Dirty Benny Recap

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This shitty mechanic let me leave the house with a filthy bike and missing cable end cap.

 Last Saturday I took part in the Westside Dirty Benjamin, a  gravel race held in Chaska, MN. I like the WDB because it’s practically in the metro but doesn’t feel like it – most of the course’s 107 miles have a distinctly rural feel, which is a welcome change of pace from what I usually ride. I went into the race feeling good about a ‘short’ day on smooth, flat roads, and my main goal was to end the day feeling like I had really raced the event in stead of just riding to finish. I was also starting the day in pretty high style, which probably contributed to my optimism:

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Going full hipster for 2013.

Friday night I went to bed at a reasonable hour, and then drove by myself to the start and arrived early (-10 Hubster points). I at least partially redeemed myself by starting the race on a 6 year old cross check with at least one H20 cage held on by zip ties (+5 Hubster points). I snapped my one obligatory photo at the start of the race, then retired my camera to a jersey pocket for the rest of the day. The start looked pretty typical, except that the sun was out. Don’t worry, it rained later.

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The race started with a controlled roll through Chaska, and we were then turned loose on some rail trail and grassy two track through the woods. I made a point to stay close enough to the front to stay out of trouble, then got spit out onto roads with a large lead group of what felt like 30 – 40 folks. I stuck with them for the first 62 miles of the race, which is an eternity for a slowpoke like me. Lots of full-blown racer types in the group, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the pace to be pretty mellow for several hours. Things picked up as we neared the checkpoint, and I burned a few too matches yo-yo-ing off the back.

I rolled into the checkpoint with the lead group, grabbed some water, and made it through the subsequent trail section without incident. By the time I made it through the the woods there was no group in sight, and I felt like shit. I basically limped along for the remaining 45 miles, eventually feeling better as my stomach calmed down and I was able to resume cramming calories into my mouth. Crossed the finish line in 6 hours, 13 minutes — still about ten minutes better than last year despite feeling awful for a big chunk of the race.

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Photo stolen from gravel booster extraordinaire Chris Skogen.

I was greeted by this at the finish line – definitely the first brand that pops into my head when I think ‘gravel racing’. I hustled to the swag table to hopefully scoop up some canvas slip on sneakers, but I guess they had already been snatched up. Then it started pouring rain. Big ups to everyone who spent hours finishing the ride in the storm – they definitely had a harder day than I did!

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This is what passes for a race recap around here.

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Shamelessly stolen from Craig Lindner – See link below for full set.

I love the Almanzo reason for a lot of reasons, most of which are pretty obvious: the course is gorgeous, the event attracts a good crew, and race director Chris Skogen has so thoroughly infused the event with his personality that every person who participates walks away feeling like they’ve made a new close personal friend. With these qualities, the exponential growth of the event isn’t too surprising. But the thing I love about the Almanzo is a little more personal – it’s how closely I associate it with my development as a cyclist. In 2010 the race was my first ever century, and my first race that didn’t take place on a miniscule loop of singletrack. I rode away from the Forrestville checkpoint genuinely unsure if I was capable of completing it. In 2011 I finished the inaugural Royal 162, and that was my first time riding over 150 miles, but the miserable conditions were a lot more intimidating than the distance. Each year I feel like my riding has made some modest advancement, and the Almanzo has been there as a barometer for my progress each step of the way. No matter what other races I sign up for, I’m confident that I’ll keep making the trek down to Spring Valley as long as I have the opportunity to do so.

Last weekend was my third Royal, but it also marked another first. This was the first year that I’ve actually felt like I ‘raced’ the event, instead of simply struggling to survive to the finish. Not struggling with hypothermia or heat stroke, combined with a few more miles logged earlier in the spring, left me feeling like I was capable of going fast, not just going. I’m still pretty slow and allegedly non-competitive, but I finished 160 miles in 10:41 and got 7th place, and I think that’s pretty cool. Lately I’ve been thinking of replacing my 7 year old Cross Check, and maybe at least writing down how much I ride on paper somewhere. I don’t discount carbon fiber as a material anymore, and I even thought about buying a heart monitor once! I still only care about long rides that barely resemble races, but I care a little bit more about how quickly I ride them. Looking ahead to the rest of the summer and beyond, it looks like I’ll have a number of awesome opportunities to test my limits. I’m beyond grateful that the Almanzo has been here to help me start down the path towards discovering what those limits might be.

