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- REVIEW: RUBY COFFEE FOR BIKEPACKING
Who the heck is Ruby? Ruby Coffee Roasters is based right here in Nelsonville, Wisconsin. Originally founded in the garage of Ruby's founder, Jared, their coffee can be found in cafes and homes nationwide and yes, now they operate out of a real building. According to Ruby, each of their coffees is carefully and specifically chosen to represent a glimpse of microclimate, micro-region, and a vignette into a moment in time. They like their coffees with a little flair and are proud to celebrate the broad range of beautiful, colorful flavor coffee can have. They focusing on celebrating the unique, exciting qualities of each offering. Since Ruby is local and they make steeped coffee and instant coffee, I thought they'd be perfect for bikepacking. My biking buddy, Donavon Schumacher, is a licensed and board certified coffee snob so I asked him to try Ruby's steeped and instant coffees on his recent bikepacking trip to the Sand County Caress and here are his thoughts: Ruby Steeped Coffee and Instant Coffee review by Donavon Schumacher: It's not espresso but it's pretty darn good! According to Google a coffee snob is someone who cares deeply about what kind of coffee they are drinking. Coffee snobs judge their beverage based on quality and taste, and they won't settle for fast, cheap coffee from any grocery store or a fast-food chain. I don't know if I'm a coffee snob but I will tell you straight up I like good coffee. Preferably espresso from an independent coffee shop and if it's not espresso my regular go to is a DARK blend with no "foo foo" mixed in (cream, milk, flavoring). Next to coffee my second passion is cycling so when my friend Josh offered up a few samples of Ruby camp coffee to try on a recent bikepacking trip in exchange for a review I happily obliged. I had every intention of sampling this coffee in the field over a brightly lit jet boil but my plans were foiled after a bike mechanical forced me to bail and return home a day early so you will have to settle with my plan B brew from home review. The first sample I tested was the Ruby - August Seasonal Blend (steeped bag version). Let me begin by saying the convenient packaging had me at hello. I couldn't wait to prepare and drink my first ever steeped bag cup of Joe. I steeped the coffee for several minutes and waited for it to be ready. After initially taking the coffee bag out way too early, I continued to let it steep. Even after the 5 minutes, I never felt like the flavor was fully extracted. Could be in part because I've always leaned toward more more robust dark coffees. I've never been a big fan of most light or medium brews so I wasn't expecting to experience the bold taste that I prefer but the coffee flavor just wasn't there so I can't give the steeped version the highest review. But luckily, there was another option to try which I would enjoy a lot more. Next up was the Ruby - Creamery Seasonal Blend (freeze-dried instant version). I have only sampled a few different blends of instant coffee during bikepacking trips and have been perfectly happy with the Starbucks VIA Pike Place version but this Ruby blend was a grand slam for me. The flavor was smooth and ready to drink almost immediately. I think I have a new favorite instant camp coffee to throw in my bag for the next bikepacking adventure.
