Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A few words from Kris

After getting some much needed sleep, I would like to say a few things having completed 5500 miles by bicycle:

Thank you to all of our supporters and fans, we could have never done it without you all, you kept us going when we were ready to give up. 

Thank you to all of our donors and sponsors who believed in us before we even started this adventure. 

Thank you to everyone who helped us along the way and offered us their homes and friendship. We will never forget what you did!

And finally, a big thank you to everyone who came down to the Brewhouse or biked us there on Sunday. 

It was a very emotional time for us and you all made us feel so special by taking time out of your day to welcome us home! 

We will never forget that moment and the people we shared it with.

Thank you so much for everything and stay tuned to our progress on the video after we get our lives back on track.

Last 2 days!

 Day 96 – Little Sand Bay to Wisconsin Point ~ 73 miles

Well after the fish fry last night we ended up going out to Wisconsin's northernmost bar called the Gil-Net-Tug. It was karaoke night! We didn't sing, but Lane sang quite the rendition of CCR's “Have you ever seen the rain”. After the bar we went back to Lane's place to have a beach fire. It was going really well until it started to pour. We ran up to the house and hung out listening to music for a bit longer until we went to bed.

We woke up this morning at about 10...late as usual. We at quickly and packed up our things. Lane and two of his room mates decided to ride a ways with us. We all rode together for ways and then said our goodbyes and parted ways. The shoulder on the section of highway 13 between Little Sand Bay and Port Wing kind of sucks. We stopped in Port Wing for lunch and then continued on. We are exhausted today and when we saw the sign for Superior that said 45 more miles it was really painful.

We slowly pushed on. Somewhere along highway 13 at around 3 or 4 we were passed by a friend named Eric. Kris and Zach both went to school with him. He was headed back from Bayfield and saw us as he passed. He pulled over and we talked for a bit. We hope to see him again soon.

We finally reached highway 53 that heads into Superior. It is a separated highway and bikes are not supposed to be on it, but since we only had to be on it for about a mile we decided to go for it. Went off without hitch. We biked the last mile or so out onto Wisconsin Point and pulled into the parking lot to wait for Bre and Mona to come. Our editor Jay and his girlfriend Paris were waiting in the parking lot for us as well. Once Bre and Mona arrived we at the awesome pizza from the Thirsty Pagan in Superior and then went into town to pick up some water, beer, and snacks for the night.

We got back to the point and set up our camp and then started a fire. It was starting to look like it was going to rain. We could see storm clouds out over the lake dropping rain. We didn't get hit by the rain, but once we had our tents set up the wind got really vicious and blew over Zach and Bre's tent and sent the tent stakes scattering. They were able to get it set back up eventually, but the wind never really quit all night.

We spent the rest of the night around the fire with a few of our friends that came out to join us. It was a really nice way to spend our last night of the trip. We would have stayed up longer, but we had to finish tomorrow and we were exhausted.

It just so happens that someone called us in for camping on the point, no camping allowed, and a cop came out to talk to us at 2:30 in the morning. He said he didn't care that we were there, but that we needed to pick up our things and be out of there in the morning.

Tomorrow we are headed to the finish line in Duluth. Hard to believe. It is mixed emotions.

Day 97 – Wisconsin Point to Duluth ~ 18 miles (Last day)

We woke up sometime around 8:30 this morning and hung out until it was time to leave. Jay came back out in the morning to get our last morning on film and we spent some time talking to the camera and packing up. Kris and Zach hugged it out before we mounted our bikes for the last time of the trip.

We headed into Superior around 10 or so and stopped at Subway (of course) to get some food. After eating we headed toward the Bong bridge. It is the only bridge that allows bikes to cross the St. Louis river in the Duluth area. Just before we reached the bridge we saw Kris's mom and dad and their family friends the Van't Hof's. They had come up to see us finish and Kris's dad and friend Gene were going to ride the rest of the way into town with us. The four of us headed toward the bridge and then met up with our friends Bill and Lucas. Lucas is a team member of Superior Dream, a team of two who paddled around Superior in 2010. Look for their documentary to come out soon! So the 6 of us headed over the bridge and into Duluth.

