Saturday, December 24, 2011

"He" Allows Rare Respite From Training: Back from South Africa


Farrow instructs the winter riding upstart - ME.

The bike that wildly changed my perspective on riding in the winter.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Off The Grid: South Africa

Well, let's just say Rio was interesting. To say I'm utterly confused would be an understatement. I met my coach at the base of Jesus with ropes in hand. I even had some more refined climbing gear in an attempt to impress him with my commitment and readiness for the next challenge. Instead, he scoffed at my efforts and muttered something about my ongoing disappointment and how he "expects more". He cast my ropes aside and produced what appeared some type of costume. Here's the result of my time in Rio. My appearance has changed somewhat due to the makeup, etc. What this has to do with cycling, I guess I'll know at the end of my training...

That's me in full Samba regalia and training.

Next, I met "him", my coach on a red clay runway somewhere in South Africa. I'll admit that I was excited, but nervous as Rio perplexed me. Then, suddenly and without warning a convoy of Black Suburbans pulled up. The first stopped near us and unloaded what appeared to be two primitive bicycles. "YES!" I thought, finally some riding. To my amazement a 93 year old Nelson Mandela emerged from the third vehicle with handlers attending to his every need. He donned a South African national team kit, with a 100 oz. hydration system slung low across his back. "Greetings, you must be Eki", he said with a hand thrust forward. Unsure what to do, I replied, "At your service your Eminence", I gently shook the hand of the formally falsely imprisoned visionary. Mr. Mandela then took a long pull from the hose at his chest, slung a leg over the top tube of what appeared to be a 1941 single speed Hawthorne. A similar bike to Nelson's is pictured here:

He simply said, "LET'S DO THIS THING" and he slowly pedaled toward the sinking sun. I mounted my rig and followed. I now train with Nelson Mandela. What to discuss, heart rates, apartheid...?

More to come...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Off The Grid: Rio De Janeiro

Yes, it's that time of year. My training has commenced and I am at the whims of my coach. Some have described my mentor as a bit of an eccentric, but truth be told, that's what I was looking for when I went through the screening process last year. I was looking for that "out of the box" thinker. Little did I know that I'd see the world in all it's glory while living like a peasant during the Dark Ages. Perplexed by his decision making I plowed forward. I spent long nights in a run down cabin somewhere in the backwoods of I don't remember where. I was even forced to journey across the antarctic seas on a raft. What did any of this have to do with cycling you ask? I still don't know, but I do know that I'm tougher for it. I can also slow my body down to that of a hibernating skunk.

Recently I was contacted by "him" (coach) via courier, actually it was a pigeon with a note tied to it's ankle. I was instructed to get to Rio De Janeiro "NOW". This seemed odd and ill timed. I mean I had just completed a pleasant ride with fellow DBD'er Kershaw and was rejoicing at my fantasy football teams' success. Nonetheless, I know the value of his tutelage, so I kissed my wife and the cats good bye, simply stating, "It's time." I grabbed my pre-packed bag, which I weaved out of reeds I gathered while living in a rice paddy somewhere in Vietnam last training season, and out the door I went. I heard a forelorned "meow" from the cat who loves me the most as I plodded down my street. One solitary tear rolled down my cheek, yet I felt nothing, just like "he" would want...nothing. He has taught me well. Now I enter the next phase. Year number two with "him". 

I have no idea what Rio holds for me, but upon my arrival I noticed a peculiar scene. Whilst I enjoyed a Guarana another pigeon showed itself. "Is this the year of the pigeon for me?", I thought. Then, I noticed this one too had a small note tied to it's ankle. I summoned the bird, it obeyed, offering it's foot to me. The twine unraveled and the bird well into flight I unrolled the note. The scribe simple stated, "Bring ropes to Jesus".

Am I to be climbing Jesus (pronounced "Heysuus")? I'll report back when I can. Until then, think good things for me.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Is it because I CAN'T or because I WON'T?

So, the first COLD day has hit Duluth. The rest have been chilly, but not cold. This morning it was straight up COLD. The temp. read 2, that's it, just 2. The guy on the news told me that there was a 10 to 15 mile an hour wind coming out of the west, which put the wind chill at about minus 15 - 20. Now, my coach, which is ME, has me commuting the long way today. The "long way" involves about 13 miles directly west, with about 13 more going back the way I came. I'm no mathematician, but a 15 mile an hour head wind combined with me traveling at about 14-16 mph puts the wind chill at about a million below.

My golden rule is that any temp below 5 degrees makes riding outside not worth it. I bailed and rode the short way into work and now I'm wrought with guilt. I feel weak. I'm contemplating selling all my gear, I'm not worthy of it. How do I overcome this? Help me...

Monday, November 28, 2011

6 Degrees Away from a Really BAD Day

In an ongoing effort to get Hondo all trained up for the Arrowhead 135 I am sometimes obligated to ride my bicycle in adverse conditions. This past Saturday would be one of those days. In an act of full disclosure I will even add that I left my partner a message on his fancy land line phone requesting that we postpone the effort for the following day's weather appeared to be much more favorable. In reality it was a test of the DBD code and Hondo passed. He ignored my message and showed up at the designated meeting place. The morning was dark, cold and a light mist was already laying heavy on our surroundings. Our initial salutations included stories of Hondo's short commute to the secret location. It seems that in a mere 4 miles he had one flat and an interview with a Police Officer.  I shrugged off his stories as the lies of a simple man. He went on to mock my "rain gear", stating that he didn't need rain gear and that I looked like a highway worker. Humiliated, I suggested we commence with the training.

A volley of insults behind us we began to get to the business at hand. Our route had us entering the pristine lands of Wisconsin. Sands raft we were forced to travel across the formidable BONG bridge. A monstrosity of sorts, this engineering feat of mankind sits high above the St. Louis river and receives countless blows from the great Gitchie Gummee. We gave each other concerned glances as we rose from our saddles upon entering the pedestrian passage that would lead to Wisconsin. Soon we were forced into our drops as the hurricane winds and sleet battered us, threatening to pick us and our little pedal bikes up and over the side. Not one for heights I dared to steal a glance to the waters below, unsettling to say the least. I've looked Mother Nature in the eye before, but never high upon a man made structure exposed to winds that had hundreds of miles of unimpeded momentum behind them, a knot formed in my bowels.

Snaking our way through the industrial hamlet of Superior, Wisconsin we finally found our gravel. This corridor/snowmobile highway would serve as our "out and back". Immediately, Hondo elected to ride on the hard packed side of the path forcing me to toil in the loose sand. So goes the bonds of friendship formed in the light of the DBD.

The steady drizzle turned to a steady rain, which evolved into a hard driving weather "event". It seemed that the rain drops had some weight to them, as if they were turning that corner, wanting to become frozen b.b.'s.

Our return through Superior was concerning as things were now flat out stormy. I noted the performance of my new "mud flap" and how the water was pouring off it. I called out to Hondo, "check out my mud flap, do you wish you had fenders right now? Do you wish you had rain gear?". I only heard a faint muttering from behind me. "My God, he's got to be soaked to the bone by now, how is he doing this?" Passing by a bank a temperature reading notified us of our current state, 37 degrees. It was at this point that I turned to my training partner and flatly stated, "You're about 6 degrees away from a really bad day."

