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- KID-FREE: RIDING NORTH ON OUR FIRST BIKEPACKING TRIP
In 2021, Aaron Roecker and his wife Kim went on their first bikepacking trip and also spent their first nights away from their one year old son. They pedaled north to Minocqua and found their fair share of adventure and mishaps along the way. Story: Aaron Roecker @aaroecker “Up North.” If you're from Wisconsin, you know the saying. It’s a phrase most often heard right before the weekend, or during the heat of summer when the cool water of northern lakes calls. Its meaning, or more specifically the destination, changes from person to person. For me and my family, “up north” has always meant Minocqua. My wife and I are into bikes. We love ‘em, and I’m sure you do, too. Like many, we began our journey with bikes pedaling first on dirt, racing WORS. While many would head up north to get out on the lakes, we would head north to ride singletrack. Yes, we’d still get out on the water too, but usually only after getting some miles in on our bikes. As time moved on, our desire to simply ride more got us into just about every type of cycling you can think of. And with this notion to simply “ride more” our collection of bikes grew. As I write this article, I’ve put more miles on my e-cargo bike than any other this past year. I’m OK with that, because I still get to ride. Life gets busy, but I can still ride my bike to work or head to swimming lessons with my son. The idea of replacing vehicle travel with a bike is really where our bikepacking story begins. On a road trip north, I said to my wife, Kim, “Why don't we just ride our bikes up here?” And so begins our story. Pandemic Adventure Planning In the midst of the pandemic, we began planning our journey north while also juggling remote work, caring for our one-year-old son and 11-year-old dog, who is a puppy at heart. The general outline of our trip came down to two simple desires: ride to Minocqua over the span of three days and two nights, and use as much trail as possible. Thanks to Garmin, Google Maps, and talking to friends, we chose our route. This route included a mix of road and trail riding along the Friendship, Wiowash, Mountain Bay, Hiawatha and Bearskin trail systems. We planned to camp over at Wilson Lake County Park our first night, and then at SARA Park Campground our second night; arriving in Minocqua on our third day. Our bikes would be loaded with all of our overnight gear and food to snack on while riding. For our main meals, we planned to stop at restaurants along the way. Bikepacking was new to us, and this would be our first time away from our one-year-old son. We felt confident in our plans and were excited to get moving on a new adventure. False Starts on Day 1 On the morning of our trip we were, for all intents and purposes, ready, but per usual, and mostly on my part, we were running late. The plan was to drop our son and dog off at Kim’s parents. We would then leave from their house on our bikes, and they meet us in Minocqua at my parents’ home in a few days. Everything was set, but last-minute details were bogging us down. When we arrived at Kim’s parents’ we unloaded and prepped our bikes, gave our hugs and kisses goodbye, snapped a photo, and rolled down Green Acres Lane. Less than a block into the journey, my rear tire lost all air. Upon inspection the sidewall of my tire was slashed and unrideable. Thankfully, our local bike shop was open. I quickly hopped in the car and headed there to get a replacement. With a new tire and sealant in hand, I quickly got the new tire on the rim and aired up. In the rush, I forgot about the placement of my thru axle. After a bit of detective work, I came to discover that I had left the thru axle on the bumper of the car while disassembling my bike. The thru axle came for the ride part way to the bike shop, but had fallen off around the corner and down the street. When we came to find it, the threads were damaged, making it unusable. This time I headed home as I knew I had a spare thru axle that I could use. When I arrived back at grandma and grandpa’s I quickly prepared my bike. We had lost so much time already, but thankfully the tire fiasco was the last of our mechanical troubles. We again said our goodbyes and were finally on our way north. The tire fiasco has added substantial time onto our already delayed start. We didn’t have time to rethink our route, and we just decided that we would have to push a little harder. Doing so proved to be more difficult with a loaded-down bike. Thankfully, the weather was sunny and warm, and the wind was mild. Every time I mentioned the uncomfortable pull of the extra weight on my bike, Kim would just smile. The feeling was uneasy at first, but it became the new normal after a few short miles. Picking Up Speed & Getting Local Tips Now that we were moving, the miles melted away like ice cream in the sun; we were melting, too, in the hot summer sun. We rode very little trail, only using the Friendship and Wiowash trails for the first portion of the day. The rest of the day was on county roads. Kim, a transportation planner, took extra care searching for the safer and more scenic roads. These scenic roads wound us through Hortonville, New London, and Marion, where we finally stopped for dinner at the Pigeon River Brewery. As we sat on the patio of Pigeon River Brewery, we took in the warm summer night while video chatting with our son, hearing about his day and exciting adventures that he took Grandma and Grandpa on. The food was great and the beer was even better. Despite not dawdling too much, daylight was no longer on our side, and the potential of a looming storm made us realize we may not make our Day 1 destination. Even worse, the quiet county roads we had planned to ride on would have added an unnecessary distance in the dwindling sunlight. After reviewing Google Maps and chatting with the friendly bartender, we succumbed to the realization that we would have to ride on a relatively busy highway. However, the bartender also recommended a closer campground that was only about 10 miles away. The main office was closed when we tried calling, and we were not able to reserve online; we just had to go with the hope that a campsite would be available. Upon leaving Pigeon River Brewery the bartender gave us his number and told us to call him if we ran into trouble. We were prepared with lights and reflective gear, but no one likes to ride on a busy highway at dusk. As we made our way to the campground, the traffic was calm but steady, and we made it to our destination with little trouble. While no one was at the front desk, we were able to get in touch with a kind employee who was on-call; she pointed us to some of the more scenic sites. With a campsite along the river, we started to settle in for the evening. I looked down at my Garmin and thought back on the 70 miles of excitement our first day entailed and wondered how tomorrow would transpire. We cleaned ourselves up and quickly climbed into bed for the night; falling quickly asleep to the sound of the fast moving river. Waking Up On The Trail, Kid-Free For the First Time We woke early the next morning with no alarm; this was our first morning in almost 18 months that we didn’t wake up to our son. Given that we had some distance to make up, we quickly got to work on breaking down our campsite. This was not a quick process. Stuffing our gear back into our packs was a tedious task; we had very little room to spare, and everything had to be packed in the right order. After a quick Google search we discovered a greasy spoon restaurant a close distance away. As we made our way into Tigerton the mist of the morning dew was rising in the grass and fields that surrounded us. We parked our bikes outside and made our way inside. The coffee was dark, the food was great and our friendly server chatted with us in a subtle southern accent; a recent transplant. As we ate breakfast we planned our day while keeping an eye on the weather. Strong storms were looking to move their way across the state in the early