We arrived in town and headed through downtown on Superior Street. We got a few honks of support and a few shouts. Just before we reached the Brewhouse we stopped to have a moment together before we crossed the finish line. When we were ready we pedaled the last few blocks and rounded the corner to see family and friends waiting for us to cross. We heard their cheers just as we were rounded the corner. Our emotions had gotten us. It was a pretty overwhelming experience.

We crossed through the tape that Mona and Bre had made us and it was officially over. We crossed the line that we started on 97 days and ~5,500 miles earlier. We stopped and hugged before we dove into the crowd for congratulations and reunions.

Kris got everyone together and said a few words of thanks to the crowd and we were presented with an honorary booklet of praise from the Mayor by one of his assistants. It was an awesome experience and it all happened so fast. After the crowd broke up we interviewed with a few news agencies and then headed to the Brewhouse for our first Brewhouse beer since the start.

We spent the rest of the day with our family and friends and enjoyed being home. Although it is a mixed bag of emotions. We are glad to be home, but we feel like we could have kept going. It will be an interesting couple of weeks, but we will get through it and back into the swing of things. Stay tuned for more progress.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bicyclists finish trip around Great Lakes - Article by Peter Passi

A pair of bicyclists from Duluth ended a more-than-5,300-mile trip around the Great Lakes on Sunday, back home where they began their journey May 1.

Kris McNeal and Zach Chase, ages 26 and 25, respectively, laid claim to becoming the first cyclists to circumnavigate the entire Great Lakes system, including the St. Lawrence Seaway, in a single season.
They completed their ride in 97 days, and were welcomed home right on schedule Sunday afternoon by a few dozen well-wishers waiting outside the Fitger’s Brewery Complex for their arrival.

“Thank you for following us, and thank you for believing in us,” McNeal told supporters Sunday, noting that public encouragement kept them going through difficult times.

The ride started hard. Just two days into it, McNeal’s wheel got caught in a rut, causing him to lose control and fall near Lutsen. But after a bit of bandaging, the two soldiered forward.

For nine straight days early in their trip, Chase and McNeal rode through cold, stinging rain up the North Shore of Lake Superior, pausing for an unplanned hotel stay one night, after McNeal suffered frostbitten toes.

A shoulderless stretch of road in Canada that’s heavily trafficked by trucks proved particularly harrowing.

“Those nine days were probably the worst, when you’ve got semi trucks whipping by you at 65 to 70 mph,” Chase said.

McNeal recalled that the situation required hyper-vigilance.

“For the first time, we became very aware we might die trying to do this trip, but it got a lot better after that,” he said.

Chase said they did their best to stay on shoulders and out of the way of motorized traffic, but that wasn’t always possible, and occasionally conditions forced them to ride in the roadway.

“For the most part, people really respected us on the road, but there were definitely times when cars would come extremely close,” he said.

Traffic wasn’t the only difficulty.

“For the first two weeks, our bodies felt pretty well beat, but after that, we got into a groove. And it wasn’t as much a physical challenge as a mental one,” Chase said.

The pair maintained a web site — — where people could track their daily progress and receive updates on the adventure. People also could post comments. McNeal said the messages of encouragement they received often provided a much-needed lift.

“We couldn’t have done this without help from our supporters,” McNeal said. “There were many times when we wanted to give up, but we couldn’t because we knew people were counting on us.”

Chase and McNeal shot video of their entire trip and plan to produce a documentary about their experience, in hopes that it will give people a new respect for the Great Lakes and will inspire others to seek out their own cycling adventures.

