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...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Salsa Two-Four and my Battle with Afton Alps

The Salsa Two-Four venue. That hill in the back ground just keeps going up.
Last year the mountain that is Afton Alps nearly took my will to live as I fought my way through the 8 hour solo race, ultimately pulling the plug after 5 hours. I blamed it on my cut side wall, but deep down I wondered if I quit the race, because I knew I was slowly dying while doing it. I vowed I'd be back.

I did come back and I came back with a different bike, a different plan, and a different attitude. I'd climb the hills of Afton on my super light El Mariachi Ti, with the Spearfish sitting on the bike rack of the car wondering why she wasn't in the game. Don't worry ole girl your time is coming. With two bikes on hand and a mantra of "I will ride 8 hours on this course today" playing in my head, I was prepared for the long haul.

An early morning drive to the Twin Cities area bolstered by good coffee from my house and really crappy coffee from Tobie's (Hinkley, MN) and I was pulling into the daunting "Alps". Immediately, I sought out the Salsa boys, Eric Fredrickson, Bobby Dahlberg, and John Gaddo as they'd be holding court under the Salsa tents. They were kind enough to allow me to set up some of my stuff under their shelter as well as offer me any mechanical support I may need. These guys gave me the friendly support I needed, but deep down I hoped I wouldn't see them until we were crackin' open some suds together around 6:00 p.m., in other words, the end of the race.

My nerve center.
A short break down of the race goes something like this. We were forced to run up a ski hill for an uncomfortably long time carrying our front wheels. I thought this was some kind of sick joke, but Bobby informed me that, "No, she's not kidding", referring to Amanda (I hope I have her name right), the race director's instructions. So, there I stood in the back of the pack thinking about Kid Riemer's words last year, "Eki, No Pressure", waiting for the start when I noticed Stan's No Tubes solution leaking out of my valve stem. "Awesome!", I thought as I embarrassingly whipped my wheel up and down trying to get the sealant to do it's thing. I figured it would straighten itself out once I got going. I jogged up the hill after we were under way, then slowly got my front wheel on my bike, then I slowly blended in with the masses. I felt totally under control and happy to be riding without the max heart rate and the ricocheting off tree thing going on. My plan consisted of riding the first half of the race under control, letting the climbs come to me, then managing them, not attacking them. I promised myself I'd stay in the saddle for the first three laps and if I did rise from it, it would be for a short burst. The plan was working and I was conserving energy in a good way. However, the dreaded "man handler" climb was taking chunks out of me each time I went up it. This is a sun drenched climb that goes straight up a ski run from the bottom to the top. I timed the climb at 4 1/2 minutes. That may not seem like much, but we're talkin' granny gear slow going. It's steep! Oh, and the greatest part is at the top was a spectator with a bull horn who yelled things at you about how much you sucked. "Why don't you just quit?", "I've seen 12 year olds who can climb faster than you." "You're in last place, just give up". I couldn't figure it out. He was easy to ignore though, because it was taking all the concentration I had to keep turning the cranks over.

The laps went on an on and I firmed my dislike for lap style races, especially on ski hills. Nevertheless, I saw a lot of wild life and the scenery was beautiful. Over half way through the race I decided to focus on keeping my lap times within 5 minutes of my first lap and make this whole thing about managing MY race, not other people's. I was doing it, I was really "shooting a tight group" of lap times. In fact, I put a number of laps together that were landing on the same minute each time. Meanwhile, I was moving through the field of 8 hour solo riders without really knowing it. I never took a break and kept my pit stops under 30 seconds. Oh, and a special thanks to the nice woman who helped me with my bottles when I needed refills, as Amy was not available at the time. It was nice to know they (the bottles) were all topped off and waiting for me.

The policy for the end of the race was that if you finished a lap before 6 p.m. you were allowed to head out for another one. This is common in these types of races, but I prefer when you have to be done by a certain time as this gives you a concrete end to the race. So, as luck would have it, I finished a lap at 5:50 p.m.. I could have gone out for another, but at 1,500 feet of climbing per lap and 10 laps under my belt, I decided I was done. I met my goal of riding Afton Alps for 8 hours. I never stopped and I never let the "Alps" intimidate me. I finished 3rd overall, with 64 miles on the gps.

Me, after receiving my 3rd place award.
I rolled into "home base", told the boys I was done. They grabbed a chair for me, and I had a cold one in my hand. I'd say that's a good day on the bike. Next stop, South Dakota for the Dakota Five-O.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Back To The Beginning

Great Hawk Chase - Photo Bob Hansen

Back in the olden days I discovered I loved riding a bike. It was in those days that I raced in the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series. I finished midpack, sometimes back of the pack in "Sport" class, but I loved it and I always wanted to get better. Eventually, I did get a little better and I decided to move to "Comp" class. It was during my bumbling and stumbling through Comp that I figured out that if a guy were to actually train at this, he could get better. I pursued a young stud named Ray Coyle all over the courses of Minnesota. Soon, I stood on the podium next to Ray, but never ahead of him. That was o.k., because it was Ray who told me one day after I chased him through my first 12 hour solo race that I should consider becoming more of an "endurance" type racer. "Hmm, I just might try it", I thought. I never looked back, until last Sunday.                    

Photo Courtesy of Bob Hansen

The Great Hawk Chase, part of the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series was held in beautiful Lester Park (Duluth, MN) this past weekend. With a lull in racing lately and the Salsa Two Four 8 hour solo not until next weekend I figured I'd take it back to my roots.
Done and thirsty.

Now, back in the day I did graduate up to "Expert" class, but this class now requires a license that costs in the neighborhood of $90 so I'd be racing "Comp". I also knew the race would feel short, only an hour and a half effort, but it would be full GAS from start to finish. Plus, it would be fun to mix it up with some of the old local boys as well as some of the new.

Funny, cause it didn't take long before I was fighting with everything I had, as if I were in the 12th hour and only separated from 1st place by a minute.

I ended the day with a pretty good finish and was happy to walk away with a tough all out effort. And, most importantly my Salsa Spearfish did everything I asked. Man, that bike can climb!!!

The COGGS boys know how to throw down a premium event and it was a blast! The Ski Hut really stepped up as well.

These guys are fast... I'll take it.

Photo Courtesy of Bob Hansen: L-R The author, Charlie Farrow, Mike Bushey (who doesn't realize how much he helped me fall in love with cycling).

Photo Courtesy of Bob Hansen
Relaxin with the boys - just like the old days.