Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series Trophy

WEMS comes through and sends this fine mug.

 I knew if I poured my heart, blood, sweat, and tears into the WEMS races this mug would be waiting for me on the other side. Thanks WEMS, she'll be put to good use!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Open Letter to the DBD

This letter is in reference to the upcoming Tuscobia Ultra - 150 miles.


 Men, as I lay awake last night, done with a day of training I shuddered as if a cold wind crept under me blankets. The sudden tremble came at the thought of pedaling (or in Kershaw's case foot traveling) a machine of torture (or pulling one) through an inconceivable distance. I shook me head and simply chuckled for I am in the company of MEN.

In this bleak and desperate time I find that honor may not be lost, for it is these MEN that I rest my weary head upon. Although, our salty little band of brothers may have fractured, it is not broken. It is events like the one that awaits in none but three sunsets that binds us.

Steadfast and with a full heart is the way in which these MEN will go forward. Stay salty, stay hard, stay nitty gritty. I will spread the word, I will tell the world your story as I know you would tell mine if I were in your place.

Respectfully yours,

Sir Eki

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Off The Grid: Chile

I nervously slipped into the capsule that would take me to my new training ground. I was skeptical, yet trusting. I heard Spanish being spoken at a feverish pace around me as I was being prepped to lower into mother Earth. What have I done?

My departure from Antarctica was without fanfare. A bag was placed over my head upon emerging from my icy depths and I was escorted to a barge where I was set adrift. I don't recall the time that passed as I lived in an altered state throughout the passing. A sudden "thud" announced that I had hit terra firma. Was I home?

The familiar voice of my trainer soothed me as he commanded that I remain calm and stop fighting the hood, it was all part of the plan. It was then that I felt the confines of my tomb like transport that would take me into the bowels of our mother.

What seemed like hours passed before my capsule halted with a jolt. I fumbled blindly at a latching device in order to free myself from it's grasp. I was out! I removed my hood to find that I still lived in darkness. On my hands and knees I attempted to explore my surroundings. Yes, it all began to make sense to me when I felt the round hoops filled with spokes, however one was quite large, while the other was it's infant. This machine of torment would be the beast I would tame.

While feeling about I came across a small candle worth about 3 minutes of illumination combined with flint and steel. As the candle was born with light a small hand scribed note lay at my feet, instructions of a sort. It simply read: 

"Eki, you are to ride this wooden wheeled bicycle throughout this mine. You will establish a 'loop' by which you will complete laps until you receive further instruction. The darkness is meant to become your ally. It is our hope that while your rods and cones degenerate you will come to no longer need eye sight.

As with all of your training, it is not yours to question, but simply to obey. You need not worry of the logic behind this technique. Fear not, your shaman assures us that your eye sight will return at some point.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Off The Grid: Queen Maude Land, Antarctica

My third "Off the Grid" post comes to you from a location I never thought I'd see myself in, the bottom of the Earth. My Shaman accompanies me in this remote location of Antarctica.

As grand as my Indonesian experience was I knew it was time for me to move on. I must admit that the case of malaria that I willingly subjected myself to was taking a toll. I am completely bald, covered in lesions, and dysentery controls my being.

Perplexed by my move to Antarctica, I attempt to take it in stride. The two of us (my Shaman and I) traveled by raft to the tiny island of South Georgia where DBD board member, Shackleton spend a good deal of time. From South Georgia Island we caught the current south into the Weddell Sea. We docked at the aforementioned, Shackleton base camp, from there it was overland by foot to a tiny outcropping by the sea, somewhere in Queen Maude Land.

As I write this I continue to grapple with the question of how training here will aid me in my cycling endeavors, nevertheless, I press on. In a rare twist, I am afforded a luxury, a SCUBA suit! Presumably this is to protect me from sea creatures that may be interested in feeding upon my open lesions (Indonesia). This "suit" was air dropped to me upon my arrival to the coast. It was a welcomed change as my loin cloth had become a bit, as they say, RANK!

My training here consists of being lowered into this hole where I am forced to hold my breath for 30 minute intervals. My Shaman whips me viciously if I am forced to "jerk the rope" as a signal to pull me up before the appropriate time has passed. I take the whippings as they are offered. I know it is for the best.

I'll be home soon...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Off The Grid: Indonesia

I built this cabin with a leatherman as part of my training.
Dear reader, I write to you via my lap top from somewhere in Indonesia. It's not that I can't tell you where I am, I honestly don't know. My Trainer/Shaman/Guru has me involved in a training regime that I've been struggling to make sense of, yet I know I must follow his instruction as it will only benefit me in the distant spring classics.

I'll give you a brief description of what I have been enduring these past few weeks. I have come to realize that it is not a dream that I am shackled to my machine of torment. I can only surmise that this is a technique designed to de-sensitize me to the anguish I feel when I lay my eyes upon the beast. An hour before sunrise I am freed from my chains, fed a bowl of slop, and injected with a low grade dose of malaria as my "teacher" feels I must be completely "reduced" in order to gain the insight and strength needed to meet his standards of what I might become. I've given up on my daily requests to have my loin cloth cleansed as I know the answer. Instead, I toil in my own filth mounted on the beast that I have come to admire in some twisted way, much the way a victim begins to admire his captor. It sickens me, but it is my existence.

My hours are long and my load is heavy. Despite my burden I shall not complain for I know that I will see you all on the other side. Please do not be alarmed at my appearance for I have undergone many changes since you last cast your gaze upon my American being. I now blend with the indigenous populous as I travel from region to region. I know not where my next post will come from, but I hope it finds you well. Until then, I bid you adu.

That's me working in the mid-day heat. Don't let my appearance concern you.

To those of you who know me best, send my regards to my family. I miss you Amy, Betsy, and Gray, but it won't be too much longer...

More to come...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Off The Grid

I have elected to sequester myself in this humble cabin.
Some might argue that the training season is the "best" season.  I must say that at times I agree with that sentiment.  In an effort to "be the best that I can be" I have made a decision that will no doubt cause a stir among some, namely the DBD'ers.  Suffice it to say that I have flung myself full on into the upcoming training season with reckless abandon. 

Two weeks of meditation have taken me to a cross roads.  I have chosen my path and it goes without saying that it is not the popular one.  O.k., o.k., it's "the one less traveled".  I was trying to avoid that phrase.  Through consultation with Mallory, Shackleton and Crazy Horse I have been cleared to leave my fellow DBD'ers in the dark about what my untested training regime consists of.

I can however, let my readers know that I have been sufficiently poked, prodded and tested in an effort to discern whether I am physically up to the challenges that await.  My physical possessions now consist of a loin cloth, bike shoes, bicycle, lap top (from which I write to you), and one spear. 

