I like the idea of a wood burning stove and a rustic experience without electricity. There are too many electronic devices in my life. I wanted to turn a few of them turned off and kick back by the fire with a book for a few days and ride the trails with my fat bike. The yurts at the Cuyuna Country State Recreational Area are usually booked a few weeks out, so Jen and I planned ahead for once and reserved the Binghamite yurt for four nights in early January.
Pillows: Check. Dinosaur Blanket: Check. TP: Check. Hauling in our gear with a cart
The three yurts at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area are tucked against a huge overburden pile left behind by mining companies decades ago. Today, Bobsled and Tugger trail wind around this pile of rock. Yawkey Mine Lake-where the rocks came from- is on the other side of the yurts.
Yawkey Mine Lake on a subzero morning
It was cold. There's just no other way to put it. Nostril-freezing, eyeball-cracking, toes-numb cold. The kind of cold that makes snow squeak like Styrofoam and not stick to you when you fall in it. The lows were anywhere between -10 and -23. It wasn't always sunny, either, so during the day the temps rocketed to around zero. The yurts are large, fancy tents with wood floors, a door and windows and sleep about seven. They're wrapped in soft-sided vinyl and don't offer much insulation.
Starting a fire
When we arrived late in the afternoon, it took a while to get a fire started and for the stove to warm up.
By dark I had some good flames going, but it wasn't exactly toasty inside. Everything, from the wood floors to the massive, chunky rustic furniture was radiating cold. We wrapped up in blankets, huddled by the fire and played cribbage with grandpa's old, waxy deck of cards. It was starting to warm up enough to not see your breath anymore.
Huddled around the stove in the morning
The first morning started with a lesson: You have to get up every two hours at night and put wood in the stove. Or rather, feed the stove constantly with Barbie-sized log-ettes. The firebox is small and the wood pieces are half the size of what you'd expect. It was a peaceful morning, besides the cold start. Chickadees were chirping in the pines. You could catch a glimpse if you melted a big enough hole in the frost on the window. Every once in a while we heard the crickety hub of someone riding down the Bobsled trail behind the yurt, followed by the distant honking of disc brakes in the woods. Our yurt and all the stuff in it was starting to warm up and every so often snow slid off the roof with a zipper-like sound. We came here to ride, but that cup of coffee was so good and warm.
Best cup of coffee ever
We eventually went for a ride on the paved Cuyuna Lakes State Trail, which connects the individual single-track trail clusters of the Cuyuna range. It was freshly groomed and flat, but at -9 degrees we lasted only about an hour. The afternoon came with a lesson, too: Put hand warmers in your boots.
Meat Raffle at C-I Pub
C-I Pub (as in Crosby-Ironton) is right off the trail in Ironton. We warmed up there with a beer and pizza and Jen won two pounds of bacon at their meat raffle. The concept of a meat raffle is simple: You buy a ticket. If you're lucky and your number is drawn, you get to pick a meat product from the table where the meat prizes are displayed at the other end of the bar. We walked out with bacon. Glorious, glistening, smoked bacon.
Bobsled trail at night
Once the sun went down I went for a night ride on the Bobsled and it was awesome. Nothing compares to a winter night ride on single track. It was just me, the trail and my headlight gliding through the woods on barely inflated tires. There was no harsh grinding of rocks to power up an incline, like in the summer. I just shifted into super-granny, sat down and spun up the next hill, then coasted down while the headlight cast twitching shadows to my side. It was like riding through a department store window display at Christmas, perfectly decorated with cottony snow on bending branches. But no Bing Crosby and a lot colder and dark.
The next morning we played a game of 'Who's getting up to put wood in the fire and make coffee?' It was the coldest night of our stay and neither of us wanted to get out of the sleeping bag. We finally got going to get some supplies from nearby Crosby, but the car wouldn't start Lucky for us, Chad from Outdoor Motion was staying in one of the other yurts and one of his friends gave us a jump. We spent part of the day getting a new battery and sightseeing on Aitkin county back roads from the car, because it was just so nice and toasty and our phones needed to charge. (Yes, the phones we tried to escape from by going to the yurt.) It snowed, and we decided we'd come back in the summer and ride some of the gravel roads we drove that afternoon.
Binghamite Yurt at night
When I layed down to sleep, I was wearing all the clothes I brought and cinched the hood of my mummy bag tight. The ice on Yawkey Mine Lake moaned and shifted and the pine trees popped and cracked in the dark. The fire in the stove sounded like a faraway waterfall. That night the temperatures dropped to minus 23 degrees.
"I'm a little excited about not being cold anymore"
On our last full day at Cuyuna, we got in some very good trail time on the single track and the Cuyuna Lakes StateTrail. Last fall new trails were added to make Haul Road trail in and out of the Yawkey area a one-way, and it was well-designed and in great shape. The sun even came out for a while. Later, Jen took her first ever night single-track ride and loved it.
The trip to the yurts was a great time and I'll probably do it again. I recommend you sit on a rustic vault toilet on a minus twenty-or-so degree morning at least once in your life. It'll really put things into perspective.