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Supérieur Royale Part Three: Isle Royale and Copper Harbor

Day four of the trip gave us some time to absorb Isle Royale in the morning and early afternoon before our boat left at 2pm for Copper Harbor. We had to remember that Isle Royale is in the state of Michigan, and we were now in the eastern time zone. This meant it was pretty easy to sleep in an hour later than usual. After coffee and breakfast we gathered our belongings and mounted all the bags back on our bikes. We had a few hours to kill, and we heard there were docks on a water plane landing area just a short walk away, so we decided to check it out. 

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Isle Royale has many inlets where the water is protected by slivers of land. These inlets maintain calm water, even when Lake Superior has 3-4 foot waves. These are great spots for sea planes to land, and they are also great for swimming. The water was ice cold, but a quick jump in was super refreshing. 

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Before we knew it, it was time to board the boat to Copper Harbor. This ride would be quite different than the ride on the Voyageur II the previous day. The boat was bigger, and we would be traversing the open water over the great depths of Lake Superior. As we left Rock Harbor there was a strong wind coming off the lake and the water was looking much rougher than the day before.  

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The ride on the back of the boat was choppy and we had to hang on at all times. Life on the Queen IV was good!

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Although there was no mobile phone service, the GPS on my phone was working and it was pretty cool to see our progress on the Google map. Just as we could start to see the coast of the Keewenaw peninsula the map showed us we were more than halfway to Copper Harbor.

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When you arrive in Copper Harbor via the Queen IV boat, it is a 40 year old tradition for the staff at the Harbor Haus to greet everyone with a traditional German dance as the captain sounds the horn. We had heard about this beforehand and thought it was just folklore, but they ACTUALLY did it! 

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The deck hand and captain of the Queen IV were also very helpful and happy to load and unload our bikes. Everyone was so nice to us, and the entire 2-day journey across Lake Superior went flawlessly. We had arrived in Copper Harbor! 

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Our plan was to stay for three full days in Copper Harbor to take advantage of the world class mountain biking. Frank was riding his MTB for the entire trip, and carried his 27.5 x 3.0 tires with him like a badass. Since I was riding my Cosmic Stallion, I chose to ship my full suspension bike to Fort Wilkins State Park. Without a car, retrieving the bike in the huge shipping box was going to be interesting. In the end, the rangers were super helpful and delivered the bike directly to our campsite. Their level of service was unbelievable. 

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Using Bikeflights.com was flawless. It was more affordable than renting a bike for 3 days, the bike showed up on time, was not damaged, and I was able to ride my own familiar set up with the tires and components I am used to. Shipping my MTB to a destination in the middle of this long bikepacking trip got me thinking about an extended trip out west, shipping my MTB from location to location and riding my bikepacking rig to it. Imagine bikepacking to all the great MTB destinations out west and having your MTB waiting for you every time you showed up! 

We were excited to ride the singletrack in Copper Harbor, so the first morning there we got all geared up. It was 49 degrees fahrenheit, there was a layer of fog on Lake Fanny Hooe, then it started to rain. Damn it. 

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It was a short ride to town, and the rain prevented us from riding trails the first day, so we enjoyed the libations that Brickhouse Brewery for most of the afternoon. 

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The following day the weather cleared up, and our top priority was to ride the new point trail all the way to the end. 

  Courtesy: MTB Project

Courtesy: MTB Project

The trail was super fun to ride, and it spit us out right at the Keewenaw Rocket Range. The rocket launch pad was used in the 1960's to shoot the 28 foot tall Nike Apache more than 100 miles high to obtain meteorological information. This was one of the few spots in the country where such launches were staged. 

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It made for a perfect spot to have lunch before riding the point trail back to town. It's not every day you can say you had lunch on a rocket launch pad!

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Riding up Brockway Drive is always a big challenge (20% grades), but comes with a nice reward of scenery and miles of flow trail that meander back down the mountain with Lake Superior right in front of you. This is one of the things that makes Copper Harbor such an incredible place to ride. 

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Thimbleberries were ripe, and ready for the picking. Several stops were made to enjoy the brief period of the year when these berries are ripe enough to eat. 

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After all the riding, drinking beer, and eating on rocket ranges it was time for some astrophotography to wrap up our time in Copper Harbor. The position of the moon was really good, and there is very little light pollution at the tip of the Keewenaw Peninsula. That made for a fun 25 minute exposure of the night sky over Lake Fanny Hooe.

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After Copper Harbor we began the last 6 days of riding down the Keewenaw back to Duluth. This is where the Supérieur Royale bikepacking trip got gnarly. Part Four will cover the two days between Copper Harbor and Ontonagon. 

Supérieur Royale Part Two: Duluth to Isle Royale

With the bikes all sorted and the route plan established, it was time to meet up in Duluth the evening of Friday July 27th. Our first day of riding would be on Saturday, the 28th. We heard that Jade from The Current was going to be broadcasting live from Bent Paddle Brewing on Friday, so of course we ended up there to celebrate the start of the Supérieur Royale over a few beers.

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If you are in Duluth, definitely check out Bent Paddle's new tap room and order food to be delivered from OMC Smokehouse. They deliver it on a scooter with the best "Minnesota" sticker I have ever seen. 

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We left well fed, well hydrated, and our bikes were dialed and ready to hit the road first thing in the morning. 

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Early Saturday morning we got up, made coffee, and doubled checked our gear. Being the gluttons for punishment that we are, the plan was to cover 117 miles the first day so we could make it to Grand Marais. It would be the longest ride of the year for both of us, and we laughed at just how ridiculous it seemed that we were riding loaded bikes so far with minimal training. I had been in Asia for nearly three weeks, and only rode a handful of times between each trans-pacific flight. Frank had been on an aggressive work schedule with lots of windshield time. Nevertheless, we coasted down to Canal Park in Duluth, and we set off for Grand Marais. 

