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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!

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!


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.

LSPR 2011

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This year was tough.  

A couple of key organizers decided to take a long deserved break and the rest of us had to step up to take up the slack.  This had me doing a lot more organizer type things in addition to my regular rallymaster duties. Mostly this involved calling people on the phone and asking them for things. I hate sales.  But what are you gonna do?

Not ride your bike much and get incredibly stressed out it seems. 

Plus, I've kind of had a bad attitude about the sport of rally as of late. It seems I hear no end of bitching every time I try to include a cool two track stage or we don't finish in time for people to get to the bar. Add in the spiraling cost of competition that's driven away many of my friends and I was convinced that the sport was largely being overtaken by a bunch of dandies. 

Usually, my duties start to wind down a bit the week before the rally, and if I've done my job right, I can start to enjoy the event. Not so this year. I immediately had to switch into the Chief of Communications hat and recruit about 25 qualified radio operators, set up a net control station, and figure out how to run a net for a rally.  My buddy Dave saved my ass in countless ways on this one- getting me the local ham contacts, setting us up in the CCRAA radio shack for net control and generally bringing a lot of expertise and equipment that I am sorely lacking in. 

So there I am, Friday morning of the rally, already way behind on sleep and I just want to get through it as quickly as possible so I can go up to Copper Harbor, ride my bike, and get my new kayak. And then never ever organize another rally again.

We kind of got tossed into the fire on net control, but we were figuring it out.  Casual comments from previous net control operators got us moving in the correct direction and horrendous weather conditions out on the stages were keeping spectator and civilian problems at bay.

And then, finally- on the last stage of the night, we had or first "problem".  Car zero came back and said we should just skip it.  It sounded like the stage was passable, but very very muddy.  Unable to come up with a suitable plan to navigate the cars back to service, I agreed to transit the stage. Car zero came back and said if I'm going to send them down it, I might as well let them compete. There may have been some egging on by a long time competitor working the finish control too.  Go ahead and run it...

I think I can safely use the word "epic" here.  6 cars off, nearly a quarter of the remaining field. Stories of one particular driver who was giving a full on, 11/10ths driving performance when his co-driver looked over and told him he was doing upwards of 25mph.  And comments like "Sorry, no car count- our log sheets have disintegrated in the rain." It took a while, but we got everybody out of the woods safely. I was back at the hotel and in bed by 4am, but couldn't sleep. I was stoked! Finally, rally was cool again.  It was an epic battle of will against the elements! Forget winning, just getting through those conditions was an accomplishment worth celebrating. Here was rally's chance to prove it's mettle to me... 

We certainly had our challenges the next day, including a stuck transmitter that forced us to transit a stage and do an emergency frequency change, but we had mastered the basic routine of getting a stage up and running. We even made it down to the banquet to catch the last few scraps of food on the buffet (not that we need it, Dave's wife was feeding us pretty well that whole weekend).

During the awards ceremony, rally made me proud. Everybody agreed it was a horrendous, difficult night. But the attitude was, "that's what makes this cool". I didn't hear a single complaint about running that last stage.  Spent the night drinking beer, shaking hands, thanking the people on the ground that made net control so much easier for us, and talking about "next year!".

Kind of an exciting weekend for staring at this for nearly 40 hours straight:

Imagine the smell of dead mice and dCon to fully appreciate it. :) 

What everybody else got to see:

Now about the AMC Eagle SX/4 rally project I've been thinking of....

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?  


Royal 162

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162 (actually, 157) miles of southeast Minnesota gravel roads.

90 people thought it was a good idea this winter to sign up for this.

Given the forecast for rain and cold on race day, only 57 folks showed up at registration.

Only 25 managed to cross the finish line. 

I was the last to do so before the "official" cut-off time of 15 hours.

Now, I'm sure there was a great reason I signed up for this. Probably something about fitness, health and personal accomplishment fit for the cheery pages of "Bicycling" magazine or somesuch. 

Those folks of the same mindset probably did the sensible thing and stayed at home and rode their trainers. 

Only those with darker, ulterior motives found themselves in the parking lot of the Spring Valley high school parking lot at 7am on a cold rainy morning. The usual, lighthearted, startline banter was kept to a minimum. These men and women were here to commit unspeakable acts against man, machine and soul in hopes of finding just where their breaking point was. 

And many did. 

I love when success or failure in a race is decided not by how many hours I trained, or how crisp and clean my new whiz-bang gruppo shifts, but by things like keeping my route instructions from disintegrating in the rain and how many pieces of pizza I can shove in my mouth at once. 

Thankfully, I've actually endured worse conditions on the back of a motorcycle of all things, so I was able to stay pretty positive through the whole event. As long as I kept moving, I stayed warm. Quitting actually became too complicated of an option after the last major city at mile 60. It would mean having to find shelter, making contact with my teammate who hopefully finished his 100 mile ride, and organizing transportation back to the start.  No, it was just easier to keep the pedals turning over and plodding down the course. 

This race became especially tough as I essentially had to do the entire thing solo. There was no drafting to help me through the cold winds. Everybody near the back of the pack was dropping out of the race. I saw all of two riders during the last 100 miles.

I finished out the last 10 miles in the dark, 17 minutes shy of the official cut off time of 15 hours.

Of course, the problem I face now is this- I still haven't found my limit. I've still never DNFed a race. What do I do next?

(Photo courtesy of Craig Linder)

2010 Bike Season Wrap Up

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My legion of fanS (Yes, it's plural now!) have been demanding an update. With less writing and more pictures. 

So yes, I did finish out the tour. Riding through the Traverse City area reminded me of all the reasons I stayed in the UP. I cut the trip back up through WI a bit short as it was pretty hot, and this being my 3rd time on the same route, I was getting a little bored of it.  All in all, another great tour though. I could do this for the rest of my life if I had too. More pictures here.

