Wednesday, March 21, 2012

It's All About the Yin and the Yang

Betsy loves Schwalbe Tires

Fresh off a great email at the end of the day from 'Kid' (Salsa), I'm absolutely killing it home. I'm flying as if there are wings on my feet, then without warning my rear tire blows. "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!", I yell. "Well, this thing ain't gonna fix itself", I go to work. I even burn up two CO2's looking for a fast change in order to get back into the rhythm. It doesn't go as planned. Turns out I replaced the tube with one that already has a hole in it. You'd think after 12 years of racing bikes these types of road side repairs would go smooth. Nothing goes smooth for me when working on a bike. The whole effort is ruined as I nursed the second tube home, stopping 3 times to air it up, then "gun it" until it goes flat again. So sad....

Totally crabby and flat out ticked off I pull into the driveway at the same time as my wife. I fly into a rant as I come to a stop on the rim. "I'm riding on a flat!", I yell. But, wait, what's that? My rage turns to elation as I spy a large box on the front deck. "YES! There's my new tires!" Amy replies, "I guess that worked out pretty good then."

It's all comin' together. I think it's gonna be a great season.

Stay tuned...


P.S. Salsa and Schwalbe. Mmmm, Mmmm...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Visiting With an Old Friend - Sasquatch

It used to be called a "big loop in Northern Minnesota", until last year. 2012 would mark my 3rd running and completion of this "loop". The scope of the ride changed drastically in 2011 when I ventured out in adverse weather alone, hoping to get in a long effort. It would go down as the first training ride that my wife actually jumped in the car and set out to look for me. She found me almost 12 hours into the ride and a mile and a half from home. I was frozen solid, my bike weighed about 45 pounds from being ladened in ice. I was determined to finish the ride, I declined a ride home, eventually limping into my house, and flopping into a hot bath tub. Amy asked me what it was like out there. I muttered from the "hurt tank" or bath tub, "I think I saw a Sasquatch."

Somebody else drank those beers.

To say this route has remote sections is the under statement of the century. There's an approximately 25 mile stretch of lonesome road which only serves to link the Iron Range of Minnesota to it's North Shore of Lake Superior. It is on this piece of road where the intrepid rider climbs and descends the Laurentian Divide. It's no Continental Divide, but it's ours. Really, it's beautiful out there and it's BIG, much bigger than me. This section of the ride has come to be known as the "Crossing". A rider must be sure to "re-fit" thoroughly in Beaver Bay, because once into the "Crossing" there won't be another opportunity for water or food for about 45 miles.

Crossing the Laurentian Divide - Northern Minnesota

This year things would go much differently for me. I had riders interested in joining me. Wait...check that...I had riders committed. The bonus came from the weather forecast. Things were looking good. I thought and planned for the ride all week. I guess maybe I was nervous as I thought back to what it did to me last year. I poured over the map and loaded the route into my new gps, smiling as I knew the days of digging out hand made cue sheets on remote stretches of road in Northern Minnesota were over. Now, the little guy living in my gps would tell me where and when to turn.

The start time was set for 5:00 a.m. and I had told the boys to plan for about a 10 hour day. We'd meet at the usual spot, the "Billy Irvin" on Duluth's water front. Well, the stress of being the group's leader had me running a bit late, so as I approached our start point I saw the lone head lamp of Charlie Farrow approaching. "Are you looking for me?", I asked. He launched into a minor rant about me being a couple minutes late. It felt good to me, it was going to be a good day. I rolled up to the big tourist ship to see 4 other bikes with lights darting around them as last minute adjustments were being made. Kershaw snapped artistic shots with his camera while I exchanged "hellos" with Rich Hendricks, local hard man, and Eric Peterson, local bicycle frame building craftsman. A minute later we were rolling.

