Monday, July 26, 2010

Dad, Wait for Me!!

This bike is NOT made by Salsa Cycles!
Last Saturday I was scheduled for a ride with "Big Buff" and the plan was simple, have some fun, recover a bit and enjoy the scenery. Hell, why not break out the single speed and really keep it real?! I must admit I was a little skeptical about busting out the 26" wheeled single due to the fact that I've become quite accustomed to cruising through single track for 12 hours at a time on my Big Mama. Oh well, it was just going to be for fun right?
I met "Big Buff" after doing a little warm up in some famed Duluth single track. I felt I had the bugs worked out and things were clicking off smoothly when we "knucks" and commenced our ride. Immediately we assessed each other's gear ratios and did the whole "that seems like a good gear", "dude, I'm geared out harder than you are" thing. We started our ride and soon I began to abandon the notion that this ride was for fun. I stared at the non speaking end of "Big Buff" for most of the day as I chased and chased. At times, I was out of the saddle for minutes while he told a story I couldn't hear and cleaned climbs without breaking his cadence or rising out of the saddle. Occasionally I'd call out "Cool!", hoping that generic response would fit in with whatever he just said that I didn't hear due to the sound of my own heart beat pounding in my ears. Despite being on the same trail the whole time I found that I was absolutely blasted with mud, while "Big Buff" looked like he just got back from a wedding. How could this be? I had seen him hit the same wet spots I was hitting. It had to be my little boy wheels. Soon, every disadvantage, every climb I couldn't make, every spin out that screwed me up had every thing to do with my little boy bike.
The day wore on and I decided to just call a spade a spade. I had no more shame left to hide. When I fell behind I began to call out "DAD...WAIT FOR ME!!" I'd hear a chuckle and some barely audible continuation of a story that he thought I'd been listening to for the last ten minutes. At one point I went so far as to call him out on his gear ratio. I might as well as called him a liar. He maintained his ratio was true. I went on to pretend that I knew it had something to do with a physics thing that I'd never understand, big wheels vs. little wheels. I could have sworn that I once saw Guitar Ted write something about it, I sourced him anyway as to where I'd come upon this knowledge (G.T., hope that's o.k.).
The day taught me one important lesson, my next single speed will no doubt be a Salsa Cylces "Big Boy" bike and I can't wait.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Look Away...I'm Hideous

The author shortly after completing the Levis/Trow, WEMS race.

The fifth race of the Wisconsin Mountain Bike Series was held near the small hamlet of Nellisville, Wi this past Saturday. The temperatures were predicted to be in the "hot" category, combined with high humidity. "Levis/Trow" as this race is known boasts some of the sweetest single track in the Midwest, with Colorado style riding complete with huge sections of bench cut trail along steep ridge lines and techy sustained climbs. This is a pure mountain biker's course through and through.

Since the completion of the "Thunderdown in the Underdown" this writer has undergone several rounds of electro shock therapy in an attempt to come back mentally from that epic ride. "Levis" would gauge whether the return from the abyss transpired or not. In a rare, first time ever in fact, interview done by none other than 'Hondo' Eki is treated with the opportunity to sit down with the eccentric one for a discussion shortly after crossing the finishing line.

So, dear reader sit back and wrap your head around this:

Hondo: Eki, good to see you again, you look like you've gained weight.

Eki: Look away, I'm hideous.

Hondo: So, how did things go for you out there?

Eki: I've lost 19 pounds, do I look fat?

Hondo: You looked strong on the first two laps, yet you're weeping now. Can you describe what you're feeling?

Eki: I feel like I need to apologize for my disgusting performance and I'm worried that my recent therapy sessions didn't take. I was seeing my "friends" again.

Hondo: Your "friends"?

Eki: Yeah, the elves and goblins. They were flitting about for the last three laps. I tried to get them to just show themselves, but they like tormenting me by hiding behind trees and hanging out in the corner of my eye if you know what I mean.

Hondo: Interesting, but weird. How did "Big Mama" (Salsa Cycles) treat you out there?

Eki: Honestly, I didn't feel worthy of being on her back today. I kept apologizing to her as I drove her into obstacles and on one occasion failed miserably to roll her over a boulder on a difficult climb and simply tipped over. I thought I heard her giggle as I landed hard on another large rock.

Hondo: I've never seen such emotion from you. Do you think you could pull yourself together and stop crying so we can get through this?

