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It's totally a 162* miles, baby.

*155.  2 miles shorter than last year and minus the little adventure loop. 

But that sure as hell didn't make it any easier.  In fact, this year was probably tougher than last.  Hot, dry, and with a southern wind that just didn't quit all day. 

I don't have numbers this year, but it looks like even fewer people took the start than last year. Maybe only thirtysomething people.  We left promptly at 7am without much fanfare or drama.  It was going to be a long day and this was no time to try and prove anything. 

I made no attempt to try and hang onto the lead pack or any kind of group at all. I'd be carefully playing my cards all day just to make sure I finished. Getting stuck with a slightly too slow group or slightly too fast could easily keep me out past the cutoff, or worse- completely blow up mid course.  So I just rode my own ride, enjoyed the scenery, and kibitzed with the few people I'd occasionally trade places with. 

And despite the heat later that afternoon, the morning was pleasant and when that wind was working in your favor, you could crank out 25mph with zero effort. One of my goals this year was to spend as little time stopped as possible, and I made good progress to the town of Harmony at mile 60.  I stopped there for some gas station pizza and killed a gallon jug of water refilling me and my bottles.  Felt great pulling out of Harmony. 

But now the afternoon sun was out, and we were heading straight south into the wind.  The next 20 miles really wore me down.  The 30 after that were rather demoralizing as there's large stretches between instructions with no turns and nothing to do but pedal. At least we were heading west and no longer directly into the wind. Plus this was major Amish country which is always fascinating to ride through. The culture is so different, it feels like a different country. 

By the time I pulled into Forestville State Park around mile 120, I was hurting.  But I was happy as I was running at least an hour and a half ahead of my time from last year. So I gave myself 30 minutes to rest and rehydrate. 

Hung out with a fellow competitor, Justin and his friends who were camping at the park. Justin was on the fence about continuing and I gotta admit, the prospect of just staying there for margaritas was incredibly tempting.  But my road weary brain couldn't come up with an effective plan for getting bombed to outer space on tequila, retrieving my car, and getting back to my hotel.   At this point, all I could really mentally manage was "keep pedaling" and "keep drinking water". 

The 30 minute break really re-energized me for the climbs getting out of the park. And then it was only maybe another 15 miles before I felt like total crap again.  But I was in the final countdown.  I could visualize the number of miles left in terms of my daily commute and meter out what little effort I could muster. 

As the sun went down, the winds became a little softer and the temperatures cooled. It almost began to feel something like pleasant.  Except I still just wanted to get back to my car and never ride a bicycle for as long as I live. 

But eventually, it arrived- the finish line. 30 minutes sooner than last year. And once again, Chris Skogen, the organizer was there to personally congratulate me and shake my hand.  That handshake means more to me than any podium finish. Knowing he's waiting there for god knows how many hours and shaking god knows how many hands is sometimes all that keeps the pedals turning over.  It's just awesome to be greeted by name and congratulated after all that. Thanks again, Chris!  You set the gold standard for how events should be run, free or not.

Then on Monday, I promptly went out and bought a brand new motorcycle


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This one looked seriously iffy going into it.  Long range forecasts were talking about hail and tornadoes and fire and brimstone.  

So at 5am the morning of, I'm trying to find a local tv station to get the local low down on the weather.  Nothing but infomercials.   Including one for spinning. 

"You can do it in the privacy and convenience of your own home!"

I just drove all the way to Red Wing, MN to parade my spandex-clad ass around south eastern MN.  

"Miss Kansas uses spinning to maintain a healthy lifestyle!" 

A bunch of ugly dudes with beards use gravel road racing as an excuse for excessive beer consumption. 

"Act now and get the 'Tour of Ireland' DVD!" 

I gotta admit, replace the falling down castles with falling down barns and it's almost the 'rök. 

The irony of it all was just too much.  

Prognosis on the weather was looking good. Looked like pretty much the worst of anything would hold off until later that afternoon. A good excuse to keep on the gas and not get caught out in bad weather. 

We started in a brisk mist. One where you can't really guess which way the weather is going to go. As such, many were packing a rain jacket or some such as a contingency plan. 

