Let’s Get HAMR’D!

We have some big plans for 2018.

Van building, random travel, polebarn erecting, and lotsa fishing.

One thing that has been added to that list is racing, lotsa racing. Now, I’m no racer boy. Yes, I wear spandex and I like to go fast, but no one would call what I do racing. That being said I am signing up to race in 2018 because I need it. It’s also going to allow Chelsea and I to run around a bunch. Chelsea is even planning on doing a few running races.

I’ll put a list of races and places in a future post. Of all my planned races I’m most stoked for the HAMR. Why is the stoke so high? Click this link and you’ll see why.

HAMR

Maybe the HAMR is an adventure race.

Maybe the HAMR is a bike race.

Maybe the HAMR is a sadistic spin through the north woods.

Who friggin’ knows…

All I know is that I’ll be anxiously tucked into my sleeping bag waiting for what I can only hope will be a black metal wake up call at Forestville. May the woods be filled with shreddy guitar solos before we all pedal into the darkness.

I hope I don’t get nailed… Let’s HAMR.

-J

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The Living Great Lakes

It’s no secret that I love Michigan. The Great Lakes play a large role in that equation. Their vastness and depth are a mirror for the soul. Many a writer has attempted to put their beauty into words. Few have come as close as Jerry Dennis has with The Living Great Lakes. (TLGL)

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This book is an informative series of tales woven into the narrative of the author’s trip through the Great Lakes on the Malabar, a tall ship out of Traverse City, Michigan.

Dennis, an accomplished American author, writes rather matter of factly in a manner which feels like a regular guy telling you of his travels over a beer. He gives lessons on the history of man-made features as well as the geological happenings and cycles that shaped the region. His use of everyday language makes TLGL approachable, understandable, and very pleasant. The reader learns and is entertained at the same time.

I especially appreciate how he explains what certain groups are doing to protect this awesome ecosystem! His lauding contains subtle warnings about environmental issues plaguing the Lakes without being too preachy.

I read this book with a map pulled up at all times on my computer, I loved to find the places that he was talking about, then I would Google the story, or the area that he was describing and get lost researching the topic. While the book reads quite quickly, if you take the time to delve into the side stories and look up the events that Dennis writes about you will find yourself taking a little longer than usual. The extra time is worth it because it will only enrich your overall experience.

Since reading I have amassed a list of places and events that I would like to check out due to their descriptions in the book:

  • The Witching Tree
  • The Snow Wasset
  • More of Sleeping Bear Dunes
  • The Manitou Islands
  • and so many more…

This book describes the Great Lakes region with such familiarity that any reader will feel at home, even if you have never been near them. The familiarity is achieved through anecdotal additions which cause each story to ring true. I especially enjoyed the references to the places where I have played since my youth: Manistee, Arcadia, Traverse  City, Mackinac, and Leelanau. Now that I have moved to the Upper Peninsula I am rereading the book to see what new flames it stokes.

Guests to the area: I suggest you read this on your trip or before, it will provide you with a wealth of information and history of the area. It may also serve as a jumping-off point for your trip.

Residents of the area: I suggest you read this book, enjoy it thoroughly and research the stories. You will discover things about your town/ area that you would never have found before.

Pick this book up as soon as you can; read it; get inspired; start exploring.

-J

Motobecane Sturgis Bullet Review

The weather has started to turn in the northern regions and no doubt you are starting to think about putting your bikes away for the winter. You may be considering giving fat biking a shot because they seem to not be a fad and let’s face it; months of hanging out in the gym just isn’t the same as outdoor exercise. I needed to keep my spinning outside in order to maintain for next season.

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I love spinning but it just doesn’t cut it.

I was at that same place last year. While I love cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, neither of them provides me with the same pleasure as biking.

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After seeing fat bikes on the trails and all over the internet I thought that I might like to give them a try. I researched them online, went to local bike shops to drool, and finally came to two conclusions: first, I had to have one; second, I could not afford a brand new name brand bike. I searched the fat bike classifieds on Facebook and my state mountain biking forum (check this place out if you are in Michigan or the surrounding states, it is very well organized) but could not find anything suitable or more importantly in my price range.

After much thought and time I succumbed to the allure of Bikesdirect.com (BD). I have been led to believe that these are garbage bikes with all knockoff parts and factory seconds that will crumble underneath you leaving you alone in the woods. This was probably perpetuated by my much older biking friends who had seen many local bike shops close up with the rise of the internet bikestore.

