Duluth alumni prepare for Great Lakes tourBY AARON SWANSON
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, bigwaterbike.com, 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.
“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, bigwaterbike.com, 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