A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
As a kid I grew up outside no matter what the season, no matter what the temperature. My Dad always said, "Weather is nothing, as long as you’re dressed for it". I never stressed about the weather. In fact, I never really even thought about it, I just let the door slam behind me. Not much has changed as the years have slipped past.
These days I swing my leg over my bike every morning for my commute to work no matter what Mother Nature is doing. Just the other day a teacher stopped me and asked, "Is there any weather you won’t ride in?" I honestly pondered his question for a moment and simply replied, "No, not really". "Amazing" he mumbled as he walked away. I thought to myself that it wasn’t that amazing; it was just a way of life for me, and something I no longer even think about. There are times when I will pedal through the entire ride barely conscious of what I’m doing. In those times it’s the cold wind on my face, the hum of my tires, and the rhythm of my breathing that become my whole world.
As I coast up to my building and dismount into an ocean of black top, pocked with islands of cars I know my day has started a little differently than everyone else’s. While I anticipate the pain of thawing fingers and toes I remind myself that I wouldn’t change my outside life for anything.
Some say when one chapter ends another begins. I guess that's true, but it's never easy to say what that new chapter will look like. Not to mention, it's never easy to say good bye to that last chapter.
As I head into the 2017 bike season I will still be riding as hard as I ever have, but I'll be without the Salsa Cycles family that I have grown so fond of. Salsa decided to go a different way than the way I was heading. I'm o.k. with that and I have nothing but gratitude toward them. So many friends were made and so many experiences were experienced. Seven long (but quick), years I rode with their logo strapped across my back. I wore that logo with pride! I still remember the day I licked the envelope containing my bike resume and sent it off to Bloomington, MN. I certainly had no idea what lay ahead of me after that envelope landed in the mail box. "Adventure By Bike" was going to be the new slogan. Hell, I was already having adventures on my bike, it was a perfect fit. Countless races, including several Trans Iowas, 7 Dirty Kanzas, 2 Vapor Trail 125's, a death defying experience at the Arrowhead 135, and a 5th overall at the Lutsen 99'er were just some of the accomplishments I notched into my handle bar while riding with Salsa. All the while I wrote my stories in an attempt to somehow preserve the experience for myself so that I'd be able to someday look back and try to relive these life changing moments. One particular story gained significant traction. I called it "Racing the Kansas Sun". This story's title eventually got changed to "Racing the Sun". The saga poured from my fingertips into the key board like water from a faucet. I gave the story to the Dirty Kanza (for free) and they ran with it. The participants, who like me, just wanted to finish, now had something to race for. It made me feel good and ultimately left me with some mixed feelings as well. I never dreamed my story would become a promotional angle, but it did. I still hold the story close to my heart, because I lived that day and the story is true. It really happened to me and it was really hard. Like so many of my experiences it was one of an average rider overcoming obstacle after obstacle and never quitting. I like that story.
So now, I move on to the next chapter. I will always ride bikes. I will always ride as hard as I can and I will always find the time to ride as slow as I can, keeping my head up and squinting into the setting sun.
Thank you Salsa Cycles for the support over the years, but mostly I thank you for letting me into your family and for the friendships that I hope will last a lifetime.
If you're someone out there looking for a dedicated, humble, rider who you need to represent your brand with whole hearted earnestness, and authenticity ... I'm available.
See you guys out on the trail,
There are a lot of hard races out there, some of which have the potential to change a person. The experience of finishing one never seems to fade as the memories surface at unusual times. One may see a flag snapping in the wind and be instantly taken back to the fields of America's heartland or magazine photo of a mountain top may conjure the pain of a 45 minute hike a bike. These are the races that get in us and stay with us. These are the things that shape who we are. Going to a place so dark, so basic, and so very real is what I believe humans are meant to do. Going there once means you'll never be able to stop searching for that "place" again.
The Trans Iowa is one of those races. There's nothing flashy, nothing really note worthy as the miles endlessly tick past. Yet, there is something very special about the experience. The distance seems unfathomable, some 330 miles by bike, all at once! The enormity of the T.I. combined with the transition from night to day, to night, and back to day, while on one bike ride is something quite different than getting a long one in on a Sunday.
The Trans Iowa not only builds a sense of self, but it creates friendship or more accurately, bonds. I've competed in six T.I.'s and I've come away with friendships that I still think about almost every day. I may not talk to those guys often, some in fact I haven't talked to since, but I still think about them, they'll be a part of me forever. I've looked into their eyes when they were at their most basic state and I saw them looking back into mine. When I felt I had nothing left to give I'd see them get back on their bikes and it made me get back on mine. I guess it's in the knowing, the knowing that we were all in it together and together we'd make it to the end. So, that's what we did.