- THIS IS OUR LIFE NOW: BIKEPACKING THE DRIFTLESS REGION
Nicolette Reker and Weston Lofdahl recently moved back to the Driftless Region after living in the twin cities for a few years. Now that they're back, they're bikepacking the area and enjoying their new life. Story by Nicolette Reker Like any Midwest spring, the weather was unpredictable in the days leading up to departing on our first extended bikepacking trip. We did, however, luck out and felt confident we would avoid any major rain storms. We departed on a chilly, yet sunny Tuesday afternoon after building up our new bikes less than a week prior to leaving. As one does, we purchased new bikes and bag set ups just two weeks before the trip to allow ourselves no time to get acclimated to the geometry, saddle, and load on the bicycle. We really are seasoned riders, we just decided to omit the obvious choice of getting comfortable and confident on a new bicycle prior to leaving on a trip that depended solely on those two wheels. What could go wrong? Our ride started out by crossing the causeway from Wisconsin into Minnesota. There is a great little trail for pedestrians and cyclists to avoid the highway traffic, and we have ridden this stretch numerous times. When we got to the trail I stopped to take a more scenic departure photo of our trip and Weston looked over at me with a grin and said “this is our life now” in his sarcastic dad-joke tone. This ended up being a comment made by both of us throughout the trip when the seemingly mundane yet feeling of pure content in this simple life of riding a bicycle from point A to point B. Our only other activities for the trip included eating and sleeping. This was our life now. At least, for a few days. Our first (half) day was the only sunshine we experienced but it hardly did us any good as we bundled up in all of our warm layers for departure. We figured “it can’t get any colder than this, right?” But boy, could it ever. This first stretch was just 35 miles, however, we had three bluff passes to overcome before settling in for the night. We completed the first half and stopped for an afternoon lunch at a Kwik Trip and loaded ourselves with chicken sandwiches and bananas (as one does in this region of the Midwest, if you know you know). You can bet I was kicking myself by the last bluff climb for creating this “scenic, adventurous route” to get to camp that night by cramming three bluffs into 35 miles. Was it scenic and adventurous? Yes. Did we need to climb that much on day one? No. Did we do it anyway? Yes, because this was our life now. Our first night was spent shivering and finding any way possible to share body heat among two sleeping bags. We can check off "sleeping in a raincoat for warmth" from whatever bucket list that lives on. When we woke up, we opted to risk the hazard and boiled our water for coffee and breakfast from the vestibule created by the rain fly for our tent. This allowed us to stay snuggled into our sleeping bags and treat ourselves to coffee and breakfast in bed! It was very worth the risk. The first long day started out with a quest for water. We were completely out after breakfast and wouldn’t be in a town for 30 miles. There was supposedly a well at the lower campground, so we started our already chilly morning with a 10 minute downhill coast for water. We had success finding the well and stocked up our bottles for the first half of our ride. We meandered our way through the country gravel roads in and out of the valley making our way to Spring Grove, a small town that is well known for their Spring Grove Soda company. By the time we made it there I was craving anything, everything, and a soda. We stopped for lunch at the Ivy Grove Cafe where I was treated to a lunch special that was smothered in gravy. There was bread, mashed potatoes, and shredded beef involved - but most importantly, it was covered in gravy. After a cold night in the tent and a haul to get from camp to lunch, nothing sounded better than salty, warm, brown gravy. This was my life now. We stopped at the Kwik Trip in town before departure to stock up on gummy worms for Weston and Crunch bars for me. The Yucatan Valley stretch was coming up soon, and this was one of the most enticing looking roads I discovered when mapping the route and I couldn’t wait to see if it was as beautiful as google satellite made it out to be. A few flat open country roads and headwinds later, we were dropping down off the ridge into the Yucatan valley and it was already living up to my hype. We took our time winding through the valley (look up Rooster Valley Rd in Spring Valley, MN on google maps - it might be one of the most winding roads I have been on in the region) and ultimately made a friend out of a local pup that insisted on coming with us well past our next turn. She finally became distracted by other farm animals and went on her way, but we were starting to feel right at home with a dog on our heels. Maybe this life wasn’t so different after all. We made it to our camp around 6 o’clock that night, which was an ideal time to arrive - not too early but not too late. Our evening could pan out as usual with the perfect amount