Winter Travel and Event Recap by Ben Weaver

Throughout the past couple of years, it’s become a tradition for me to play a show in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the Saturday following Thanksgiving. I usually get down there early in the day and wander through the frozen backwaters, islands, and floodplain forests that lay between La Crosse and Winona, Minnesota. This year I was looking forward to exploring these winter landscapes on my Salsa Blackborow with instruments in tow..... continue reading.  

A Year In The Wilderness Resupply by Ben Weaver

March 15th 2016 I will head up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in support of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters to deliver a resupply to Explorers Dave and Amy Freeman of A Year in the Wilderness. Dave and Amy are living in the Boundary Waters for 12 months. Their aim is to raise awareness about the need to protect the Boundary Waters from the threat posed by proposed sulfide-ore copper mining operations, from Twin Metals and others, which will pollute the pristine waters and unspoiled forests of the Boundary Waters.

In order to live, we need food, water and shelter. Thus, these are the obvious items on the standard resupply list. We often talk about water and forests as resources, forgetting about the restorative and healing merits they possess. In the same way, we often only think about a resupply in terms of the food to fill our bellies and the various other technical supplies needed, frequently forgetting about the subtle things that risk running dry. We need the stories, songs, poems and conversation that provide greater context and meaning to our inward reflections.  

For many of us the Boundary Waters is a place to go when we need to connect and replenish our inner selves with peace, quiet and refection. Dave and Amy are living in the Wilderness in order to protect the equal opportunity for everyone to have a place that fulfills this need, and ensure that it is there for generations to come.

I will ride from Ely, MN, to a BWCA entry point, where I will hike in with my banjo and guitar. My resupply will consist of songs, stories and poems that I hope will help bring them further joy and add meaning to their brave and beautiful statement of spending A Year in the Wilderness. I am honored to be joined by Bill DeVille of Minnesota Public Radio radio station The Current, who will be documenting my resupply and performance.  

Additional Support for this trip has been provided by Granite Gear, Bent Paddle Brewing Co., Big Agnes, Salsa Cycles, Banjo Brothers, Swrve, Red Table Meat Co, and Angry Catfish Bicycle Shop. 

Pacific Northwest Following Water Video by Ben Weaver

This past year has been a tremendously inspiring collection of riding. Most of the rides followed water. Spilling over with new friendships, wisdom, and plans for the future I am grateful. Water played an important role in connecting all the stories and tributes of these journeys to a common convergence point.  I've learned from experience that stories are what keep us going as we travel. They are what we bring back when returning home. Stories allow us to connect and introduce the people and places we leave behind with the people and places we meet along the way.  My brother made this short video about my last trip of 2015 following water on the Pacific Northwest Coast between Portland, OR and Bellingham, WA. Hope you enjoy it.  To buy my music or books for holidays gifts please visit my store. Happy Holidays an New Year.

Marrakesh by Rambling: Lasting Impressions by Ben Weaver

If two paths fork in the woods, the one I'm interested in is the one to the right of the one on the right, or the one to the left of the one on the left. I’m prone to rambling and prefer to make my own paths--literally, and as a metaphor for living.

Scott Haraldson

Scott Haraldson

I toured professionally as a folk musician/singer-songwriter for 13 years. I made eight studio albums, got to perform all over the world, and met lots of remarkable people. About 5 years ago though, I started to question what I was doing. It wasn't the art that brought on the conflict. It was the enterprise, the music business, and the lifestyle. I was always inside--disconnected from the world I loved and the things that inspired my art.

Scott Haraldson

Scott Haraldson

By way of several diversions, I realized what needed to change. I needed to travel to my shows by bicycle, and my shows needed to do more than just offer audiences entertainment. They needed to take place in connection with, and give something back to, the wilderness that always inspired me. 

Scott Haraldson

Scott Haraldson

Since this moment of truth, I’ve been riding bikes around the country, preferring to do performances outdoors or in alternative spaces, using music and bikes to inspire people, and to offer new ideas for how we can live more fulfilled, satisfying lives with healthier connections to our land and ecosystems. 

