Words by Karl Mesedahl
Photos by Josh Kowaleski (@pointed_north)
There’s nothing like reaching into a bag of Doritos with wet chlorine fingers while grass sticks to your feet to let you know that it’s really summertime.
You’re at a pool party, hosted by a jazzercising cat. Except there’s not a pool, and instead you’re breathing through a snorkel while white-knuckling a rickity old bike down sketchy trails, the snorkel has turned into a mouth guard and your water wings provide a false sense of security, while your face mask fogs up like a haunted house. Welcome to the Slender James Classic Enduro of 2022.
I mean, there was a pool, but it was a kiddie pool on the transfer before the last stage and served as the official soaking spot for the wet towel contest (though a couple brave souls did take bird baths).
The origins of Slender James at Cedaero has been documented here, however the deified cat continues to reveal themselves in wild and wonderful (and wet) ways. And really, what choice did we have but to follow their lead? To be a disciple of Slender James requires laying that which is “proper” and “sensical” aside in favor of a series of “why not?” and “sure, let’s ride bikes in speedo’s with a towel cape and “accidentally” hit some jumps.” I have a theory that the bonds that are formed through shared experiences strengthen in direct correlation with the level of absurdity. Not everyone, after all, is willing to spend a perfectly good summer Saturday wrapped in a Franklin the Turtle towel trying to keep from going “end over tea kettle” over their 540mm handlebars. But many people are willing, and Slender James makes sure the experience is available for those who choose that path.
This year, we rattled our way around 3 stages of ill-advised enduro stages in the heart of Duluth, MN. Transfers weren’t timed, but there was a prize for the first person to reach the top of the 3 blocks of abandoned stairways on Duluth’s hillside that were included on the official race route. When setting courses around here, I've learned it pays off to have once been a 14 year old with seemingly endless time to hurtle oneself down these stairways on a 1998 Proflex 5000 and consequentially spend the weekend epoxying the carbon swing arm back together. And maybe that’s the crux of it for me - providing an opportunity for people to experience the joy that riding bikes has brought me since I was a little kid. And the purest joy has never involved the “newest” or the “fastest”, and has always involved some level of the absurd. I mean, we are all hurtling through space on a big rock after all, right? But I digress.
The first place prizes for the Vintage, Rigid, and 20” wheel categories this year was the “Friendship,” a model wooden ship that was ceremoniously split into three pieces on site, giving each category winner one part of a greater “good.” And just like that ship, I think we all need those friendships in order to stay afloat and get where we're meant to go. And there's nothing that says we can't do that while wearing water wings and towing a kite behind our bikes!
As the world can be a perplexing and difficult place to exist, these communal moments of absurd joy feel more important than ever. And Slender James will always be there ready to hold space for those who seek that joy out, usually right in the middle of life’s difficult things - something I believe we’re all learning to do as we go. Just keep in mind - it’s all fun and games until someone loses a floatie!
Special thanks to Continental Ski and Bike for keeping us well fed, Daytripper of Duluth for helping us with logistics, Pointed North Photography for capturing photographic evidence, and Cedar Coffee Company for upping the stoke with ample caffeine!