Please think of me in the coming months as I work to control my physical and mental being through deep meditation and physical feats of which I do not yet know.  I will see you on the other side at the Ragnorok and the Trans Iowa this spring.  I will introduce myself for you may not recognize me (think Tom Hanks in Castaway). 

If you see my lovely wife and two adoring cats, please send them my best.

More to come...


That's me on the left in an undisclosed location.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Really? Are We Doin' This?

I guess we all knew it was coming, but seriously does it have to come as such a shock?  The hurricane style storm (meteorologists are currently discussing throughout the country) that centered itself seemingly above Duluth has unleashed.  You know that feeling you get when the roller coaster is done clicking and clacking and you're heading to the abyss of the first descent, the one where your stomach tightens up into a little ball.  That feeling is what hit me when I lifted my garage door to see WINTER.  There was white every where and more of it coming down.  Why?  Why now?  I'm not ready, no one even asked me if I was ready.  It's not that I hate winter, it's the messy transition that gets to me.

Screw it!  In an act of defiance toward Mother Nature, whom I'm constantly at war with, I decided to take Chili to work this morning.  I fit her out with lights and cautiously departed, thinking all the while about that first "slam down" on the black top.  To my delight it was all just really wet, no ice.  Feeling more confident I opened her up into the big ring while I dug out my camera for this post, quite a risky move I might add.  Riding no handed in super slop, in the dark, with cars flying past trying to take pictures is not recommended, but I did it any way.

Totally soaked from road spray I arrived at my place of employment only to find it suspiciously dark.  "This is weird, where is everybody", I said out loud.  Great!  Duluth cancelled school (apparently they're frightened of a little wet snow) leaving me no youth to guide.  So, wet and crabby I decide to get a little work done.  Oh, and throw up this post, shhh.

I guess the winter will come, so we might as well accept it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Crash

The left Bar End does not seem to be positioned correctly - Just sayin'
 Sometimes it seems mother Earth just reaches up and grabs ya. 

Recently I was finishing an enjoyable ride through some of Duluth's finest trails when suddenly and without warning leaves were shooting into my face and my head was bouncing along the ground.

Approximately 4 minutes from my house I ducked into a little piece of trail that I love.  I've ridden this little 150 yard stretch of trail hundreds of times, yet this time things went very wrong.  Here's a little summary.

Why the crash happened from my perspective:
  • Freshly changed tires pre-ride with quite possible too much air in them.
  • 40 miles of hilly single track with zero calories (a little experiment).
  • Last thought before the crash; "Let's see how well these tires will 'hook up' if I hit this sweeper with some speed".
  • Sometimes I think I'm better than I am - clearly!
What the crash felt like through my mind and eyes:
  • "Man, you're really flyin'.  Don't touch the breaks."
  • (nano second of thought) "The front wheel is washing out.  The front wheel is seriously washing out!!  The front wheel is no longer effective!!!"
  • "My head is bouncing off the ground like a tennis ball."
  • "Leaves are shooting into my sun glasses."
  • "Holy Crap!  A miniature ball peened hammer just slammed into my right shin!" (my right shin making contact with the little air nozzle thingy on the rear shock)
  • "I hope my collar bone didn't break again."
  • "Wow, I really skidded a long way."
  • "I'm kinda hurt."
The aftermath:
  • "My handle bars look funny.  Dang, they're backwards."
  • "Oh My God, my left calf and right quad are cramping so bad I'm going to wet my bibs."
  • "Walk it off, you're not going to the hospital."
  • "My bar end is pointing to the sky."
  • "My helmet is cracked."
The moral to the story is, be careful, you never know when you're mother's not happy with you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

2010: The Year in Review Part II

The Salsa Two Four was supposed to be a 24 hour team effort that devolved into me doing a solo 8 hour version.  The night before the event I was able to finally meet my teammate, Danielle Musto.  Together we'd host an hour long ride for those interested, followed by a little chat time about endurance racing. 

I felt pretty good going into this race and was really resting on the fact that I'm used to races in the 12 hour range.  Overly confident I found that I was quickly "B-slapped" by Afton Alps.  The event was phenomenally organized and Salsa just blew it up as a title sponsor!  Full on body cramps and a mechanical eventually did me in on this baby.  I was all done in at about the 5 hour mark - still good enough for a 7th overall.  Everyone was hurting.  It's safe to say I left this race disappointed and demoralized.

The WEMS' 12 Hours of Pitch Black Single Track came on the heels of an 11 day vacation complete with an over abundance of walking through downtown Chicago (over 50 miles in 3 days).  Hoofing it through the concrete jungle doesn't sound that hard, but let me tell you it wears on you.  My lower back was killing me and my hips God my hips!  "Please just get me on my bike where I belong!", was all I thought.  The 'Pitch Black' would do just that. 

I approached this one differently as I went out much slower and put less pressure on myself to try to take the race into my hands early.  I wanted to see if I could come up from the back later in the race with conservation of energy being the focus, rather than "give it all up and then hold on!".  I found that I had so much fun handling the race this way and the alone time in the trail was sublime.  There's something about riding over night that bonds you to the bike and to what you're doing.  I loved it and was able to rally late in the race closing on the leader, but not enough to grab the win.  I'd settle for 2nd and be very pleased at the same time.  A great way to end vacation.

Oh, the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival.  What can you say about this race?  You've got to be there to feel it.  I've been there several times and it's addicting, you just can't say "no".
I had high expectations for the Cheq.  Coming off of a solid effort last year I was looking for more.  2009's race had me on track for about a 2:20 and a top 100 for sure until a flat at the top of the Fire Tower climb took me out of that pace. 

I brought Jorge into this race with me.  You remember Jorge, the little guy that lives in my GPS.  I set him up to finish in 2:20 then I proceeded to watch him totally kick my A%$.  I just couldn't hang with the little B@S*&$D.  He dropped me on every hill and rolling out near the back of the field didn't help my chances much either (at the start).  Jorge got to start right on pace after the national anthem was done.  I however, was forced for the first 15 minutes to ride like I was heading to the store for some milk. 

There are no excuses.  I just didn't have the top end speed, although I did the best I could.  The Chequamegon left me smiling and disappointed (a little) at the same time.  Hey, they aren't goals if they're easy to get, at least that's what I say. 

Last but not least the glorious Heck of the North.  My home town race and last scheduled event of the year.  Oh, and back to the gravel.  Chili would come back off the hook for this race and I'd be happy to offer her more than just my daily commutes to work and home.  The pace began in what I would deem a casual speed.  The main field stuck together despite a few concerted efforts to break things up.  Miles clicked off before it was evident that it would be the off road sections that decided this thing.  In other words, the guy who gets through the woods the fastest wins the race. 