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The route for Day One was mostly on Highway 61. We took the bike path out of Duluth from Canal Park, then hit Scenic Highway 61 to Two Harbors. A few miles south of Two Harbors Frank's mother surprised us with a mid-course visit. She had driven more than an hour to track us down and wish us luck on the trip. After chatting for a few minutes, it was game on again as we had 90+ more miles to cover. 

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It was a hot day with temperatures in the upper 80's, and fortunately, we had a tailwind. As is classic with Lake Superior, when the road dips close to the water you feel sudden spurts of cold air that is 20 degrees cooler. All day long we came in and out of these cold pockets, meandering our way past the many cliffs and overlooks along the route. 

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We pulled in to Beaver Bay at the halfway point for the day. Beaver Bay was the first established community on the Minnesota shore of Lake Superior, even before Duluth. In 1854 the Lapointe Treaty was signed, and shortly after the Sault locks were opened as a gateway for ships to enter Lake Superior. Iron ore was discovered and this created a mining boom at a time of financial crisis on the North Shore. Beaver Bay and nearby Silver Bay became ground-zero for mining. The legendary John Beargrease was from Beaver Bay and delivered mail along the entire North Shore during brutal winters. In honor of his legacy, the now-famous Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon was named after him. 

In Beaver Bay, we stopped at Camp 61 and stuffed our faces with delicious fish and replenished our water supply. 

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The second half of the day clouds blew in, there was some very close lightning and thunder, and some brief bursts of cold rain. We pushed on, happy that there was not much traffic on Highway 61 for a Saturday afternoon in the height of summer vacation season. 

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South of Lutsen there was a short section of bike path, and the owner of this barn wrote an important message on the side facing the path. It is nice to see some levity during the socially onerous times we are in. 

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After 7 hours and 21 minutes on the bike, we arrived in Grand Marais. Legs hurting, skin covered in sunscreen and dust, we coasted in to the parking lot of Voyageur Brewing and immediately ran in to fellow cycling friends we knew from Minneapolis. 

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The municipal campground in Grand Marais was full and our camping options were limited. We scoured the shoreline for ninja camping options, but there was no flat ground anywhere. With no options left, we headed straight down the third base line of the local baseball field and camped in left field. My legs were screaming for rest, and within 5 minutes I was sound asleep. 

At 6am the next morning we packed up and rode into town for breakfast to refuel our bodies and batteries for our gadgets. It was Sunday July 29 and the only responsibility we had for the day was to get to Grand Portage, only 35 miles away. It was a sunny morning so we rode to the beach by the Coast Guard station, dried out our gear, and made coffee. 

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Frank blew a hole in his bibs, and since we had plenty of time to kill in Grand Marais, why not set up shop right on a picnic table and take needle and thread to your chamois? Here we were with our gear scattered everywhere, and Frank sitting there half naked sewing his chamois as tourists walked by in wonder. You could tell people were curious, but not brave enough to approach the two smelly men with needles, thread, and an improvised yard sale on the beach. 

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Once the chamois mending was completed we set off for Grand Portage, just south of the Canadian border. Compared to the previous day, the 35 mile ride was a piece of cake. 

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Grand Portage was where we would catch the boat to Isle Royale the next morning. We arrived in the evening and set up camp. Frank chose to hammock the Supérieur Royale trip and there were no nearby trees, which meant he was sleeping on the ground tonight. He draped his rain fly over a picnic table and staked down the sides to create a makeshift tent. 

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With camp set up, it was time to dial in our needs for food the next several days. Neither of us had been to Isle Royale, and we needed to be prepared. We had two days of boat rides ahead of us, and one night on a remote island with no roads on it. Cheese, meat, bread, ramen noodles and Alpine Aire dried meals were the answer. It was time to make dinner. 

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Our campground for the evening was adjacent to a marina with fishing boats, so there were seagulls everywhere. 

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As we settled in for the evening black storm clouds rolled in. Thunder and lightning were hitting the hills on the other side of Highway 61, but we managed to only get a few sprinkles of rain. We got up just before sunrise as we had to check in at the boat landing at 6:30am. There was no time to make camp coffee, but I was able to capture a photo of the sunrise over Lake Superior. 

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It was a short spin to the boat along a beautiful road that goes through Grand Portage National Monument. This monument was the western-most center of fur trading on the Great Lakes. The "portage" itself is an 8.5 mile long trail that bypasses inland waterfalls on the canoe routes that fur traders used along the Pigeon River to deliver furs to the trading center (now the National Monument). French-Canadian voyageurs and coureurs de bois (runners of the woods) used this portage as part of their trade routes. This specific vignette of history is what inspired the use of the French spelling "Supérieur" for the name of our ride. We were riding right through the center of North American fur trading history, and it felt so amazing to be boarding a boat with our bikes, bound for the least visited national park in the United States: Isle Royale. 

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The Voyageur II took us from Grand Portage to the shores of Isle Royale. When we showed up everyone had huge backpacks and were set up for a week of hiking on the island. Were rolled up on our bikepacking rigs, with helmets clasped on bags and ti mugs dangled off the back. Peculiar looks buzzed through the air, and I was feeling uneasy about how people would treat us. Here we were, bringing bikes to a place where it is illegal to ride them, and when you look at the boat it was not clear how they would be loaded and stored. It could potentially be a big inconvenience for boat operators trying to manage a group of weary people setting off on adventures. Even though we had called ahead of time to ensure bikes would not be a problem, it was still unclear exactly how this strange maneuver of ours would go down with boat captains and National Park Rangers. 