Against their better judgment and with the mindset that it was better to be out riding than sitting around waiting for something to fall into my lap I took the plunge. I looked at the specs on their site and cross referenced it with many posts from the MTBR Sturgis Forum and finally came to the conclusion that the Motobecane Sturgis Bullet w/Bluto could not be beat.

While most of the offerings from BD use more economical technology like QR axles, square-taper bottom brackets, and loose-bearing hubs, this was not the case with the Sturgis Bullet. The Bullet is not the entry-level Sturgis (but even that bike comes with a much better component setup than most). An updated component list can be found here. (PS looks like if you pick up a 2016 model year you can save $200!)

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Shipping was much quicker than BD approximated which was welcome news to me. I rushed home on my lunch to unbox my new toy. Assembly was very quick: bolt the front wheel on; adjust the stem and bars; and check and lubricate the moving parts. It took me about 45 minutes but if I wasn’t so interested in inspecting each part it would have been more like 10.

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I started off with a simple shakedown cruise on the beach along Lake Superior. I braced myself but was quite impressed at how the fat tires floated over the loose sand.

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Since that initial ride I have taken my Sturgis across many different types of terrain on many rides. The only changes that I have made have been to the fit, I am constantly adjusting all of my bikes in this department. Other than that I have found the stock components to perform very nicely. The thru axles provide stiff, reliable handling even on the flowy trails in Marquette. The Bluto fork is really all that it’s hyped up to be. As if the big tires aren’t plush enough a little bit of suspension goes a long way when climbing and descending chunky rock sections. SRAM x7 provides a hardworking, no-frills drivetrain option. This year’s version comes with NovaTec hubs however it comes with lighter MuleFut hoops.

I was initially worried about two things when purchasing the Bullet: the tires and the brakes. The tires are Vee Rubber Snowshoes. They are allegedly 4.8″ but I measure 4.5″. They are not aggressive by any stretch of the definition. While on the road in between sections of trail they definitely have some rolling bias which makes me feel uneasy. Not that they are going to pop out from under me but at high speeds they tend to wander a bit. On dirt single track the tires perform fine; stable and predictable with low rolling resistance. On the snow however, they are quite bad. The tread pattern is not wide nor aggressive enough to give any bite. On truly hard-packed snow they will start to spin when climbing, especially if you get out of the saddle. On bermed and unbermed corners they slip from time to time. The real shortcoming is that their pattern lacks the ability to really tear through and give you dependable purchase in the snow. This winter season I will be switching to something with bigger knobs.

Tektro Draco brakes were definitely one of the areas where BD economized to get this build under budget. Brakes are normally something that I upgrade because honestly your life depends on them. I have had multiple sets in my cart and different times for the Bullet but after a full year of use I will not be changing the Draco out any time soon. After the initial wear in they have proved themselves to me. They lack the subtle modulation of more expensive brakes but give quite a bit of confidence in all conditions. I was more than a little nervous that they would fail me in some of the -15F conditions but they continued to work through the ice, wind and salty road crossings.

It rocks every season and most conditions. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase. This bike has been ridden pretty hard this year and continues to hold up. It corners surprisingly well and is extremely playful for such a fat pig. Once I upgrade the tires it will be ready for another Winter of ripping. This is definitely a gateway bike. It showed me that fat bikes are totally capable and fun to ride year round. I am considering a full suspension fatty next. The Farley EX is currently on top of the list, any Trek riders out there?

We are also looking at the new Motobecane Sturgis NX. Chelsea has ridden mine and finds that the Bluto adds too much height for her to comfortably ride. This year’s version contains many upgraded parts and we cannot wait to check it out. Once we pick that up we will compare and contrast.

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Border Grill delivery machine!

TL;DR: Great high-performing, economical way to get into the fat bike market.

Please feel free to ask questions or add your own comments or recommendations below. Fellow Sturgis riders, what changes have you made to your ride?

-John

Waterworks

Weather plays a very important role here; it rarely stops us from doing what we do but it definitely alters the way in which we do things. While checking the weather report on Friday we noticed that we were under a gale force wind advisory out of the north which was slated to produce 10-15 foot waves on Superior. The waves were supposed to reach the upper level of their ferocity in the late afternoon so we planned our day around a trip to the lake at roughly that time.

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The first spot that we stopped at on Presque Isle was largely sheltered from direct waves but served to whet the appetite and provide promise of bigger action.