Scott Haraldson

Scott Haraldson

This past July, I circled Lake Superior on the new Salsa Marrakesh. I performed in conjunction with Provincial Parks, the Great Lakes Commons, and other environmental groups to raise awareness about fresh water and Lake Superior. The ride was approximately 1,400 miles. I made 13 stops to perform, closing the circle in 16 days.

If you compare my pack list to most traditional road cyclotourists, it doesn’t take long for the differences to jump out. I carry both my guitar and banjo with me on the bike. I also carry guitar chords, pedals, CDs, and other merchandise. From there the list finally starts looking more conventional: my tent, sleeping bag, stove, food, and clothing.

I carry my guitar on one side of the rear rack, and my banjo rides on the other in a custom waterproof pannier that Banjo Brothers made for me. I pack clothes around the instruments. My sleeping bag, camp clothes, and food go in a Revelate Viscacha seat bag. Since the Marrakesh is made for hauling and distance, it has every braze-on and hole drilled in it I’d ever need, and this allows me to run the Anything Cages on the fork that carry my tent, sleeping pad, and other miscellaneous items. Up front, I carry a fixed bag or handlebar roll. For a long time, I thought carrying things up front would be cumbersome and clunky, but on the Marrakesh the weight enhances the balanced load that enables me to ride at the pace I want and need to keep.

When I am riding I am usually working on a timeline. My tours consist of long distances overall, which make for big day-to-day mileages. In many cases, I am riding 100-plus miles in a day, then playing a show. In order to arrive on time, which includes time to rest before I perform, I need to ride my loaded bike between 15 and 20 mph, and I need to maintain that pace for up to 150 miles in one day, day after day. This means that the bike I ride, the way I pack it, and what I bring or leave behind can make all the difference in the world.

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Since July, I have ridden the Marrakesh nearly 3,000 miles, including the ride around Lake Superior, regional rides, and a trip in the Pacific Northwest. In all these miles, I have covered incredibly diverse terrain. Salsa calls the Marrakesh an “all world” touring bike. Granted, Canada aside, I have yet to ride it out of this country (that plan is in the works), but I feel the Marrakesh confidently lives up to this declaration. I have ridden it on about every surface one might encounter (short of boulder fields or beaches, which I don't think many people are attempting to conquer on traditional touring set ups). But mixes of gravel, single track, dirt, pump tracks, and straight-up bushwhacking through the woods have all been gracefully conquered.

Spending as much time on the Marrakesh as I have in a relatively short period of time has afforded me the opportunity to understand how and where it wants to go, then tailor my packing and set up accordingly. As with all things that are about the process, the time spent dialing in the fit and making fine-tuned packing adjustments has rendered me in love with this bike. It is at the top of my list and the preferred rig for my current touring.

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I have to be completely honest: Even though I am a rambler, and I take pride in my love of maps, I brought the Marrakesh home and had to look up its namesake on the Internet to find its exact location. The more I’ve thought about it, that action seems quite fitting--a good bike should make you ask questions.

Here are some specific things I love about the Marrakesh, with reasons why I’d tell anyone contemplating purchasing one for their next adventure to do so without hesitation:

Fitments: I mentioned above that the Marrakesh is loaded with them. They make for endless mounting options, and variations for how and what you carry. There are no limitations here.

Alternator Dropouts: I have encountered derailleur hanger breakage and bent hangers on previous bikes that I will never have to deal with on this current set up.

Wheelbase Adjustment: There is the ability to adjust the wheelbase. Not only does this change the handling of the bike relevant to terrain or load variances one might encounter throughout a tour, but it can also help with things like tire clearance. 

Rack: The Alternator 135 Low Deck rear rack that comes stock on the Marrakesh runs in close behind the seat and has a narrow platform that keeps the weight closer to my overall center of gravity, not way out over the sides and rear wheel.

Easy Repair: All of the hardware, Alternator dropouts, bar-end shifters, and the spoke holder on the chainstay speak to a well thought out, easy-if-anything-arises-mid-tour design. With the exception of overhauling hubs or pulling out the bottom bracket, you can fix just about anything with a hex set and quick links.