afternoon. With full stomachs, we made our way toward the northern section of the Wiowash trail. The air was thick, but the sun continued to shine down on us. As we worked our way northwest, the sunny sky turned menacing and drops of rain started to fall on our helmets. When we came to the junction of the Wiowash and Mountain Bay trails our phones started to warn us of a severe weather system making its way toward us, and the sky opened into a torrential downpour. Luckily, we quickly found temporary cover under trailside shelter. We grabbed our phones and began looking at the weather and for a safe harbor destination that we could ride the storm out in. Google told us that a trailside tavern was less than a mile north from us, so we headed there as quickly as we could. Waiting Out the Rain The rain pelted us as we made our way inside the Mountain Bay Bar and Grill. We stuck out like a sore thumb as the few patrons’ and bartender’s eyes met our rain-soaked bodies. After a brief conversation, the bartender invited us to bring our bikes inside, and we draped ourselves with our camp towels. We were welcomed with questions about what we were doing and where we were going. We ate lunch, and talked with our new friends until the weather passed. We chatted about our plans and destination for the night while we watched images of severe weather and flooding on the tv screens. The storm was waning, but nearby flooding presented us with new potential dangers. Once the radar showed the storm had passed, one of the patrons called a friend in the Wausau area to make sure our passage north would indeed be safe and clear. Upon leaving the tavern the bartender offered us her number and told us to call if we ran into trouble. The sun was hard at work drying out the trails as we left the bar. As we continued northwest on our journey, the Mountain Bay Trail offered us picturesque landscapes of the Wisconsin countryside. From forests to bridges over bogs, this section of the state and trail offers great riding and views. Rolling into the Wausau area, the trail turned to pavement and we moved closer to our new destination for the night, the Marathon County Park Campground. Arriving at the campground, we were greeted with a tree covered, self-serviced affair. We picked a site and chatted with the neighbors before cleaning up prior to dinner. We decided to grab a late dinner and beer at the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Co. It was only a short ride from the campground and has always had great food and, of course, beer. As we made our way back to the site and settled in for the night, we drifted quickly off to sleep listening to the distant hum of Highway 51. Tomorrow, we’d reach our final destination, Minocqua. Last Day of Riding The next morning, we broke camp early and headed off to grab a quick breakfast and coffee at Starbucks. While sipping on coffee and tea, we stared at Google Maps, hoping that if we looked long enough the perfect route to the Bearskin trailhead would appear; it did not. We knew the stretch from Wausau to Merrill would have a section of busy roads to cover. We would soon learn how busy. The county highways held steady 55 mph traffic and seemed to have one rolling hill after another. After 45 minutes of buzzing traffic and teeth-rattling, rutted-out gravel shoulders we decided to break from the Garmin recommended route and head east on Naugart Drive, letting fate lead. We meandered through a serene territory north of Wausau mixed with paved and gravel roads. Coming across farm and forest lands, and happening upon a picturesque single-room schoolhouse, which to our eyes, had seen better days. As we slowly moved north, Kim and I continued to comment to each other how lucky we were to find such a wonderful area to ride through. We continued on to Merrill as a gentle rain began to fall. When we rolled into Merrill, we resupplied our bottles and snacks at a local gas station. Moving through the city streets, the rain began to come down harder, and we took temporary refuge underneath a large oak tree covering a sidestreet. It didn’t last long and we were soon on our way north again. Our next destination was Tomahawk. We’d hoped to grab lunch there prior to hopping on the Bearskin Trail; finishing our trip on one of the state’s most scenic rails to trails. As we made our way toward Tomahawk, our surroundings became the image of northern Wisconsin that everyone talks about: forests, lakes and rivers. The roads were quiet and moved through beautiful forested rolling hills hugging several small lakes, and a river along the way. While the outside world was a delight to soak in, Kim and I were getting grumpy. Hunger was setting in and we were still drying off from the day’s earlier rain. Lunch was needed and as we approached Tomahawk we stopped at a quiet park to use the restroom and find a place in town to eat. With a destination set, we headed in the right direction of the moment, food. Tomahawk greeted us with busy traffic along a brief stint on South Tomahawk Avenue. As we came into the downtown district, we quickly found a place to store our bikes while we dined. As we refueled and sipped coffee and tea, passersby outside the window paused and tilted their heads to the side as they looked over our bikes full of bags and gear. Kim and I smiled and continued finishing our lunch. The last leg of our trip was in sight. As we settled our tab, I sent a quick text to my mom giving her an ETA on our arrival. We rambled through Tomahawk and circled back on ourselves several times, struggling to find the trailhead to the Hiawatha Trail, which would eventually give way to the Bearskin Trail. As fate would have it, we came upon a kind, retired woman out for a ride heading in our direction. She graciously offered to guide us to the trailhead. We continued to ride with this kind soul for several miles, before she turned off the trail heading to her lakeside home. We spoke of all things you're not supposed to talk to strangers about, our life stories, politics, marriage and kids. Her warmth and kindness moved just as quick as she did, zipping down the trail. We departed our new friend and moved into riding the final stretch side by side, seamlessly transitioning onto the Bearskin Trail. Kim and I took in all the beauty the trail had to offer. We moved through a forested wonderland riding by lakes, over creeks, and waterways. The gravel was constant as we made our final push north, stopping only for a few photos along the way when something would catch our eyes. Making it to Minocqua & Seeing Our Son As we approached Minocqua, the number of walkers and cyclists increased. Coming over the final bridge, we found ourselves in downtown Minocqua, which was busy with the bustle of summer activities. We quickly made our way through the busy streets towards my parents’ home, knowing soon we’d be greeted by family. Moving through town I’m still amazed at how much water is in the area. Circling in just about any direction you're sure to see a body of water asking you to take a swim. As we turned down my parents' long and straight road, I could hear the faint sound of bells ringing. When we approached the driveway, we were greeted with ringing bells, shouts of “you made it!” and dogs barking. We had arrived; we were north. Excitement was high, and we quickly exchanged hugs. Our son was eager to see us, but his one-year-old attention was quickly grabbed by the outdoor toys and the sunshine of the day. We all sat in the sun and talked through our adventure and what would lay ahead for the next few days. Our day of riding concluded with family and smiles all around. Our trip was an adventure, and I’m happy we jumped in and made it happen. I know that we’ll remember our time riding north fondly, using what we learned along the way for future trips. Bike troubles and severe weather did set us back, but if it wasn’t that, it would have probably been something else. And, that’s OK, because it’s part of what made it our adventure. This summer we’re already talking about a new adventure with a trip, you guessed it, north.
