Henry David Thoreau in his essay Walking states it best, “I do not know of any poetry to quote which adequately expresses this yearning for the Wild.” This right here is why we make bars. We want you to get after it, get in the wild and go big while seeing the landscape that propels you. Lately we’re pushing our ambassadors on the blog because they do such an unreal job of pursuing their Wild, reminding us that we can find even an hour if not a week or a month, to satisfy our yearning for the Wild. So meet Ben Weaver, musician and cyclist, and newest member of the KRF ambassador crew–so new he’s not even on the Ambassadors page but who cares–he sent in a piece on his latest excursion. It’s the perfect antidote to the feeds of an impossible election season and natural disaster.
BW: I ride bikes because I don’t like to follow directions. Both kinds of directions. I prefer to follow the land and my urges. Self reliance is of utmost importance. Even when stranded on a bike, I never feel stranded. Something always happens resulting in forward movement.
In 2009 I had an epiphany about my career as a songwriter and performing musician. I needed to figure out how to feel alive in an industry that was oversaturated and numbing. I decided to start building tours around bike routes. It began with small tours focused within Minnesota and Wisconsin where I live.In 2014 I expanded the concept of riding to shows. I wanted to do longer tours and ride further from home. I also wanted to build my performances around a sense of advocacy that would help give back to the world (the natural world) that had always inspired my music.
The first long trip I did with the guitar and banjo on the bike was in 2014. I rode 1500 miles from Saint Paul to New Orleans along the Mississippi River. In 2015 I rode around Lake Superior and later that year up a section of the Pacific Northwest coast. On these trips I partnered with land and water organizations so that my performances could help raise funds and work to reconnect people to surrounding land and waterscapes. Soon the question wasn’t how to make music touring by bike possible, but where else could I go. On any day of the week the woods is where I want to be. When I was not on tour riding roads to shows I was at home riding in the woods. Thus when answering the question of where to go next, “To the woods!” seemed the only logical answer.
I live in Minnesota. The North Eastern part of the state that juts out into Lake Superior is referred to as the arrowhead. Most of that arrowhead region is home to the Superior National Forest, which comprises almost four million acres. Within the Superior National Forest is another area approximately one million acres in size and called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.Since living in a small community along the edge of Lake Superior when I was in my 20’s the Superior National Forest has been on my mind. It’s a place I have rambled for miles and miles, and never seen a soul. It is also less than three hours from my house, so in brainstorming spaces to start wilderness routes for musical touring it’s no surprise that it has been high on my list.
And then… as promise would have it an opportunity arose.
My friends and explorers Dave and Amy Freeman have spent the past 12 months living in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area within the Superior National Forest. Their aim, to raise awareness and stop the construction of copper sulfide mines along the edge of the BWCA. If built, these mines would severely and permanently alter this pristine wilderness area.Earlier this winter I visited Dave and Amy in the BWCA and brought them a resupply via fat bike and polk sled, (bicycles are not allowed within the BWCA, hence the polk sled). Later this summer they contacted me asking if I would consider coming to Ely to perform for their re-entry celebration in September after completing 12 months in the wilderness. Needless to say it seemed like the perfect excuse to plan a route through the woods and play a show.
The route I plotted would begin in Two Harbors and end approximately 106 miles later in Ely. My goal was to stay off blacktop and stick mainly to double track, ATV and snowmobile trails. I did not want to race. Did not want to feel that I had to get there within any time constraints. The point was to be able to look around. To use the bike as a tool to carry my instruments and gear and also to experience the landscape. I wanted to be able to stop and check out whatever the forest might offer up along the way. Lakes, mushrooms, alternate route options, dispersed camping spots for future adventures.
Over the 106 miles to Ely I saw a total of three people, all of which were grouse hunters. I pushed my bike through several miles of swamp, bushwhacked and carried it over more blown down white and red pine trees than I could keep track of. I did this all with my guitar and banjo attached to the rear rack and I loved every damn moment. The quiet. The grainy fall sunlight. Riding in the woods was nothing new, but there was a feeling of accomplishment knowing I was also carrying my livelihood with me. The music.
After arriving in Ely I jumped in a canoe with my banjo and joined a flotilla of 60 other canoes heading to the wilderness boundary to meet Dave and Amy. As all the boats moved across the water I played and sang songs on my banjo.
I retreat to the woods because I am more comfortable there than anywhere else. Among the trees, animals and water, I know my place. I understand how I fit in. Whereas in civilization I am perpetually lost and feel without purpose. I am grateful for the fact that I know where I belong. Thankful to spend as much of my time in these places as possible. Humbled that I have been able to inspire even the smallest change towards protecting wild landscapes.
As for wilderness musical touring? I am currently working on a plan to spend a year riding and performing within the Superior National Forest. So stay tuned for updates.