Monday, January 26, 2015

Riding the Chinook: Thunder Bay Fat Biking 2015

The Prince Arthur Hotel 
Centennial Park 
Three hours north of me there exists a line drawn in the sand by men with differing ideas of  country and domain.

That line is called the US-Canadian Border and it bends minds and alters perceptions. The people that live below it look south for commerce and the people that live north look west and east (and sometimes south).

The fact of the matter is that regardless of how arbitrary that line really is, it has created a difference in the two cultures, and not just Tim Hortons versus Dunkin Doughnuts!  Its a difference I enjoy immensely.

While my local compatriots are leaping on planes and heading out west, I tend to look due north and realize that just a simple three hour drive away is a very unique adventure experience.

That place is Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Nocturnal afflictions
Dumping snow in City Lights 

I have been to Thunder Bay a few times in my life.  The first was to watch the Pre-World Championships for Nordic Skiing.  I wandered up there a few more times for paddle trips over the years but did not go back for a good extended trip until last season when I visited the Black Sheep Mountain Bike Club for IMBA.  

That trip really opened my eyes to the opportunities that Thunder Bay has for cyclists and especially for off road cyclists both summer and winter.  Add that to the fact that T-Bay reminds me of Duluth when I first moved there in 1989 and you have a fun riding experience and fun cultural experience.

No better place when your cold and hungry

Casey ripping the Grand Chasm 

I have been shooting pretty hard to gain some images for both 45NRTH and Salsa Cycles this season but the snow conditions in Duluth have been making that challenging.  We have great riding as the trails are in perfect packed shape.  However we have not had snow in the trees or enough new snow to really pretty the place up for shooting images.

I routinely am researching new places to ride and snow conditions and watching weather patterns.  As I saw a four day window opening up to shoot because of MLT Day I realized that Thunder Bay was the place I wanted to hit.  I remembered the big rock bluffs, the deep Cedar forests and the funky town on top of it and I started to make some calls.
As seen in Thunder Bay
Lake Effect Dump
On the rocks
Petries Bike Shop, your local Salsa, 45NRTH dealer in T-Bay
The first call was to the Prince Arthur Hotel.  I fell in love with this place when I was up in 2014.  Its super close to the Fat Bike Trails, reasonable for cost and its walking distance to some of the better places to eat and drink in town.  Plus its got this old world charm to it.  No doubt it has seen better days but its clean and the folks there are rad.

The second call was to The Black Sheep.  I got a hold of Mark Maranzan who ended up giving us the heads up on conditions and even joined us for a couple of rides when we arrived. 

To say we nailed the conditions is an understatement.  We arrived in time on a friday to get a night ride in at Centennial and Shuniah Mines.  The conditions were smooth, firm and tacky.  Having ridden these trails in the summer I realized that in some spots, winter riding was perhaps more fun than the summer conditions.  As we rode it also started to dump. Classic Lake effect dump.  Light fluffy, and fat.  By Saturday afternoon the trails were still firm and fast but now were coated with a few light inches of fluff, enough for getting loose, enough for poofing snow on every turn and enough to make the place look awesome.

We feasted on the single track for several days until we decided to try a different taste, a more backcountry effort at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.

Hearty Thunder Bay local at the Bean Fiend on Algoma Street
The real north woods eh!
Endless imagination

Sleeping Giant should be on every persons list to see.  Especially if you live within the region.  Its awe inspiring and for sure you feel like you are in an otherworldly place.  As a photographer you are drooling at shots every direction your looking.   Unfortunately we had pretty marginal light as the Lake effect kept dumping on us.

In fact the snow as dumping enough that we were starting to wonder if we could actually ride into the park very far.  After some debate we finally decided to make it happen. We struggled along in deep snow to Tea Harbor, moving at a snails pace but when we achieved the Harbor we were well rewarded.

However by the time we turned back to retrace our steps we were most certainly not super motivated.

I called the full ride back "Torture By Bike"  Eventually though we reached the car and cracked some beers in celebration.  Then we loaded up and bee lined it for the Prince Arthur.  Some food at the Sovereign Room and we headed up to veg out in our suite. Casey cracked a big bottle of Crown Royal and we proceeded to make our morning a bit slower and more painful with every was like time travel.....