- THE WHOLE DANG STATE: THE TRANS-WISCONSIN ADVENTURE BICYCLE ROUTE NEARS COMPLETION
The Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Bicycle Route has been a dream of Frank Hassler's for a while. Ever since spending 8 days bike touring part of the route in 2011 and having a whole bunch of Type 2 fun, he's dreamed of formalizing this trail. In this interview I talk with Frank about the route and what it's going to take to complete the project. The TWABR is ~685 miles, with over 35,000’ of climbing. The current iteration of the route can be found on RideWithGPS. To follow along, visit the Facebook page. This sounds like a massive project. What inspired you to take this on? Developing a 700-mile bike route seems like a big reach, but fortunately, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, so to speak. In the early 2000’s, Chad Berger developed the Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail (TWAT) dual-sport motorcycle route. Inspired by the TWAT, Joe Meiser created the Trans-Wisconsin Mountain Bike Trail (TWMBT) and organized the Trans-WI Mountain Bike Race along this route in 2010. What I am calling the Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Bicycle Route (TWABR) is really just a further development of the TWMBT. I expect we will be updating 30-40% of the route for the TWABR, but mostly small improvements along the same general corridor. We only need to route 1/3rd of 700 miles. Back to what inspired me specifically: Over 8 days in July and August of 2011 I toured the TWMBT. Despite repeated heavy thunderstorms, persistent deer flies, breaking my thumb, loosing my wallet, trudging through sand roads and getting lost on abandon logging roads that lead no-where but into a swamp, I had a great time. Its a brilliant route, traversing major bioregions of the state including the Driftless Region, the Mississippi Valley, the Central Sands, the North Woods and finish on the shores of Lake Superior in sight of the Apostle Islands. It links together some of Wisconsin’s best mountain bike trail networks. Ever since doing this trip, I wanted to share the route with other like-minded cyclists. I think it's a world class route. What's the current status of this project and when do you hope to complete it? I have a proposed route worked out on RideWithGPS. Now as the riding season is starting it's time to ground-truth the route to see if the red line on the computer screen makes sense in reality. At this point I’m seeking adventurous riders to scout the route out and local riders who can perhaps suggest better options based on what they like to ride. It will be going together in pieces, I think after we finalize each section of the route it would be good to plan a day-ride on those sections to give it a final check with a number of riders, and to introduce people to each segment. I think with some collaboration we should be able to get the route finalized by late-summer or early fall. Then it's time to get people out to ride the route! I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a tour on the southern-half of the route in late-July with an open invite to anyone who wants to join. Then a second tour in September to ride the northern portion. In any event, we’ll put together the details on the Facebook group. What are your favorite parts of this route? That’s a tough call. While its mostly paved and gravel roads, the first couple days in the Driftless region are just real solid scenic rural riding. Another great section is the last segment north of Delta to Hwy 13 which feels extremely remote, I saw almost no other humans the entire day (but plenty of wildlife). But if I had to pick a single favorite section it would probably be the Black River State Forest. The Central Sands are just unique and remind me of riding in the highlands of northern Arizona. The stunted black oak and jack pine of the barrens is just so different from every other environment in the state. And as a botanist, I just can’t get over the fields of lupine and roadside ditches full of grass pink orchids. How can people get involved or help out? The further along I get in this project the more aspects of it I realize there are. There are a lot of ways large and small that people could help make this a reality. As mentioned above, we need a bunch of people to get out on the roads and trails and ground truth the route. Outreach: We need people to get in touch with local trail organizations, public land managers, bike shops and so forth to let them know what we’re planning and start to work together where needed. I think what we’d be looking for local ambassadors in each region who are part of the community to facilitate communication and coordination. We could use a graphic designer to develop a logo for things like stickers, patches, and trail blazes. We could probably use a website and thus a webmaster, and some organization willing to host the website. Right now we’re using a Facebook group to organize things, but having a website as a central information depot will be essential in the long-run. I would love it if we could have a someone with some GIS/cartography skills develop a good looking map of the route. There seems to be a lot of interest in reviving the idea of a race along the route. That would require someone stepping up as a race organizer.
- ORGANIC PURE FUEL: 90+ YEARS OF FAMILY MAPLE SYRUP TO FUEL YOUR BIKE ADVENTURES
Anderson's maple syrup has been a labor of love in Cumberland Wisconsin since 1928. What started as a hobby blossomed into a tradition of organic maple syrup that is now fueling endurance athletes. Pure Fuel is single-serve maple syrup gel packets that are meant for athletes to consume during their activities. With no additives of any kind, Pure Fuel is a plant-based, high quality, all-natural carbohydrate, with extra benefits like minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Pure Fuel has become a staple in the up-north adventure cycling community. You'll see them at events like the Birkie and Fat Bike Worlds as well as supporting cycling teams in the area. In this interview, I chatted with Christine Anderson on why they're so supportive of the cycling community and how maple syrup benefits athletes. Interview with Christine Anderson: Why did you decide to add Pure Fuel to your maple syrup offerings? I am a marathon runner and a few years ago, I was talking with my brother about the difficulty swallowing those thick energy gels. Some of my friend also had stomach issues and even more difficulty with those gels. We did some research and found that Pure Maple Syrup naturally contains many of the vitamins and minerals that are helpful for endurance athletes in terms of energy source (Mix of glucose/fructose & low glycemic index) and muscle recovery (potassium, vitamin B, zinc, and over 65 antioxidants)---and it tastes better and is easier to swallow. Steve thought it would be worth a try to package our maple syrup for athletes and Pure Fuel was started. We also discovered that people who struggle with stomach issues when taking in fuel did much better with pure maple syrup. That may be because it’s 100% pure, it’s thinner viscosity or the natural glucose to fructose ratio— whatever the reason-- it is easy to digest. Pure maple syrup also won’t freeze during those winter runs. Andersons seems really involved in the cycling community; why is that important to you? One of our production managers is a fat biker and he started using it during his training and bringing some pouches to his races to pass out. We got a lot of positive feedback from the bike (and running) communities about the natural alternative to energy gels. Around that same time Chris Stevens just happened to be one of the project managers for the company that built my brother, Steve’s, house. We got to know him through that process and when he heard about Pure Fuel he immediately called us up and we’ve been thrilled to work together ever since. We have been involved with quite a few cycling events such as Lutsen 99er, Maah Da Hey trail rides, Chequamegon 40 and trail rides, Fat Bike Birkie, etc. We’ve also been a sponsor for the American Birkebeiner ski races and Twin Cities, Fargo and Grandma’s marathons as well as other shorter races. How has the cycling community received your product as a processed energy gel alternative? The cycling community, and the broader endurance sport community, has been extremely interested in pure maple syrup as a natural alternative to energy gels. We have been able to be involved with some great races and have heard feedback from riders of all levels and distances (ie. Gravel 240, fat bike, mid-distance gravel, etc.) Is there a growing demand for natural energy options? We believe athletes of all types are looking for natural energy sources. Not only that, but Pure Maple syrup production allows producers and land owners to maintain healthy old growth hardwood forests which are so important to combating climate change. Our industry's maple stands are actively maintained in order to promote growth over the long term. So pure maple syrup is a natural choice for our bodies as well as the environment.
