A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
As the Dirty Kanza 200 looms ominously in the not too distant future I’ve been determined to knock out some significant training miles in an effort to reduce the “hurt factor” of that race. I know it will hurt, but I’d really like to avoid throwing up in the bushes near the finish area like last year. So, with that in mind I put together a plan that included some pretty hard efforts. One of those efforts would include a solo overnight bike packing trip to the quaint, eccentric Madeline Island. Madeline is located just off the south shore of Lake Superior and belongs to Wisconsin. It’s pretty much the closest thing to Jamaica that can be found in the northern regions of the Midwest. It’s one of, if not the biggest of Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands. Beautiful sandy beaches touching crystal clear, ice cold Superior water, complete with a vibe that Bob Marley would be proud of… that’s Madeline Island. That’s where I was heading!
The plan initially was to travel as light as possible with the focus being on two back to back fast paced 100 mile efforts on the bike. But, of course Mother Nature had to get involved and decided to throw some unseasonably cool weather at Northern Wisconsin which meteorologists were scratching their heads over. Over night and early morning temps were predicted to be in the low 20’s, so much for traveling light. I needed to switch my kit to almost a full blown winter set up. Instead of a 40 degree summer bag, I now needed a bulkier 20 degree bag. Instead of shorts and sandals, I now needed a down vest, mittens, and pants. Despite the winter gear I felt I was running about as light as dared. I made the decision to forego cooking equipment and just grab my meals from a bar and grill or diner. As light as I tried to go, it still felt heavy, but I figured it would help with the work out.
Saturday, 7:20 a.m. I put the empty coffee cup in the dishwasher, gave lil Lucy a scratch on the head as she groaned out a sad meow. Charley got a kiss on her orange face and I let them know I loved them both as I shut the garage door. My little four leggers were on their own for a bit as their Mom was off conquering her own demons. Amy was crushing through her first 50K trail run, also in Wisconsin. The steering on my Cutthroat felt sluggish at best with the load on the front and the pedaling was deliberate, as it took concerted effort to get the wheels rolling. It wasn’t long before I was holding on tight while being buffeted by high winds on the big bridge between Duluth, MN and Wisconsin. Safely off the bridge and cruising through the industrial little town of Superior I considered my trip officially under way.
After a couple miles of gravel “rail trail” I was out of town and alone on the road. The rig still felt a little awkward under me as tried to make friends with its handling. I squirmed around on the saddle, changed my hand position every 20 seconds, made tiny adjustments to just about everything I could reach until it all felt just right. The sun was trying to break through an overall cloudy day and I was now doing what I do, pedaling. I was by myself, but I felt good.
Eager for my route to take me close to the shore I wondered what every hill and curve of road would reveal. My heart soared when I saw what I’d seen so many times before from the window of my car, Lake Superior’s south shore. I’m a born and bred north shore guy, so visiting the south shore of the big lake is always exciting, but to see it from the saddle of a bike was so much better. The air was brisk and I had switched to my mittens long ago. I wasn’t cold, but I did notice the salty dried tears on my face. Mother Nature may have dialed up some cool temperatures, but she also had placed her hand on the small of my back and made the pedaling easy. I moved through the rollers as a 15 mph tail wind pushed me into some of my hardest gears allowing me to travel upwards of 20 mph for extended periods of time with little to no effort. The livin’ was easy! Soon I saw the sign for the little fishing village of Cornucopia, Wisconsin and I knew I would reach my destination soon. What I didn’t realize was how drastically the small rollers would change into some pretty serious climbs. I’d never noticed the size of these hills during previous drives. It’s amazing what you can miss from a car, as the world zooms by outside the window. Despite the size of the Wisconsin “mountains” I managed them with only a moderate amount of pain. I did take note however of the descent down the other side that took over 3 minutes to clear. I shrugged off the thought of the climb that awaited me the next morning.
The little shore town of Bayfield unfolded before me as I coasted toward the ferry entrance. I glanced at my watch and gave myself an imaginary pat on the back, 6 hours and 8 minutes, “not too bad on a loaded bike” I thought.