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While waves are easily enjoyed from a safe distance I tend to appreciate their magnitude much more when I can get down to their level. Our second stop on this tour de wave was at the Blackrocks. Most days you will find young shirtless human males trying to show their mettle and attract a mate by hurling themselves from the rocks into the water below. Today was not one of those days. Even the most boisterous of the males were tucked away in their dens weathering the storm.

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Some of us can play near the waves and leave unscathed while others cannot…

We got to witness a real rarity on this wavy day, the Blackrock Falls:

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Have you ever had the chance to see these mythical falls? They only manifest once in a blue moon and are quite fleeting.

Mother Superior really put on a show yesterday and I am so happy that we made it a priority to make it out before the final curtain.

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Lake and Love.

-J

“What’re you going to do when you get home from work?”

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Enjoy this pretty image and prepare yourself for a little bit of a rant. 🙂

This morning while going through my mail I came across the cable bill. Instead of just eyeballing the charges and paying it I decided to do something that I should have done a long time ago. I decided to cut the television portion of the programming. We couldn’t afford to have television and internet while in grad school so we went for many years without. However, when we purchased our home we were lured into a sweetheart deal combo-pack with television and internet. I never felt like I really got my money’s worth out of the television portion of the package because we only watch a half hour of local news, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.

So, having thoroughly assessed our television usage and weighed the costs we decided to get rid of television. The customer service rep at the cable company was very nice when the conversation started. She offered to cut the cost by $35 while still offering the same package. When that didn’t work she offered other lower level packages to try to keep our television box humming. Finally when I said that all I want is the internet and no television for the 9th time she asked me the most absurd question: “what’re you going to do when you get home from work?” She was very concerned about whether or not I would be able to discuss Game of Thrones at the watercooler, or how I would find out which team threw a tanned piece of animal hide through the other team’s goal. The fear and urgency in her voice was a terrifying marker of our society’s leisure-time activities. To be honest, her simple question really hurt my feelings; did she really think that we would sit at home and have staring contests while slowly losing our minds waiting for the next “tv+internet bundle” to come out?

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Me, clearly waiting for the new season of Catfish.

If I hadn’t been so shocked by her question I would have had a much better answer for her. Instead I told her that I like to spend my time away from the office outside playing, riding my bike, and fishing. I should have asked here what she does when she gets out of work. I should have invited her over for a weekend to see how to LIVE a little bit.

This is how we do.

In retrospect, her question ignited a little introspection which lead me to this: What do we do when we get home from work? Well, for starters we:

  • squeeze every last little drop out of the time that we have been given;
  • seek out out-of-the-way places and experiences and try to inspire others to get outside and enjoy our great creation;
  • geek out over outdoor gear;
  • read a book;
  • do some self-directed study; and
  • support local businesses, causes and environmental groups;

In short; we are going to LIVE our lives and we hope that you will too. Get out there and experience things. But always remember that Netflix and Hulu will be there for your cheat days.

-J

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Get outside!

New Shop Alert: Bird’s Eye Outfitters

Few and far between: that’s how I would describe the state of quality outdoor shops in the Upper Peninsula.

Enter the new kid on the block:

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It’s always refreshing to see a new silent-sports themed shop open up. However, when I saw the sign, I had mixed emotions: I was excited about a new outfitter, but hesitant to get too excited in case it turned out to be just another low-level jacket pusher for over-stylized hipsters who rarely leave the pavement. All of my fears were quashed the second I crossed the threshold.

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Its well-lit, industrial chic showroom is accented with all sorts of shiny toys. I especially appreciate how they are not stacked like cordwood on sterile shelves or cheap pegboard. The owners have taken the time to work the product displays into an inspired art form. They have a wide array of products for the novice to the seasoned outdoors person.

Bird’s Eye caries the following top-notch brands:

  • Patagonia
  • Arc’teryx
  • Prana
  • Lolé
  • Temple Fork Outfitters
  • MSR
  • Giant Bicycles
  • Salsa Bicycles
  • Fjallraven
  • Chaco
  • Osprey

Aside from offering those killer brands they also rent out kayaks and stand up paddle boards. They will soon be offering river tours and kayak/SUP lessons as well. Future plans also include bike maintenance and repair once lower level renovations are complete.

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MMMM-fresh TFO cork!