Due to time constraints and the risk of boring you the reader, I am obliged to let you know that I went into the pain cave/rabbit hole/red zone more than I ever planned during this thing.  The pace went from complete boredom to sheer panic in a nano second.  I was fortunate to grab a 3rd place overall due to some climbing still left in the 'ole legs.  I should have worn a heart rate monitor in this one, pretty sure I was in humming bird status at times.

To sum up, it was a great year!  Riding with Salsa Cycles made it extra special, not to mention getting to know the good folks responsible for these bikes.  I like to think I've made some pretty good friends with those that work and ride for the brand.  Also, thank you Amy for driving to all those little towns miles from home just so I can do what I love.  Thank you Charlie, Jason, Jeremy and all the others who put up with my nonstop babbling through those cold winter rides.  Thanks everyone, looking forward to starting it all over again.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010: The Year in Review Part I

In an effort to put the 2010 race season to bed I will attempt to capture some of what I deemed high lights and low lights throughout the year.  I'll let you, the reader discern for yourself where each segment fits.  Pounding out the year through the key board will hopefully afford me some closure to some of the best and worst cycling moments of the year and in some cases, my life.

Dedicated training for 2010 began in the fall of 2009.  I set my sights on the early classics with the Trans Iowa fixed as THE race.  I froze my fingers, toes, face and core through what seemed like never ending miles of winter riding.  The amount of road miles in the winter was more than I had ever done and some of the coldest.  As winter riders know it's always colder on the ROAD.  I didn't care as I knew the long hours on the road were what I needed to be ready come spring.  I planned several of the DBD rides for members and I simply "sat in" on others, but nonetheless I was determined to stay out there. 

Off the bike I thought about opportunities that might exist for me in the way of representing a brand.  I put together a plan and chased it down.  I floated my proposition to several companies and believe it or not there were more than a couple that were interested.  However, there was one that I really believed in and one that I felt gelled with my approach to cycling.  Enter SALSA CYCLES.    I began correspondence with 
Kid Riemer and soon enough I found myself typing a few letters to other companies explaining that I had found a home, but I appreciated their offer.  It was a match and it seemed to only grow stronger as the year progressed.

The SALSA kit now on my shoulders, I felt a strong desire to make 'em proud, yet felt no pressure as they never stressed results.  In an odd way that made me want to go faster, I liked it.  As the winter rolled on I focused on nutrition and losing weight.  I wanted to be skinny.  The way I figured it a climber can suffer, climbers are skinny.  I would be intent on changing myself to fit this role.  I am fortunate enough to have to ascend a very steep grade right out of the gates every day when I leave work.  I'd hit the mile long climb with a vengeance daily trying to shorten it each day, through the time it took me to get to the top.

THE RAGNORAK 105:  The "Rag" officially kicks off the season and is typically used as a race that gauges competitors fitness and with the relentless bluffs on this course it's easy to tell who's been doing their home work.  Here I'd bump into the familiar faces that I hadn't seen since last season.  Also, I'd test the climbing legs as the "King of the Mountains" competition within this race adds a component not found in others. 

Not sure if I could go for the overall win and the KOM together, I decided that I'd focus my efforts on the climbing and then shoot for the best overall position I could gather.  Poor positioning on my part on the last significant climb allowed super strong rider Charly Tri to get the jump on the climb with Ryan Horkey fast on his wheel.  I did my best to recover from the missed opportunity and took huge risks as we descended into the valley of Red Wing, Mn.  Horkey and I would work well together in an attempt to reel in Tri, but it was not to be as we ran out of real estate.  I was fortunate enough to take 2nd overall and nab the KOM in the process.  It was a good day on the bike, despite hitting the deck on one of the climbs - Don't Ask.

TRANS IOWA:  I'd celebrate my birthday on the bike during this race.  The Holy Grail of gravel beasts is the T.I. in my mind.  Coming off a 2nd place finish in 2009 I wanted to "show up" for this one.  I put all my "emotional eggs" in one basket as I was determined to leave it all on the course.  However, biblical rains soaked the region previous to the race and throughout the event.  Farrow, Buffington, Tri and I (the chase group behind Gorilla and Meiser) toiled through the mud for 13 hours before calling off the effort in a group think debocle that spun downward in an out of control manner.  I was a part of that "group think" process and the tipping point for me was when I saw a plastic bottle floating down the center of the main street.  That small check point town with a very weird name would be the end of the T.I. for me.  It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially when I got home, put all the gear away and came to realize that I didn't finish the race.  This resulted in one of the lowest points I've ever felt on a bike, the failed Trans Iowa of 2010.

12 HOURS OF NORTHERN KETTLES:  Finally, I'm on the mountain bike.  This would be my first race on "Big Mama" as well as the first race of the Wisconsin Mountain Bike Series.  I was a series participant and had my eye on a 1st place finish in the 12 hour solo division.  I love the Northern Kettles course as I feel it suits my style of riding and it sits early in the season so I was hoping for a good finish.  I jumped for the lead about 45 minutes into the day and never looked back.  It was a beautiful day and the bike performed perfectly.  I did my best to keep the low points short and to keep running from the field.  I was able to cross the line in 1st place that day after 102 miles of single track and 11 hours and 50 minutes of riding.  The part that sticks out the most was the finish, two guys at a timing table that simply said, "Good job Tim".  "Thanks", I said as I rode to my car and started putting my gear away.  Classic!

THE DIRTY KANZA 200:  The events that took place over the 15 hours after the start of the race are hard to sum up.  I wrote a piece (Rising from the Gravel) for this blog and ultimately Salsa's website after the race that ended up being almost as epic as the event.  I suffered more in Kansas than I ever have.  The heat (105 degrees with high humidity) began to gnaw at my will to live, literally.  I rode the 2nd 100 mile leg with Joe Meiser in an effort that I believe bonded us in a way that can't really be explained.  We fought the course as if it had a life force of it's own.  Finishing that event goes down as one of the biggest things I've ever accomplished on a bike or in my life.  I was lucky enough to take 5th place with Joe right next to me.  We stumbled around that downtown area for about an hour mumbling to ourselves about how destroyed we were.  It scared me. 

THUNDERDOWN IN THE UNDERDOWN:  The second WEMS race of the season for me.  This one took place in the Underdown forest of the master single track builder, Chris Schotz.  The course was the stuff mountain bike riders dream of.  A huge 20 something mile lap that rolled through what seemed to be different biospheres.  This course was purely a thing of beauty.  The race however, would see me doing battle with none other than fellow DBD'er "Big Buff".  BB was tackling this monster on a single speed while I pressed on with my fully suspended 29'er ('Big Mama').  The climbing in this course was steep and technical, I couldn't believe how Big Buff was working through it on his single.  I resigned that it was his race.  Suddenly, late into the final lap I saw my training partner laboring up a long slow climb.  I would take him on this old rail road grade, wish him "good luck", then attempt to PIN the final 8 miles of the lap.  It was bitter sweet passing Big Buff out there, but hey, I wanted to win too.  I managed to gap the super human by about 10 minutes in order to grab my second win of the WEMS.

