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.



Boz said...

Your cats are like ours, the appreciate a grand effort. Sounds like a great day!

Biking Duluth said...

Great story for an amazing day!

Ari said...

thanks for writing this. we are here reading your stories.

Aaron said...

Looks like fun. Got a gear geek question. Is that frame bag a Revelate Tangle or similar, and do your knees ever rub on it? I'm thinking of getting one but leery of knee rub. Thanks.

Tim Ek said...

Yes, Revelate Tangle (smaller version). Yes, some time I get a little contact on the legs if it's super full, but I usually just squeeze and manipulate the stuff around to flatten that area.