- DEAD LAST & FAKE CIGARETTES: WINSTON COUNTY GRAVEL CUP GEARS UP FOR YEAR 2 ON "HERO GRAVEL"
Winston County Gravel Cup had its inaugural event last year and is gearing up for round two. Through beautiful valleys and heroic gravel roads, the event carries an old cigarette branding theme and promises a full flavored event. This year's event takes place on September 24, 2022 and has a 40, 60, and 100 mile option. Learn more about the event on their website or follow them on instagram. The event is organized by Paul Reardon , Jacob Ellefsen, and Luke Schuttenhelm Interview with race coordinator, Jacob Ellefsen: Let's start with the cigarette branding. What's that all about? That is kind of what it has evolved into a bit. I must credit fellow ride organizer, Luke Schuttenhelm, with the creation of the ride’s name. The race itself takes place in Winona and Houston County, so he mashed those together with some inspiration from days of NASCAR past and the Winston County Gravel Cup was born. The cigarette portion is what grabbed people's attention, we even had an old Winston gas station sign show up on race day and gave away a ton of old Winston memorabilia. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously with inspiration like that. Ultimately, we want riders to have fun. Whether racing at the front or beer stops every 20 miles. We’ve made the route, but you make the ride. This is your 2nd year, right? What were the highlights of year 1? The biggest highlight for us was the overall success. For year 1, we literally organized the ride in 4 months. No small task considering everything that goes into planning a ride, but at the end of the day it was all worth it. Everyone finished safely and there was not one face without a smile. Secondly, there was one rider that was a highlight for all those that rode with her… Nellie Rice, who embodied the very spirit of the event. This was her first ever gravel event and on top of that, she chose the 100-mile route. Even showed up with fake cigarettes! She was so determined to finish, and it took her 10 hours and 52 minutes. "She finished dead last but seeing that feeling of accomplishment on her face was an emotional moment for us as organizers. Riders like Nellie are really what makes all the time spent organizing the ride worth it." What are the roads and gravel in "Winston County" like? Well, when we don’t have the grader go through, they are the definition of hero gravel. Last year unfortunately we had a stretch of road that was graded during the ride, but that’s just the way it is sometimes. Luckily, everyone was able to find the humor about it We are extremely fortunate to have such great roads to host the ride on. Pair that with the challenging climbs and spectacular views… It makes for quite an experience. Why did you start this race? We started this race to share the amazing riding that the Houston, MN area has to offer. The town itself exists in this weird space where it’s the destination for many riders from nearby La Crosse and it’s at the end of the Root River Trail when most riders turn back. It was really a well-kept secret for those that ventured out that way. Secondly, we wanted to bring people together to enjoy and share in this rad experience and that’s the remarkable thing about the culture of gravel. In the end, everyone enjoys a beer together, whether they are racing for first place or simply trying to finish. I see you have picked some charities to benefit. Why are those charities important to you? We wanted to give back to the community that was so gracious to host us. The Houston Nature Center and International Owl Center both provide great environmental education programs. Additionally, the Houston Nature Center offers amazing amenities to cyclists such as showers and camping. Both locations are funded mostly by donations, and we wanted to help by donating to and promoting these community staples for our first year.
- HAPPY 5TH BIRTHDAY, STRADDLE & PADDLE: REMEMBERING HOW THE ADVENTURE ALL CAME TOGETHER
Straddle & Paddle was born in 2017 from a bikepacking.com contest and a little bit of Minnesota/Wisconsin rivalry. The route has inspired hundreds of Arrowhead bikepacking adventures and this year celebrates its 5th birthday. Happy Birthday, Straddle & Paddle! Straddle & Paddle is a 180 mile, 3-4 day bikepacking adventure in the Arrowhead of Minnesota's north shore. In this interview, I talk with Peter Pascale, the original creator of the route to discuss how it all came together and what makes it meaningful to him. Photos: David Vessel Photography Interview with Peter Pascale: Why did you create Straddle & Paddle 5 years ago? I was inspired by Bikepacking.com’s 2017 route contest. Now, I’m not a native Minnesotan (raised in Pennsylvania) but it still bothered me that Wisconsin beat us to the map! The Bikepacking.com route map that is. Dave Schlabowske’s wonderful Tour de Chequamegon route had been published the year before. Since I consider bikepacking.com the definitive source of inspiring routes, I wanted to see Minnesota’s great north represented. Having ridden northern Minnesota for years, I knew we had all the elements of a great bikepacking experience. When the contest came out in 2017, I figured it would be a great project, a chance to get Minnesota on the map, and… maybe win a prize. Turns out - the Straddle and Paddle took fourth place - not too shabby when the top first and second go to lifetime bucket list routes in Australia and New Zealand respectively! I did want to win that red Surly Krampus for my wife (I’m a huge surly fan), but the prize pack for honorable mentions was still very fun, and I split it with David Vessel - the amateur photographer friend that helped document the route. What was your process like for creating the route? Well, I’ve been refreshing my soul in the north woods and north shore of Lake Superior for almost 30 years. I was introduced to the BWCA, and the North Shore, working for the Minnesota Conservation Corps in the early 1990s. The ‘Arrowhead’ is just a place more midwesterners should experience. I knew there was cultural value - Native American history, fishing and logging history, the small towns, etc. And I knew incorporating the BWCA would be really special. I had been doing wilderness trips out of Sawbill Lake for years. You can literally get a free day permit and rent a canoe from the outfitters right at the lake, and do the wonderful Kelso Lake loop in a half day. So I thought it would be great to incorporate the Boundary Waters in the route, even though I expect most folks don’t actually get in a canoe! I did a lot of pre-rides, usually sneaking away during a family trip for a morning to explore a segment, or see if lines on the map that nearly connect could be bushwhacked through (most always… no). This led to many great experiences and discoveries - some of which are on the route. For example - locals know the beautiful falls on the Cascade River just south of Eagle Mountain Trailhead, but I only discovered it because it’s on old maps of the area. I also got EXTREMELY lost bushwhacking northeast of Grand Marais following a line on a very old cross-country recreation map. That did not become part of the route - though I did come across a functional moonshine still in the woods! I connected enough of the segments to ride the majority of the route with friend Ron Lancaster a season before submitting to the contest. Then rode it again with another friend David Vessel to document it for Bikepacking.com. David is an accomplished amateur photographer and his photos brought the route to life. I’ve since re-ridden a longer version solo and continued to explore segments. I was set to ride again last year, but the forest fires pushed us east - to a great four-day ride in the Porcupine Mountains at the western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Who helped create the Straddle & Paddle route? I’d have to start with two gravel pioneers - Jeremy Kershaw from the Heck of the North, and Joshua Stamper of Gravel Conspiracy. Between the two of them - I believe they have ridden the entire arrowhead. Their events are inspiring, and they have been extremely generous with their knowledge and