of time to set up camp, eat dinner, organize a few items and snuggle up into our sleeping bags for the night. It was a significantly better night of sleep as temperatures didn’t drop below freezing. This new life was getting easier. Our second full day was going to be a rewarding one, to say the least. Our halfway point was in Winona, the college town where we met and spent the first year of our relationship. We had lunch planned at our favorite local establishment - Bub’s Brewing Company, but we had to earn the burgers and beer by battling a five-mile flat stretch on the ridge straight into a wicked headwind. We finally turned out of the wind after nearly an hour of pushing and dropped down into the valley once again. The well known phrase “what goes up must come down” works in both directions, so we were tasked with another bluff climb to get out of the valley and cross over into the Winona river valley. This climb was brimming with spectacular views and the sun even made an appearance resulting in many layers being stripped and sunscreen applied by the time we reached the top. We made it up and over and were welcomed into the river town with a long and drawn out descent once more. For us, it always feels like coming home when we arrive in the quaint town of Winona. We enjoyed our old favorites and a pitcher of beer while chatting with a long-time server at Bub's Brewing. This was our life now, just like it was 7 years ago, and we were loving it. That day’s rewards were still coming. Camp for the night was just down the rail trail and we would be spending the night in a state park with (gasp) amenities! As we did each night upon arrival at camp we set up the tent, made dinner, and relished a cup of tea; but this final night we were lucky enough to be enjoying it all next to a campfire. We sat quietly and soaked in the last night of our trip, enjoying the flicker of flames as night time fell upon us. Our final day was a short, flat 25 mile stretch on the Great River State Trail where we were treated to breakfast and coffee in the town of Trempealeau at Driftless Bike and Bean. We continued on through the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge - a unique location for migratory birds thriving in the Mississippi backwaters especially in the springtime. We stopped in Onalaska at Coulee Bicycle Company to say hello to our favorite local bike shop and thank them for the rad bikes and gear for our trip. We fueled ourselves with one final Kwik Trip breakfast sandwich and made the trek back home. This trip was exactly what we were hoping for in a local bikepacking loop - simple, scenic, easy to re-fuel in local towns, all while delivering us miles of remote driftless region gravel riding with plenty of challenging terrain along the way. This was our life now, but reflecting back, it always was our life. We are lucky enough to live in the driftless region and have access to its beauty every day of the week. We are also fortunate enough to be able to ride our bicycles to and from work, the grocery store, dinner dates, and other outings. Having the opportunity to slow down, connect with the landscape by bicycle with a new lens, and expose ourselves to the elements of the region for 96 hours was the perfect reset to the bustle of everyday routines. We cannot wait for the next adventure. In the meantime, this is our life.
- PORTRAIT-STUDIO-ON-A-BIKE: JOSH KOWALESKI'S HUMAN POWERED GRAVEL RACE PHOTO RIG
Josh Kowaleski just finished rigging out his new portrait studio bike on a Salsa Blackborrow. Working with Cedaero, his bike can fit his cameras, lights, stands, and more. He'll be shooting portraits of cyclists fighting their hardest miles at Le Grand Du Nord, The Fox, and Heck of the North. Josh Kowaleski is an adventure photographer who owns Pointed North photography. See more of his work on his website or follow him on Instagram. You specifically designed this setup for photo-by-bike; how did this idea evolve? This idea of mine draw from a few different sources of inspiration. I’m not one to limit myself in what I think can be done, and I’m not afraid to just try something and see what happens. I don’t mind chasing down a ridiculous idea that comes up in a conversation around a campfire every now and again! That said, this project is a culmination and reflection of my circle of influence in my friend group. Conversations that happened in passing, asking “What if?”, and then just being curious enough to try to make it happen. If this project was represented in a Venn Diagram, it would live right in the sweet spot for me between photography, bikes, and silly ideas. I am actively drawing inspiration from my buddy, Ben Weaver, and his approach to performing music off his bike. Most notably his 2018 ride on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route with “Music for free”, where he carried his guitar and banjo down the divide and played shows along the way. I am also looking over at my friend, bike nerd, and mentor in photography, Minneapolis-based TC Worley. TC is a phenomenal photographer and videographer, and he has some seriously cool projects under his belt. One of his personal projects