The increase in popularity of gravel cycling, bikepacking, and the multiple variations of “adventure” style riding this last decade has been good for the cycling world. Within this broadening of cycling genres has also been a push for inclusion. In particular, how does the greater cycling community welcome those people who may have never felt welcomed? This, too, is a good thing for cycling. More people on bicycles is a win for all.
Our business, Heck of the North Productions, which is based on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota, has consciously been welcoming all types of new riders to the world of gravel cycling. The Fox is our race that seeks to introduce riders to the joys and challenges of bikepacking-style racing. This two-day stage race covers 120 miles and one night of camping through some of the best of Northern Minnesota’s landscapes and communities.
My own goal for cycling is to be able to ride until I’m just too old to stay upright. It is a lifelong passion. My hope for all of our participants, especially our youngest cyclists, is that they discover the joy and challenges of cycling and carry that love throughout their lives. I am always disheartened to talk to folks who no longer bike after their college years, when maybe they stopped racing or commuting for school. To help prevent this, cycling events need to be challenging and also fun and inclusive, with eyes always on promoting lifelong learning and passion.
Inclusion to us means not only welcoming but also inviting these people who may have felt marginalized from cycling events in the past. We are honored to have more female riders, more LBGQT+ riders, and more BIPOC cyclists join us. We are also really excited to have young riders!
This year’s inaugural Fox Bikepacking Race saw two riders who were under 18 years old: Chloe, age 17, and Bodee, age 15. Both have their cycling roots in Duluth’s local mountain biking developmental league, Duluth DEVO. Through the solid mentoring of their coaches and support of parents, both of these riders demonstrated the range of cycling skills and interest present in young cyclists today. They were fierce competitors as well as great people to share the weekend with.
I hope that the experiences these young riders have during our gravel races—and especially these bikepacking events—grows their love of cycling for the long-haul. We appreciate their spirit, sense of discovery, and determination. We thank them for being Graveleers! Here are two of their stories.
My stomach tingled with nerves. I had never done something like this before. I had no idea what to expect. I am an avid biker, but carrying camping gear on my bike? That thought had never crossed my mind before. I wasn’t entirely stuck in a negative mindset, though, and the idea of the Fox was thrilling. I had ridden one of Jeremy’s races before and had a great time, so I trusted that this was going to be another terrific event. I was not wrong.
The day was sunny, and the air was invigorating: it was a beautiful day for a beautiful ride. I felt very fortunate that I was going to be able to do this with my teammate and coach. I had ridden this distance before, 70 miles, but not two days in a row and not while bikepacking. Nevertheless, I was ready to tackle this challenge, and the delicious breakfast that was provided sure helped.
The first road we ventured on was picture-perfect. I was inspired by the landscape and felt a renewed sense of appreciation for biking and for the natural world. As we continued on, the course never ceased to excite me. I have always loved the North Shore, but had never seen it this way before. The hidden backcountry roads, the random worn signposts, the scurrying animals—I found it so exciting to see something so familiar in such a new way.
I surprised myself, feeling more optimistic and energetic than I had expected. At the halfway aid station, I fueled up on energy blocks and granola bars and was eager to get back on course. It was never disappointing. We pedaled on gravel roads and four-wheeler trails. For me, a rider who enjoys mostly singletrack, this course was a good fit: a gravel ride that did not feel like a gravel ride.
I felt tired after the first day, but I had so much fun with the other riders. A favorite part of the day was the seven-mile descent into Grand Maris. Grand Maris is stunning, an absolute must-see, and we were able to camp right on Lake Superior’s shore. It could not have been a better place to spend the night.
The second day started early with another tasty breakfast. The course was different but equally as challenging. I found the most difficult part to be the 30-mile section of strong headwind on our way back to the finish. This race challenged me in new ways, but the feelings of excitement and adventure never waned. The route and other riders were so fun! I could not have asked for a better first bikepacking experience. Thank you, Fox organizers! I can’t wait until next year.
I signed up for The Fox because my dad loves bikepacking, and I wanted to try it out. I also had a Duluth DEVO teammate and one of my coaches doing it with me. Going into this event, I was completely unprepared. I had gotten back Tuesday from a two-week trip out west for US Nationals, and we had to leave Friday evening for The Fox. I was unsure about pretty much everything as this was my first time bikepacking.
I had never used any of the gear I needed for the event, and wasn’t even sure it would fit on my bike. After many attempts at packing my gear, unpacking it, and then repacking it again, I finally got most of it to fit. Anything that didn’t fit, I would have to carry in a backpack. However, I still had one thing to figure out. I was debating on whether to bring a hammock or a tent, but I opted for the hammock as it would save weight and space. On Saturday morning, the event coordinator, Jeremy Kershaw, arranged breakfast for the racers who camped the night before, and it was worth it. After eating lots of food, we quickly got ready for two long days of riding.
About 4.5 miles in, I went to take the first drink out of my hydration pack, and part of the nozzle fell off, drenching me and wasting a lot of water. After problem-solving and fixing the issue, we got rolling again, and it was a smooth day. It was nearly five hours of riding through a beautiful area with great people on a beautiful day. When we finished in Grand Marais, my first priority was to go swimming in Lake Superior, then go to World’s Best Donuts. This was followed by some food at a local brewery, three trips to the Dairy Queen in town, and a little bit of shopping. We went to bed early, as we had another long day ahead of us.
Jeremy had breakfast for us again in the morning, and day two started out with an eight-mile climb out of Grand Marais, but that wasn’t the worst part. It was incredibly windy, and we had to ride into the wind all day, so I was very thankful to have people with me so we could all take turns breaking the wind.
That second day took us roughly five hours and was full of bonking, strong headwinds, and a section of very rocky doubletrack. But, after lots of fun and just as much suffering, we finished. This was an amazing event, and it definitely won’t be my last bikepacking adventure.
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