My two cents on the 2009 Heck of the North:
When I was a kid my parents used to haul my sister and I around the country in this big brown conversion van my dad used to drive. As we made our way around the country we would always stop at some out of the way campground and set up for the night before moving along the next day. I can vividly remember our trips to Colorado, South Dakota and Tennessee. I remember packing into the van and heading for Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and Canada. These trips were perfect. I always had my Walkman and my Mountain Bike Action magazines. For hours I would look out one of the many windows and dream of riding the epic landscapes we passed in our travels and experience life as though I were living in the pages the bike magazines I read.
Somewhere along the line my parents fell in love with the North Shore of Lake Superior and so it became a permanent summer stop on our family vacations. We would always journey up through Minneapolis along I35. Without fail we would roll down the hill into Duluth and my eyes would be locked to the passing scenery. The pine forests and rock outcroppings would command my attention. I was always in awe when we entered the gateway to the North.
As a family we would always set up in the same place at the same campground just south of Two Harbors. It would be a week full of day trips to some of the most beautiful places in the upper Midwest. It was here that I fell in love with the great outdoors. It was here where I longed to be. I didn’t know it then, but it was here where cycling would become my favorite pastime.
In 1995, during a stay at the aforementioned Two Harbors campground, a friend and I rode our bicycles on some of the trails at Gooseberry Falls State Park. I loved every minute of it and couldn’t wait until I could do it again.
Last Saturday I got my chance. 14 years later I finally rode my bicycle again in the Great Northwoods. Thanks to Jeremy Kershaw and his wonderful family I was finally able to get back to what I had fallen in love so many years before.
The weekend was amazing. Burrito Union burritos. One fist or two? Ski Hut and the Continental. The tent in the backyard, the nighttime walk through the woods to meet Rich and John and Ian and Elise. The after party at the Buffington’s. More burritos with Jim and Roxanne and Steve and Jeff. Getting carried to the car. Garrick and Erik and the guy in the bivy. The two guys from Decorah and the super fast fella from Madison in the fancy hightops. Baked goods and growlers and bacon and tuna. Unbelievable.
The ride itself was stunning. Endless gravel roads sheltered by deep green pine trees and algae covered ponds. Emulating the pro's by putting a foot down in the corners. Losing a pump early and a bottle late. Washboards and long, slow inclines that never seem to end. Bogs, logs, grass and rocks that suck feet, legs and wheels into their grasp. Riding with the heavy hitters and falling off the back. Stopping and talking to myself. The help from Jeff and his riding partner. Sitting and talking to myself. Getting back on the bike and forcing myself to press on. Riding with Rich. Walking with Rich. Going over the bars. Paved stretches that both sooth and abuse. The busy motorists, casual joggers and cyclists that litter the highway and the beachfront park. The music in the park and the subsequent seven bridges that end in a punishing climb to the top of Medin. The finish line. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.