Thursday, July 28, 2011

This Time it's Not About the Race

So, with the Salsa Two-Four looming large as well as the Dakota Five-O, I've decided that some regimented training might be in order. Therefore, I've hit the road so to speak. In other words, I'm pretending it's winter and knock'n out some pretty serious weekly hours (for me anyway). In order to get the appropriate amount of hours I'm back to my "long commute" to and from work each day. This "program" of sorts, requires an uncomfortably early morning for me, which I hate, but then soon LOVE once I'm under way. Sunrise in Duluth, MN is hard to beat. Seeing that big bright orb coming up over the lake is cool to say the least.

Then, I get to see all my "friends". Usually, they only become my "friends" when I'm on my 10th hour of a 12 hour race, but they've been visiting me so much lately, that they're now officially, know.

It's been a surprise every morning. "Hmm, who am I gonna see today?" I'm alone so much on the bike that I might be going just a little crazy as I mentally run through the dialogue with them. O.k., sometimes I say my part out loud. Their part happens in my head. Me - "Hey guys, how's it goin' this morning? You don't have to run away, I'm not gonna hurt ya". Them - "Not scared, Tim, just tryin' to keep up with Mom."

The Red Fox and her Kits was one of my favorites. I think the last little guy crossing the road really wanted to stay and chat, but the "fam" just wasn't waitin'. Me - "See ya later, little guy". He tore across the road, full speed, looking over his shoulder at me while trying to catch up to his brother.

Then, there's the red squirrels. I know, no big deal, they're everywhere, but the way they rip across the road, then that extra big leap at the end to get into the weeds cracks me up every time.

Keep an eye out for your friends. You're never alone out there.

On a different note, I've had a lot of time out there lately to sort out my next adventure and it's a biggy. Just gettin' it all straight in my head right now. Announcement coming soon. Remember, if it makes ya nervous, it's gotta be worth it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Even DBD'ers Feel Shame

The perfect set up!
The Levis Trow 100 mile mountain bike race, one of the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series' jewels was held this past weekend. But, this report isn't about racing, well ... kinda.

Let's just get into it. Amy and I headed off to Nellisville, Wi. for a weekend of camping and racing. She'd run and ride while I just ... rode. Big Buff was going to be there racing his new Lynskey Ti while I'd bring two horses to this event, the proven Salsa El Mariachi Ti and my freshly built Salsa Spearfish. My plan was simple, ride the first 50 miles on the El M. T., then switch to the plush Spearfish for the second half.

The wild card was dealt and it wasn't pretty. As you know the entire Midwest is now in and at the time was expecting HEAT! Often times with heat comes storms. The pitter patter of rain drops began landing on the Salsa canopy around 5:30 a.m. race day. I snickered in my sleeping bag, because as you can see from the picture above, I'd pulled a fast one on ole Mother Nature and snuggled our tent under the canopy. I knew I'd be packing up a dry tent and not having to deal with the whole "set it back up" thing back home on the other side of this event, or at least that's what I thought. "Never fool with Mother Nature", remember that phrase? My snickering in the tent thoroughly PISSED HER OFF and she summoned rain that no human has seen since Noah. I mean it was "cat'n and doggin'" out there.

I checked in at race head quarters and radar reports said this was a "thin slow moving band". Yeah right! Hesitation reigned supreme as race directors baulked at delaying or possibly cancelling the race. The decision to delay seemed to go back and forth until it finally settled on a start time 1 hour later than originally scheduled. Even with the delayed start I wondered if I should even start the race, it was that wet. When I say it rained, I mean it really rained. There were huge puddles every where and it was a challenge to keep the Salsa canopy from collapsing as water gathered at the low points and began to weigh it down. I stood under it and pushed up on the roof every couple of minutes to keep it in tact.

