My Own Personal Heck (of the North)

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I won't delve too deep into it, but man... the rally is just killing me this year. 

So I was really, really looking forward to a weekend off to head over to Duluth to race 100 miles of the Minnesota Arrowhead's finest gravel  in this year's Heck of the North. 

This summer though, I finally dialed in the perfect rack setup on the ol' Jake and I'm reluctant to strip it down for 'cross season and gravel road racing again. I've got a Salsa Fargo frame waiting to get built up, but funding has not been approved as of yet. So I did the rational thing and threw some drop bars on my single speed mountain bike. Sure, I have all of two 'cross races under my belt with this setup, but all my fellow alt/hipster, beer swilling, beard sporting, single speed riders agree, it's a pretty sweet setup. So it must be perfect for a gravel road race.  Did I mention I left the 32x17 gearing on it? And the 29x2.55 tires?  This not unlike entering a rally in a one ton diesel truck on 44" super swampers. And then leaving the transfer case in low range.... 

The start went well, if you call "well" getting completely and utterly dropped.  Hard. Seems 32x17 ain't much good for anything above 15mph.  But who cares? It's a beautiful day on the north shore of Superior in prime color season.  Why rush through it? 

I was having a grand old time, kibitzing with my fellow riders, enjoying the day, and then we hit the first snowmobile trail section.  The Heck is unique amongst gravel road races in that it throws in these 1 mile sections that are damn near impossible to ride through completely.  But my monstercross setup could ride a lot more than most people, and faster too!  So I found myself passing a lot of people.  Hoo boy, looks like I'm racing. 

After that first snowmobile section, I made my big bad decision. I found myself riding with a couple of guys, pushing 16-17mph. Definitely on the high end of my cadence abilities, but manageable.  Or so it seemed. 

So I came screaming into the halfway checkpoint with them and suddenly realized what I had done.  My legs felt like lead. No other way to describe it. I've never had my legs feel like this. I could still mash, but just couldn't get them to spin at any decent cadence. 

So for the next 35 miles or so, I was kind of riding my own ride. Doing the recovery thing. Singing to myself. Have you seen the new Powderwhores trailer? As per usual, I like the song. In this case, "Bugs" by O'Death. Which means I watched their video.   

Which is kind of creepy.  And seems to be shot someplace along the Heck of the North course.  I was always half expecting one of these weird woods people to be standing back in the trees as I rode past. 

But the next person I saw was my teammate, Bruce at about mile 90. I sort of dropped him for a little bit, but realized I had nothing to really try and prove in this race.  Singlespeed with a low gear had kicked my ass hard and merely finishing was something to be happy about.  So I rode (and walked up Pleasant View Road- man, that road was not named by a bicyclist!) the last few miles in with him to the finish. 

Oddly enough, I finished 15 minutes earlier than last year. 

The Heck continues to be my favorite gravel road race ever.  Just can't beat the setting and some of the unique challenges of it. It's a tough time of year for me fitness wise with work and rally responsibilities, so it's a real challenge too. But now I'm intrigued by this single speed thing. I wonder what I could do with a bigger gear?  


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I'd really like to try drop bars on my mountain bike. The wide gearing is nice but I find I really miss the comfort of the dropped bars I used to have on my road bike. Being able to use a variety of wrist positions on the bars really helps keep my arms and hands from getting fatigued.

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