Friday, March 23, 2012

UMD Statesman Article

Duluth alumni prepare for Great Lakes tour

Kris McNeal and Zach Chase take a moment for a snapshot en route to Mexico from Seattle back in the summer of 2008. Photo Submitted

While most people plan on lounging around this summer or going to the beach, two UMD alumni have a different idea altogether: touring 5,300 miles around the Great Lakes on bicycles.

Kris McNeal and Zach Chase both graduated from UMD in 2010, McNeal with a degree in life science education and outdoor education, and Chase with a BA in Fine Arts with emphasis on digital arts and photography.

Chase and McNeal met in 2007 through the school’s ultimate frisbee club and bonded over their mutual interest in adventure and the outdoors. McNeal had been planning a bike trip from Seattle down to the Mexican border during the summer of 2008, Chase decided to join him in the quest, and the rest is history.

It was while on this trip that plans for the Great Lakes tour began to form.

“We wanted to try something new that no one had done before, but that we could do back home,” McNeal said.

They returned home after their successful west coast trip but plans for the grand tour around the Great Lakes began to fade.

“You’ve got school, work, life, and you lose track of your dreams,” McNeal said.

But in November 2010 after they had both graduated, Chase gave McNeal a call and said, “Let’s do this.” It was then that their trip finally began to take form: 5,300 miles, 97 days, two countries, and eight states, following the coastlines whenever possible with only what they can pull behind a bicycle.
Chase designed their logo and website,, to promote the trip, and they both began to look for sponsors.

“It was really slow at first, but then sponsors just kept going up exponentially,” McNeal said.
Local businesses like Ski Hut gave them discounts on bikes and free lessons on bike repair, Trailfitters provided the camping gear, and the Sierra Club gave them money for a camera. Fitger’s is also a sponsor of the trip.

Chase and McNeal plan to shoot a feature-length documentary on the trip to bring awareness to the Great Lakes region, and connect people that live around the lakes to others around the world.

“We didn’t want to just do it for ourselves this time, we wanted to share it,” Chase said.

They hope that if the film is a success, then it will open doors for similar opportunities in the future.
A trip like this one involves a lot of preparation. McNeal has had plenty of practice with this. For his outdoor education degree he was required to plan and manage many large events. He started Earth Club at UMD as a freshman, and helped start the Respect Your Mother Earth Festival in Duluth. Now he works as an event planner at Fitger’s and has been using his organizational skills to make sure the Big Water Bike trip is a success.

McNeal and Chase celebrate their achievement after bike riding all the way to the Mexico/U.S. border.
McNeal and Chase celebrate their achievement after bike riding all the way to the Mexico/U.S. border.

“Most of the trip is planning, and then you get to enjoy it as long as it’s planned well,” McNeal said.
Now that many of the sponsors are in place and their gear is all in order, Chase and McNeal are drumming up support from the community.

“We’re trying to get as many people down here to bike us out of town as possible,” McNeal said.
Mayor Don Ness has pledged to bike them out of town, and they invite everyone to join them May 1 at 9 a.m. for their big send off in front of the Fitger’s building. They encourage anyone to bring their bikes and follow them out of town as far as they’re willing to go. You might even make it into the documentary. You can also like them on Facebook to follow their adventure this summer, and their website,, will have a GPS tracker allowing us to see exactly how far along they are at any given time.

Chase and McNeal will be the first people to bike the coastlines of all the Great Lakes in a single trip. They both feel a special connection to the Duluth area and Lake Superior, and they hope that this trip, along with their documentary, will bring awareness to the beauty of the Great Lakes around the nation and the world. If all goes well, they plan to be back in Duluth Aug. 5, finishing the trip in front of the Fitger’s building on Superior Street with a story to tell.

“The great thing about bike touring is that you learn as you go, and it’s never what you expect it to be,” Chase said.

A big thanks to Aaron Swanson for writing the article!

Here is the link to the article on the Statesman site

Statesman Article

Monday, March 12, 2012

UMD Statesman Article

Kris and I sat down for dinner with Aaron Swanson with the Statesman for an interview last Wednesday. Should be out in a couple weeks so keep an eye out for it!

Article by Sam Cook in the Duluth News Tribune!

We were fortunate enough to be interviewed by the wonderful writer Sam Cook for an article in the Duluth News Tribune that came out this past Sunday! (3/11/12): Take a look below or visit the link.

Duluth News Tribune Article -

"Duluthians plan bike trip around Great Lakes"

Kris McNeal and Zach Chase had already ridden their bicycles nearly 1,700 miles down the West Coast in 2008. Then they got to dreaming.

“We were nearly at the end of our trip,” said McNeal, 26. “We were sitting on a mountain looking out at the vast ocean. And we thought, ‘What can we do back home like this?’ ”

So the two University of Minnesota Duluth graduates decided they’d take on another bike ride. Their “Big Water Bike” starts May 1 in Duluth. It will take them about 5,300 miles around all five of the Great Lakes. They’ll travel through two countries, eight states and 20 major cities, getting as far east as Quebec City on their northern leg before returning through the U.S. on their return leg.

The two will ride about 60 miles a day, camping at night. They plan to finish in Duluth Aug. 5.

Along the way, they’ll use three video cameras to shoot footage for a documentary. Chase, 25, has a degree in digital arts and photography from UMD. He recently completed a year with the Minnesota Conservation Corps and works at Burrito Union. McNeal, who manages Burrito Union, holds degrees in outdoor education and life science.

They see the trip as a bridge of sorts to the next stage of their lives.

“We’ll be starting careers,” McNeal said. “Or maybe we’ll be starting this as a career.”

They’ve been planning the trip for a year and a half and have secured several sponsors for gear and equipment. They’ll ride bikes that offer a compromise between road bikes and mountain bikes, and each rider will pull a single-wheeled trailer carrying about 45 pounds of gear. They plan to ride about four hours a day and spend additional time filming the documentary.

“First, we’re doing the trip for ourselves,” McNeal said. “Second, we want to bring awareness to the Great Lakes region and to encourage people to do something like this themselves. We want to promote bicycle touring for vacations, especially with gas prices so high.”

For McNeal and Chase, though, there’s a difference between a trip like the Big Water Bike and a vacation.

“A vacation is sitting on a beach in Mexico,” Chase said. “A trip is work …”

“… but you have an end goal, and along the way you have freedom and exploration,” McNeal said.
The riders acknowledge they have some concerns about the trip.

“I’m definitely nervous,” Chase said. “It’s the unknown, I guess. And I don’t want to let people down. I want to make something big. I want to make sure we’re filming all the time.”

McNeal said he and Chase will be traveling not only through some idyllic rural areas but also through the heart of some big cities.

“We’ll be going through some dangerous areas at times,” he said. “We’ll try to be as smart as we can. But we’re putting ourselves on the highway every day. We had some close calls on the West Coast trip.”"

- Sam Cook