Hometown? Where do you live now?
I was born in Eugene, OR.  Moved around a lot while growing up.  Now live in Saint Paul, MN
You have just finished your circumnavigation of Lake Superior via bicycle. What inspired you to embark on this journey?
I played music for 15 years with a fairly traditional vision of what that looked like.  In a van.  Sometimes solo, sometimes with a band.  Trying to sell enough tickets to make ends meet.  Trying to be the exception to the rule.  The rule being most people can’t make ends meet as a songwriter.   I got fairly far.  Made eight records.  Signed to an indie label with a name people recognized.  Toured a lot of awesome places.  But something was always missing and the struggle didn’t ever seem worth it.  So I took a break and tried to run away from being a songwriter.  That didn’t really work cause the songs just followed me.  But in that time away I did begin to see things from a different perspective.  I realized where I had always been happiest.  On my bike.  I had heard of some other folks touring by bike, namely Ben Sollee with his cello.  So I decided to explore the potential.  I did a handful of regional three and four day tours, where I rode to venues, and worked out the kinks of how to carry my instruments, and camping gear.  I found I was incredibly happy riding 100 miles and playing a show the same day.  It evened me out.  Eliminated all the anxiety, waiting around, and car time.  After these shorter runs I began to dream bigger and I decided to draw a larger circle around how far from home I might go.  This past fall to support my most 8th album, I Would Rather Be a Buffalo (click here to listen), I rode from Saint Paul, MN to New Orleans.  I decided to do away with traditional venues and attempt linking my performances to farms and other organizations that were giving back either to the land or the river.  This concept was so successful and fulfilling that I decided to explore it further.  I have a line in one of my songs that says, “I’ll catch my next fish with a piece from the last.”  That’s akin to how my trip planning works.  The New Orleans trip was the trip that inspired this recent trip around Superior.  Lake Superior is in my backyard so it seemed to be an appropriate place to lean into the doors of possibility I had pushed open with the New Orleans trip. Your ride made up a total of 1,300 miles, what made you choose the route you did? I think the ride ended up being closer to 1400 something miles.  My route was decided in two ways at two separate times.  First at home when I had the idea for the trip.  This part of the routing was largely dictated by what communities had organizations I could and wanted to partner with.   The second part of the routing was stringing these communities together in ways that allowed me to see as much of the Lake Superior and the surrounding land as I could. Marrakesh 1 (2) Was route planning logistically hard to accomplish? What towns did you travel through? The hardest part was estimating in advance how many miles I would be able to ride each day and still arrive on time and in shape to perform that night. This was particularly challenging  when I couldn’t predict the weather, road conditions, elevation, or wind.  It would have been one thing if I was doing the trip over a longer period of time, but I rode 1400 miles in 15 days with 13 performances.  There wasn’t a great deal of room for error.  I started in Duluth and stopped in, Bayfield, WI; Porcupine Mountains; Houghton, MI; Marquette, MI; Big Bay, MI; Sault Ste Marie, MI; Lake Superior Provincial Park, ON; Marathon, ON; Rossport, ON; Thunder Bay, ON; Grand Marais, MN; Two Harbors, MN; Duluth, MN. Were you able to touch water every day during your ride? I submerged myself in water everyday except one. You rode with a purpose. Describe the stewardship project  “Surrounding Water” and it’s relation to the stops you made along the way. Water is something that we cannot live without.  We are all made up of ¾ of it.  I am troubled by the complacency for the decline in quality and availability of the things we need to live, namely water and air.  Now days our water and air are consumed like all other things are consumed, as though there is no end to their supply, and as though our daily choices do not affect their availability.  The vision for Surrounding Water was simple.  It was to do it for the water.  By “for the water” I mean to do something hard, long and somewhat scary for no other reason than because I knew it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t interested in reciting numbers, sermons or going on about point or non-point source pollution.  I wasn’t interested in raising fingers at mining, logging or oil companies.   Rather I wanted to give people an opportunity to experience art and conversation for free in a setting that was visually and emotionally connected to water.  I wanted to create an opportunity for people to open up and consider some different stories other than the ones we hear over and over about how we can live our lives out in the word.  I hoped that in opening up, people would perhaps for a moment stop pointing the finger outwards and look back at themselves.  Possibly consider what they might do for themselves to change and protect what needs protecting, instead of laying the blame outside themselves.  