I've always been reluctant to write about my training exploits on this forum as it just really isn't that exciting. However, the experience I had yesterday makes the cut.
It's "big ride" time as the spring classics (Ragnarok, Trans Iowa, Dirty Kanza) draw closer. In light of the need to bag some serious miles I decided to do a loop that some friends and I completed last year. This loop was researched extensively by myself as I wanted an inspired ride that would basically impress my friends. The route would consist of mostly all pavement, as we just don't have that much gravel up here in northern MN., not enough to string out large miles in a loop format anyway.
So, last week I pulled up my account on "mapmyride" and found the loop which rounds out to be about 140 miles of very scenic landscape. The first 55 are next to the water's edge up the North Shore, with a sunrise so close you feel like you could reach out and grab it. The northern reaches of the arc are so remote that when I looked at a satellite image I did not see a man made structure for over a 30 mile stretch. After one completes the "arc" a little adventure through a gravel section has views of an old abandoned settlement complete with a "children's cemetery" - so cryptic!
This loop was planned for this past Saturday, a day in which none of my "friends" could join me. Although, 140 miles is a long way to go "solo", I figured it would be an exercise in mental toughness.
I awoke at 4:20 a.m. to a blanket of about an inch of fat, wet snow on the ground and falling rapidly. "Damn!" I was unhappy and questioning my recent decision to remove the studs from the front of my cross bike, replacing both tires with the fast rolling Conti's. That would later prove to be one hell of a sketchy decision. Despite the snow fall I threw on my winter cycling clothes and hustled out the door. As I descended through the Duluth streets to the canal (my starting point) I noted how wet I was already as the snow was more like a controlled down pour. Oh well, I was into it and I figured I'd just DEAL. Well, I started thinking about the route as I settled into a bit of a rhthym. Then, suddenly it ocurred to me - I DIDN'T HAVE THE DIRECTIONS I HAD WRITTEN OUT FOR THE ROUTE!!!!! The route included so many turns that I had made myself a small set of "cue sheets" in order to nail it exactly. The little "sheets" were on my coffee table in the basement about a mile away, but 1,000 feet UP! I live on the hillside of Duluth and at this point I was down by Lake Superior. I contemplated leaving the sheets, but knew I'd get confused up north. I had to have them. Unbelievably ticked off I began the 25 minute climb back to my house. Once the sheets were in my hand I had a huge sweat going and I was soaked from the rain, uh, I mean snow. Do I have to mention how happy I was that I got up at 4:20 a.m. and it was now almost 6:00 a.m. and I was still in my driveway (sarcasm - Not Happy!)?
Finally, under way and running smoothly although extremely concerned about being so soaked with a forecast calling for dropping temps and high winds. That forecast combined with wet clothes = tough day, if not dangerous. "Suck it up Buttercup", I told myself as I moved north up the shore. There was no sunrise to lose myself in, only squinting through soaked lenses. I slogged the 55 miles up the shore to the little hamlet of Beaver Bay through periods of heavy wet snow and wind. However, it seemed to lightin' up from time to time. I counted on the warm temps as a saviour of sorts (upper 20's).
I hung a left in Beaver Bay to begin what I've named the "arc" over the northern reaches of this circle. This remote section crosses the Laurentian Divide (think Continental Divide only for the upper midwest). So, what that means is about a 15 mile elevation gain of which is super steep in the beginning, but eventually plateus and begins the gradual fall down the other side. The drop down the other side sounds so nice, but I'd experience none of that as I rode in a stiff headwind, being pelted by tiny ice balls, all the while rolling on about an inch of crusty snow. I was managing about 9 mph. I tried to break this stretch into 5 mile chunks as I was mentally struggling. This is when I realized that the likely hood of seeing a Sasquatch was quite possible. I was so miserable at this point that I welcomed the idea, I resolved that I wouldn't even be scared if I saw one. I amused myself by actually keeping "an eye out". I rode carelessly out in the middle of the highway, while the occasional car would pass by on about a half hour intervals. At one point, I had the sneaking suspicion that I was being followed (I was listening to music so I couldn't hear anything else). I turned to see a HUGE SNOW PLOW about 10 feet off my wheel. I pulled out into the lane, out of his way to see the driver roll down his window, checking on my well being. You know the conditions are rough when a snow plow driver shows concern. He was a cool guy!
3 hours had passed before I completed the "arc" and entered the historic site of the Tiomi settlement. I was so happy to turn off that highway and get into some ice covered gravel. However, the gravel meant more "slow goin'". I was already way behind schedule and I desperately needed to get some speed under my wheels - it wouldn't happen for some time. I moved through the cabin country and viewed the sites of the settlement as I slowly moved past them. It all appeared so eary in the wet heavy snow fall, cemeterys for children, small school houses and old time cabins. Where was Sasquatch? I felt he was out there some where.
The loop was originally planned for a late spring or summer ride, so I was super bummed when I entered a portion I forgot about that included a snowmobile trail. I was in too deep and was forced to continue on. Needless to say, I was forced to dismount and hoof it for a mile and a half on a trail not designed for 35 mm tires.
Finally, the 50 mile home stretch had me with a tail wind and cruising comfortably. The machine was ladened with ice, much like the fishing boats on "Deadliest Catch". No longer able to shift the bike, I picked a stiff gear and kept her there. At times I was forced to walk the climbs as I couldn't turn the gear or shift.
In my closing mile I saw my car approaching with Amy at the wheel, clearly concerned. She had left the house to go looking for me. In non Arron Rohlston fashion I left her a copy of my "cue sheets". I appreciated her concern, but told her I'd finish out the ride. I owed it to Sasquatch.
Final stats: 148 miles, 11 hours and 50 minutes.