is “Portrait Van”, where he built out a portrait studio in the back of a Dodge cargo van. He hauls that thing around and takes portraits along the way. For a proof of concept, Salsa’s chase the chaise is hard to ignore. That whole crew had a lot of fun hauling a couch out onto a racecourse and then spending the day taking photographs of riders on courses like Mid-South 100, Unbound, Le Grand Du Nord, and a few others. Lastly, I was simply inspired by the blank canvas, think big, be weird, choose your own adventure platform that is the Salsa Blackborow. When I worked at Cedaero/Spokengear we were approached by Salsa to make the packs for the “Ode to Trout” bike. We had a prototype tucked away, secretly, in the sew shop for the summer and I spent too much time playing around at the bike shop on that bike! With just one look at it, the blank canvas that it provides will have you cooking up your own silly ideas as you try to get to sleep at night. Why do you want to be shooting bike events right from your own bike? Isn't that limiting? I believe in bikes. Bike rides change people. Long rides, short rides, rides in the rain, solo rides, and rides with friends, all change people and I’ve NEVER had a bike ride that I’ve regretted. I firmly believe that any bike ride is transformative. As an active participant in long distance gravel races, I know how hard the back half of the day is and I believe that there is something to that 80-ish-mile mark that’s unique. It’s the spot where you’ve worked so hard to just get to. You’ve battled your highs and lows, and you may still be fighting some of those thoughts and thinking about quitting. You are just close enough to know that you’re going to finish and just far enough away that it still seems kind of daunting. That’s the spot where I want to spend a minute with the rider, offer up some words of encouragement, hear their story on the day and take a portrait that tells their unique story. A story that only exists in that fraction of a second, right there in the woods. I’ll offer them a high five, and then send them on the way to the finish. The person that crosses the finish line is a different person than they were at mile 80 when we hung out. The mile 80 person is different from the person who started the day. Riders need to know that person that lives within them and to see that part of themselves. The day has been long at that point, and I think you’re the toughest and at the same time the most vulnerable in that mile 80ish window. I want people to have that image to look back at and be reminded of their story from that ride. This bike looks ravishing. Tell me about your rig. What are you riding and how did you configure this pack setup? The bike is my 2018 Salsa Blackborow that I’ve converted over to a 29er for the summer season. It’s the bike that I’ve been riding the most lately and it's super fun! Most recently it’s been pulling its weight as a pint-sized adventure rig for my son and me. Cedaero provides the packs! I’ve had it equipped with a frame bag and a few packs since I originally got the bike in 2018 and late this winter, I sat down with Karl at Cedaero and he and I began to dream up the setup that would be ideal for carrying my camera gear. It was not a small feat to figure out. As it sits, I can carry two studio-style strobe lights, two stands for those lights to be mounted on, two light modifier setups, and then all the small odds and ends that come along with me. We had to keep the lights secure from bouncing around and protected from any weather. We had to protect my camera and have it be accessible while riding. We had to figure out how to carry collapsible stands and with that, how to keep the stands upright when deployed. It’s common to use sandbags to hold lights in place in the studio, but what do we do in the woods? Karl designed me some custom, re-usable, re-fillable “sandbags” that I can fill with whatever I find out on the course. I can use rocks, gravel, sand, or snow(?) and then empty them so I’m not riding around with the additional weight penalty. It’s well thought out and checks off all my boxes for this setup. What kind of photos and events do you have in mind for this project? In the first draft of this idea, I’d like to try and execute studio-style portraits, like in the image below, but of riders at that mile 80ish mark as we talked about above. This is where I’m starting but not the only way that I want to make photographs at these events. We will see what it evolves into. As far as events go? This season I’ll be taking the portrait bike around the arrowhead region as I chase down riders at Le Grand Du Nord, The Fox/The Wolf, and my personal favorite and the all-time classic, The Heck of the North. Jeremy Kershaw was open to this idea and has partnered with me this season with his events to see if this works out. We will see what lessons I learn this season and how the project evolves, but I’d love to continue to approach like-minded race directors around the Great Lakes region to see if the portrait bike could make an appearance and offer up a unique spin on documenting these events, regardless of the season or the distance.