But then it was back to racing...

The 2010 UP State Singlespeed Championships went pretty well. I had a sprint to the finish to come in just behind last year's UP State singlespeed champion.  I still really like the Deer Chase. It's probably the only MTB race I really do anymore for the racing.

Somewhere in there, I started organizing a team for the upcoming Gentlemen's Ride in MN the next month.  One of my teammates came over to the UP to do some riding with me and we rode from my house down to Eagle River, WI for the Central ADV Rally. We stuck with mostly gravel roads on the way down and it turned into quite the adventure- what with the moose encounter, and finishing out the last 20 miles in the dark on a sandy two track with minimal lighting.  We took surprisingly little crap for showing up at a motorcycle rally in spandex trousers on bicycles. As always, a hell of a party. The hangover was mostly gone by the time I finished the 100 mile grind back north.  At least I fared better than the two guys who woke up at the campground literally days after the rally ended concluding an epic bender.

After that it was off to Fat Tire up in copper harbor.  Weather was a little crappy this year, so I neglected to ride up and also skipped out on the Super D the day before leaving the title of Central Upper Northern Midwest But Not Wisconsin Touring/XC/Downhill title up for grabs. Sadly, there were no contenders so my title is still safe.  I showed up with my 29er, did the long race and felt I did pretty good, but I was just kind of reminded that the better I get at XC MTB racing, the more I seem to dislike it.  I love riding single track, but racing on it just seems to suck the fun out of it. You're either going too fast trying to make time, or too slow because some doofus is in front of you. Then you're stuck racing like a total tool just to maintain your position when you can. It's quickly becoming not worth it anymore.  Thankfully, Fat Tire has a great party afterwards and that's always fun....

I think cyclocross started shortly thereafter.  And, well... I still love CX, but with my move to "Eh" class, things didn't go as well.  A bunch of other guys made the jump as well, but the racing just wasn't the same. Our little pack was totally broken up and a lot of the fun of CX was missing.  I did run one race in the "Bees", gave it my all and still came in fourth with some great racing. I hate any semblance of sandbagging, but it's not like I'm waltzing up to the podium if I move back in 2011.  We'll see....

The we had the Gentemen's Ride, a rendition of the Almanzo 100 that must be completed as a team of four riders. I recruited one of my imaginary internet motorcycle friends and a couple of my teammates and had a pretty good time on this. The slightly slower pace allowed me to enjoy the course more and I think I made a few converts to gravel road racing as well. 

Shortly thereafter was the Heck of the North, another gravel road race in Duluth, MN.  Absolutely, stunningly, beautiful course right in peak color season on the North Shore of MN.  Too bad my fitness level wasn't up to the challenge. The start was a little rough and it took me a while to find my rhythm. I eventually pulled through with a respectable finish, but I'm looking forward to getting back in 2011 for revenge. Gotta get a plug in here for the cool folks that run the Gardenwood resort just north of Duluth. Great hosts for the weekend!

And that kind of finished us out... Honestly, I was getting pretty anxious for ski season.

So apparently, "The Killer Gravel Road Race" didn't quite scare my dad off from bicycle racing. Earlier this summer he expressed interest in maybe doing a mountain bike race too.  When he found out about 12 hours of Potluck, and the informal "Best Dish" award, he announced- without hesitation that he was in it.  To win.  He might even ride a bike too.  

After digging around, I managed to convince Tim and Christina Smigowski to join our team riding under the name "Otter River Pneumatic Yachting Society".  Tim and Christina's initiation in the ORPYS is a whole other story, and even if I could remember it- probably not suitable for even my blog. All I know was that the next morning I woke up with way shorter hair and a blistering "Maker's Mark" hangover.  

Anyway, the plan was to take it easy and just enjoy the event. Dad had about 25 lbs of pulled pork BBQ ready to go, and we had no expectations of winning or even really doing well.  I expected we'd maybe drop in the standings as the 12 hours wore on and packed a cooler full of beer for midrace handups and other back-of-the-pack antics.  

Well, Tim asked to be first one out. I was OK with that as I don't really start too well anyway. The race featured a "LeMans" style start with racers running ~25 yards to their bikes before hitting the trail.  Tim apparently had other ideas than "taking it easy" and went out and got the holeshot, being the first one on the trail. Then went out to set a pretty blistering lap speed.

Well, I guess we're racing now....

I managed to turn some respectable lap times as my turn came around. Racing this event as a team make it a totally different race than solo.  Dad managed to break his chain on his first lap, but was still turning some great times for somebody who's cumulative mountain bike experience was growing by several percentage points each time he went out.  

I sat back and waited for the inevitable point in the race when the leaders would start to walk away, but it wasn't happening.  There was one team with a solid lead, but it was neck and neck for everybody else. Looks like we're in for the long haul...

Tim, Christina and I set to work churning out the laps while Mom and Dad turned to dishing up the barbecue. Dad didn't have a whole lot of competition on the food front, but the bike race was coming down to the wire. We'd need every last minute to try to eek out an extra lap.  

With just over an hour left to go, I set out for my 6th and final lap with the simple goal of burning it down to the end in hopes of buying enough time for Tim to complete a final 7th lap in the dark.  It was kind of like one big solitary cyclocross lap... and probably my fastest of the day.  But I managed to get Tim enough time to complete his final lap getting us third place in the co-ed team division. 

But dad's BBQ kind of stole the show... a week or so later at a group ride, some guy commented that he heard my father had fed half of Houghton county that week.  I wouldn't be surprised if the bluegrass band that performed that night is composing a ballad on the subject. Generations from now, children will be singing songs about it.