After Almanzo I took a little time off and then got up into the far western end of the U.P. the last couple weekends. The first weekend was 3 days with Jeff B. and the second was a long ride from home to central Wisconsin on the following Friday and then back into the U.P. Saturday. I also was able to get out for a couple long rides on the corresponding Tuesdays which were mostly notable because I accidentally stumbled on the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, which I highly recommend. Anyways, I'm just going to share photos and a couple stories as they apply to the photos.
Deer Head in bathroom stall, Presque Isle, WI
Lake Gogebic sunrise
Near Presque Isle, WI. The white spec is a Swan!
Misery Bay, MI. This is why it was the "misery tour"
Old Victoria, MI. Near the end of day 1 with Jeff. There is a 'hut' nearby that is part of the North Country trail. No water readily available, but a great place to potentially spend a night.
Adventure Mine mtb trails are excellent
Antonio's in Bergland, MI. Part of the reason I wanted to be riding in that area was the heat this time of year. It was still pretty warm up this way. Always good to have a great ice cream shop. At this point I would say I'm good friends with the girl who scoops my sundaes.
More of Lake Gogebic
Agate Beach, MI
North Country trail near Old Victoria, MI
A beaver dam kind of modified this road for us. I was committed to making it to Misery Bay on the official tour with Jeff. We either needed to backtrack or take ATV trails from Misery Bay to Ontonagon. I bet I was off and on my bike over 100x and walked a full 3 miles of that section. This 'road' was the beginning.
Microwave pork rinds and bar pizza are about all you can find at night in Mass City. In the am, there is great breakfast at the Adventure Motel though! Made from scratch by the owner herself.
Jeff near the end of day 1. The last 15 miles or so were truly brutal. I believe we climbed over 2500' across the one large expected climb and then the two larger "surprise" climbs on the ATV trail.
Pasties from Krupps!
Another Misery Bay
I stopped here along the Red Cedar trail last weekend. The Red Cedar is the best rail trail there is. Go ride it! Don't stop here though without bug spray.
Porcupine Mountains, MI
Another Porcupine Mountains (Presque Isle unit)
Another Red Cedar trail
Irvine Park Zoo Chippewa Falls, WI
More from our Misery Bay to Ontonagon 'passage'. This was actually fairly typical and great fun.
Porcupine Mountains (presque isle unit). A better photo I took of this falls hangs over my bed.
Willy's Still in Island Lake, WI. Willy almost ran us over about 4 miles before we stopped in, but he didn't mean any harm. Interesting old man.
Lake of the Falls, WI.
I pulled over to avoid a storm in Marenisco, MI and a local pulled up and offered me a beer.
Sorry for no photos. Perhaps I can add a few down the road, but I didn't see too many photographers braving the rain.
Almanzo is the hardest gravel race I do. It's harder than the longer races. It's harder than the 'harder' races. It's harder than the races promoted as "hard". The competition makes it and 2017 was no different in that regard. I knew going in that I would simply not be the strongest person in the field. It would take my best riding, strategy and some luck if I would have a chance.
Bad weather would be to my advantage. No one is better prepared to ride that course in cold and rainy weather. I rode 155 miles last month when it was 31 and sleeting because I enjoyed doing so. Even if someone else was as "ready" I was confident. I also knew my bike was perfect, with the brand new Barlow Pass 38c compass tire on the rear and the Snoqualmie 44c on the front soft roads and loose gravel would also be to my advantage. As soon as the extended forecast came out I was pulling for it to come true, and it did.
(insert photo of rain)
The race started a bit slower than expected. Most years it gets very strung out over the first hill. I think this was a little neutralized due to the strong east wind. Not much point in going too fast at that point in the course with that. Right away though Colin Catlin outed himself as feeling pretty good by going off the front solo but no one else really reacted and it was much too early/windy for him to get anywhere solo. We would hit a cross wind soon and things would get hard. I was positioned well and took my turns in the echelon. After the crosswinds I have no idea how large the field remained or who was there. Visibility was near zero all day.
