Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Do yourself a favor. Take your kid into the Wilderness

Tooth Brushing time
Sunset rain
The fish launched straight up into the air like it was mad at the very thought of being fooled.  Line screamed from the reel as the Smallmouth pulled for deeper water.  Tae, my six year old looked like he just touched an electric light socket.  "Daddy can you take my rod?" he said.  


A few minutes later a nice 18-19 inch Bass came to hand and Tae had his first full cast, catch and release of his 6 year old life.  Based on the look on his face I dont think he will soon forget it.
Ice fishing rods and Mister Twisters
Best Blueberry season I have ever seen
 Margaret, Tae and I ignored the weather reports for last weekend.  We ignored the bug reports of all seasons and we listened to that inner voice that said, just go for it.

That inner voice was not wrong.  Sure we swung at a bug or two, and we certainly had to duck into the tents a few times to play some games and giggle a bit, but overall it was a dreamy three days of swimming, fishing and paddling in the BWCA.
Wenonah Champlain ( a killer kid boat)
Toothy smiles
Freeze dried my ass
I have several trips planned to the BWCA this season because it may be one of my last flexible summers for a while.  This time we pulled a permit the week of our trip.  Literally on Monday we grabbed a permit to Snowbank Lake.  By all accounts we should have been mobbed with people.  Its a motor lake, it was a weekend and it is a bit of trade route as well.

Guess what?  It was like we were the only ones there.
Fish food
The fishing was fantastic.  Overall this has been one of the slower summers for fishing around here.  Our trip to River X was the norm versus the exception.  However it was obvious as soon as we hit the water on Snowbank that things were popping.  Fish were rising everywhere and they were big meaty fish as well.  

After Margaret and Tae went to bed on our first night out I slid the canoe silently into the still waters of the lake and threaded up a Woolly Bugger and started dropping it into the slurps and rings that dappled the lake surface.  I was getting hits or fish nearly every cast and the Smallmouths were really nice sized.

Soon I started seeing amazing white mayflies standing proud on the surface of the lake and it was obvious the fish were loving them as well.  It was the best night of fishing this year for me for sure.

How NOT to pack for the BWCA
I am slated to return to the BWCA in mid August with a good friend who has never been there before.  I can only hope the weather, the bugs and the fishing were as good as they were this trip.

It is always a special place to spend time with family and as I was ripping fish into the boat I was smiling thinking that while Tae is only six, this was his fourth trip into the Wilderness.  I hope there are many, many more.......

Floating River X scouting for the big bad Muskelunge..............

All boated up and rolling out!

John's famous Dahlberg Divers
 Took some time to check out a rumor, a hunch and a comment.  Dave Dawkins and I headed into Northern Minnesota and floated what I will only call River X as my buddy who turned me on to it requested.  Turns out River X has a some pretty insane fishing in it, especially Musky fishing.

I have always wanted to give the "fish of a thousand flails" a shot and knowing that Fall is the optimal time, figured a summer scout might be worth the ticket of admission.

Dave and I had a wonderful day.  It was a bit buggy at times, but overall it was that sunny blue bird Northern Minnesota day.  Ironically the water levels on the river were still high, which is in contrast to the really low water we have in the Duluth area.  Fishing was slow, but I did manage to catch some Walleyes on the fly, and also a couple of snot rocket pike as well.

Lester River Fly Shop

River X

The fish filled Rapids of River X

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sneak peak at the new Spirit trails with the bro's of Flowline..................

"Can I play in the mud dad?"  
Last run for the day at Spirit
Things are really ripping at Spirit Mountain.  It sure feels like it has come a long way since Candyland! I was lucky enough to spend the evening with the Flowline guys last Friday and get a sneak preview of the new jump lines and also take a ride on the new line built off of Happy Camper.

The new trail off of Happy Camper is a combo DH/Freeride dream. It has it all for intermediate to advanced riders.  Fast berms, big rocks, drops, hips and booters!
Flowline Boys
New Jump Line
To say it has been a challenging build season is a major understatement.  This spring certainly seperated the men from the boys as far as trail building.  We certainly found our men, and we certainly found our "boys" as well.