The babies hiding under the tarp (Amy's road bike pictured between it's protectors).
Fast forward to race action. The skies had lightened up and things looked promising. The director blasted off a shot gun in true back woods Wisconsin style and we were running for our bikes in the Le Mans start. I was third into the single track after moving through a 25 yard long super deep puddle at high speed (more on this puddle later). I recall thinking, "man, that was a deep puddle, I wonder what the rest of the course is going to be like". Well, let me just tell you, more of the same. Nevertheless, I moved as fast as I dared through the flowy single track. I shook my head at sections of trail that simply weren't there, just gone. I told myself to just stay in the middle of the RIVER, that has to be the trail. I began to worry when I noticed my bottom bracket being submerged over and over again through super long sections of water. Then, suddenly it began to rain again. Now, I hope I painted a picture of hard rain for you earlier in this post and I hope you're thinking, "yes, I get it Eki, you were riding in some rain, sounds rough". Please multiply your impression of rain by about 100 from what you already have. The skies let loose with such fury that I began to apologize for snickering in the tent earlier. Apart from the slippery roots, the insane mud, the sketchy/jagged limestone rocks, the storm took on a scary feel that had my little contingent of riders (3 of us total) plastered into silence. There was no talking, no attacks, no real racing, just 3 guys riding through the most incredible amount of rain fall I have ever witnessed in my life. As we climbed up to the top of the limestone mounds for which this course is named, we seemed to be challenging Mother Nature, almost calling her bluff. She responded with flashes of lightning and booms of thunder that shook you to your core. As Big Buff put it to me later, "you could actually hear the zzzzzzzt of the lightning" as it took control of your surroundings. The flashes were so bright that I would see nothing but white for about 3 seconds during which time I'd flinch at the report of thunder, reminding me of the time Hondo did the honorable thing and withdrew his WWI revolver on a winter ride only to have the round prove faulty, thus allowing him to survive. I digress. The sheets of rain pounded me and poured through my helmet in almost a comical way. I passed by a section of trail called "cliff hanger" where the water cascaded off the limestone wall next to me in a solid pane of glass. What were we doing out there?

My mind drifted back to my earlier fight with water collecting on top of the Salsa canopy. I was certain that it was a shredded mess by this point - I was bummed. Unless, just unless Amy was back there fighting the good fight. In fact, right before the race started I asked her politely, "Honey, if it starts raining again, will you try to push the water off the canopy? I don't want it to split the seams."

Amy needs a DBD patch for what she did to save this canopy.
Miraculously, I finished the first lap to find the race staff pulling riders from the course. We'd be delayed for another hour until things proved more safe for all involved. This was my chance to go check on my pit area. As I rolled down course I marveled at the carnage and destruction of pit row. Tents were blown away, EZ Ups were mangled, and people were scurrying around trying to put the pieces back together. Then, I saw her walking toward me in a soaked white, yes white Wisconsin Badgers T-shirt laughing and looking like she had been in some kind of apocolyptic scene. She jokingly told me about all the things Salsa should do for her for saving the canopy. As it turns out Amy removed most likely a ton of water from the canvas while the camping area turned into a flash flood scene. The water flowed so furiously that it ended breaching the "levee" on the front of the tent and came over the zipper, instantly flooding the entire tent. Our air mattress was afloat within the tent. A fifteen year old bar tender listened to our story later, mouth agape, she casually added, "it's like you had a water bed". "Good one", was my response.

The floor of our tent. That's about 5 inches of water! Note the little mesh pocket at the back.
A restart had the race back underway, but in a weird way. They started us all together again, but promised to factor in our time differences later. Why they didn't just start us out one by one with our time gaps factored in is beyond me. There were many things that went on this day that I simply didn't understand.

The second lap was strange as we all tried to race each other again, but it just didn't feel right, not to mention we were riding in a flood. My bike began to sound terrible and it was only getting worse. Every time I shifted gears it groaned and popped like something really bad was going to happen soon.

I finished the lap a total mess, but decided I'd head out for #3. In the beginning of my third lap something happened to me that I'm sure will never happen again. I approached the huge lake, I mean puddle that I mentioned early on in the story. I decided to try a different line through it this time hoping for a successful crossing. It was not to be, my front wheel caught a rut and I was going down. You know when you pass over the point where you think it can be saved and you accept that it won't. Yeah, I was there. I threw out my left arm to soften the impact, but there was none. My arm just disappeared into the water. In a nano second I thought, "really is this going to happen?" and like a kid jumping into the swimming pool, I took a huge breath and went in. Silence encased me as I now lived in an under water world, a kind of peace if you will. "I can't live here", went through my mind, you need air. I surfaced with a gasp as mud water poured out of my helmet and down my face. I frolic'd around trying to unclip my left foot while the water lapped at my lips. I took note of how my gps was about 6 inches beneath the surface along with my left grip, shifters, break lever, and headset. "What the F***?!".

Some serious thinking started taking place. I thought about my beautiful El Mariachi Ti underneath me and all the pride I took while building it. I thought about my bank account and all the parts that would need to be replaced if I kept slogging through this, whatever it was I was doing. I soft pedaled the lap and gave the throat slashing symbol to the director when I came threw signalling that I was done.