Start went as per usual.  Cold legs into a hard climb kept the pack together for the first couple miles. Later on though, my impressions of the Fargo as a poor gravel road racing rig were reinforced.  It was just really tough to find the right pack to hang on to. Usually, my approach to this event is to find a pack I can barely hang on to and stick it out until the first checkpoint. This year, I kind of bounced from group to group.  

And got passed a lot. 

I mean, A LOT. 

I guessed that some of the faster guys had missed a turn someplace and were now hammering their way back up to the front. Looks like I was right, but man- it's demoralizing to get passed by the same dudes twice. 

While no speed demon, the Fargo is still a great bike to really enjoy this type of riding.  Sitting upright and rolling on big rubber let me enjoy the scenery a bit more. And those fat tires with disc brakes just made the descents crazy, crazy fun.  

But of all the weather scenarios that could have played out- the one I was unprepared for came true. A beautiful day of blue skies and sunshine. I'll be nursing a case of sunburn for a few days.  

Finished just 7 minutes later than last year. But at 12.5mph average as opposed to 13.1 on last year's longer course.  Things went pretty well during the event and training leading up to it, so I'm gonna go ahead and say it's the slower bike. 

But now I'm in a quandary about the Almanzo.  100 or 162?  I know I can knock out the 162, but with only minutes to spare before the cutoff last year, can I do it this year on a slower bike? Or will the lower gearing and better traction help me through some of the big time sinks last year?  Should I just dust of the Jake?  Should I just buy a proper friggin' CX bike rather than race weird crap?  

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion!

These things need to come with a warning...

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Goddamn Fargo. 

So I got some new tires and a rack that I wanted to test out before the Ragnarok.  I figured I'd ride into work. 

Well, remember that railroad grade? I figured I'd check out the section north of Arnheim Road. 

Guess which part I hard to walk? 

Still, some of the sections with tracks were still rideable. 

But I was happy to see the start of the developed trail. 

Why I love the UP. You'd never see this sign unless you went down a dead end trail. Arnheim Falls is approximately 36-48" in height. :)

Another New Bike(I can quit anytime!)

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Got the Fargo done this weekend.  

Fresh and unmolested, ready to head out yesterday morning:

Stopping for glamor shots:

First impressions, this thing does not ride at all like I expected.  I guess I was sort of expecting it to be a lightweight, flexy frame.  This thing is a fucking tank.  It's meant to be loaded up for touring.  

Also, trekking chainrings and a MTB cassette are not gravel road racing appropriate. The jumps between gears are just way too big. Really need a road casette. Going with 8 speed just exacerbates the problem.  Plus those bar cons way out there on the ends of those woodchippers are a bit of a reach.  

What this bike loves though is playing "Where Does That Go?"

Yes, there's a trail there. And I rode down it. Couldn't quite make it back up though.  :D

It's also the best two tracking bike I've ridden yet.  I could ride this stuff all day.

Riding some Ottawa Slickrock on Silver Mountain.  

The summit:

The silver mine for which the mountain is named:

Took a turn onto the north country trail. Which is technically not allowed. But in all the years I've hiked it, I've never seen anybody on it. And many portions are overgrown to the point of being near impossible to follow. And I've got a whole list of rationalizations for biking where I'm not supposed to if you want to hear them....

But brushfires had recently scorched the Baraga Plains. So it wasn't long before I was humping the bike over all kinds of deadfall leaving me covered in small cuts and ash.  Karma's a bitch. 

And then I discovered my barcons had come loose.

Did I mention this was going to be an easy ~75 mile gravel loop just to shake down the bike? Damn Fargo wanting to go down every little two track...

At this point I was out of food and water and had to high tail it to the nearest town to restock.  

8 hours in and I still had a solid 20 miles left to get home.  But I still couldn't stop checking out new trails.  Found this old railroad grade that spans many miles.

Stuff like this keeps the ATVs off it, so I had the trail to myself.

Finally back home. Other than the loose shifters, no issues after some serious abuse.  

No idea how many miles I did, but after 10 hours- I hurt far more this morning than I did after a paved 150 miler I did a few weeks ago.

Gonna have fun with that bike this summer.

How To Pick Your Battles

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What's that famous quote? "The battle is won before it's fought?" 
As well you know by now, Iove the drama of throwing myself headlong into some crazy race I have absolutely no chance of winning. 

