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Meet The Wolf: 3 Days & 300 Miles of Minnesota Bikepack Racing & Community.

The Wolf is a brand new 3-day, ~100 mi/day bikepack racing event in Northern Minnesota put on by Jeremy Kershaw at Heck of the North Productions. The event connects Two Harbors, Ely, and Grand Marais in a deep northwoods event balancing racing with community.

The 2023 Wolf will be held on July 21-23. In this interview, we talk with Jeremy Kershaw from Heck of the North Productions about the 2023 Wolf. All photos are by Josh Kowaleski of Pointed North Photo from the 2022 Fox. To learn more, visit The Wolf.

Hey Jeremy, so who is The Wolf for?

The Wolf is for anyone looking to see where the edges of their cycling limits may be. That being said, we are asking that riders come in with some centuries under their belt (not necessarily back to back) and also general knowledge of touring by bicycle.

I designed The Wolf to be a hybrid style of bikepack racing. To me, that means a mix of long days in the saddle while riding against the clock but also a social component often missing in ultra distance bike races. It’s different, too, in that we will offer catered breakfasts each morning that provide another time to socialize before heading off into the wild unknown.

We think The Wolf (and its shorter version, The Fox) are unique in the world of bicycle racing. Personally, I like time by myself while racing because it prevents me from blowing up while riding someone else’s faster pace. I do some of my best thinking alone on the bike, too. But the communal aspect of The Wolf and The Fox add back that shared time of storytelling and getting to know other great folks. Both events offer a unique mix of adventure, challenge and shared community.

What kind of bike and gear should riders consider?

I’m a fan of bicycles that can handle a variety of terrains. My preference is toward a 29er, something with drop bars and even the capability for aero (this is discussed in my bikepacking video on The Heck website.) The majority of roads in The Wolf are gravel. I believe in gearing for any trip with the idea that majority rules. Just because there may be some rough stuff does not mean riding a full suspension fat bike just for those short bits of chunk. My preferred tire width is something in the 2-2.5 inch range. The added width offers a degree of shock absorption without scrubbing too much speed.

All riders are required to carry their sleeping kit (bag, bivy, tarp, ultra lightweight tent, etc) on their bike. They also need to carry clothes, tools and snacks. What they do not have to bring is cooking gear. So that saves some space leaving out the stove and pan. This gear is very similar to what they might consider bringing on an event like The Tour Divide.

I sewed my first bags I used to bikepack several years ago. Today, there are many local makers of bike bags that work great. Cedaero in Two Harbors is my go-to. They outfitted my Tour Divide rig and those packs are still going strong today.

Frankly one of the most important parts of long distance anything (cycling, running, hiking) is making sure your set up feels good. Too often, I see riders contorted on their bikes and it baffles me how they got out the doors of their local bike shop riding that way. Make sure nothing rattles, shakes, gets sore or causes a hot spot. Test out your equipment fully before racing. If using aero bars, make sure they are comfortable enough while leaning into them for miles on end. Any small cramp or pressure point will become a major issue in a 300 mile event.

Tell me about the Heck Epic. What was it, why did it end, and how does it connect to The Wolf?

The Heck Epic was our first go at multi-day racing. In many ways, The Heck Epic lives on in The Wolf. We dropped the rather overused word, “Epic,” added another day just to make it more fun, and renamed it after an animal I think embodies long distance travel, the gray wolf. Wolves are able to travel long distances, can move as both solo or communal creatures and embody a healthy ecosystem. Riders of The Wolf will be passing through many active wolf pack territories. Those with a keen eye may be fortunate to see one slinking through the woods or along the road. Many will see the tracks and scat they leave behind as clues to their travels.

The pandemic forced us to pause racing in general and especially communal parts of our events. It feels really good to bring both back to our riders and the North Shore communities we visit.

Can you give us a tease of the potential route highlights and any favorite areas this event will take people through?

Right off the bat, The Wolf highlights three of my favorite towns; Two Harbors, Ely, and Grand Marais. Each of these places has a unique feel and rich history. All of this land that we travel through is Ojibwe land and we acknowledge that we are benefitting from that access. My long goal is to highlight the history of this North Shore of Lake Superior that is home to all of our Heck events. In particular, The Boise Forte Band of Chippewa are unveiling a newly designed map of this region with place names in the Ojibwe language. I can’t wait to study this map and start to rethink this area from a non-European lens.

Each day of The Wolf offers many miles of northwoods style environments; boreal forests, beaver ponds and lakes formed by the last ice age. There is also rough, two track trail used by ATV’s and snowmobiles and even a bit of pavement to tie sections together (by the way, DO NOT believe Ride with GPS’s designation of road surfaces. The Wolf is predominantly unpaved.)

One of my favorite elements of bicycle touring or bikepack racing is that stretch of road that leads into a new town. There is something very adventurous about coming into a populated place by bicycle. I always see towns differently while on two wheels. Ely and Grand Marais were specifically chosen when I designed these routes because of their proximities to camping and their downtowns. It makes for a great compromise between sleeping under the stars and accessibility to provisions. And the views are amazing, too!




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