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- RIDE THE NORPINE FAT BIKE CLASSIC AT LUTSEN
The Norpine Fat Bike Classic is fast approaching on January 29th. Enjoy the best of winter up north while riding through stands of old growth cedars on Pisten Bully groomed trails overlooking Lake Superior. The Norpine Fat Bike Classic has two distances: The Long Pine (30 miles) and the Short Pine (19 miles). The event is put on by the the Superior Cycling Association and all proceeds benefit the Norpine Trail Association. To learn more about the events, head over to the race website.
- BIKES, PHOTOS, & FATHERHOOD WITH JOSH KOWALESKI OF POINTED NORTH
A free spirit cyclist and photographer from Duluth Minnesota, Josh Kowaleski looks for nontraditional ways to document adventures. Last year he became a dad and is enjoying the new pace of life while growing his photography project, Pointed North Photo. In this interview, we discuss bikes, fatherhood, and some of his favorite shoots. I first met Josh in college at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. We both rock climbed and rode bikes. I still have a homemade cribbage board that he gave me when I got married over a decade ago. We've lived in different states for a while now but continue to follow each other's bike adventures. I'm extremely proud to get to share his work with you in this interview. Tell me about your photography project, Pointed North Photo, and where are you headed with it? Pointed North as a concept came out of a bit of boredom in 2015. I was tired of my instagram handle and was kicking around some new ideas and I had no idea that it would inevitably be something I could build a brand around years later. I liked the image of a compass and always having a constant bearing , a consistent reference point to make decisions around, a basic guiding principle. I liked the imagery it conjured up in my mind of wandering the woods, exploring. Like most everyone knows, all good things are found the further north you go. I came up with Pointed North and it stuck. Where am I headed with it? As with any adventure, I’m not quite sure. I'm going to keep going in this direction though with Active Family Portraiture and see where it takes me. I hope it brings me all around the region, documenting all the different people who live up here, doing the things that they enjoy the most with those they love the most. Things like skiing the first set of tracks through droopy pines while quarter sized flakes fall from the sky. Or, riding steep and gnarly singletrack on your mountain bike while your dog nips at your heels. Maybe it’s chasing trout with your loved one, fly rods in hand as you journey up a North Shore stream? Those are the moments that keep us here. Big loud moments and small quiet ones. I want to capture them all and I want to share them. You’re originally from Northern Minnesota? What’s it like finding new ways to document an area where you’ve lived almost your entire life? Yup! I was born in Duluth and spent my early childhood in the U.P. of Michigan and then we moved to Minnesota. I love it here. Between the bike, the camera I feel like you have no choice but to see things differently, even if it’s the same gravel road you’ve been down a million times before. The bike forces your body to move at the pace of the land and to engage with it. The camera forces your eye to look for fun details. The two in combination are magical. Then you just play in the woods. It always feels new. I’m fortunate to live where I do. I’m fortunate to have quick access to adventures that are large and adventures that are small, right from my doorstep. There’s a running list of things to do and you get to configure those combinations of things to do based on what the weather and your time frame give you. There’s an infinite combination and I feel in some ways like I’ve only just started, despite living a whole lifetime up here. It’s my opinion that if you’re bored it’s your own fault. What gear do you shoot with? I'm pretty in love with the Fujifilm X System. I love the mechanical and tactile feel of the bodies with all of their dials.Their lineup of lenses are amazing, and the big thing is that it’s all really packable. The cameras are little powerhouses and because they’re unassuming and retro in aesthetic I feel they allow me to be in a scene and to shoot portraits of people without it feeling intimidating or like they’re in a big production photo shoot. The camera’s are unassuming and I love that quality the most. My kit for shooting most everything is my x-t4 paired to my 50-140mm f2.8 and my 10-24mm f4. For portrait work I use the x-t4 with a 50mm f1.0. As a second camera I have an x-t20 with a 27mm f2.8 pancake lens. This combination is tiny. It's pocketable and easy to slip into a pack. This combination is the most unassuming and allows for some really intimate shots. This combination is mostly used for my own, personal documentation of my family, but it does land in a pack and join me every now and again.. What bike are you riding these days and what routes and events have you been into? Bikes:Living in Duluth I have access to a lot of different types of riding and that lends itself to having a line of tools for the different types of “jobs”. I love steel and tend to lean that way with my bike choices. To keep the list short, I won’t go through all of the bikes but I will say that if it came down to choosing the bike that would be the very last one to leave my collection, it would be my custom Surly Karate Monkey Single Speed. I just love that bike. It’s purpose built to tackle everything that Northern Minnesota has to offer and it is just a riot to ride. I have a few different parts to configure it in a few different ways. It’s simple. It’s reliable. It’s versatile and It’s steel. I’ve put a LOT of miles on that bike and it is my personal favorite in a lineup of some pretty sweet bikes. Routes & Events: I haven’t participated in an event in a while, between COVID and the welcomed addition in our family of my Son, I’m not in a spot to tackle as many events in a year as I have in the past. Most recently a group of likeminded dad’s all got together and we rolled the 50 mile edition of the 2021 Heck of the North. Prior to COVID and the arrival of my son, I routinely enjoyed a LOT of the events that our region hosts. 