The pair typically spent about six hours per day in the saddle, logging 60 to 70 miles before making camp. On their biggest day, McNeal and Chase covered 104 miles of road, thanks to a favorable tailwind and flat terrain they encountered on the shores of Lake Erie.

Social media, including Facebook, also allowed the duo to make new connections on their journey. McNeal said a number of people they met online offered them food and lodging en route.

McNeal’s and Chase’s latest journey wasn’t the first ambitious biking adventure the pair has tackled.

In 2008, the two completed a 1,700-mile trek between Seattle and Mexico on the West Coast.

“On that first trip, we learned a lot about ourselves and each other,” Chase said.

“Just like everyone else, we have problems, and we have to work through them or nothing gets resolved,” he said.

McNeal agreed, explaining that both he and his travel partner share some similarities.

“We’re both pretty easy-going guys, and we don’t always speak our minds,” he said.

The trip taught McNeal a lesson about the value opening lines of communication.

“You can’t bottle yourself up. You need to be open and honest and talk, or else little things can build up and you might explode and say things you don’t even mean,” he said.

For more than three months on their journey, McNeal and Chase shared a small tent each night, and some days they chose to ride at a distance, reconnecting periodically.

“We realized we both sometimes needed personal time on the bike,” Chance said. “It’s about giving one another space.”

The pair traveled about 3,000 miles before sustaining their first flat tire, but the charm didn’t last, and they finished their journey only after repairing 15 flats in all. McNeal had the most serious malfunction, when the inner tube of his rear tire blew, and the rim was so badly bent that he had to hitchhike into town for a replacement.

Despite moments of adversity, Chase said: “This was an amazing way to experience the Great Lakes.”

After seeing them all, Chase said Lake Superior still remains his favorite as the most unspoiled. He described finishing the journey as a “bittersweet” experience.

McNeal, too, had mixed feelings about the ride coming to an end. “It has been life-changing. I’ve never tried to do something like this before. I’m really proud of what we’ve done. We accomplished
all of our goals as best we could, and that meant a lot to us.”

McNeal and Chase said they’re already hatching plans for their next trip — perhaps a journey on water instead of around it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Our last days on the road!

 Day 92 – Union Bay to Ironwood ~ 40 miles

We woke up this morning and had our breakfast and did a bit of filming as we biked into the Porcupine Mountains State Park. We followed the southern boundary road through the park. The road was really hilly and it was hot, but it was a very beautiful ride through the park. We would climb to the top of a long hill and then crest and go down and do it again. It was like that until we got out of the park and into Wakefield.

Once we reached Wakefield we met up with Greg and Madeline at the grocery store and Kris and Zach ate a quick bite before we continued on towards Ironwood. At this point we were on highway 2 and the riding was a bit easier and quicker paced. We also crossed back into the Central Time Zone for the last time at some point on the ride. Once we reached Ironwood we headed towards our destination for the night. It was the home of a guy named Rich who is on the warm showers network. He wasn't going to be in town, but he was gracious enough to let us stay anyways. We went in and got changed while Greg and Madeline went into town. After we got settled we went into town and met up with them.

We stopped at a local place for food and beer and decided to go somewhere else for food after the first beer because there wasn't much on the menu for Madeline, who has food allergies. We went and had a nice dinner that Greg graciously paid for and then we parted ways. They wanted to continue on a bit farther still that afternoon.

We headed back to the place after stopping for groceries and a movie from the redbox. It was a perfect night to relax. We watched the movie and had snacks and just relaxed. It was great! Tomorrow we are heading to Ashland.

Day 93 – Ironwood to Ashland ~ 38 miles

We woke up this morning at around 9:30 or so and sat in the kitchen and ate our breakfast. We packed up our things and hopped back onto the highway and headed towards Wisconsin. We crossed the border pretty much right away in the morning and the roads were pretty good, allowing us to keep decent pace.

About an hour into the ride the clouds moved in and it started to rain really big rain drops. Thankfully it didn't last more than a half hour and we were able to continue on with less worry of the traffic. Outside of Ashland a ways we cruised down a huge hill that we could see Ashland from the top of. It was a high point of the ride.