A quick text to find out how Amy was doing in her race and the next thing I knew I was sitting on the ferry – freezing! I felt the fun factor rising though as I started talking with some fellow passengers on the trip over. They were interested in what I was doing even if they thought it was a bit odd. The views were spectacular and it felt good to be on the lake I’d been riding next to for so long. Despite the scenery and good company it was getting hard to ignore the fact that my cycling clothes were no longer keeping me warm. I needed to get into some street clothes fast as snowflakes drifted past. Yes! Snow in mid-May. I locked up next to some other bikes; even though it probably wasn’t necessary, not in this place. I donned warmer clothes over the top of my bike clothes right there on the sidewalk while some passersby questioned me about my trip. I answered all of their questions and in return they pointed me in the direction of a couple AA batteries that I needed.
The next thing on my agenda was simple; grab a beer and a hot cup of chili. It wasn’t long before I felt like I belonged at the “Beach Club”. The locals took me in and fueled me with stories from the island. I shared a few of my adventures in return. They even tried to hide my food when I went to the bathroom. I was one of their own after only an hour. I could get used to this kind of life.
Six more miles of easy pedaling and I was ready to set up camp. The campground was basically deserted, save 3 other tents. I scavenged up some wood for a fire and quickly made the little spot in the woods my home. With no more chores to do I decided to take a walk down to the beach and check out the view. I was presented with complete solitude. There wasn’t a living soul in sight; I strained to hear a sound, nothing…just the gentle swooshing of water kissing the sand. Forty minutes I sat staring out toward the Apostles allowing my mind to clear of my busy life back home. I could feel the weight lifting from my shoulders. All of the things that concern me daily seemed to float out with the retreating waves. I didn’t want to leave that log.
Taking down camp went smoothly and now that I was fully adjusted to island life I had taken a considerable chunk of time to accomplish the task. Glancing at my watch I noticed I had 23 minutes to make the ferry. A quick walk around the campsite produced no forgotten items, so I grabbed up what little garbage I’d created and headed for the dumpster with my bike in tow. “Man, I’m going to have to pin it!” I thought. Six miles in 23 minutes on a really heavy bike into a headwind, I had to try. Straight outta the sleeping bag and straight into a sprint was not really the way I wanted to start my 94 mile ride. I think I checked my watch 30 times on that ride, but I made it with 4 minutes to spare. The ticket taker tried to engage in some casual conversation as I fumbled for my pass. Finally, I managed to mumble out that I had gone full gas in an attempt to make it in time. He assured me that I could relax, I’d made it.
Now all I had in front of me was a big breakfast and a long ride home with the incentive of my buddy Charlie Farrow meeting me somewhere along the line. Charlie planned to ride toward me until we met, then escort me home. Satisfied with my meal I tipped my server and headed out to my rig. I began the long climb out of Bayfield and straight into the hard west wind. My speed was considerably slower and I was digging pretty deep. I needed to get my head right that this was going to be a big one. The miles were agonizingly slow as the wind showed no signs of letting up. I kept an eye up the road as far as I could see looking for Charlie, but nothing. I wanted to talk to him, just to get my mind off of the wind. My morale began to sink as I accepted that he wasn’t going to show. Maybe it was fitting that I finish this thing alone. Stupidly, I started counting down the miles at about the 30 to go mark. What a mistake! The countdown seemed to make time stand still. I shifted my thinking to one singular thought, “If I keep pedaling, I’ll eventually make it home”.
I did make it home in just less than 8 hours! I was completely wasted. I flopped onto my front lawn while my neighbor yelled across the street, “How was it?” I mumbled something to him and then pondered his response, “Better you than me”. Classic!
The Cutthroat got put right into her parking spot fully loaded. The only thing I took from it was aphoto and into the house I went. Amy wasn’t home from her trip yet, but I wasn’t alone anymore. On quivering legs and dehydrated muscles I limped up the stairs toward a hot shower with the sound of welcoming “meows”. I let them know, “Daddy’s home girls … Daddy’s home.”