LEVIS/TROW 100 MILER:  Good 'ole Levis rolled around in mid July and the depth of summer was upon me along with several racing hours.  It didn't make things much easier when in the pre-race meeting the director announced that he changed the course making it longer, more technical and with more climbing.  A collective gasp could be felt among the solo riders as this changed every one's mind set.  I'm not sure about the other competitors, but I tend to spend about a week thinking about the race and planning how I want things to go, so when suddenly you're told that you're plan can go out the window it really changes things.  Typically the Levis 100 miler takes around 9 hours, now we were looking at about 13.  I felt a bit defeated before they even said "Go!".  I would run this race with Big Buff (again) and Farrow this time.  We'd be racing for honor.  In hind site I know that I played the whole thing wrong and went out too hard.  I was concerned halfway through as to how tired I was.  Meanwhile, Big Buff had slipped away and was looking strong.  Farrow was battling the same mental demons I was.  I called my race at about the 11.5 hour mark taking 5th overall (3rd in geared class).  I was disappointed in how bad this course beat me up.  I was so tired!

Next up Part II:  The Salsa Two Four (Eight Hour Version)
                               12 Hours of Pitch Black Single Track
                               The Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival
                               The Heck of the North

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Quest for Athleticism, Enter Boot Camp

This used to be me.
The teacher becomes the student.

In the spirit of becoming a pure athlete I decided to mix up things a bit.  The 2010 season is in the books and it's time to focus on bike rides that include breaks every 15-20 minutes and baggy shorts.  In other words, time to rekindle my affair with the bikes.  You know how people who are married for 60 years suddenly decide to start "dating" each other.  Yeah, that kind of thing.  O.k., I've got the bike thing figured out, but what about stopping myself from slipping into couch potato status?  It came to me a few days ago, why not participate in the Boot Camp class that my wife, Amy and I co-facilitate for the agency we work for.  In a nutshell, Amy and I developed a "Fitness/Wellness Challenge" within our work place (yes, we work for the same outfit).  The whole idea was born over dinner about a year ago and we decided that maybe we could inspire some of the 200 employees we work with to "get fit" or at least start thinking about it.  Part of the program included an exercise "class" called "Boot Camp" run by Amy and yours truly.  Yes!  This was the answer, I'd whip myself into shape and Boot Camp would be my vehicle.

I felt a little pressure when the core group of women began showing up for class.  Now, I've been yelling at these girls for weeks to either "get their knee up" or "pick up the pace, that's not a sprint!"  I felt I was in trouble when Kristina walked in, took one look at me in my workout clothes and started laughing.  I thought, "Whatevs, Let's Do This!".

Amy threw out some instructions and we took it outside.  I went through the whole warm up thing fine and started thinking about how this might not be as bad as I thought.  Still in the warm up I felt a warm sensation in my throat, GROSS, it was the last drink of water heading North!  Holy Crap!  The warm up kinda sucked.  I was kicking at things in the air that weren't there, then doing push ups that required me to cover ground while doing them.  I was sweating bullets and we hadn't officially started yet.

My version of the "plank walk" did not look like this.
Spending 4 dizzying minutes at each station with 30 second breaks between them made up the crux of Boot Camp.  I found some of the stations to be more manageable than others.  Basically, the ones that had to do with high cardio were o.k..  The ones that had to do with strength made me weep.  Spending so much time on the bike has left me with the upper body strength of a 7th grade girl.  The way I figured it the class contained about 200 push ups, I would struggle on them all.

Then, the dreaded "plank walk" station.  The station that I had expended a great deal of energy yelling at participants was now before me.  I would have to experience their pain for myself.  Now, all I was expected to do was plank walk for 4 minutes, it was possible, I could do this.  Amy yelled go as I heard some distant laughter as the others knew I was heading to Hell.  Like a fool I lined up next to Laura, a hard as steel hockey player who sets the standard for physical fitness.  Laura's real nice and she just smiled as we got started, but it was the type of smile that left me wondering, "What was that all about?".  It took about 30 seconds before I began to panic.  My shoulder muscles were separating from the bone, I was sure of it.  "I need my arms, I can't let them separate from my body", I thought as I watched Laura inch worm away from me while in the dreaded "plank position".  "How is she doing that?"  I began to have ill thoughts about her, but then I went back to the fact that she's really nice.  At about the 20 minute mark, I mean 2 minutes I heard a voice from the distance yell, "Don't put your knee down Tim...ha, ha, ha (others joined in the laughter).  "How ya doin' tough guy?", came from Amy (more laughter from the group).  I was reduced.  My knee was down and a steady stream of fluid poured from my chin.  "Are these tears or sweat?", I asked myself as Laura came past me doing the plank walk BACKWARDS!  Finally, Amy yelled STOP!  I got up and quickly brushed the grass off my knees so Kristina wouldn't be able to tell if I put my knee down (I used to yell at her ALOT about that - whoops).  I limped through the remainder of the class telling myself that it would all be over soon.  I did finally make it and the breaks between my "ab sets" were spent staring at the ceiling back inside the building with the voice in my head repeating over and over, "You made it".

My arms are shaking as I close out this post, but I'll be back.  These girls (Amy, Kristina, Laura and Cassie) are my inspiration.  Man, I gotta get them on some bikes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The "Heck of the North" Lives Up to it's Name

Gettin' ready to start.  Jeremy gives final instructions.

The final race of my season fittingly takes place in my home town of Duluth, Mn.  After a spring, summer and fall of travel a race in Duluth was a welcomed relief.  Also, appropriately the race is on gravel roads, just as the season began back in the spring with the Ragnorak 105.  The "Heck of the North" is laid upon us by fellow DBD'er Jeremy Kershaw.  Jeremy knows gravel and has chewed on it with us many a time.  I've seen him suffer as he has seen me do the same.  Therefore, he knows how to put together a race course!  Now, I've done my share of gravel road racing and it is an animal only known to itself.  I've traded punches with the big boys in some of the big boy races such as the Trans Iowa and The Dirty Kanza.  The "Heck" slides into this family nicely as the ill behaved little brother.  He (Heck) comes complete with shin deep swamps that seem to go on forever, flat fast hard pack dirt, tar road sections where attacks from nervous riders are imminent and climbs that make your head spin.  Mmmm, what a recipe for racing. 

