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
“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.
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.
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 —
www.bigwaterbike.com — 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
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
seeing them all, Chase said Lake Superior still remains his favorite as
the most unspoiled. He described finishing the journey as a
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.
all of our goals as best we could, and that meant a lot
McNeal and Chase said they’re already hatching plans for their next trip — perhaps a journey on water instead of around it.