In the early moring dark the temperatures were not favorable to the light kit I prepared. I was determined to not have to carry a pack on the adventure as I'm working to travel lighter and lighter, but it comes at a price. As the saying goes in Trans Iowa, "Travel light, Freeze at night". So true! I mocked my comrades for their packs as I bragged about my lack of, but deep down I longed for better gloves, a better hat, and even a jacket. I hoped it would pay off as temps were expected to soar into the high 60's, but at the time the 28 degree reading on the gps was hurting me. It was an exercise in focus as I let my mind land on pleasant thoughts, rather than center on the loss of feeling in my fingers.

The five of us pressed hard to Two Harbors with a sense of urgency as if we were coaxing the sun to come up. I asked myself if this quickened pace could really influence time in any way. I knew it couldn't, but I think we all wanted the sun's life giving force and were willing to get it any way we could. Sure, the sun eventually made it's appearance, but experience has taught me that this is often the coldest time. Mysteriously, temperatures seem to dip at sunrise and I have no idea why, maybe just to show us that we aren't in charge and don't know all that we think we know. Farrow, Hendricks, and Peterson inexplicably dipped into a gas station in Two Harbors for coffee, while Kershaw followed my lead to push on. I didn't want the group to separate, but coffee???? Kershaw and I rationalized the decision to leave them with comments about training and the importance of keeping moving as it was sure to be a very long day. "We CAN'T keep stopping, we won't finish until 5:00 in the afternoon!", I vented. Kershaw nervously followed suit with similar comments, but I sensed he didn't trust my mood. What was really happening to me was I was losing feeling in my hands and I was taking it out on the coffee clutch. Then it happened, in a span of about 2 minutes my hands went from pretty freaking cold to, Holy Crap! my hands are in trouble. I proceeded to ride no handed for 10 minute blocks of time with the wooden blobs on the ends of my arms shoved under my jerseys, it wasn't helping. My partner sensed my deteriorating state and offered me his gloves, commenting on how his hands just don't really ever get cold. He didn't understand why and he wasn't willing to question it. This act of kindness turned things back in my favor, I'd be keeping the hands. I pictured the doctors putting the saws back in their drawer.

As we approached Beaver Bay the temperatures suddenly began to surge upward. Soon the need for layers to come off were on us. It felt good to be riding with these guys. I remided the boys to make sure they had what they needed and to loosen up their climbing legs, the "Crossing" was right around the corner.

Re-Fit for "The Crossing" - Beaver Bay, Mn

Riding up the North Shore is beautiful, but we live here so it doesn't always strike us the way it does others. In other words, it felt good to put our backs to the water and climb away from the Gitch and into the interior of Minnesota's great north. The group quickly split as we started the ascent. Farrow and Kershaw grabbed my wheel holding it easily as we pushed our single speeds up the initial steeps, while Hendricks and Peterson held a perhaps more wise conservative effort. Excitement must have gotten the best of me as I looked upon a glorious day, while thinking back to last year's effort on this section. The way I made "first tracks" in the middle of hwy 15 during a violent snow squall that wouldn't leave me alone or the way the snow plow truck driver looked down at me as if to ask if I was committing suicide. I lifted the pace and Farrow seemed to know exactly what was happening. Our cadence quickened, while Kershaw smartly held the wheel in front of him. As great as this was our group was fractured. A look over my shoulder had me seeing a fast moving Hendricks bridging to us, while Peterson was no where in sight. Had we hurt the boy? We decided to shut it down and wait for him, unsure of his intentions for the day as well as if he even knew where he was geographically at this point, we didn't want him to "go it alone". Upon his arrival he assured us that we should push on at whatever pace we wanted as he was smartly guaging his effort, but to me that's not what the ride was about. I, as did the rest of us, wanted the group to stay together. There was no need to worry, it turned out, we were at the top of the divide and ready to begin our gradual descent, we'd stay a tight knit group for hours to come.

Our hearts soared as we cruised comfortably through remote wilderness with only an occasional car passing us. We wondered what this path must have been like for the early settlers. Soon our turn would come to us and we'd be entering the abandoned community of Toimi, Mn.