I failed last year as a broken chain forced me out at the halfway point of the race, I was determined to leave my mark and wrestle the "Heck" into submission if I could.  As usual nerves were running high as this was a home town race and Duluth boasts a lot of talent in mountain bikers and road riders, both categories were well represented.  A contingent from the Twin Cities showed itself as well.  Joe Mieser and Ryan Horkey would find there way to Duluth and represent Salsa Cycles with me. 

Once underway the pack stuck together with an unusually slow, easy pace.  It was fine with me, but I knew from experience that this would have to change.  Determined to not be a bit player in this event I spent more time at the front than I probably should have, but I wanted to have some control over the race if I could.  Wise words from my training partner and old sage, Charlie Farrow would tell me, "Eki, just sit in!  You're spending too much time up front!"  I dismissed his advice as I felt I knew exactly what I was doing and honestly I didn't want to get tangled up in an ugly crash as the field was about 35 riders strong at the 20 mile mark.  Fellow DBD'er and after race party host Big Buff took some marathon pulls at the front in an effort to split the group, but only succeeded in stringing them out into a huge single file line that cruised comfortably at about 25 mph.  Seeing that BB's efforts were resisted by the group I proposed to Ryan and Joe that we try to lift the pace and get some solid rotations going at the front and break this thing up if we could.  Shortly after the conversation we entered a right hander and I saw Joe hit the pedals hard and the surge was on.  Ryan and I followed suit with about two other riders.  Like clock work we assimilated into a fast rotation that broke clear by about 15 yards.  However, the main field was not having it and they quickly linked back up.  It was not to be, yet...

The course contains three off road sections, the Brimson Trail, the North Shore Trail and the Moose Mile.  I suspected that something significant would happen on the first of these trails, the Brimson.  As the field moved down the tar road leading to this first off road trail I warned Ryan that a move would most likely occur on the tar leading in the trail or on the trail itself.  I was right!  As I prepared to leave the road and hit the woods, local fast rider Ross Fraboni flew past me like his life depended on it.  This would be the break, I needed to be there.  I jumped in with him, but bobbled on the first uphill, spinning out on a loose rock.  I was forced to clip out and fast walk my bike to the top while watching the new leaders slip away.  It wasn't long before I was behind a 100 yard gap looking at about 8 riders quickly moving through the mile long trail.  I knew that if I didn't link back up with them before they hit the gravel I may not see them again until the post race party.  As I exited the trail I figured they had about a 40 second lead on me and they were organizing.  They immediately formed a pace line and began to rotate.  I was one man against eight, these were not good odds.  Experience has taught me that you have to be present in the break away if you even want to entertain the thought of a possible podium.  If one is caught out of the break you begin to race the clock and respect.  This being the last race of the year and in my home town I would make it to the break away group at any cost!  I turned myself inside out as I tried to solo my way to the back end of the group.  I was riding at an all or nothing effort that would only last for a few minutes at best.  Then, I felt the presence of another rider, a saviour of sorts.  Local strong "roadie", Tim Andrews was coming to my wheel and riding on his limit as well.  "Thank God!" was all I could muster in my clouded mind.  If Tim could get to my wheel that would mean he could get by me and I'd draft, getting a bit of respite from this suicide mission.  He pulled through with some encouraging words and I snugged into his rear wheel as tightly as I could.  I remember staring at the 1 inch gap that separated our rubber.  We took 20 second pulls that seemed like 20 minutes, but it was happening, they were coming back to us.  In about 5 minutes we were within reach and soon enough we were settled in on the back end of the break away.  It must have been about 15 minutes before Tim and I were able to congratulate each other on chasing back.  At 31 mph in a group of approximately 10 riders we were expanding our gap on the main field with a few solos trying to bridge back, one being Ryan! 

Ryan and Tim.  Ryan overcame cramps and solo'd to the break away - Amazing!
The "Heck" only has one checkpoint and it is at 54 miles.  My kit was fitted out with everything I'd need to get me through the 102 miles.  All I needed to do was grab my new cue cards and begin the second leg of the race.  I was literally in and out of the checkpoint in about 3 seconds.  As I rolled down the road I reset my gps and organized my new cards and an unusual silence befell me.  I turned around to find I was completely alone.  Had I taken a wrong turn?  I didn't think I'd gone off course, there were no turns to take.  I continually checked over my shoulder until finally about a mile in the distance I saw riders on the top of a hill.  I was leading the race and had a large gap.  Could I get to the next off road section alone and get out of there sight?  I went to my drops and started to lay down some pressure to the pedals until the voice of reason came to me.  "Tim, you're one man against about ten.  You won't be able to stay away from them, just sit up and let them come."  So, I sat up, soft pedaled and let them come to me and I humbly slipped into their waiting arms. 

A new comer emerged within our group suddenly.  A bedraggled and spent looking Charlie Farrow appeared next to me.  "Welcome back!", I said.  He commented on how the effort to get to the break away nearly killed him.  I knew that feeling.  I assured him that he'd come around as he later did.  He demonstrated his renewal by taking consistent turns at the front.

It was clear that this race would be decided in the woods.  None of the riders in the break away would allow anyone to escape on the roads.  Whomever was able to best navigate the gnarly trails of the "Heck" would emerge as the possible winner.  Charlie and I had discussed race tactics in detail and he always felt that the "Moose Mile" would be where the race was decided.  He was right!  The "Mile" is the last trail section and I use the word "trail" loosely.  It should be called the "Moose Swamp".  As we approached this section the pace went skyward as everyone wanted to be the first into the woods.  Jake Boyce, Ross Fraboni and Nikoli Anikan would get into the trail first and absolutely FLY through it.  My heart rate was out of control as I ran carrying my bike through shin deep swamps with water splashing over my face.  I recall hearing the deep thud of a body behind me hitting the ground and a voice saying, "are you o.k.?" with urgency.  "Don't turn around, don't worry about anything but you.", was my thought.  I popped out of the "Moose Mile" in 4th position and no one was in sight in front of me, they had gotten away.  Suddenly, I heard from behind, "We're with you Tim, Go, Go!!"  A quick glance showed me that Charlie, Tim and the rest of the contingent were in tow.  We'd go after the leaders together.  A fast descent to Lake Superior lay in front of us and we'd take advantage of the downhill hitting speeds of 38 mph.  However, at the bottom completely gassed riders had trouble organizing as frustration built in others.  Our group just couldn't pull together a workable pace line.  I knew the leaders were slipping away for good.  I resolved to try to be the first finisher of my group of 9 or 10.  Charlie continued to bolster my confidence telling me that I'd be able to out climb everyone in the group and the "Heck" ends with a 3 mile climb from the lake up to the finish.  His words would echo through my mind for the next 30 minutes.