2019 was a pretty big year on the bike for me. I do all of my long distance stuff on the single speed and checked of the Mid South 100, Lutsen 199er (shuttled to the start, rode the race, rode home to Duluth) which was prep for the CRUSHER 225 Point to Point in the Upper Peninsula, and there was a few mountain bike races in there too with events like the Wausau 24. I closed out the season with a fat-bike adventure with a few friends, riding to a remote checkpoint in the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon where we volunteered as dog handlers for the mushers. That was probably the highlight of the 2019 season for me. The region is so full of all kinds of fun events that you can keep yourself as busy as you want to, year round. As far as routes go, I prefer to mostly ramble around and see where I can get to on my bike. I got into bikepacking this way and I think it’s the most fun. Growing up in this region and seeing a lot of remote places from a Jeep or an ATV really opened my eyes to what’s possible on the bike. My first bikepacking trip was simply a trip to see if I could get to this one remote spot that my family used to go to with our Jeep, and to try and get there by bike. I then just continued to try and visit those places that were so far out there but by bike. No route, just riding familiar roads and trails. This is more my style. Pick a spot and go there, simply because you want to see what’s there. It seems like a lot of your photography centers around families that are active together; why has that been such a focus? The short answer is that I like people! Ha! The longer answer is that I really think it’s a fun niche that I haven’t seen represented in photography. We see classic family portraits, everyone all wearing the same color, posed, multi generational etc. That’s great! Those images are important. I am just not good at taking them. This style that I’m embracing grew out of shooting images of my friends riding their bikes, hitting jumps and screwing around in the woods. It’s morphed into this category that’s between action sports photography and family portraiture. It’s families recreating together. It’s sweaty, it’s dirty, it’s raw and it’s real. I have shots ranging from a family day at the cabin, with the dog about to steal an ice cream cone out of the hands of a toddler, to images of teenage boys hitting big, gapped jumps over their parents. I don’t pose stuff. I just come along for the ride with your family and document “you” doing whatever it is that you all like to do. It’s a blast and every shoot is different! You recently became a dad; how have you found a balance between an active lifestyle and being a young parent? Early on it was a bit difficult but now that he's bigger and more sturdy, we have adopted a philosophy that “he goes where we go and he does what we do”. Obviously this is within reason, but lately I just bundle him up, throw him in the pack or the sled and head out. I’m tuned in enough with him where I can read his body language and interpret his verbals and make decisions around him. In the winter he seems good for about an hour to an hour and a half outside, so I just tailor my adventures around him and keep them in that time frame. Knock on wood we haven’t had any major meltdowns in the woods yet. No long hikes back to the car with him screaming or crying. To be honest, I don’t really care if I ever do another long distance race or event. I want to do as many adventures as I can with him, at his pace, on his time, however he wants to do them. That’s my adventure now. That’s my goal. Follow him around and just try and keep up. I feel like if that’s the approach, balance shouldn’t be too hard to come by. To view more photos or learn more about Josh Kowaleski, check out Pointed North Photography or follow his photography on instagram.
- POLAR ROLL: TODD POQUETTE ON HOW BACON, HORRIBLE WEATHER BUILD COMMUNITY
The 906 Adventure Team is gearing up for the 2022 Polar Roll on February 12. As usual, the event is full of a challenging variety of fatbike and snowshoe events and of course...bacon. In this interview, I chat with Polar Roll Race Director, Todd Poquette. Todd is well known for creating new categories of pain as well as community. The crew in Marquette Michigan works harder and takes bigger risks to come up with new ways to create memorable bike adventures. We talk about his philosophy around challenging adventures, how bacon became an on-course staple, and what exactly makes the Polar Roll such an icon. All photos by Ryan Stevens Photo @ryanstephensphoto Todd, where did the Polar Roll idea even come from? We had this local fat bike event called the “World Snowbike Championship” or something like that. It piggybacked a large nordic event in the community and covered nothing but nordic ski trails. I kept asking myself and a few others the same questions: “Why the heck are we piggybacking a ski event?” And “Why the heck are we going to crown someone the World Snowbike Champion for winning a road race?” It just seemed sacrilegious and boring. Here we are in Marquette County, Michigan, on the edge of a fat bike boom, and in a community that is setting the standard for fat bike grooming… and we are gonna host a world championship on ski trails? NO. You should always ask yourself “What can we do that no one can do better?” In Marquette, the answer was simple: create one helluva lotta snow and groom trails specifically for fat bikes. That was the vision in its most simple form. Step 2: Identify a course. I wanted to link trails groomed by RAMBA and NTN to create an epic P2P adventure. I also wanted to see the communities work together (west end and Marquette). We are like every other community, we have our little weird politics and special groups. I felt the more we could bring the two sides together the better things will be for everyone. I’d say for the most part the majority of people bought into it and continue to buy into it still today. Step 3: Identify who this event is for. This was the beginning of how Polar Roll and the rest of our events have set themselves apart. We looked at Polar Roll as more of an adventure, not just a race. You know what makes an event a race? Two people lining up side-by-side with one goal - to kick the other person’s butt. What I’m saying is, you can create an experience for everyone and make it accessible to everyone, and you’ll still have 10% of your field show up solely for the chance to race. We’ve always promoted “race it or ride it”. People should be able to come to an event and experience that event in whatever way will best serve their