route maps. Joshua was running the Gravel Conspiracy the first time Ron and I did the entire route, and we ran into him at the Trestle Inn. Jeremy’s Heck Epic (now Fox and Wolf) and the Grand Du Nord events use some of the same roads. He steered me right, while challenging me to push harder with his events. I think the Heck of the North is my favorite gravel race of all time. There’s also Jay Decoux - mayor of Grand Marais and owner of the Fireweed Bike Co-op. Any section of road not ridden by Jeremy and Joshua he knows first hand. There was a large format topo map at the back of the Fireweed and you could point to any thin line and Jay could say ‘likely flooded’ or ‘too much logging traffic’ or ‘definitely worth riding’. Jeff and Sarah at Sawtooth Outfitters have been supporting family adventures up there for years. It’s a great place to rent a canoe or buy gear. And they too have been willing to pour over maps and answer questions about the area several times. They have also invested countless hours into the development of single track in the Tofte area - including Jackpot - a new connection between Lutsen and Tofte that you can incorporate into the route. Stop by, say hi, (and it never hurts to spend some money there). I don’t know their names, but the USFS personnel I’ve run into on the route have been very friendly and helpful. On the first ride through, we ran into staff doing work at Crescent Lake and they gave us the extensive if hard-to-read ATV maps of the area. Finally - David and Ron have been great riding partners, and it wouldn’t be possible without my wife Kathy supporting (and sometimes participating in) adventures. I imagine you’ve spent a lot of time on these roads; what is your favorite part of the route? I love the quirky Trestle Inn - see if you can line up your visit with Bingo Night! So many of the smaller lakes with small campgrounds are quiet and nice. Hog Back lake is not too far from the Trestle and very quiet. Silver Island Lake has sites right on the lake including one with a dock. I also always have to stop at the falls on the Cascade river, and then whoop down the fast and windy downhill just after the falls. But I also think some of the best parts of the route, aren’t officially on the route. What makes this route special? I think the most special part about the route is you can make it your own. It’s extremely composable. Want to do something shorter? You can cut off a lobe. Want to add a day? You can expand into the Isabella area west, or the Gunflint area east. The route is a suggestion - Even I haven’t ridden it the way it was laid out more than once. Two real highlights that aren’t on the original route but that I would definitely recommend. First - the abandoned Cramer Railroad tunnel. The Cramer tunnel is the longest railroad tunnel in MN and is just south of the Trestle Inn. Just east off the road, and a fun (if spooky) place to check out. Many have incorporated this into their rides. Scott Haraldson’s excellent ride report includes photos that will convince you this is a must-add. Section 29 Lake road, which you can pick up just east of Divide Lake campground, is a way to add miles through some very remote and beautiful country. It starts as a gravel road, and slowly devolves through single lane, dirt track, and single track trail before dumping you back out on Gravel Road 7 just south of Lake Kawashiwi. I think it’s my favorite road section. It passes through the July 4th 1999 blowdown area which is wild to see even after 20 years, and gets pretty remote. One thing to note - you’ll exit the blowdown area and come to a grassy clearing. There are two exits - the right exit is a fake trail leading to a swamp! The left is the actual trail that will take you into the woods. A short ride after - you’ll hit a 'Tee' in the woods. You can take a left and explore Coffee lake, or take a right to continue on the ATV trail back to the gravel road. But I encourage folks to decide what experience they are after, and adjust the route accordingly. To celebrate the five year route-iversary - I’ve published an updated route map with new and revised points of interest, and the two additions noted above. I’m always happy to answer questions and my DMs are open @peterpascale on Twitter. Updated Straddle & Paddle Route Map
- EMBARK MAPLE'S SIMPLE GIFT TO ADVENTURE CYCLISTS: GOOD WHOLESOME ENERGY THAT'S DROP-DEAD DELICIOUS.
Have you ever felt like energy gels are over-engineered and wanted a better option? Then check out Embark Maple; they're in Viroqua, Wisconsin and have a simple passion for good food and outdoor adventure. Eric and Bree from Embark Maple (Instagram) started an off-grid maple syrup farm in 2011. As lifelong endurance athletes, they turned their maple syrup venture into a wholesome, simple, and delicious energy gel. In this interview, we chat about their maple syrup energy and what in the heck inspired them to become maple farmers. Interview with Eric from Embark Maple: What is Embark Maple and what makes it better for endurance activities? Embark takes two of our biggest passions and morphs them together; good food & outdoor adventure. The concept of Embark came from bikepacking & multisport adventures in the late naughties (2008ish) where I wanted everything brought with to have multiple uses, and this is what makes Embark unique from other gels or maple syrups. One 3oz Embark Maple Energy pack is similar in size to three tear-off single-use off gels; however, Embark has a resealable cap so you can use exactly how much you need and save the rest later. In addition, once enjoyed you can put the cap back on and eliminate the sticky mess associated with tear-offs. Tell me about Embark's varieties, ingredients, & product development. Each of our Embark Maple Energy varieties was developed with a team of ultra-athletes & adventurous chefs, bringing a culinary focus to sports nutrition. We start with our sustainably harvested Wisconsin Certified Organic maple syrup and add a pinch of sea salt. This results in a bright maple flavor that has a complete electrolyte profile from just two simple ingredients. Organic maple syrup also has a glycemic index that is half of maltodextrin, a common ingredient in commercial energy gels. The rate at which your body metabolizes Embark is less “peaky” than many gels and without the same spike & crash associated with more simple sugars. Coffee Maple: 30 trials to get the flavor just right The versatility of Embark was important in our flavor development, and we like to highlight those uses as Energize, Hydrate, & Rejuvenate. Embark Coffee Maple is my go-to for a quick, long-lasting energy shot. We cold brew Certified Organic coffee from Wonderstate Roasters (also in Viroqua, Wisconsin), and went through almost 30 trials to get the perfect flavor profile without oxidation (the truck-stop flavor) or being too bitter. Smooth roasty notes of graham and fudge shine through, which is a delightful experience when combined with the 72mg of caffeine. We standardize our caffeine level with green tea caffeine since it also has a relatively slower release rate. Elderberry: The great mixer Embark Elderberry Maple has many benefits beyond its deliciously dark & deep blue fruit flavor, and is fabulous when mixed with water in a water bottle for an Embark Hydration. We typically recommend starting with a mix ratio of 1 part Embark to 32 parts water; or about ½ oz Embark in a 16oz water bottle. I get 5-6 water bottles from one pack. Everyone's nutritional demands and taste preferences are different, so it’s something to have fun experimenting with. Salted Maple: Cooking & culinary exploration Embark Salted Maple is our standard go-to for camp cooking & mock/cocktail culinary explorations, as well as non-caffeinated energy. Check out our social media for some of our favorite trail snack recipes! What in the heck inspired you and Bree to become maple farmers? Bree and I met in 2010 and we both had a shared yearning to responsibly work with the land. Around this time I was also seeking more purpose in my life, learning that I’m a better version of myself when I’m working outside. I was experiencing intensifying seasonal depression that was carrying through all