2019 Le Grand du Nord Route Scout

There will be snow

There will be snow

Without a doubt, one of my favorite parts of the job is scouting the routes for a given event. I love the discovery. I love how all five senses come alive. It’s always filled with adventure for me as I see first-hand how the courses feel. More than anything, I love the anticipation of sharing these amazing North Shore routes with you.

This scout was marked by Spring peepers calling from the bogs, snow on the dark side of the roads, and miles of beautiful Northwoods gravel. Lots of moose tracks, wolf scat and migrating birds, too. Here are my take-aways for each event:

20 Mile: This Le Grand du Nord 20 mile course is going to be more challenging than the Heck of the North’s 20. In particular, there is 1300 ft of climbing and it comes on quickly! But the course is a great introduction to gravel riding. It’s mostly unpaved, mostly really nice gravel road. The scenery is classic Northwoods with a few good views of Lake Superior. There will be a checkpoint at the halfway point with water and snacks. You must check in with the volunteer there (no matter how fast you are traveling!) The 110 mile riders will be sharing this leg of the course with you (so don’t be surprised if you see a few going past the checkpoint.) I hope your 20 mile experience is a good one!

54 Mile: This new 54 mile course is a one of my favorites to date. For safety reasons, I have avoided Hwy 61 and the Gunflint Trail for all courses (except for a 1/2 mile section for the 110 mile riders) this year. This change presented some initial challenges, but after a creative re-work, I have come up with alternative routes that I feel are better than the originals. This course highlights two amazing stretches of gravel road. There is approximately 2600 ft of climbing and the roads are all in good shape. The checkpoint will be at mile 30 with HED Cycling present making fresh crepes with toppings. We will offer our usual table of race food and water, too. I can’t wait to hear what you think of this new course.

110 Mile: As I mentioned above, I removed Hwy 61 and all but a 1/2 mile section of the Gunflint Trail from the courses this year. After scouting the course yesterday, I am convinced that I have laid out a classic Le Grand long course. In particular, you will experience beautiful stretches of gravel roads that showcase the best in North Shore riding. This year’s course has just over 6000 ft of climbing. I included a new, three mile stretch that should be a “character builder” for most riders. As of yesterday, there was snow on the furthest reaches of the course…but I suspect most should be gone by the big day. The course will pass by the official checkpoint twice: at mile 38 and 79. HED Cycling and our dedicated volunteer crew will be taking care of you with fresh made crepes, standard race food and water…and pizza (on your 78 mile pass through.) I have never seen so many moose tracks along the side of the road with plenty of wolf scat piles, too. It’s a beautifully wild course and absolutely one of my favorites in the country. I hope you have a great experience on this 110 mile adventure.

If you are still looking for a place to stay, call Visit Cook County for ideas. My friends at Cascade Vacation Rentals offer great places for extended visits. And I love the Grand Marais Municipal Campground and Marina for tent camping (it’s walking distance from the start line and right on the Grand Marais harbor.)

Thank you for making the trip to the event. I hope your Le Grand du Nord experience is a great one.

Ride the Good Line

Jeremy Kershaw

A young moose on course

A young moose on course

One of the many roadside waterways on course

One of the many roadside waterways on course

Miles of Northwoods gravel

Miles of Northwoods gravel

Basecamp at the Grand Marais Municipal Campground and Marina

Basecamp at the Grand Marais Municipal Campground and Marina

Le Grand du Nord Prep!

Andy, Ben and one awesome checkpoint

Andy, Ben and one awesome checkpoint

HED Cycling knows crepes!

HED Cycling knows crepes!

It has been a typical Northland Spring. Just when you think Winter, snow and cold have been replaced by the warmth of the sun…bam! Another dose of snow and cold. So it goes.

We are scouting the routes this week. A full photo report coming soon. Stay tuned.

As to Le Grand du Nord prep, we are putting the finishing touches on some great details.

  • HED Cycling will be back at the 54 mile course checkpoint (for that distance only.) We love having this team here firing up fresh made crepes and the best toppings to pair with them. Only at Le Grand du Nord! Thanks Andy and his awesome crew at HED. And HED will be generously offering a set of their famous Ardennes wheels.

  • All riders will receive a specially designed gift from Heck of the North Productions and Cedaero

  • Our friends at Voyageur Brewing Company are hosting Friday registration and Saturday live music. Have a pint on us, listen to great bands and share your stories from the day.

  • We will give away really cool gifts from Loll and Epicurean, two amazing North Shore businesses.

  • If you need top notch bike repair, parts and service while in Grand Marais, go to the best, Fireweed Bike Coop.

  • If you’re still looking for accommodations or things to do and see while in Grand Marais, your one stop shop is Visit Cook County.

  • Remember to join us for a showing of Ben Weaver and Keenan DesPlanques’ movie about riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail, “Music for Free.” 7 PM at Grand Marais Art Colony

  • We will be honoring select riders with gifts from Wintergreen Northern Wear, and Cedaero

  • A special thanks to Anton at Taiga Design + Build in Grand Marais. He and his crew are generously offering pizza support for the 110 mile riders at the Pine Mountain Rd Checkpoint. Thanks, Anton! (plus…he and his crew are amazing builders/designers. Check them out while in town.)