needs and interests. Polar Roll has always been and will always be more than just a race… it’s a freaking adventure. What’s up with the on-course bacon? I mean… it’s bacon! There’s nothing else to say. I’m kidding, there is. So Chris Holm and a crew from the “Tuesday Night Rieboldt Ride” group decided to put an aid station out on the course, most likely because our events don’t offer aid stations. We tell folks they’re self-supported, but it was never intended to mean you couldn’t get help from someone, it just meant WE weren’t going to help you. Chris and his crew set the bar that year. They absolutely crushed it. It was another moment in life, for me at least, that if you pay attention there’s always something to learn, sometimes in the most unlikely places. I wanna say they set-up about 4-miles from the finish line - and you could not have predicted how perfect it would be. Riders were coming into “Hugs & Bacon” literally crying for their mommas. The course was brutal! They’d roll in and the first words uttered are “I’m done!” or some other iteration of profanity laced exhaustion. But then they had some bacon, and after bacon they drank whiskey, and after the whiskey they had more bacon, and then more whiskey. They’d go from DONE to LETS DO THIS in three shots. It was magic. Well, bacon and whiskey if I’m being honest, but I saw something that day…. Actually I saw a lot of things that day. I watched people come together who you’d never expect to see together… and in my view it was the adversity that brought em’ together. Their differences didn’t matter - what did matter was getting through that course alive. And the aid station… I saw how grateful people were to receive help when they needed it and didn’t expect it… and I saw the people who offered that help feel genuinely good for doing something for someone else… and getting nothing back in return except a sincere thank you. I guess you could say bacon brings out the best in us. What’s the snowflake challenge? It sounds wimpy. The snowflake challenge is just another stupid idea we came up with last year as part of the EX format, EX meaning EXPEDITION, meaning you literally are on your own. EX was our answer to the pandemic. We were extremely fortunate to find ourselves in the position we were in when we needed to #adapt. I recorded a video on my phone and basically told people “Listen, we’ve been telling you for six-years you’re self-supported and on your own, it’s for real this year! We were one of the few events to operate that summer and since then the format has blown up. We have been able to reach a whole new group of people… but I digress… you asked about the Snowflake. You have to complete the EX-30FB (fatbike), EX-30SS (snowshoe), IQ Test (duathlon), and a Director’s Choice. Complete them all and get a hand forged belt buckle. Easy! You have a lot of great photos of people falling in the snow. How much pain should riders expect? Pain is overrated and temporary. I wouldn’t be too worried about pain to be honest, but I would be worried about mind games. We looooove mind games. I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me when someone calls and says “Hey, you sent me the wrong gpx file… I signed up for the 40 but the file shows a 60-mile route…” and then I laugh… because they have the right file. It’s what we do. Routes are never what we say they are, and never short! I have this little slogan I like to share with people “Life isn’t fair. The world isn’t safe. There is no finish line.” When you come to a 906AT event you are going to be tested and have to prove you can prevail when everything is literally stacked against you. ANYONE can be successful in a controlled environment where everything HAS to be fair, and the RULES are leveraged to make an experience predictable. THAT’S EASY. If that’s your deal, cool. BUT IT’S NOT OURS. We joke about pain, and ya it’s gonna hurt at some point, but it’s so much more than that… but I hate to even try to articulate it… because I think you have to experience it. You have to give it a chance to change you. You have to give yourself the opportunity to prove you’re better than you believe you are… and that’s really what it comes down to for a lot of people…. They don’t believe in themselves…. So they need a kick in the butt… I’m kinda the friend you don’t want…. But need. I just want to see people succeed, see a life they didn’t envision for themself, and have the balls and fortitude to go after it…. And never stop going after it…. Regardless of how far they have to go… or who’s toes they might step on… THERE IS NO FINISH LINE… If you are not where you want to be today…. KEEP GOING. DO NOT QUIT. Be honest, do you hope for great weather or terrible weather? I ALWAYS WANT THE MOST TERRIBLE WEATHER. "Double Trouble" and "The Duathlon" both sound horrible. How horrible are they? I like to look at stuff like this as an opportunity for personal growth. That’s why we are always changing routes, courses, venues, rules, etc. No idea is off limits. The first winter duathlon we offered was the IQ Test. That is our EX-15FB in one direction immediately followed by the EX-15SS… and you must complete both in 24-hours. That was fun. Funny story… Roy comes up to the long snowshoe with his son last year. They proceed to crush it and document the adventure with photographs along the way through Facebook. One small problem - they didn’t wear snowshoes for the snowshoe event. So I had to disqualify him and his punishment, if you want to call it that, was that he’d have to come back and do it again with me, but this time we’re doing both the EX-30FB + EX-30SS back to back… and I called it the Duathlon for Dummies. That’s the stuff we do - we make fun of ourselves. Which is refreshing these days because it seems like people are really losing their sense of humor… and if you lose that… it’s all downhill from there. And everyone knows how much I dislike downhills… Double Trouble will be great, until it isn’t. Are they horrible? Sure. Learning how to persevere and smile when thinks are absolutely fricking horrible is a skill everyone needs to learn. 906 Adventure Team always seems to have ambitious goals. What’s coming down the pipe for 906AT? More Adventures. More Adventure Teams. We never rest. Good is not good enough. This year's event takes place on February 12, 2022. If you want to learn more about the 2022 Polar Roll, first ask yourself, are you absolutely sure? If so, head on over to their race website here.