the seasons, and I needed more positive mental & physical outlets. We started dreaming up plans to start farming, but there was always the looming reality that it had to support itself financially. That winter we tapped a maple tree in Bree’s backyard and made a big mess trying to boil sap into maple syrup! The following spring we found a small parcel of woods was for sale that was dense with sugar maples, so we applied for a Beginning Farmer Loan, hoping someday it could become our full-time jobs and lead to a more fulfilling & meaningful life. We set up the woods to collect sap in 2011, and successfully boiled our first batch of maple syrup in 2012! With your energy products, why do you focus so much on endurance cycling For as long as I can remember I’ve been happiest when I’m on a bike. I was “introduced” to endurance mountain biking & bikepacking during a tough transition in my life when I first became aware of needing positive mental & physical outlets. It’s my goal to give back some of the good energy I received from the cycling community when I really needed it, which is partly why we’ve been so active at aid stations, checkpoints, trail days, advocacy events, and general volunteering behind the scenes to help make cycling and the outdoors more accessible for everyone. I was fortunate to find endurance cycling when I did, however not everyone sees cycling as a sport for them and we want to a positive part of changing that. I feel that particularly in past couple of years more people are seeking out challenging cycling events because it helps them process the world. By choosing to take on the challenge of a difficult race or ride you are really training yourself to find the strength to work through other life challenges that maybe you didn’t choose. But really, we just love riding bicycles and want more friends to ride with!! What are your favorite places and events to bike? My favorite place to ride is right in our backyard, the greater Driftless region. We have a 6 month old, so big trips are fewer and farther between, but that doesn’t mean adventure isn’t still readily available. I’m setting up an old bike to be our trailer-toting kid-packing rig. I can’t wait for spring so these adventures can begin! I love S24Os (Sub 24 hour Overnights) and exploring what is “nearby” but often overlooked. My favorite is to load up camping gear & a packraft on my bike and explore our Driftless trout streams, particularly our home watershed (Timber Coulee) that we spend a lot of time and effort caring for. There are endless meandering creeks to paddle down and then steep coulees to ride back up. We have a good mix of paved & gravel backroads, as well as some wonderful MTB trail networks fairly close to our farm. As far as *favorite* events, anytime there are good people having fun riding bikes together, I’m in a happy place. I enjoy events that put more emphasis on building a supportive community than on the podium.
- GOING SLOW AND SEWING MY OWN ADVENTURES: JOSH ON SEWING BIKE BAGS WITH GRANDMA'S MACHINE
Having twins 4 months before the pandemic meant that I was going to be spending a lot of time at home. Regaining some of my old freedoms took about two years and during that time I taught myself how to sew bike bags in the evenings with grandma's old sewing machine. Words & Photos: Josh Rizzo In middle school I made hemp bracelets and tried selling them to all of my friends (they didn't buy them). In high school, my friends and I started a male crochet club. I've always had a little bit of a creative itch and really enjoy crafts and using my hands to make things. I've long admired sewing and the people who are patient and creative enough to figure out how to turn fabric and string into something beautiful and practical. When I was little my dad bought a tiny handheld sewing machine and would fix clothing with it. Then my wife and I had sewing machine in our basement that was passed on from my grandma to my mom and then to me and my wife but I never paid any attention to it. Finding a twin-dad pandemic hobby Then two things happened that made me go to the basement searching for that old sewing machine. 1. I stumbled on an article on bikepacking.com about sewing your own frame bag. I was pretty intimidated at the idea of sewing but it really intrigued me so I cataloged it in the back of my mind. 2. We had twins. Let me correct that; we had surprise twins. Raising babies is a lot of work and multiplying that by two doesn't make it any easier. I spent a lot more time in the house and new I needed a home hobby. Well by the time I learned how to make a frame bag, there was no turning back. Every evening, I put the kids to bed and ran to go get the sewing machine. My sewing obsession quickly turned into fanny packs, stem bags, roll tops, stuff sacks, and tool rolls. We're now out of the first 2 years of having twins so life has opened back up a lot. But overall, life still moves slow and we prioritize short family adventures over epic dad-is-going-away-for-a-week adventures. My 5-year old son loves the bike bags that I make and always asks me to make new ones. But what's even cooler is that he now wants to learn how to sew himself and just made (with a bit of Dad's help) his first stuff sack. We're repurposing rain coats, old flannels, and even retired rock climbing rope to make bags that will cary our next adventures. I personally find the activity both enjoyable in the moment and rewarding in the long term. I don't sew quite as much anymore but still love to pull out grandma's machine and create something new.
- A "MADE U.P." STORY: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ONE BIKE FOR EVERY SEASON & EVERY SURFACE
In total Todd-Poquette fashion, he recently started spewing on social media about another crazy project that he just made up. When Made U.P. bikes first crossed my feed, I thought it was maybe a pipe dream, something on his wish list, or just a casual napkin brainstorm session he was sharing. But as his social media musings accelerated, an official Facebook Page showed up out of nowhere and then a bona fide website, MadeUPeh.com. I can only image he's been cooking this up for a while since planning graceful geometry and creating a prototype for something as nuanced as a friggin' Upper-Peninsula-adventure-dedicated bike doesn't happen overnight. So I reached out to Todd for a 9am Zoom call. And his response? "Nope, 9:06am." You have to admire somebody who is that relentlessly on brand. (never mind that I showed up an hour late forgetting that the U.P. is on Eastern Time; sorry Todd) Sometimes Less is More So let me be a little transparent here. When I first started seeing all the cryptic teases about a new bike brand that seemed to be alluding to a new niche category, I had to ask myself, "do we really need another bike category that we all have to subscribe to and continue with the endless n+1 nonsense? Sure, I love bikes as much as the next person (I mean...I publish bike content almost endlessly), but there are a few ominous downsides to having a different bike for every single type of riding. I''m personally a one-bike guy. I have always been a wholehearted, lifelong bike believer because of the simplicity, community, and raw pleasure I get from riding two wheels with people I love. Now, I don't want to over-romanticize this because I love geeking out about gear, but when we jump on the "more and more of everything faster and faster" train, we lose something. We lose simplicity (consumerism is addictive), the environmental benefits (most of our bikes are shipped from Taiwan and they can't manufacture them fast enough), and the equitable nature of an inclusive community (expensive sports leave out people who can't afford to keep up). Full disclosure: I'm not opposed whatsoever to adding another bike. But I don't buy a bike just to sell it a year later and get a new one when my riding style shifts by a few degrees. Our sport can be exhilarating and accessible. Bikes can be simple and versatile. They can be endlessly adventurous and still benefit the environment (and our own communities). It was fun to see a neat bike project... ...but ultimate I just kept scrolling. But when I gave it a