You might say that visibility being zero is terrible. Heck, I went through Adam Bergman's "jet wash" once on a descent and had to emergency stop when I literally couldn't tell where the road was anymore. All that "sucks" and all that, but it is also a great opportunity. When things are broken down that fully. There is nothing but forward movement, instinctual reaction to the shapes in front of you, survival. It forces you to exist in your most basic form. It puts you into the moment and it is a gift. I've been that way in other sports a couple times in the past. Usually it is for a minute or two. I remember very clearly one run of Slalom at Spirit Mountain in a MidAm many years ago where I was fully present in that way. A day like Saturday though, it can put you there for hours. Better than drugs...
We barreled along in our own bubbles. I watched some minor attacks etc. into the wind but knew it wasn't "it". Keeper road approached and it gets steep at the end. I was well positioned but it's not my kind of climb. The right combo hit at the front, another fast rider reacted and another went to his wheel. I was sucking air but I had to go. I put in an effort and then the descent came and I took risks. When I made it across I truly felt like they were expecting me. The group had formed with Tim Savre, Catlin, Bergman, Eric Thomson and myself. I remember thinking that they expected me but that I wasn't sure I actually belonged.
The miles went by, I took my pulls. Always take your pulls if you can when you aren't sure you belong...
I got a bottle hand-up from my wife with Eira on her back and an umbrella in Preston. I forced myself to drink more and tried to eat.
Bergman attacked and got a gap in crosswinds. No idea on mileage, 48?
Savre got a tiny gap around a corner with a little rise after it and I just went. It wasn't thought out, it just happened. I crossed the gap to Bergman over the next few miles with no idea whether or not the guys behind were close or out of sight. I couldn't see behind me. I just knew I wanted to get to Bergman. Bergman and I together could stay clear and I could be assured of no worse than 2nd.
Soon after Forestville Catlin and Savre came up to us and Savre was clearly feeling good. He was gone. I struggled on the hills. If we had gotten over those next 4 miles without being caught it might have been different, but we did not. Credit goes to Catlin and Savre for, presumably, working together and if not for being so strong as to catch us anyways. Thomson was gone, we didn't know what had happened to him. I still do not. Tim said that when I had jumped to go to Bergman he had looked back to see who would chase me and Thomson was not there, only Catlin.
Anyways, I had played the one card I really had to play in such company. I dropped my chain once and a 20 second gap turned into a minute and then two. I lost my edge a little but I kept pedaling. I never looked back.
The water crossing was cold. I squatted in it and urinated. I felt much better on the bike after that. I also put my glove in the water accidentally but it was already so soaked it didn't matter. Nothing probably could have mattered then.
Oriole road passed, the final climb passed. I felt better than when I had won in 2015 over the last 6 miles or so, but there was nothing to do about it. The ship had sailed and I just ground to the finish. No one was there but two volunteers. My wife was in the car and Eira was napping. Kim helped me to get my wet clothes off and we drove away.
I would end my night collecting friends from NE Iowa where their attempt at riding the Alexander had stalled.
This is very bike racing focused. A lot has happened in 'life' as well, but this isn't the place for that.
Have to start with last year. In the last corner of the last night of a 3 week crit series late last June I went down in a crash pretty hard. 36 hours later I rode 205 miles or so from my house to Spooner, WI. That was dumb. I rode the next day too. Heck, I rode a crit two weeks after that and then again the next week. Anyways, I had broken my collarbone, a small bone in my hand and sustained a concussion. I didn't really realize that all at the time. Really only the concussion ever caught up with me anyways, the rest just sort of messed up my golf season an ability to reach into my jersey pocket with my left arm.
Ten weeks after that crash I went over the bars in a WORS race. I was riding in 6th or so at the time which was good for me in the Elite field. I finished 8th. I was 'ok' but didn't feel well training that week. I raced ok in the Filthy 50 the next weekend and finished 2nd but things weren't all great. I continued to develop additional symptoms. It got bad. I was eventually off the bike for 4 months. I gained weight, struggled with some things. My family was great. I was lucky I worked at home and could work when I felt good. There were times when I simply couldn't accomplish anything for days. Times when I couldn't sleep. Times when I couldn't remember the meal I had just eaten with my family.
By late February the haze had past. I've been riding hard ever since. I've learned some lessons and have changed a lot of my plans for this year to avoid risk when possible. I don't have any deep life lessons or opinions. It was a mistake to go on the long ride after the first crash, I wouldn't do that again. Racing can be a little dangerous, but everyone taking the line already knows this. I guess I hope if you are reading this you'll still be aggressive and race hard but respect the need for rest/recover/care when it comes to head injuries.