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It worked like a charm. The deck hand and captain were more than happy to load and tie down our bikes. With both bikes loaded on top of the boat we laughed at just how high they towered above the canoes and rest of the gear. We were the odd ducks among the audience, and people were wondering just what in the hell we were doing out here with loaded bikes. 

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Everyone was called aboard, and we left the harbor on our way to Isle Royale. There are several entry points on the island. Voyageur II makes several stops on the way to Rock Harbor, which is on the northeast side. 

  Courtesy: National Park Service

Courtesy: National Park Service

The first stop was Windigo. As we pulled up you could see how remote the landscape is, with black spruce trees beautifully adorning the shoreline. 

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As we departed Windigo the captain slowed down the boat and announced that he was going to take us past a shipwreck in shallow water. We would be able to clearly see the wreck of SS America from the deck of the boat. In 1928 it had 60 passengers on board as it headed to Isle Royale. After a breach in the boat the captain decided to run it into the beach so everyone could survive. That is why it rests in such shallow water to this day. It was very difficult to photograph as I didn't have my circular polarizer filter with me, so this is the best I could manage. This is the bow of SS America in four feet of water.

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It was so cool to see this shipwreck up close. We continued our boat journey to Rock Harbor. We had roughly 5 more hours to go, as we would traverse the entire west side of the island, stopping at Todd Harbor and McCargoe Cove before arriving at Rock Harbor. Everyone on the boat was on an adventure, so we naturally connected with them. They wondered why we were taking our bikes to the island, but when we told them we were on our way to Copper Harbor it all made sense. Many maps were brought out, and stories shared. A very jovial man from L'Anse, Michigan became the self-declared mayor of the boat and entertained everyone with his amazing Upper Michigan accent, profane language and adventure stories. It was seriously a shame when he got off the boat at McCargoe Cove. He provided next-level entertainment.

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The trip carried on, and it was so amazing to be surrounded by the purity of Lake Superior, with our bikes. 

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As mentioned earlier, it was uncertain how National Park Rangers would meet us on Isle Royale. There are no roads, and it is illegal to ride bikes, so what would happen when we showed up with them? They ended up being super helpful, and just reminded us we can't ride them. They also said that one of the reasons we could not ride on the island is because it would make them jealous. They are there all summer and miss riding their bikes. Next to the main building there was a spot they let us store our bikes. All the people so far had been so amazing to us, especially the deck hand and captain who lifted our bikes on and off the boat. 

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It felt like it had been a two week voyage at this point. We had arrived on Isle Royale with our bikes, seen shipwrecks and met super awesome people. Checking in at the National Park Office was easy. We had heard there were screened in shelters available on a first-come, first-served basis. There were a lot of people embarking on their hiking trips, and it seemed unlikely that we would get one of these shelters. Dealing with mosquitoes all night seemed inevitable as we walked towards the campground carrying our frame bags, handlebar bags and seat bags. Out of nowhere we heard this voice say, "it's yours if you want it." There was a man and his family walking down a path that led to one of these screened in shelters. We could not believe it, but we scored a shelter for the evening! We felt so lucky. As we approached the door, we learned that someone had aptly named the shelter "The Fart Motel." 

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The interior of the cabin was full of carvings and handwriting from previous occupants. I appreciate that the park service has not tried to cover any of this up. It serves as a historical document of peoples' experiences here. We spent 15-20 minutes just reading all of it. Many people had come here to deal with difficult circumstances in their life, or to remember people they had lost in their lives. One person on the boat had driven from Colorado to hike Isle Royale to follow through on a promise she had made to a friend who had passed away. It served as a reminder that life is precious, and we need to enjoy every single day as much as we can. 

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It turned out that there was a small restaurant on the island, so we had dinner there with someone from Brazil that we had made friends with while walking around the harbor. There was also a small store that sold Bells Two Hearted, so we grabbed a few of those and went to the pier while the sun set. It had been an incredible day, and being in Isle Royale with bikes felt like a major accomplishment. 

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It was time to head back to that screened-in shelter and get some well-earned sleep. Part Three of the Supérieur Royale is coming next. It will cover our half day on Isle Royale and the Copper Harbor experience. 

Supérieur Royale Part One: The Background and The Bike

Having grown up in Northern Wisconsin, I have many childhood memories of Lake Superior's south shore. My grandparents lived in Superior, Wisconsin, and every October the family would travel to the Apple Festival in Bayfield, where I would gaze into the deep blue waters that surrounded the only true "pier" I had ever seen as an adolescent. Lake Superior has since become a sort of existential anchor for me, forever drawing me in to take comfort in its placid peacefulness, raging storminess, and unparalleled purity. 

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My grandfather rode his bicycle around the Fraser Shipyards, where he worked and spoke Polish with co-workers. When I was 14 years old I rode my bicycle 75 miles one way from my house to see its shores, and did not make the return ride home due to exhaustion. When I was 15 we got trapped on the North Shore because of a benzene spill in Superior, Wisconsin. I decided to attend university in Duluth, where I could see shifting ice on the lake every winter morning. In 2003, my friend Frank and I rode our bicycles 1200 miles around the entire lake in 11 days.

  Grandpa Johnnie

Grandpa Johnnie

While drinking a few beers on a cold winter evening in January 2018, Frank said, “Remember that time we rode around Lake Superior in 2003?” It immediately dawned on us that the 15 year anniversary of this epic trip was coming in August. Without hesitation we decided to block off the first two weeks of August 2018 to do a bikepacking trip on Lake Superior in celebration. It was less a decision than a pact that required no words, no discussion, no second guessing. It was just something that was going to happen, no matter what.

