Tour de Bibon – 1983

The Tour de Bibon was one of our very first Chequamegonland off road adventures.  In 1983, fat tire bicycle exploration was in its infancy.  While that year marked the inaugural Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival it also marked a time when each ride in the woods enlightened us as to the wonders of Wisconsin’s wooded paradise.  The Tour de Bibon was the first recorded long distance destination specific bicycle excursion in the Chequamegon area.  The exact date escapes me it was a long time ago to say the least.

 Located in Wisconsin’s Bayfield County, the Bibon Swamp is the largest wetland in the northland.  Occupying the basin of an extinct glacial lake drained by the White River, a hard, cold water trout stream, the Bibon lies just north of Grand View.  Access through the Bibon area is normally via Highway 63 that runs north from Cable, through Drummond, Grand View, Mason and up to Highway 2.  One day it dawned on us that the abandoned railway grade would be a historical two wheeled avenue to and through the Bibon Swamp.   See:  http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/er/sna/index.asp?SNA=275 for more on the Bibon Swamp natural area.

This early epic ride was born when Phil VanValkenberg, Dave LaRosa, Doug Kruse and Gary Crandall headed north on the grade to explore the Chequamegon forest and the as of yet unknown reaches of the swamp.  Phil was the first to explore the area via bicycle on his old touring bike.  He is Mr. Bicycle in Wisconsin, author of many cycling books, co-founder of the Yellow Jersey and course designer for among many other events, the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival race courses. To this day Phil remains a unique route finder for all things two wheeled.  

Phil and Gary in their lean and mean days.

Dave, from Chippewa Falls, is a well known area bicycle mechanic, skier and adventurous sort of guy.  Today his beard is a bit fuller and white as the fallen snow.

Dave LaRosa ready to ride.

Doug, a Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival originator, is the guy depicted on the Chequamegon event logo.  Doug was one of three Kruse family members who rode the first Chequamegon 40.  It was Doug who sold me (Gary) my first mountain bike, an old blue Specialized Stumpjumper that got me into the woods.

Doug at a time before helmets made sense.

As for myself, I was a self-employed guy with seasonal down time on my hands.  Ride in the swamp?  Count me in. Years after this ride I was to become a Mountain Bike Hall of Famer but from day one was always up for a reason to head out in the woods with my buddies. This was certainly a suitable posse for an epic ride through the unknown reaches of the Bibon Swamp.

Gary on his way to Vegas and the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame

The access through the swamp was the abandoned rail line that had been put in place over one hundred years ago.  The rail lines partnered with the lumbering industry that had previously harvested the timber close to the preferred water routes for transportation.  Rail lines allowed the lumberjacks to reach further in the forest to harvest the great white and red pine that dominated the area in the late 1800’s.  Interesting to note that each of the towns along the southern Bayfield County route were separated by approximately eight miles, the distance traveled after which the locomotives would take on new water to continue to make steam for propulsion.  This particular line ran from Hudson north to Ashland and Bayfield.

One eye opening vista generating railway feature of the Tour de Bibon route was the 18 Mile Creek trestle that lies just south of Grand View.  Standing seventy-five feet over the creek bed, the old school Erector Set style construction spans several hundred feet from side to side.  While the iron structure still stood the rails and decking had been removed, leaving a tie to tie hop while pushing bikes across the span.  We took advantage of this scenic hydration respite before we continued our journey.

Good spot for a hydration stop.

The view is grand from the trestle as the name sake town of Grand View might suggest.  None of us had previously seen the trestle and it quickly became a favorite place to sit and breathe the fresh Chequamegon air. 

High a top the 18 Mile Creek trestle.

Traveling north through Grand View the grade soon entered the swamp.  The traverse became more interesting as we were forced to jump from piling to piling that had been left after the decking had been removed.  The versatility of our off road mounts came into play as we use the bikes to vault ourselves from one piling to another.  Silent Sport magazine featured the photo below of our swamp crossing in its September 1985 issue.  This was off road adventure at its finest.

Tour de Bibon on the cover of Silent Sports

As we moved through the swamp we encountered a tamarack stand all aglow in their autumnal glory. Up until that time I was not familiar with tamaracks, a deciduous conifer, that is, it loses its needles each fall.   Just before the needles drop they turn a beautiful golden hue, affording the stands of tamarack a striking compliment to the other fall foliage. When the sun hits the gold at the right angle it is brilliantly beautiful. Ironically, this very stand of tamaracks may have been used for railroad ties when the line was laid in the 1890’s.

 During the swampy traverse we were on the lookout for the train engine that logging and railway history buffs reported as being sunk along the Bibon grade.  Local lore had it that the steam engine derailed and slowly disappeared in the swamp’s depths many moons ago. While we did not find evidence of the locomotive derailing and sinking the thought that the same fate could lie in our near future kept us alert as we crossed the wet land that day.

Arriving at our destination in Mason, we concluded our traverse of the Bibon Swamp.  In the photo below you’ll notice the railway station that stood adjacent to the abandoned grade.  This was a good spot to temp our balance with feeble wheelie attempts.  What the heck these bikes were a lot of fun and it was anything goes when we were spending time in the woods.

Wheelies at the Mason train station.

If my memory serves me correctly the ride back was quite a bit more urbane. We hit the pavement of Highway 63 and motored south back to our starting point.  This is no mean feat when you consider you are climbing out of the lowland swamp over the Great Divide back into Grand View.

One thing the Tour de Bibon taught us was there was a vast amount of territory to be explored on our two wheelers.  Forest roads, logging trails, abandoned rail lines and deer paths were plentiful in the Chequamegon woods.  We had just begun to seek our wooded adventure and almost thirty years later we are still exploring the far reaches of our remote surroundings.