Since that time I've done my best to fight hard and get back to being able to ride well. It's been a struggle with losing the 12 lbs or so that I had gained. I've been lucky to have plenty of time to ride and I think I've taken advantage of that.
I desperately wish I could be racing crits and road but I know I need to recovery as fully as possible first and doubt I'm completely there. That means this spring/summer I really just had gravel races on the calendar.
Cirrem I surprised myself with a late surge from a few minutes back with 20 miles to go all the way to the front of the race with just one rider who pipped me at the line. I had been solidly dropped early on hills and this was a big surprise late
LML I struggled with climbing early again (the weight) and had to ride solo much of the middle of the race. Again, was able to push hard late and finish 2nd despite another strong field.
Ragnarok I kind of knew what to expect and was able to execute a plan based on the reality of my fitness and take the win for the 2nd year in a row.
After Ragnarok I actually started to do more than just pure base miles and by the time the Hungry Bear 100 rolled around I had lost 8 of those extra pounds and my climbing no longer was a total achilles heal. In fact, I was able to be agressive on the climbs. I flatted very late while off the front with Jesse L. and that robbed us both of finishing off what had already been a fun battle. I wound up 3rd despite taking nearly 7 minutes to change the flat and left feeling motivated and with momentum.
I haven't had any clear symptoms or issue for a few months now and I am very grateful for that!
Last year I didn't sign up for the Ragnarok. I can't really tell you why. This race means a lot to me. My family has been in the area this course goes through for over a century and most of them still do live in Red Wing. That aside, any of the original gravel races from the "almanzo gravel series"... well, they are what got me interested in bike racing. I rode them when it was a challenge to finish, when it was a challenge to try to compete, when it was a challenge just to survive (the year of the rain/cold). It's still a huge challenge, but I came to the ragnarok this year to try to win.
I think I've had good legs all spring. No wins, but all close misses since fatbike season.
CIRREM is a great first race of the year. It was very fast this year with beautiful weather. I may have had an advantage to press with 4 or 5 miles to go, but tried to play it safe and got beat in a mis-timed sprint effort. I left feeling pretty good about the day, but frustrated with 3rd. I've done CIRREM a ton of times now and am piling up the top 5s with no wins there. Maybe it's better that way with it being so early, but someday I would like to win!
Testing the legs a bit at CIRREM
I then did a couple of Iowa mixed road races. I was third in Hills and won a bunch sprint. Fresh legs right to the end, but no strategic way to use them other than what I did. Still a great training ride and fun. It was good to see my friend Jason win and I was happy that one of us not from the local team, with 7 guys in the race, was able to take it. The Crushed Rock Classic was a new event this year. Fun course with a mixture of gravel, a bit of road and some CX style grass/mud even. I was strong but tentative and wound up second.
This was a pretty ridiculous chase group that formed in the Crushed Rock Classic
On to the Ragnarok and the first 'goal' race of the year. I had an idea of how the race would likely unfold going into it. The first 85 miles are all about conserving energy and then a group of 2-4 would likely form over the top of Heath's Hill which would break up further over the second to last climb OR come down to a sprint on the final ramp. I am racing a bit heavier these days (Dad bod?) and knew that a sprint up that final ramp was not for me. Anyone who would be able to stay with me to that point was likely to beat me on that pitch!
Conserving energy early
This is a great shot of what the Ragnarok is all about!
The pace early was pretty ridiculous. I wasn't in danger of being dropped until we got to the largest hills around mile 55, but I sure wanted to ride slower! I was expecting a bit more gentlemanly pace and a chance to pee and remove my jacket. Next time I won't wear a skinsuit under a wool jersey and will NOT start in a jacket. The combination meant no rolling pee and little access to any food, which was compounded by frozen bottles. In the end I wound up only consuming about 250 calories and 40 oz of water throughout the entire race. Thankfully my wife was at checkpoint two though! I only got one big sip of cranberry/cherry soda and a wish of good luck! but that helped me immensely on the last 25 miles.