We went on to ponder the reality of our existence. 6 degrees Fahrenheit separated us from a very dangerous situation. Was this "living on the edge", was it "adventure", some would say it was "stupidity". We called it "FUN".

Hondo died a little on this day, but I'm pretty sure he's got enough life left in him for all of us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Let's Face It, Winter's HERE!

This project has been in my stand for too long, but I think it's finally where it needs to be, coming out of the stand. Winter is all over Duluth and I'm fighting off the blues that usually come with it. I plan to do plenty of snow boarding and I'm already workin' out in ways that don't have anything to do with the bike. Yes, I'M SORE!

In an effort to make my life easier I've decided to do some major "mods" to my winter commuter/long distance training bike. I threw a 39/16 on it, yet I'm not sure if it will stay, depends on how I'm handling Duluth's hills.

This year has not been the "year of the monkey" or the "year of the dog", or even the "cat", but for me it's been the "year of the wheel". I have had so many mishaps involving wheels this year that I should be covered for the rest of my life now. My boys from the Slender Fungus, Ari and Jay know what I'm talking about here. Anyway, this beater wheel pictured above is no different. Sadly, it's dying. It sounds like there are small pebbles inside the hub instead of bearings. If I get through this winter on this wheel I'm going to mount this sucker on my wall. I just hope it doesn't decide to go for the big dirt nap when I'm 80 miles from home and dealing with a zero degree day. Knock on wood for me please.

So, I'm going through a phase of being sick of stuff that's created for our winter by people who live in say, California. What I mean is why can't the fender people make a fender that is really a FENDER. I modified mine, big time. That's my car floor mat hanging behind my front wheel. The road gunk will not be on my drive train, I can assure you of that.

Check out the killer Wood Chippers. You can't really see the flare on these babies from this picture, but trust me it's there. I did a little mod to these too, trimming an inch off the ends, just to tidy them up a bit. Oh, and those are studs on that front tire, gotta have 'em!

This last shot is just a beefy SRAM single speed specific chain to get you thinking. Enjoy your winter commutes and do yourself a favor, modify your fender, because you know it really doesn't work like they say it will.

Soon, I'll be coming to you from a different location. I've been contacted by my personal trainer and he wants to get it going soon. I'm heading to my doctor to get my shots now.

Take care....

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Eki's Super Mini Camp - Beer Included!

Hey, next year I might throw this out as a scheduled mini camp and invite EVERYONE. The idea makes no sense, yet if you take a step back it makes all the sense in the world. Here's the concept...A one day, two session ride in the Chequamegon National Forest. Objectives include riding slow, drinking some beers (provided by ME), eating a huge lunch, then a couple more beers preferably in a gravel parking lot while examining the minutia of mountain bike rigs that are present, then ride slowly again. Oh, the most important objective, HAVE A BLAST!
Zach carves up some sweet single track.

The inaugural Eki Super Mini Camp was located in Cable, Wisconsin, the heart of some of the Midwest's premiere mountain bike trails. I was traveling and riding with my good buddy Zach and slated to meet Salsa design engineer, Tim Krueger. However, due to countless delays directly related to the "Zach Factor" we were put way off schedule and unable to meet up with Tornado Tim, despite about 25 failed attempts to contact each other via fancy cell phones.
The "Zach Factor" and we wait...

No worries! We would ride, have a few of the beers I mentioned, and ride some more. The day was, crisp, and bright blue. We were lovin' it! I vowed to document the day with photos, but proved to be an extreme amateur with action shots. Ultimately, I decided that I was wasting valuable riding time trying to get the perfect shot, not to mention risking life and limb riding tricky single track one handed, while taking pictures.
Lunch at the Seely "Sawmill"

The good moods flowed, so did the laughs. The Summit Brewing Company is directly responsible for poor decision making on my part as I entered a section of trail called "Wall Street" on the Rock Lake Trail (see Tim Krueger's account of this day as he rode on without us, as he just couldn't wait for our endless delays - I can't blame him). Fueled by an Octoberfest blend I paused briefly to scan "Wall Street", quickly surmised, "No Problem" and dropped in. Lightly concerned that I was having a spot of trouble clipping in my left foot and an apparent boulder field was coming more and more into focus at the bottom of the gully. I surfed my hard sole cycling shoe around the pedal waiting for it to find it's home with the familiar SNAP, but it wouldn't come. "C'mon, c'mon, where are you?", I thought as I fished for the egg beater. "UH OH!", was the next thought when I completely lost the pedal and began the "rudder effect" with my left leg as it dragged behind me somehow attempting to help steer the bike. The seat was popping me in the throat while the rear wheel was buzzing my crotch - not good! Now, being this stretched out made it hard to reach my break levers, in fact I couldn't reach them at all. I began to accelerate into the boulders ahead. "This is going really poorly" I thought, then I saw my front wheel fall perfectly into a slot made for a 29'er and in one twisting, sickening motion I was flung from the bike and into the rocks. A nano- second of an image was burned into my brain, the sight of my front wheel folding up like a tin can.
Random ride and shoot pic.

I collected myself and the Spearfish, reversed the handle bars back to the direction they are supposed to face and pushed the machine up the other side of the gully. Apparently dazed from the fall I looked over the scene I just passed through and saw a hazy Zach running toward me yelling/asking if I was o.k., but in an echo type voice - so weird. Inexplicably, I removed the front wheel from my rig, raised it over my head, and slammed it down on the ground in a hard fast motion. The singing wallop rang through the hard woods and seemed to play on like a guitar player holding a note. I gave the wheel a spin and couldn't believe that it had boinged back into something that looked like a wheel. I put it back in the bike, looked at Zach and said, "Let's try to get out a here without this thing folding up". He simply replied, "I can't believe you did that".
Mmm, mmm, Good!

I limped out of the trail and back to the car with one super wobbly, sketched out wheel, that my favorite mechanic ended up pronouncing DEAD the next day - so sad (and spendy).

Nevertheless, it's all part of the risky game we play in the woods and if you can't laugh at it, you shouldn't be doin' it. We clinked a couple more bottles, changed clothes, dumped the gear in the car and enjoyed the setting sun.

Now, that's what I call a mini camp. See you next year???? You're invited.


Friday, November 4, 2011

WANTED: Fat Stacks for Fat Wheels

Fat Stacks

(so I can purchase)
Surly Rolling Darryl Rim w/ Cutouts
Fat Wheels

This FRAME for sale

2010 Salsa Chili Con Crosso
(55 cm)
$500. (will negotiate)
email me:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Dirt Bag Finishes off the Season: I Didn't Blow it Up, I Kinda Went Out with a Poof.

Kershaw makes final preps while Eki's gravel grinder looks on.

My final race of the season, The Dirt Bag. Seems fitting after all I've gone through this year on a bike. A season race re-cap coming soon, complete with near drownings, crashes, vacations, and a whole lot of weeping (smiles too!).