Flowline threw down however and despite the wet conditions created well detailed, well built magic.  I had the chance to shoot some images last season of these folks, but having another evening was great.
I cant say enough how fun it is to have the option to ride lift served gravity in your town.  I hit XC most of the week and spend at least one evening at Spirit per week.  My skills have increased and I am riding many lines I never thought I would ride.

We are lucky right now, lucky to have this opportunity and I am so stoked that we had a crew like Flowline that recognizes that fact as builders the past two seasons!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Crazy Winona weekend: Summer 2014

It was a bitter sweet return home a couple of weekends before.  I have reached that age where traveling home usually means family trauma.  

Sad but true.

Currently my father is the one we are supporting.  He is on the mend but its a particularly slow and painful mend for him and because of that I decided to swing down and spend some time with him and mother.

Amazingly, all things seemed to be going down in Winona that weekend.  My father and his health, the Shakespeare Festival, one of my best buds back in town from OR, IMBA Trail Care Crew, a cousin from out of state visiting.....
"CC Rules 88"  It actually did............
As I rolled into town and started crossing over the bridge I felt my hands and head starting to steer towards my grandmothers home.  For a decade I always went to her house first.  The solid pang of sadness thumped my heart as I reminded myself she is no longer there.  Then of course my thoughts swung towards my father and his challenge and I had one conclusion.

Get after it.  None of its for sure.  Nothing is promised and nothing is certain.  Life is a construct, its a thinly woven veil that we all assume is solid, that its for ever that things dont change....until they do.

Another fat SE MN Brown

Old tree Stream side
I got up early every morning and fished my brains out.  The fish were hungry and the action was fun. As I was fishing I was watching the bright purple Thistle blooms as hundreds of Yellow Finches fed on the seed.  

My evening with Sather was really fun as well.  We had a great dinner out on the patio of the Boat House and then went to Ed's. The talk was mainly about survival, the fact that we survived this long at all, really.  Everybody talks about how crazy highschool was, but suffice to say we may have been a bit crazier than most.  Something I am always reminded of when an old friend comes around.  We ended the night at Four on the Floor at Ed's.  It was like Duluth hauled ass down to support me.  While we were taking in the scene four of my friends from Duluth walked and our trio became a full blown party.

Always wondered Exactly where that was between MN and WI 
While my heart was heavy thinking of my grandmother and my father, my night out with Sather pulled me back up and got me rolling again.  I left the city with a quick stop at Fortunata's and listened to some music on the back porch, thinking about how much I love the region I grew up in, then I headed for my new home and my family.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Spending time with the Family, thinking of the future

Summer in the Northland!

Nothing beats it.

Swimming in the warm rain.


Ice Cream.  Kids, boats, docks and all that go with it.

Live it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Coming home: A major life change as I depart IMBA and accept a new Advocacy job in Duluth.

Good times with Aaron Rogers and Gary Fisher 
By now the rumors are out there and I figure I had better stop the mill and get the truth out about my new opportunity.

The answer is YES, I have been offered an amazing chance to create change in my community and I have taken it.

These types of situations come very rarely in an Advocates life, if ever.

Literally all my life I have been involved in the business of Advocating for Outdoor Recreation and its amazing power at building a healthy and positive lifestyle.

In my early life it started in the sales realm.  I started working with Wenonah Canoe at age 13 when I would help Mike Cichanowski sell race canoes from his trailer at the various Marathon events we spent our summers participating in.

From that point on, I worked at retail stores like Rutabaga, in Madison and Canoe Imports in Vermont.  I eventually made the leap from retail to working for Garmont as a shipping guy and then I went to sales and marketing and eventually I became a regional sales rep.

IMBA HQ ride in Boulder
I had a wonderful 9 year stand as a sales rep.  Selling everything from nordic skis and telemark gear to climbing shoes and Patagonia clothing, Lotus and Astral PFD's, and then back to my roots with canoes and kayaks for Wenonah and Current Designs.

