There were many ideas at the beginning of this trip about how much sharing and documenting I would do along the way. In the end the moments have been more interesting as fleeting. So that's how I've let them fly. Uncaged. Unleashed.
Ill be home in just a few days. On Wednesday Aug 2 I have organized a river clean up and ride. You can learn more and sign up here.
On Thursday Aug 3 I'll be playing a special release show in Minneapolis at Creation Audio. I'll be joined by Jeremy Ylvisaker, Mike Lewis and JT Bates who were the band for the recording. There are a limited number of tickets and you can get them here.
Here are a few thoughts and pics from the last several hundred miles.
Group ride at Point Sandy Beach with the folks from Broken Spoke in Greenbay. The lake was so high there was no beach to ride on so we took to the woods.
The transition from dirt to pavement was challenging but I found other things to be amazed by. There is wildness everywhere and I now believe that the wildest of the wild are the weeds pushing up through the sidewalk. This pic was taken by my friend Bailey who hosted my Chicago show at his shop Comrade Cycles.
Took the commuter train out of Chicago. Bike paths were flooded due to so much rain and I didn't want to backtrack or deal with endless sprawl.
After so much heat and humidity it cooled off the day I was in Madison. Jeff at Revolution Cycles did a great job picking this performance spot out on picnic point.
This was about the moment that the residue wore off.
Got back to some dirt in the driftless
As one transforms one begins seeing more that needs transforming all around.
... Terrain is changing / saying goodbye to the woods and the dirt for a while as I head into Wisconsin and towards the urban wilderness of Green Bay / Milwaukee / and Chicago / after passing through so much managed wilderness I'm starting to think the truest wildness we have left on the planet to learn from is the weeds insisting their ways up through the blacktop / what I already miss from the Northland is the water and rivers like this one here / the Escanaba / with paved roadways cut open wide there is nowhere to hide from the sun / I am like the old man from Big Fish saying "get me to the water, I need to get in the water!" / lately the words to speak about what I've been experiencing out here are hiding from my tongue / I feel ok about that / it feels good to be quiet / the other night I gave a small concert on the yellow dog plains in Michigan / we were across from the Eagle mine and you could hear the test drills going in the back ground / They drill at 45 degree angles trying to find new ore bodies / the drills are covered by big white tarps and look like ghosts / I am still trying to find a balance and an understanding for all perspectives with concern to mining but in the end it just keeps feeling like the childrens story the Giving Tree by Shelly Silverstein / some kind of abusive narrative where the taking just never ends / I have begun to see however that our lives as humans are wrought with contradictions and rather than pretend that we can perfect ourselves out of the contradictions maybe we ought or try and honor them / maybe there is something to learn there/ tonightI am looking forward to a beach ride and performance kindly organized by the rad folks at Broken Spoke Bikes in Green Bay / More soon as it comes...
Concert/gathering across from eagle mine
riding into the yellow dog plains
More than likely this is going to become a blog about roads. Taking the back way day after day, it's hard not to become fascinated with all the varying subtleties between landscapes. The color of the dirt, the trees, weeds and wildflowers. Like the faces of strangers they can all blend together but upon closer inspection they are far from the same.
Day 3 was 110 or so miles across what was left of Wisconsin and into Michigan. It was hard to find gravel without going way out of my way so like much of life I made what seemed a reasonable compromise and rode the gravel that made sense and took pavement the rest of the way. I was thankful for this section pictured above that led me through the Bad River Reservation where I didn't see a single person. Just the silhouettes of deer standing off ahead of me in the middle of the road. Many of which let me ride past without running off.
Ended the day camped on the shore of Lake Superior where there was a small craft advisory and the waves crashed like 18 wheelers and halting trains all night.
Day 4 was when things got interesting. I had planned to cross from the Porcupine mountains to Houghton on what I knew would be a pretty rough route. It did not disappoint. This was one of the wettest stretches. I saw no humans for what felt like an eternity.
Before I left people had started to ask me about riding alone on back roads. Inquiring if I was afraid of red necks, or other weirdos in the woods. I began to psyche myself out a bit even though I have logged plenty of miles alone in the woods, enough to still any potential fear or concern.
