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