Monday, August 24, 2015

Rainy Anniversary Weekend in Big Fork 2015

August 21st!  The day I married a really cool chick.  The past two seasons we have celebrated by heading up to Big Fork.  This year, the weather went from summer to fall.  Despite that Marg and Tae and I  had an amazing time.

I have been personally heading to the Cabin near  Big Fork since 1977, and my family started well before that (1938).  I try and go to a new place at least once every time I go there and despite the nearly forty nears of going there I am always stunned to find more and more interesting things to check out.

This season was no different.  The cool thing is that The Minnesota Land Trust owns some of its own property very close to Fairview and I took some time to check it out.  Holy smokes is it amazing and I will be back, a lot, in the fall for sure!

Despite the pretty gnarly weather it is always fun to hang in the cabin by the fire, playing board games and having fun with the family.  No complaints there.  Winter is near enough, even playing in a warm rain is a treat......

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I am not worried about my kid catching Nature Deficit Disorder: BWCA 2015

 I have said it before and I will say it again.

The only thing keeping your kid from experiencing the backcountry is YOU.  There is no doubt they can hack the bugs, the hard ground the rain.  They just need a good example of somebody else doing it.

This season our family BWCA trip was an exercise in exactly that. It was one of those classic canoe country jaunts where you test your gear and patience based on the less than idea conditions. Yet with all those challenges we came out just as expected.

Warm, dry and smiling.

Two key points that I bet a lot of folks and parents will agree with.

1.) Sturdy, roomy rain fly.

2.) Hot Chocolate (and Gin for the grown-ups)

With those two things you and your kids can make it through just about any major BWCA cold rain event.

We caught fish, we ate fish, we paddled, we swam, we hiked, we swam, we cooked good food, we swam, we laughed, we cried, we hugged we get the picture.

Marg just taking it all in 

21 inch Largemouth, on a 5 WT, top water...

No firewood, no need, roasting on the camp stove

Tae made two friends on the trip, this butterfly and the resident camp frog

Marg does this pose called the "Free Willy" anytime we camp or swim.  I have at least 20 now, someday there will be a full Free Willy exhibit

It did this for a full evening

Then it went away and what do you know?  We were ok!

Hot Choco Face

Drying out

Heading home

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Day of the Duluth Dirt Heroes: Kraus Anderson Duluth Bike Festival 2015.

Ryan Mallek, throwing down on his last run of the DH

I have always been a huge fan of the "Town Downhill".  This is a concept that stems from ski racing but extends far beyond that sport.

The idea being that at one point in your town you have an event that showcases the best athletes in your town and in that specific sport.

In Duluth we have a few of these, although none are truly billed as that event.  Take for instance Grandma's Marathon for running etc, or Homegrown for music!

The Duluth Bike Fest is filling that space for off road cycling in the City.  It takes all the types of riding we have in town and pits it versus the most hard core riders and the most entry level.  It allows the elite to fight it out against the elite and the average Joe to duke it out with other average Joes and and the end of the weekend, all those riding fantasies you had in your head are tempered, tamed and put back into reality.

I am so thankful and so respectful of both COGGS and Kraus Anderson for the amount of work and effort they have put into this event.  Every year it improves both in attendance and in organization. The same has to be said of Spirit Mountain. The event hinges on Spirits trails, their cafe and their employees and this season they had it nailed.

The timing is perfect.  The event happens at the high point of the season.  Everybody is fit, everybody has a lot of miles under their belts and the technical skills are tuned, or at least they should be.

I did not get a lot of shooting time in at this event as I decided to race the Long Enduro.  I had a generally good race, while I did not run the first two technical runs clean, I did not get hurt.  That said my second two runs were more in my comfort zone and I ripped both those faster than the peers of my speed.

A huge shout out to Micah at SRAM and to Trek as well.  I was down a bike leading into this event and the help both of those brands gave me, allowed me to put the Slash all back together and participate!

That all said, I did manage to haul along the trusty point and shoot and snap a few pics during the event itself.  It was extremely hot and the transits between runs were a sweaty affair.  Luckily the ample amount of time in between runs allowed for dips in the creek and slow climbs keeping most people from over heating.

