"Traversing varying terrain by manpower through different types of weather, meeting new folks along the way, making memories and gathering information are at the heart of Big Water Bike — a circumnavigation of the Great Lakes by bicycle slated for 2012, the undertaking of Zach Chase of Menomonie and his teammate, Kris McNeal.
Their website states: “This trip is more than about two cyclists. It is about a dream shared, discovered years ago to realize the importance of the lakes that not only shape our lives but also millions of other North Americans.”
Chase, a 2005 Menomonie High School graduate and recent graduate of the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD), has been involved in a 10-month program as a member of the Duluth crew of the Minnesota Conservation Corps. His work includes grooming trails, planting trees, helping with prescribed burning of wild fires, investigating invasive species, painting buildings and more — a job that has been tailor-made for him because he says anything having to do with the outdoors is his passion, especially climbing and biking.
After the Big Water Bike trip, he will receive a monetary education award and plans to attend Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minn. His ultimate goal is to obtain a graduate degree in outdoor education and become an educator /guide.
The two outdoorsmen will start their adventure May 1, 2012, and are set to depart from Duluth in front of the historic Fitger’s Brewery Complex, where they will also conclude their trip on Aug. 5, 2012.
As they travel, they will document their journey around the Great Lakes with high definition cameras. Within the itinerary ranging from Duluth to Quebec, the team will spend a total of three months, travel more than 5,000 miles, cross two countries, eight states, and visit more than 20 major cities, filming their experiences as they go. The end result will be the production of a film that includes footage of people and communities and their interaction with the landscape that surrounds them — the region that contains one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water.
Traveling light, the duo will tow their gear in a trailer and spend as many nights as possible in state and national parks. The aim is to get up-close and personal and gain “first-hand experience of the amazing places that surround the lakes” and learn how the lakes affect the livelihood of communities. Along with water quality testing and research, another mission of the adventure is to promote bike touring as an alternative mode of cross-country exploration. These intertwined passions are an important issue, according to Chase, who finds the trip experience to be an ideal “way to integrate the two.”
To “bring awareness to the importance of the Great Lakes and the sport of biking” is paramount in Chase’s thinking, with the bonus being that biking provides an intimate experience, whereas a car does not. The trek will also save on money and gas.
Practice makes perfect
This is not the first trip for the pair who met at UMD. McNeal had dreams of a “grand trip” in a 2007 and enlisted Chase, a fellow student in outdoor education, as a partner in an expedition of bicycling the length of the West Coast of the U.S. from Seattle to the Mexican border. And after months of planning and training, in 2008 they gained bike touring experience, along with McNeal’s brother, Justin, and roommate, Nik. They documented that trip with photos and journals, pedaling 30 days and more than 1,700 miles. That excursion fueled the desire for the circumnavigation of the Great Lakes, and the bicycling lifestyle kicked in with a vengeance.
Chase and McNeal believe Ernest Hemingway summed it up the best: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”
Love of the north shore for Chase was instilled by his mother and father, Linda and Don Chase. It began when he was an infant during a family visit to Lake Superior and has continued to this day.
“The first time they brought me, months after I was born, we stayed at a resort and I slept in the dresser drawer,” he said.
Perceptions are relative, but the toddler’s eye, according to Chase, sees things magnified. “When we are young, it seems like everything is enormous,” he said. And, yet, for him, that vision of the expanse he’s fascinated with has never varied over the years — literally or figuratively — the lake that came to be known as “Big Water” will not change names or size.
“The lake still has that affect on me today,” he said.
Soon, he’ll be combining his love of nature with his degree. He received a bachelor of fine arts in digital arts with an emphasis in photography.
Learning about himself as he goes along, enjoying the moments and meeting people will be the biproducts of the researcher’s life that is uphill and downhill all the way.
Similarly, McNeal said his love of the wild started at a young age during visits to his family’s cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior. But a road trip to the Sturgis Bike Rally at age 16 with his brother, Justin, sealed the deal for adventure.
“After that trip, there was no looking back,” he said.
From then, the two passions were intertwined. So he earned degrees in life science education and outdoor education, keeping busy with kayak and outdoor skills instruction and ultimate Frisbee.
A 2010 graduate of UMD, he is the event director for Fitger’s Brewhouse and says, “Everyday I look out at Lake Superior and dream of BIG WATER!”
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At their stops along the way, Chase and McNeal intend to use the Internet for communication, keeping people posted on their expedition. They plan to have a spot-tracking device on their trip that puts a dot on a map to track their progress."
The team extends an invitation to join them on the trip. For more about the Big Water Bike trip, visit www.bigwaterbike.com, check out Facebook and follow their blog. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.