Quite possibly my favorite of Bird’s Eye’s many great attributes is the beer and snacks! It’s really nice to be able to enjoy a pint while browsing gear. I love it when my favorite things mash up. The staff also told me that they will be offering Charcuterie plates in the future. I look forward to sitting down to talk shop over salted meats and libations. When you get there ask for the Bird’s IPA, it has hints of Cascade hops, Gore-Tex, and Prima Loft and pairs well with shiny paddle boards or fat tired bikes.

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The front portion of the shop houses Superior Coffee Roasting Company. We will be doing a future feature on them but suffice it to say, they pulled me two delicious shots that I am still thinking about.

Head on over to 107 East Portage St., in Sault Ste. Marie, MI and check them out.

Praise For Four Season Fuel

Today is Valentine’s Day. While most people were out overspending and feigning interest over things that they will forget by the end of the week, Chelsea and I were immersing ourselves in the great outdoors and enjoying each other’s company.

The plan for the day was simple: stop by Down Wind Sports to pick up a boil in bag meal, drive up CR 550 and find a place to ski. We got a little over a foot of fresh snow in the last few days and we wanted to take make some tracks.

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We grabbed some Mountain House Beef Stroganoff and started out and settled in the Harlow Lake/ Little Presque area.

After crossing the road we opted to head south along the NCT. The wind coming off the lake was a force to be reckoned with. The icy blasts plunged the “feels like” temp well into the double-digits below zero. This concerned me a little. I have read some negative reviews about the Jetboil four-season fuel mix and thought that if ever there was a safe time to test it out this would be it; we were relatively close to home and if the fuel failed to provide enough oomph it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

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We tucked into a dense stand of pines and stomped down a kitchen. I pulled out our Valentine’s Day meal and lit the jetboil. The water from my bottle was pretty cold from our trek out and it took a little while for the stove to get it lukewarm. To my surprise and delight, after the initial coaxing, the water boiled rather quickly.

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While the wind howled and knocked snow from our little shelter we huddled together and shared our bagged meal. It was tougher to wait for the noodles and beef to plump up than usual but it was worth it.

Truthfully the water did boil noticeably slower than normal, but considering the super-cool starting water temp; the gusting wind; and the generally inhospitable weather I think that the four season fuel performed as well as it could. It provided a steady stream of heat and didn’t sputter even once. I definitely think that I will bring the base out next time though. Keeping it directly off the snow may help.

After lunch we swapped skis and crossed the road into the Harlow Lake area. Chelsea had been using a set of Evo Glades that really weren’t working for her. In all honesty, they have never really suited her that well. After the switch I noticed that she was kicking and gliding with increasing confidence. Needless to say she will be taking over my Madshus Cadence’s for the rest of the season. I really like those skis but if they help keep Chelsea going then they are hers!

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Get out there. Enjoy the simple things with the people that you love.

-j

Perfection is a Brook Trout

  
Mankind constantly strives to create perfect items and moments. However, we will never ever be able to manufacture the level of perfection that is a wild Brook Trout at the end of a fly line. This feisty little guy whacked a nymph the size of his head and gave a fight that rivaled fish twice his size. 

Cherish the little Brookies and let them go; they’ll be there when you come back. 

-J

Meet John

 

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Hello, my name is John; I am a lifelong Michigander and lover of most things outdoors. My current basecamp is Marquette, Michigan. When I am not working I can be found on the trails, lakes, and rivers of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My favorite activities include biking, hiking, camping, kayaking, cross-country skiing, and fly fishing. Fortunately for me this area is ripe with outdoor opportunities! I have always thought that Michigan and the “Upper Midwest” boasted many of the same opportunities that other destinations have.

When I was growing up I read all of the standard outdoor-activity magazines: Outside, Dirt Rag, Bicycle Times, Climbing, Canoe & Kayak, and Fly Tyer. I always found it interesting and a little unsettling how very few articles in these publications mentioned all of the great opportunities for outdoor recreation found in the areas surrounding the Great Lakes. It seemed as if they were all promoting a lifestyle whereby you busted your butt  working all year to have money to blow on a big 7-10 day trip only to come back to the same boring workaday life afterward. I quickly decided that that mentality made no sense in an area that is so full of outdoor rec activities.

The purpose of this blog is inspire, inform, just let you know what I am up to. I will also give readers a heads up on regional or topical events. I would really like to let other people know just how wonderful this area is.

Whether you call this area the “upper midwest,” “Great Lakes Region,” or “Lake States” I call it home and I would really like to show you how cool it is here.

-J