Transit time between Long Enduro Runs 

On my second push up the hill I saw these birds, they looked cool and they made me think about how to act on my third run.....gracefully

The wallow hole at the top before run two
The Enduro winner was not a surprise as the Barry "The Burrito" Buhr took the overall win.  Barry has been killing it in every race he has entered this year and barring a crash was a favorite going in.

It was not an easy course this this edition and there could have been many things to go wrong in any number of places but Barry ripped it clean and deserved his win for sure.  A whole bevy of local shredders were on his tail however and Duluth was well, well, represented in the top 10.

This one goes to 11!
Casey K showing how to enter Wrecking Ball.  Anybody who has run this at speed understands the issue here.  You have to jump that first rock, land to the left of the Punji Stick with your wheels then thread right to miss the pushy little rocks right after....of course the whole time remembering to not hit the tight trees...

Wrecking Ball

Good views for the starts of Stages 1-2, however high speeds and slippery grass put more than one competitor into a nose wiper.
After surviving the Long Enduro, I manned up, grabbed the camera gear and hiked up the hill for the fourth time of the day.  I think that hike was the hardest.  I had a vague plan for shooting but not much and was happy with getting any images at all.  I am a shooter that needs a good plan before I start clicking and without one I am swinging pretty damn blind.

The booter into the "Superior Berms"

Numba One!  Alex Rhode was NOT afraid of the big bad rock Gardens for the DH win on Calculated Risk

I started out on the higher side of Calculated Risk.  Just below the famed Terranium (Which is a funny as it was made up on this very Blog last year!)

I did not want to shoot much on the big drop as I had shot the hell out of it last year and wanted to try and be more creative this time around.  That said I was caught flat footed on the booter into the new berms.  The light was not quite right, but before I could haul out a Speedlight people were already flying off the jump.

I ended up moving up to the Terranium to catch the crowds and then back down into some of the high speed rock gardens and had better luck.

Max F.  The future.
Andy K.  Catching a break in the air on the big table in the DH race
The Terranium a circus as usual 
Seven years ago when I started shooting Duluth MTB seriously there were no other photographers in town focused specifically on mountain biking.  Now they are popping up like wood ticks on a fine spring day.

This is a good thing, not a bad thing.  No one person can tell the stories that are happening here in town anymore.

In any case the DH trail was lined with photographers, many of them fine ones and I am excited to see the images that come from the event in the next couple of days.

My goal as a photographer is to grab the best image I can from the event.  This is as opposed to shooting each and every rider as they go by.

There are great event photographers out there, but I am not one of them.  Indeed a great race like the KA DH is perfect for me because it pulls all the best riders into one space and I concentrate on the highest level riders specifically, as they hit the best lines, have the best body language and highest speeds and biggest air.  Right now things are small enough where I know most of them by sight and can set up for them specifically, I am also getting to know what they like and the lines they hit because of working with them earlier in the season as well. The hitch is that since I am a rider myself, its hard to dedicate all of the KA fest to shooting, I am always going to want to ride the Enduro myself and that crimps my style for sure.

Big Antlers 

At some point they turn the lifts off and there is a collective sigh

Whitey walking away with the attention he deserved 
The end of the day 

The DH was a real joy to witness.  Last year it was a gong show of near death and destruction.  This season the caliber of riders seemed higher, or least more understanding of what they were riding and the crash ratio was way down.

The local riders threw down as usual.  Some like Andy K and Casey K had actually done the Long Enduro, then hit the DH as well.  Phil Ott, from Marquette and his girlfriend Cooper Dendel did the same.  That is apex predator level in my mind as all of them were top ten in the Enduro, then an hour later were top five in the DH.


I have to say though the best story was Alex Rhode who won the event.  Alex is a hometown kid, works at the hill on both the lifts and now the trails.  This is what the town downhill is all about.  Who is the kid in the shadows?  The one that rips it under cover, then lets out all the stops at the big town race.  This year it was Alex and I have to say he should be proud about his performance.  I know as a local rider I sure was.  That is the kind of shit that you see and while we love to have Alex here, you kind of feel like you have to kick him in the ass to go try the pro circuit as the kid has the legs to give er.

