Five flannelled men stand tall and bearded around a pile of timber in a sunny clearing in Stillwater. Their socks are wooly, their boots are scuffed, their suspenders taut. One throws an ax into the belly of a tree trunk with a crushing upswing. He has hands hard as leather from cutting thousands of logs per season.
The other four have close to zero actual lumberjack skills, but they look marvelous in skinny jeans.
Real-life lumberjack Adrian Flygt is a professional competitor in the Stihl Timbersports Series, which amasses the world’s top ax-throwers, wood-choppers, and crosscut sawers. The series airs in more than 60 countries on ESPN, ABC, and the Outdoor Channel.
For Stihl Timbersports’ next contest in Chicago this summer, Hormel Foods' Dinty Moore beef stew campaign hired Flygt to train four Minnesota lumbersexuals – urbanites who imbue the North Woods chic, grizzly mountain-man style – to compete in actual lumberjack events.
The lumbersexuals are Ian Hanson, who used to work out by lifting pints of beer to his face; Jamin O’Malley, secretary treasurer for the Minneapolis Beard and Moustache Club; Ben White, skateboarding IT guy; and Michael Wieser, who has “a sensual masculinity that’s hard to define.”
"I'm more of an urban lumberjack, very comfortable around cement and bricks, so this is a little different for me," says Wieser, who hails from Brooklyn, where there are a lot of guys with beards who pickle things and wear homemade leather. He embraces the lumbersexual identity, and jumped at the chance to audition for the "lumbersexual to lumberjack" competition.
"I had a friend who told me that people were looking for guys who wear fitted flannel and have OK-sized beards. I'm like, 'I'm down for that,'" Weiser says.
It turned out to be a lot harder than he thought. The other day, he nearly got his ass handed to him by a single-handed bucksaw called the misery whip. It's a saw that goes through wood fast, requiring real muscle, form, and technique.
"They're doing pretty good," Flygt says of his lumbersexual proteges. "It's kinda funny that people found that fashion, kinda like the rhinestone cowboys of the '80s, but I don't worry about it. I want everybody to be happy and comfortable. A lot of them grew up in the city and they've never done anything like this before. It's not for lack of want. It's for lack of exposure."
The woods of Stillwater where the men are training is old logger country, Flygt says. Men used to log the forest beside the river, put the trees onto barges, run them down to the mill, and put them on rail cars.
"The spirit of it and why we're here is that the lumberjacks, they were kinda the guys who were pushing the edge of the frontier and providing the supplies for the towns to build the infrastructure," he says. "At a time when you've basically got all the knowledge of human history at your fingertips, when you go out in a place like this, it's simple and it's pure."
For Weiser, the training is bringing him closer than he's ever gotten to that true American lumberjack lifestyle. He's working up a sweat, and learning that even when Flygt makes felling a tree look easy, taking the ax into his own hands and taking a swing can be a sobering reality check.
It's a good thing that he's equipped with the hardiest beard oil and hair gel on the market. His look stays perfectly sculpted.
"That product, I can pretty much do anything and the hair is pretty much gonna stay just like that," he laughs. "And if the beard gets some wood in it, awesome. If I fall over, oops, flower beard! It was an accident ... not really."