Monday, April 27, 2015

Happy Homegrown 2015

Pot Holes!  Pot Holes!!

Yes its here again folks!  If outdoor rec is one leg of Duluth's revitalization, the arts and culture are another giant one!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Duluth Traverse a hot topic at the Bicycle Leadership Conference!

17 Mile Road 

I have done hundreds if not thousands of presentations over the years.  Of all of those a few stick out in my memory.

The one that I tanked on in Lacrosse, WI.  The one that I survived at Trek World and now the one that I nailed at the Bicycle Leadership Conference.

The Trek World talk was merciful in the fact that it came unexpectedly.  I had an hour to stress about the fact that I was about to be on stage with John Burke in front of thousands to both speak to IMBA's success in 2013 and also accept a $700,000 check.

The BLC though was a good month of lead up and preparation.  It was not a big crowd, maybe 250 or so, but it was a very elite and prestigious crowd in the fact that pretty much every major bicycle and bicycle accessory brand was represented in the room.

On top of that I had 10 minutes to tell the Duluth story and how it has impacted getting more people on bikes, a very small amount of time to speak to over 6 years of blood sweat and tears poured out by hundreds of people.  In other words I had to really distill what was important, what moved the dial and why.

Monterey Aquarium 
I stumbled around for two weeks with several ideas and presentations.  Finally one day I ran into a friend of mine (Ian from Apex!) who asked if I wanted to give the presentation to him and practice.  I realized that indeed I needed to start making that happen so I accepted.

First round try.  20 minutes.  10 minutes over the limit and my message was all over the map.  Oh shit I thought, I have to give this many, many, many more times.

I made that a priority.  I made myself give the presentation 14 more times over four days, each time tweaking it every time.  By the time I hit California and the conference I was comfortably down to 9 minutes and was still seeing spots where I could trim it and tighten it up.

Of course practice and execution are two totally different deals.  For me, when I stand up in front of people I get scared as hell, I tend to rush to just get out of the way and get it done.

This time was different though.  I knew I was dialed.  I also felt that I was the right person to tell this story and to tell it passionately.  While the Duluth Traverse story is extremely powerful, its also very easy for people to just discount Duluth wholesale before they even hear the story.

I was so confident and so chill at the podium, it was an amazing feeling.  Especially when you realize that the person I followed up was Thomas Dimitroff, General Manager of the Atlanta Falcons who was speaking about cycling and what the NFL could do to promote it!

My take away from the presentation was about how powerful our story here in Duluth is and how much more we need to get out in the world and tell it.
Dinner Monterey Aquarium 
Desert Bar, Monterey Aquarium 
Jenn Dice Bicycle Advocate, People for Bikes.  Thanks to Jenn for inviting Duluth to come and present our story!
Early morning ride before the Conference 
Typical conference.  So close, yet so far away.........

The BLC is held in conjunction with the Sea Otter Classic.  On the last day of the BLC I was able to hit Sea Otter for both a nice long single track ride with my old co-worker Jeremy Fancher.  It was an awesome ride.  However much more than I bargained for!  I was still in spring conference mode, but I am grateful to Jeremy for getting me out for a "real" ride.

We rode across Fort Ord to the venue for Sea Otter and saw the general mayhem there.  Man what a massive event, you could just feel the power coming from the general area!  If any of our MTB ride centers here in the Midwest could harness even a 10th of that power we would be doing amazing things.

As usual I was extremely excited to return home to my city and my family, fully inspired, flush with new energy and ideas and I am super stoked to get back to action on all we have going here in D-town, which was confirmed by many people outside of our box as AWESOME.

Jeremy Fancher, killing it on his home trails at Fort Ord (he also almost killed me!) 

Sea Otter Bicycle Festival.  America's premier cycling event 
Coast of California 

Crazy looking dogs around Monterey....

Monday, April 20, 2015

A day with Nick Heil of Outside Magazine

Nick Heil 

The day before I left for California and the Bicycle Leadership Conference I was lucky enough to be be able to hang with Nick Heil of Outside Magazine.

I met Nick digitally a bunch of years ago when he listed Universal Klister as one of the years best outdoor Winter blogs.  I was impressed that my blog was even on his radar let alone picked for the list.  It says something about doing your research when you find a very obscure midwest blog and take the time to realize it has some interesting content.  There are a lot of blogs out there with a lot of good stuff that is for sure.