Go Anywhere: There is certainly terrain out there that you will be challenged to ride unless you have 4- or 5-inch tires, but the ability to ride a 700x50mm tire on the Marrakesh means that you should be able to go just about anywhere you would go on a mountain bike. That opens the doors pretty wide. I have tried. It works.

Stability/Maneuvering Under Load: In my opinion what sets the Marrakesh apart from any other touring bike is this: It has a remarkable ability to carry heavy loads without compromising stability or sacrificing steering and maneuverability. Most heavily loaded bikes I have ridden feel whippy in the back, steering becomes sloppy and sketchy, and maintaining a line in adverse weather or road conditions is a struggle. I rode the Marrakesh across the Trans Canada highway with semis constantly barreling past, and climbed and descended with wind coming from every direction, and I was never blown or shaken off course. No matter what I faced, the Marrakesh went where I steered it like a biscuit through gravy. In my world, finding a bike that can offer this kind of stability and maneuverability under load without compromising the soul of the ride or feel of the terrain is equivalent to striking gold.

Surrounding Water with Cycles and Perspectives: Great Lakes Commons Charter Bearer by Ben Weaver

This story was initially written for Great Lakes Commons and published on their Website.

On a bicycle it is impossible to be numbed by convenience. You have to look around. You embrace what comes. You ride it out, ride through it. Ironically, this is also the same path water follows. Not ironic, water was my riding partner for 15 days this summer as I pedaled my bicycle around Lake Superior. Water does not stop to complain and proliferate. It takes the shape of what it passes over, expresses it, and carries on. 

I woke up in Duluth. My clothes smelling of the previous night’s camp fire. Tim Ek, a friend and fellow Salsa Cycles rider had put me up for the night. He lives up on the big hill that rests behind downtown Duluth, to the West of Lake Superior. Home to Skyline Drive, precambrian bluffs, and Hawk Ridge. I ate a banana for breakfast and loaded my tent, other camping gear, clothes, and the most important items, my guitar and banjo onto my bicycle. I said goodbye to Tim, his wife Amy and pointed myself down the hill toward the Bong Bridge, my planned route for crossing the St. Louis Bay into Wisconsin. 

The first stop of my Surrounding Water Tour, a journey that would see me riding 1,400 miles around Lake Superior performing songs and engaging with communities about fresh water, was 75 miles away in Bayfield, WI. As I approached the bridge, I noticed a scattering of construction vehicles, orange barrels and the typical signs of road work. Less than a quarter of the way across the bridge, the bike path suddenly stopped at a cement barricade, and didn’t seem to continue on the other side. Peering over the edge of the barricade revealed rippling water cross hatched by rebar and concrete forms. No more bike path. 

There were two trucks idling about 100 yards away. I jumped over the railing separating the existing bike path from the road and approached the vehicles hoping to find some kind hearted construction workers willing to ferry me across the rest of the bridge. When I asked if they could take me across they just laughed. Maybe it was my cycling outfit. Regardless, the bridge was only open to West bound traffic, and the entire bike path was under construction as well. My route for the day was about to get revised. I had two options. Either take the interstate bridge which had no shoulder and was illegal to ride a bicycle on, or ride 30 miles out of my way around the St. Louis Bay and into Wisconsin through a town called Oliver. I chose the latter, and with that the first day of my trip grew from the modest 75 miles I had planned, to over 100.

It’s moments like this that remind me why I travel by bike. I had crossed the Bong Bridge many times before. I didn’t need a map for that route. Suddenly in having to re route, it was crucial to understand where I was, in terms of where I was going. There would be new roads and new landscape. I would have to pay closer attention. Yes, I had to ride further than expected. My day had become physically more challenging. I would be exhausted by the time I reached Bayfield, and still have to play a show. All of this was worth it for the chance to brush shoulders with the unknown and for the chance to discover.