This warning/concern from strangers was not dissimilar to when I went around Lake Superior and people kept cautioning me about riding in Canada and how dangerous it was. Yet when I got to Canada it was absolutely fine. What I realized on that trip was that most of the people who were warning me had never ridin on the Canadian highway. In riding all these back roads I'm forced to draw the same conclusion becasue everyone I continue to come across out on these roads has been friendly and warm.
In about 50 miles of the 75 I did yesterday the only people I saw was an old man and old woman on Misery Bay road walking towards each other in the rain. The woman carrying an umbrella. The man just getting rained on. But smiling nonetheless.
The truth is the people I meet out on these woods are there for the same reason I am. They want to be left alone. They want quiet and space.
My take away is that we spend way to much time feeding fear and not enough time feeding wonder and imagination. We must extend more positivity and kindness of spirit towards strangers and unknown roads. What you feed grows. Be it fear or wonder, I choose wonder.
My friend Curt who is highly active in the Houghton/Hancock cycling community organized a group of folks to ride out and meet me on my way in. What was unique about this was that rather than riding as a group toward me he just gave people the route and they rode towards me as it suited their schedule. This meant that the group formed and grew as I got closer to town. A very joyful feeling to keep collecting folks as we went through the rain and fog.
Rolling into Houghton we made a stope at KBC brewery where the owner apparently saw my bike out front in the rain and walked around asking whose rig it was. When she found me she handed me a bunch of beer tokens (which I later learned have more value than the US dollar).
The night ended with my show at the Orpheum Theater in Hancock, MI where I also screened Instruments of Adventure, a film made by my friend Bjorn Olson about a fat bike and pack raft trip my wife Amy and I did last summer with he and his partner Kim on the Kenai, Peninsula in Alaska. The film was presented by Salsa Cycles and I wrote the music. It was awesome to see it up on the big screen.
After the wet and muddy ride to Houghton my bike was fairly caked. Before taking Rythum Cycles's up on the offer to use their bike wash I joined a group in town down by the canal for morning coffee.
I am continuously filled with gratitude for these adventures and all the generous people who share their stories and wisdom with me.
Next stop Huron Mountains and Yellow dog plains. Then on to Marquette.
Officially my riding began on Monday when I left from the Coe Colledge Wilderness station off the Cloquet line about 13 miles northeast of Ely, MN. The evening before I had been asked to give s performance and lead a discussion with about 15 professors about the difference between wilderness and wildeness. It was a fine spot to begin this tour. Rough road from the start. Good ideas and conversation.
I need to get better at taking pictures but when I'm riding these back roads alone I get in my head and I don't like to be bothered to dig out my phone.
From Ely I took a section of dirt that my friend Jermey Kershaw used in his Heck Epic race. Lots of tall pines. Didn't see a single human for about 40 miles.
Made it into Two Harbors for my performance at Spokengear. It's one of my favorite shops. Josh and Mark are some of the kindest most genuine people. Rather than intimidate customers they help them get the right bike and help them find new places to explore. Dan the owner is also a good friend and it's been inspiring to watch the shop and cafe grow. If you are heading up the Nortj Shore check them out.
I performed outside in the stand of Cedars. Bent Paddle was very generous and donated beer to the event.
Day 2 saw me heading into Wisconsin across the middle of the Bayfield Peninsula following what gravel I could. The highlight was a stretch of hardwoods on Battleaxe road 2/3s or so of the way to Washburn, WI.
Its been hot in the woods. My mind has been quiet which seems like a nescessity after all the work I've been doing the get ready for this trip. Sure there will be more profound thoughts ahead.
The best thing anyone has said to be thus far was this, "There are three kinds of stories in this world, your story, my story, and the truth."
Tomorrow I am heading into the Porcupine Mountiains and from there up to Hancock, MI. I'm really excited about my route on Thursday which will take me through some of my favorite kind of land. The kind that is just a blank space on the map. If I have the battery life in my devices I'll record the route and share it.
Thanks for everyone's support and to all those of you buying my new record. It's a satisfying feeling to put so much work into something and have people want to continue supporting it. If you want to get one you can order it here. See you soon.
