July 2010 Archives

Run What You Brung

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I did this one last year for Fat Tire and have been looking for a good opportunity to do it again. Bikepack to a race, carrying whatever I need for raceday and camping there with me on the bike.  And it goes without saying I race whatever bike I ride there too. 

Miner's Revenge was the perfect race to do this. The race is only maybe 35 miles from my house and a weekend of camping is just part of the event with plenty of nice spots right on site.  Plus it's kind of a technical course with lots of opportunities to hurt myself by riding over my head, so knowing I have to get me and the bike back home under my own power is kind of a good motivator to chill out a bit.

The big plan was to leave Friday right after work and take the long way there, camping along the way someplace.  It's usually a nice idea in theory, but rarely works out for me. Instead, I found myself packing for the trip at midnight and on the road the next morning at 7:30AM.  I was hoping to stick with dirt as much as possible, but a navigational error put me behind schedule a little more than I'd like. (Did you know there's a drainage ditch between Greenland, MI and my house named "Greenland"? My GPS does.)  I hopped out on the pavement for the last 15-20 miles into Mass City and cranked her up making it to registration with minutes to spare.  A side benefit of this was that everybody coming from Marquette for the race that morning now knew me as the doofus that rode his bike to the race. 

The race went well. I started in the back and managed to work my way up a bit on the climbs, but took it easy on the descents. I managed to avoid getting into the red mist of racing too much and had an enjoyable ride, joking with folks on the trail and really enjoying the new singletrack.  Rob and his crew have been hard at work and have built some awesome new trails out there. I wish I could have made it down to help them out this year, but they seem to be getting along fine without me right now.  I also just plain flat out enjoy this event. A lot of traditional mountain bike races are lacking in technical challenges. Not so here, and it's certainly not lacking in aerobic challenges either. You have to be a strong all around rider to excel at this event. Which is probably why I finished way in the back. But finish, I did- with me and the bike in one piece.  

Shortly thereafter, a friend of mine showed up with a cooler full of beer. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the Coors Light, or maybe it was just the fact that he had a truck and could haul the twisted remains of me and the bike home if it didn't work out, but I decided to do the downhill event as well.  I figured I was in way over my head when I was the only one at the start line in spandex on a bike sporting a rear rack instead of rear suspension. Nonetheless, I managed to post some not totally embarrassing times. The course was a fun and it was worth the $10 entry fee just to ride in a 6x6 Pinzgauer up the old ski hill to the start.

We set to work on the rest of the beer around the bonfire that night and it wasn't too long before I wandered off and passed out in my bivy sack for the night.  I woke up feeling pretty good, but there was a low point early on that I report with much sorrow. I was handed my first significant defeat of the season by Grandma's Cafe in Mass City, MI.  Usually, there are several foodstuffs that I never really fill up on, I just merely run out- pancakes being one of them.  Well, Grandma's serves a pretty colossal pile and I was forced to admit defeat and not finish them. 

The ride home proved pretty uneventful and I managed to avoid most of the rain.  I'm getting my bikepacking setup a little more dialed in. I think I'm going to need a tent to keep doing this comfortably in the midwest, but I was only an extra pair of bikeshorts away from having everything I needed to keep pedaling for a whole week with me on this trip. I'm looking forward to my next bikepacking trip to Copper Harbor for Fat Tire.  

Any Excuse To Tour

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I think it's been at least two or three posts since I talked about the Tour Divide in this blog. Have you been following it this year? I'm rooting hard for Patrick Tsai. I passed him in the Almanzo 100 and he's currently sticking it out in last place.  It's very much one of those "if he can do it..." sort of things. 

Anyway, in addition to this year's race, a documentary about the 2008 running has also been released- Ride The Divide.  And hey, look at that- a showing in Marinette, WI on July 2nd. That's only 170 miles or so from my house! You know how this goes, right?  Yep. Load 'em up, it's touring time!  

This time, I did something I'm usually a little reluctant to do- invite others on one of my rides. Since it was a holiday weekend, I had a pretty structured route with camping spots already reserved. People would know exactly what they were getting in to. There was some interest, but in the end, only one taker- My teammate/perpetual arch nemesis, Pat. The guy always, always finishes just ahead of me by a few minutes in every race we ever do.  I think I managed to beat him in a cyclocross race once.  