In that career I had the great fortune to listen and learn from some of the biggest visionary's in the Outdoor industry.

People like Yvon Chouinard, John Schweizer who co-founded Merrell Boots, Paul Parker and Mike Hattrup of Tua and K2 Skis, Phillip Curry of Astral, Kim Miller of Scarpa, and Peter Metcalf of BD, Brian Cousins and Steve Sullivan of Cloudveil, Doug Barbour of Karhu skis and of course Mike Cichanowski of Wenonah Canoe and Current Designs and Andy Zimmerman of Wilderness Systems and many, many more.

A lot of how I view the world came from these experiences and these people.

Eventually I realized that the selling of "products" was only the result of what I was truly selling and that was the idea of the Outdoor lifestyle, or the importance of Outdoor Recreation and how it improved peoples lives.
Checking out Dupont State Forest with A-Rog
I always dreamed of what it would be like to only sell that concept and not the gear that came along with it.

I think that personal history and timeline are important in understanding my current transition.

A lot people only know me as the "Mountain Bike" guy and my most recent job with IMBA as its Upper Midwest Regional Director.

Typical To Do list over the past five years in working with IMBA
Well the truth is that I have been deeply involved in a huge array of Outdoor sports and I have always prided myself in participating in those activities at as passionate a level as I could.

I was a top 200 Birkie skier, yet I also tele skied some of the hardest lines around in La Grave France with Doug Coombs in 1999, well before the current boot and ski technologies were around.

I used to hammer out long distance paddles and multi sport events like Minnesota's Border to Border.  I did New Hampshires Sea to Summit race solo and unsupported ( I would pull over at Mcdonald's for food stops).  I also did  our very own Adventure Duluth, a 10 hour, six sport event solo in its last edition.  I have spent a ton of time "fast packing" on the Long Trail in Vermont as well as many great hikes in the Alps,  Rockies, Gallatin's, Bear Tooths, and White Mountains.

In 2001 Guy Evans and I decided to see how fast and light we could paddle the entire Border Route in the BWCA cranking out Crane Lake to Lake Superior via the Grand Portage in 72 hours.  I can surf and roll a sea kayak, paddle moderate whitewater in both a canoe and kayak and have spent seasons learning to ice climb, kite ski and I am a rabid fly fisherman.  Of course all along with those activities I was riding my mountain bike including a summer in Iceland traversing its many mountains, volcanoes and glacial rivers.
Hood River riding
Girls and GU (Jason Wells and Jill Van Winkle)
Mike Van Abel of IMBA came to me and asked me to Advocate for off road cycling in the Upper Midwest five and a half years ago.  It was a dream come true and I will forever be in debt to him for both giving me the chance to become an Advocate and for the knowledge and wisdom he has imparted to me while I worked and struggled to become just that.

Success is always hard to quantify as an Advocate.  If your doing your job correctly you are partnering with a multitude of stakeholders, who are all working as hard as you are, so claiming specific results is hard to do I will never have the hubris to take personal credit for anything.

National Bike Summit. I love this shot as there are so many great folks in that room
That said, there are some indisputable things that have happened in the last five years in the Upper Midwest that I have been a large part of.

When I started 5 and a half years ago IMBA had a very small presence in this region.  

Now we have 21 Chapters, 2 Ride Centers (with two more applying) The Duluth Traverse Project as well as a myriad others and we have had 4 Regional Summits and 2 Advanced Trail Schools that have brought people from across the country to both learn and influence our local advocates and trail builders.  

Membership has also increased by impressive numbers.  Because of those numbers we have two part time staff members working for both IMBA and MORC and The Copper Harbor Trails Club.  Lori Hauswirth and Matt Andrews, both rising Advocates in the region.  We have seen clubs that got on board with IMBA become national powerhouses, both in the cutting edge trails they provide and also in how the clubs are managed, funded and the access they are being given.

Most importantly we have erased the silly idea that Destination Quality Off Road cycling CANT take place in the Midwest and that is culturally significant to our region our community and our sport. 