- UNFORGETTABLE: 4 FRIENDS' EPIC CELEBRATION OF UPPER PENINSULA ADVENTURE CYCLING
In spring of 2021 a group of bikepackers set out to ride around the perimeter of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The approximately 1,600 mile journey, dubbed Project Adventrus, would trace the outline of one of the most unique geographic and cultural regions in America. Ironically, the Upper Peninsula, or U.P., is often left off of maps due in part to data glitches and an inconvenient silhouette. Join the crew on their unforgettable journey to explore, suffer and celebrate the region via bike. Project Adventrus riders: Todd Poquette Marc Salm Kelsy Kellermann Liz Belt Unforgettable Fim
- RECAP: 100 MILES OF WIDE GRAVEL BOULEVARDS & NARROW WINDING LANES ON THE HUNGRY BEAR
The Hungry Bear 100 and Snacking Bear 60 took place on a gorgeous day last weekend in Cable, Wisconsin. This year, the event was transferred to Seeley Dave and went off beautifully. Chris Schotz did the event and shares his post race recap here. To learn more visit, the Hungry Bear. Words: Chris Schotz Photos: David Schlabowske Who doesn’t want another excuse to head up to Cable, the quiet little town with a lot going on? A Chequamegon gravel race was a new way for us to kick off a weekend that could lead to a singletrack Sunday or Namekagon paddle. Over 300 of us salivated on the start line like emaciated bears outside River’s Eatery and Tilly’s Pies. Cable was soon abandoned as our rolling population stuck together in a pack numbering 100 for the asphalt opener that was brisk, but never a strain. The opening miles flew by in a peloton that often stretched ditch to ditch. Everyone stayed attentive, easily able to yield to the two oncoming cars met in the first ten miles. Nobody barged their way to the front. It was time to relax and work together over quiet hills and gentle curves. The race wouldn’t start until Porcupine Road at mile 11 where a sharp bend to the right led to the first gravel climb where the sorting began. The next six miles of gently rolling gravel are for finding your pace and the improvised group that could be your company for the next five hours. One of the things I’ve learned to love about gravel races are the unexpected companions that will help pass the time through the surprising countryside. After the shorter Snacking Bear course split off at mile 16, I found myself trading pulls with Jim and Dieter, a couple gentlemen from across the state that I met for the first time right there on Camp Eight Road. We were not as brave as one who drank right from the stream at mile 31 on the Morgan Falls Climb. She survived to be the first female finisher, and still had water when we all missed the 50-mile water pump at Beaver Lake Campground. The courses had merged and taken us south of Highway M when we finally found the syrup fox and his pop-up aid station. He got a hug, and we left refreshed for the logging road segments that were followed by the punchiest ten miles of the route past Rock Lake. Through wide gravel boulevards and narrow winding lanes the Hungry Bear climbed over 5000 feet before the home stretch up Randysek Road to beer, pizza, and pie. We were hungry and thirsty enough to devour Cable as we sat on the patio furniture like good little bears watching fresh meat roll in from the hills. The Hungry Bear was stage two of the Iron Bear 1000, a gravel odyssey across the wilds of northern Wisconsin between May and October.
- TRIPLE CROWN, TANDEM WITH DAD, & A BARBIE DREAM BIKE: LAURA HRUBES (FOODIEKNITTER)'S EPIC 2022
Laura Hrubes is an endurance/adventure cyclist who lives in Viroqua, WI but has deep roots in the U.P. She has big goals for 2022 and a beautiful new purple yooper bike to match. In this interview we talk about her year, her bikes, and her top 5 things in the north. Find Laura on instagram @foodieknitter It looks like you have a legendary 2022 planned; what's on your plate? I’m so stoked for 2022! I have a tendency to overcommit and try to do all the things, and it’s just not possible or sustainable, so this year I’m trying really hard to just focus in hard on the things that really matter and that I really want to do. Mostly, that looks a whole lot like staying pretty tight to the upper Midwest in northern Wisconsin, the UP, and northern Minnesota, and taking on some longer distance rides as well. I started the year with a big bucket list dream ride at Tuscobia on New Year’s Day, and it was amazing! I wasn’t really sure if I could do that, and having a really great ride in such challenging winter conditions gave me a lot of confidence going forward. I just rode the all new Dairy Roubaix route in the Driftless region of Wisco, and that was pretty epic as well, as it had a solid 8000 feet of climbing in 90 miles. Then I went to Laona in Northern Wisconsin for The Bear 100, and am now headed in a few days for the Crystal Bear, which is a 200 mile, 2-day race from Laona, WI to Crystal Falls, MI. Then it’s the Borah epic bike fest up in the Cable/Hayward area, and on to a big summer of Crusher events, including the mass-start 175 mile race in Munising. In August I’ll head to Nebraska for Gravel Worlds, but my biggest goal of all for the year is the Marji 100 mountain bike race. "That will complete my “triple crown” of the hardest level of each event in all the 906 Adventure Team races…I’ve got too many Crusher and Polar Roll entries to count at this point, and I just need to finish that dang Marji so I can be done with it." After that, October is going to be packed full of some of my absolute favorites, just for fun: the Lone Wolf gravel race in iron mountain, the Moran 166 (the shorter route) on a tandem with my dad, the hibernator, and maybe the 144 mile Iron Bull in Wausau. Then, if all goes well and my application is accepted, I want to get some rest and then focus hard on preparing for the Arrowhead 135. That one is a huge dream of mine and right now, my biggest goal for 2023. It doesn’t really look like much on paper, but wow, that feels like a lot when I start talking about it! What are your "Top 5 Up-North Things"? 