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...