Much like the closing miles of a race, the mind seems to let go allowing the body to succumb to the exhaustion and pain. My mind had let go and the fire that burned inside like a power plant was now an ember as I mentally shifted to winter riding, training, and a different look at the bike and what it can do for me. Somehow I'd have to "get up" for this one, but the sub freezing temps weren't helping the matter, neither was getting up at 4:30 a.m. Nevertheless, the DBD would be there. Kershaw picked me up, while Farrow traveled alone sorting out the details of his life (i.e. dog management).

A misfiring hub, a sore foot, and dead legs were on my mind. Not one for excuses, I shoved these issues to the back of my mind. I focused on my theory to gravel road racing and told myself that I owed it to myself to stay true to a strategy I hold fast in every event, the likes of which I cannot divulge here. Catch me in the bar and I'll tell you all about it, if you're interested.

Jim Bell, eh.... I mean Superman, exchanged pleasantries with me while we adjusted our gear. He question whether I'd be bringin' all I had in this race. I desperately tried to convey to him that I didn't want him to bring all he had, I knew it was not to be as this was his home town race. I let him know that I'd sit back if he would. He laughed and said that he doubted I'd be taking any bit of this thing easy. In my mind it felt like I was in an alley with rival gang asking them if they really wanted to fight and hearing them say "Yeah, don't you?" My only response, "Yeah, I guess so, but kind of not really, only if you want to...God, I'm going to be into it BIG TIME very shortly." Hey, racin' is racin'.

I'm going to hit the highlights of this race as the majority of it involved me riding down a gravel road and sometimes a tar road. At about the 5 mile mark Ted Loosen rode next to me and warned me of a huge sand pit that would be coming shortly. He also acknowledged my effort in this year's Heck of the North on the front of the race. He encouraged me to "sit in" on this day, I'd earned it. A classy guy, this Loosen fellow.

The sand pit came and carnage ensued. Guys were spilling all over the place. I went from 22 mph to 2 mph in about 2 seconds. Stuck in a 50 x 14 gear I couldn't shift as there was too much strain on my chain. I laughed to myself as I slowed to a track stand, just ridiculous. My good friend Ryan Horkey launched over his handle bars, another guy ate it right in front of me leaving me hoping he was o.k. It was nuts! Meanwhile, the St. Cloud boys ripped through it like they practice that section, maybe they do. Needless to say a monster gap formed and I had some work to do. Clear of the sand, I went to the drops and into the red zone. 15 minutes later and I was hooked on with the help of two others. Back in the lead group which was about 15-20 guys strong I felt comfortable, but knew there'd be more attacks, but when?

40 miles into an 85 mile road race...I mean gravel race and I noticed Jim Bell gathering his posse around him. Something was afoot. Suddenly, we hit a crazy wash board section of road. I could have sworn my bike was coming apart underneath me. Concerned that I'd lose a bottle over the rough road I kept checking and re-checking the bottle. Somehow the St. Cloud boys and a few others flew through the wash boards and a gap formed. This time they became highly organized. I could see them rotating fast and fluid about 40 meters ahead of me. I put my head down and went after them, but 10 men, some of them on carbon fiber road bikes, with road tires, and carbon wheels, all working together was tough to catch alone. Soon, I was caught by a fast moving Brandon Manske (winner of this year's Ragnarok). I jumped on his wheel and we began working well together. I felt the lead group coming back to us. Then, Brandon announced he had a flat. I was alone again. I chased as hard as I could for about 30 more minutes and counted the seconds between them and myself to see if I was gaining. 27 seconds, turned into 35, 35 turned into... It was too much for one guy. I decided I needed to sit up and ratchet things back or I'd be taking a break on the side of the road soon.

A lone rider appeared from behind and I began to think two is better than one. I held up for him and I was glad I did. He asked if I was lonely ridin' all by myself. We introduced ourselves and traveled side by side recovering from our respective chases. Matt (from St. Cloud) knew the boys up the road and he assured me they would not be caught, I agreed. I silently rooted for my buddy Ryan Horkey who did make the break. "Hang in there Ryan, you can do it!", I said to myself.

Time passed and it seemed that Matt and I were content to talk and almost forget that we were in a race until a group of riders appeared on a hill top behind us. I let my partner know that we had riders approaching. I heard them come to my wheel a few minutes later and noticed Hondo (Farrow) among them. He was driving hard and clearly still racing. Matt and I jumped on and the fire somehow was re-lit. My dead legs came back to life as I seemed inspired by this group's intensity. Jeremy Fry, a friend from Trans Iowa gave me a "Hi Eki" as he rotated through. "This is a good group", I thought as I committed to sticking with them and at times helping them. I knew I'd finish in this chasing group. 

1 1/2 miles from the finish, a twitchy Jeremy Fry attacked and got a nice gap. Concerned that this gap could stick I decided to go with him. If anything I figured it would be worth it to try to put a little sting into the rest of the guys' legs. We were soon gathered by the rest and together again. We rolled through the residential streets unfamiliar with where the finish was or how it would look. I told myself that I would attack the group with 2 blocks to go, but I still needed to identify a right hand turn that was ahead somewhere. I didn't want to be at max effort and miss the turn. As I tried to work it all out in my head one of our crew announced that the turn was right there. "Shit!", I wasn't ready for it that quickly. Another in our group had the inside line on the turn and he jumped it quickly. I responded going around a few others giving chase. Surprise, the closing 500 feet were up a steep hill and definitely had me stuck in too hard of a gear. Unable to turn the cranks over at the rate they needed to be I could not overtake him, finishing a bike length behind, 2nd in our group. 

As it turns out Ryan who I was pulling for earlier was popped off the front group not long after I initially lost contact. He was forced to ride alone for some 35 miles to the finish, but did not allow himself to be caught, finishing about a minute ahead of my group in 10th place! I came in 12th position, in 4:33, which is clippin' along pretty good for a gravel race. I'll take it!

I'm glad to start the season of rest, fun riding with no immediate goals, then training for big things next season.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm About to be a Dirt Bag

 One more race to go! Funny how it always comes back to the gravel. I start the season on the gravel, I end the season on the gravel. Wait! I'm a mountain biker, right? Is it o.k. to be a gravel grinder and a mountain biker? Can I have a split personality? I guess so. Hell, so many race a lot more disciplines than I do and they do just fine. Maybe the question is can I love both the gravel and the trail equally or do I proclaim my true love for just one? Ohhh, if the bikes could talk. For now, I'll just take it as it is and sort it out in the off season. To sum it all up, mountain biking plasters a smile on my face, while racing on the gravel wakes up a demon inside of me. That's good...right?

Check out the Dirt Bag if you get a chance, should be fun.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thoughts of a Broken Man - A letter to a friend...