Bicycle touring and technology had advanced significantly since 2003. Bikepacking opened up myriad possibilities for route choices and gear format, and we wanted to craft a plan that kept us as close to the water as possible. Isle Royale National Park had always been a mysterious place that seemed so close, yet so far away because it required complicated boat rides to access. For this reason, Isle Royale is still the least visited national park in the country. After learning that we could bring bikes on the boats, but not ride them on the island, our basic plan became clear. The Supérieur Royale was born.

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We would start in Duluth, Minnesota and ride the North Shore to the Canadian border, take a boat to Isle Royale, then take another boat to Copper Harbor, Michigan before riding the length of the Keewenaw Peninsula back. The terrain would include a mix of pavement, gravel, two-track, and snowmobile trails. It was an extra bonus that we’d be able to ride mountain bikes in Copper Harbor as well. In total, the route would be just shy of 600 miles. 

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The Bike

Long hours of pavement mixed with gravel and off-road conditions meant that bike and gear choice would be key. The All-City Cosmic Stallion with 650 x 47 Teravail Cannonball tires would provide the comfort, efficiency and riding position needed for the various terrain we would cover on the Supérieur Royale.

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The 650c diameter wheels would lower the center of gravity, which would be more stable, especially at high speeds on pavement. The smaller wheels also allowed me to run a 47mm wide tire to provide more flotation on soft surfaces, and cushion on rough surfaces. I ran the tires tubeless and had zero flat tires along the 600 mile route.

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Drivetrain was SRAM Rival 11 speed, with a 10-42 cassette, 38 tooth Wolftooth Drop-Stop chainring, and PC-1170 chain. This gearing struck a great balance for long pavement miles, the steepest climbs (on the loaded bike), and slowest snowmobile trails. On fast road descents I spun out at around 35mph, and there was only one steep climb (on gravel) where I felt I could have used one more gear to get over the top.

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The cockpit is where gear planning got a bit tricky. I needed to carry my Fuji X-T2 camera in a safe, accessible place, and I needed to fit as much gear as possible between the drops of my Salsa Cowbell bars with SRAM Rival Hydraulic levers. With everything in my size medium Revelate Sweetroll it was too wide for my 44cm bars, so I switched to a size large and the increased diameter shortened the width to fit perfectly.

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Two-inch wide sections of hockey tape where the straps mount to the bars prevented the bag from twisting or migrating along the tops of the bars. The Revelate feedbag held several Salted Nut Rolls and Clif Shot Bloks. Meanwhile, the gas tank bag was a great place to store sunscreen, money, riding maps, etc.

I always pack my Big Agnes Lost Lake sleeping bag inside a 6-liter Sea to Summit eVent dry bag. It compresses super small, and fits perfectly inside size medium and large Revelate handlebar bags. Having two layers of moisture resistance against your sleeping bag never hurts. My handlebar bag also carried a wool hoodie, rain jacket, microfiber towel, spare bibs, shirt, and underwear.

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My Outershell Drawcord Handlebar Bag mounts like a gem to the daisy chain webbing on the harness of the Sweetroll. I lined the interior of the bag with open-cell foam to pad the camera body and lens. This set-up endured significant front wheel strikes in potholes, and super aggressive rocky sections of road. A pair of Teva flip flops secured behind the harness of the Revelate bag added even more padding.

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This super attractive thing on the underside of my downtube is a tool roll I sewed myself. It is not attractive, but it holds all tools and items needed to repair my bike. It just barely clears my front tire, chainring, and non-drive-side crank-arm.

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The inside of the tool roll has mesh pockets with length-wise vislon zippers for the closures. A few modifications were made after the below photo was taken, but here is a list of contents (including items added later):

Tubes x 2

Park Tire boots x 2

MSW Patch Kit

Upholstery needle and thread

Spare Brake Pads

SRAM 11-spd quick links x 2

Spare 2-bolt cleat, bolts, and mounting plate

Derailleur Hanger

Presta Valve Adapter

Leatherman

Crank Bros. Multi-tool

Zip Ties

Spoke Wrench

Spare Shift Cable

T-9 Boeshield Lube

Wolftooth Pack Pliers (added later)

Chainring Bolts (added later)

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Surprisingly, my Topeak Mountain Morph pump fit perfectly on the back side of my seattube, with 4-5mm of clearance. A generous amount of Gorilla tape and electrician’s tape goes around the shaft of the pump and comes in handy.

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On the back of the bike a Revelate Viscacha bag stored the following items:

Thermarest Neo-Air sleeping pad

Big Agnes Sleeping Giant pillow

Tarptent Double Rainbow Tent

Tyvek Groundsheet

Optimus Terra Weekend cookset

Snowpeak GigaPower Auto stove

MunieQ Tetra Drip Coffee Maker

Opinel Knife

GigaPower Stove Fuel

Dangled off the back was a Snowpeak Insulated Ti mug, because you know, it isn’t bikepacking unless you dangle a ti mug! I also had two Voile straps wrapped around the seat bag for when I needed to stow my rain jacket and trucker hat there. They also came in handy when I needed to secure a jar of peanut butter inside the Ti mug (more on that in a later post).

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Lastly, the frame bag stored two 1-liter Platypus Softbottles for water, tent poles, tent stakes, ti plate, emergency medical kit, spare camera batteries, spare lenses, and miscellaneous food. I carried two pairs of socks, two pairs of bibs, one pair of overshorts, two wool shirts, a rain jacket, a wind vest, a spare cycling cap, and a microfiber towel. Although we stunk at times, overall, these basic gear choices worked very well. The only piece of gear I ditched along the way were some folding Timberland camp shoes that I did not use and were taking up space. If it had been any colder (coldest night was 45 degrees fahrenheit) I would have needed a down puffy.

