The Salsa boys know how to throw down!
The second running of the Cheq. 100 took place this past weekend. I threw my hat in the ring after missing the event last year and from what I hear what I missed was an experience of navigation that would have confused Shackleton. This year would prove much different - the course was MARKED and marked well!!
I came into the race with an attitude of adventure. I'd carry all of my gear, ignoring the "drop point" at half way. Riders were allowed to have a bag waiting for them with fresh supplies, but I read that this was a "no support" race, so I went in with every thing I needed on my back and in my cages. Hell, I even rode away from the chance to top off my fluids at the half way point, in my head I called it "cheating".
Torn between competition and adventure I found myself caught in the middle of racing and enjoying the scenery. Nevertheless, I ended up giving half hearted chase to the front runners early on. I was sketchy to say the least in the single track and inefficient. I immediately felt the past racing miles in my legs and was confused as to why I couldn't pick things up. Suffice it to say I had very little "pop". I watched good rider after good rider, like Ryan Horkey just pull away from me. I remember thinking, "Damn, they're good single track riders, you're NOT".
25 miles in I found myself pretty beat. "Holy crap! This thing isn't even under way yet and you're tired. This is going to be a long day." I decided to ignore the other riders and ride "my own" race, telling myself that experience would guide my way. I plodded along while rider after rider moved past me and out of my sight. I thought about my winter of training and asked myself what I did wrong.
"It's got to be this heavy camel back that's throwing me off. Oh well, it's only going to get lighter as the race wears on." I spent time alone and had brief conversations with guys I've raced against many times as they wished me good luck and moved on by. The half way point became my focus. Just get to the half way point, then you'll be heading home.
The half way/drop bag point proved to be an oasis of sorts. I pulled in after considering just moving past it without stopping, but seeing a few familiar faces might do me some good I thought. The place was literally buzzing with activity. I saw riders sprawled out all over the place with helmets off and gear strewn about. What were they doing? It seemed like many of them had thrown in the towel. Race director and buddy, Joe Meiser caught my eye so I pulled toward him for some company while I tended to the plan in my head. "Get these arm warmers off, put cycling hat and warmers in camel back, drink my secret potion, and eat some trail mix, then get the hell out of there!" I exchanged pleasantries while my head spun with fatigue and a mantra of what I needed to do. Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye a peculiar sight unfolded. "Hmm, Joe's baby is standing on my front wheel." My El Mariachi Ti was laying on it's side taking a break and apparently Eli found the 29'er interesting. A few of us had a giggle as he manipulated the wheel like he was steering a ship. It was super cute. Then, he became enthralled with the wheel and began to climb up on it as if it were a merry go round. I'm not a parent so I dismissed the activity as, "that's what babies do". And, Joe's right there so he'll know if it's not cool. Soon, I thought, "I wonder how much Eli weighs??" Finally, in an awkward, shaky voice I said..."Hey there little buddy, easy on the wheel (a giggle followed)". He was soon scooped up by Dad at which time I took the opportunity to accuse Joe of coaching his young son into trying to knock me out of the race. Hey, the way I was feeling, not sure I would have been too upset.
Time to go! I pushed on after some brief directions on how to get out of there from Joe. He went on in his "Joe way" (cool and collected) about following this trail back to Mosquito trail head, then... He seemed so confident and sure that I just numbly agreed and took off without understanding any of it. Soon, I was a mile and a half down the trail when I realized I had no idea where I was or if I was on the right path. I did what any good adventure racer would do, I STOPPED! Out loud I stated, "I'm not sure if this is right". Doubt ran all over me. I spiraled down into "what if" scenarios. I decided to turn back to firm up the directions.
Almost back to the drop point I saw fellow Duluthian, Mike Haag climbing the hill toward me on his single speed. I know Mike has a cabin in the Cable area, therefore I know he knows the trails. I asked if I could hook on with him until we moved out of this confusing area. It turned out to be a perfect fit. We gelled and rode well together, although Mike pressed me a bit in the single track, as he is quite skilled, I was happy to be with him. We talked and a connection developed that sometimes happens when two riders are in the same struggle. In other words, we began to work as a team. I watched him power through the relentless rollers on his single speed as I called out "good job!" to him as he cleaned impossible climbs with one gear. Mike's strength was an inspiration to me and I was lucky to be riding with him.
Mike and I moved through the gravel road sections alone for miles when out of no where two riders appeared, they were giving chase. It was Ryan Horkey and his riding partner. Mike and I had apparently left the half way point before them and they were now catching back up. We exchanged light hearted conversation as they moved through us. I watched them crest the rise in front of us when I thought, "you know they're not riding that much faster than we are, I could catch them and let Mike just sit in on my wheel". I chased and Mike spun his single gear in my draft. It wasn't long before we were with them and moving as four. We'd approach the final section of single track as four, with me allowing the three gifted trail riders to move into the woods ahead of me. I resolved to do my best to "hang on". It wasn't long before Ryan and his partner (I believe his name was Mike too) were dropping us. They looked smooth as they flowed through woods as if they were on a ribbon of concrete while I ricocheted to and fro off the rocks. A gap began to form between my partner and myself. I was being dropped at the 80 mile point.
It was then that I began to assess my riding style. I thought about how I'd been riding in the middle ring through all the single track while working the bottom half of the cassette. What if I changed things and went to the big ring and began to operate off the top half of the cassette with a focus on staying in the middle of it the best that I could? I changed the game and it brought me new life. I found myself out of the saddle and energized. The big ring brought me speed and controlled flow. Soon, I was back on Mike's wheel and not long after I decided to move around him on a piece of double track. He yelled to me, "Go get 'em Tim" and I was gone. I felt alive and my machine felt hooked up for the first time all day.
The rain started to fall when I wiped the screen of my gps to find I was at 82 miles in. I was chasing Ryan and his riding partner, Mike. I told myself over and over, "you can ride in the rain, you're a mudder, you can ride in the rain, stay on top of it, stay on it until 90 miles, then just 10 to go...". A flash of color in the distance, then another flash, it was them! I'd reeled them back and I was closing fast. Eventually I was able to sit in on Mike's wheel with the talented Horkey setting pace. I noted that Mike was bobbling from time to time, while Ryan seemed to be driving hard. However, I felt good. I wasn't laboring, I kept checking my situation and the answer was, "I feel fine". It was then that heard Ryan state that he was going to "sit up for bit, does that guy want to get by?" Mike replied, "It's Tim". I don't think they were expecting me. They allowed me to pass. I admired their skills, but I knew I had to stay on top of the pedals if I were to get away.
The rain was coming in a steady down pour and I could feel the spray hitting my back. The miles were ticking by more slowly now, but they were still clicking off and I was still in the big ring. I moved past a couple solos, telling them "good job" while I ran scared from the men chasing me.
Surprised I popped out onto a gravel road before I expected it. My mileage told me I still had about 5 miles to go, yet I remember Joe saying something about the finish being on the gravel road we started on. Could it be that I was almost done? I put my head down and went to gravel race mode. Around a corner and I picked my head up to see the Salsa tent with a small gathering. The finish! It was like coming home.
11th place overall against a talented group of riders left me satisfied ... almost as satisfied as the Old Milwaukee and the Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll they gave me at the finish line. What a great race and more importantly what a great crew of people putting on the race. Thank you Joe Meiser, Tim Krueger, and Ryan Horkey for all your hard work, as well as all the volunteers.
The Cheq. 100, now the standard by which others will be judged in my book.