Both rider and bike - TRASHED!

Big Buff on the other hand was not done. He powered his single speed to a second place overall finish and a SS win amidst a diminished field, but a win is still a win. I can't help but think that Big Buff wasn't doing it for the race, but more for the patch (DBD). As he pitted before his last lap I offered him support and in some sick way envied his filthy, destroyed being. I kicked at the dirt while some new Buff super fans went on and on about how good he was and how much they admired him. I couldn't take it anymore and I exclaimed, "YEAH, I KNOW HE'S GOOD, HE'S MY TRAINING PARTNER". They looked at me as if they were thinking, "sure he is buddy...right". I couldn't blame them.
None of it dried.

Good job Big Buff, I'm proud of you. And, good job to Chris Schotz who really went to battle on this one and came out on top.

Buff "Got R Done"

Monday, July 4, 2011

No One Said it was Going to be Easy

Relaxin' before start time.
The Thunderdown in the Underdown is a staple in the Wisconsin Endurance Series line up. It is notoriously difficult. Not only is it physically difficult, but technically demanding as well. Riders have to scratch and claw for every mile in this one. This year's Thunderdown wouldn't be any different.

I told myself I was going to stay calm for this thing. Instead, I broke for the lead right off the gun as I was lined up with all 10 hour soloists, which is rare. Typically, teams and duos are lined up with us so discerning the actual competition can be difficult. This time I knew all of them.

20 minutes in and I was riding hard with a clear view in front, but I was conscious to not go over my head with effort. A quick glance back saw two riders still hooked on. 30 minutes in and a couple of significant climbs and I noticed an eery silence. Stealing a glance, I found myself all alone. I kept the pressure on telling myself that this was all insurance and that I'd need to control the "pop factor" when it happened.

Soon enough I finished the two hour lap in about 1:50 still alone, but a little gassed from the effort. I made a rookie mistake of staring at an ominous boulder, then drove right into it, stopping my El Mariachi dead in it's tracks. I began to tip toward the fall line, in other words, the long way down. My left foot refused to release from the pedal, oh that's right I switched the pedal before the race and it must have had a slightly different release point than I'm used to. Like a pilot who knows he's going down I braced for impact. Impact happened to be into a small boulder field strewn with broken off sticks pointed up. The first one cut through my glove and poked into my hand. The next two went hard into my left glute shredding my bibs and my ASS!
Sorry, but it had to be shown for the purpose of the story.
Needless to say I could feel the breeze throughout the rest of the day. On a more serious note, part of my skin was sitting right on the saddle without any pad or short to protect it. This slowly nagged at me and became a bit of a problem as my skin rubbed and rubbed and rubbed.

Of course I entered the darkness of my mind during the second lap. I had a hard time shaking the crash off and began to question whether I had gone to hard on lap 1. Then, the negative thoughts began, "You suck at mountain biking, why do you even do it?", "Who are you kidding man? I should be laughing at you right now (my inner self talking to my self)." I tried to tell myself that this is all part of it, it's just the demons, block them out! Then, I got caught and passed. It was so discouraging. I tried to keep up, but he just slowly rode away. I figured I'd pit at the conclusion of this lap and try to get my head right.

Pulling in I saw Amy at the pit. She was really interested in my torn up butt and thought it was pretty funny. I, however, wasn't in the mood. I was over my shredded bibs and was more concerned about my horrible, crabby attitude. I told her I got passed and that I didn't care, and how I was hating it, etc. She then told me to "Get 'er Done", which is what one of my kids at work always says that makes me laugh. Sad thing is, he uses this phrase as his mantra for life and doesn't understand why we're all laughing. Somehow the joke rang true for me and I finished eating, jumped back on my bike and was outta there in about 5 minutes.

The third lap is when everything came back around. I pinned it as hard as I could and found myself very alone again. I began to pick off 6 hour racers one by one and was notified by volunteers that I was out front again. Angry at myself for having such a horrible 2nd lap I continued to pour on the pressure at the expense of fatigue. I figured the 4th and final lap would be one in which I just held on. It was...
Final corner to the finish.
2 years in a row! Now, please get me to the lake.

Chris Schotz puts on an A+ event and the course is a pure mountain biker's dream come true, all by his design, I might add. Thanks to Chris and his crew. Thanks to Salsa Cycles as well. The El Mariachi Ti really took a thrashing out there and responded perfectly. Also, thanks to Red Eye Brewing for the awesome growler!
My kind of brew house. Those are some vintage machines.