We hit the first pitch of 7 Bridges Road and the start of the climb.  I moved to the front and refused to relinquish this position.  Periodically I'd check the status of my followers and slowly I'd see them pop from my wheel, save one.  Tim Andrews stuck to me like glue.  I attacked the "roadie" three times on that climb and I just couldn't shake him.  Finally, on the final and steepest pitch I had 20 yards on them and I felt I was clear.  With about 2 miles to go to the finish I'd be able to solo in for 4th or maybe 3rd.  In the short distance I noticed a completely wasted Ross Fraboni swerving around the road.  He was all used up.  He had burnt all his matches trying to drop us and he'd payed the price and as a result set two other riders free.  I was now heading for a possible 3rd overall.  Suddenly, without warning one of the riders from my group showed back up on my wheel.  How he did it I don't know, because I was giving everything I had and I know he was too.  I allowed him to pass and I tucked into his draft.  I figured I pulled him up the hill, he can pull me into the finishing stretch.  With about 150 yards to go I saw him lift from his saddle for the sprint.  I immediately did the same and slid out of his draft with a nice slingshot I was able to move past him taking 3rd place.

The smile on my face tells you how I felt about getting 3rd place.
The "Heck of the North" marked my final race of the season and one of my best.  It is a classic race course and definitely has a niche in the Minnesota gravel race family.  A special thanks to Jeremy Kershaw for creating the event and Jason Buffington for hosting the after party.

Next up, The Year in Review...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Together Again

Big Buff in front as usual somewhere north of Duluth, Mn

Final preps for the upcoming "Heck of the North" were in full swing this weekend as the last long ride before race day was planned.  This past Saturday would see me riding with old friend and training partner, Big Buff.  Early reports suggested that an aged Charlie Farrow may make an appearance, but I wasn't holding my breath. 

While waiting at the designated secret DBD launch point I heard the familiar chatter of Farrow.  I looked down the road as my straining eyes picked out two riders approaching side by side.  It was true!  Farrow accompanied BB to the start of this ride.  I was relieved as I shoved the image of the aged one sitting at home darning socks or working with finger paints out of my mind.  He was actually riding a bike.  I hadn't seen Farrow ride a bike in months, I was impressed.  His forked tongue quickly jabbed at me as he approached.  He made fun of my attire, my physical stature and anything else he could think of.  I simply smiled and said, "Let's ride". 

It wasn't 15 minutes before Farrow was complaining of a rear tire that was suspiciously going soft on him.  I saw BB shake his head from side to side as he reached for his brakes.  Farrow, determined not to be responsible for our mood swings decided it best to just beef up the air supply and call it a "slow leak".  We were off in a few minutes.  It felt good to be together again and not experiencing the mind numbing cold that usually befriends us when we find ourselves turning over the cranks in the winter months.  

The chatter was rapid fire as we had so much to discuss.  The answers to huge national problems were uncovered as we headed for the gravel.  A ride wouldn't be complete without a hearty debate between myself and Charlie.  This time we got heated up over national education.  Who knew he had such passion?  As we approached Farrow's turn around (he was unable to participate in the entire ride) I felt compelled to check on our status after such a discussion.  "We cool?", I asked.  "Yeah, of course, we can disagree", was his response.  Ahhh, together again...

We waved good bye to Farrow as BB and I watched him dart out in front of a van doing about 60 mph, almost getting smoked!  Again, we shook our heads, smiled and headed deeper into the country. 

The ride went well as I intently listened to Big Buff tell tales of his recent adventures in Yellowstone.  In my mind I was right there with him catching Rainbows and watching Elk court each other.  The descriptions were vivid and the joy in his voice made the stories that much better.

Things came to a close as we pushed up the Duluth hillside after some 76 miles of riding.  It wouldn't be right if we went through this whole day without trading punches at least once.  We fought for the final climb, a steep 2 mile pitch that leads to my homestead.  I'd take him on this day, but I know things will be different soon enough.

We "knucks'd", said "thanks" and parted ways.  As BB rode off I could hear him bragging about how he was going to end up with more miles than me.  So it goes...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sometimes You Just Get Your Butt Kicked

Ready to start - in the back!

As everyone who follows cycling knows the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival was held this past Saturday.  An amazing event which brings riders from all over the country and runs like a well oiled machine.  Due to the large number of riders people are allowed to place their bike or "ghost bike" at the starting line ahead of time in order to secure their place.  This would require some logistical maneuvering on my part as we were staying in Cable, WI, some half hour away.  My plan was simple, I'd just squeeze in somewhere among the masses and no one would really notice.  Most good intentioned plans don't work out the way they are supposed to, this would be no different.  As I attempted my "squeeze in" a 16 year old militant female volunteer promptly stopped me demanding to know if I had a "ghost bike" positioned in there somewhere, caught off guard I responded sheepishly, "no".  She quickly directed me to the back of the line.  I finally was able to find my place and it was approximately 1 block from the starting line.  I was definitely closer to the back than the front.  I tried to think this through as I scanned my fellow competitors, a somewhat large house wife in her 50's was to my front right, a man in his 70's was a couple over to my left.  I was pleased to see these people at the race, but I was not lined up where I needed to be.  I figured I'd do my best to fight my way through the masses until I found a group riding at a speed similar to my own.  Little did I know that I'd be shuffling through the crowd for close to 10 miles.

It was about 14 miles into the race when I felt like things were underway and running smoothly.  Still in large crowds or groups of riders I found it hard to draft as there was little organization within.  I was forced to constantly leap frog up to another group.  It wouldn't be until late in the race that I was able to fit in nicely with a fast moving group of about 8 riders. 

Still competitive, even if it's for 206th
I rode as hard as I could.  I have no regrets about the race (except my starting position) and I know I left it all out on the course.  However, I came no where near my goal time of 2:20, in fact, I was ridiculously off that by 20 minutes.  I made it through unscathed and had a good time throughout though.  I was humbled by the amount of super fast riders at this race, some 200 faster than this writer.  Hey, there's always someone who's going to kick your butt.  I wasn't planning on 200 of them, but sometimes that's the way it goes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

12 Hours of Pitch Black Single Track - WEMS' Shining Star

It's been over a week since Amy and I have returned from our 11 day vacation and I'm still beat.  You know when you've had a good one when you need a vacation from your vacation.  This particular trip had bike races as book ends to it.  The Salsa Two-Four launched things, while the 'Pitch Black' closed the deal. 

As you might have guessed the 12 Hours of Pitch Black is an overnight race that takes place from 8:00 p.m. - 8:00 a.m. and is one of the final races in the Wisconsin Mountain Bike Series.  I wish I could say that my game plan going into this race involved a whole bunch of rest with naps off and on throughout the day, but that's just not true.  We were coming out of a whirl wind 3 days of touring downtown Chicago on foot.  We went to museums, jazz festivals, blues bars and restaurants.  We walked over 50 miles in three days.  How could I know that?  I wore a pedometer, because I knew Amy wanted to see it all.  She's a marathon runner, I am not, so when I would say "can we just get a cab?", she'd say, "C'mon, pull up your skirt and stop being such a Nancy".  Gotta love it.  The bottom line is she walked my freakin' legs off! 