- LEARNING FROM FAILURE ON THE TUSCOBIA WINTER ULTRA
Chad Weberg has done the Tuscobia 80-mile race on foot five times. Recently he got more into biking and entered the 160-mile bike event for the first time. In this story and video, Chad discusses his preparation, race day, and what he learned that ultimately lead to his DNF. Author: Chad Weberg I’m not a rookie to the Tuscobia Winter Ultra but this year I was a rookie to the bike discipline. I’ve ran the 80 mile race on foot 5 times. In the past 2 years I have gotten into biking and bikepacking. This coming June I’ll be biking in the Tour Divide event from Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. So, to keep the wheels turning this winter I jumped into the fat tire bike world, and what better event to enter than the Tuscobia Winter Ultra. Some asked: “Why not start with the 80 mile distance?” Well, I don’t like to do anything that I think is easy. So, signing up for the 160 miler winter fat bike ultra race was the only choice. So late summer I started my search for a fat tire bike and like anything right now the supply chain has put a damper on finding something you really want or need. But I was lucky enough to find a very gently used bike in Missouri. Took a day trip from Wisconsin and picked it up. Even while living in Wisconsin the real life training for this race is very short as we had a fairly dry and not terribly cold November and December. I put in lots of miles but wasn’t able to test all my gear I’d use for the race much. In past years controlling body temperature was critical. I like the cold, so staying warm wasn’t an issue but that isn’t a good thing if you get too warm in extreme cold temperatures. So now doing this on a bike I knew it would be something I had to really keep under control. I bought all new bike clothes: base layers, thermal layers, and outer shell. They worked great! Not once during the first half of the race was I ever too warm and I was completely dry………. Except my feet. Oops….. I didn’t give enough attention to footwear. I mean I ran the 80 miler with up to 36 hours of time out on the trail in just trail running shoes and never had an issue keeping them warm. I acquired a pair of used Fall/Spring riding shoes. During training I used a favorite pair of wool socks and some neoprene shoe covers. This worked well but the conditions were not extreme. Temperatures were in the teens to 30’s for the most part. Training rides were also only 6 hours or less. So, come race day the forecast was -6 at the start and highs on Saturday only reaching zero. By the time I got to mile 78 just shy of half way in the race my feet and specifically my big toes were struggling at temperatures back into the sub-zero readings. I had stopped at mile 50 to do a complete sock change and warm them up as they were never really warm the entire race. Getting back out there they felt good for the first hour but as the sun went down the temps dropped again. While biking, blood circulation in your feet is not the same as walking. So, I got off the bike and walked a few hills and even flat sections to try and warm them up to no avail. As the pain increased my motivation sank to a dark place. I stopped and took my shoes off to inspect the damage. The big toes were starting to turn grey/black, early stage of frostbite. This was when I threw in the towel versus risking further damage. My race ended after 78 miles and just over 15 hours. Every DNF is heartbreaking, but we need to learn from our failures and improve for the next challenge. Of course I’m now shopping for new “winter” cycling boots but also looking at other lessons learned. I carried too much gear. While it was less gear than I pulled in my sled during previous events, it was too much gear for the bike. Looking back I had no need for half the gear I carried. I could have dropped that weight and still had emergency gear for those situations if they would have arose. Live and Learn! Enjoy the video! A passion I have is to capture the experiences I encounter while doing events like Tuscobia. My hopes are to motivate others to get outside and get them out of their comfort zone doing something new! To learn more about the Tuscobia Winter Ultra, visit their race website. More of Chad Weberg's videos can be found on his YouTube channel.