  • Coffee is being covered by Fika Coffee. Stop by their beautiful shop in Lutsen.

So much more. And as always, for me, it is about the course, the people and challenge. I think we have a very special edition of Le Grand du Nord this year.

Ride the Good Line

Jeremy Kershaw

Gravel Culture

Charlie Parr at 2018 Le Grand du Nord, Voyageur Brewing Co, Grand Marais, MN. Photo: Clint Austin

Charlie Parr at 2018 Le Grand du Nord, Voyageur Brewing Co, Grand Marais, MN. Photo: Clint Austin

I couldn’t sleep last night, stuffed-up, headachy and irritable from a nagging sinus infection. I went downstairs and slumped into the couch. My 3 AM anxieties had me Google diagnosing myself with pleurisy vs pulmonary emboli vs costochondritis. Realizing I was ridiculously overthinking my health, I turned on an episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” Distraction is often great medicine.

I watched as Anthony traveled Senegal and Uruguay. He ate local foods often caught or killed that day. He enjoyed his fare with musicians, chefs and writers. He, in his trademark rambunctious way, brought foreign culture to people like me, couch-bound in Duluth, MN. He helped show our shared humanity in the ways he knew best: dining and imbibing local cultures. I miss him and, as a mental health nurse and someone who has had a family member take their own life, feel that sense of loss only suicide can elicit. It is heartbreaking.

Lying in bed my thoughts wove strands of Bourdain’s world into my own. What would Anthony eat if he came to Duluth or the North Shore of Lake Superior. What is Duluth’s or even American culture anymore? Then further. Why are there endurance athletes in some cultures and not others? Is it better to enjoy a life based on shared meals and drinking or one spent testing athletic boundaries. Are we explorers and is bikepacking a continuation of that gene? And then: can I continue to encourage the culture that I want to see in my gravel cycling events? What is worth sharing and pursuing in this short life of ours? Finally sleep.

Easy stuff and everyone knows that answers always come to you at 4 AM. Ha!

In the morning I made coffee with my partner, Avesa. I looked at the weather forecast predicting a Spring blizzard bearing down on the Northland. And I continued planning for our upcoming season of gravel cycling events.

My hope and vision for Heck of the North Production events is that they go beyond just simply riding your bike a long way. My hope is that they combine the best parts of North Shore culture with our passion for cycling. My hope is that you enjoy your friends and family around a campfire. You tell your stories over a locally crafted beer. You try the smoked lake trout and take your family blueberry picking. My hope is that you see that our love of gravel cycling blends naturally with North Shore life. Help us continue and create a cycling culture that is decidedly creative, inclusive and beautiful.

Thank you for choosing to ride gravel up North. See you soon.

Jeremy Kershaw, director.

Join us Up North!

Photo: Clint Austin

Photo: Clint Austin

It’s officially Spring and that means a lot up here in Northern Minnesota. Studded tires are coming off the fat bikes. Local gravel roads are finally clearing their ice and snow layers. Robins are back singing their morning and evening songs. And plans are being finalized for our fourth annual Le Grand du Nord gravel cycling classic, Saturday, May, 25, 2019.

As always, we are looking to make the event unique, challenging, safer and always beautiful. Our Heck of the North Production events are different than those of our friends down South (think Almanzo, Dirty Kanza, Landrun 100.) We may not be the biggest or flashiest…but we like it that way. Our events are tough, beautiful and filled with amazing riders. If you are looking for scenery that is different than the rest, head up to our North Shore of Lake Superior. We have some of the best gravel roads in the country in some of the coolest small towns anywhere.

We have three distances again this year that will be perfect for any level of rider. Our 20 mile event is a great starting point for those looking to experience gravel cycling for the first time. Our 50 mile course is a perfect early season test. And our 100-110 mile course (we are choosing the best possible route for this season!) will challenge those ready for big miles in May.

So start getting those miles in. Make a weekend gravel trip to Grand Marais and experience one the best gravel cycling destinations in the US. As always, I’ll meet you at the finish line!

Ride the Good Line

Jeremy Kershaw

Introducing "The Flight"

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We welcome you to “The Flight” challenge for 2019.

The Flight is a three event challenge that includes completing in one season:

  1. Le Grand du Nord 100 mile

  2. The Heck Epic 220 mile

  3. The Heck of the North 100 mile

We will offer this challenge at a 20% discount at $240. Please register at the Le Grand du Nord registration page via www.heckofthenorth.com , select “The Flight” button.

If you have already registered for Le Grand du Nord 100 mile, but prefer to register for The Flight, contact me and I will correct the transaction. Thank you for your patience!

The proud few that complete The Flight will receive a commemorative patch and cycling cap.

Thanks for being the best part of Heck of the North Productions.

Ride the Good Line!

Jeremy Kershaw jeremybkershaw@gmail.com