Schralping the hood in T-Bay
Plenty of nostalgic neon in Thunder Bay

Heading back to the room
What else can you toast a sweet 4 day stand in Ontario with!
The day we had to return to Duluth we hit the city and looked for some urban riding.  We found more than we could handle but settled down for a session at a good spot.  After a while we headed to Petries Bikes to check them out and we also grabbed a mocha at the Bean Fiend.  Casey had to cover my ass as my credit card company decided that since I was using my card in Canada, it must be stolen...Argh!

All in all I would say that heading to Thunder Bay is a worthy endeavor for Fat Biking.  The trails are fun and the Black Sheep club is venturing into packing and grooming the trails but it was also obvious that a ton of folks are riding Fat and because of that the trails were packed nicely.

In a nutshell get off your butt and head north over the border, you will be rewarded with some interesting experiences and you won't view the Midwest Adventure seen the same again that is for sure as the Tbay region has some amazing options to go out and have fun.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Back to my roots: 2015 Winter Outdoor Retailer Show with Outdoor Alliance

In 1994 I started my full professional career in the Outdoor Industry.  I say full time because unlike a lot of folks I was already emeshed in the Outdoor Industry by Junior high, due to how I grew up, but that is another story, this was the start of my "real job."

The boys.  I have spent countless hours touring with these guys and several were also on hand for the avalanche that forever connects me to Elmo.  Last night of the show.....
I went to my first OR show in 1995, it was still in Reno, NV and I attended with Garmont USA.  I remember being so totally excited and stoked to go.  I don't remember a whole hell of a lot about that show, but I do remember one story fondly.  My job was to help with the booth set and also just generally be a gopher.  As part of the "gopher job" I had to run the Italian owners/partners of the company around.  That generally meant doing whatever it took to keep them happy.  At one point during the show I had to pick them up in a hurry to get them to the airport, to get pole position at the front of the show I had to illegally park, I then ran in to get them.....when we came back the van was rolling away behind a tow truck to an impoundment.  Thinking quickly I ran back in and grabbed some keys from a buddy working with a competitor and still was able to get them to their plane on time.  However once done I had to report to John Schweizer my boss that I had lost the van and that we were going to have to head to the impoundment lot to retrieve it, and of course drop $200 bucks in doing so.  I fretted all the way to the lot, and remained largely silent, waiting for the inevitable tongue lashing I was going to receive.

The events leading up to retaining the vehicle were notable.  When we stomped into the office we were greeted by a woman I can only describe as a "painted lady", only one that had long since retired.  Regardless of that fact she still had a blouse on that revealed enough cleavage to rival the grand canyon.  Schweizer immediately handed me the credit card and had me work through the transaction while he inserted well aimed barbs about the evening and simultaneously trying to hook me up with the 50 year old matron across the counter.  Five minutes into this whole scenario I could only grin and laugh as the whole thing transpired and I realized that this was my tongue lashing.  As soon as we had the keys in hand and were heading towards our condo and waiting sales associates, Schweizer commented to me about my fear of the $200 loss.  "200 is bucks is important he said, but don't come whining to me about losing $200 bucks while I have hundreds of thousands riding on the show"  Lesson learned.....  12 years of rocking the Outdoor Industry followed and ultimately led me to advocacy, a place I covet in the miasma of outdoor jobs.

Typical OR show scene 
A lot of memories came flooding back this week when I was lucky enough to attend the 2015 Winter OR Show.  Walking the aisles was nostalgic and I ran into a myriad of folks from my past.  I sold the Duluth project hard and also worked with OA on another project I am involved it.

Interestingly enough many of my friends are in high places these days and it was really fun to educated them on what I am doing in Duluth, and also know they hold solid positions of influence within their own organizations and the industry itself.

It was once a ski show, but now, well its a rag show

Duluth Represents!!
My trip was sponsored by OA and The Minnesota Land Trust and because of that I spent a lot of time talking with other advocacy groups and vendors as to a future program OA is thinking of creating and that I support whole heartedly.

My work in Duluth could possibly be a large part of that effort and because of that I spent most of my time educating and informing my contacts about where we are with Duluth since the Outside Magazine win.  I was super impressed by what people had heard about Duluth and the buzz that it was generating in a  community that is leagues away from the city and generally Western focused.  That was very inspiring to hear.

It was also really cool to see a bunch of businesses from Duluth and the nearby area at the show.  Epicurean, Duluth Pack, Granite Gear, Frost River all were hanging at the show and I was able to spend a night with those folks as a mini Duluth Trade Delegation in SLC.  Also noteworthy was that at the close of each show day, they always had Bent Paddle on hand!