1. Embark Maple | Viroqua, WI I love everything about this: they are all awesome people behind it that live in the same town I do here in Wisco, the products are sooooo good and just work, and it just feels like good energy. 2. Ruby Coffee | Nelsonville, WI The best coffee ever, in the whole entire world. Amazing owners, local here in Wisconsin, great products (their freeze dried coffee packets are a must-have for big adventures!) and just something to feel really good about. 3. Morrow packs | Iron Mountain, MI James Morrow is making some of the most exciting bikepacking stuff around up in my hometown of Marquette, MI, and I am so stoked to have these on my Bearclaw. He’s even putting iridescent UP designs on them for me. 4. Steger mukluks | Ely, MN I’ve had a pair of the tall moose hide mukluks for many years, and they have become one of the most important pieces of winter gear I could imagine. I’ve done several 40+ mile snowshoe events in them and my feet have come through them warm and safe and happy, and literally wear them almost every day in the winter. They are handmade up in Ely, Minnesota, and I don’t ever want to have to face winter without them. 5. Broken Spoke Bikes | Green Bay, WI Besides the coolest bikes and best crew of people, there is always something fun happening here. I wish I could do them all! There’s always a group ride happening for all levels of athletes, and this February they hosted the US fat bike open. 6. Marquette, Michigan A perfect Marquette day for me would include an oat milk latte from Velodrome, a really fun ride on the south trails, lunch and a treat from 231 West, some shopping at the Sports Rack, Beth Millner jewelry, Down Wind Sports, Snowbound Books, a Jean-Kay’s veggie pasty or a Vangos Greek pizza (or both, if the ride was big enough!), and then maybe a night ride on the north trails. You just got super-purply new bike, tell me about it My gravel/off-road/adventure bike is so freaking beautiful it’s ridiculous: it’s a full titanium Bearclaw Thunderhawk. "I wanted the ultimate yooper/Michigan bike, and this feels like it." We started with the Bearclaw frame and ti fork, and the Sports Rack in Marquette Michigan built every bit of it up custom for me. I’ve got two wheelsets for it, a set of Velocity Blunts with 50mm Donnelly Xplor off-road tires and a dynamo hub wired up to a light and battery pack, and another set of Velocity Ailerons (with custom oil slick hubs that are soooo pretty!) and skinny Teravail Cannonball gravel tires. Both sets in purple. Agave Finishworks custom anodized the ti eeWings and ti seat and stem for me in this absolutely beautiful sort of purple rainbow design, and purple Paul components Klampers and some Wolf Tooth bling just add to all the special little details. Morrow packs made me some incredible yooper bags for bikepacking with it, and this is what I’ll load up for the Crystal Bear and probably the Crusher 175. It’s all 12 speed sram electronic shifting and set up 1x with an absolute black oval chainring (oil slick, of course!) and it just feels amazing to ride, the compliance of titanium is incredible. I rode this for the Dairy Roubaix and will switch the wheelsets here and there depending on if I want to go fast and light or will need the bigger tires and dynamo for longer adventures. It looks so simple and stripped down it almost looks like a singlespeed until you look a little closer and notice some of the sweet little elements. It looks like a Barbie dream bike and just seems to make everyone that sees it happy. This bike is such a dream come true! What else are you riding? My mountain bike is a 2019 full suspension carbon Kona HeiHei crdl. I love this bike! You know that magical feeling when a bike just kind of becomes an extension of you? I’ve always felt that way about this one. I’ve added so many sweet details to it over the last couple years…really the only thing left is to convert it to AXS, which I want to do soon, it’s got everything else I could want already. I’m considering trying to get a Juliana wilder mtb to replace it, but I love this one so much I’m just not sure I’m ready to. My fat bike for winter adventures is a 2021 full carbon salsa mukluk. I have upgraded almost everything on it: carbon bars, the drivetrain, sram AXS electronic shifting, and I usually run 45nrth wrathchildren xl studded tires on it. This beast feels rock solid on anything and everything, and with all the beautiful cedaero bags I have for it, it feels ready for almost anything. I feel both very slow and also completely unstoppable on this beast. I absolutely love this bike. In the summer, I switch the tires out to teravail Coronados and actually ride it quite a bit year round.