Stay tuned for the next post about the first few days of the trip!

Los Angeles and The Mojave

Last month I traveled to the Sea Otter Classic on a work trip for Teravail. After Sea Otter we went to Los Angeles to ride, shoot photos and hang out with some cool people we hadn't seen in a long time. It had been several years since I had been to LA, and more than 17 years since I had lived there. Most of my time had historically been spent in Santa Monica and Venice. This time we hung out mostly in Silver Lake, making Golden Saddle Cyclery our home base. 

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The objective was to capture photography assets for Teravail, so we connected up with Eric Brunt and Frances Tran to show us around Mount Lowe. It never occurred to me just how close the mountains are to downtown LA. Just a short drive away, and we were in the perfect spot right at the golden hour to capture what we came for. The views were stunning. 

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Since our time was limited, and we needed to make the most of the light and terrain, we were only able to ride a few miles of this amazing trail. Next time I head to LA I will be reserving plenty of time to explore more of Mt. Lowe on two wheels with the friends we made while there. 

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The morning after the photoshoot at Mt. Lowe, we were set to meet up with Errin Vasquez for LA River Camp Coffee. Over the years I became familiar with Errin through my time with Salsa Cycles, and I was eager to finally meet him in person. We met at his house at 6:30am and set off on the route to the coffee spot on the LA River. 

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Errin's Ocean Air Cycles rando bike is a one-of-a-kind set up that he has truly made into his own. I could not resist shooting photos of all the details. 

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We rode through Pasadena and meandered through overpasses and cycle lanes through busy morning traffic. It was cool to see a side of LA that I had never explored, and that had become much more bicycle friendly since I lived there. 

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I really appreciated all the great design and small business activity happening in LA. There is truly a USA-made trend happening here, with coffee shops and bicycle shops designing and producing their own goods for sale. As we made our way towards the LA river we stopped in at À Bloc Coffee for some caffeine, and their amazing ride bar. 

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Eventually we made it to the bike path right on the river, and were nearly to the spot where LA River Camp Coffee happens. It was such a cool way to see this side of the city. 

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People were waiting as we arrived at LA River Camp Coffee. Errin has a following there. It was cool to see everyone and the eclectic mix of bikes everyone was riding. There were some true throwbacks to the 90's present. 

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Among the 90's throwback equipment were Bullseye Hubs, Gorilla brake stabilizers, and Kooka cranks. So good. 

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Classic mesh gloves too. Even better!

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After some coffee and nerdy discussion about bicycle history, Errin made his way to work and we headed to Team Dream's retail location, aptly named the Cub House. Our time in LA was coming to an end, and it was time to make our way towards the Mojave, where we had some more shooting to do before making the long drive to Denver. 

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When we arrived at the edge of the Mojave we just found an exit and started driving straight into the desert. Several miles in we found a cool spot to shoot some dirt and gravel photos. The heat was sweltering, but the golden hour of light was about to hit. Despite the crazy heat, Chelsea was a great sport and kitted up for some photos. 

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These ended up being some of the best light and landscape conditions I have ever experienced for cycling photography. The light just started popping, and I quickly filled up a 64GB memory card. Conditions were SO good. 

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The sun started setting, and the trip was drawing to a close. It was the perfect way to end a long trip out west. In the few hours I spent in the Mojave, it lured me in for more. I want to go back and explore this amazing landscape someday. 

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Chiang Mai

My main objective while visiting Chiang Mai was food of all sorts, from fine dining to street food prepared for the masses. I have spent a lot of time in Bangkok, traveled in the south of Thailand and stayed on Koh Lanta. Everyone was saying how amazing the food is in the north, so I decided to check it out. 

Finding an affordable place to stay was easy. If you ever travel to Chiang Mai, be sure to stay in the old city square. The Wealth Boutique Hotel was an excellent place to stay: great location, affordable, and very kind service staff. 

I arrived on a Sunday, which was perfect timing for the Sunday night market that takes over all of Rachadamnoen Street. The first thing that struck me on the walk to the market was this amazing car parked around the corner from the hotel. 

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The Sunday market is full of locals selling food, drinks, and handmade goods. It is the epicenter of northern Thai culture, all in one concentrated spot, and it is awesome. I immediately dove right into some small street food dishes. 

 Seasoned rice with coconut shavings.

Seasoned rice with coconut shavings.

 Quail Eggs

Quail Eggs

 Tubs of soup

Tubs of soup

 Thai Sausage with Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass

Thai Sausage with Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass

This was a solid start to the food portion of the evening. Those Thai sausages were so good that I walked back for seconds. At a mere 10 Baht (30 cents) it was a very easy decision. Next up was some of the street performances happening around the food stalls. 

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The sun was starting to set and I could see a photograph opportunity happening with some temples in the area. A staircase in a local building was wide open, so I climbed up it to see if it would take me to a window above all the street activity. It lead me to a restaurant, and I snuck through the back of the kitchen to an open window to capture some photos of Doi Suthep as the sun was setting. Right place at the right time!

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Next up was a walk over to the Cowboy Hat Lady made famous by Anthony Bourdain's Part's Unknown. Khao Kha Moo (pork leg on rice) is a local specialty, and her recipe is one of the best. There was no going to Chiang Mai and not stopping by for a visit.  

 Khao Kah Moo from the Cowboy Hat Lady

Khao Kah Moo from the Cowboy Hat Lady

 The Cowboy Hat Lady Herself

The Cowboy Hat Lady Herself

The Khao Kah Moo was in fact very tasty, and worth the extra walk. After a full evening of walking through the street market and stuffing my face with food it was time for some sleep. The next day it was time to check out some restaurant food. Ginger and Kafe was on the top of my list, and it did not disappoint. 

