Chris Schmidt of Studio 13 is a bike-racing, cross-country-skiing graphic designer living in the Keweenaw peninsula of the U.P. He creates race posters, t-shirts and various forms of clandestine cycling propaganda. In this interview we talk about his art and that one time he almost finished Marji Gesick.
Interview with Chris Schmidt of Studio 13.
You've done a butt ton of designs for U.P. events and recreation. What do you want people to feel when they see your up north adventure prints?
With my race posters, I really try to give a sense of what a given race is like. I've either competed in most of the races myself and, if not, have usually either shot photos or spectated and have a good idea of what kind of vibe surrounds an event.
I'm sometimes asked to create a poster for an event I've never experienced. If the promoter can give me enough information - with words and photos - I can usually still tell the story in pictures. Of course, I'll sometimes let the organizer know I'm not the man for the job if I can't get a feel for the event.
In addition to event posters, I also create posters that highlight what I find special about the Keweenaw: the Lake Superior shoreline, winter, the area's extensive copper mining heritage.
Have you ever done any of the 906 events yourself?
The 906 events are a special breed of race: The Polar Roll, The Crusher and the Marji Gesick. They're less about winning and more about overcoming personal limits and pushing yourself to do something that is hard (all races promoted by Todd Poquette - the king of doing hard things).
Nearly all of the posters I've created for those events put pain and suffering front and center.
I did attempt the Marji Gesick the second year it was held. 90 miles in, I had a problem with my crank arm that forced me to stop (not that I was in need of much convincing to stop at that point).
Even though I might still have unfinished business with the Marji, I'm not in any hurry to see it to completion.
What's your bike story and tell me about those 'underground' races in your bio
I got into bikes back in high school in Northern Lower Michigan, mainly due to any lack of skill in ball sports. If I was lucky, the coach would put me in for a couple minutes at the tail end of a soccer game provided our team was either so far ahead or so far behind that there was little chance of me somehow altering the outcome. But on a bike, I could ride all day and never see the sidelines. Fueled with photos from now defunct cycling magazines (Winning) or images from the sparse TV coverage of professional cycling back in the 80s, every ride could (and did) turn into an imaginary race against the greats.
After a year or two of riding alone, I connected with some other like-minded individuals in a town of just a few hundred. Pretty soon the three or four of us grew into a dozen. Teams formed. Races were held. Time trials, crits, road races. The stock boys from the grocery store faced off against the staff of one of the town's restaurants. After a couple years, our weekly races were a solid alternative to a 4 hour drive for a 30 minute crit in a downstate industrial park. Life eventually took all of us in different directions, but most of that core group is still involved cycling or the cycling industry.
Though technically not a race, I still put on an underground event to keep the tradition alive. Now in its eleventh year, La Flèche du Nord is mixed surface ride on Michigan's Keweenaw peninsula held in the tradition of the spring classics. Ideally, the ride is approximately 75 miles long with 20-30 miles of gravel. The Keweenaw was battered with over 300 inches of snow this year, so nearly all of the gravel is still under feet of snow as I write this (May 4). We'll be mainly on pavement this year, riding some of the greatest roads anywhere (a black ribbon along Lake Superior), though a few sections of year-round gravel did find their way into the course. Promotion of the ride is mainly word-of-mouth, helping ensure the number of riders doesn't attract too much attention. The 40-50 who do ride are treated to a gut wrenching climb to the finish (Brockway Mountain Drive) and panoramic views of the big lake from the top.
You're way up in the Keweenaw peninsula with an abundance of wilderness, snow, and adventurous people. Why do you live there and what do you like about it?
If you've spent much time in the Keweenaw in the winter, you'll know that the area generally gets more than its fair share of the aforementioned snow - thanks in large part to the local geography: a thin sliver of land jutting out into a massive body of (relatively) warm water means lake effect snow as long as the lake stays open.
What to do with all of that snow?
Nordic skiing typically starts in mid-November and, in a good year, runs through April or even into May. Top-notch grooming and a number of excellent trail systems make the area tough to beat for xc skiing. With Mont Ripley in town and Mount Bohemia less than an hour away, the Alpine skiing is excellent as well. Snow biking is a solid option here now, too. As you can probably surmise, winters are a big part of why I (and many) love living here.
But summers, while short, are amazing as well. Low-traffic roads offer great road riding. Endless logging roads, and two-tracks are ideal for exploring the most distant reaches of the peninsula by bike.
And, of course, mountain biking has exploded on the Keweenaw in recent years, especially in Copper Harbor - but also up and down the peninsula - Michigan Tech, Churning Rapids, Adventure Mine and Swedetown all maintain quality trail systems.
For anyone who loves the outdoors and - especially winter - the Keweenaw is a tough place to beat - particularly in the Midwest.
What's next for you in the area of bikes and art?
In the area of bikes: less racing and more exploring. I'm hoping to do a couple bikepacking trips in the UP this summer. Really, cycling is a way to stay sane, recharge and disconnect from the world for an hour or two most days.
I'm grateful for every opportunity I have to create a race or event poster - and those are keeping me plenty busy at the moment. When I have some downtime, I'm likely working on projects for friends or on one my own ideas. Or sneaking out for a longer ride if I'm lucky.