- HUNGRY BEAR 100: SEELEY DAVE TAKES OVER & SHARES 2022 OUTLOOK
Dave Schlabowske of Life Above Eight just announced that he's taking over the Hungry Bear 100, a well-loved gravel race in Cable Wisconsin. In this interview, we talk about how he came to be the new Race Director and some of his favorite things about the Northwoods of Wisconsin. To learn more, visit the Hungry Bear. Hey Dave, tell us about the Hungry Bear 100. The Hungry Bear 100 is a gravel race started in 2008 by Tim Krueger (Esker Cycles/Terrene Tires) and Mick Endersbe (The Rivers Eatery/Tilly’s Pies). The race began just to promote the great gravel riding around the tiny town of Cable, WI. Tim is from the area, and now runs Esker Cycles and Terrene Tires. Mick moved to the area and opened the Rivers Eatery and Tilly’s Pies, which have become the unofficial finish lines of every race and event in the area. How is Hungry Bear 100 different from other gravel rides and what made you interested in taking it over? I moved to Seeley, WI in December of 2020 after I was offered the executive director job for the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association. The new CAMBA strategic plan called for expanding CAMBA staff with funds from a new small portfolio of events. I knew Tim’s business was growing and he had offered his events (he also has the Chequamegon 100 MTB race) to CAMBA a few years ago, but CAMBA was not ready to own events then. Once I took the job as ED, I talked to Tim and we agreed CAMBA would take over his events in 2022. Unfortunately, soon after I accepted the CAMBA job, some key members of the board of directors left and there was a shift in priorities. The new board president told me he was not a big believer in events for CAMBA and so I resigned as that was a focus of mine, and I was no longer a good fit for the organization. That left Tim still needing someone to take over his events. I shadowed Tim and his wife Odia at the 2021 events and really liked the DIY vibe and associated low participant cost common to that style of race. When you skip all the age group prizes, podiums, etc., you can keep registration fees low. I also liked the “family reunion” feel to the events (where everyone knew Tim and Odia as well as many of the other racers.) So, to make sure the events don’t die, I agreed to take them over. I created the Life Above 8, LLC to hold ownership. I will manage them until I can find a permanent home. Perhaps if CAMBA hires a new executive director and the organization wants to own events again, I can turn them over at that time. Until then, I will keep them running. Are there any changes you’re planning for this year or future years of Hungry Bear 100? I love exploring all the gravel and trails in the Chequamegon area. The route options are endless and ever changing as timber sales open up new logging roads that create new connections to forest roads. So I definitely would like to change the route at some point but not this first year. I’m gonna keep the route the same. I am also interested in promoting a bit more diversity at the start line. I’m not yet sure how to do that, but I am in some early conversations with equity leaders in the gravel/bikepacking community. Hopefully we can make something good happen in the equity arena. This event starts and ends in Cable, WI and centers around The Rivers Eatery. What’s so special about Cable and the Rivers Eatery? I’m glad you asked that. First, part of the early idea and planning for the Hungry Bear came from Mick Endersbe who owned the business with his wife Beth. There was a time when Gary Penman created the Sawmill Saloon down the road in Seeley and that became the unofficial finish line for the area ski and bike races. The Sawmill is less than a mile from where I live, so it remains my neighborhood watering hole, but Mick and Beth really worked to embrace the silent sports community at the Rivers. Besides serving awesome brick oven pizza and a wide selection of area craft beers, the walls are covered with ski and bike jerseys from famous pros, bikes with historic significance hang from the rafters, and Dirt Rag (RIP) and Silent Sports magazines were always on the tables. So Rivers has been the new unofficial finish line for area bike and ski events for a while now. Mick and Beth created a great business and worked hard to promote the tiny town of Cable to the silent sports crowd. In a sense, they did in Cable with the Rivers Eatery what Gary Penman did in Seeley with the Sawmill Saloon. Now Gary did a lot more things related to ski trails and home-building, but I think the parallels are valid. When people put that much heart and soul into a business, it is often rewarded with a very loyal following of people who think of themselves as more than customers. Tim, Odia, Mick and Beth have that characteristic in common. You recently started Life Above Eight; what’s that all about? While I am trying to be semi-retired after 20+ years as a bike advocate working for the Wisconsin Bike Fed and as the first City of Milwaukee Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, I do still need an outlet for my creative energy. Once I left CAMBA, I decided to create a new website to share my thoughts, photos, videos and promote what I love about this corner of the Wisconsin Northwoods. The site is mostly about biking/bikepacking, but will also include future content about skiing, hunting, fishing, the events I work on and what it is like to move to the Northwoods. My wife and I have worked our whole professional careers in the non-profit and public service sectors. People can read more about my wacky background on the About Me page of my website if they are curious. We still want to be part of a community and try to give back. The Hungry Bear and Cheq 100 races donate all profits after expenses back to the community. So that fits well with the Life Above 8 “Up North for Good” tagline. We have moved Up North for good (instead of visiting on vacations) but we also want to give back as we meet more of our neighbors and learn more about our new locale. Apart from Rivers Eatery and Hungry Bear, what are some of your favorite things in the Northwoods? That is another really good question. My mom is from Park Falls, and I have been vacationing “Up