 Fresh Spring Rolls with Mango, Fresh Herbs and Vegetables

Fresh Spring Rolls with Mango, Fresh Herbs and Vegetables

 Slow-braised Beef in Lime-Coconut Cream Reduction with Lemongrass, Mint and Coriander

Slow-braised Beef in Lime-Coconut Cream Reduction with Lemongrass, Mint and Coriander

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Ginger and Kafe lived up to the reputation of Thai food, with a northern twist. Multiple flavors hitting at different moments, with a level of vivacity and freshness that is impossible to replicate outside of Thailand. Dining here was such a pleasure. 

It was time to switch things up a bit, so I decided to hike up Doi Suthep. Doi Suthep is the mountain right to the West of the city. There is a hiking trail through the jungle that ascends 2500 feet to Wat Phrathat, a temple overlooking Chiang Mai. While I was excited to do the hike, I was also remembering the experience I had with a pit viper snake on Koh Samui the year prior while cycling on singletrack through the jungle. That terrifying encounter was making it difficult to take the plunge and hike solo through a jungle, but the allure of the experience was greater than the fear, so I went for it, and I was glad I did. 

 Right away the trail was pretty challenging, but awesome. 

Right away the trail was pretty challenging, but awesome. 

 Monks marked the trail with orange bands wrapped around trees

Monks marked the trail with orange bands wrapped around trees

 Buddha statues lined the path leading to the first temple along the route.

Buddha statues lined the path leading to the first temple along the route.

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 This was much steeper than it looks!

This was much steeper than it looks!

After 90 minutes of hiking I made it to the top, where it was 10-15 degrees cooler. The hike was more challenging than I had imagined, and I was exhausted from the heat. There was a man taking a nap in the back of a songathaew and I thought about asking him how much it would cost to take the other bench for 30 minutes! 

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Instead of taking a nap, I found some pad thai because I was starving after the hike. This kind woman made an unusual version of pad thai unlike any I have seen before. It hit the spot. 

 She put her face mask on to cook my pad thai.

She put her face mask on to cook my pad thai.

 Her pad thai seemed to have a bit of Chinese influence, and it was tasty!

Her pad thai seemed to have a bit of Chinese influence, and it was tasty!

After some replenishment it was time to check out the amazing temple I had hiked all that way to see. There were two girls dressed in costumes at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the temple. In exchange for me taking their photograph they said, "money, money". Busted. I had to pay my dues!

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Before entering the temple you take off your shoes, and enter into a space filled with the most gold you will likely ever see in a single place. The glow of the space was euphoric. 

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As the sun drew closer to the horizon, a group of monks arranged themselves in the common space in front of the temple and chanted. The sound of their chanting in this golden space among silence was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in Thailand. There was literally more peace and quiet than would be possible if one were alone in the wilderness. The energy was spiritually moving as the sun set, the air cooled down, and gold glittered everywhere. 

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On the way out of the temple there was a dog sleeping in a wooden chair. No matter how much noise I was making with the shutter of my camera, or how close I got to it with my wide angle lens, it cared only about one thing: sleeping. 

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Before my short trip to Chiang Mai came to an end, I had to check out a few more places. One of them was the food at Cherng Doi. They are well known for their fried chicken, but also their flavorful lunch dishes. The place was packed with local college students, families, and Chinese tourists. 

 One of my favorite aspects of Thai food is the dipping sauces. Cherng Doi represents!

One of my favorite aspects of Thai food is the dipping sauces. Cherng Doi represents!

 Som Tam salad (Thai style)

Som Tam salad (Thai style)

 Nam Tok Moo (grilled pork with mint, shallots, and local spices)

Nam Tok Moo (grilled pork with mint, shallots, and local spices)

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Previous to the trip I had been taking a break from coffee, but I heard that the winner of the World Latte Art Championship had a great shop in town. There was no leaving Chiang Mai without having a coffee (or two) from Ristr8to

 Ristr8to's Coffee was Legit

Ristr8to's Coffee was Legit

There were a few other places I ate in Chiang Mai, but this sums up the most memorable places during my short time there. Some day I would like to go back, but bring my bicycle so I can ride in the surrounding mountains and directly experience Northern Thai village life. For now, here is a complete gallery from the visit. 

Mezcal Hot Chocolate

Riding fat bikes in the winter almost always involves some type of mid-ride beverage to sooth the soul. Up north in the colder climates, beer stays nice and cold when stowed away in a frame bag or backpack. This is an easy go to. A flask of whisky fits perfectly in a pocket, and the warm bite of a Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year  is alluring when the cold is nipping at you. This winter I have discovered a new favorite winter fat biking drink: Mezcal Hot Chocolate. 

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This particular concoction is packed with a rich medley of flavors that is perfect for cold fat bike rides in the north country. It is spicy, sweet, slightly smoky, and velvety. Words can only do so much to describe how amazing this drink is, so I'm going to share a few photos, and a recipe for how to make your own. 