Eki: (draped all over Hondo in an odd hug) Sorry, it was just a really tough day and I'm a bit demoralized by the two single speeders who made me feel like it was my first time on a bike.

Hondo: Interesting. Who were these MEN?

Eki: Well, one of them is our training partner, "Big Buff" and the other is the super humble and modest, Trevor Rockwell (who should really have a part time job as a mt. bike riding instructor).

Hondo: You realize this performance will put you up before the review board with Mallory, Crazy Horse and the rest of the DBD.

Eki: Yes, of course as it should, but make no mistake I will rise again. Although I was riding in a demented state, don't change your bet. I'll be back! As I've learned from you Hondo, success ebbs and flows in this endurance game.

Hondo: Yes, Yes! It reminds me of myself when I would do super long pulls at the front watching you dangle this past winter, yet somehow you would come back, only to ridicule the way I train you.

Eki: Thank you for this talk. I did enjoy the time.

Hondo: Now, pull yourself together, you're embarrassing me. Holy crap! There's Charly Tri and "Big Buff", I gotta go.

A special thanks to Hondo for taking the time to do this post race interview. Also, I'd like to acknowledge Charly Tri, who absolutely BLEW UP this course, Jason "Big Buff" Buffington and Trevor Rockwell who both made their single speeds look like they had motors on them.
Ultimately, I was awarded a 3rd place in class (5th overall) with 6 laps of 7 completed. A seventh lap was deemed unnecessary given my current position within the race, not to mention a looming "cut off" time made the decision to stop easy.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Giddee Up, Let's Ride!

Real men!

One thing I knew for sure when I headed out the door for Cable, Wi on Saturday morning was that I would ride. The rest of the day I kept open for what ever came my way, but riding the killer trails of the CAMBA system was paramount.
In addition to riding there was talk of some water skiing and a rodeo. Now, I was all about the water sports and I must admit a bit intrigued by the rodeo. I've been to one rodeo in my life, but I was about 8 at the time so it was hard to fully appreciate the experience.

One handed single track

A group of 5 convened to ride the "Ojibwe" trail near Cable, Wi. The event started with a near miss of a bike getting run over by a mini van. Note to self, "don't lay a bike down next to the car when there is an opportunity for another car to park next to you". With the idea of a squashed Specialized Epic behind us my good friend Zac got suited up in his first pair of bibs and we were ready to ride, albeit after some hysterics around him and the bibs. Zac would later go on to comment several times throughout the ride about how glorious the bibs felt, it started to get weird.

Zac's first bibs

The heat and humidity began to get the best of our group and after completing one "go round" (rodeo speak) all except for this writer decided to head back to the cabin. The trail was just too sweet to leave, I needed one more lap. I'd meet them back at the homestead after I communed with the tasty single track one more time.

Back at headquarters the talk centered on getting to the main event. I watched with mouth agape as my friends stirred about donning sleeveless flannels, cowboy boots, and hats. I felt sort of out of place in my Chacos and Salsa T-shirt, but hey I was never meant to be a cowboy. We packed up several families and headed out to Spooner, Wi for the great "round up".

Now that's a hat!

Now, being without children the notion of road tripping with small kids and hundreds of pounds of gear that applies to them was foreign to me. I found myself standing off to the side watching the finely oiled machine of familydom work. I knew at some point we'd end up watching horses and cattle, I just didn't know when. One thing I learned was that schedules become extremely flexible when there are a bunch of "buckaroos" in tow. It was fine, I had my own "buckaroo" with me, I named him "suds".

Then, it happened, we were in the venue watching the rodeo. I immediately ascertained that if I were forced to be a cowboy in a rodeo I would choose to be a bronc rider, preferably the kind who get to use the saddle. Those "dudes" looked like real athletes and there's no question they spend a great deal of time in the weight room when they're not on the back of an untamed beast. The bull riders just seem insane! They might as well be riding around on top of a throttle stuck Prius with no one behind the wheel. I know for a fact I wouldn't want to be one of the monkeys that had to ride on top of Border Collies that were herding sheep. I felt bad for those little guys, their eyes were bulging out of their little monkey heads. As confusing as that was I found that "suds" helped me understand it more.

Rodeo life shares similarities with racing bikes I figured. These sports both involve a ton of driving, moments of high level excitement, injuries, and at times turns for the super surreal (i.e. monkeys riding dogs).