Our beloved gravel. Toimi, Mn

I signaled to the boys ahead that they needed to take a left on the gravel road, by the old school house. This marked a haunting section of riding that seemed like a trip into the past. We pushed past old broken down homesteads and even a "children's cemetery", creepy. The current cabins/homes we did see looked like they belonged in Alaska, as they were donned with moose antlers over the doorways and a rustic look I'd only seen in magazines.

The author poses by a sign that reads, "Children's Cemetery". We think it's in Finnish, the other side of the sign was in English.
Conversations grew less frequent upon settling into the asphalt one more time. We all knew we faced a huge section of riding before we'd start to see the familiar sights of outer Duluth. Farrow suggested a pace line, which made the southern push into the wind much easier. My legs spun easily, I felt no pain from the nearly 100 mile day so far. I blamed it on the company I was keeping,  I felt I could ride deep into the night without a problem, as long as I was with these guys.

A quick water stop at Hugo's in the township of Brimson, Mn and we were back into our pace line with some "jumps" thrown in just to keep the group honest. I figured spinning the legs at a super high cadence couldn't hurt, why not? I missed my La Cruz hanging on the hook in the basement. I wondered what kind of speed we could pull together if I had her up in the 50. She'd be coming out soon, the salt is almost off the roads.

Running light and smooth.

The day was coming to a close as we came upon a familiar entry point into Duluth. We said our good byes, while I opted for a different way home. Soon enough I was in town again, pedaling through the same routes I've taken hundreds of times. Pulling into my driveway the gps made a beeping sound and said I'd "completed the route", I responded, "I know". Of course, I had locked myself out of the house and Amy wasn't home. I dug around for the hidden key and found my way in. A couple "meows" from the cats as they said, "Hey, Dad how was it?". I mixed up a recovery solution and decided to sit out on the front steps and let it all soak in. As I thought about the 10 hours and 10 minutes I was out there doin' it and the 144 miles in my legs I noticed movement above me. I looked up and saw, flying low and slow, a Bald Eagle. He glanced my direction and moved on with his own adventure, a perect ending to an incredible day.

Thanks to, Charlie Farrow, Jeremy Kershaw, Rich Hendricks, and Eric Peterson.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Really Ate It!

The other day I was thinking about how proud of myself I was for making it through the whole winter without one crash, that was stupid.

My heart soared as I powered into a light headwind this morning sans studs, rolling light and fast. My favorite song blasted in my head as I waved to my fellow commuter buddy, Doug who was headin' the other way. Shortly after exchanging pleasantries with Doug I entered a downhill, sweeping left hander that crossed an intersection. This left hander sits low in a geographic saddle of Duluth's hillside and is notorious for being much cooler than the surrounding area. The difference in temperature was the last thought in my mind as I checked for traffic and slung myself into the turn. Time stood still as I tried to process the bizarre feeling of my front wheel slowly washing out of the turn. I want to tell you what I was thinking, but there was nothing, just dead air in my head. It's like I did nothing to stop it, was there anything I could do? Rather than make some type of preventative move I simply stayed clipped in and allowed the road to pull me down like a magnet. The impact was so great that my neck whiplashed like one of those fire hydrant rods (indicating the fire hydrant is under the snow bank) being let go after it was held to the ground by a kid waiting for the bus. The bike rang off the asphalt like it was shot from a cannon, while I slid like a shuffle board puck across the intersection into the waiting ditch.

Shaken, I gathered myself on the side of the road while a soccer mom slowly passed, eyes agape, talking on a cell phone from her S.U.V.

I'm gonna have to ask Salsa for some more bar tape - this stuff is TRASHED. You should see my hip, it looks like the tape.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I'm Not Crazy, You're Just Lazy: 10 Things I'll Miss About My Winter Commute

This "list" is comprised of thoughts that have rolled around inside my coconut over the past few months while pedaling my bicycle through harsh and sometimes pretty mild weather. I thought I'd share them. Hopefully, a few will resonate with you.