We reached Ashland and had to deal with the road construction at the edge of town. At some point in the construction Zach got a slow leak in his rear tire, which he would discover later was caused by a rusted nail. Once we got into town we went to a fast food joint for lunch. After lunch we headed to our host Tiffany's house. She lives right in town on the main drag. She has been following our trip and offer a place to stay. We sat on the porch for a while and then watched a bit of the Olympics on TV while Tiffany was at a work meeting.

When she got back we headed downtown for dinner at the South Shore Brewery. We had really great food and good beer and watched more Olympics. Kris had the Curd Burglar. It is a burger with jalapeno cheese curds, bacon, lettuce, and some kind of sauce. Zach had an awesome patty melt and some wings. We will definitely go back there for food.

After dinner we walked back to Tiffany's place and hung out on the porch for a bit and then watched Capt'n Ron. Classic movie. Are headed to Little Sand Bay tomorrow to spend a couple nights with our friend Lane who is working for the park service this summer. We are excited to be there and see him.

Day 94 – Ashland to Little Sand Bay

We woke up and had breakfast and packed up our things. We walked outside and immediately discovered that it was going to be a really hot day. Zach patched his flat and then we were on our way. Tiffany biked with us down the path until we reached the artesian well which is just on the edge of town. We filled up our water there and then said our goodbyes and headed down the road. Before we made the turn off of highway 2 onto 13 we stopped at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center. It was totally worth the stop and the exhibits were great. Afterwards we hopped onto 13 and started north.

We went through Washburn and then had to climb a couple of really sizable hills to reach the nice coast into Bayfield. Bayfield is a gorgeous town and is right at the gateway to the Apostle Islands. It is also a major berry and orchard capital of the region. We coasted into town and then met up with Greg and Madeline who spent last night in Washburn. We had lunch together and then picked up some groceries and headed towards Lane's place in Little Sand Bay. Unfortunately it was a really hilly ride the rest of the way.

We reached his house and just as we pulled in Lane pulled up behind us in his car. He had come from Bayfield after working on one of the islands for the day. The three of us went for a swim and then headed back into Bayfield for dinner. After eating we stopped at one more bar for a drink and then headed back to Lane's place for a campfire on the beach. The three of us sat on the beach and enjoyed each others company. Lane went to bed around 11 or midnight and Kris and Zach stayed on the beach until 2:30. We talked about the trip and what we had accomplished and what we are going to do when we get back. It was that last night of solitude that we are going to have on the trip and it was a really nice way to spend it. We were able to get a lot of thoughts and ideas off of our chest and reminisce about the trip.

Day 95 – Rest Day: Little Sand Bay

We woke up at 10 this morning, even though we definitely could have slept longer. We ate and then headed to the visitors center to see if we could get a tour of the old fishery that is on the bay. It was started in the 1930's by 3 brothers and they were successful commercial fisherman for 30 years. Most all of their buildings and gear are still in amazing shape. It was really cool to see how they operated.

After the tour we ate our lunch and did some filming. We headed into town around 3:30 to get a few things done on the computer and pick up Lane from work. We are headed to a fish fry tonight and tomorrow we are pedaling our last long day to Wisconsin Point in Superior, WI. We are camping out on the beach tomorrow night and a bunch of our friends are going to be out there with us. It is going to be a lot of fun and a great way to come home.

It is going to be a really difficult adjustment back into the normal swing of things, but we know we can do it with time. It is hard to think about because we have had such an amazing time on this journey and it has become our life. We can't thank everyone who helped us along the way enough. We love you guys! The experiences we had meeting people are what made the trip for us.

It is time to move on to other things, but we are only partially done with this journey. The days of production and presentations are approaching quickly, and we are really excited for that.

Here's to great friends, great lakes, and great adventures!