In addition to the above quasi-philosophical nonsense, I learned some practical stuff this weekend as well. Beef Jerky really hits the spot when I ride in the winter, but not so much in the summer. And the phrase “steel is real” is always dumb but seems even dumber when you’re hoisting 25 plus pounds of it over your head as you scramble out of a river.

As usual I took no pictures, but here are some that are pretty spectacular.

Trans Iowa 2013

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Obviously super excited to be here.

This weekend I finished Trans Iowa, a 320 mile ultracycling race that took me 29 hours to complete. I hate writing about the races I participate in because I end up sounding like a douche and its really hard to distill an entire day of riding into a cohesive narrative of just a few paragraphs (via being a shitty writer). That’s doubly true for Trans Iowa, an event that’s so long that I’m pretty sure I’ve already forgotten entire segments of it.  While its probably impossible for me to offer a compelling recap of my race, there’s at least one big thing I took away from this weekend. Nearly every race I take part in is touted as a ‘self supported’ event. I think the sentiment behind ‘self supported’ is admirable (and the alternative truly wretched), but it’s also total bullshit! After Trans Iowa I have never been more aware of how much I really depend on others during these events. Early on Saturday morning another racer remarked to me that having company during the Trans Iowa’s mandated all-nighter was ‘critical’.  This proved to be incredibly accurate, and I’m confident that I wouldn’t have finished if it weren’t for the eight other racers with whom I rode through the night.

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Contemplating another 140 miles of exactly this

 

I was lucky enough to cross paths with some seriously fit riders and capable Trans Iowa veterans. After a dinner break at mile 180 we coalesced into a group of nine and rode together through the remainder of the night. As the sun set and we pulled on extra layers for the long night it was obvious that we were all starting to wear. If it wasn’t for the leadership and navigation of a few members of our group, I would have been in trouble. By the time we rolled into a Kwik Trip at 2am, 290 miles in, I was almost ready to throw in the towel. Nearly hypothermic and unable to eat, I considered taking a nap in the Trucker’s lounge and calling my girlfriend for a ride. In the time it took me to choke down some chocolate milk Mike Johnson and already purchased pairs of gloves to pass out to the group (as well as a Mountain Dew sweatshirt that he wore to the finish!).  He grabbed me by the shoulder. smiled, and asked if I was ready to go. The unspoken message was ‘get your shit together, ‘ and somehow I did.

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Mike Johnson taking care of shit was a consistent theme of the weekend.

Over the last forty miles our group drifted apart, some getting a second wind and attacking the final giant hills with alarming speed. I limped along, finishing at the back. Still, shaking hands with everyone as we sprawled at the finish line and cracked beers, it was clear that we had finished Trans Iowa together. Mike, Paul, Tim, Paul, Chris, Jay, Steve, Charles, it was a pleasure. Thanks for getting me to the barn!

Finally, if it weren’t for the support of one person I wouldn’t have made it to Grinnell in the first place. Thank you Alex for putting up with my obnoxious training schedule, hanging in Grinnell all weekend, and putting up with my sleep deprived rantings on the drive back home. I love you!

 

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The best out of like five pictures of us at the start (srs).

 

 

 

Amateur Hour at the Colorado Trail Race

I’m back home after an early DNF at the Colorado Trail Race. Needless to say I’m pretty upset about it, but am trying to remain positive about the experience and learn from it what I can. This was only my second foray into multi-day endurance racing, and while failing at an event that I put so much energy into preparing for is frustrating, I know that there will be opportunities for redemption in the future.

My decision to drop out came mostly as a result of poor judgment and rattled nerves. Despite feeling the thin air and walking more than I would have liked, my first day went fairly well and I crested Georgia Pass around 10pm. This put me roughly 80 miles into the race, and was basically where I wanted to be given my aspirations of a midpack finish. I began my descent, and then for whatever reason made the purely idiotic decision to bivy midway down the pass to hopefully avoid rapidly approaching thunderstorm. This would have been forgivable if my sleep system included a tent or tarp, which it didn’t. I was thinking like a tourist but had packed like a racer, and I got soaked. Pounding rain, hail, and a soaked down bag had me shivering uncontrollably and seriously worried about my safety. Scared and unable to make myself do the right thing (pack my shit and move on in the rain), I instead pulled on every piece of clothing I could find and huddled in my wet bivy. I turned off the 4am alarm on my phone and mentally quit the race at that exact moment.