I'll miss,

1. The few hardy animals that I saw in the same areas almost every day. One skunk who I appropriately named "Sally" (I have no way of knowing if she's even a girl - I always gave her a wide berth). Several deer who became so used to me passing that it got to the point where I'd have to shout, "Watch out guys, I'm comin' through". The crows who always seemed to be watching over me. I like to think they helped me get to work and home again safely.

2. Oddly, the rough relationship with the logging truckers with whom I shared the road. They rarely, if ever gave me enough space and we took turns gesturing to each other, if you know what I mean. Yet, through it all they had to be thinking, "What's with this guy on the bike, he just keeps coming back."

3. Awww, the sweet sound of a studded front tire rolling on a tar road. To me, it's right up there with the smell of a baseball glove in spring time.

4. Feeling a sense of victory after making it to my destination at minus 20 with the wind chill.

5. The dark. There's a sense of solitude and beauty in riding in the dark.

6. Marking the slowly changing height of the Sun at certain points in my ride, reminding me that winter is passing.

7. Giving a nod to the 1 out of 50 drivers who gave me a "thumbs up".

8. The temperature check being the 2nd thing I do each day, the first was getting out of bed.

9. Wondering what my two cats were thinking (probably nothing) as they watch me "kit up" each morning.

10. How hard and simple it all really was.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Teacher and the Student

DBD'ers meet all seasons.
Finally, Farrow and I are able to get together for a ride. Originally, the hope was to get into the woods for some fat bike riding, but a squall moved over our fair city and sat on us. Not knowing what to do I suggested we just ride our snow bikes on the roads. I mean there was about 9 inches of snow out on the city streets, why not? It was set, we'd meet, Hondo would be it goes.

Once we were together we did the usual and made fun of each other. He made fun of my experiment of riding with ski goggles on (which turned out to be AWESOME!) while I made fun of his fluorescent green golf visor that he wore instead of a helmet or eye protection. As we attempted to commence with the ride another delay came our way as Farrow inexplicably fell down while we stood still. No, he wasn't clipped in and got a foot stuck, he just tipped over into the snow while standing still. So sad...
The bottom of 7 Bridges Road, Duluth, Mn

We were off. Farrow was brushed off and the good times were rolling. We cruised down the lake walk, waving while the people gawked at us. One woman excitedly exclaimed, "I've seen those bikes on t.v.! I've seen them on T.V.!" We giggled and pretended to be surprised, then we quietly mocked her and speculated how she was probably embarrassed right about now. It was good to be in the company of one of the DBD's best.

Not sure where to really ride, we found salvation in the unplowed residential streets of east Duluth. We were Kings as we pedaled past aged men snow blowing their driveways. Our hearts soared as women stopped listening to their husbands as they drove past in metal boxes, straining their necks to catch a longer glimpse of us. It was good to be alive.

Then, Farrow guided me in the art of pushing the snow bike. You see, you can't always ride the beasts, some times you've got to earn the fun by pushing them. We picked 'em up and put 'em down (our feet that is) for a couple of miles as I told tales of my attempt to win last year's Heck of the North on the very climb we walked up. It was on this climb that I contemplated making my break for glory.

Shortly after summiting Hawk's Ridge in near white out conditions a robust figure stood proud next to his snow bike. Yes, the mighty Big Buff was out for a ride. 3 of the 4 DBD'ers together in a snow storm at the top of Hawk's Ridge. It was like a dream. Buff told wild stories of a near run in with Canus Lupus on his morning run, while Farrow and I soaked it all in like kids around a camp fire. Not to mention, we felt small and inadequate as we noted that it was Buff's 2nd workout of the day, it was shortly after noon.

Farrow instructed me on the finer points of air pressure in the big boy tires as I listened intently, even asking a question or two. I smiled to myself as the aged one gestured wildly at a large SUV that almost ended his time on this planet, while he told of the proper air pressure for these conditions.

Crazy Horse once said, "It's a good day to die". I say, "Today is a good day to be alive".