Day 1: Askel to Iron Mountain, 108 miles

So I'm all into the bikepacking thing now and whatnot, but right from the get-go I was reminded how much fun it is to get rolling on a fully loaded touring bike.  Just something about all that momentum and the smooth, stable ride really appeals to me.  And with Pat and I pushing and pulling eachother along, we were just flying right out of the gate. Not even a little rain between Covington and Crystal Falls could slow us down.  I think our moving average was hovering just south of the 15mph per hour mark as we rolled into camp that night.  Cold beers were obtained and we were asleep in short order.  

Day 2: Iron Mountain to Marinette, 76 miles. 

This was supposed to be the easy day.  You know, knock out 70ish miles after the big hundred mile push and roll into town with plenty of time for bike maintenance, laundry, hot tub, beers, and dinner before the movie.  Maybe a nap too.  

Things actually went pretty well until maybe the last 20-25 miles when we hit a pretty fierce headwind. We'd rotate the lead every few minutes, but I was quickly getting the crap beaten out of me.  I was extremely dismayed when we finally did get to Marinette that the hot tub at the Super 8 was merely a myth intended to draw tired bicyclists away from more well appointed hotels.  Oh well. The AC worked and the shower was hot.  After a few beers at "The Railhouse" brewpub (Yay for Imperial Pilsner!) and a double order of perch (the Friday Fish Fry is a deeply rooted religious tradition in Wisconsin you best not ignore), I was much happier and looking forward to the movie that night.  

We arrived at the theatre a little early to meet Erik Mathy who was hosting the screening as part of his fundraising efforts in advance of entering the 2011 Tour Divide himself.  Erik is engaging speaker and very dedicated to his fight against cancer. If you can help him out in any way, I'm sure he and those he's trying to help would appreciate it. His blog is 1gear1cause.org.  

I don't need to say much about the movie here. If the subject is even remotely interesting to you, I'm guessing you'll probably see it anyway. Be warned, if you're currently someplace in the middle of the spectrum between "doing the tour divide" and "not doing the tour divide", this movie will do nothing but move you closer in the direction of the former. Non stop awesome scenery, interspersed with inspiring dialogue about the life changing aspects of the ride and the occasional emotional scene when somebody is faced with the prospect of quitting the race.  It was awesome.  More so on the big screen.  

And after the movie I won a kayak rental from CyclePath!  Little do they know how easy it would be to push me over the brink of kayak ownership....   

After one more beer (the gas station attendant was very much impressed with my sophisticated tastes as reflected in my choice of "Milwaukee's Best Ice" for a nightcap), it was lights out.

Day 3: Marinette to Crystal Falls, 106 miles

We started the day by taking revenge on the hotel for depriving us of a hot tub the night before with a full on touring bicyclist assault of the continental breakfast.  We left nothing but a wake of destruction and empty "Bear Claw" wrappers in our path.  

It was pretty hot out, but we had a great tailwind pushing us along and made good time. The highlight of the day was probably the Osprey nest on top of the cable tower. If that wasn't cool enough, dad was out hunting nearby and we got to watch him try to take out a crow.  Some really nice scenery while out riding today and I was digging out the camera more than I had the entire trip so far.

Finished the day at Bewabic State Park just west of Crystal Falls. Neat old CCC buildings, an awesome swimming lake, and a funky bar right across the street made this the best night of camping on the trip for me.  

Day 4: Crystal Falls to Askel, 76 miles

We decided to push hard today to make it back in time for 4th of July Festivities. We still had the tailwind working for us and also a thousand foot drop in elevation once we passed Covington. We were really hauling ass today.  Made it back to my house just as it started to cloud up and raindrops were falling as Pat pulled out of my driveway.  

Great trip. Riding with Pat really worked out well- teaming up together we can really crank out the miles plus he maintains just the right combination of preplanning and just taking it as it comes to put us on the same page for most of the day.  While riding by myself certainly has it's own appeal, touring with others is something I'd like to do more of.