Nick has gone free lance since that time and has also written a book called Dark Summit about Mount Everest's most controversial season ever.

Nick was in the midwest for another interesting story, that I won't scoop him on, and it possibly involved Duluth.  Duluth was not the subject of the story but some aspects of it could lend some content for sure.

With the sloppy trails and the wet conditions we decided to do a ride on the DWP and old Skyline and it was a great way to hang out and get to know Nick a bit more.

I am sure we will see him here again when the grass is green and the trails tacky!

One year ago today on 4-20

What a difference a year makes!  As I look outside at the snow free landscape, the budding trees and the growing grass I can't help but think of of the fact that we were skiing powder on 4-20 the previous two seasons.

While the prospects of one of the earliest MTB riding seasons ever is on the horizon I can't help but think about how much fun Casey and I had last season on the skis.

It was a truly perfect ski day.  Champagne powder, bomber base for high speeds and cold temps.  In fact we actually kicked waxed for the full day, and were able to ski up any hill we needed and had super glide for the descents.

I am not sure where are winters are headed, but there is no doubt that I look back with nostalgia at last seasons fun that is for sure.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Image Dump: Perfect Duluth Weekend #567

Casey K eating one last helping of Corn
 April is the cruelest month when you live in Duluth.  One minutes its giving you all the loving signs of spring and summer, the next its tearing your heart out with cold and snow.  This weekend April was a good lover and bestowed upon us record high temps and beautiful skies.

I took full advantage of it!

We went skiing, mountain biking, bike touring all over the West end, hiking and I even took shots of my buddies paddling on the Louie.

Perhaps my favorite part of the weekend however was when we stumbled upon The Bjorn Baaken XC Invite at Spirit Mountain.

It was like something out of a Sci Fi movie.  It was like looking back in time and seeing me and my friends 20 years ago.  The same enthusiasm, the same end of the season insanity, costumes, inside jokes and jabs and general tension release. In other words youthful insanity.

The end of the season Nordic Party.  Its a lost art and I was so happy to see its tradition being carried on in Duluth.  If you were a past Nordic Ski Racer you know EXACTLY what I am talking about.  Your fit, your down with the season, you can let it all hang out, have a beer or six and just generally rip....

The course was slightly uphill...then ALL downhill aand of course there had to be jumps included.  Now as a former Nordy myself I have to admit.  XC racers typically have the engines, but in most cases don't have the handling down for big air and precision turning, especially since they are standing on two tiny foot rockets that are meant to go straight and fast.  All that said, XC racers don't take anything half assed and it was amazing to see these kids line up for an extremely lippy jump and come at FULL ON.  The results were both stunning and hilarious since many of them were in costume.  I submit one full sequence below.

I will let the rest of the images speak for themselves.

What a sick weekend.


Cowboy Bob leading the pack 

Finish line mayhem 

Snow depth check 

Young kids and recovery 

Most interesting Nordic Ski Top Sheets I have ever seen

Coach Tesch bombs out 

Locals know where the April dryness is

Ice Cream Headache 

Morning paddle 

Sliding into the Octopus 
Jeremy doing his longest Smokehouse delivery ever

DWP Tunnel 

Checking out the rocks on the DWP

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Homegrown Photo Show 2015

Sparhawk and Parr 
I don't usually take photos of music and shows.  I have so many good friends that do it so well I figure why bother.  I did however have my trusty point and shoot with me during the last several Homegrown Festivals here in Duluth.

This season there is another Homegrown Photo show and a few folks asked me if I had anything to try and contribute, another thing I am not very good at....submitting.

In any case I figured I better dig into the pile.  Like I said, I did not shoot much, but here are few I had buried on the hard drives.

At the very least they get me stoked for the upcoming Festival!

Happy Homegrown ahead of time!!!
Happy customers 


Tim Nelson and crew 

Starfire and Chicken 

The Blasphemists 

Actual Wolf 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The passing of Resolution 15-0175R (The St. Louis River Corridor Initiative) Duluth invests in being and staying an Outdoor City


 Wow.  Not sure where to even start this post.  There is so much I need to talk about!

First off, I guess I should mention what happened.  The technical jargon is here in a Duluth News Tribune article.  The quick version of it all is this.