But you know, dammit. I like trophies too. 

And if there's one thing I've learned from racing cars- there's a podium for every man who wants one.  Whether it be Midwest Production Regional Rally Championship or 35 and over fatbike racer, rest assured- there's a class out there with a trophy just waiting for somebody to show up and claim.

First up was the Red Jacket Cyclotron in Calumet. Hefty snowstorms kept the MQT crew at bay keeping the trophy:competitor ratio pretty high. But I still legitimately beat a few guys for first in my class. 

Next up was the Midwest Snowbike Championships. This was another hammerfest on XC ski trails.  We actually had a rotating pace line going for about half of it.  I'm that much closer to putting drop bars on the pugs. 

I did hold on for 3rd place in my class. 

It was an emotional moment on the podium for all. 

(all above images courtesy of Adam Griffis)

And one last fat bike victory for the season this past weekend at the "First Annual Shitshow". Whether it was my stunning batman costume, my inspiring beer consumption performance, or the story involving my teammate, the purchase of contraceptive devices, and my teammate- I'm not sure, but I did get the coolest prize out of them all:

Convenient carrying case included!


2012 'Not Snowing Season' Schedule

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Another lazy boring summer lined up for this year.


14: Ragnarok 105
21: Ronde Von Skandia (T)
28-29: Yukon J. Malamute Memorial Backpacking Trip 

3-13: One Lap
19: Royal 162
25-27: Ride The Keweenaw

16: Keweenaw Chain Drive (S)
22-24:North Manitou Island Backpacking Trip
29-30: Marquette Bike Jam(F,B)

7: Miner's Revenge (F,B)
18-22: Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium

1-9: Downstate Bike Tour, Home to Ludington and back. (T)
11: Ore To Shore (S? F? B?)
18: Great Deer Chase (S)

2: Copper Harbor Fat Tire Festival (F,B)
8: Tour Da Woods (S? F?) 
29: Heck of the North (S)

T: Tentative, S: Single Speed, F: Fat Bike, B:Bikepacking

I took a year or two off from "serious" mountain bike racing once I had met my initial goals of completing them without dying in the process. Now that I've conquered bigger and tougher events, I like going back to them just for the fun and camaraderie. Probably race the fatbike a few times to increase the fun factor and  do a couple self supported bikepacking expeditions to a few races just for the extra challenge. 

Doing a few backpacking trips as well. The Yukon Memorial trip is a short weekend I'd always take my malamute out for as soon as the snow melted enough to do so.  Destination is cool little waterfall down a canyon that has a mine shaft drilled into the side.  After Yukon died, I spread his ashes out there. Now I bring a bottle of "Canadian Hunter" and proceed to get melancholy.  

Unless any of my cohorts come up with a better idea, I'll probably once again do the tour down through Wisconsin to catch the ferry over for my family's annual summer party.  Most likely won't do the full loop again, but just take the ferry both ways.

Also looking forward to getting the kayak out for some crazy trips this summer. Some friends and I have a number of them planned including numerous overnight Keweenaw expeditions and a return to the Huron Islands. 

And for sure, there will be lots of all day mountain bike or gravel road rides thrown in for good measure.

Somwhere in there, I might mow my lawn too.  

The Snowbike World Championships Apologizes....

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...for being too hard? 


I shit you not, they actually mailed us all letters explaining how sorry they were for not grooming the course and making us all push our bikes. 



If I wanted to do something easy, I'd stay inside and ride a trainer. Or just watch TV.  

Of course, the problem is- everybody wants to pound this shiny new square peg (fat bikes) into a long standing round hole (UP winters).  We get a lot of snow. No matter how fat your tires, riding a snow bike can suck. Sometimes, maybe, just maybe- skis are a better choice.  

Difficult rides are where the best stories come from. I've had many, many idyllic rides. But I remember the ones that were really hard the most.  And finishing them is something I'm far more proud of than any race result.   Besides, it's not like any of us were staring down frostbite or packs of hungry wolves or anything. We had to walk some.  Deal with it.

Apology accepted, I guess. 

Although if that race was hard enough to justify an apology- I guess my hopes of some epic killer death race up here probably won't pan out.

Easily one my top 10 days ever.

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Just finished what is easily in the running for my best day of skiing ever. 