I left Duluth looking for two back to back solid training rides. I got that and so much more. Loading up a bike and taking off for a trip of one’s choosing clears the mind and enriches the soul. I may not have traveled across the country or ridden over mountains, but I had my own little adventure and I found a little piece of the world just for me.
Winter is definitely upon us here in northern Minnesota. It's not nearly as bad as last year and I keep telling myself that at least it's not 5 below, but 15 above is still pretty cold! Despite the temperature I still hop on my bike and head out into the dark. It doesn't take long for the chill of the air to disappear as the furnace is soon fired up and running wide open. Once the heat is flowing and the rhythm of my feet spinning round and round is under way is when I feel the clutter and chaos of the day slipping away. It's not long before my mind is clear and I find myself noticing things around me that often pass by without a thought, the ridge line off to my left that I'd never noticed before, a span of forest that is much bigger than I ever realized as I unfold the map of the area in my head. I've come to love the period of time between sunset and dark, but oddly I favor the inky black of night. It's in the dark that my imagination takes over and I lose myself in great expeditions around the world as I set records for others to chase. I climb mountains, meet world leaders, change fate only to be brought back to reality by the mouse that dances across the road through my headlight. "Thanks little guy", I say to myself, "almost lost myself there". Back to the world that exists in the present I noticed that miles have passed without my knowledge and that's o.k., because I've been to so many more places on my bike in the dark than just where I started and ended. To me, it's the places in the middle that are the best, that's where the magic of being alone in the dark happens.
"What I have to take a test?" No, seriously I had an idea of what my friend had in mind for me when he mentioned the "threshold test", but I did NOT consider the suffering that would go into it. Quinn, the man responsible for designing this website as well as many other things, including the very gym I would take the test in is really into numbers. I've come to the conclusion that he loves numbers, he loves crunching them, he loves looking at them, and he loves talking about them. As he rambleD on about his numbers I often respondED with, "I have no idea what that means". He'd barely pause at my confusion as he told me about watts, cadence, power, and heart rates.
Cut to last night. I decided to step into his world and see what all these numbers could mean for me. I threw a leg over his gravel machine and uttered the words, "I'll do whatever you tell me to do", what a mistake. The last thing I have a clear memory of him saying was that he wanted to "take the SNAP out of my legs". I moved through a series of all out efforts, gasping for air during the recovery periods. As I finished his last interval he announced to me that the "test"was about to start. WHAT???!!!
20 minutes of the hardest effort I could sustain for that time period was the task. I know as you read this you're thinking, "20 minutes, I could do anything for 20 minutes", and I'd say you're right, but it ain't easy! As I lifted my effort up to what I thought was a pace I could hold I became fixated on the numbers. I stared at the gps watching my wattage jump all over the place, "what does this all mean?" t I thought. I played games in my mind about trying to stay higher than certain figures, thinking it would be better if I was higher than ... It wasn't long before I put the towel over the monitor reminding myself of the same thing I tell myself in every race, "it's just pedaling, just do it harder".
The last 5 minutes dragged on and on as I tried to finish strong. It had to end. I knew that eventually the pain would stop and I'd find my way back toward the light.
Today I received a series of numbers on a chart with a note attached that told me I did a good job. I go back in 6 weeks to do it all over again. Then, maybe I'll understand what all these numbers really mean.
Oddly enough, with the race season all but over I have decided to embark on a structured training plan. And, as any athlete worth his or her salt knows working within a specific plan requires commitment. So, when real life threw it's first snafu at me I needed to make an adjustment. I would slide a 2 hour mountain bike work out into the super early morning slot. This change would require a stupid wake up time, but I was determined to make it happen.
Like a man possessed I fumbled with an alarm that I couldn't shut off while somehow rising from my bed. In full zombie mode I stumbled down the hall toward the stairway, while an orange cat took a stab at ending my life by zig zagging through my steps as I navigated the first few stairs. I did not know the reason she wished to see me fall to my death, I didn't even spend a moment to ponder it, I just kept moving. Somehow I made it to the machine that would deliver me a cup of coffee, the juice that I hoped would allow me to enter the world of the living. I stared at the controls of Mr. Coffee hoping I'd pushed the right button. Deliriously I waited for the bubbling, gurgling sounds that meant I had done it right. Soon enough the machine sputtered to life as a blast of hot steam hit me in the face. I turned from the counter allowing the moisture on my face to remain as I moved on to the next step.