"The Resolution of Intent" was passed unanimously by the City Council on Monday night.  The fact that it passed is historic, the fact that it passed with all 9 votes is historic and amazing.

What does this mean?

This means that all of the 25 or so projects included in the Resolution were given the green light to start being implemented.  Not all of these projects are Outdoor Recreation related, however 7-10 are very much in the wheelhouse of adventure sport/Outdoor Recreation. These projects are being given funding from Duluth's 1/2 and 1/2 Tourism Tax which can only be spent on tourism activities and on the west side of the City.

My role was to work with the City and the user groups to help identify, define, price and package the projects that fell into my background and experience.

Those projects being....

A new Nordic Center at the base of Spirit Mountain, with snowmaking, with lights, with a new engineered trail alignment.  Imagine skiing even when there is NO skiing, and knowing it will be there consistently.

A climbing park.  The old quarry off of 59th street, where climbers have been climbing for decades is slated to be cleaned up, parking improved and also easy climbs will be added via Ice Farming.

The Duluth Traverse mountain bike trail is slated to be finished on the west side of town.  Essentially linking Enger Tower to Mission Creek.

Also mountain biking related is an "All Weather Trail" at Spirit Mountain.  This is a capped trail that can be used in wet conditions as well as dry conditions.  It becomes a clear fall back if Duluth's wet weather throws a loop at vacationing riders and or events.

5 new hiking trail loops off of the Superior Hiking Trail as well as improvements to sections of the SHT that needed heavy maintenance.  These loops utilize the "spine" of the SHT as a part of the loop but access high points and view sheds on the west side of town.  Several of these are also very wide, crushed stone loops open to all and yet with views of the river.

Tallus Island Paddle Sports Center.  The idea of this is to create a focal point for both Duluth paddling and especially paddling on the St. Louis River.  This space will be tailored to the silent sport paddler in all regards and will also be a main point on what we hope will be a nationally recognized water trail (also funded through this process).

It should be noted that in addition to these projects there are several paved and or gravel bike paths that link many of these experiences together that are also budgeted in the proposal.  So many of these experiences will be able to be accessed by bike and off the main roads to do so.

Full house in the Chamber
It could be argued several ways as to how long all this has taken to come to pass.

Certain projects in this list have been dreamed about for nearly a decade, while others took shape over the past eight months.  So I won't go deep into that history, although it is an interesting one and certainly just as important as anything I am going to jot down here.  The fact of the matter is that my bet is most of this is too much information for people in the first place....

Regardless there is no doubt that the tipping point on all of this was reached because of the work that IMBA, COGGS and the City have been doing on the Duluth Traverse.  The positive experience of that partnership and the effective model it illustrated was seen as something that could be replicated specifically with the projects that had solid user groups to partner with.

This specifically is where my effort was and still is focused.

Essentially I was tasked with rallying the XC skiers,  the climbers, the paddlers, the hikers and to a certain extent the MTBers (they were already rallied!) and to get them to come to a consensus around dream projects that their organizations could help plan, implement and steward in the City.

Sounds easy right!  Holy cow!

The one thing I had going for me and the ONLY reason I took this on is because of the relationships I had with the folks sitting across the table from me.  In nearly every case and with every group there was somebody who I had at least 6 years of working time with, if not more.  In the case of DXC, COGGS and the Duluth Climbers Coalition there were folks whom I have known for 20 plus years.  I should also say that it was important to know them but even more to important to understand how passionate and how committed they are to the sports they participate in.

This is a key point.  These folks have been life long paddlers, life long climbers, life long skiers and life long riders.  It was important to make them realize the chance they had to be part of what is truly a legacy project.  Its rare to have a chance to take what you love and to make it available to children, to folks who might not ever try it and to make it a part of why you live in the place that you do.  That is a powerful motivational argument and it was an easy one to make to anybody who has spent their lives enjoying a recreational activity that most likely somehow positively changed them as people.

These are people I can trust. They are people who I know understand the opportunity and the importance of what is going on.

Despite that, I will say it is still part voodoo, part experience and part political maneuvering to get folks to think big picture, to dream and to tackle huge efforts like this.  However, having available funding was the catalyst that got folks thinking and moving and there is no doubt that this was an important factor in how fast we were able to organize and move forward.