Ryan and his buckaroo

I want to thank my friends Zac, Ryan, Jill, Don, Theresa, and Eric for making it a great time! I had a blast, see you all on the next "go round".

Monday, July 5, 2010

Big Buff and Eki duke it out in the Underdown

#2 Ready to start

It's safe to say I wasn't mentally prepared for what lay ahead of me at the "Thunderdown in the Underdown" 12 hour mountain bike race (WEMS). I typically try to get myself emotionally ready for what it takes to go through a 12 hour race, but as time has passed and I gain more experience with these races I tend to get more lazy in this department. I went into this race without much thought as to how difficult it could potentially be. Now, I know dear reader, you're thinking to yourself, "they're all hard, bla, bla, bla". You'd be right, they are all hard in their own way, but some just seem to hit you right between the eyes. This would be no exception.

One of my training partners, Jason Buffington, a.k.a. "Big Buff" would be attending this race as well. Thinking back to what he did to me on our last ride, I knew he'd be someone I'd have to contend with at some point during this race. However, I wasn't sure how much I had to worry given the fact that he had elected to do the race on his single speed, fully rigid. "What a fool", I thought. I'd later change that notion to, "What a master bike rider".
Big Buff ready for a little ride (left)

Amy resting up
The "Thunderdown" always gives away a sweet Red Eye Brewing Company jersey to the owner of the fastest lap and I wanted that jersey. I figured I'd go for the jersey right away on this huge 21 mile lap that single track guru Chris Schotz had created. Suffice it to say early on in the race I was riding near my limit and touching the "red zone" several times with an unknown team rider (part of a 4 man team involved in the 12 hour race) and 12 hour solo rider, Justin Lund pushing me to keep the pace high. I just couldn't completely shake these guys! Needless to say I finished the lap first with a time somewhere around 2:11, I hoped it would stand and I cursed myself for giving so much up so early. Fast forward to the end of the race. A kid who looked like he belonged in algebra class who was racing the 3 hour race scored a 2:09 and nabbed the jersey. Oh well, even if he was too young to have a beer at Red Eye at least he'd look good in that jersey.
Leading the race into the 2nd of what I'd calculated out to be a 4 lap race (there wouldn't be enough time to complete 5 laps - one must finish their race before 8:00 p.m.) I was already feeling the course deep in my legs. The first 30-40 minutes of the lap consisted of relentless climbing and it was taking a toll. My spirits lifted when I heard a familiar voice call out from behind, "We should have just went for a ride together in Duluth". It was Buff, he'd caught me and was looking fresh. I must admit I was somewhat demoralized by the way he cracked jokes and searched for small talk while I labored at the smallest of inclines. "Who is this guy? Is he human? Does he get tired? What's in his water bottles?", were questions I repeated over and over. We moved through the sections of the trail and what seemed like different biospheres as the lap was so big for some time before I heard the cyborg cry out, "Oh sh*t, stop!" I grabbed my breaks to see Buff inspecting his back wheel, "Have a good one", he wished me as he announced his predicament of a "burped" rear tire. I assured him I'd ride slow and that we'd see each other again.
Upon the completion of the 2nd lap the heat seemed to be all over me and I couldn't escape myself. I needed to break my cardinal rule and take a break in the pits. Taking a break is a debatable move in a 12 hour race as race director and top notch rider Chris Schotz once told me, "they're just not worth it, they don't do you any good anyway". He's right, but some times you just have to stop so your mind can find some balance. This was one of those times. I took off my helmet and plopped into my lawn chair when Buff pulled in, "I didn't know we took breaks in these races", he said. "This one we do", was my broken reply. Buff would later report that he'd never seen me look so bad. I was only half way through and I was completely wasted, it wasn't looking good or feeling good. Buff pulled away and I let him know that it was "his race to lose". He gave me a quizzical look as I wished him well while he mounted up. I couldn't see myself catching him.
The end of lap 3 saw Big Buff leaving the pits while I was pulling in. Somehow I had reeled him in. Volunteers had given me the information that the two of us were "off the front" and only separated by a couple of minutes. I knew this to be true now. I wrestled with the idea of forgoing my pit stop and taking off with my friend and training partner, but man did I need to take a bit of rest. This course was absolutely eating me alive! I told him I'd be a few minutes behind him as I watched him roll out for his final turn through the Underdown.
