HACKENSACK - The altimeter read 1,371 feet.
About 8.5 miles later, it read 1,381 feet.
A wild 10-foot rise it was.
The Paul Bunyan Trail is a mostly flat ride, as the numbers would indicate. But this stretch of the trail north of Hackensack warrants an altimeter - and possibly a pacemaker. Or, at the very least, a safety helmet.
From just before mile-marker 57 on the trail, about seven miles north of Hackensack, to where the trail dead-ends at State Highway 34 8.5 miles later, there is a total vertical descent of 731 feet and total vertical ascent of 741 feet.
It's a roller coaster ride like no other on the PBT.
The first time I rode it - in mid-summer - I ran into the stretch by accident. I had planned to bike from Hackensack to where the PBT ended and the Heartland Trail started, about 30 miles round-trip. But considering how flat I had found the PBT to be, not a major challenge, I thought.
After about eight miles mostly paralleling State Highway 371 north, the path veered left, away from the highway. A sign warned of what was ahead.
"Caution. Due to terrain, this 8.5-mile trail segment may be challenging for some in-line skaters, wheelchair users, inexperienced bikers and those with limited abilities."
There were other signs warning of steep slopes and wild curves as I went along. And the path wound farther and farther away from the highway. The buzz of traffic that I had come to know on the trail was gone; the Chippewa National Forest loomed high on both sides of the path.
While I enjoy casually rolling down the PBT, checking out the lakes and greeting other trail-goers, getting in a good, high-cardio bike while getting away from it all is priceless. And while this stretch provides a good test, it's not overly brutal.
There are spots in which you'll battle to get to the top of inclines. But before you know it, you're sailing downhill again, with enough speed to scale a good part of the next hill before kicking it into high gear to reach the top, and so on. No ascent or descent is overly lengthy.
On my most recent ride through this stretch earlier this month, I averaged 12 mph, topping out at 23.5 mph - a good reason to wear a helmet. My top speed, of course, came downhill, when I shot down through a variety of tight and winding curves. The trail was fairly dry, with few leaves and little debris. But at that speed and on that terrain, it wouldn't take much to miss a curve or take a fall.
And at that altitude ...
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5864.
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