Of course I built in a day for a quick ski tour as well.  It was pretty frenetic and I am super stoked that Elmo was able to help me pull it together.  The snow in the Wasatch is pretty grim right now but even with that dire knowledge we of course found great skiing anyway.  It is always hard to hide the pow pow from old powder hounds like Elmo and myself I guess.

Earn em 

Rip em

Turn em

It was a quick tour but I was able to achieve a good run and really relished having that old bouncy, floating feeling of powder skiing.

It is interesting to think that now when I go to OR I actually go to family.  Family that would not have existed had I not attended the show.  I met Elmo through other industry friends and well, the rest is history and another extremely long story.  Its hard to ignore though as I played with little Skadi, Kass and Mikes little girl, I could not help but recall how long the road has been to get there.......

Monday, January 12, 2015

Clicking till I can click no more.......winter in Duluth 2015

So I have been a bit light on the posts lately.

This is a combination of a lot of things.  Folks have been asking how much I have been shooting this winter and I have replied that its actually been a fair bit.

Not quite as much as usual as my new job is most certainly sucking up some time I normally used for shooting but more than folks would expect.

I am running into a new issue, that many of my shoots are under contract.  I have been lucky enough to line up a few clients this winter and my shots go to them first, and now my blog second.

Once I have the yea or nay I will post up some of em up however as there are some real beauts!

Suffice to say however that conditions in Duluth for riding are sweet right now, especially if your into the Free Ride aspect of winter MTB and Casey K and I have been out shooting in some pretty darn amazing locations, many that I can honestly say have most likely not seen much in the way of bikes that is for sure!

Its really interesting how a small bit of snow makes lines that were once un-rideable, rideable.  The gaps are filled, the rough terrain smoothed out and the mud or water frozen so new approaches open up.  Too much snow and your locked out, right now is about perfect for going nearly anywhere.....

Monday, January 05, 2015

Fat Bike Article Minnesota Conservation Volunteer (Jan-Feb 2015)

Wow.  So sorry for the long absence!  The holidays sucked me in like a black hole and then upon my return I was hit squarely in the face by the ugly Flu that has been going around these parts.  The flu, the real honest to god, ass kicking flu!  Its been a while since I truly had a flu and I don't recumbent it to anybody.  I was down for a solid week, most of it with a temperature about 104.  No food, no stomach, man.....all I could do was hunker down and hope for the best.  I read so many books, I watched just about every dang tv show on Net Flix.  Good god that Pinky Blinders show as amazing....!

In any case at the end of that challenging sickness I was happy to see this little gem on my desk.  This is a piece that I did with Layne Kennedy about Fat Biking in Minnesota.  Layne is the real deal as a photographer and a shooter that I have admired from afar.  When the Conservation Volunteer asked me to do this piece I was hopeful I would be the shooter, but when they said Layne was the guy, I was not going to argue....although I have to admit I struggled writing the piece and loathed every minute of it.  I am not a writer that is for sure, a shooter sure, but a writer?????

I have to admit when Layne came up to shoot I took him to a lot of spots that I had been shooting or scouting personally, then I asked him questions the whole time he was shooting.  It was like my own mini class with Layne Kennedy.  It was great to see how he looked at the land scape, the shots, the riders.  It was also great to BE a rider, and to have to understand what was happening in the riders place, something that a lot of photographers dont think about.

In the end I think this turned out great.  Layne nailed the photo's, the writing is enough to get the point across, but is certainly the weak point, but then again I knew that going into it!  I can only hope that we see conditions like those again this winter as we seem to be losing the snow lottery around here.......

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mastering Micro Freshies with Casey Krueger: Winter 2015 Piedmont

There was a time when new snow meant putting the bike up on the rack while the skis were fetched.  Things have really changed in that regard.  So many folks are rocking winter riding rigs now that the trails get super buffed within hours of a snowfall.  That sort of packing creates an amazing riding surface, traction to a point, but still plenty of mystery moves happening.  This is where some skills are born, like smearing the front tire and the back tire and drifting.

Its so fun and its so good for your overall riding skills.  Today Casey was rocking the Vanhelga tires by 45nrth and it was amazing to see what he could commit to with that tire tread.  Pretty much summer to be honest.