I've literally been planning this thing for years. We lucked out in that an access road is plowed this winter, cutting several miles off the trip. It was possible to complete this in about 9 hours instead of requiring an overnight.

And it was even better than I expected, despite spring-like conditions. 

What? No, Utah is next week. 

And as much as that costs it better be completely mindblowing when I've got this in my backyard:

Oh yeah, we also had another fatbike race on Saturday.  This one was on some trails I'm very familiar with at MTU. That, combined with the big ring on my Pugs (something a lot of fatbikes don't have) let me beat quite a few people who normally finish far ahead of me.  Sadly though, this was just an all out hammerfest, completely redlined the entire duration of the race, which kind of gets away from what I like about fatbiking.  But the organizers agree that throwing in some singletrack next year sounds like a good idea, so this race has some potential.  

That's what it means when I come in 47th at the Noquemanon Snowbike World Championships, right? 

So yeah, it's a good thing my folks came into town to say hi, otherwise I never would have made it past L'Anse. Apparently they got pounded with nearly 18" of snow the night before. 

What? No, I would not have skipped a bike race to go skiing!

I, um.... don't like to drive in the snow.  Yeah, that's it.  

But hey, it was cool to say hi to all the Marquette peeps and check out all the snowbikes.  Lots of stock Mukluks and Pugsleys, but also a lot of cool, customized rides. Even amongst the horribly uncool folks like like me without a totally custom setup, it's nearly impossible to find two bikes alike (check out my red cables, yo!) 

But hey, it's race start time- everybody line up! 

Now ok, I'll admit it. I'm not really very good at this snowbiking thing. I'm totally squirrelly. I spin out a lot. I go shooting across the trail in weird directions without warning. I like to crash a lot.  And I'm slow. Real slow. 

So I took a nice conservative spot towards the back and didn't dive into the melee at the start. Which is a good thing. Because we immediately started making sharp right turns before getting to a stretch of ungroomed soft snow.   Where we all had to jump off our bikes and start running....

...and running...

...and running... 

...I guess it's a bike race in that, yes- I am pushing my bicycle. Nobody ever said anything about riding it. 

There was one stretch that wasn't so bad, but man- nearly the entire first half of the course was basically unrideable. But hey, it was beautiful day, and we got to hikeabike past some stuff that looked like it might be good fun to come back and ski.

But then, finally- the course went from unrideable to perfectly groomed, nearly entirely downhill racetrack, packed in even more by the 50-odd people in front of me. 

Holy man. It's a good thing those ski trails are wide, I was going faster than I'd go on my mountain bike in the summer. I went flying past maybe 6 people in the last 7k and finished just behind a 7th for 47th out of 67 people.   And I thought I'd never use the big ring on my Pugs... 

Hung out at the finish hoping to score a new set of tires in the raffle, but no dice. Had a couple hours of daylight to kill on the way back home, so stopped off to check out a potential route into some new ski terrain we've been eyeing up and get my favorite kind of fatbiking in- exploring new territory while taking in the natural beauty of the UP.

Making sense of the essential futility of life.

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First fatbike race, coming up this weekend!

And that's pretty much how I feel about. 

The concept of a contest of speed without irony on a fatbike is, well, rather comical.  But they sure are fun to ride in groups and it beats sitting inside. So that's why I do it. 

But it does not beat good skiing though.  Introduced a few friends to the secret Twin Lakes stash. They made it look easy.  

But I think I crossed some kind of skiing threshold this weekend.  This whole "season" I've been amped up like some kind of crack addict looking for a fix.

Dawn Patrol!
Scrape every last inch of powder off the local hill!
Backcountry tours!
XC skiing like it's a methadone hit!
Ski 'til you DIE!

Saturday night, I barely had the energy left to drink a beer before hitting the sack at 9pm. And then getting up and skiing all day Sunday.

Well, the monkey has apparently been fed.

4-8" of heavy fresh snow last night and I went home and shoveled my roof like a motherfucking adult (well, OK- I forgot my kneepads).

Another 4-8" of lighter powder overnight and I wasn't racing out the door at 5am to dodge trees in the dark.

I raced out the door at 6am instead to get to work early so I can leave early (lifts don't start until 3pm anyway...).

Progress, not perfection.