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!