Because of my detour through Oliver, I saw the beautiful St. Louis River estuary and surrounding wetlands. A part of Lake Superior that I had not experienced before. I crossed an incredible train bridge where the light was filtering through the steel framing in stunning geometric patterns of gold. I was afforded new perspectives on a familiar landscape, and while passing through that landscape my mind was sharpened. It went to different places -- specifically the less often visited corners where surprise and revelation await. 

Throughout my trip I heard a lot of, “That must have been frustrating” when sharing these events from my first days detour. I got strange looks as I expressed positivity and joy about adding the extra miles, instead of taking the bait of commiserating over inconvenient circumstance.  

The status quo has always troubled me, but something I have found truly troubling about it is it’s unquenchable thirst and addiction for convenience. Convenience is an oppressor. Through laziness and lack of creativity it dis-engages us from our landscapes and communities, enabling uninformed and hurtful choices which in turn have detrimental impact on all human and non human life.   

The bicycle is about circles and triangles. The circles represent cycles and the triangles represent perspectives. My bicycle was the perfect tool to help inspire new perspective within the communities I visited, while illuminating potential cycles that could help inspire healthier stories about water. Knowing promotes integration. Integration promotes observation. Observation promotes understanding. Understanding promotes appreciation, and appreciation leads to taking care.

I was fortunate to have a lot of partners and supporters for my trip. A significant partner who  help me arrive at some of the essential questions I used to initiate and inspire new stories about water was, the Great Lakes Commons. The Great Lakes Commons also named me a Charter Bearer to their visionary Commons Charter. Having their support and using their charter deepened the relevance my interactions. Why is the health of our Great Lakes is so deeply connected to the health of each and every individual member of our larger ecological community? How can we be better ancestors? What does it mean to be a ancestor? What can we learn about ancestry from First Nations, animals, and plants? How can the water be a model for more engaged, reciprocal, and creative living? How can we begin to see water as something that connects each and every one of us rather than as a resource to be extracted and exploited?  

As I rode around the Lake engaging with audiences, I began to learn as much about people and how we live, as I was about the Lake and water. So often we blame corporations and big business for the disappearance and negligence of our natural resources. It’s true they are the most obvious and in many cases most guilty culprits, but those businesses don't exist in a vacuum. Someone is supporting them. 

As I met people and heard their stories I began understanding that the answers we are looking for about how to protect our threatened resources are not in counting parts per million, isolating point or non-point source polluters, and not in pointing fingers at the guilty corporations. The answers are within us, in turning the finger back and pointing it at ourselves, in striving to tell new stories and seek more fulfilled, creative, engaged and integrated ways of living.

There were several times on my trip where I had conversations with someone who said, “I know mining is hurtful to the land and water, but how am I suppose to feed my family, what else can I do for work?” Somewhere between Marathon and Rossport, after looking out at nothing but trees, rocks and water for hours and hours the answer to this question dawned on me. Why do we have to choose between clean water and a job? It is not about what job will replace a mining job, it is about how we think about jobs and the idea of work in the first place. Have we grown so far from what is important that we are willing to sacrifice the health of our planet, families and children for a job and the short term financial gain it promises? I spoke earlier in this piece about convenience assaulting our ability to be creative and the things we are willing to sacrifice in order to have it. I became inspired to use my ride around the Lake as an example for how creativity can be implemented in order to re invent work. Before strapping my guitar and banjo onto my bike and pedaling myself from one gig to the next, I spent 13 years in a car driving from town to town. I was unhappy and unfulfilled. Instead of quitting my job, I restructured and used creativity to carve out a new path to do the same work, but in a way that gave back.

My trip flew by and in less than two weeks I was over a 1,000 miles away from that first bridge diversion in Thunder Bay where I performing the 10th of my 13 performances. I shared the stage with a diverse group of folks: Sandi Boucher a representative for the Sacred Water Walkers, Bruce Hyer a member of parliament, and Audrey Deroy who performed a drum song and water blessing at the opening of the evening. I spent some time talking to Audrey before the event. She asked me a question that surprisingly not many people had asked me up until that point. Her question was “which direction had I chosen to go around the lake?” When I responded that I went counter clockwise she was surprised.