- NORTHERN COFFEEWORKS: BIKE ADVENTURES WITH INSTANT FREEZE-DRIED COFFEE
Adventure coffee that was born in a bike shop I stumbled upon Northern Coffeeworks recently when researching local, high quality, instant coffee that doesn't require me to bring filters or a pour over kit on my rides. Now, to be fair, I'm not totally opposed to bringing the whole kit. I have a mini-grinder and don't mind bringing the whole kitchen sink, but there are times for something a little more sleek. Northern Coffeeworks is a roastery and cafe based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They were born out of a bike shop and a love for the outdoors, inspired by the natural beauty in the state they call home, Minnesota. They want to be the coffee you take with you on adventures and the coffee you come home to. Meet "Boundary Waters Instant Coffee" The Boundary Waters whole bean is Northern Coffeeworks' flagship drip coffee. It's brewed in collaboration with Save the Boundary Waters, an organization leading the fight to protect the Boundary Waters. To make their flagship whole bean coffee easier to take on self-supported adventures, they teamed up with Swift Cup Coffee to create an instant version. It comes with 6 packs per box and each packet contains 5g of freeze dried coffee which mixes with 8-10 ounces of cold or hot water. Testing it out: Should you take this bikepacking? First off, I was extremely surprised by the taste. Now to be transparent, I'm not a coffee snob. I'm a daily drinker, but I'm generally happy with warm cup of coffee and rarely find something I don't like. That being said, instant coffee is usually awful. Like, barely even in the same family as coffee. The Boundary Waters instant cup was really impressive and has a taste surprisingly similar to delicious drip coffee. In their collaboration with Swift Cup, they use a proprietary process to come up with a gourmet coffee that coffee nerds will seriously appreciate. On the downside, it's pretty expensive at ~$3/cup. There are definitely a lot of cheaper ways to make coffee in da woods. But for those who value ultralight bikepacking and gourmet coffee, this is a great option. I even poured a cup of drip vs Boundary Waters instant during my work day and forgot which was which. Sure, it's still instant coffee and isn't going to hit the spot if you just HAVE to have fresh ground coffee on the trail. But it's not very often you find instant coffee with high quality taste that originates on socially and environmentally conscious cooperatives. It weighs virtually nothing and is smaller than the amount of whole bean or ground coffee you would need to make the same size cup. Plus you get the benefit of not having to bring a pour over kit and hand grinder. Currently costs $18 for a pack of 6 at Northern Coffeeworks
- BRAND NEW NXRTH T-SHIRTS IN LIMITED COLORWAY!
The Nxrth has brand new t-shirts! The Gravel Bear is now available in a "Founder's" colorway until June 15. Find out more about the design here. We wanted a custom t-shirt design that represented the rugged beauty of the Northwoods. We worked with Tim Reddington from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to design the Gravel Bear. Gravel Bear is a super comfy tri-blend t-shirt that ships free inside the USA. The Founders colorway is a one-time edition that we made to thank the early supporters of The Nxrth and to give you something only available to the OGs. The Gravel Bear is: Made of the super-comfy tri-blend Designed in Wisconsin Ships for FREE This colorway is available until June 15 and can be found HERE. After June 15, we'll launch the standard Gravel Bear colorway.
