Dave Schlabowske of Life Above Eight just announced that he's taking over the Hungry Bear 100, a well-loved gravel race in Cable Wisconsin. In this interview, we talk about how he came to be the new Race Director and some of his favorite things about the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
Hey Dave, tell us about the Hungry Bear 100.
The Hungry Bear 100 is a gravel race started in 2008 by Tim Krueger (Esker Cycles/Terrene Tires) and Mick Endersbe (The Rivers Eatery/Tilly’s Pies).
The race began just to promote the great gravel riding around the tiny town of Cable, WI. Tim is from the area, and now runs Esker Cycles and Terrene Tires. Mick moved to the area and opened the Rivers Eatery and Tilly’s Pies, which have become the unofficial finish lines of every race and event in the area.
How is Hungry Bear 100 different from other gravel rides and what made you interested in taking it over?
I moved to Seeley, WI in December of 2020 after I was offered the executive director job for the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association. The new CAMBA strategic plan called for expanding CAMBA staff with funds from a new small portfolio of events.
I knew Tim’s business was growing and he had offered his events (he also has the Chequamegon 100 MTB race) to CAMBA a few years ago, but CAMBA was not ready to own events then. Once I took the job as ED, I talked to Tim and we agreed CAMBA would take over his events in 2022.
Unfortunately, soon after I accepted the CAMBA job, some key members of the board of directors left and there was a shift in priorities. The new board president told me he was not a big believer in events for CAMBA and so I resigned as that was a focus of mine, and I was no longer a good fit for the organization.
That left Tim still needing someone to take over his events. I shadowed Tim and his wife Odia at the 2021 events and really liked the DIY vibe and associated low participant cost common to that style of race. When you skip all the age group prizes, podiums, etc., you can keep registration fees low. I also liked the “family reunion” feel to the events (where everyone knew Tim and Odia as well as many of the other racers.)
So, to make sure the events don’t die, I agreed to take them over.
I created the Life Above 8, LLC to hold ownership. I will manage them until I can find a permanent home. Perhaps if CAMBA hires a new executive director and the organization wants to own events again, I can turn them over at that time. Until then, I will keep them running.
Are there any changes you’re planning for this year or future years of Hungry Bear 100?
I love exploring all the gravel and trails in the Chequamegon area.
The route options are endless and ever changing as timber sales open up new logging roads that create new connections to forest roads. So I definitely would like to change the route at some point but not this first year.
I’m gonna keep the route the same.
I am also interested in promoting a bit more diversity at the start line. I’m not yet sure how to do that, but I am in some early conversations with equity leaders in the gravel/bikepacking community. Hopefully we can make something good happen in the equity arena.
This event starts and ends in Cable, WI and centers around The Rivers Eatery. What’s so special about Cable and the Rivers Eatery?
I’m glad you asked that.
First, part of the early idea and planning for the Hungry Bear came from Mick Endersbe who owned the business with his wife Beth. There was a time when Gary Penman created the Sawmill Saloon down the road in Seeley and that became the unofficial finish line for the area ski and bike races. The Sawmill is less than a mile from where I live, so it remains my neighborhood watering hole, but Mick and Beth really worked to embrace the silent sports community at the Rivers.
Besides serving awesome brick oven pizza and a wide selection of area craft beers, the walls are covered with ski and bike jerseys from famous pros, bikes with historic significance hang from the rafters, and Dirt Rag (RIP) and Silent Sports magazines were always on the tables. So Rivers has been the new unofficial finish line for area bike and ski events for a while now.
Mick and Beth created a great business and worked hard to promote the tiny town of Cable to the silent sports crowd. In a sense, they did in Cable with the Rivers Eatery what Gary Penman did in Seeley with the Sawmill Saloon. Now Gary did a lot more things related to ski trails and home-building, but I think the parallels are valid. When people put that much heart and soul into a business, it is often rewarded with a very loyal following of people who think of themselves as more than customers. Tim, Odia, Mick and Beth have that characteristic in common.
You recently started Life Above Eight; what’s that all about?
While I am trying to be semi-retired after 20+ years as a bike advocate working for the Wisconsin Bike Fed and as the first City of Milwaukee Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, I do still need an outlet for my creative energy.
Once I left CAMBA, I decided to create a new website to share my thoughts, photos, videos and promote what I love about this corner of the Wisconsin Northwoods. The site is mostly about biking/bikepacking, but will also include future content about skiing, hunting, fishing, the events I work on and what it is like to move to the Northwoods.
My wife and I have worked our whole professional careers in the non-profit and public service sectors. People can read more about my wacky background on the About Me page of my website if they are curious. We still want to be part of a community and try to give back.
The Hungry Bear and Cheq 100 races donate all profits after expenses back to the community. So that fits well with the Life Above 8 “Up North for Good” tagline. We have moved Up North for good (instead of visiting on vacations) but we also want to give back as we meet more of our neighbors and learn more about our new locale.
Apart from Rivers Eatery and Hungry Bear, what are some of your favorite things in the Northwoods?
That is another really good question. My mom is from Park Falls, and I have been vacationing “Up North” since I was a little kid, so I have come to love things like 100-year-old resorts, little taverns, deer hunting, fishing and supper clubs. But honestly, being Up North is really about interacting with the living forests and lakes and trying to learn to understand them better. I don’t mean just learning phenology and how to identify red dogwood, etc, I mean really trying to learn from the land and water.
I’m not a real spiritual guy, but the more time I spend in the forest and the more I slow down to smell, look, listen and reflect, the more I feel like I become part of that world, which is an incredibly rewarding feeling.
The forest is a community made up of living things that all communicate with each other, depend on each other, etc. The more time I spend in the woods, the more I feel like I am standing in a crowd in a foreign country where I only understand a tiny bit of what is being said around me.
But the more I begin to learn about that forest community, the more rewarding every bike ride, hike, snowshoe or ski trip I do is. I still know next to nothing, but I’m trying to learn little bits every time I go outside.
The Indigenous communities who were forced out of this land understood that so much better than we do. From what I have read, the early voyageurs seemed to have understood that they could learn a lot from the Indigenous tribes they traded furs with. It is such a tragic missed opportunity that western Europeans tried to erase all that culture rather than learn from it. I honestly think the world would be a much better place if they had.
I hope that doesn’t come across as too preachy, but for a guy whose parents left the Catholic church when I was only 3-years-old, the forest has become my church and listening to it and trying to learn from it my new religion.
Dave, you’ve been the architect of several incredible routes and events, you just took over Hungry Bear and Chequamegon 100, and Life Above Eight is quickly becoming a home base for Northwoods bike adventures. Why? Why have you poured so much of yourself into this area?
Boy, I really like bicycling, camping and Wisconsin’s amazing Northwoods. Remember; I worked in bicycle advocacy for more than 20 years. When I like something, I like to try to share that enthusiasm with others.
It’s kind of like when you taste something really delicious at a new restaurant, you want to share it with people at your table and might even wonder how you can make it at home.
Gravel riding and bikepacking in the Wisconsin Northwoods are something that once I tasted it, I loved it and wanted everyone to try.
What else should we know about the Hungry Bear 100?
Just that we will monitor the whole Pandemic/Covid thing and take safety precautions as needed. Last year we had a mask requirement at the start and didn’t plan an after party. Hopefully we won’t need those protocols and everyone can get together and socialize in close quarters this year, but that will be determined by what happens in the future.
This year's Hungry Bear 100 is scheduled for May 14, 2022. If you're interested in riding in the event, head over to Life Above Eight to learn more and sign up.