The orange cat took one more shot at ending me through a more modest attempt. This time, it seemed she wished to simply put me down to the kitchen floor by quickly darting in front of my feet. She received an inadvertent boot to the ribs for her effort, resulting in a dirty look and a short snarl, as if I were the one to blame. I mumbled something to her in what sounded like a foreign language as I made my way down to the basement.
Suddenly, I was brought back to focus through the sound of a helmet strap snapping together. A quick scan of my body told me I was in a full cycling kit and ready to walk out the door. Peering up toward the sky through a basement window at an inky black night confirmed what I was about to do. A final sip of coffee, a pat of the head to the orange cat (in search of forgiveness) and I was out the door.
It was not that long ago that I was somewhat unnerved by riding trail in the dark, but since those days several events have had me riding through the entire night and I've come to find a sort of peace in it. A few short minutes after leaving my driveway I was in my local trail system ricocheting off of rocks that I normally avoid during the day. 20 minutes later I felt in control, like I was riding smooth and I was concentrating on getting smoother. My mind was as blank as my surroundings.
The trail and the woods around me were owned by a different set of critters, the ones you don't normally see in the day. An eerie calm controlled the environment as small birds flashed through my light. I concluded that the birds were bug hunting as they seemed to be everywhere on the trail in search of a morning meal. I felt bad for disturbing them, but enjoyed the little burst of air I'd feel as they fluttered through my head lamp.
I was the King of my city as it slept beneath me, but I was merely a guest in the dark world around me. I moved through this world as gently as I could, in the hopes that the critters of the night would welcome me back. We'll find out soon enough.
Duluth finally hit one out of the park in the weather department by offering up two gorgeous days for biking, hiking, or sitting out on a deck with a cold one. I went for the first option. My decision to get out on the Spearfish for a serious session was a good one. The Spearfish and I haven't had a lot of time to get to know each other, save the six and half hour mud fest at Lutsen. I needed some solid trail time to do my part in making this a lasting relationship. I hit two major trail systems in Duluth after wasting a frustrating hour in the AT&T store dealing with my new "smart" phone. My bike just didn't look happy leaning against the wall inside the high tech gadget store, not did I feel right sitting in there in a full kit. Finally, I told the guy my Saturday was more important than solving the issue at hand and I bolted. Soon I was soaring through some of Duluth's finest single track and feeling quite comfortable with the suspension wide open and the bike doing exactly what it was supposed to. Throughout the ride I schemed up new plans to ride all the trails in Duluth in one shot which would make for a pretty long day on the bike, that's a good thing. After scouring one trail system thoroughly and touching into another I arrived back at my house with a satisfying 4 + hours under my belt.
The following day I would hook up with my old training partner Charlie Farrow for some gravel goodness. It felt good to be riding together and to be using the Warbird for what she was intended. We cruised through a familiar loop doing our best to out run an angry flock of black flies that loomed ominously just above our back wheels. We reminisced about times when we were in better shape and about epic rides we have out in front of us. Soon we were descending from the country toward Lake Superior ready for the ride home down the north shore when suddenly we rode into a refrigerator. The temperature dropped from 77 degrees to at least 58. We didn't give my gps time to accurately calculate the new temp as we scurried back up the hill in search of warmer temps. The drastic switch in climate was freaky. I guess that's what the big lake can do. Hell, there's probably still ice on it somewhere. After 4 hours of riding, a quick stop into the bike shop for a wheel truing and I was back home. A back to back slam dunk on the bikes!
It's weekends like this that have me dreaming of riding where ever and when ever I want.
Not sure if this is true or not, but this winter seems to be colder than usual. In fact, it feels to me to be much colder than any I can remember. Maybe it's just because I'm in it right now. Come summer I'll forget all about frozen toes and frozen fingers. Meanwhile, concerns of losing body parts are at the forefront of my mind.
