Wisconsin Northwoods Style with Gary

Would you try to blend in when your surroundings are different?

Paul usually writes about technology, but he writes about travel too.  And he’s currently on a year-long ramble around the states.  How then, could he write about both men’s style and travel when he’s going to be living out of a van and skipping showers?  By interviewing people in the places he visits and getting their take on the local look.  Follow his adventures on drivinginertia.com.

“The Birkie is a more international event, and it has a more European style.  Mountain bike style is really more grunge than style.”

I’m talking to Gary Crandall, the race director of the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, one of the area’s huge sporting events.  It and the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race are two gigantic events that happen every year in the Cable, Wisconsin area, and most people outside of the cycling or skiing culture haven’t heard of either.

Wool Bike Jersey = Dinnerwear

The signature event of this mountain bike festival is a 40 mile off-road race that’s capped at 2,750 participants.  The American Birkebeiner is a 30+ mile cross-country ski race.  These are serious athletic events.

“At lot of the Birkebeiner participants come from Europe to do the event.  Many of the American participants have been to Europe.  The northern European, Nordic looks is very popular – knit sweaters and hats.”

There’s a lot of European influence on road cycling style as well, but mountain biking has countered many of these looks.  Gary explains, “The bikes are constructed differently, the conditions are different.  With mountain biking, you may end up breaking down in the woods and having to survive.  Wool jerseys made a come-back with mountain biking.  There’s less Lycra and a lot more pockets.  You need to carry tools if you’re biking in the woods.”

I ask him about the style of the area in general.  “Walk in to any bar and you’ll see that it’s very Northwoods Casual.  Some people will ask if they’re dressed well enough for dinner.  You’re always dressed well enough for dinner.  People up here cut trees for a living, they’re outside battling the elements.  There’s a lot of Carhartt, lots of boots, jeans, flannel – that sort of thing.”

“You can wear bright orange in any season and never look out of place.  In fact, if you’re NOT wearing orange and it’s hunting season, you’ll look out of place.  Same as walking around with a suit and tie.”

I witness this a couple days later in a neighboring town – a woman walks into the library with a blaze-orange sweatshirt. I’m the only one that notices.  I’m going to have to get an orange hat so I can blend in.

What’s your philosophy when you head somewhere that’s stylistically opposite of what you’re used to?  Make an effort to blend in?  Or just do what you normally do?  Leave your take below.  And if you want to keep track of Paul’s other travel adventures, check out drivinginertia.com or follow @drivinginertia on Twitter.

Photo by prawnpie.