The following morning I waited for the sun to rise, then dried out a little bit on the way down the pass. Despite feeling that my race was over, I had a blast riding the remainder of segment 6. The final descent to highway 9 was such a blast that I considered detouring to Breckenridge, plopping down a few hundred bucks on a tent, and pressing on. This scheme lasted about as long as the adrenaline from the descent, and instead I called my Mom, turned off my Spot, and pedaled to a motel in Frisco.

I expect to return to the Colorado Trail someday in the future, though not necessarily in the context of this race. If I do line up for it again it will be with the assumption that I can race it at my full potential, something that may be difficult to achieve while living at 1000 feet above see level. Maybe I’ll just have to move to Colorado in order to prepare for it effectively! In the meantime I’m happy to turn my energy towards some events closer to home. I’m keeping an eye out for sleeping bags rated to -20F, and I hope to be seeing to some unfinished business in Grinnell next April. Plus, there seems to be more and more multiday events sprouting up all over the country, so who knows what opportunities I may have in the near future. If you’re a cyclist with an appetite for long distance, self-supported adventures, there’s never been a better time to be alive and riding than right now, so take advantage of it! Here’s a few pictures I’ll be looking at for reminders of that in the coming months.

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Shared Suffering at the Royal 162

Finishing the Royal 162 with Tim Werts and Jeremy Kershaw

After a painful nine hour Ragnarok and an early DNF for no real reason at Trans Iowa, I approached this weekends Royal 162 hoping for some sort of redemption, and my goal for the weekend was to come out of the race not feeling like a total piece of shit. There was a lot to feel shitty about in the hours leading up to the start, with forecasts of strong winds and temperatures approaching 90. After arriving at the start, and I had just enough time to bum some life saving sunblock from Mike Johnson before lining up with the 50 or so riders tackling the “Longmanzo”.  Alex pointed out that I was the only rider with a visible headlight and offered to hold on to it for me, but I was adamant about keeping it. Last year I finished in full dark, and my experiences over the past few months didn’t leave me confident that this year would be any different.

As usual, worrying about the weather and my lack of fitness disappeared within the first hundred feet of the paved roll out, by the time we turned onto gravel I was actually enjoying myself. After sticking with the main group for around an hour I settled into a more sustainable pace and gradually watched them disappear into the rolling hills ahead of me. I usually spend most of these events riding by myself, and assumed that I would spend the rest of the day solo. I passed Preston, caught and passed a few riders, and continued on by myself. Soon the wind picked up and I started cursing myself for not sticking with a group. Jeremy Kershaw rode alongside me long enough to introduce himself, then took off. He seemed to be settling into his own groove and I doubt I could have kept up with him if I tried. I fought a headwind by myself for the next twenty miles into Harmony.

The Harmony Kwik Trip is the only reliable source of food on route, and I enjoyed some ice cream, jerky, and a Mountain Dew before hitching my wagon to a group consisting of Jeremy, Charlie Farrow, and Tim Werts. Leaving Harmony we passed the world’s least accurate bank thermometer which displayed a total bullshit reading of 75. In addition to the heat, we were faced with winds so strong that each of us was almost blown off the road at least once. I was beyond grateful to be riding with other riders, especially riders who knew exactly what they were doing and helped keep me on top of my cues and shouted warnings of the large swaths of fresh gravel that seemed to appear in front of us every few minutes.

Rolling into the Forrestville checkpoint at mile 120 we refilled our bottles yet again and tried to avoid getting sucked into conversation with all the Almanzo riders we saw there. Charlie succumbed to cramps on the long climb leaving the park, and Jeremy, Tim and I continued on. I was feeling excited to be so close to the end and still feeling like I could ride, but I was also dreading the last few brutal climbs of the day. Oriole Road, an absolute beast of a climb in the last 10 miles of the course, was rapidly approaching and I was jealous of Jeremy, who hadn’t ridden this race recently enough to remember it. Tim suggested that we agree to all walk it together if need be, but somehow we all made it up. Tim stood up and road away from Jeremy and I as we struggled to stay on top of our lowest gears. With what seemed like one excruciating pedal stroke per minute I somehow reached the top, continued past the scattered clumps of Almanzo riders walking their bikes, and made for the finish. I’m pretty sure there was one more climb before the end but I don’t really remember it. The three of us finished in just under 12 hours and my headlight turned out to be totally unneeded!