North” since I was a little kid, so I have come to love things like 100-year-old resorts, little taverns, deer hunting, fishing and supper clubs. But honestly, being Up North is really about interacting with the living forests and lakes and trying to learn to understand them better. I don’t mean just learning phenology and how to identify red dogwood, etc, I mean really trying to learn from the land and water. I’m not a real spiritual guy, but the more time I spend in the forest and the more I slow down to smell, look, listen and reflect, the more I feel like I become part of that world, which is an incredibly rewarding feeling. The forest is a community made up of living things that all communicate with each other, depend on each other, etc. The more time I spend in the woods, the more I feel like I am standing in a crowd in a foreign country where I only understand a tiny bit of what is being said around me. But the more I begin to learn about that forest community, the more rewarding every bike ride, hike, snowshoe or ski trip I do is. I still know next to nothing, but I’m trying to learn little bits every time I go outside. The Indigenous communities who were forced out of this land understood that so much better than we do. From what I have read, the early voyageurs seemed to have understood that they could learn a lot from the Indigenous tribes they traded furs with. It is such a tragic missed opportunity that western Europeans tried to erase all that culture rather than learn from it. I honestly think the world would be a much better place if they had. I hope that doesn’t come across as too preachy, but for a guy whose parents left the Catholic church when I was only 3-years-old, the forest has become my church and listening to it and trying to learn from it my new religion. Dave, you’ve been the architect of several incredible routes and events, you just took over Hungry Bear and Chequamegon 100, and Life Above Eight is quickly becoming a home base for Northwoods bike adventures. Why? Why have you poured so much of yourself into this area? Boy, I really like bicycling, camping and Wisconsin’s amazing Northwoods. Remember; I worked in bicycle advocacy for more than 20 years. When I like something, I like to try to share that enthusiasm with others. It’s kind of like when you taste something really delicious at a new restaurant, you want to share it with people at your table and might even wonder how you can make it at home. Gravel riding and bikepacking in the Wisconsin Northwoods are something that once I tasted it, I loved it and wanted everyone to try. What else should we know about the Hungry Bear 100? Just that we will monitor the whole Pandemic/Covid thing and take safety precautions as needed. Last year we had a mask requirement at the start and didn’t plan an after party. Hopefully we won’t need those protocols and everyone can get together and socialize in close quarters this year, but that will be determined by what happens in the future. This year's Hungry Bear 100 is scheduled for May 14, 2022. If you're interested in riding in the event, head over to Life Above Eight to learn more and sign up.
- HEY THERE, WE'RE THE NXRTH.
Author: Josh Rizzo @the_nxrth The Nxrth is your basecamp for all things gravel, fat, and bikepacking in the Northwoods of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the U.P. We'll be posting regular event coverage, ride reports, and stories of the creative and adventurous cyclists from around these parts. Hey friends and riding partners! This is Josh Rizzo from The Nxrth. I started this site in January of 2022 to tell your stories and highlight the incredible, wild, and beautiful places we love to ride. Join the community by signing up for The Nxrth newsletter and we'll keep you in the know. Let's ride! About Me Based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, I'm a sucker for overnighters, winter cycling, and biking to the local pizza farm with my wife and kids. I love short adventures. My main philosophy around bike adventures comes from Edmund Hillary (the first person to climb Mount Everest's summit) who said, "I have found that long expeditions are rarely as much fun as short ones". My goal is to connect the off-pavement cycling community with the best events, people, and destinations in the Northwoods. If you have a story or event you want to share, feel free to get in touch! What Does "The Nxrth" Mean? You know what, that's a great question. The answer is...I'm not exactly sure. I love the feeling of having our own special thing in the Northwoods and I guess the "x" reminds me of turning every ride into an adventure, getting off-grid, finding new paths, and just enjoying creation together. Wow - what a beautiful world we live in! (Plus, adding an "x" just makes everything look cooler.) New Here? Here's Where To Start. I'm jacked that you stopped in to check the place out! Here is where I recommend starting. 1. Join The Nxrth newsletter The number one way to join the community and learn about new events, connect with other cyclists, and read route reports. 2. Follow us on Instagram Get inspired with beautiful photography of epic rides from your own neighbors doing what they love most: riding bikes and trying not to get injured. 3. Join us on Patreon for exclusive early access to new bikepacking routes, Gravel Guides, and new merch discounts: Support the community and adventures you love up north by joining us on Patreon. Your support helps us grow this community and we'll give you exclusive early access whenever we have a new bikepacking route or Gravel Guide. 4. Discover an incredible gravel race or fatbiking race with our complete event listings. The Nxrth has the only complete listing of every single gravel and fatbike race in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and U.P. 5. Check out our extensive map collection of WI Bikepacking & MN Bikepacking routes. This is my favorite part of the website, our collection of bikepacking routes to discover new adventures right here in the woods that we live in and love. Well, hey, keep in touch. Have a story to share or just want to say "hi"? Reach out at josh at thenxrth dot com. Hopefully I'll get to meet more of you, ride together, or bump into eachother at an event someday. In the meantime, poke around the site and let me know what we can add. Thanks! Josh Rizzo
