road. Boy was I wrong! After an hour of bushwacking and swatting flies, I ended up dead ended in a swamp. The two of us managed to get our bikes out of there, but by the time we were on high ground sweating, panting, and tired, my riding partner realized that his XR wasn’t shifting properly. Some cable adjustment managed to fix the problem temporarily but it seemed that the wet marsh had caused him to roast his clutch. We limped the bike over to Grand Marais for lunch and thought it over. We decided it would not be smart to cross the border with the bike in this condition even though it was only 30 minutes away. So we slabbed it back on Hwy 61 to the truck and trailer. About a mile from the truck my clutch started slipping as well. I guess the mighty DR wasn’t immune to muddy clutch eating swamps either.
In the end we were disappointed not to make it to the border, but didn’t regret pushing our bikes (and ourselves) to the limits in order to explore and try something new. We will definitely be back to continue to the ride once some repairs are made. I encourage all the riders reading this to consider the Iron Range area for your next trip. It is extremely scenic with some of the most varied terrain in the state. Well worth your time.

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