The warm up is here, but so far not as bad as it has been made out to be, in fact it has so far improved the conditions if anything.

Here is to crossing the fingers for the next few days!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Freehub Magazine re-releases "The Land of 10,000 Frozen Lakes" on

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I was surprised to learn last night (as I was getting ready for another Fat Bike Ride at Brewer!) that Freehub had reissued my article from their Winter 2013 Magazine on their Web Site.

That link is right here if you have not seen it.

"The Land of 10,000 Frozen Lakes"

Who knows this may be the year to repeat this trip.  If conditions keep going the way they are going, we might be ripping the Savanna Portage one more time......

These are some shots that did not make the cut on the story.  Some of them were also in Mountain Bike Action and their Feb 2014 No More Winter Blues edition.  In any case enjoy em and take a look at the Freehub posting as well.

This trip was also chronicled on Salsa's Blog that winter as well as on Universal Klister and tagged under "Northwest Trail", both of those in multiple parts.

Surfing the Ditchbanks 

Ideal, ideal conditions

Deep snow beats everybody all the time

Blizzard warrior 

Curly's Bar

Not ideal conditions 

Done, for real

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Duluth Fat Bike Scene Winter 2014-2015: Hanging with the Night Hawks........


The things that happen in the dark


Its own kind of magic 

Local Outdoor writer Sam Cook scrawled a great story recently on how the citizens of Duluth embrace winter and embrace the darkness that accompanies it.  I have a personal soft spot for it myself.  The colors, the deep blacks, the bright LED lights and the reflection of the snow all make it a visual feast.

I have always been super stoked to have the friends that I do, but the ones that are willing to give up some time to allow me to capture shots are near and earl to my heart.  So thanks to the Night Hawks, those of you that get out with me in the dark and try to make magic happen.  Last night that was Casey and Andy, but we also had some walk on's with Pam and Barry.....I look forward to a really fun, creative and awesome winter with you all.

The COGGS Annual Meeting 2014 and the Mission Creek Fat Bike Ride that started it off.......

Mission Creek Flood Damage

Fat Tire deep 

Old bridges

So I have ranted and raved for nearly a decade on this blog about all things outdoors, but one  consistent theme has been exploiting conditions.  In other words, the right tools for the job.  That could be skiing, climbing, skating, riding, fishing you name it.

Well right now there is no doubt that the Fat Bike rules the roost in our current conditions in Duluth.  There was a small window where both Fat Bikes and Nordic skis were both in the matrix but that window came and went (Although for several days this week it may change).  We had awesome early cold and early snow.  Over time that snow transitioned to ice, which for a lot of folks became a no go for Fat Bikes.....unless you had studs.  If you did, you know what I know and that was that it was FUN.  Ice,  wheels and studs = better than summer......Fast, smooth and ripping grip.

This weekend was so fun as there was the Global Fat Bike Ride on Saturday and then Sunday COGGS had a ride before the Annual (read party) Meeting at The Thirsty Pagan.  That ride turned into a river ride.  A slow moving technical exploration of the Mission Creek drainage. This is Fat Bike Territory without a doubt.

Duluth fashion statement 

I was struck on the Mission Creek Ride on just how far the idea of riding year round has come.  The Fat Bike, the shoes, the Pogies, the studded tires, the clothing, the lighting.  We are truly starting to see the products that go along with the activity evolve to the point where comfort is nearly a sure thing, but also performance is too.  Riding at night, fully warm at speeds verging on summer riding, only in the beam of a bright as day headlamp...that is a major change from a decade ago I can assure you.

There is a big bad warm up predicted, so we are all riding our asses off before conditions truly go wacky, but like I have also preached forever....get it while its good.

Beer and Meetings

Treasurers Report

Thirst Pagan Basement details 

The best speakers podium EVER

The COGGS Annual Party, er I mean Meeting was amazing as well.  The vision is being achieved and the presentation by COGGS as to where we have been and where we are going in the next few years was spot on and well organized.  It had it all, stats, successes, challenges, cheers and even a standing ovation for Adam Sundberg who earned it.  The meeting was held int he mysterious basement of the Thirsty Pagan (thanks to Thirsty Steve!) and that made it even more fun, the whole event was so authentic and so core I am not sure you could find a more cool venue and cool folks to populate and of course an even cooler story to build it around, that being the Duluth Traverse and MTB success in our community.