Dearest Farrow,
Here are are a few of the things that went through my head that I didn't say to you while on our latest ride:
-Seriously, what is with this guy? Is the whole ride going to be like this? (referencing the pace).
-Would it be possible to just, maybe back off the pace a bit?
-I have fallen way out of shape.
-My foot is killing me. Can Buff help me with this, or will he just laugh?
-Do I ask for a morsel of food or will he perceive that as weak? I'm bonking hard core!
-There's no doubt in my mind that I am going to have to get off and push. Try to limit the embarrassment, come up with a reason. (Climbing old Piedmont toward my house).
-My God, he still has like 8 miles to go to get to his house. I don't think I could do it, so glad I'm almost home.
-How many people will he tell that he had to buy me a salted nut roll in order to get me home?
-Should I bring up how many miles I've raced this year? No, that's so lame. Don't make excuses for why you suck so bad.

Oh, the shame...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Exclusive Interview with Jeremy Kershaw - Director of "The Heck of the North"

The "Heck of the North" is quickly rising to the ranks of a premiere gravel road race event in the Midwest. I recently was in touch with my good friend, training partner, and director of the event for a glimpse into what makes the "Heck" so special. I know the race wiggled it's way into my psyche and definitely broke me down to my most animalistic form as I scratched and clawed my way toward the finish.

Please take a moment for a sneak peek into what makes this race so great, from the best seat in the house.

Is it possible to be a director and fan at your own race? In other words, do you find yourself getting caught up in the action or are you completely neutral?

No, I am completely caught up in who is out front, who is making their first go at a gravel century, who has had bad luck. Part of the reason I borrowed a scooter this year was to witness the ride as it was happening...not just checking people in at the halfway and finish line. Seeing all the riders lined up in the parking lot before the start and then seeing the lead pack out on the course are two visual highlights of my year.

Has the "Heck" materialized into the vision you originally had?

Every one of the gravel events that I have ridden has unique feel. I was awe struck by the bluffs of the Ragnarok, and the wind-swept views of the Almanzo. I wanted to showcase the beautiful countryside of the Duluth area. I wanted riders to see the Big Lake, the woods and the pastures carved out of the wild. My intention of the Heck was to put a course together that created a lasting effect on the rider. I want the person who witnesses the route to think about it on their way home to where ever they live. So, yes, I think people seem to like the event, and that gives me a lot of pleasure.

What do you find to be the most satisfying part of being the race director?

I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility for the riders. I really enjoy meeting riders the night before during registration. Again, on the morning of the event, it is almost like Christmas seeing the parking lot fill up with cars and bikes and riders getting ready to roll out. I find it both odd and lucky that I was able to create an event (with the inspiration of other events) that has drawn so many wonderful people together. That is very satisfying.

If you could have one wish come true that would make the "Heck" even better, what would it be?

Actually, I would really like to see an increase in the number of female riders. I know there are some very talented female athletes in the Midwest, and I would love to draw them into this beautiful sport. Sometimes I think it would be cool to have a pro level rider do it...and then I think that might actually take something away. The great stories come from non-racing folks just trying to make it around the loop in one piece.

I know you're a strong athlete in your own right. Do you ever think about competing in your own race?

I think the first year I contemplated doing it. Then, as the start date drew near, I realized there was no way I could, or even wanted to ride it. I have plenty of other opportunities to test myself throughout the year. Riding the Heck would take away from the big picture that I so enjoy getting by spectating and managing it.

Were you surprised by the depth of talent at this year's race?

Yes. All of a sudden I had some of the regions most talented athletes wanting to ride the Heck. It made me feel proud that they wanted to take part in this thing that is very different than a lot of the other events they do. At the same time, I never want to take away from the majority of riders who are not racing any one other than themselves.

When do you actually exhale or can't you?

My anxiety level drops a hair after I get the riders out of the lot and onto the gravel. From there, they are on their own. I have now a fairly high level of trust in my cue sheets, so I am pretty confident that if a rider is paying attention, they won't get lost. By the time I finally get to Buffington's, finish my first home brew, and take in the stories of the day...that is when I feel like I can get a good night's rest again.

Let's face it, you're an excellent photographer. You captured some killer images during and at the conclusion of this year's Trans Iowa. Do you ever wish you could take off your director's hat and just shoot the event?

Thanks! It is something that I am actively trying to do...capture images from these very dramatic cycling events. This year, my intention was to shoot much more than I did. But alas, my borrowed two-wheeled transportation didn't have a very good day! We DNF''d. I am hoping to shoot the Heck more next year. As I have mentioned, it is tough to have both mindsets going at one time...part making sure the event flows OK and part trying to keep a creative eye, looking for good light. I love cycling photography and I see an untapped source of images living within these long, gravel events. My hope is to capture a few from both the perspective of participant and spectator.

Some people talk about that "extra something" that is found in special races. It seemed to me that there was a lot of talk at the post race party indicating that the "Heck" has it. If so, what do you think it is about the race that gets inside people.

I'm not entirely sure. If the Heck does get so lucky to inspire riders and leave a may come from a mix of the country they are riding through, the uncluttered, unsanctioned framework of the event itself. Maybe it is because the Heck is purely about the love of cycling and competition. Nothing more. I truly think it is a great group of people that get together for the Heck. I sense that it is competitive but somehow manages to stay friendly. I never want to lose that feeling for those that ride it.

"Heck of the North", 4 words. Can you describe the race in 4 words?

Simple. Organic. Challenging. Sustainable. I hate questions like that! I sound like a Whole Foods ad. But that's pretty close.

There you have it. We'll see you next year Jeremy. Thanks for giving us this gift.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The 'Heck of the North' Finds Herself - Wins Hearts

Jeremy Kershaw sends out final instructions

It's been my experience that the great gravel road races seem to have a feel all their own. The Trans Iowa has it's haunting mystery, The Dirty Kanza, it's breath taking views, and the Ragnarok's stunning bluffs. These are just a few examples of how races become known for something that their director's never really set out to establish. The young "Heck of the North" would be no different. Just in it's infancy, the "Heck" as it is known struggled to find it's own identity. Jeremy Kershaw, the race director (DBD member) neverously tweaked the details of the race almost as if he was looking for that certain something, yet not sure what it was. I often wondered what Kershaw wanted the "Heck" to be, as he seemed to force feed his young child. I was just a competitor in his game so I vowed to roll with whatever direction he pushed his young upstart. Maybe some where deep down I knew that it wouldn't be Kershaw who found the "Heck's" identity, but rather the race itself. Year number three for the race would do just that. Like a small child who's personality begins to shine through the race began to squirm out of it's cocoon and leave it's mark on all who would toe the line as well as spectate. It is my hope to convey the emerging personality of the "Heck" in the words that follow. The race as experienced through the eyes of one of it's competitors, who was truly touched by it's big warm embrace.