The group dropped me on the large back to back hills, but I kept the gap reasonable and essentially coasted back on going downhill. Jesse had flatted on that same climb. When I caught back on the group really slowed and we finally did tentatively stop and pee. This let me safely get my jacket off, let Jesse back on and probably really influenced the outcome of the race. From that point on I felt the momentum shifting and was no longer hanging on.
Heath's Hill comes up at mile 85 or so. I still had it fresh in my mind getting dropped on the large hills earlier and reflexively went to the front and started riding my own tempo. I had to be sure to be in contact over the top. It's a technical climb that takes about 8 minutes from top to bottom. Throughout you have to look ahead and pick good lines while also putting down decent power. Things started getting quieter and quieter. The silence started to feed my desire to push a little harder and in turn it got quieter. I wasn't able to match my own KOM time on the climb, but I did put between 20 seconds and 2 minutes on the remainder of the group. After the quick pavement descent the course turns downwind and begins a much longer/gradual climb (perhaps a better launch pad for an attack from someone with my skills). I was caught by Jesse and Sam E. as we turned onto that gradual climb. I was Ok with that thinking that the 3 of us would be able to put time into the others and that was better than the big group had been. However, it became apparent that neither of them were in a condition to make any pulls. I slipped away as it started to go up and rode tempo the remaining 15 miles in!
It felt really good not to have to sprint on that final ramp.
I'm sure Jesse had used up a lot of his energy chasing on after the flat. It would have been interesting to see how much more I had in the tank had I been pushed late. I've been riding all week, but I'm STILL tired from the effort, no doubt.
LML has been moved to this weekend due to bad weather 3 weeks ago. I think that maybe took a little bit of the luster off of it. After all, Ragnarok was the "goal" in this early part of the year, but LML was supposed to set up as an important tune-up. Now it's the beginning of the next chapter which ends with Almanzo. Meanwhile, the crit season has also started. Gravel and crits complement each other better than most realize if you ask me.
We have a structurally sound, but sort of useless barn on our property. It's not a proper "barn" the way most picture barn architecture but more of an early "pole shed", at least in architectural style, made from wood. When we moved in it didn't even have a large enough door to put a trailer or store a boat in it or anything. We put a huge sliding door on the far end last year and I built a large dog indoor/outdoor dog kennel down there as well. Anyways, most of it has just been storage for us. A lot more storage than we really needed. It was a pretty big mess. Here is a photo of it from down near the dog kennel.
It was built in 1950 and originally had a series of pens for chickens in it.
I got it into my head that we should turn it into a hockey rink for the winter. The issue with having ice in a yard or whatever is always maintaining it, right? But if we did it in the barn it wouldn't snow on it! Plus it would be protected from the wind etc. etc.
What you really can't see there is just how much of a pain it was to level the fllor out with a shovel and rake. We had planned to have someone dump gravel in the future and to bring in a skid steer at that point. I was in a hurry and did it by hand (in about 6 hours). The frame is 4" sewer and drain pvc.
The liner is just two layers of the thickest plastic we could find at Fleet Farm.
I added about half the water first then let it freeze. I've since added a few thinner layers on the top after filling it all the way. It's about 3" deep at the close end and 6" at the other.
I wired up some speakers and christmas lights and we've been out there about twice a week since.
Here is a quick video of Riley at just over 3 years old. This was the second time she ever skated by herself (with her walker). The first try was about 1 minute previous. Prior to this I've carried her around a lot letting her get used to how the ice feels under her feet. She likes to ride on her little slide while I push it around the ice and plays hockey from her knees with a cut down stick.
The slide which shows the rink a little bit better too-
And another after a couple more practice attempts (still on her first night of standing alone)-
Facebook sent me a bunch of posts I'd made "on this day" in the past. I've had a lot of fun on January 31st! The Untitled ride was always great, when it happened. Of course, it kind of died out because two years ago it was -15 or whatever and no one can really ride 5 or 6 hours safely in those temperatures (or is going to drive just to do so with me).
Anyways, this weekend I was supposed to race in a one hour fatbike race (cx style laps/bell) on Saturday and then go to the bike swap. I wound up staying home both days and riding 4 hours each day. Three days this week I was lucky enough to ride for a while, sit down and eat lunch, ride home. I guess that was my version of the untitled.