Since the moment I dreamt up Surrounding Water I saw myself going around the lake counter clockwise, but aside from the visual, there was no pre determined reason for that direction. As my ride came to an end and I returned home, my choice to ride counter clockwise has become a strong metaphor. People often asked me, “Why are you doing this?” At first I felt required to give a long, grand explanation to justify my act. But my answer became short. “I am doing this for the water.” We need to re acquaint ourselves with the small, humble and quiet sides of life. Perhaps we need to go against the clock, against what has become the “right” way in order to re establish ourselves with these corners of life. The expectation that there must be giant, extravagant and grand explanations for our actions somehow seems to parallel the same distances and disconnect from reality that our addiction to convenience suffers. 

The water is sick. It needs our help. Sometimes we have to do things for the simple reason that we know it is the right thing to do. My trip around Lake Superior was as much about healing the water as it was about healing people, myself included. In the end the water is going to be ok. It will outlive us, just as this planet will. However, being as reliant and as connected to water as we are, if we are going to remain on this planet, we have no choice but to change our stories. No choice but to heal that which we have made ill. After watching that lake roll over on itself day after day, the trees sway and lean, the rocks hold still under the waves and sun, I believe with all my heart and every ounce of creativity in my breath that if we are going to heal water, we first must heal ourselves.  

Surrounding Water Welcome home Show: One Night Only by Ben Weaver

Photo: Scott Haraldson

Photo: Scott Haraldson

In July I rode my bicycle some 1400 miles around Lake Superior to raise awareness about the lake and the state of our fresh water.  In 15 days of riding I stopped for 13 different performances. Acting as a charter bearer to the Great Lakes Commons and sharing their written charter with my audiences, I met incredible people, heard remarkable stories, and learned lots of new information from the diverse communities surrounding this important and irreplaceable lake.  

Please Join me on Saturday October 3rd at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, MN for a special welcome home performance featuring an evening of song, story, video, photos and conversations from this inspiring trip.  

Tour partners Angry Catfish will be out front offering bicycle valet. Red Table Meat Co. will be sliding charcuterie. Lucas from Bunyan Velo will help lead the conversation, while Banjo Brothers and Salsa Cycles will also be on hand adding some surprises to the evening. Get your tickets here.


Surrounding Water Welcome Home by Ben Weaver

Photo: Scott Haraldson

Photo: Scott Haraldson

The hardest part of any trip always seems to be coming home. I talk about it every time. But “hard” may not be the right word. There is an idea that when a route is finished, the trip is done, and coming home is the final stamp on the doneness of that specific journey. We have to return to jobs and bills; the more oppressive parts of life. My recent ride around Lake Superior shed some light onto a new perspective of coming home and I have found myself walking away from the idea that the trip ends when you get home. 

We never come back the same people, and we continue to change even after we settle back into whatever routines resemble home. The trip breathes and lives itself out in our daily lives. It kindles new perspectives that lead to different choices about where we spend our time, our money, and our energy. In many cases we use these resources towards planning the next trip.

In life, I don’t see much separation. It’s all connected as far down the line as I have ever been able to make out. So for me the trips, journeys, adventures, explorations, whatever name you give them, they all become one. The more trips I take, the more trips I plan. They string themselves together; the one nighter, the afternoon ramble, the weekend, and the multi week. The more often we go, the looser we get. The imaginary chains that let us believe we can’t, or shouldn't, leave, fall away. Food, water and a place to sleep are the needs to be met. All the gear and extras are exactly that. The more often we go, the shorter the distance becomes between us and our access to those basic needs. The more often we go, the less there is to keep the going at bay.

My ride around Superior was incredible. Among many truths it instilled in me a certitude for this above: that going begets going. I saw the landscape change. Met incredible people. Rode close to the weather, lived how I am happiest, down on the bones of life. I have come home determined not to loose those bones nor that edge. To wake up with the same sense of awe and discovery that I did with each day of riding. To stay loose and ready to go.

In the coming weeks I will be sharing more stories, specifically pertaining to Fresh Water,  and my experiences riding around Lake Superior as a Charter Bearer to the Great Lakes Commons visionary charter.