A snappingly crisp morning had all the riders confused by what to wear as temps were expected to sore from 31-61 degrees F throughout the day. I wanted/needed to go light in order to stay competitive with the likes of this field. Some of the best gravel riders, mountain bikers, and road riders in the state of Minnesota would be attending this race. The field was extremely deep, with what a fellow DBD member, Charlie Farrow, claimed could be any one of twenty who were capable of winning this thing. To say that I needed every advantage was an under statement. I resigned to start the race cold and accepted that I'd finish hot. So goes fall racing in northern Minnesota. 112 riders left a little known parking lot that marks the start of the North Shore snow mobile trail at about 8:10 a.m. with Kershaw buzzing ahead on a super cool little moter scooter. I coughed up his exhaust as I stayed at the front end of the field, too nervous to even settle back into the pack during the roll out. Eventually, Kershaw pulled off and set us free. He glanced in my direction with a look that he might have if he was sending his daugher out to her first day of school, or was he telling me to be good to her, meaning the "Heck" (his baby). Maybe he was looking my way to let me know that he was pulling for me. All these thoughts ran through my mind as I inched up to the pointy end of the race. A simple email the day before the race from him let me know what he couldn't let every one know, he was rooting for me. It meant a lot and I wanted him to be proud. The "Heck" was in my hands now and I wanted to take good care of her for him. She was also in the capable hands of two other DBD'ers, Big Buff and Charlie Farrow. Big Buff had let me know that he'd shelter me under his big draft and watch out for me at the front of the field, keeping me safe from harm. Farrow too acknowledged that we were all in this thing together, but Charlie was aware that he posessed late season horse power that he wanted to test. I knew he had it as did Big Buff, I'd be content to ride in their shadow for as long as I could.
Joe Meiser and Tim Ek ready to start.

I had the pleasure of hosting fellow Salsa teammate, Joe Meiser at my house the night before. Joe needed a place to stay and our door is always open for him. Joe and I hit it off the first time we met on the dusty gravel of 2009 Trans Iowa. Ever since that day the two of us seem to come together like magnets in races. I'm not sure why, but it seems clear that we understand how each other thinks when were on those bikes. Our like mindedness has proven itself time and time again, this day would be no different. As the race unfolded Joe and I began to do our best to control it the best that we could. Knowing glances, anticipated surges, and fast rotations would become the name of our game as we would attempt to "one, two" our competitors with jab after jab. However, like a heavy weight fighter, they just wouldn't succomb. We'd fight on and on...

I used to wonder if the "Heck" struggled to find her legs, because she was so flat. The terrain didn't seem to dictate the physcial well being of the racers. Large groups of racers could stick together for huge lengths of time which often frustrated the front runners. In other words, it was a course where attacks resulted in little damage other than spent energy from the front of the field. This factor changes the approach of the riders who are trying to control the race, as experience has taught them that the beauty of the draft will allow many a rider to stay in the "hunt". Therefore, the only way to blow up the field is in the trail sections. There are three off road sections in the race. Veterans of the "Heck" know that this is where things will and must go sky high if there is any hope to seperate the group and create a fast moving break away.

Please don't think for a second that there weren't attempts to shatter the hugh peloton that rolled through the country roads north of Duluth. At one point I was riding comfortably in about 4th position when I felt the presence of a fast moving rider approaching on my left. A small little double whistle only audible to me came to my ear. I knew it was Joe and he was telling me to get out of line and grab his wheel. Immediately, I peeled out of the pace line and jumped on his wheel. My heart rate sky rocketed as he and I moved into a fast rotation followed by two other riders. A tiny gap began to form, but not for long as the peloton simply strung out into single file and reeled us back in. I knew it had to happen in the trail, it just had to.

L-R:  Joe Meiser, Tim Ek, Jason Buffington (Big Buff) make final preps.
The "Brimson Connector" as it is known to the locals was the first trail. It is notorious for holding a huge swamp about a quarter of the way through, but after the swamp it's pretty smooth mountain bike riding from there to the next piece of gravel. I knew exactly where the hidden little entrance to the trail was and got into it in 1st position. Soon a very skilled Shawn Miller blew past me followed by Meiser. My extra inflated tires skipped and bounced over the rocks as I barely held onto control. I felt something large hit my leg, only to notice a much valued water bottle being ejected from the cage. I couldn't worry about being down a bottle at that moment, but it was a large concern as I only had just enough for 100 miles, now I'd be short 25 oz. The effort had me dizzy as I struggled to keep Shawn and Joe in my sights. Then, suddenly Shawn jumped head long into the swamp while carrying his bike with Joe right behind him. Shawn seemed to hiccup a bit as the mud grabbed him, but he was through it quickly and mounting back up. I jumped in without hesitation, my bike in my right hand and the front wheel slamming into Joe's back as he struggled to remove his left leg from the swamp's grasp. I too was in it's icy grip. Two men in Salsa kits struggled to not be swallowed whole by the Brimson swamp. We were up to our crotches in the stinky black bog. I recall curlying my toes in an effort to not lose my shoe as I reclaimed my leg. After what seemed like minutes, but was most likely 10 seconds we were clipping in and on our way. "GO EKI!!" from behind me. It was Farrow he was still behind me and right on my wheel. I felt inspired knowing my training partner was still with me. Unfortunately, Big Buff went down with a flat at about the 15 mile mark, it was just Charlie and I left of the DBD'ers. We cleaned the section in about 5th and 6th position, perfect! We were both up into our big rings and moving quickly in an attempt to become part of the break away. Suddenly, and without warning I spotted a huge pot hole that showed itself under the bike in front of me. Quickly, I lifted my machine and cleared the hole through mid air. In an instant I heard the clash of chain on stays and the hard hit of a rim bottoming out. The blast of a tube was deafening as air blew from the maimed tire. "Who was it?", I thought, "Not Charlie!". I asked the rider near me what happened, "Farrow flatted" was all he said. I felt Charlie say to me, "It's in your hands now Eki". I felt bad, because he was riding so strong and right up at the business end of the race. He would have had the result he wanted, I'm sure of it. I told the rider next to me that I was the last man standing. I'm not sure who this rider was, but he knew of the DBD. He simply said, "Yeah, there's only one of you now". The coldness of the remark inspired me. I rode straight to the Salsa jersey in front of me. Joe and I would now stay on the front as much as possible in an attempt to stay out of danger and control the pace if we could. There were other staples at the front as well. Shawn Miller, Rhett Bonner, Jim Bell (the strongest rider in the field without question), Matt Ryan, and a few others would most certainly rotate in. There were two more trail sections, which meant two more sky high efforts ahead. I began to wonder how many times I could go that hard.

The second and longest trail went off without incident. It was long steady slog at maximum effort, but I was able to keep Joe in my sights while he lead the train through the trail. It seemed I was comfortably going as hard as I possibly could, if that makes any kind of sense. Shortly after this trail the strong Jim Bell went to the front and began to lift the pace, but something was amiss. I didn't want to chase his wheel and neither did any one else. So, there we all sat watching him ride away. A few riders flatly stated, "let him go", "I'm not chasing him anymore", I even chimed in, "I can't chase him, it takes too much energy". We were all racing for 2nd now as he disappeared from our sight. However, it was still early, we had just crossed the halfway check point. If he could hold that solo break away to the end, then he most certainly deserved the win, but there'd be a head wind and he had no help. He was "all in".
Tim Ek tops out the Pleasant View climb.