The day ended with a party and a gathering.  The heat went away, the beer started flowing and so did the bull shit.  Much of it from my mouth.  After riding all day in 95 degree heat, with only breakfast in me, the first beer went straight to my head, as did the second, third and fifth one.  So to all who talked to me, I apologize to your mothers and I hope you could wipe the spit off.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

A sneak peak at Duluth's Bouldering Scene ...... Summer 2015

Power Digits 
Just hanging around 
 Every couple days I get the same question.  How is the new job treating you?  Every time I say the same thing.

Awesome!  It has its ups and downs for sure but generally it has been pretty mind blowing.

As part of this new job (its less than a year old), my task is to photograph the clubs and activities I am working on.  These pictures serve a multitude of purposes, from marketing, to story telling to just plain documenting the process and the work we are going through.

There is no doubt that this aspect of the job is the most rewarding part of it for me.  I say this because shooting these activities brings me into the personal life and space of the folks participating in Duluth outdoors.

Climbing is one of those sports.  I am not a climber.  I have given it a go many times but its not my forte.  That said, I hugely respect climbers and love, love the aesthetic of climbing.  So far I have shot ice climbing and small bit of sport climbing.  However I had not yet checked out the Bouldering scene in Duluth.

Suffice to say I was STOKED at what I have seen so far.

I met up with Avery and Dustin, Cedar and Coulter Holden last night as well as Eldon and Dan and after a small bit of confusion, went to the A.L.C bouldering spot.

The hike in was magical and the crag itself amazing.  In speaking with the crew it was obvious that this was one spot of many in the City and that perhaps Bouldering is in one major aspect of climbing that Duluth could truly be put on the map for.

It was classic Duluth.  I have lived here for what, 20 plus years and both the zone the climb was in and the spot itself were not even close to my radar.

I truly enjoyed the challenge of shooting the Bouldering.  I quickly realized that I had no dang idea how to shoot it and I look forward to shooting it a lot more so I can truly perfect my technique and get some world class images as the places here in the City of Duluth and the climbers deserve it.

Also it was amazing to watch the Holden boys send the routes they attempted.  These kids are "rock" stars and it will be really fun to watch as they progress on the competition circuit and what they can do on the local climbs.  Its for those future climbers, both themselves and the kids we don't yet know about that the work I am involved in and that the Duluth Climbers Coalition is involved in is all about.

Special thanks to Avery for finding us in the woods and hauling us over to A.L.C and for all the climbers who came to climb last night and for Kraig of Climb Duluth for pulling folks together.  I look forward to doing it again....

Avery describing the sequence 

Coulter throwing down

Papa Bear 
The family that falls together stays together 

Avery getting after it

The spring into the dyno that eventually ripped Coulter's fingers off

Cedar acting twice his age


Hike in, pretty special in its own right 

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Mission Creek Park, Duluth and why it matters to Off Road Cycling.

The fam at Mission Creek 

So there is this mystical place on the far west side of Duluth.

Its called Mission Creek Park and its in the Fond Du Lac neighborhood.  This neighborhood is easily the most historic part of the City, but its also one of the most historic parts of the state and its not a stretch to say the country.

This history is not only of modern times, but also Tribal.  It was originally Sioux territory but over time was contested and absorbed by the Chippewa.

In the early summer of 1679, over 300 years ago, Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Lhut (Duluth) and his party landed in Fond Du Lac on a trading mission and kicked off the fur trade in this part of the region.

Eventually the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad was put in, which eventually became the Western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railway which extended, literally across the nation to the Pacific Ocean.  Imagine the fact that in the late 1800's you could step out of your canoe, load up on a train in Fond Du Lac and end up eventually in Oregon.

Next came the lumber boom and then eventually the Thomson Hydro Project funded by Jay Cooke one of the biggest and earliest hydro projects of its kind.

Now, all these decades later, much of this land is still open space.  Mission Creek Park is the largest continuous piece of open space in the City of Duluth and it is nestled up to Jay Cooke State Park on its west side.