Despite the heat, wind, and pain, I had an absolute blast this weekend. The Almanzo/Royal really is a special event, and I’m grateful to have been able to take part in it again this year.  Thanks to Tim, Charlie and Jeremy for the company and motivation!

Triple D

 

This weekend I took part in the Triple D Winter Race, a 65-or-so mile snow race beginning and ending in Dubuque, Iowa. With winter so far having failed to arrive in Minnesota, I was approaching the race with some serious ambivalence, and had more or less made up my mind to leave the Pugsley at home and attempt the course on a 29er. This plan went to shit on Wednesday evening, when Iowa locals involved with the race started uploading photos of the 7″ of fresh snow that had hit the area. I dug out the fat bike, got it in some semblance of working order, and generally tried to adjust to the notion that this was going to be an actual snow race. Even though I’m feeling like shit fitness wise and haven’t ridden more than 65 miles in months, I headed down to Iowa excited for the race and looking forward to seeing friends and enjoying the weekend.

The Triple D HQ is the Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark, a hotel that stands out as being one of the only buildings in Dubuque that isn’t decaying, boarded up, or haunted. Once we were settled in our room, I did some last minute gear prep, which mostly consisted of picking some of last year’s candy out of my Pogies.

 

We were sharing a hotel room this monstrosity, as well as our buddy Curtis, its stoker. As is obvious from the picture, the Fandango wasn’t equipped with enough storage capacity for a 65 mile race. Curtis and ‘Front End’ Ben Witt were forced to DNF after simultaneously running out of food, hot liquids, clean clothing, and reading material after completing only the first third of the course. 

 

I had considered pre-riding some of the course on Saturday afternoon, but instead decided to prepare by eating Chinese food until I almost puked and then drinking beer in our hotel room. This plan worked out beautifully and I hope to replicate it at all of my upcoming races this season.

Sunday morning rolled around, and after some breakfast and a pre-race meeting, we made our way to an adjacent brewery from which the Triple D starts. Even though I didn’t have any expectations of riding well, I made a point of staging myself near the front of the pack. The large number of shiny Mukluk 2s in the pack suggested that this would be the first snow ride for a number of riders, and I wanted to be ahead of them from a self-preservation perspective.

 

 

Eventually we got moving, and after a slow, controlled roll-out through city streets we hit an unplowed bike path and the race began. The first third of the course consisted of a roller coaster of steep, sometimes unrideable climbs, and sketchy, off camber descents along private snowmobile trails. After two hours of riding, pushing, and sweating under an increasingly hot sun, the course turns on to a paved two lane highway. A mile and a half later we hit a pants-shitter of a descent on an Icy, rutted Level B (Iowan for ‘minimum maintenance’) Road, then turned onto the Heritage Trail, the recreational rail trail that comprised the remainder of the course. I hit the Heritage Trail feeling strong, rode to the turnaround point of Dyersville, choked down some lousy pizza, and turned back towards Dubuqe. Some combination of the pizza, a demoralizing headwind, and the lack of miles in my legs put me in a bad way for the next half hour, during which I was caught by all of the riders I had passed over the previous hour. I rode most of the remainder of the course by myself, eventually being caught by Michael Lemberger from Madison. We rode through town together, arriving back at the Grand Harbor just after 5:30 (7.5 hrs).

Once back at the hotel I began recouping my entry fee in food and beer, watching the remainder of the riders trickle in to the 2nd floor hotel conference room that, inexplicably, is the official finish line of this race. Eventually awards were handed out, prizes were raffled off, and at least one runner (The Triple D also has running and ski events) was overheard complaining about the drunk, obnoxious cyclists. Alex took 3rd in the Women’s Half Marathon, won a bunch of stuff in the raffle, and was a good sport when I passed on going to the bar in favor of a 10:30 bedtime. The Triple D race, its organizers, and the overall caliber of the people that it attracts made this a great weekend, and left me feeling invigorated about the upcoming races and events I have to look forward to this year.