I may not be out there on those lonely gravel roads this time, but in a way I'll be right there riding with them. This one goes out to the one's who are searching, the one's who always want more. This one's for those who need to know who they really are.
Good luck Trans Iowa riders. I hope you find what you're looking for out there in the dust. Trust me, you'll know it when you do.
Fresh out of the box and out of my basement I was more than eager to get started on my new Salsa Cutthroat. I'd committed to commuting to and from work each day for a solid week of "shake down" rides. Each day would consist of a 50 mile round trip journey broken into obviously two sections of riding. Typically, the early morning rides are the most enjoyable as I tend to see more animals, get some dark miles in, and deal with less cars. The after work ride is more stressful, mostly due to traffic.
I started the week thinking about the performance of the bike, the fit, and the comfort. I ended the week wondering what the hell happened out there.
The flag in front of the school I work at gets a lot of looks from me throughout the day as the wind seems to always be on my mind. Will it help me in the beginning of my ride or at the end or depending on how you look at it, will it hurt me? Well, I happen to live next to a huge lake called Superior and when the wind comes off that giant it tends to be strong and COLD. This past week will now be known to me as the week of wind. Leaving work at the end of the day proved to be a breeze (no pun) as I cruised comfortably at 25 mph, being shoved along by the hand of mother nature. However, when I finally made my turn to head back home, OMG! This situation stayed put for the whole week, 20 - 30 mph winds. I know there will always be wind, but sheesh!
I love seeing critters on my rides and as I mentioned above it's usually in the wee hours of the morning when I get to have a little chat with my friends. Things were looking up when I rolled out in the dark on Tuesday morning. Not two blocks from my house I saw two eyes looking back at me. "That's not a dog" I thought as the 4 legger skitter skattered through my head light. "Oh, it's a fox" was my next thought. "Hey, little buddy, how ya doin'?" I asked. His ears perked up while he watched me roll by. A glance over my shoulder brought a smile to my face, there he was trotting along behind me. I guess he just needed a friend. Eventually, he peeled off and went back to his fox business. Things were pretty quiet in the animal kingdom for the remainder of the ride until the unthinkable. The sun now higher above the horizon of the big lake and I was mixed in with the hustle bustle of all the steel boxes heading to their respective parking lots. Up ahead something was down on the side of the road and it had fur. Immediately, I was bummed as I hate to see a critter meet their fate on some busy road. The colors of this particular fury beast struck me as different. Ugggggh! It was a kitty. Some of you may know that I am a cat lover. Clearly, it had just been hit by a car moments earlier and I won't give details as to how I knew that. I closed my eyes as I rode past, I couldn't bare to look. Across the street was a small SUV pulled over, damage to the underside of it's plastic molding, and a driver texting on a phone. "At least the driver stopped" I thought. It was upsetting to me for the rest of the day. Shook up, I pedaled up the big hill leading to my school when a tiny mouse darted across the road in front of me. He was a cute little guy and he seemed pretty intent on what he was doing. Once I reached the spot where he had disappeared into the grass he popped out again. He seemed to give me a little look as I passed. I wondered if possibly the spirit of that cat had somehow landed in that little mouse. I guess I hoped it did.
Duluth is a great cycling city, but unfortunately some who live here have not yet received that memo. I've experienced angry drivers many times, but what happened to me on the afternoon of the "kitty morning" was one for the books. As I rolled toward a stop light a junky truck pulled up next to me with it's passenger window already down. An older man then proceeded to literally scream at the top of his lungs at me through the entirety of the stop light, mind you every 10 seconds or so he would flip me off while screaming. I stared blankly at him, in shock while he unloaded what seemed to be all the anger he'd been carrying his whole life. It was as if he was ramping up, it was getting worse as the seconds ticked by. I began to wonder if he was going to have a heart attack right there in his driver's seat. At the pinnacle of his rage a thought raced through my head, "Is he going to shoot me?" That sounds crazy has I write the words, but that's how angry he was. Eventually, the light turned green and with that he flipped me off for the 12th time and gunned the engine, his truck sputtered, faltered, and eventually spit out a cloud of blue smoke and clunked away down the road. My adrenaline now pumping like I had just been in a 6th grade fist fight I attempted to ride on like all of that didn't just happen.