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The list of ingredients is as follows (makes three espresso size servings): 

3 ounces of quality semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup of whole milk 

1 tablespoon of ground ceylon cinnamon

1 tablespoon of pure cane sugar

1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon of ground chile de arbol

2 ounces of Fidencio Clásico Mezcal Tequila

Instructions: 

Pour the whole milk and cinnamon in a small sauce pan over very low heat. You might need to put your burner on the lowest setting possible. Slowly warm up the milk and cinnamon until it becomes aromatic (8-10 minutes). Once there is a cinnamon smell emanating from the milk, drop in the chocolate chips and stir continuously. Once the chips are near to being fully melted, mix in the sugar, almond extract, cumin and chile de arbol. At this point pay close attention to the thickness and texture. If you want it lighter, keep adding around 1 tablespoon of milk until you arrive at the consistency you like. It is important to keep the heat super low. You do not want the mixture to boil. Once you start seeing any bubbles, turn the heat down or lift the sauce pan off the burner. Once you have the consistency you like, remove from the heat and pour in the mezcal. Immediately transfer to an insulated thermos and get on your way to the trail. Don't forget to to pack two small espresso cups for the ride. The 4 ounce GSI enamelware cups are perfect. 

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Find an ideal spot in your ride to stop for a warm beverage, get out your espresso cups, pour yourself and a riding partner a shot of velvety goodness, and enjoy. 

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Europe 2017

It was a fun trip to Europe for the Eurobike tradeshow last week. On this trip I passed through London, Zurich and Konstanz, Germany. Along the way I shot some photos with my Fuji X-T2 and various lenses. Some of the Zurich stuff was shot on a borrowed Russian Helios lens with radioactive glass. Pretty cool stuff. Gallery is below, check it out. 

David Gabrys
Ramhammer Bikepacking Overnighter

My friend Brian has been wanting to try a short bikepacking trip for a long time, so earlier this summer we set a date of August 4-6 to make it happen. As the dates drew nearer, I learned that this was going to butt straight up against my Saddledrive return travel itinerary. The timing would work out perfectly. 

The plan was to ride the Heck of the North short course backwards so we could end in Two Harbors. Prior to leaving for the trip, I didn't look closely at the course details and learned the night before that the course had us on the CJ Ramstad trail. When I tried riding this trail in June it was a swamp. This was going to be an extra special route for Brian's first bikepacking experience, 

As soon as the route turned from gravel to the snowmobile trail there were obstacles. A major culvert construction project meant pushing bikes straight up an embankment and then navigating a narrow ridge 15 feet off the ground. Good times. 

Next up: a swamp with knee-deep water and grass taller than us. We pushed the bikes several hundred meters through the first portion, then another section, and another. The swamp did not end when we hit high ground. The horse flies were drawing blood from our arms and necks as the sharp grass and nettles shredded our shins. It was such a ridiculous situation. We laughed it off and kept pushing on. 

Oh hey! A rideable section. Nope. As soon as Frank got to the bottom of this hill his front wheel sunk up past his hub and we were pushing through a knee-deep swamp again. A quick check on the map revealed a road ahead, so we knew there was relief in sight. 

After the swamp section our bikes were adorned with weeds and other local flora. Brian rocked this sweet piece of grass for more than 20 miles until we reached camp in Two Harbors. Amazingly, none of us had wood ticks. 

After all that pushing through swamps and sweating from the heat of the day, a jump in Lake Superior was in store. The municipal campground in Two Harbors had no vacancy, so we found a sweet renegade camp spot on top of a cliff overlooking the water. It didn't make sense to set up camp before grabbing some beers, so we headed straight to Castle Danger Brewery after jumping in the lake. 

The India Pale Lager was the star of their seasonal line-up, so we made a solid dent in their supply before grabbing a few growlers and heading down to the lighthouse pier for the sunset. 

After the pier we headed back to the campsite to get set up and set at the edge of the cliff to tell jokes and watch the moon casting light over Lake Superior. If you ever visit the lake try to synchronize it with a full moon. There's really nothing like it. 

I didn't get any photos of the moon over the water, but the morning sunrise was really amazing. The above photo was the view out of my tent. After making camp coffee and grabbing breakfast, we were on our bikes headed back to Duluth. 

In the end, the ride became quite the hammerfest with all the pushing through swamps and riding as fast as we could on the gravel sections. So we dubbed the ride "Ramhammer" for its use of the Ramstad trail and all the challenges it threw at us.  On the way back to Duluth we stopped for water at a gas station and saw this sign offering a dozen eggs for 49 cents. It made us all wonder how safe it actually would be to eat eggs that only cost 49 cents per dozen. Really? Were they real eggs? Who knows...it was a great weekend pushing bikes, riding bikes, drinking bikes and laughing with great friends. Brian's first bikepacking trip was legit, and he left stoked to do another. 

Freshwater Ride

This past winter I plotted out a 2 night bikepacking trip that would involve a significant portion of the Duluth Traverse trail, and put us on the North Shore of Lake Superior for both nights. Last weekend my friend Frank and I set off from West Duluth on our plan to ride singletrack, gravel, snowmobile trails, and one short section of railroad. I prepared my Salsa Cycles Woodsmoke with 29" x 45mm carbon rims and Teravail Kennebec tires. It was the maiden voyage with it all decked out in the bikepacking set up. 

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This would also be the first test of the Outershell Handlebar Bag, which is made in San Francisco and almost perfect for my Fuji XT-2 camera. I was also using a Revelate Sweetroll Handlebar bag and easily mounted the Outershell bag on the front of the harness to carry my camera. 

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On a previous test ride with my X-Pro1 camera in the bag, I was concerned about the camera rattling so I retrofitted some thick open cell foam to place on the inside. There is a cutout in the center so my 35mm and 14mm lenses will nest perfectly inside while still attached to the camera body. This configuration worked extremely well for the trip. 

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My frame bag was tailor made for my Woodsmoke by Bedrock Bags. Conveniently, I was able to have them make the bag with the same exact black camo multicam fabric as my camera bag. The vislon (plastic) zippers on the frame bag make it very easy to unzip, and love how the large overlay at the front of the bag is large enough to completely store the zipper pull. More than anything, I think it looks pretty awesome. 