I believe the changes that need to take place in the world are largely about inspiration.  Inspiration to see and live differently. Inspiration that it’s possible to make different choices.  When humans are inspired they can do anything.  Presently the state of our economy, our mentality about jobs and our expectations for comfort and living make it very hard to receive, let alone find inspiration.  One has to be incredibly stubborn and driven to do so.  However, this trip was proof that people are tired of the same stories.  They are hungry and interested in new ways of viewing the potentials for how one might live.  A challenge I saw and experienced first hand is that most of us don’t know where to start looking, and the reality is that most of us learn from watching others.  When everyone seems uncertain or stuck, where do you find the crack of light leading towards the way out? I wanted the stewardship part of this trip to be about offering some hint at that crack of light.  To be an example and show what people are capable of.  To offer a solution and be proof that we can rip away at anytime.  That the leap is not impossible.  There is a recurring argument where the “need for jobs” is the justification for the damage that the industry which provides those jobs causes.  I wanted to ask the question, why on earth should there even be a choice between jobs and clean water, healthy forests, and clean air?  No paycheck is worth an unhappy and unhealthy life. Ben Old Woman Bay (2) What was the turn out at each event? The largest was about 130 and the smallest probably 20.  The average was likely about 75. Tell me about your most favorite moment on the road. It was the simple stuff.  It was those quiet moments, losing track of time in the pedals, then looking up and seeing nothing but more shoreline and trees.  Swimming at the end of each day in the very thing that had inspired me to do the trip in the first place.  Knowing that the rocks under the waves were there yesterday and are going to be there again tomorrow, even after I ride past, even after I get home.  The trees catching the wind, the wildflowers.  All these things are still there now as I write this.  That is powerful.  Proof that we humans aren’t the only ones living. Cycling, music, poetry and raising awareness for sustainability all in one trip – How did it feel to combine all of the things you love into one effort? I feel like I have been paying my dues for a long time.  Those dues being how to stay alive in this world without trading and watering down my version of authenticity for anyone else’s.  There has certainly been a great deal of seeking involved in arriving at the place I am currently occupying where I have found a way to make all these things line up and support each other.  I have listened the the voices in my head for a long time and it’s been hard to always follow them, especially when people don’t see the thread in the same way you do as the one following it.  It is fulfilling to after all this time be seeing signs that I was right not to listen to them, but to what I heard internally. You carried your instruments on your bike along with your other gear, was that difficult to accomplish? Since I have been doing it for approximately three years now it feels pretty natural and I have worked out a lot of the kinks.  I think it’s just like all things in that it takes some time, some notes and a fair bit of paying attention. What bags did you use? Banjo Brothers who is local bag company and very supportive sponsor of mine sewed me a special waterproof bag for my banjo. I carried  the guitar on the opposite side of the rack from the banjo attached with bungee cords.  I used a Revelate Tangle frame bag and Viscacha seat bag, and on the fork the Salsa Anything cages with Salsa dry bags. marrakesh 2 (2) Tell us about your rig. I rode a Salsa Marrakesh which is a new model Salsa is introducing for 2016.  It’s all steel and classified as an “all world” touring bike.  My carrying configuration looked more like a bikepacking set up than a traditional touring set up, with the exception of the rear rack which is necessary to carry my instruments.  Carrying the instruments back there adds a lot of weight on the rear and I was very surprised at how the Marrakesh remained unflinchingly stable even as I loaded it up.  I rode the drop bar version, which comes with the Cowchippers, a happy medium between the Cowbell and the Woodchippers.  I love these bars.  I didn’t make any changes from how it will come built, aside from putting my worn-in Brooks C17 saddle on it. Anyone you would like to thank? Most definitely I want to thank my partner Amy, and all my friends and family who checked up on me while I was out,  and who keep supporting me and the evolution of these trips.  I would also like to thank my partners/sponsors and supporters:  Salsa Cycles, Banjo Brothers, Granite Gear, Swrve, Kate’s Real Food, Angry Catfish Bicycle and Coffee Shop, Bunyan Velo, Red Table Meat, Search and State.

Facebook: @benweavermusic

Instagram: @despoblado


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  1. Pingback: Salsa Ride Camp 2015: A new role in the Feast of Valhalla - Bikepackers Magazine

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