For me this has been a place I have been a huge fan of, both in its history and its recreation.  However while many, many Duluthians loved Mission Creek, many did not.  It was common for me to be riding in the park and see massive ATV and motorcycle damage, garbage and leaf litter dumped on the road or tv's and washing machines dumped in the woods.

However despite the abuse the place is off the charts amazing visually.  There is amazing topography, big trees and a sense of being deep in the middle of nowhere (because you are).

It was always a dream for me to see this place more valued and more appreciated.  Well now it is and we have for the past two seasons had two COGGS trails designated at Mission Creek.  One called Cathedral (Upper and Lower) and Loki (my namesake) they make up about 7 miles of trail.  The Minneapolis Star and Tribune called these the best new Minnesota MTB trails of 2014 recently.

However Aaron Rogers and his crew have been diligently building more trails over the past year and COGGS is extremely close to opening nearly 7 miles of additional trails for a total of 14 miles in the park. One of those trails is the Western end of the Duluth Traverse.

These trails are really important to Duluth as an off road cycling destination as they fulfill a few needs in the City.  One they are smooth, wide and predictable.  Case in point my whole family went riding on Monday night.  Mom, dad and the kid.  We all loved it and we all were well within our comfort zones in ability.  The scenery and the visual were amazing and the ride ended up with Tae asking when we could go again.

With the addition of the new trails the Mission area is building towards a backcountry ride aspect that we have not had in the town.  Much of our riding in Duluth is compartmentalized.  Most folks tend to stay system specific.  IE they hit Brewer, or Lester, they do a lap or two and its done.  Those rides are gorgeous but fairly high density and while you feel like your in the woods, a road is never far away.  Mission and the new trails and the future new trails (there are 5 plus miles still be completed in 2016) put you literally in the middle of nowhere.

At some points you are for sure miles from a road and having a spare tube, a tool and a spare jacket in the fall will be key as the walk out is much further than you will want to chance.  This sense of adventure and of being far from the city is a unique situation in an urban environment and I think that people will have their minds blown by it.  Suffice to say that while Duluth is rapidly becoming a riding destination, Mission Creek will be a destination onto itself.

This Thursday COGGS is putting on a work night celebration and effort to tweak the trails and get em rolling.

So if you are in town and enjoy these trails get your butt out there and help make em happen.  Also on Tuesday nights at 6pm at Chambers Grove Park, we have an on-going work night to maintain the trails.  We are slowly assembling a sweet crew of Mission loving single track riders, but we need many more so please give back to what you love and donate an hour or two to this incredibly special place.

Monday, August 03, 2015

How to live your life in a Northern Town: Summer 2015

Alex Rhode enjoying his summer day off

Perfect DH conditions at Spirit 

When you live in the Northern half of Minnesota, you learn to love summer.  Sure there are those of us who love Winter but even they have to admit that summer is a lithe, fleetingly perfect experience that is meant to be savored.

My strategy for a perfect summer is to pack it with as much outdoor time as possible.  Every second, every space is filled.  Savored, tasted and consumed.  The idea being that once winter hits, I will so damn tired and beaten that I will relish the cold weather down time and use it as a way to recover.

This weekend was no different.  It started on Thursday riding at Spirit in the evening and it went until Monday morning.  Single track at Lester with a visiting VIP.  My buddy Mike Riemer came up later in the day and we went bike Fishing for Trout on Friday evening, then hitting the St. Louis River, upper and lower all day on Saturday, with Bloody Mary's and lunch at the Street Car in between.  Sunday was spent ripping single track at Brewer and Piedmont then taking photo's with the gals at the Ladies All Ride event at Spirit.

Intense!  Thanks to all the folks I hung out with over the weekend for a great time.  Now back to the grindstone for another great Minnesota summer week!

Morning on the Louis

The Kid getting ready to tie into his first batch of Smallies 

The Kid ties them all by himself 

Night time on the river.  We rode our bikes for hours, sometimes in the light and sometimes in the dark!

Rock bank, St. Louis River 

Fond Du Lac 

I saw a National Geographic photo essay on the St. Louis River.  It did not look like this.

Just between us boys Miker

Heading for the put in

The rough and tough ladies of Spirit Mountain