- THE EXTENDED MAMMOTH GRAVEL XL [VIDEO]
In early 2021, Scott Haraldson and his friends took on Bikepacking.com's new Mammoth Gravel Loop. It's a 105 mile route with 75% of it being upaved. Just for fun, they added another 75 miles to make it a 3 day, 2 night loop. See their trip video and stunning drone shots in Scott's most recent film. Mammoth Gravel Loop Route Details:
- STRADDLE & PADDLE WITH NO PLAN [ROUTE REPORT]
We had a plan. Not a good one. But we did officially have a plan. We would go on a four-day bikepacking adventure on gravel north country roads and hope that every single person we talked to on the phone was wrong. That was the plan. How Did I Get Here? I got into bikepacking because I’ve always loved the challenge and freedom I feel with every other kind of packing: backpacking, canoe-packing, hitchhike-packing, bike-canoe-packing, and scooter-packing (kidding about the scooter). Here’s why I was attracted to bikepacking. It gives you the ability to enjoy outdoor adventures at a faster pace than canoeing and hiking and in a more remote way than traditional bike touring on paved roads. The Plan We heard about a bikepacking route in Northern Minnesota called “Straddle and Paddle” from my favorite website, bikepacking.com. It promised everything I could want: endless gravel roads, thick lake-y forests, and the world’s best donuts. So seven buddies and I spent a year researching, buying gear, and generally overanalyzing the entire trip. But planning is half the fun, right? The Problem There was only one problem. Campsites. No, campsites themselves weren’t the problem. I mean, we found campsites, but the vast majority were booked, and the few remaining were non reservable. It was the weekend of several very large tourist events in the area. The events were cancelled because of Covid but the crowds still came en masse. I refreshed the reservation websites every day for months. And we made phone calls. Lots of phone calls. We called the forest service, campgrounds, bike shops, and churches. Over the phone, they all had the same answer. “We’ve been booked for months and haven’t had one single cancellation.” One kind-hearted person even told us, “You literally chose the worst weekend of the year. This is our single busiest weekend and you’re not going to find a campsite.” “What if we just show up to campgrounds?” I asked. “You can try”, she said. “There are a few first-come-first-serve sites, but I doubt you’ll get one”. With eight hearts full of unfounded hope, we embarked on our trip despite having not just one, but three nights with nowhere to stay. The Arrival Night One: After navigating the winding gravel roads and eating a greasy burger at The Tressle Inn, it was time to find our first place to sleep. There was one single non reservable campsite in the vicinity of our first destination. That’s right. You didn’t read one campground; you read one campsite. Not good odds, I’ll admit. But we had no choice. So we got to the end of the trail and the forest broke open to a stunning campsite on gorgeous Windy lake...and no one else was there! We got our first campsite. We swam, we fished, we ate freeze-dried meals, and we couldn't believe that the prettiest campsite we’d seen was just waiting for our group of hopeful bikepackers. Night Two: Our odds would improve but the circumstances wouldn’t. Our bike ride for the day included a lunch swim on Mistletoe Lake as well as a friendly bear sighting. For the night, we were aiming for a tiny campground of four sites at the Cascade River Rustic Campground. More sites than the previous night, but we’d be arriving on a Friday which is the hardest night of the week to get a campsite during the light season and this would be the peak of the busy season. We rolled in after a tiring day on Minnesota’s loveliest and crunchiest gravel hoping that just one site would be open. Here’s what we found. Site 1: taken. Site 2: taken. Site 3: taken. Site 4: Open! We got lucky again and our band of bikepacking brothers just barely scored a second campsite in two days. Night Three: Beautiful Grand Marais. This would be a tricky one. If we didn’t find an open site at the municipal campground (which they assured us we wouldn’t) then we’d have to bike 4 miles back up the Gunflint Trail (Gunflint Trail? More like Gunflint Mountain...) to look for dispersed camping in the dark, dense National Forest. It was technically an option, but nobody wanted to do it. We rolled up to the campground in the pouring rain and they let us know that they were almost completely full for the night...except for 2 campsites. Luck was on our side again as we completed 3 nights in a row of extremely unlikely campsites. We woke up the last morning and stopped at The World’s Best Donuts on our way out of Grand Marais. We enjoyed those sugary rings of dough as the waves lapped onto the shoreline. Our final day of biking treated us to lakeviews, river gorges, and many wonderful miles on the Gitchi-Gami Trail before making it back to our vehicles. Thank you, Minnesota, for the incredible trails, delicious donuts, and enough luck to get 8 guys through 3 nights without a solid plan. Bikepacking Cook County: If You Go. Bikepacking Northing Minnesota is wild. The gravel roads and mountain bike trails are abundant and the options are endless. If you’d like to embark on our route, start at bikepacking.com/routes/straddle-and-paddle/. There are many different variations you can take and the trip overview gives fantastic suggestions for campsites, burger joints, swimming holes, and an optional paddle in the Boundary Waters. The route is best accessed between May and October and can easily be adapted to be anywhere from an overnighter to a 5-day epic week on the trail. If you go on this route, please take extra care in following leave-no-trace principles. There are many visitors to the National Forest and it’s important to preserve the outdoors for future generations. My last suggestion? You guessed it. Plan ahead and make sure to set up at least one or two campsite reservations. Want more? Check out the adventure film, “Gitchi”, that we made of this trip to see our exact trip and the great experience that we had.