I pulled into Heather's Bar, the site of the race venue, feeling tired already and nursing a bug bite on my neck that wouldn't stop bleeding.  As I tried to register for the race I was getting some weird looks until I was directly asked, "are you alright?".  Embarrassed, I tried to explain how the chunk missing out of my neck just wouldn't stop bleeding.  A bystander suggested that I was bitten by a vampire bat which secretes an anti-coagulant into the wound in order to suck the blood outta ya.  I don't remember any bats diving bombing me, but here I am super tired at the start of the race and my blood count is in the tank.  Oh well, I love racin' when my back's against the wall, especially when I have to do it over night.

We lined up for the traditional Le Mans start and I reviewed a new strategy that I intended to employ.  "They'll come back to you" were Danielle's (Salsa teammate) words that rolled around my head.  Back up to the beginning of the vacation - Danielle and I conducted a clinic on endurance racing and we spent time discussing each other's race strategies.  I told her about my typical mode of operation and she told me hers.  I'd go outside my "box" for this one and start easy.  My plan included getting to know the trail, staying out of the "red zone" and maybe even yucking it up a bit with some fellow racers in the beginning.  I'd ratchet things up later in the race, but I wasn't going to blow the lid off this thing too early.  I'd wait for my competitors to "come back to me" as the race unfolded. 

Things were going just as I had planned.  I talked about my vacation with a racer who resided in Chicago, I discussed the outstanding single track we have in Duluth, Mn and I even had time to look up at the night sky while riding through the open fields.  A crescent moon and starry sky were my ceiling, I could get used to racing at night.  It was weird how my body shut down it's internal clock as I'd check my GPS to note the time and see that I was closing in on 1:00 a.m., but felt no where near tired.  I even thought about how impossible it would be for me to stay up to 1:00 a.m. on my couch at home, but here I was, dodging frogs and mice while railing corners in Rockdale, Wi. 

While I enjoying my ride and dreaming of everything under the "stars" I came to the infamous section run by what I termed the "drunk guys".  I remembered this section from last year and I loved it.  You knew you were getting close when you'd hear the concert sized speakers bumping in the distance and see the skeletons hanging in the trees.  Soon you'd spot the fire raging near the trail, then the screaming "drunk guys".  My first encounter with them was my best.  About 5 guys were mobbed up near the trail screaming something I couldn't make out over Rob Zombie's voice echoing through my skull, but then it was clear.  There was one 20 something guy crouched down as if he were about to receive a shot gun snap from a center looking me straight in the eye directly in front of me, not 10 feet away.  I thought, "dude, you better get out of the way or I'm going to put this 29'er right in your zipper".  Just then, he screamed over Rob Zombie in a maniacal voice, with the urgency of his life's worth..."DO SOMETHING SWEET!!".  Pressured, I didn't know how to respond, I was on the spot, what could I do?  Should I try to snap off a wheelie?  No, that would be lame.  A track stand?  Again, lame.  Stupidly, I just rode past him and apologized.  I felt so small.  I let him down.  What could I have done?  Maybe I should have quickly clipped out and jumped up on the top tube and surfed past.  No, I couldn't have pulled that off.  I failed that guy.  Only if he would have given me more warning.  Bummed, I eventually went back to the task at hand, the race.
I wondered where my competitors were, but in some strange way I didn't care.  I was riding well and despite a slight shifting problem 'Big Mama' was doing what she usually does - pull me along.  I realized that it would be about 3 laps per 50 oz. of fluids, then it'd be time to change out the camel back.  I reviewed my needs before hitting the pits, I didn't want to miss anything.  "Re-fill camel back, take some Ibuprofen (for the headache), put on leg warmers...Re-fill camel back", and so on....  As I pulled into the pit I heard an exorbitant amount of cheering for!  Wow, what's going on?  Either there's another Tim here or Amy made some friends at the bar.  Well, the latter was true and up on the deck over looking the start/finish/pit area were Amy and some new friends who were fresh to the mt. biking scene.  They had just stopped in for a few drinks and got interested in what was going on.  Soon enough Amy was teaching them the ins and outs of the biking world.  She discussed everything from the advantages of 29'ers to how cool Salsa Cycles is.  Something tells me that some bike shop in Rockford, Il is going to be selling some Salsa's. 

I began to settle into the routine of night racing and I was finding my groove while still feeling strong.  Around 1:30 a.m. I decided I needed to start picking things up a bit and as long as I was "feeling it", I'd go with it.  I began to turn some respectable lap times considering how deep into the race it was.  I also began to think a lot about the leaders.  In fact a small obsession with the leaders began to develop.  I kept thinking about taking minutes out of whomever was in front of me, then without warning I got the "wink" from my lights as they dropped down to low level telling me battery power was diminishing.  "No", I thought.  This is supposed to happen when I need to pit, not in the middle of my 3 lap rotation.  Then, the finally, the handlebar light went completely out!  Talk about a wake up call!  Imagine navigating a tricky little piece of single track and suddenly having someone throw a blind fold over your eyes.  I turned the helmet light up to full power and begged her to get me to the pits, once there I'd do a wholesale battery change to get me through to daylight.  The pit went as smoothly as it could have and things were definitely more quiet around the bar.  I felt truly alone during this time.  It was me 'Big Mama' and the timing crew.  The timing crew's words meant more to me than I could tell them as I rolled through.  Sometimes it was just simply, "Nice ridin' 2".  That comment would get me out of the saddle as I kicked in for another lap.  I liked those guys.

I noticed that I was looking more and more to the eastern sky for a glow as I needed the light of day.  I knew the daylight would bring even faster lap times.  But, it'd bring faster times for everyone.  Thing is, I was still feeling pretty good.  I felt as though I still had some pretty good pop in my legs, maybe they didn't.  Maybe I was taking minutes out of them, I had to keep the pressure high.  I vowed to not check in at the timing tent until there was one hour to go.  I didn't want to know how far the leader(s) were ahead of me for fear of either letting them go, because they were too far out or blowing myself up trying to close a 10 minute gap.  I needed to stick with the plan, ride hard and ride steady.

The morning sunrise brought cold temps and a lot of dew.  The grass was slippery and the descents were teeth chattering.  I started eating gel packs like they were the best omelets I'd ever seen.  I wanted to load up on calories the best I could for the closing push.  I'd ride to 8:00 a.m. unless something told me not to.  As the day opened up before me, with the sunshine pouring in, I saw things that I had been riding past all night; horses, beautiful homes, roads, and gorgeous forests.  I really loved this course! 