Less than 15 minutes from home when I noticed something flashing past on my front tire. Most likely a road salt stain on the rubber. Then, the cracks in the road weren't hitting as hard, the steering was feeling weird. My front tire was going down. I pushed harder thinking I could make it home before the rim bumped the tar. It wasn't to be as the tire seemed to let out one final big exhale. A tack, probably from the bulletin board at my school had found it's new home right through my tire and into the tube. Before the rim could touch I pulled over, checked the time on the gps and told myself, "let's make this a quick one". It wasn't quick and my hands were frozen solid, remember the wind? 13 agonizing minutes later and I was pedaling again.
The last 50 miles or the last commute was uneventful and for that I was grateful. It gave me time to contemplate my week on the bike (so far). I guess, my final thought on it is this...What the hell?
The good news is the Cutthroat is dialed in and built for comfort as well as speed. A great bike to be sure. I can't wait to see and feel all that it has to offer. This Sunday I plan to knock out a 100 miler in order to get some real "all at once" kind of time on it. Soon, I will be taking her out on a short bike packing trip. I can't wait for what that adventure has to offer.
See you out there,
Throughout my adult life I’ve resisted winter’s arrival and have spent too much time calculating when it would be over. I’ve taken almost yearly tropical vacations with the hope that somehow the trip would ease the pain of winter’s icy grip. This year I wanted things to be different. There’d be no week in Jamaica and I’d fight the urge to flip through the pages of my desk calendar counting the weeks until the temps would climb. This year I’d commit to winter!
Well, in order to commit I’d need to find something to keep me invested. Yes, I’d commute all winter like I have for so many years now, that wouldn’t change. I’d train like I do during the "dark months" with the goal of dropping a few pounds and catching up on some t.v. shows while mindlessly spinning the trainer. However, this year something emerged that was different. At first I attributed it to my newly obtained Salsa Blackborow, claiming that the bike had changed my approach to winter. I don’t know maybe it had or maybe it was the vehicle that helped to open my eyes.
All I can say for sure is that this winter I’ve been paying more attention. I’ve seen more than the single track unfolding before my front wheel. I’ve picked my head up and looked through the trees and into the forest searching for what my Dad taught me, "the thing that stands out". It worked! I began to see the deer leering at me as I pedaled past. I’ve smiled up at the crows cawing at me from above as I move through their neighborhood. I’ve stopped to gape at the hurried life of the chickadees as they fulfill their daily calorie needs, wondering if they ever just stop to play. So much life in what at first glance seemed so dead.
As my legs spin easy and my hands rest lightly on the bars I realize that the beauty of winter only reveals itself to those that want to see. I’m so glad I decided to look.
Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota I played several different sports. I was never the best on the team and I was never the worst. I guess if I had to grade my childhood athletic performance I’d give myself a B+. As I look back on those years with the wisdom that comes from being an adult I’m able to identify the barrier I faced in those early years and it seemed to be the common denominator that prevailed through all the games I played. In football I was leery of the "big hit", the one that seemed to pass through my whole body. In baseball it only took getting hit by a pitch one time before I began to give away a little more of the plate to the pitchers than I probably should have. Hockey just seemed to move so fast and with a violence of action that I chose to pick up the loose pucks that squirted out of the fray. The list goes on while the theme remained the same.
The experience of significant pain tends to be a powerful motivator when it comes to self preservation. I’m no stranger to mind bending agony. A broken arm, two broken clavicles, four broken ribs, a torn rotator cuff, torn spleen, and one torn meniscus has left me hesitant when my brain sends out the "red alert" signal in the face of danger.
So, when I grabbed my Horsethief and headed out to my local trail system this past fall I had one mission, face my fears. I was heading toward the trails with the black diamond and the squiggly line on the sign. "I hope I don’t break my neck", I yelled to my wife as I pushed out of the driveway.
I’m a cross country and gravel rider. That is to say, I’m most comfortable with my wheels on the ground. However, in order to get better one has to push out into the unknown. Throughout the next hour and a half I can’t tell you how many drops I rolled up to the edge of and stopped only to turn around and try again. The uncertainty of what would happen after my tires left the edge of a rock, sending me into gravity’s grip was getting the best of me. I was a little kid standing on the edge of the pool while everyone counted backwards from 10. What would I do when they were finished saying "1"? Eventually, I was able to take that deep breath and allow myself and my machine to fly. The feeling was like discovering gold. Like a little kid, I would instantly turn around, push my bike back up the trail, and hit the drop again, bent on making the landing just a little smoother. Now, these weren’t big drops by any stretch of the imagination, but to me they felt like I was hitting Red Bull downhill runs at top speed. Eventually, I was able to "clean" an entire enduro trail that had me walking 50% of it on my first try.
