Minnesoata-born and raised Ben Weaver is a songwriter, poet, father, letterpress printer and adventure advocate. His mission is to use songs and poetry to emotionally move and inspire people to be more socially and environmentally conscious, and to take on an alternative perspective. We recently had the chance to speak with Ben and better understand his journey.
GG: To start, tell us how you got into bike touring/packing?
BW: Growing up, the bicycle was my tool for accessing the wilderness and woods within the city and along the Minnesota River. My feet and a backpack or, a paddle and portage pack, were the tools I used to explore the wilderness pockets stashed away in the blank spaces on the map. Later in life that I learned to combine all these tools.
About 5 years ago after pursuing a 15 year career as a touring folk musician I decided to make a change. I stopped driving my car to shows and decided I would travel to my performances on my bicycle. What is most exciting for me is that now I can ride my bike into many of the places where previously I would have been limited to walking. Even more exciting is that I am cultivating opportunities to perform music in those spaces rather than in dark stinky bars and music halls.
BW: The short answer: I went around the lake to initiate change on many levels using a bike, a banjo, my voice and a guitar.
The long answer:
I was driven to seek out a way that music could give back to the things that inspired me from the beginning - wild, blank spaces on the maps, and animals and plants that occupied those spaces. I think shows can be the best place to initiate a call to action concerning the lifestyle changes that are essential. When people are emotionally moved and inspired, they are most likely to see a new way of doing something, listen to a new story or consider an alternative perspective.
I’ve spent a great deal of time around Lake Superior. Water is something that connects all of us and it has a life and spirit of its own. It’s important we treat it with the respect it deserves.
I toured around the lake singing songs and engaging with very diverse audiences. I wanted to inspire new stories within the communities I visited. I worked with a Canadian group called the Great Lakes Commons. They have written a commons charter that outlines and speaks to some of the ways we can begin to change our perspectives on water. I was appointed a charter bearer to this charter and I used it as another tool in my conversations.
I was humbled and blown away by how many emails I got from people about the many ways my trip and performances effected them.
GG: What’s the scene like at one of your shows?
BW: Many shows are unplugged and acoustic and take place in intimate outdoor spaces or quiet indoor rooms. I sing my songs, tell stories, and read my poems. With nature as a model, I prefer to cultivate reciprocity. I like to engage the audience and ask them questions, or encourage them to ask me questions while I am performing. I would rather stand on the floor in front of my audience than on a stage above them.
As time passes, I am working to do more and more performances out in the spaces that need to be seen and better understood. You can sit inside and say the water needs help, the trees need help, the banks are eroding, but nothing is more impactful than people seeing the beauty or need for repair with their own eyes.
GG: You’re headed to the PNW next – where will you stop along the way?
BW: I am going to do a ride from Portland Oregon up to Bellingham Washington. I’ll stop and perform in several bike shops along the way, ex: Velo Cult in Portland, Free Range in Seattle. I am going to talk about my trip around Lake Superior, show pictures and some video in addition to singing songs and reading. I am most looking forward to the route we will take from Seattle to Bellingham out through the San Juan Islands, scouting some possible water routes for the future.
GG: Bike packing is pretty popular these days. Can you break down what it takes to pack a bike efficiently?
BW: More and more I believe there is no right way to do anything, there is only paying attention to what works best for you.
I do have some suggestions, though. When beginning to experiment with how to pack your bike, one important thing to pay attention to is how the weight is distributed on the bike, making sure that it is even side to side. This is a nice thing about the evolution of bike packing bags, because you have even more options for how to carry things enabling the weight to get spread out over your bike. You are not just limited to front and rear panniers.
The second thing to pay attention to is packing strategy is to put the important things on top, like rain coat, tools, first aid kit, maps. I have some friends who makes lists of what is in each bag and put it in them so they can more quickly find the items they need, when they need them.
I had never ridden with a backpack before but using the Granite Gear Kahiltna was an awesome evolution in my set up. It allowed me to carry 3 liters of water on my back, which was key for the 100 plus mile stretches I did in Canada. What I usually carried in a handlebar bag, I moved to the pack and this freed up the cock pit of my bike which I greatly appreciated. Folks often asked me what it was like to ride back to back 100+ mile days wearing a pack. Honestly, it was so comfortable half the time I forgot it was there.
GG: Do you have anything coming up in the immediate future?
BW: Yes I am really excited about a special show I am doing in Minneapolis on October 3rd at the Cedar Cultural Center. It is going to be a welcome home show for the Surrounding Water ride around Lake Superior. I will be performing, showing pictures, video and talking about experiences from the ride. It should be a great time and I hope to see a lot of folks come out.
Welcome Home Show Info:
Surrounding Water Welcome Home Show
October 3rd, 8PM The Cedar Cultural Center Minneapolis, MN
Great Lakes Commons Link
Great lakes Commons Charter Link