The dolldrums of the race snuck up on me and I began to feel extremely tired. A glance at my gps had me at 65 miles in. I reviewed how much time I had spent at the front and I was mad at myself for doing it. I wondered if I'd be able to survive the attacks that I knew were coming. I went to the back of the group to eat and collect my thoughts. The always strong Ross Fraboni joined me. He was nursing an earlier injury and wasn't expecting much from his day and had resolved to hold on for as long as he could. He commented about my efforts at the front and offered me his extra bottle knowing I was short. I thanked him, but shook off his offer as Joe had already forfeited one to me. I continued to wallow at the back of the twenty man pack as we rolled over my favorite training road, the Fox Farm. I thought back to days of laughing and riding along through this stretch with Big Buff and Hondo (Charlie), but it sure didn't feel that way this time. I needed to recover, and fast!

If a guy holds any chance to win the race he MUST get through the Moose Mile in a top position and unscathed. The Moose Mile is the final off road section and the roughest. There are a lot of long sections where the rider is forced to carry the bike and run. The riding is picky and tricky. Hidden rocks and roots had talented racers rolling in the bushes every 10 feet. Meiser and I moved through in 1st and 2nd position, with one of the best mt. bikers I know, Todd McFadden on my wheel in 3rd. A couple twisted ankles, slips and falls later and we were clear of the trail and starting our descent toward Lake Superior. I was still in the front and the group was being chiseled down. The "Mile" had torn a handful of riders out of the group, there were now 13 of us begining the Lester Park Rd descent, a four mile drop to the big lake. Earlier strategizing had told me that if I was still in the lead group at this point that I had an honest chance at winning the thing. I was there and I would implement my plan.

Completely done in!

I expected attacks on this stretch, but none came. In fact, the group had a hard time organizing and my sense was that the guys were pretty tired, I knew I was. I was beat! Under 10 miles to go in this race with the last 4 being uphill had me wondering about this full water bottle of Joe's that I was carrying. I wouldn't need it, so I began to spray it out on the road. "NO EKI!", McFadden yelled. Then came one of the coolest moments of the day. I held the bottle in the air as Todd rode to me. He took it from me, proceeded to take a long pull, then pass it on. Our little band of 13 all got a sip from that bottle before it was empty, our last act of compassion toward each other. The battle was about to begin.

Joe Meiser shortly after finishing.
I attacked hard and fast on a down hill section gaining about 200 yards on the rest of the boys. A glance over my shoulder showed me that they weren't interested. "Holy crap, are they letting me go?!". I figured if I could get to the bottom of 7 Bridges Rd. alone, then maybe there'd be a chance I could sneak up that big climb alone and in for the win. The group decided that the entertainment of watching me ride alone in front was over and they reeled me in without concern. Humbled, I continued to stay at the front for the long climb. I lead the group up and into the Amity Trail. Amity is the equivalent of a good conditioned two track. No real technical skills are needed here, but you are riding in the woods. The final sections of the race consisted of Amity, a 1/2 mile tar section, then the headwall climb of Pleasant View Rd. to the finish. My dream of glory would have to happen here. About a 1/4 of the way through the trail I attacked forcing a split in the group. Joe Meiser, Matt Ryan, Todd McFadden, and Ted Loosen came with me leaving other strong riders to make up the chase group. McFadden grabbed my wheel and instantly attacked me back. Loosen, Ryan, and Meiser went with him, I didn't. I had nothing left to give. I was riding at maximum effort and I desperately tried for more, but it wouldn't come. I was stuck between groups and running scared. Nothing seemed to change and time moved in slow motion as I approached the Pleasant View climb. The proportions of this hill are such that getting off and pushing the bike is a reality. However, I held my spot, struggling up the pitch and rolled in for 5th place overall, with my good friend Joe in front of me for 4th. Fellow Duluthian Todd McFadden finished 2nd giving every thing he had to chase down a fast climbing Ted Loosen. Also from Duluth, Shawn Miller came in after me (6th) impressing me with his effort throughout the entire day as did Matt Ryan (3rd).
Joe and Tim go 4th and 5th.

My training buddies Big Buff and Hondo, never gave up the fight, but their's was of a different nature. They battled mechanicals and wind, alone to their own thoughts and devices. Sometimes that fight is the worst of them all.

3 of the 4 Duluth DBD'ers at Big Buff's post race party.
L-R:  Tim Ek, Jeremy Kershaw, Jason Buffington

The finish line parking lot was buzzing with excitement from riders and their families. I took it all in and realized that the "Heck of the North" was on the gravel racing map with a personality all it's own. What that personality is? You'll have to come up and ride the race to find out. When you're done, you'll know.

Thanks Jeremy, thanks.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Chequamegon Fat Tire 40 - Jorge and I Go It Alone

Topping out the Fire Tower climb.
Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival 40 (Photo - Skinnyski)

Another Chequamegon 40 is in the books and the long and short of it is this. The race is flat out fast!! Some would say this is a road race on mountain bikes, it pretty much is. There is no single track, a lot of dirt road sections, open 4 wheeler type roads, and grassy cross country ski trails with a little ribbon of hard packed trail in the middle. To say that I long for a preferred start in this race is an under statement. To have a preferred start is like being handed a golden ticket to a fast finish. The opportunities that starting up front gives a rider in this race are of great value. Yet, to earn this coveted advantage one must have a phenomenal performance from the back of the field in order to even be considered by the committee for the following year, that is if you even get into the race via the lottery system.

So, with all that stuff being said about the preferred start I started in the back - way back. I vowed to pin the start as hard as I could in order to climb up into the leading groups, but this is much easier said than done. There are approximately 1,900 riders in this race and weaving in and out of riders in order to get as close to the front 100 as possible is very difficult and sucks up a lot of energy. In fact, I glanced down at my gps at 57 minutes into the race and I had not ridden in the "hard" part of the trail once. I was forced to ride in the soft grass of the ski trail attempting to pass slower riders. I told myself, "if it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger". After all, I only have one way to earn the preferred start and that's to just bear down and make it happen. I wanted to jump into fast moving groups hoping for some respite in their draft, but only found a few minutes of comfort before I felt it necessary to push on from the group and go it alone. This pattern repeated itself over and over and I found the miles ticking by.

"Going it alone" became the theme of the day. I was always surrounded by riders, but felt no kinship to them as established groups were hard to come by. However, I wasn't completely alone. I had set my gps to race the little man who lives inside that I've named Jorge. Jorge has made an appearance on my blog before and now he's back. Jorge was set to race a 2:30 Chequamegon and it was my job to beat him. I became consumed with racing Jorge. He's a fast little guy and the hills just don't seem to bother him. He goes the same speed all the time. We yo-yo'd back and forth the whole day, but I never let him get too far ahead.

Finally, with 4 miles to go I noticed that my portion of the gps that represents me was black. Black meant I was behind Jorge. Not good! I squinted hard at the fine print to find that he was .2 miles ahead of me. Not to worry, I had a couple miles of downhill gravel in front of me and I was hitting 30 mph, reeling him in fast. Damn, the last two miles of the course consisted of huge rollers, which he handles really well. We came to the final climb neck and neck, but I slowed on the hill while Jorge launched up it at 16.5 mph. I nailed the descent into the finish area as hard as I could, but he beat me by 513 feet!