- UNDERGROUND RACES & POSTERS OF PAIN IN THE U.P. WITH CHRIS OF STUDIO 13
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. To learn more about Studio 13, visit their website or follow them on instagram.
- CABLE AREA & HUNGRY BEAR SPRING UPDATE FROM SEELEY DAVE
Seeley Dave gives a quick spring update on the state of gravel in the Cable/Namakagon area. Spring has sprung and Dave shares more about the roads and the Hungry Bear race weekend. Learn about Life Above 8 and the Hungry Bear.
- THE HILLIEST POSSIBLE ROUTE: GRVL DRMA GEARS UP FOR EPIC, FREE FUN AS YEAR 3 LOOMS
As GRVL DRMA gears up for year 3, they nixed the river crossing into Minnesota and have perfected the goal of extreme hilliness in the Driftless region of Wisconsin. In this interview, we talk about the name, route updates, and hills. GRVL DRMA takes place on May 14, 2022 in Bay City, Wisconsin. The route is 120 miles with 11,000 feet of climbing. For more info and to register, visit their website. Interview with Ben from GRVL DRMA: What's the story behind the name GRVL DRMA? I've been around gravel races for a long time and there's always some sort of drama happening at the races. Generally it has to do with people arguing about their interpretation of unwritten rules aka "the spirit of gravel". This can be things like "attacking in the feed zone", "stashing a bottle of pickle juice on the course", and everybody's favorite "aero bars". Also, bike racing seems to be allergic to vowels. So the name GRVL DRMA is an homage to that. What inspired you to do this in the first place? Minnesota has a rich history of free, grassroots gravel events like the original Almanzo, Ragnarok 105, and Dickie Scramble. I was inspired by them to create one of my own. GRVL DRMA 2022 ROUTE: What are your favorite spots on the route? The highlight of the route is that it crosses several trout streams on a lovely, winding road through dense woodlands. My other favorite part is the gas station in Plum City. It is next to a shelter with picnic tables and a pond filled with wildlife. It's the perfect spot to stop and have some root beer with your friends. Why Bay City; what's good there? We chose Bay City as the start because it is close to the Twin Cities and still has access to the hills and gravel of Western Wisconsin. This is the third year we've done this race. The first two years the route went to the Minnesota side of the river as well, but there were way too many cars and dangerous bridge crossings on that route, so I switched it to be only Wisconsin and have no major roads. The original route was 180 miles with 15,000' of climbing, and honestly it was too hard. I want to have fun out there. Isn't this Laura Ingalls Wilder's stomping ground? What's so special about biking it? I love climbing! My friends and I were tired of gravel races on flat, windy roads. I decided to find the hilliest possible route that was still within an easy drive of the metro area. The route is a mix of quiet paved and gravel roads, with an emphasis on gravel. It is extremely hilly, you'll climb over 11,000 feet in 120 miles.
- RIDE MORE. DRIFT LESS. [VIDEO]
The Filth 50 takes place in the Driftless region of Minnesota in October. Race organizers recently dropped a video that is a love letter to cycling the gravel roads in the Driftless region. From the Filthy 50 Youtube Channel: The gravel roads of North America's Driftless Region are incredibly special to us. So special, that 9 years ago we put on a gravel ride to introduce all types of people to some of our favorite roads. We started riding together to help dad get healthy. He was in a bad place after his battle with cancer and the bicycle was the key to fixing that. A lot has happened since then. Year after year we have spent more saddle time on those Driftless roads and more and more of you have chosen to join us. Many have shared stories with us as to why they showed up and what riding there with us has done for them. This past winter, Nicholas Kapanke of Checkpoint Zero Films, put my thoughts to some film that he captured at last year's Filthy and made 'Ride More Drift Less'. Thank you, Nick. Enjoy and then get out there and ride. We hope to see you all this fall in Lanesboro.