Approximately 5 minutes later I swung a leg over 'Big Mama' and asked her for one more, she bucked at the notion, but seemed eager nonetheless. I promised the two of us that I'd walk the tough climbs and I'd take it easy through the super techy sections in order to keep us safe. Riding in a totally calorie deprived state with temps that a northern Minnesota boy should never experience is not a good situation. I ricocheted of trees and plodded along through the trail. I put the miles and the sections behind me and tried to get excited by the pieces of trail that I truly loved, like an area called "Octoberfest". The section named for the celebration that comes with harvest time was a gorgeous plot of forest that reminded me of the area around our hunting cabin. The flow of the trail was perfect and I even enjoyed it's climb, one of the biggest of the whole course. I took time to look around while riding the area as you could see through the hardwoods for great distances due to the lack of underbrush. I may not have been smiling on the outside while riding this piece, but I was on the inside.
I picked my head up off my bars as I started a long slow grind up a grade that lead into "Octoberfest" and it was then that I saw Buff out ahead and looking as if he had a black cloud hanging over him with little lightning strikes shooting down at him. He was hurting and he was hurting bad. "Holy Crap! There he is. I'm still in the fight!" I watched him hang a hard left hander into the meat of the climb. I was rallying now and feeling good. I'd grab his rear wheel as fast as I could and stay quiet on the bike while doing so. I wasn't sure what my presence would do to his spirits and secretly I didn't want to revitalize him. Energy ebbs and flows in 12 hour races and I often refer to it as a light switch going off, then back on at different times. The Underdown had my light switch going like the days of my youth when I'd sit in my room flipping the switch as fast as I could to create a strobe effect. I hoped Big Buff's wouldn't switch back on when he saw me.
I hatched a plan over the course of this 2 minute climb. I'd sit on him to the top of this hill, then move past politely, but swiftly. I would then commence an all or nothing final bid for the win. I quick glance to the gps had me knowing I was 13 miles from the finish. I needed to show Buff that I was feeling good and get him thinking I was prepared to 'pin' the remainder of the lap as hard as I could to win the race. I felt smooth as I entered the single track that marked my favorite section and my spirits soared when I heard my friend call out, "Eki, you look like you're on your first lap!". I kept the gas pedal down hoping it would hold for as long as possible. I needed to put some distance between the two of us.
Soon my shot of adrenaline was all used up and I was scraping the bottom of the barrel again. I focused on keeping "Big Mama" safe and kept glancing over my shoulder only to find trees and the occasional elf or goblin that seemed to be in my peripheral for the last couple of hours - they came to be my friends.
The miles lingered and the minutes seemed to be hours. I had to stop looking at the damn gps, it became the bearer of bad news every time I looked to see if another mile had gone by. Then, without warning my right hamstring shrunk to the size of a golf ball. I winced as the pain coursed through my entire body. I was seven miles from the finish and unable to bend my right leg without total system failure. The situation would not correct itself. As I tried to stretch the maimed muscle the quad on the opposite side of the bone would respond in a similar fashion. "NO!!", I yelled out. I was all done in. I'd be caught and all I had done would be for nothing, somehow I had to keep moving. I had just reached the summit of a section called "Round Top" and I knew I had a nice twisty decent coming up so I kept my right leg locked in a straight fashion unclipped from the pedal and commenced to pedal with just my left leg, all the while hoping the cramps would subside as I forced fluids into my upset stomach. It worked, the hamstring succumbed to my efforts and began to function again as it should. I was back in business!

The author trying to stay on his feet

I was supported by 'team riders' as they passed me on their 2nd laps. It felt good to hear their compliments, but it didn't make the pain go away. It wasn't until I saw Amy standing at the end of a 200 meter logging road with the camera up to her eye that I accepted that it was over and I had done it. I sat up and put my hands in the air to signal to her that I had won the race, not sure if she knew my place or not. At the finish line with race creator and director Chris Schotz holding my bike I heard him respond to Amy after I informed her that I was in trouble and needed help, "It's a big deal!" referring to what I had just been through. After all, he knew just what it took to turn laps in the Underdown.
Thank you Salsa Cycles, my 'Big Mama' continues to perform in top notch fashion and do everything I ask of her. Thank you Big Buff for making this one hell of an adventure and for being the classy competitor you are, as well as a good friend.