I have to say, right now how thankful I am for these folks and how happy I am for them that they made this all happen, they took the challenge, they pulled the sword from the stone and now we are going to take that sword and start doing some serious swinging.

Climbers meeting with the owners of the Quarry

The genius of Don Ness and his staff at the City, including but not limited to Jim Filby Williams was in the strategy that they put in place for this whole initiative.  The matrix of this effort is staggering and of course the politics involved in it even more so.

Yet it was orchestrated nearly flawlessly and that is something that most folks will never really understand.  To me though this whole effort was masterful and it makes me even more bummed Don Ness is not sticking around in politics, because this was a masterpiece that many, many other politicians could learn from.

That mentioned though there were some dramatic moments.  I won't go into all of them because many in the grand scheme of things fall into the realm of wonks and minutia but I did learn a lot about being an advocate, about compromise and of course about where to draw lines.

Perhaps the most interesting dramatic event was in the final days before the vote.

One of the Council members decided that the Ice Climbing Park was not something he could vote for.  In learning about the reasons it was obvious that the fears he had were due to lack of knowledge about the sport, about the folks behind and about the project in general.

An amendment was put in place that stripped the Climbing Park from the package, the only project to targeted.

Thus it fell to the climbers to address all those things, classic advocacy.

I felt like some sort of politico for about four or five days there as I read and helped edit letters, dispensed strategies and advice (some good, some bad) and generally helped them make the attack.

Smartly, the core group of climbers stuck with the game and they went to several meetings with councilors and to public meetings where councilors asked questions.  In those interactions it became clear that a classic, old school door to door, meet and greet campaign was needed in the neighborhood where the quarry exists.

Ultimately this effort is what pushed the climbing park over into the Yes category.  In addition I was given a rare chance to get on Minnesota Public Radio and knowing the climbers were in the gun sight, I chose the quarry over all the other projects sites as my interview spot.  This story aired the morning of the Vote and can be found here.  If it had an impact on the vote I will never know but it certainly was an added piece of support for the beleaguered project.

Standing room only 

The vote itself was a long and arduous process.  The council chamber was packed.  Every seat filled and folks standing at the door as well.  There was another very contentious issue that night that brought a lot of folks and ate up a lot of time.  Basically we were at the end of the program and after nearly two hours of meeting it was our turn.

I was super proud of all the people and the groups that spoke to the council.  Every project had at least three reps and all three of those reps were tutored and educated on the points we needed to get across.

At first I thought it was all going to go sideways.  The amendment that was to strip the climbing venue was seconded and by a councilor who we thought we could count on for a much needed vote.  We assumed this would be a 5-4 vote in our favor, but that is a close call.

Interestingly however the councilor who made the amendment spoke and said that he was extremely impressed by the work the climbers had done, and the passion they had and the fact that he felt they had truly gone and listened to the residents of the neighborhood and because of that he was going to pull the Amendment.

If lightning would have stuck the building I would have been less surprised.

It was truly at this point that I realized that all the hard work in the past years and months was about to pay off.  If the key NO vote had been turned to a YES vote, then it was obvious that the overall Resolution was going to pass.   We had just seen political theater end in a good way.

It was truly a moment I will not ever forget.

Of course the full resolution passed minutes later.  I think this sends such a powerful message about my City and my community.  A unanimous vote for Outdoor Recreation, for investment in our natural environment, a full scale support of getting people outdoors and valuing the place where they live and of course for the West side of the City.

That aspect of this story in itself is noteworthy and special.

Bent Paddle Victory Beer
I think I was more in shock than anything at that point.  There were a lot of backslaps, bear hugs, smiles and handshakes in the hallway after that.  It was great for both Jim Shoberg and I who have been focused on this day in and day out since August, to shake hands and say it was a success.  Jim more than almost anybody I know, owned this project from the start and put a huge amount of time and effort into it from the city side of things, and he needs to be recognized as critical reason this is all coming to pass.

The Bent Paddle Brewery was paying attention to the vote and the victory and I was given a text that the Tap Room, normally not open on a Monday was staffed and waiting for us if we wanted to head down and toast all the hard work we had done.

Umm.... hell yeah!

The whole crowd, maybe 40-50 folks wandered down to Bent Paddle and we all had a few pints in elation.

Somewhere into my second beer, I looked around the room, took a drink, let out a deep breath for a second and realized that now the hard work would begin.............