As I struggled through my 25 mile commute last night in a wind chill that approached 40 below I thought...why? The 6 x 4 inch ice chunk that flew off my balaclava as I turned my head to look for cars held my attention as the wind swept it down the road behind me at what seemed to be lightning speed. The sun had just set and I was about half way through the ride on my Mukluk. Normally, I would have been home by now, but the commute was taking me over twice as long as it would on a warm, dry day. Constantly buffeted by severe head winds combined with the soft winter tires was making this a ride to remember. The physical struggle however was not my chief concern as I felt bits and pieces of my body slowly freezing. First on my agenda was to keep my fingers and toes wiggling in an effort to keep blood flowing to them. As I pedaled on I noted how my core and arms had become stuck in the bike riding position. I hesitated to stretch or move in any unusual was as doing so would only invite cold into my wet clothing. My singular focus became...just get home!
Cold weather riding brings with it a whole new set of rules that must be followed. If one is not on board with the rules of the game, then one should stay on the couch. The things I focus on in the summer like tempo, good pedal rotation, and bike handling are not things to be concerned with when a flat tire could mean freezing to death. Now, I realize that you, the reader may be thinking, "C'mon Eki...freezing to death?" But, let me tell you that on the route I take when commuting "the long way" as I call it there are plenty of places where a guy could run into trouble and not a living soul would know about it for a very long time. Lets just say long enough to be able to pick me up in the position I was last in and toss me into the back of a pick up just to get what used to be me back to someone who knew me.
So, let me ask you, do you like riding in the cold? Truth be told, I'm not sure how fond of it I really am. Give me a warm summer day and several hundred miles to ride and I'm off with a smile on my face. Put the temperature south of 10 below, toss in a North wind and tell me to ride the "long way" home and I just may say, "can I do it in the summer instead?"
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. -Theodore Roosevelt
I noticed my two partners’ headlamps slowly disappearing into the distance until at last I was completely alone. Too tired to ride, but too cold to stop, I stumbled on, my weight heavy on the handlebars of my loaded Mukluk fatbike. My boots dragged through the loose snow as the strength to pick my feet up had left me long ago. I had been riding and pushing my bike for close to 16 hours in temperatures that hovered at ten degrees below zero. I was wet, exhausted, dangerously dehydrated, and freezing cold. A safe place didn't exist where I was. I had accepted that fear was my new companion.
Some months ago my training partner, Charlie Farrow, had suggested that we attempt a winter cycling trip from Duluth, Minnesota to Grand Marais, Minnesota via the North Shore snowmobile trail...in the winter! To our knowledge no one had ever completed this feat in an unsupported fashion. We wanted to be the first to cover the 146 miles of rugged terrain on our bicycles, promising to accept assistance from no one. The planning began in earnest with both of us agreeing that nothing could stop us except the ultimate authority on the matter, Mother Nature. Luck would play a vital role on this adventure; hopefully it would play to our favor.
Recently I was invited by Quinn Williams (the web designer of this site) to join him for a ride that he promised would show me a variety of riding, he wasn't kidding. I took him up on the offer and headed to the small hamlet of Poplar, Wisconsin ready for "a bit of every thing".
Quinn and I took off at around 9:00 a.m. He was on his recently built Salsa Big Mama and me on my Spearfish. This "loop" had us riding gravel, single track, double track, sand, and a bit of tar. We visited two counties and the towns of Brule and Iron River, Wisconsin.
I had a blast! And, truth be told I was pretty wiped out after this little jaunt around Wisconsin. Oh, and did I mention we saw approximately 3 other people in 5 hours of riding, just the way I like it.
Here's a peek at what we did.
My first video project. Check it out. I know I have a lot of room for improvement, but not a bad start.
The Trans Iowa is fast approaching and I'd be telling a serious fib if I said I wasn't nervous. The sheer distance of this event (330 miles) is mind boggling to say the least. I try to tell myself that I've done it before, but it doesn't take long until I remember the pain that I felt in those late night hours or the pain of the initial 8 hour blast out of the gate. The pointy end of the Trans Iowa always tends to go out very hard and I dread those first efforts.