Soon here I'll have a newborn at home and I may not get to do that as much for a while. I still hope to race quite a bit this spring though. We will see, I guess.
I had planned to start my season in the middle of December. Might have had a lot of miles on by now too. However, the same sinus infection that took me out of Jinglecross took me out all the way into early January. I did have a mediocre day at the Solstice Chase but went totally back in the hole after that. Since getting on antibiotics early in January I've felt much better. Thankfully, too, because I had a great trip to Colorado last week skiing!
Anyways, that meant I pulled the plug on the Triple D and was free to race the Snow Crush on what little training I have in my legs. More or less that consisted of the ride where I took this picture two weeks ago!
The Snow Crush was a lot of fun. The course was firm and fast and the River Bend Nature Center is always scenic. It was also a great place for Riley to hang out and check out the animals etc.. pre and post race.
The paper always gets things just a bit wrong... but yeah, I was really hot at the end! The Almanzo is a lot of fun (although, the Dickie is my event). The PWC appears to be dead moving forward (disappointing to me because I love that type of racing... riding a tight rope!). Oh, and I did win.
It was very windy and with such cold/firm temperatures it was not very technical. Riding skill wasn't going to be what separated the fastest people on the front in those conditions. In the end it came down to 'road' type tactics. I knew I didn't have too much in my legs fairly early on, but was also able to get into the ideal position in second wheel. On the first lap I was worried Dustin Gaffke was going to just ride me off his wheel and take off, but with each hill it was easier to hang on. I'm sure the wind was wearing him out some. He certainly had an opportunity to drop me early. By the last lap I had an idea of how the race would go down. It was a challenge not to attack too early. In fact, I did try to attack too early on the one technical descent but my gap was short lived. That served to put me on the front of a group of three though heading to the finish. Not the worst place to be considering how I expected things to shake out. Patience would be the key.
There was a relatively long hill with about 600 meters to go with a false flat. I knew things would go off on the way up. Both riders came off my wheel and opened up decent gaps on me on the main pitch. I was able to stay patient though, do my own thing and then run them down on the false flats before the final descent/sprint to the finish. Results are here.
After the Solstice Chase I was sort of excited about fatbike racing this year. The combination of the sinus infection and my second daughter being due in about 2 weeks now will mean that I may be done after just these two races. Maybe next year!
This year at the Dickie Scramble I broke a pedal while off the front trying to hold off a charging Ted Loosen. I was able to ride the last 8 or 9 miles in but it certainly slowed me down a bit. I had been using crank brothers quattro pedals on all my bikes for years. Being able to use either mountain or road shoes with the same pedals was always very appealing. Crank Brothers' reliability had always concerned me slightly, but since switching to the high end quattros and following a consistent rebuild schedule I had experienced no issues for about 3 years. The quattros had helped the reliability because the platform meant that I was not compressing the spring with each pedal stroke (I'd worn out springs on several sets of egg beaters in a hurry).
When I broke another pedal on mile 25 or so of a group ride the Monday after the Almanzo 100 I knew I had to switch.
Shimano was the clear choice for me. To put it simply thee more I ride the more Shimano parts I use. The appeal of slightly flashier/lighter/cheaper/whatever equipment just no longer is there.
I had a much harder time switching to the road pedals (7900 dura ace) than I'd like to admit. Maybe I should have switched over slowly, only using them on group rides initially, but bad starts (and restarts after free laps) in the northstar crits were actually a big enough issue for me to influence the outcome of the races. I'm still not 100% proficient.
On the mtb/cx front the switch went a bit better. I went with the 540s and got them right before the week long touring trip I took to the U.P.. Initially I rode them with the tension all the way loose which I found replicated the feel of clipping into the CB pedals very well. I noticed the longer spindles, but it was never something that bothered me on that trip (60+ hours on my bike in 8 days). Anyways, after that trip I was fairly confident in being able to clip into the pedals. I still am not quite as fast as I used to be though. I think my starts suffered a little bit until well into November. Dismounts are not an "issue" but the pedals do not allow me to walk my left foot out leading into barriers as easily as with the other pedals and I've had to change my technique some. I have been pleasantly surprised by how well they work/clear mud. If anything my experience this year was that mud performance was improved vs. the crank brothers.