Dutch Travelers Visit Duluth for Mountain Biking Vacation
Trouw Article Highlights Dutch Travelers’ Duluth Experience
By Dave Grandmaison
Just as I was getting our display set up for the 2017 Fiets en Wandelbeurs fair in Utrecht, Netherlands this February, I was sent a copy of an article in Amsterdam’s Trouw Newspaper from the author, Thaloen Verweij. Thaloen and a second Dutch journalist visited Duluth in August 2016 to explore the mountain bike trails and write stories about their adventures.
You might ask yourself… why would Dutch travelers visit Duluth for mountain biking vacations? With all the amazing travel destinations out there… how does Duluth become an option for European cyclists?
Hopefully this article will provide a bit of insight and answer these questions for you. It’s a fun read – a different perspective. Some of the translation is a bit funky but you’ll get the main points.
Articles like this one (despite the author’s minor wipe-out – which he starts out his story with to build some excitement) are helping introduce folks to Duluth. I’m definitely starting to see some place recognition at the Fiets en Wandelbeurs fairs – this year in Utrecht, Netherlands and Ghent, Belgium. Duluth has made a name for itself and people in Europe are looking for lesser well-known destinations.
You can click on the image to download the Dutch PDF or jump to the rough English translation below.
Fat Tires in the Wild Midwest
By Thaloen Verweij
**Article first appeared in February 4, 2017 Trouw Newspaper. Used with permission.
Bam! With a blow I find myself next to my bike. My first thought: thankfully I have this helmet on my head. The second: can I move my arm? The answer to that question appears to be yes. I’m just a little shaky, and later I notice a scrape on my shoulder and another one my leg. That’s what happens when, as a novice mountain biker, you try to keep up with a bunch of old hands. All it takes is a sudden sharp turn, and a shoulder hitting a mean little tree.
We are in Duluth, Minnesota: the Midwest, not far from Canada, a land almost as flat as the Netherlands, but incomparable. Instead of neat rectangular fields, the highway crosses emptiness; or rather marshes, lakes and bushes. Modest wilderness.
And Duluth is an unusual city: a 25 kilometer long, narrow strip of buildings along St. Louis River and Lake Superior. It is an important port in the westernmost tip of the Great Lakes, accessible from the Atlantic Ocean through 3,700 kilometers of lakes, canals and locks.
The lake is the main reason Duluth even exists and it determined the character of the city. The water is freezing cold, making underwater life almost impossible. And Superior’s water can be dangerous. Many a captain perished right outside of the port. In fact, one such unlucky man has been sitting in his steering hut in perfect peace for decades, a beacon for divers, preserved by water pressure. The people of Duluth talk about him affectionately.
What do these people do here, now that the fur trade – the city was named after a hunter – is a distant memory and the mining industry is fast approaching a similar fate? There’s wonderful kayaking on Superior. People line up for ice cream and shakes in front of the Portland Malt Shoppe. And they eat great fish sandwiches at Northern Waters Smokehaus in Canal Park, the tourist district at the foot of the Aerial Lift Bridge. This iconic bridge is the backdrop of Tall Ships Duluth, a yearly event resembling Sail Amsterdam.
Looking the other way, turning your back to the water, you’ll notice that the city stretches out along an elongated hill, a left-over from the Ice Age. This elevation has not gone unnoticed by the Minnesotans; in winter they come out here to ski. They are an active people, with a passion for outdoor activities: this city was named ‘Greatest Outdoor City in America’ for a reason.
The region sees a future for itself in outdoor tourism. In that vision, the bicycle is seen as at least as important as kayaks, skis and hiking boots. The all terrain bike (ATB) is a popular guest on the slopes of Duluth, in summer and in snowy winter.
Two cyclists are preparing their bikes at the car park that serves as start and finish of the Mission Creek trail (I managed to make it to the finish without any further accidents). One of the women, Emily Larson, tells us she hops on her mountain bike whenever her schedule allows for it. “There is no better way to enjoy nature.”
Watching the two ride away, my guide Dave Grandmaison of The Duluth Experience tells me: “Isn’t it great that mayor Larson is so excited about these trails? And she rides an impressive bike.” A quality ATB equipped wit fat tires is a necessity on this path, and not just if you happen to be Duluth’s first female mayor.
Going up and down with sharp turns, and sometimes right along the edge of a precipice: the narrow, unpaved trails resemble a roller coaster more than the straight strips of asphalt the Dutch call cycling path.
Dave is also a regular on the trails, making an almost daily appearance. From his home he can be on the trails within five minutes of pedaling. “But it is like that wherever you live in the city. A trail is always close-by.”
A passion for cycling is common here, so much so that hundreds of city residents help constructing and maintaining the trails. Waylon Munch of the volunteer association mentions the city now boasts over 130 kilometers of trails. “By the end of 2018 we hope to connect all of the city’s trail systems, resulting in 160 kilometers. You’ll be able to ride from one end of the city to the other over beautiful trails.” This extensive trail network will draw lots of ATB enthusiasts from out of town, or so is to be expected.
Similarly, the potential of ATB tourism is not lost on the people of Crosby, a small town at two hours driving from Duluth. When the last mine shut down in the eighties, it was devastating for the community. The town along the Mississippi River was founded precisely because of the possibility of mining iron ore – the Cuyuna Iron Range. In 1957, the place made space history. A hot air balloon was first to reach the stratosphere, and the pilot took off from an open mine. This vast hole in the ground has since filled up with water, like many other abandoned mines.
And so, the area now has numerous lakes with crystal-clear water, in some cases with a depth of over a hundred meter. The grounds around the water are hilly, thanks to the mining companies that dumped the excavated soils here. A group of residents recognized the possibilities offered by the industrial ruins, and after years of lobbying their dream became reality: the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System.
The network now covers about 70 kilometers of mountain bike trails through hilly forests with plenty of challenges for riders at every level. Fat tire bikes are very welcome here all year round for ‘blue lakes, green trees and world-class red dirt’. The tired biker can sleep right next to the trails: in an industrial-style beach hut made with corrugated iron, for instance, or in a Mongolian yurt. “Glamping” for mountain bikers.