Policy talk in DC with Hans Rey 
The SRAM boys, doing what they do best....
A year or so ago I had the chance to engage in a lengthy conversation with Don Ness the Mayor of Duluth about the potential to use the lessons I have learned with IMBA to positively impact some of the other major Outdoor Recreational activities in Duluth.  

Of course I was interested.  It fit my background and my multi sport experience and most importantly it also fit my desire to directly impact the place that I live.  That all said there was no real funding and no real mechanism to make that happen, so I just kept my head down working in the four states my region composes.

That all changed several months ago when the funding and the mechanism were put in place for a position, and then last week (ironically in the middle of the Outside Magazine best towns contest) I was actually offered a true chance to take on this challenge when the City of Duluth entered into a partnership with the Minnesota Land Trust focused on the nexus between Outdoor Recreation, Conservation and the quality of life both bring to Duluth.

I will detail the job itself in another post.  Suffice to say it is a personal dream job for me. 

My wife Margaret Harstad has always been there for me, through travel, stress and success
This new job is a chance to expand my Advocacy across the full spectrum of human powered Outdoor Recreation with my arena being focused specifically in Duluth, and to have the support of the City leadership in doing so. 

Working with IMBA has been truly life changing for me.  I mean that sincerely.  The people that work there are the most passionate people I have ever worked with in Mountain Biking.  My relationship with them is intact and I will be forever singing their praises and also pulling them in as a partner here in Duluth whenever possible.  I will miss all of them and their many fun and interesting personalities dearly, but I do not intend to leave the family.

I post his now because I can
Anna Banana.  Keep up the good fight girl!

A- Rogers, teaching Tae how to build flow trail 
Lastly, I need to put a shout out of extreme thanks to the hundreds of volunteers, board members, IMBA Chapter leaders and IMBA supporters and land managers who have helped me out the past five and half years.  

There are too many to name, but you know who you are.

The results I have mentioned in my region were because of you.  You took the tools, the lessons, the consultation and the input that I offered you and you have made the Upper Midwest one of the best places to ride a mountain bike in the world.  

I will miss all of you and your trails and while I will be in a new position, please feel free to contact me for anything you might need now and in the future. I do intend to stay involved in mountain biking through COGGS as a volunteer and as time passes will most certainly give my experience to the person who follows in my footsteps as a resource and if they are interested in it.

Plenty of this in the last five years
Braap!  Sallie from HQ ripping it in Santa Fe
In going through the photographs I have taken on this job in the last five years it is stunning the amount of travel I have done and the amount of cool people I have gotten to know and work with.  Everyone from the famous, to the infamous to the easy to work with to the NOT so easy to work with.

I should also take the time at this juncture to thank all the Industry folks that have supported me in this career.  From Steve Flagg, Gary Sjoquist and QBP, Jason Boucher, Mike Riemer, Bobby Dahlberg, Justin Julian, John Gaddo and the Salsa Crew,  to Mike Mercuri and the team at SRAM, to John Burke, Joe V, Geoff Snudden, Ken Derrico and Karl Erbach of Trek.  Without this industry support I would not have been paid, I would not have had a bike to ride and most certainly would not have been able to create change without the resources they provided to me, IMBA and my Chapters.

The lifestyle of being an RD has been both challenging and amazing and I think I have enough compelling images and stories to write a pretty sweet book if I ever have the time.  I would also like to reach out to the remaining RD's and ARD's at IMBA.  You folks are the future of Mountain Biking and while the job can be tough and thankless, the change your creating is critical to keeping off road cycling vibrant.  I especially want to thank Anna and Tom, the last two remaining original RD's from the SRAM funding 5 years ago.

For me however, I do feel that IMBA and this important experience in my life will be very big Chapter in a personal story of my life in Advocacy and that the rest of that story has yet to be written.

GF Tweeting about something 

Mckenzie River Trail 
So for now, the travels have ended and I am coming home.

Home to work, home to my family and home to play.  I dont sit around for long, but for now the focus is on Duluth and its many, many outdoor opportunities.

Please come to visit, I will be in the same spot.................