By Go Getter, Ben Weaver
The Superior National Forest rests within an area of North Eastern Minnesota that juts out into Lake Superior and is referred to by locals as the Arrowhead. It is comprised of nearly four million acres. Within the Superior National Forest lies the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, itself almost one million acres of protected forest and waterways.
I say it every chance I get. We need wildness and we need the places where wildness can thrive. These places are restorative to our souls. They offer us quiet and contemplation. They ask us to participate rather than consume, to move at the pace of trees, rivers, rainfall, and woodpeckers, instead of highways and data.
My decision to ride a bike and perform music has always been about giving voice to, and protecting these necessary spaces where wilderness enables wildness. This includes protecting the wilderness of the human spirit. Wildness of place, and wildness of spirit are not binary. They are not divisible. To keep wildness in our spirits we have to have places to convene, watch and learn from it.
Since my 2015 ride around Lake Superior I have been seeking to bring my musical expeditions closer to the natural landscapes they advocate to protect. Instead of riding on pavement and established roadways I have been seeking out routes through the woods and fields, traveling closer to the ground, closer to the pathways water and animals might follow.
This winter I took a trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to resupply and sing songs for my friends, explorers Dave and Amy Freeman. Dave and Amy were living in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for 12 months to raise awareness and help the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters stop potential construction of copper sulfide mines at the wilderness border.
This summer Dave and Amy asked me if I would consider coming to Ely in September to perform as part of a celebration for the completion of their year in the wilderness. It seemed like the perfect chance to plan a ride through the woods and play songs.
My route began in Two Harbors at the Granite Gear headquarters. Granite Gear is local to the Arrowhead and has been an important partner in the evolution of my work, it felt symbolic that I start and finish this ride from their home base.
After leaving Two Harbors I rode approximately 106 miles almost exclusively on dirt and gravel roads through the Superior National Forest and across the Laurentian Divide into Ely. The Laurentian Divide is a geological fault that ultimately decides whether water will flow into Lake Superior and on to the Atlantic, or into the Boundary Waters and up to Hudson Bay.
The light was dusty and grainy from the falling leaves. A Piney smell on the wind. Porcini mushrooms coming up under the pine needles. Lake waters cut up like diamonds between the tree branches.
Over the course of my day long ride I saw a total of three people. I pushed my bike through several miles of swamp, bushwhacked and lifted it over more blown down white and red pine than I could keep track of.
Riding in the woods was nothing new, but there was an incredible sense of fulfillment knowing I was carrying my livelihood with me, the tools of my trade,
my instruments on the back of my bike. It was not a fast ride, and it was not easy. But it was quiet and restorative. The grainy fall sunlight. The wind rattling the aspen leaves. My heart at work among trees and water.
After arriving in Ely I jumped in a canoe with my banjo and joined a flotilla of 60 other boats all paddling towards the wilderness boundary to meet Dave and Amy. As we moved across the water I played and sang.
Rarely do I feel at home within civilization. I find it to be an entrapment. I feel lost and without purpose or place. But here on the water playing my banjo, having ridden through the woods to get there, I felt I was exactly where I belonged.
Back in March when I went in to resupply Dave and Amy I remember seeing two eagles perched in a giant white pine tree watching us as we walked back across Snowbank Lake. Now after having rejoined Dave and Amy again here on the Kiwishawi river I looked up from my banjo to find two eagles circling high above the flotilla as we all paddled back to River Point Resort.
I do not know if they were the same two eagles we saw on Snowbank lake this winter. I assume not. But what I do know is that these eagles represented the quiet voice of the land giving thanks to everyone for all the hard work being done to ensure that the Boundary Waters remains a safe and protected home to all things wild.
You can follow along with Ben’s bike trip or even make the trek yourself, by checking out his GPS mapped route here.