7:00 a.m. had me pulling in on what was typically about a 50-53 minute lap.  In other words, I had enough time to go one more time if the need was there.  Going one more time was a great idea, but the fact is about 20 minutes previous to the close of the 7:00 a.m. lap I experienced a complete physical shut down.  It was like my brain did the math regarding that final lap, you know the part of the brain responsible for energy output, it determined that enough had been doled out, no more would be supplied, the game was over.  I couldn't believe it, the internal dialogue went something like this, "bridge to engine room - more power, more power damnit!"...No response.  So, after learning that there'd be no response from the engine room I checked in with the timing crew and asked about the leader(s).  There was one man out in front and he had left for his final lap about 20 minutes ago.  There would be no reason to give chase, my night was over and good enough for 2nd place.  I was satisfied. 

When my mind wanders back to this race I can't help but think about riding through those fields, looking up at all those stars, loving the dark, loving The 12 Hours of Pitch Black Single Track.  The WEMS' shining star.  What a night!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Eki...No Pressure

The SALSA TWO-FOUR Nearly Ends Eki
I think it was a few months back when I started communicating with those close to Salsa Cycles about my involvement in the event. Initially, I was to be part of a 4 man team that seemed destined to leave a mark on the race. However, real life got in the way and my teammates began to withdraw one by one. Real life has a way of reminding us that racing a bicycle through the woods is one of the extra perks that comes with this merry go round ride we've all got a ticket for. Finally, a decision was made, I'd ride the solo 8 hour version of the race. After all, I'm a 12 hour solo racer by trade, this should be right up my alley, right? As my thoughts began to wander about this new development, I dreamed of a high finish and even considered myself to be a contender in this fight.
Rule #1 in endurance racing, Stay Humble! Rule #2, never look a course directly in the eye. You see, sometimes it's not the other racers that you should be afraid of, it's the course!
Excited to race this event in the Salsa colors I began to take things seriously and I felt the pressure mounting in my mind. I could hear 'Kid's' words resounding over and over, "No Pressure". I've been competitive since birth, mostly with myself. Hell, as a grade schooler I would keep a scratch paper taped to the inside of our cupboard in the kitchen with month's worth of times written on them next to dates. These were the minutes it took me to run the 4 miles to the end of a nearby dirt road and back. I can remember sprinting to my driveway day after day trying to beat yesterday's time. So it goes...
I thought long and hard about racing at Afton Alps again. I used to race the Minnesota Series race here, several years back and got smoked every time. Finally, I told a good friend (Dave Schuneman, who placed well in this year's 24 hour single speed category) that I'd never ride my bike in Afton again. I held true to that promise until the Salsa Two-Four. I rationalized that I'm a much different rider now and that I could handle whatever Afton had for me, I looked her straight in the eye.
Friday night was fun with a Salsa sponsored rider clinic hosted by Danielle Musto (Salsa teammate) and myself. This clinic was light and enjoyable, with a short ride around the course and a little Q and A afterward. Throughout the "ride around" I couldn't help but think, "man, there's a lot of climbing going on here".
Race day was met with warm temps, really warm in fact. No biggie, I'm only in the 8 hour race and hell, I rode in Kansas, that's HEAT. The race went off with the La Mans start and I found myself about a dozen riders back, but it was impossible to tell who was racing what category as we all started together. Excited, I rode hard early. I was on top of the bike and really pressing her for more, out of the saddle on most climbs. Soon I felt those matches burning quickly and I was running low. I needed to ratchet back now! So, experience guided me and I pulled back the reigns allowing myself to settle in and "recover". Remember how I looked the course in the eye? There would be no opportunity to recover, Afton wouldn't allow it. The "Alps" seemed angry with me as if I had offended her in some way. Her climbs got steeper and somehow longer. She went on to summon more heat. I began to suffer.
Then, without warning my right hamstring quivered briefly as if it was going to cramp. One cramp leads to a lot more cramps, it's as simple as that. I recall vocally calling out, "Oh No!" I knew they would come, they would come for a visit and hang around like Aunt Edna who just won't leave. Soon I was pulling off the trail with inoperable legs. The "lock ups" were popping off in both calves, both hamstrings, and my right groin. They were the sincere kind of cramps that give you your money's worth. I'm talking about deep, tightly wound balls of tissue that refused to let go, sometimes for minutes. I was in trouble. I poured fluids in, but as any experienced endurance athlete knows, when you've hit this state, it's too late, the window is closed. Returning from this abyss will most likely not happen.
Lap 5 brought me to the pits in a very negative head space. I reported to Amy and Scott (Danielle's husband and pit crew) that it wasn't looking good for me, I was in a bad way. They fed me information on my standings and I learned that I was currently running 3rd in my race. They bolstered me with comments like, "Every one's hurting out there", "it's hot for everyone", "I just saw 'so and so' come through and he looked terrible". 'Kid' Riemer brought me back around with, "Eki...No pressure, seriously there's no pressure". But, there was pressure and it was coming from me, I had to get back on 'Big Mama'. I mounted up and left for lap 6, I had three hours to go. I'd been in this cave before, I'd find my way out.
Now I want to tell you that I was rebounding strong on lap 6 and things were really coming around for me, but that's just not true. I was moving slowly through the course apologizing to Afton through every switchback, thing is she's not big on forgiveness. It was when I dropped down a little chute about to cross a ski run when I heard what sounded like an M80 going off under my saddle and felt that sick feeling of sealant shooting all over my legs. My rear tire was down instantly. I ran the bike up to a shady spot and had a nice quick repair with no hassles. I heard the tubeless ready tire's bead snap back into the rim with the shot of CO2. I was good to go! One huge pull off the water bottle and a gel later I was mounted and riding smooth again. Then, "Boom" again. Flat #2 about 20 minutes later. The tube I had thrown in the tire was exposed through a dime sized hole (that I never saw) in the tire. Out of air and tubes I was forced to walk back to the pits thinking my day was most likely over. However upon my return 'Kid' learned of my misfortune and quickly offered up his wheel. Ultimately, it was not to be as his wheel fought 'Big Mama' every step of the way. I was out, I laid down my cards with "No Pressure", literally.
(My 5 completed laps was good enough for a 9th place finish - I guess everyone was hurting).
Thanks Salsa for sponsoring such a great event and special thanks to 'Kid' for all of his kind words and support. Man that guy can work a p.a., he put a smile on my face every time I rolled through.
Stay tuned, next report: The 12 Hours of Pitch Black Single Track - The shining star of the WEMS series.
Photos courtesy of 'Kid' Riemer