little more a chance, I saw that the entire heartbeat of Made U.P. bikes addresses these exact issues that I see in the bike industry and that are also a part of my own bike story. Meet the Made U.P. Lake Ehfect Okay, before we get into the details of the bike, let's address the name itself. The first bike announced under the Made U.P. brand gives 3 nods to the U.P. indicating that it fully intends to be be built around the adventurous heartbeat of the wild Upper Peninsula of Michigan. First is the the play on being "made U.P." which has two meanings. It is actually made and manufactured right in the U.P. but it's also a playful way of saying they're making it up as they go. Todd says a core message at the heart of Made U.P. is to dream something U.P. and go for it… or spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened if you had. Second is the lake effect reference. Lake effect is a meteorological phenomenon that causes cooler summers and a butt ton of snow in the winter. With 1,700 miles of coastline, you better believe the Upper Peninsula gets a full dose of lake effect weather. Third and lastly, the spelling of ehfect includes "eh". The yoopers in the U.P. have a little thing called yoopernese where they say 'yah' instead of 'yeah', 'de' instead of 'the' and end of lot of their sentences with 'eh'. Don't ask me why. One bike. Four seasons. All surfaces. Less Hype. Back to the downsides of the bike industry and where Made U.P. fits into that whole mess. According to Todd, "I’ve been a fast food cook. Was a truck driver. Worked retail and construction. Spent a lot of years in food distribution and hospitality. Moved into the non-profit sector. Started youth programs and events encouraging people to discover the best version of themselves through outdoor adventure. My approach is simple: I remind myself every day I have a lot to learn. I work hard. I listen to people, figure out what they want, and give it to them. I don’t sugar coat things." "I tell it like it is because that’s what I’d want from you. We shouldn’t be telling people they need a bike for every season or surface. It’s not responsible. It’s fake. It’s hype. " The Lake Ehfect is Made U.P.'s first bike and it's built around 4 principles: 1. Steel is real Not a new concept, so who cares, right? Well, expensive materials like carbon tend to cost a whole lot more and often come with goofy, non-standard tube and component sizing which increases the barrier to entry and decreases the serviceability and versatility. But it goes deeper than that. Yoopers are literally the people who brought the world iron ore - it's only fitting that their bikes are forged with the steel heritage they cut their teeth on. Further, the steel gospel is always preaching (and I happen to be a subscriber of steel, myself) the field serviceability and lifespan that comes with the simple, versatile, and sturdy material. 2. One bike. Four seasons. If anybody understands how ridiculous weather and jacked up terrain demand a lot out of a bike, it's the yoopers. Full stop. If you've ever scratched your head wondering why the heck people do rides like The Crusher and Marji Geskick and go bikepacking in the Upper Peninsula, then you get it. Marquette, MI gets 154 inches of snowfall in the winter and summer rides are punchy with sand and boulders (that is if the road is even still there when you show up). Lake Ehfect promises to carry you over anything you throw at: Bikepacking, mountain biking, gravel biking, and fat biking in the winter (but not water biking, those things look real dumb). With standard, no frills specs and a blend of mountain and gravel bike geometry, just swap out the wheels in winter for snow biking and again in the spring for mountain-y riding and junk. According to Made U.P., "The fact Lake Ehfect fits a 4.6" tire doesn't make it a fat bike - it makes it capable of adapting to its environment. Riding U.P. here demands a lot of a bike. We wanted a platform that would handle whatever Lake Superior throws at it." 3. One bike. Every surface. We all have that one friend who has a completely different bike for gravel, single track, bikepacking, bikepacking on sand, bikepacking on babyheads, fat biking, fat biking on slush, and fat bike racing (and a tall bike, but everybody actually should have a tall bike). Lake Ehfect isn't for that friend and it just doesn't care. This bike proves you actually can have a single awesome bike that will take you anywhere. 4. One bike. Less hype. There is a lot of marketing noise around bikes. Made U.P. seems to be on a mission to put raw and genuine passion into a purpose built machine without the puffery of making something flashy in order to maximize profits. No doubt that's harder done than said, but I'm excited to watch this unfold. Todd is known for his marketing “hype machine” but if you ask him about it he’ll be quick to counter. “Lets talk about hype. Remember back a handful of years when Giant decided to blanket the planet with 650b and the industry declared the 29er was dead? That’s hype. That wasn’t about what was best for cycling or the consumer, it was a gimmick, and a lot of folks followed. Where are we at now? The 29er platform is alive and well. I had a bike brand guy tell me the other day “I’ve never understood why you would want just one bike”. Of course he can’t… he’s paid not to. Can people get by with one super versatile adventure rig? Yes. Will some people need more than one bike. Yes. That’s not hype. It’s the facts.” Give me the Lake Ehfect details, please 2nd Full disclosure: I know nothing about bike geometry and will just smile and nod my head if you get on a roll about bottom bracket spacing pros and cons. I just want to ride. That being said, here's what we know about the Lake Ehfect: To kick things off, the Lake Ehfect is not a boutique bike. Everything about is meant to be utilitarian, not glamorous. You won't see fancy hubs and headsets. Instead you'll see an absurdly useful bike that's accessible to all riders on all surfaces. Here are basics of what they call, "the one bike to ride them all": USA steel frame and fork Fat tire compatible (up to 4.6") 180mm q-factor (which they claim, "we don’t know of any fat compatible frame with a narrower q-factor ") MTB geometry Dropper post Direct mount packs Bikepack ready Drop bars or flat All the bosses Also, it's not a just a bike. Here's what else Made U.P. is cooking. 1. Bike Bags: Made U.P. is partnering with Morrow Packs to create a full set of bike bags including direct mount packs. These will even include panniers, yep panniers. This one was surprising to me but Todd took panniers on his Project Adventrus scouting ride last year and swears by the improved handling on crazy back roads that are offered by the low center of gravity on panniers over a seat pack. Plus you can carry a lot more stuff for longer trips without having to buy expensive ultra-light everything. 2. A rack: The Lake Eheffect will also come with an optional rear rack. I haven't seen any details but I have to imagine it'll be bomb proof and highly functional. 3. An iconic route called Project Adventrus: More on this in an upcoming story but Made U.P. will also be the home to yet another of Todd's projects called Project Adventrus. This is an epic 1,600 mile route circumnavigating the entire upper peninsula. It's a long term development with support of many people and organizations to build an iconic midwest tour similar to the Tour Divide. How to follow the development of Made U.P. and the Lake Ehfect Made U.P. is constantly teasing more and more developments related to the bike, build, bags, and rack. While carefully planning a bike that is versatile (and practical) to use in four seasons on all terrains, Todd loves to make things U.P. as he goes and you can count on their more plot twists and big reveals as this evolves. As they're currently in the prototype and testing phase, Todd and Made U.P. are collaborating with Equinox Bicycles on continued design revisions during testing, Winnebago Bicycle, Morrow Packs, and Project Adventrus partner Marc Salm. To stay up to date, check out Made U.P. on Facebook and Instagram and visit their website for stories or to get in touch.