It was all good though, because the course distance on my gps came to be a bit short of 40 miles, so I did beat my time of 2:30, with a 2:28:04, good enough for 118th place. I really wanted top 100 and a time better than 2:30. Maybe I could have had both if I would have had the preferred start...maybe?

The Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival is a class act and a race I just keep coming back for. Next year I'll sleep at the starting line in order to line up close to the front - just kidding.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Dakota Five-O Brings It All Into Focus

All business and ready to start.
 Sometimes a moment or an experience crystallizes for you in a way that seems to get into your very soul. It's these moments that tend to make you feel alive and get you coming back for more. It just feels so right that it can't be denied. That's when interest usually crosses over to passion. At least I think so. As a teenager I chased these moments and found them as I swung through a fastball, connecting in the "sweet spot" of the bat and watching the baseball rise as it went over the short stop's head. I remember not even feeling the ball hit the bat, it was something I couldn't describe, but I knew I had to have that feeling again. These moments come in many different ways, sometimes in an instant, other times in long drawn out experiences that cause you to just give up trying to understand it, simply letting it take you away.

The Dakota Five-O in Spearfish, South Dakota was slated as one of my priority races for the year. The race was strategically placed at the end of a ten day vacation in the Black Hills with my wife, Amy. I'd do this race at the end of the trip which is often a gamble, because vacations can take it outta ya, if you know what I mean. What are ya gonna do? Things can't always be perfectly designed around my racing desires. Plus, sometimes the best performances happen when you're back is already against the wall. This is what I kept telling myself as I laid in a partially collapsed tent (tent pole broke) in 32 degrees, with distant dog barking going on for the entire night before the race. We were camped in Custer State Park, which was about an hour and forty minutes south of Spearfish. My plan was to get up super early, tear down the remaining camp from vacation and motor up to Spearfish with plenty of time to "kit up", do the race, and head for home.

2:30 a.m., Amy starts unzipping the tent. "What are you doing?", I ask. She responds with a frustrated, "I'm freezing, I'm going to sleep in the car". I couldn't blame her, I was cold too. But the barking dogs, my God the dogs. Where were the owners? Is this what they do in South Dakota? Do they just leave their dogs alone to bark and annoy campers? 3:30 a.m., I snap! I can't take it anymore. I bolt upright and go on a mission to tear down the tent, get the rest of the gear into the car. We're going to Spearfish NOW!

That's me in the green kit, constantly checking and re-checking.

Continually slapping myself in the face to stay awake, I drove us to Deadwood, South Dakota, then on to Spearfish wondering how the hell I'm going to ride 50 miles of mountainous single track and make it seem like I'm actually racing. I kept thinking about my back being against a wall and how that might somehow be a good thing.

Pulling into the venue I quickly notice that it was remarkably easy to find a place to park, things are calm, things are organized. Somehow I'm not very stressed at all. I tell Amy that my plan is to try to control my efforts in the start as I'd heard it was uphill for something like the first 10 miles, then I'd settle into a rhythm, but ride hard through the whole event. My nerves settled even more as I lined up next to fellow Trans Iowa veteran, and former teammate, Matt Gersib. He'd done the Five-O last year and commented on how well he thought my set up for the race looked ... right bike, right tires. I felt a deep breath leave my lungs as I heard those words. I wanted to do well and the equipment really does matter just as much as the guy on top of it.

The race ebbed and flowed as a race should. I felt pretty good at times, other times I felt like I should just ride off the 1,000 foot canyon that I was next to. Most importantly, I told myself to be in the moment, to try to capture and appreciate that feeling I was having. It was the same feeling I had when everything went silent and the ball rose over the short stop's head. I was "in it". My bike began to disappear under me, it no longer chattered over the bumps, it seemed to shift itself, it responded to what I was thinking, an extension of me. I became conscious of things I would normally never notice, the sharper than usual rocks, the flit of a bird crossing my path, the dust still hanging in the air from the rider who just rounded the corner in front of me. The moment extended itself into hours. The beauty of it all snapped into a focus that doesn't come around very often. I was aware of it and I embraced it.

I lead Matt Gersib up the final major climb of the day as I had emerged as the climber of the two, while he left me on the descents as if he was being pulled down the hills by a force I couldn't tap into. You see, Matt and I had matched up pretty evenly on the trail and found ourselves quietly and politely trading places throughout the race until it became apparent that we were no longer racing each other, but feeding off of one another. As I topped out on that final climb I felt myself pulling both brakes and unclipping a foot as I pulled off the trail and let Matt pass. I watched him disappear down the trail in front of me, only catching glimpses of him and the haze of dust from his wheels. It was his time to fly and it only seemed right to let him go.

The Dakota Five-O gave me a chance to grab the moment and I was lucky enough to hold it for over four hours.

You can see the miles on my face. I think you can see the happy too.

Ashort email to some of my training buddies lets you in on the more techy aspects of the race if you're interested.  Here goes:


The Dakota 50 is by far the best mt. bike race I've ever done!! No question. So perfectly organized and planned. I lined up behind the pros right up front with the hope to finish in the top 100 of a nationally represented field of talented riders. I had heard the first 10 miles were all up hill, so I worried about gauging my effort, but hoped to exploit what little climbing skills I might possess. To my amazement I ended up in the first chase group behind the pros. I felt nervous, but fairly smooth when we hit the single track. I found myself tucked in with Matt Gersib from Trans Iowa. He proved to be a super good mt. bike rider. I thought I was a decent descender, but Matt was putting on a clinic, literally pulling away from me on the d-hills, then I'd reel him back on the climbs and flats. Finally, while crossing a huge meadow I found my opportunity and attacked Matt and my small group. I got a substantial gap and was big ringing across the meadow while cows looked on. I hit a climb on the other side alone and tried to drop to my granny gear only to get a nasty case of chain suck. I had to dismount to deal with it and my earlier efforts were erased. I resigned to fore go the use of the granny for the rest of the race (a huge decision and one that would later hurt me as the climbing was super steep and I burned a lot of matches middle ringing them).

I stayed on top of the machine as hard as I could focusing on my weakest section, the middle of the race. I tried to ride especially hard around the twenty mile mark as I knew I'd want to slack off here. Then, I heard a volunteer tell the guy in front of me that he was 26th overall. "Holy Shit!", I thought, "I'm in the top 30 of the Dakota Five O". I stayed on the throttle and suffered through the relentless mountain climbs. I also found that I was a little fish in a big pond of talented riders. These guys could absolutely RIP single track and I was doing everything I could to stay among them, including taking huge risks in corners and down hill sections. But, I was doing it! I was actually staying with them. I blew through all the aid stations focusing on not losing any time. The crowds in the aid stations were amazing. They swarmed us as we went through, screaming in our faces and banging cow bells, it was truly awesome! I felt like a big time racer going through those stations.

