What do biking and music have in common? If you ask Ben Weaver, everything.
The cycling troubadour, poet, outdoor adventure advocate, and environmental steward with eight studio albums and four books of poetry came to this conclusion, as you might guess, somewhat organically. In 2010, after 13 years spent on the road as a professional folk musician and songwriter, the St. Paul-based performer decided he needed to make a change. Namely, he decided to tour exclusively by bicycle.
Now almost six years into the new approach, Weaver, 37, has found increasing ways to integrate the great outdoors into his life as a musician.In the fall of 2014, he rode his bike 1,500 miles from St. Paul to New Orleans, booking gigs and singing about his adventures along the way.
The following year he rode 1,400 miles around Lake Superior, camping and performing. Last winter he rode to and hiked into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to provide music, kinship, and important resupply materials to North Shore-based explorers Dave and Amy Freeman.
We caught Weaver on a ride through the Twin Cities to discuss why touring by bicycle is an important part of what he does and how the outdoor world inspires him as a poet and musician.
On making the switch to touring by bike
It’s been a pretty powerful five years since I made the change. I was in a situation I think a lot of people find themselves in. I was pursuing something that I loved, which was art and music, but the ways I was doing it didn’t line up with what was important to me. I had always been interested in people who took care of the land and spent time outside and most of the inspiration for my music came from my time spent outside. I was hoping there was something I could teach other people — and a lot more I could learn — from being outside and engaging in that kind of work.
On the way the outdoors influences his music
I believe everything is connected. When I’m out going to performances, I’m not sitting in a car and being magically transported from one place to the next. Rather than being on the interstate and having no inkling, I saw how the land changes from St. Paul to New Orleans as I rode along the river. You look at the trees, the grass, the animals — none of that can exist on its own. It’s all part of a system. There’s a lot literally, philosophically and poetically to learn from experiencing that.
On his passion for cycling
I already loved riding a bike more than anything in the world. Before I was touring by bike I was pulling my kids to school by bike through six inches of snow because I didn’t want to be in a car. When I figured out I could travel to shows by biking, it was the best feeling ever — the being outside and being invigorated. The life I’ve had outside riding a bike the last year and a half has definitely informed the language and content of my songs.
On the logistics of touring by bike
I carry everything — my guitar, banjo, clothes, camping stuff, food. When I went around Lake Superior, that was more self-supported because I camped along the way and had to carry two meals a day, whereas the New Orleans trip we were in town staying with people more often. My banjo and guitar both go on the rear rack, and then I pack clothes around the instruments in their cases. I use a more bike packing-type setup with a frame and seat bag to carry other miscellaneous things.
On his advocacy
I’m an advocate for human beings. The way I think of my work is about the potential to ignite wonder within people. I think wonder is a huge thing and that’s what being outside is all about. I often find myself confusing “wander” and “wonder” when I’m writing because I think they are kind of the same thing in a lot of ways.
Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer. She lives in Minneapolis.