Work gets in the way

Team 3 Riders: Justin Elder, John Konrad, and Kyle Swartout 
Support Driver: Matt Stepanek

It’s always hard to imagine what takes the riders so long to get on the trail in the morning, but it just does. The guys were up and having pancakes and breakfast meats by 7 am, yet it was 9:30 by the time the first rider hit the trail. A combination of work calls and general procrastination led to the late departure. The plan for the day was to ride from the campsite in Gilbert all the way to Ely. The trail conditions north of Embarrass were somewhat unknown, so there was an exciting sense of adventure and wayfinding in the air. It was comforting to know that Matt would be able to meet us for a couple rest stops along the way, and he was up for the task. John was eager to get going, and hit the trail without a word. Justin and Kyle left about a half hour later (10 am), with the first stop Embarrass, MN. The great thing about the Mesabi Trail is the scenery. It is unmatched in comparison to other Minnesota trails. Long uphill climbs are rewarded with fast downhill stretches.  

The group met Matt in Embarrass. John made a quick stop and was gone by the time Kyle and Justin arrived. Kyle had to take the first of many work calls at the first pit stop, and warned the group he had another call to take in 20 minutes and another at 3:30  After some sustenance, Kyle and Justin departed and agreed to meet Matt at the next stop in Soudan, MN. Justin was impressed with Kyle’s ability to negotiate deals on the phone while riding. They were on a steep uphill climb, with Kyle on the phone, when around the bend another biker was screaming down the hill directly at them. She was on a mountain bike, no helmet, totally out of control. Luckily Justin had meandered to the left side of the trail, or a massive collision would have occurred. She whizzed by yelling, “SORRY NO BRAKES, NO BRAKES!!”  Kyle was discussing contract negotiations and she missed colliding with him by mere inches. A very close call averted by mere luck. After riding for two miles, the pair emerged from the woods back at the same spot they had left Matt just 20 minutes prior. They realized they had taken the wrong trail, and had taken a scenic but unnecessary 2-mile loop. From there, the 22 miles from Embarrass to Soudan was a mostly miserable combination of poorly maintained trail and highway riding. Riding through the town of Tower was lovely though, and Justin discussed retiring there and opening Elder’s Hardware Store, unconcerned if it would actually be profitable.   

The stop in Soudan was welcome, and the group enjoyed a nice lunch. Both John and Kyle had work calls to take, and Kyle had to make the agonizing decision to quit riding for the day. It became clear the group would not make it to Ely as planned, though Justin was committed to doing back-to-back 70 mile days.  So he set off in the direction of Ely, and was rewarded with a fantastic stretch of brand new trail and beautiful scenery. John departed about 20 minutes later, and the two met up with about 10 miles remaining and rode in together.  

Kyle’s smoked pulled pork was on the menu for tonight, and Matt made the meat into some delicious pork nachos. A couple hours around the campfire were well enjoyed, before the group retired to bed.  The final day of the 2022 CEM 900 is upon us, and the group plans to head to Duluth to ride the Munger Trail and finish at the Dairy Queen in Hinckley.