Through all the single track and big descents I found I was losing my rear break and hitting the grip with the lever. This was hurting my descending confidence through high speed d-hills that lasted upwards of 3 minutes at times. Nevertheless, I pushed the envelope. I eventually came to what I determined to be about a 7 mile descent toward the gravel. This section was amazingly fast and flowy. I kept telling myself not to hit a tree. I passed the last photographer and saw the gravel, 3 miles to the finish and a rider ahead in my sight. I put my chin on the bars and geared the bike out hitting 36 mph going down the gravel slopes. The change in body position started to tweak my right hamstring a bit and as soon as I had the guy in front about 20 feet away, the leg locked up. It hurt so bad and I couldn't pedal at all. While I coasted and hoped it would subside as I was getting reeled up by two fast approaching riders. I forced through the cramp pedaling at about 60% effort and eventually got passed by the two behind me. I finished in 4:23, 23rd overall and 6th in age class. I got paid to ride my bike on this day, enough to buy Amy and I a nice dinner in Rapid City and tuck a little away in my wallet.

Thanks for listening.



It might be the "old guy's" division, but there were over 130 of them
 and some of them could FLY!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

South Dakota Bound!

Alas, off to South Dakota and the Dakota Five-O, not to mention some sweet riding all over the freakin' place. We'll also be posing as total tourists, complete with tours of all the spectacles. Can't wait!

Spearfish, watch out I'm bringin' my Spearfish. Think positive thoughts for me on Sept. 4th. I'll be rippin' it the best that I can.


Monday, August 22, 2011

The Man Who Brought a Knife to a Gun Fight: Hondo's Story

An excerpt from my new book:
After the pace subsided from Big Buff and my concerted efforts to erase him from our memory a question was raised from one of our esteemed guests. It went like this, "What about Charlie? (as the young man looked over his shoulder, seemingly searching for Farrow). I responded simply, "Charlie who?" The young lad gave me a puzzled look, while I rotated to the front for one more pull.

As some of you may remember, I ran several pieces a while back called, "Ridin' with Hondo". These installments described the exploits of the always exciting Hondo as I desperately tried to keep up with him not only on the bike, but in life as well. Well, those times, they have changed. As the sun sets on a career of bike riding and racing, Hondo now seeks every advantage available to him as he still rubs elbows with some gravel racers who know how to mix it up at the front. This past Sunday would be no different as Hondo showed up for the ride bright and early with a "secret weapon".

Talk of a long ride circulated the email addresses of the northern chapter DBD for almost a week. Arguments, disagreements, and the like were tossed around as a ride was finally settled on. The attractive component to this ride would be special guests invited by DBD member and 'Heck of the North' director, Jeremy Kershaw. Mike Dietzman, Shawn Miller, and Matt Ryan would flex their muscles on this hundred miler. These are top notch gravel grinders. When the talking subsides and the throw downs begin, these guys can really BRING IT!
Early morning joy!

This brings me to the focus of the story. When it comes to "bringin' it", Hondo has been suspected of everything from illegal root juice consumption to electric motors hidden in his bottom bracket. I noticed a peculiar ease at which Hondo rolled upon our small group. His machine seemed quieter and he seemed to be spinning his cranks in an almost effortless fashion. Then it struck me, he was running the unheard of roadie tire set. These things had to be about 10 mm wide with a slick surface that can only be found on NASCAR tires. Holding back rudeness, I politely inquired about his decision making, "Are you really going to run road tires on a 100 mile gravel day?". "These things are so fast! And, they're a lot lighter than those!! (pointing at my tire selection). As you may recall, put downs from Hondo are not uncommon and I've learned to roll with them as the general passing of the day usually proves my point, causing Hondo to either change his story or simply fabricate some unrelated truth, again making me feel inferior. Nevertheless, I muttered something about him changing flats later, he didn't hear me.
Men, moving through the rays.

Our group formed up, we shook hands and rolled out. I quietly wondered how long it would be before these men would begin to test the depth of the DBD. It seemed that as soon as the gravel began to pass under our tires the pace began to lift. Monitoring my effort I drifted back to Hondo, I barely paid attention as he pointed out how hard I was working compared to how effortlessly he was spinning. I wondered when he'd compare himself to Contador.

Getting comfortable on the gravel.
Deep into the northern reaches of Minnesota on some lonely gravel road I drifted to the back of the pack as I spied a long gradual descent. With the group easing off the pace for the time being I found it convenient to pay a call to Mother Nature while still rolling, a procedure which has taken considerable practice and "kit washing". Frustrated with the amount of time the process took I went to the drops in an effort to catch back on. Suddenly, just disappearing over the next rise, a solo rider. Noticing the "Wood Chipper" bars, I quickly discerned it was Hondo, he was having a spot of trouble. He wavered, then stopped. I did what would be expected of any DBD'er, I blew past him without a glance only to find the rest of the group pulling over for him. "This is odd, we usually don't do this", I thought, but given the fact that we had guests I figured I'd stop too. Kershaw, Buff, and I did the right thing and pulled over about a block past Hondo and watched from a distance as he floundered with his skinny little maimed tire. Flat #1 was in the books.
Just a little rest.

I asked Hondo if he expected any more delays once he was ready to roll. He assured me that things would be better now. The group pushed on for what seemed like, maybe ONE MINUTE before it happened, ANOTHER BLOW OUT!!! Hondo nervously giggled as he pulled over again. Now, embarrassed I quickly began talking to some of our guests about the gear choices and the attractiveness of their rigs. I reminded Hondo that the next abrupt sound I hear from him better be the report of his revolver. This gained a few chuckles from the group as I knew in their minds they were saying, "HERE, HERE, CAPITOL!" Hondo attempted to save face by pleading with us to push on. Upon hearing those words I quickly snapped a foot in and began to push off when I noticed I was alone. "Oh, they're waiting for him", I thought. I stopped and fumbled with my limited kit.

Finally, after a slow change and a great deal of assistance from Mike Dietzman we were under way. The group moved with a sense of urgency, almost as if there was a desperation to make up for lost time. I stayed near the front, while Hondo, eyes down, stayed on the back.

Then, without warning, Shawn Miller announced, "Charlie's off". Without a glance I moved to the front and lifted the pace. Big Buff followed suit and dropped in on my wheel. Together we knew what had to be done. It was and is the bond among DBD'ers, when words need not be spoken. Buff pulled through as I felt myself approaching 90% effort. Minutes passed until finally the young Shawn inquired, "What about Charlie?". "Charlie who?", was my response as I rotated back to the front. With an open view in front of me, blue sky and grey gravel, I strained my ears, wondering when the report of his revolver would come. I knew it would, it had to, yet nothing...
Waiting the mandatory block distance, while Hondo changes out flat #1.

The remaining group rolled into Duluth, this writer, Dietzman, and Miller (Big Buff nursed a slowly leaking tire home a little earlier than the rest, but with honor after a MONSTER pull through a trail section), all laughing, back slapping, and congratulating each other on a great effort. Hondo's name never came up...So sad...Yet, I feel nothing...