- SEELEY DAVE SHARES TRAILS, EVENTS, NEW DOG & AND A SPRING RIDING UPDATE [VIDEO]
After a long break, hyperborean reporters Seeley Dave and Cowboy are back with a new partner, Birkie, a 10-month-old puppy. It is crust season, so come on up and git sum while the ephemeral conditions last. This longer video gives you a tour of the Penman trails, including the tunnel and the old sawmill as well as the Seeley Hills and a bit of gravel. For more from Seeley Dave, visit the Life Above Eight website and YouTube channel.
- CRUSHER 2022: LOOKING BACK & PLANNING AHEAD [VIDEO]
The Crusher in the Upper Peninsula is scheduled for Saturday, July 16 (with Expedition versions offered all summer). Check out this sweet video from glowingrock of last year's 225 EX. I bikepacked some of this route last summer as well and can confirm it's bonkers. Learn more about The Crusher or view more videos from glowingrock.
- 2022 FAT BIKE BIRKIE RECAP: WAKING UP TO -16 DEGREES AND A PERFECT DAY FOR RACING
The 10th annual Fat Bike Birkie took place on Saturday, March 12, 2022. Due to the cold temperatures the race was pushed back two hours. In this story, James Kirchen shares a recap of his 2nd time racing. Story: James Kirchen, Chippewa Falls Photos: @americanbirkebeiner While only my second attempt at racing fat bike, and eager to get out and ride after months of training, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to find out there was a two hour delay due to very cold temperatures. The 2021 race was moved up due to over 40 degrees at the finish. That’s what you get for winters in Wisconsin. Staying in our cabin near Stone Lake, my brother-in-law (first time fat bike racer) and I woke to negative 16 degrees. "Those kinds of temperatures make you question your sanity, but we didn’t come all this way to bail. As I’ve heard it put – There’s no bad weather, just wrong gear." Race time for us and the rest of the half-fat was 10:15 am and the temps made it all the way up to zero degrees. Woo Hoo! Even at that temperature, I have to admit I had done no training, so what gear should I wear? Our plan was to just layer up and use hand and toe warmers. It was a beautiful sunny day. We followed the 350 full fat bikes out and the trails were unbelievably well groomed, packed hard, and fast. It was like riding a hard packed gravel road. Following the powerlines out was pretty easy until the pacer peeled off and we turned into the woods… up hill! With my nose and mouth the only exposed skin, it was my right-hand thumb that is numb as we start the race. Of course, a necessity for shifting for the next hour plus. As we hit the ups and downs of the trail, the ice on all the trees from the weekend before made for a sight that was spectacular. The sun is coming through and reflecting off those trees, all bent over the trail making it feel like you were riding through the woods with a glass ceiling. As my brother-in-law put it, “If I wasn’t busting my butt up all those hills, I could have enjoyed what was probably one of the best sights I’ve ever seen.” On we rode and found a couple aid stations with water, which I brought none of being it would freeze. As I grabbed a small cup, put it to my lips – why was I surprised it was warm? If it wasn’t warm, it would freeze. Thanks to those volunteers toughing out the cold as well as all the fans (especially our wives who were real troopers to stand around in that weather for over and hour). This year’s race felt a little faster for me even though my time was almost identical to last year. My brother-in-law, who had never experienced the Birkie trail simply said upon finishing, “I was not ready for hills like those!” By the time we got back to the cabin, got our post-race warm up drink, he was already thinking about next year. It was such a great day – I’d highly recommend this for anyone into fat bikes. With three different distances, there is a race for you – just find some hills to practice on. Already looking forward to next year but will soon hang up the fat tires for the road bike and mountain bike. On to another adventure.
- GRASS ROOTS & THE CRAPPER: DAVID MARKMAN ON SHOOTING GRAVEL PORTRAITS AT THE END OF MUDDY ROADS
David Markman made a shift from racing to photographing gravel races, ultras, and other competitive events. His photos capture grass roots community and cyclists fighting through their hardest hills. In this interview, we talk about his background and what the heck was up with that crapper. To view more of David's photography, visit his adventure photography website or check him out on Instagram. Photos: @markmanoutdoorphotography What makes you interested in photographing bike races and ultras I’ve raced cycling and ultra events for many years, and I’m a strong believer of giving back. My focus shifted after racing the tour divide in 2016. I was really burnt out of all things bikes. When you trained as much as I did to overcome such a wild race as the divide you end up eating, sleeping and living on your bike. I had lost touch with why I got into cycling in the first place, I had lost touch with friends and family. I needed to take a break from bikes but I loved the community I had become a part of. So I decided to pick up a camera a start photographing small events, it really just grew from there. I still ride bikes but now it’s at a dad pace with my girls. Maybe one day I’ll get back into ultras. You've photographed a zillion races. What's your favorite and why? I don’t know if I have a favorite they are all so unique and I enjoy every one. I enjoy working with races that still have a grass roots feel because that’s what got my into ultras. It wasn’t big events with aero helmets and a call up for all the pros who were going to destroy the field. It was guys in jean shorts and sleeveless flannel who would stop mid race and enjoy the place they were in and probably pass around a malty beverage. These are the kind of events I can be the story teller. I can bounce around and find outstanding spots to capture the blood, sweat and tears. Typically it will be at the top of every hill or at the end of the muddiest road. I saw a great photo of you wearing Crocs on a toilet in the middle of a gravel road. What's the story there? Haha yeah that’s a good one. I’m a part of an event called the filthy 50. As a part of that we have this unspoken option for racers to “catch the crapper”. We put a toilet on course near the end of the race and people can sit on it and get their photo taken. There are always snacks and beverages there but it gives people the motivation to keep going. If you’ve made it to the crapper then you can finish the race. I ended up photographing the crapper last year and needed some test shots so I photographed myself. Not too often I can post a photo of myself on the toilet. Do you bike? If so, what bike and where do you love to ride? Like I said I still ride but not as fast or as much as I used to. Family pace is good for now, I like watching the kids figure it out. Hopefully they will want to race when they get older. I wish high school bike programs were a thing when I was in school. Favorite camera? Oh my Nikon D850 for sure, it is a beast of a camera-but I rarely use it for events other than headshots before the race. I have two Nikon D7200 that have been my work horse event cameras from day one. They both have over half a million shutter clicks. I have put them through rain, snow, mud, drops, basically the ringer and they keep up with me. I don’t mind shooting with older equipment as long as I have good glass. I put all of my money into my lenses.