Surly Bikes is a Voyageur sponsor of Pedal to DC
I have a confession to make: my husband, Dave Freeman, and I do not consider ourselves to be cyclists. Before embarking on a 2,000 mile, two-month journey by bicycle from Ely, MN to Washington, D.C. we had little experience distance touring by bicycle, but we didn’t let that dissuade us from our mission to use this bike tour as a way to raise awareness about the threat of a copper mine being proposed upstream from our nation’s most popular Wilderness Area and Minnesota’s crown jewel— the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We were stoked to learn that Surly wanted to be a part of it by donating two Disc Trucker bikes to the cause.
We began pedaling from Ely, Minnesota on April 20, just a few days after one last snowstorm blanketed the northwoods in a foot of snow. Tree branches were still barren and the ice on most of the lakes was several feet thick. An entourage of a dozen people pedaled the first twelve miles with us to the South Kawishiwi River bridge.
The South Kawishiwi River is basically ground zero for the proposed Twin Metals copper mine. The water that flows under the bridge makes its way through several lakes and then into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which means any pollution from the proposed copper mine would flow into the Wilderness Area. Dave and I have engaged in several adventure advocacy projects with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters to raise awareness about this threat to our nation’s most popular Wilderness Area. In 2014 we paddled to Washington D.C. in a Wenonah canoe that people signed as a petition to stop the proposed mining. In the fall of 2015 we paddled into the Boundary Waters and remained there for 366 days for this same cause.
Spending a whole year in the Wilderness, bearing witness to this 1.1 million acres of lake-studded Laurentian mixed forest, inspired us to write a book. That became a reality one year after we exited the Boundary Waters: A Year in the Wilderness, published by Milkweed Editions. When the book came out we went on a traditional book tour, driving and flying around, living in hotel rooms, living in hotel rooms, eating junk food and getting zero exercise. We thought that there had to better way for us to do this, so we proposed a book tour by bicycle. Dave suggested that if we’re traveling around the country by bicycle, we might as well tow a canoe and gather signatures on it. Then, we thought, if we’re towing a petition canoe, we might as well go to Washington D.C. 2018 seemed like the right timing since this year is the 40th anniversary of the passing of the 1978 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act.
We were on the road for 60 days and stayed in hotels for 5 nights, camped for 7 nights, and stayed with friends, family, and strangers for the remaining 48. People welcomed us into their homes and often fed us and stuffed our pockets with snacks for the next day. We tried to compensate them for their generosity with a signed copy of our book, if they don’t already have one, and stories from our travels, but I think the real gift we gave each other was just slowing down and being present in people’s lives.
Our Disc Truckers saw us through all sorts of challenges along our route. They were always comfortable to ride. We never even got a flat tire. From the hills of Wisconsin’s Driftless Region to the muddy, rutted C&O Canal, and all sorts of trails and roads in between, we didn’t have to give much thought to our bikes because they simply performed exceptionally well in whatever situation we could throw at them.
Pedal to DC allowed us to spend time outside being active, observing the natural world, living and traveling simply, while spreading our message about the Boundary Waters. We spent two months feeling the wind, sun, and rain on our bodies. Our muscles were tired at the end of the day, and our minds bright and active from hours of quiet contemplation as we rode. The snowbanks slowly disappeared as we pedaled south. We noticed frogs calling for the first time and watched sandhill cranes migrate overhead. We felt spring gradually turn to summer and as the temperature soared into the 90s, we appreciated resting in the shade of a tree along a country road in a way we never would if we were rushing past in an air-conditioned car. Beyond this, the trip allowed us to engage with people, educating them about the Boundary Waters and encouraging them to take action by signing our canoe—and a petition that we delivered to our elected officials and decision makers when we finally reached D.C.
Thank you Surly, for the Disc Truckers and for standing behind a cause you believe in. We’re so glad that you’re playing a role in preserving the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we let our elected officials know how important our public lands and waters are to us. Please sign the petition at savetheboundarywaters.org. You can find posts from the Pedal to DC and see what we’re up to now on Instagram and Facebook @FreemanExplore.