This spring I performed in Lanesboro, MN. Someone from the community who I interacted with at my performance wrote to me afterwards thanking me for my work and inspiration. At the end of their note they said, “Keep making it how you want it to be!”
Those words have echoed in my head nearly every minute since I read them and have played a huge role in helping me to persevere through the challenges and uncertainties that have accompanied the project I am writing to tell you about.
It is with great pleasure and joy that I announce my new record, Sees Like a River. In celebration of its release I leave Monday July 10th to begin a 1700 mile bike and musical tour. The journey starts in Ely, MN, passes along the bottom of Lake Superior, down Lake Michigan and on to Chicago, seeing me home up the Mississippi River.
I will be riding a lot of dirt and back roads between communities and performances on this trip so when possible I will be sharing ride stories and images via my blog and social media. You can follow along here.
In returning home to the Twin Cities there will be a special Mississippi river cleanup and performance on Aug 2nd and a welcome home Record Release Show at Creation Audio Recoding Studio in Minneapolis on Aug 3rd. For this show I will be joined by the band that I made the record with; Jeremy Ylvisaker, JT bates and Mike Lewis. Limited tickets are available here:
Sees Like a River will be initially released on CD and packaged in a limited 250 edition, handset, letterpress printed book that I made with my own hands. Each book is signed and hand numbered. For now Sees Like a River will only be available at my shows, from my websiteand at Kopplin's Coffee in Saint Paul. Buy it now from my website here:
I could not do this work without the support of my wife Amy, the love of my boys; Frankie, Henry and Charley and the generosity of all my friends and lastly my partners Salsa Cycle, Bent Paddle Brewing Co., Swrv, Big Agne, Kate's Real Foo, Banjo Brother, Red Table Meat Co., One Simple Pla, Granite Gea, and Angry Catfish Bicycle and Coffee Ba.
Fresh from a winter biking trip through the North country, musician Ben Weaver returns to the political and cultural fray, asking: What do we value? How do those values define our culture? How could we cultivate systems of value that stem from being in relationship to things, rather than consuming, extracting, and taking from them?
I’d rather build a fire. Rather have cold hands from gathering wood.Rather sleep in the dirt, wake up with frost and coyotes, confuse the day moon for a fish eye or scale. I can’t pay attention to the news, but I can listen for hours to what the rough land has to tell. Can follow the light through the branches, back and back. Seeking wildness: smoothly, steadily, resiliently. Continue reading here....
When I first attempted to make a living as a musician I was driving around the country playing in little coffee shops and sleeping at rest stops in the back of an 1985 Ford F150. Those days were fed by an ambitious romanticism for a ragged, hand to mouth life on the road.
It wasn't long before the romantic edge wore off and I began growing tired of playing to tiny audiences in sad bars. Luckily after releasing my third record, Hollerin’ at a Woodpecker, I got a break. The famed British rock and roll magazine MOJO gave Woodpecker a 4 out of 5 star review naming it Americana Album of the month. Suddenly I had all kinds of invites to go across the pond and perform. This was long before I had started riding to my shows by bicycle while carrying my instruments.
Back in March of 2016 I received an invite to come perform at a festival in Katowice, Poland that coming November. I forwarded the offer to my European booking agent who recommended we add additional shows to the festival making the trip into a mini tour. I was excited by this prospect. I had not toured Europe sine 2011 and had been eager to do a musical tour by bike there ever since. Continue Reading here....
For the next year, and likely the foreseeable future, I’ll be working on a series of trips focused around the Superior National Forest in the Northeast corner of Minnesota. The following route is the first ride I’m counting towards this project. The trip began in Ely, MN where I met my friends Levi and Kellen. For both, this would be their first trip on a fat bike and their first bike- powered overnight. Both have tons of all season camping experience so packing the bikes I brought up for them to use went smoothly and felt intuitive. Read the rest here:
I was very honored to recently have a new poem titled, Considering Leaves: After John Trudell, published by the Dark Mountain Project. The response from the readership was incredibly overwhelming and since I don't feel much like I own the songs or the poems, but rather more that they are passing through me and it is my job to help them find their way into peoples lives, this poem been incredibly satisfying to share. You can read the poem in it's entirety here.