- FROSTY FLUFFY TRAILS ON THE WRONG BIKE
Every year winter comes around and I talk myself out of getting a fat bike. I remind myself that last year we didn’t get that much snow and I probably won’t get enough use out of one anyway. It would sit in my garage while I run my cold errands on the studded tires of my all-road Kona Rove ST. Then came 2020-21 which included: 1. A global pandemic 2. Minimal travel 3. Everything that’s fun was closed And of course: 4. Plenty of soft beautiful rideable snow That was all fine and good except for one little problem: Fat bikes were sold out everywhere. A few friends jumped on the train early enough, called a bunch of bike shops all over the state, drove a couple of hours, and snagged one while it was still early. I wasn’t so quick to the punch. You already know what happened next: The snow fell, the fat bikes went out en masse, and I twiddled my thumbs with more than a little jealousy. But to be honest, winter has always been a favorite season of mine for cycling. Hardly anybody else is out, the frosted trees and trails are beautiful, and (if dressed appropriately) the cold, authentic wind on your face feels amazing. So I resolve to get out anyway...even though I’m riding the “wrong” bike. My Kona Rove ST isn’t a fat bike but it is: a.) Equipped with studded tires for the ice and b.) Tons and tons of fun on the snow. I regularly get out to ride weekly for coffee runs, trail riding (not groomed fat bike trails though, of course), social rides with a friend… ...and generally just messing around on a fun bike during a beautiful winter season.
- PIZZA RIDE WITH MOM [VIDEO]
One of our family traditions for the last several summers has been biking to a local pizza farm. Pizza is an easy crowd-pleaser, but it tastes even better in a wood-fired oven at the farm with ingredients that were just picked. Farm to Fork Retreat is a pizza farm that is the perfect distance for a dinner bike destination. We live in the middle of Eau Claire and it’s about 20 miles door-to-door. This gives us plenty of time to work up an appetite while taking in the gorgeous hills, overlapping farms, and woodsy country roads that we love about Wisconsin. Biking With Mom Just a few weeks before this trip, our family got a trail-a-bike. We already do a lot of biking and our 3-year-old has learned how to ride a pedal bike by himself, but the trail-a-bike gives us the freedom to go much further than he could ride in one trip. After installing the trail-a-bike we realized his feet couldn’t quite reach the pedals so we strapped on a few wooden blocks and, voila, we were in business. I (Dad) pulled a Burley trailer with our 10-month-old twins and got to take some video shots of our son spending quality time with Mom on her maiden voyage pulling the trail-a-bike. He didn’t exactly offer a lot of physical assistance propelling the bike, but was definitely an entertaining sidekick. The bike adventure to the pizza farm was pretty exciting for him. He sang songs, talked about imaginary wild animals the whole trip, and didn’t even complain about getting too tired. Halfway through the trip, he said, “Mom! I know a faster route to get to the pizza farm!” And she said, “What’s that?” “Driving!” Getting To The Pizza Farm When we get over the last hill, and can see Hwy 10, the thought of wood-fired farm pizza gets real. And it’s a good thing that we’re excited for pizza because the gravel driveway is steep and we need a little boost to make it up to the farm. We’re always welcomed by familiar faces, friendly farm dogs, and a cold beer from the beer barn to reward us for our journey. We usually meet up with friends and run around the farm throwing a frisbee, racing across the lawn, or, on this trip, flying a drone overhead for some aerial video shots. Wow! What a beautiful area. Leaving is hard In just a few hours, we settle into enjoying life at “farm” speed. The giant campfire is roaring. Dessert pizza is making us feel tired. The setting sun makes the fields glow. But we’ll be back. Sure, we could just order Dominoes. But pizza tastes better when you bike to it.