This morning, I biked and plotted the route for BIKE WITH JOE 2017, my annual Labor Day weekend social bike ride. By popular request, the ride this year is from Shell Lake (SL) to Birchwood (BW) WI, an alternate route from the more common Shell Lake to Stone Lake route of many prior years. BWJ has gone this way before in its 18 year history, but not for several years now.

The 2017 SL to BW route is pretty comparable to the SL to Stone Lake route and I like it a little better. It is maybe a mile longer in total, but I believe the hilliness is a little less, though I cannot verify that 100%. But it's probably pretty much a wash.

The one way mileage came in at 24.5 miles from the start - my folks' cabin on Shell Lake - to Birchwood. At about 12 miles, the route goes through Long Lake, where there are some good rest stops. This allows for several route options: 12 (end in Long Lake and jump on sag wagon), 24-ish (round trip from Long Lake or one way to Birchwood and jump on sag wagon), 37 (one way to Birchwood, back to Long Lake and jump on sag wagon), and 49 (round trip to and from Birchwood) miles.

I discovered there is a new distillery on the route about 5 miles in (just past the first rest stop at Rummel's Tap garage bar), which has a tasting room, but I don't know if they'll be open for business on Labor Day Sunday. They'd be stupid not to be. Worth exploring as an option though. On this first leg of the ride, we'll pass the Hamms Beer Lake* on the right before the planned breakfast stop, the Roost of Sarona restaurant, at the roughly 8 mile mark, after which we hang a right on County Road M that goes into Long Lake.

In Long Lake there are a couple good rest stops and some optionals too. What had been the Hideaway Saloon is now called Woody's on Long. Nice lake view and refreshments there. Props Sports Bar is at the far end of what feels like the main drag of Long Lake. There's also a coffee shoppe called Bees n Trees right across the road from Props.

After Long Lake, it's a pretty continuous, moderate intensity 10+ mile stretch of rolling hills through very scenic Northwoods country. The likelihood of seeing a black bear is better than average through this area, part of which is through the Washburn County Forest ("Timber, Recreation, Wildlife" in that order...in other words, business first, people second, animals third...this is Trump country after all...). The Stone Lake route of prior years also has a lengthy "push" of continuous riding without stops during the second half, but I think Birchwood has more to offer when you arrive. There's the Birchwood Cafe as a lunch option. Also Papa Pete's Pizza and the Bluegill Bar. The infamous Porch ice cream shoppe appears to be defunct now. Someone ought to buy it...

As in prior years, my mom and pops will likely drive the "sag wagon," which is Deborah's and my car with a bike rack on the back. It holds 4 bikes, but hopefully that capacity will not be fully exercised (due to rider fatigue or inclement weather, etc.), though we can adapt as needed. I fully plan to ride the entire 49 mile round trip, but I'm a realist and not a seeker of suffering, so I know my limits. If any riders bail at Long Lake, there should be time to shuttle those folks back to the cabin and still arrive in Birchwood to meet the longer route riders who want to quit there.

The first few bikers who sign up to ride BWJ get to stay at my folks' cabin.** After that, additional peeps are referred to the nearby Red Barn Campground, a half mile away. Since it's Labor Day weekend, they might fill up fast, so be diligent on planning ahead. Another option, considerably farther away, is the Rolling Thunder RV Park. The ride passes this just prior to the breakfast stop, so any riders who jump on here will have a truncated ride mileage.

DISCLAIMER: If you participate in BWJ 2017, you agree that: 1. You do so solely at your own risk, recognizing that bicycling on open roads has reasonable dangers associated with it. 2. Anything bad that happens is your fault. 3. Anything good that happens is Joe's fault. 4. Joe is not liable for anything at any time during the ride. 5. You will wear a bike helmet or refer to items 1, 2, and 4.

Here are my route notes from today.

Route overview.

From the cabin, follow the dirt road (Ellwood Beach Rd) 0.42 miles and turn right on N Lake Drive.

At 0.69 miles, go left on Lake Drive Spur.

At 0.88 miles, go right on County Highway B. Note: The Red Barn Campground is right in front of you and this is where any riders staying there will join the ride.

Carefully cross Highway 253 at 2.94 miles.

At the bottom of the big hill (at 3.52 miles), on your left, is a perpetual spring called Bear Spring where you can fill your water bottle(s) with natural spring water clinically proven to have Native American healing powers.***

Carefully cross Highway 53 at 3.66 miles.

The first rest stop for "carb loading" is at Rummel's Tap. Mr. Rummel runs a bar out of his converted garage. Pretty common thing up in the Northwoods.

Possible distillery stop at 5 miles.

Look to your right at 7.7 miles and you'll see a stereotypically "Hamms Beer" looking lake. If you don't get the reference, that's OK. It's still a pretty lake.

The breakfast stop is at the Roost of Sarona, 8.59 miles in, a solid greasy spoon diner with great food and mimosas.

After breakfast, hang a right on County Road M and pound out the 3 miles or so into Long Lake, fueled by grease. (Note: The bar called Vanderhyde's in the image above is never open on Labor Day Sunday, but if perchance it is, you know what to do...).

Woody's on Long, formerly the Hideaway, is a good "carb loading" station at 11.95 miles.

Coffee option at Bees n Trees (13.9 miles). Props Sports Bar, also here, is potentially the last chance for "carb loading" before the long haul to Birchwood, unless...

...the Rut Bar at 15.65 miles is open. In any case, go left on County Road D at the corner where the Rut is located.

You'll encounter civilization again at the 24 mile mark, in the form of Papa Pete's Pizza.

Tool on into Birchwood for more replenishment options, like the Bear Tracks Bar n Grill...

...the Bluegill Bar and the Birchwood Cafe.

*Note: Unofficial.
**Note: Already at capacity.
***Note: This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. The water from this spring should not be expected to cure or treat any disease or condition, and may actually contain levels of arsenic greater than what is considered safe.

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