Ben Weaver on the trouble with lionizing artists' struggles, with a call for boldness in the face of want, solidarity with the land and each other, and seeking brave solutions at the edges, rather than swimming comfortably in the mainstream.
A stranger came to town. Down the frozen roads. Barely made it up the hill. She left early the next morning. Some say they planned it all along. It’s true, there are so many different kinds of dark. Everybody is wondering what will end up in the fire.
I had flown across the pond and was riding to shows in the Netherlands. Hadn't been over there for years, and not since making the choice to tour by bicycle.... Continue reading
2016 was full of many rides, incredible people, water, learning, challenges, grace, and partnership. I am humbled and grateful for it all. Here are some words collected in looking back.
Singing by the fire. The lake opens to the river, the river runs to the ocean. Glacial erratics. Bedrock at the surface. Now my bones are showing. Followed the watershed back to Homer. Green and black Mukluk. Bathing in waterfalls. Sleeping in a patch of woods next to the Sterling Highway. Starting a fire with the pizza box. The conversation was about how the shape of the stones resembled the shape of the boulders which resembled the shape of the mountain we sat gazing up at. Down on all fours filling our hats with blueberries. Congruence and sounds from the trail.
Singing by the lake. Snow blocking the sun. Nobby treads among fox tracks, squirrel, moose, deer, otter and a spotted woodpecker feather. At morning ravens circling the tent, staked out with driftwood, snow tumbling from red pine boughs. Hanging glaciers in the civil twilight. It all runs together. Water does not segregate. Woodsmoke. The year cannot be divided into highlights. The threads are woven together revealing only one continuous path forward. Alongside two oceans, under windmills, atop canals, beside moraines, sloughs, salmon boats, subsistence netters and at times within the river itself. The laughter of friends spreading across the surface of the water. Playing like dogs in the sun. Huddled like birds in the rain. Gravel and blue sky, stars in the night, like old nails in barn wood. Home is where you lite the fire.
Singing by the river. Mud in my teeth. Frog belly moon hurdling the constellations. Over Marrakesh. Amsterdam. Pedaling for the imagination, not the clock. Endless color. Gathering roots in the forest. My bowl facing open to the sky in gratitude. The harvest depends on what you plant. An athlete is an artist. Riding the edges of puddles. Perhaps the greatest risk is to postpone writing down your dream in the exact moment that it wakes you from sleep, hoping that it will return to you later in the day. Chances are pretty good it wont return. That said, go now. Already, another year has passed.
I was invited to perform at a celebration to welcome my friends Dave and Amy Freeman back from their year in the wilderness to protect the Boundary Waters from proposed sulfide copper mines in partnership with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. In order to get to Ely I planned an overland ride from Two Harbors, MN in which I rode less than 10 miles of paved road through the Superior National Forest. Read the ride story and see the route via the Salsa Cycles Black River page.
During the second weekend of August I traveled to Pope County, Minnesota, where I attended My Ocean, an outdoor, site-specific sound and performance installation at the Ordway Prairie Nature Preserve, co-created by performance artist Bethany Lacktorin and director / composer / musician James Everest. For each performance, Lacktorin and Everest led small groups of audience members on a 1.5 mile-long walk along a carefully composed pathway of sound, song, memoir, history, and ecologically diverse habitat. Continue reading......
New poem for my Walker Arts Center and MN Artsits Ramble Ramble Column; on fatherhood, art, biking, and being present in the moment for all the above while interrogating the world around us...... continue reading
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.
On the last day of April, I led the concluding ride for 30 Days of Biking. In roughly 25 miles, our group of about 60 riders rambled up and then back down the river, making a handful of stops, most notably to participate in a river clean-up near the Columbia Park neighborhood, where St. Anthony Parkway meets the Mississippi. Then to Izzy’s ice cream to try a new flavor that owner Jeff Sommers made in collaboration with Bent Paddle Beer especially for us. The ride ended at Surly Brewery, where I gave a performance. What follows is a piece written from reflections I had as we rode that day and questions that have occurred to me before, during, and since the event. Continue Reading.....