I have begun to rifle through the gear needed and make decisions about what to take and what to leave behind. Recently, I was fortunate enough to be part of Guitar Ted's discussion on Mt. Bike Radio and a lot was talked about in regard to what it takes to get through this event. I could feel myself getting nervous as I rambled on and on about the nuances that make up this very special race.
As usual I feel grossly under prepared and will most likely be counting on mental power to finish this beast. The beauty lies in the distance. So much can happen in 330 miles.
The roster contains at least a dozen guys who could win the event, which makes things exciting to say the least. I look forward to pounding out the miles with them, building the bonds that will last a life time.
I just want to get this thing rolling...
There's nothing like heading out for what you think is going to be just another lonely ride and bumping into 11 people all doing the same thing you are.
I was lucky enough to be asked if I wanted to join. I jumped in line and ended up having a great ride. I even got on a trail I'd never been on before and this was all in my back yard.
Thanks to Todd McFadden, Bart Rodberg, Eric Peterson, and the rest of the crew.
Quinn and I Mukluk'n some trail in Wisconsin. It felt right.
My last ride of 2012 was on the couch.
I've been seeing a lot of posts lately about people scoring their last ride of the year and ending on a very positive note. That's so great and I'm happy for them, I really am. It sounds like a lot of you had a great time out there.
I hit the trail yesterday knowing that it would be my real "last ride" of the year. I wanted to nail 8 hours of straight trail time on the Mukluk. Things got knocked off track early in the morning when I began re-setting my alarm, giving myself "just a little longer" in the sack. It's the damn fleece sheets Amy bought!
Minnesota is currently trapped between seasons. I long for either Fall or full blown Winter and it seems neither are willing to commit. With the Arrowhead 135 looming in the not too distant future I spend my weekends on the Fat Bike and my weekday evenings on the cross bike, battling the cold that inevitably comes with riding road in the month of December.
This stage of my training requires big hours on snowmobile trails and becoming one with the Mukluk. However, being caught between seasons make this proposition more difficult than one might think. Yesterday found my training partner (Farrow) and I questioning our existence on this planet while we battled down pour rains combined with 33 degree temps. Our fat tires simply crushed through the mushy snow causing front wheel wash outs over and over again. Frustration built resulting in adult style tantrums in the middle of nowhere.
|3 of Duluth's 4 DBD'ers fatbike down Minnesota's North Shore
Trail. (Eki, Buff (left), and Farrow)
5:50 a.m. I jolted awake to the sound of my watch alarm telling me it was time to go. Finally, I'd be out of the house and back on my bike, but this time I'd be on my Mukluk and back into the arms of the DBD. It's funny, cause it seems the more the DBD'ers go off in search of adventure, the less time they spend together.
"I was told there'd be coffee", were the first words I said to Farrow after months of not seeing him. You see some early week planning for this ride involved me riding across town on a cold, dark, morning for a nice cup of coffee at Charlie's house before we would embark on the ride itself. Well, ride across town I did and my hands froze, which was an amature move on my part, as I wore some seriously light weight gloves. Anxious for that "cup of coffee" I scampered up the steps of the Farrow estate, my cycling shoes skating around the frosty surface of his deck, when I heard his greeting, "Eki, I've got bad news...No Coffee". The plan was already falling apart. No worries, it could have been worse I figured. Suddenly, Charlie determined to not be beaten by the lack of coffee, made another announcement, "I do have this!" He produced a small tea bag looking thing (it was a small bag of coffee), swinging it in front of my face with a devilish grin on his face, "It's coffee!". I agreed to drink the substance after an addition of some almond milk, which came after some hesitation from me. Turns out the coffee was outstanding and jump started my frozen being. Soon, we were ready to ride.
In order to maintain optimal fitness one must often "keep the body guessing" by switching up exercise routines. Well, as the dog days of summer come the mind begins to yearn for something more than endless gravel and twisty single track. Enter the Salsa Beargrease.