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.