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Now back to the riding. The Duluth Traverse trail connects West Duluth to East Duluth via a mix of singletrack and roads. It isn't just any singletrack either. It's world class singletrack with a healthy mix of flow, technical, and rocky sections. We had a blast riding them with our loaded down bikes, knowing we would eventually get to the coast of Lake Superior that evening to camp right next to the crashing waves. 

Huge rock formations are characteristic of the Duluth hillside, and remind me of coastal regions of Sweden. 

Being the world's largest freshwater lake, and located north of the 45th parallel, Lake Superior remains very cold until the middle of July. When the wind comes off the lake in June, the temperature can drop from 80 degrees to low 50's in an instant. This is exactly what happened on the first day of our ride - a fog hovered over Duluth. We could feel sudden cold blasts of air slicing through the 80 degree air that sat towards the top of the Duluth skyline. It was like having natural air conditioning while you were riding. Pretty awesome. 

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As we approached the end of the Duluth Traverse, the trail winded us through pine forests of Hartley Nature Center. 

As soon as we arrived at the edge of the water, we could feel the cold pressing on us. The air temp was 53 degrees, while it was closer to 80 on top of the hill. Wool jerseys were put on, and we pushed forward heading towards Two Harbors. 

40 miles into our day we arrived at our remote camping spot, right on the water, stoked to be there taking in all the fresh air and crashing freshwater waves. The flat slate rocks were perfect for chilling on and drinking a few beers as dusk set in. 

Camp was super basic, and primitive. Just how we wanted it. 

After the sun went down, the strawberry moon rose on the east side of the lake. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect evening. I couldn't stop having fun with the camera, trying to catch waves as the broke in front of the moon. 

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Day two was a much mellower day in terms of mileage, but the plan was to take a snowmobile trail that led to railroad tracks that would eventually bring us right into Two Harbors and Castle Danger Brewery. We made it to the gate where the snowmobile trail started. 

A quarter mile past this sign the trail was covered with water. I thought it was rideable, but I immediately sunk up to my hub in mud. Thinking that the water might subside a little ways up, I hiked on higher ground through the woods to see how long the water went down the trail. As far as the eye could see, there was water. Instead of bushwhacking for 7-8 miles through a swamp, we decided to make a dash to Two Harbors so we could have a few beers and chill on the water. 

The wind had shifted overnight and was blowing hot air in from the south. We capped off a perfect weekend with a growler of beer out on the lighthouse right over the water in Two Harbors. This is one of the places I look forward to every summer, because it is so serene and calming. With only a 2.5 hour drive from Minneapolis, it immediately feels like you are in a different climate and geology, as if you had arrived in Scandinavia. So awesome. I'm already looking forward to the next trip to this giant freshwater sea. 

Dirty Kanza

The 200 mile Dirty Kanza gravel event has been intriguing me for years, with stories that make it sound like a one-of-a-kind event for riders, supporters and spectators. This year I headed down to Emporia, Kansas to hang with friends and capture the event for Teravail

Not only is the main event 200 miles long, but the aggressive flintstone riding surfaces make it a bumpy ride with a high risk of multiple flat tires and mechanical challenges. 

Water crossings at the bottom of long descents force riders to decide how much to scrub their speed versus taking the risk of punctures. One small crossing in particular at mile 30 was eating tires, and challenging the technical skills of everyone. Adequate tire pressure and weight distribution on the bike was key. 

Word on the street was there are more than 100 cattle grates along the course. These sketchy grates keep free-range cattle somewhat controlled so they don't wander to neighboring properties. This means that the spacing between each round, slippery grate is wide enough for cow hooves to fit through. 

Climbs were also a factor. Kansas has long rolling hills mixed with steep, punchy grades in spots. Narrow "B roads" traverse the landscape providing ranchers access to their animals and homesteads. The vistas south of Emporia were beautiful, like the one at mile 68, where Heidi Rentz from The Cyclists Menu danced over the top effortlessly.

Checkpoint three at mile 163 was the point of reckoning for many riders. At this point most had been riding for 10 or more hours, and faced another 3-5 hours in the last 40-plus mile leg to the finish in downtown Emporia. 

The scene in downtown Emporia was incredible considering this is a small, hard-to-get-to town, and a grassroots gravel event. It felt like a major international event with hundreds of spectators cheering, music pumping, and a party on the street as people were finishing in the dark. The vibe was awesome, to say the least. 

The Dirty Kanza put a serious bug in me. I left Emporia totally stoked, dead-set on riding the event in 2018. Congratulations to everyone from the Teravail crew for an amazing day on the bike, and the Dirty Kanza race organizers for putting on such a world-class event in the rural heartland of America. Kudos.

A complete gallery of images is below (click an image to see full screen). 

Almanzo 100

The 2017 edition of the Almanzo was exceptional due to the 40 degree temperatures, driving rain, and abusive wind. In 2011 the conditions were very similar, and on both of these occasions there was a lot of visual drama begging to be captured in photographs. I braved the conditions with my Fuji camera gear, and hit the road for Spring Valley, MN to be part of the spectacle. 20 miles into the event I rescued a man who had so much sand and grit in his eyes he couldn't see. After I dumped an ounce of eye drops in his eyes, he ended up going to the hospital. 40 miles in, I rescued a different guy who was holed up in a laundromat, rain dumping out of the gutters while his bike leaned against the building. 

For every rider, there was a different story of their long day on the bike. Kudos to everyone who braved the elements yesterday. The gallery below is what I managed to capture while out on the course, dodging rain bullets and helping people get from point A to point B. Enjoy.