Time was running short, I needed to head home soon, but one feature still loomed large. I’d been thinking about the boulder for the entire ride, asking myself over and over if I had the courage to slip over its point of no return. I’m not sure if the rock has a name or if it’s simply called "Caution" with two ominous arrows pointing down. All I knew for sure was that I’d seen others ride it and that I’d ridden up to its edge probably twenty times. Now, "Caution" is not a drop that one shoots off, but rather rolls down, Here’s the catch, from the saddle of a bike the roll down appears as a near vertical piece of rock about 15 feet long that transitions into an almost flat exit line. This gives the rider the impression that if something goes awry after crossing the point of no return the front wheel will simply stop rolling upon hitting the flat section sending the rider to the orthodontist for the next decade. I slowly rolled up to its edge noting the view of a granite slab that slipped away into the horizon line of Lake Superior in the distance. My heart rate was increasing by the second as I approached the spot where I’d scout the line one last time. Reviewing in my mind the sequence of steps I would follow I stated them out loud, "Roll in slow, release the front brake, get your butt way back, let go of the rear brake as the front wheel hits the flat section. It seemed all that was left was for me to do was trust my bike and my plan. I turned and rode back up the trail far enough to ensure that I’d have enough time to clip in and make this thing happen. With my front wheel pointing toward "Caution" I snapped both feet in and began to roll. "5 … 4 … 3 …2…" the people on the side of the pool counted down. It happened, I was over the precipice and bailing out now would only result in a catastrophic end. "THE PLAN, FOLLOW THE PLAN" I yelled in my mind. Releasing the front brake my Horsethief eagerly went over the edge, but something began to go wrong, I was picking up speed! The back brake was not enough to slow my free fall down the rock. I squeezed harder and my acceleration increased. I was skidding down the smooth granite! I had not calculated this factor. There was no other option but to bring the front brake into the fold. Although time seemed to stand still the flat exit line was getting closer. My memories fluttered through a rolodex of pain, the searing agony of broken ribs, collar bones almost poking out of my skin, what would be next? "RELEASE!!!!" I silently screamed as I opened both brakes allowing the front shock to gently thud as it hit the bottom of its travel. I shot out of the exit line like a bullet from a gun. Pulling off to the side of the trail I looked back at the view of the rock I’d yet to see. I was on the other side. "Whew" I sighed as my hands shook on the bars and my heart pounded in my ears, "You did it" I said, "Time to go home".
I spend a lot of time on a bike and I have seen things many others haven’t, but to push myself outside of my comfort zone was a feeling I’ll never forget. I hung tight to the plate while the pitcher buzzed one under my chin. I filled the gap, taking the big hit from the running back that I didn’t think I could handle. I got out in front of the net and stole the puck when I didn’t think I had a chance. In the face of fear and uncertainty, I rode over the edge and came away with feeling I’ll never forget.
Bike rides are so much more than pedaling and steering. They can contain a myriad of technical facets such as proper form, efficient handling, and effort management. Rides can also take on a completely different focus which hone in on the surrounding beauty, the wind passing over you, and the freedom that you felt the first time you swung your leg over that single speed you owned as a child.
There have been times that I’ve come home from rides feeling frustrated and cursing my perceived lack of skill. I’ve beat myself up for not being able to clean a difficult climb or get through a rock garden without a dab. Those rides resulted in me mumbling, "I'm terrible" as I carelessly stowed the bike in the rack. Yet, there have been other rides where that last mumble was "Man, was I on today" as I contemplated the corners I railed, the climbs I made, and the descents that were handled without hesitation. Unfortunately, that latter thought has come with less frequency these past few months. What’s been missing? What’s been wrong?
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what the missing pieces could be when it occurred to me that the answer is "nothing". Nothing is missing! All that I hope for from a ride is within the trail, the bike and me. The problem has been that I’ve been looking for that special something in all the wrong places. I’ve been equating technical skill and hard physical effort to great rides. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What about that feeling I had as a kid? I never demanded physical excellence from myself at age twelve and those bike rides were the best. Can I tap into that feeling at will or will it just show up sometimes?
After careful consideration I’ve come to the conclusion that finding the perfect ride lies in the art of letting go. When my mind goes blank, and I can hear the wind humming through the vents of my helmet I know I’ve found it. When I can no longer hear my bike or feel the imperfections of the trail I know I’ve found it. It’s when I am floating down a ribbon of single track with my heart beat in my ears that I know I can ride forever, it’s then that I know I’ve found the perfect ride.
As I pulled into the inaugural Salsa Ride Camp I quickly noted a small tent city popping up out of an expansive grass field with the occasional cyclist weaving in an out of imaginary streets. Distant voices and laughter were in my ears as took some initial instruction regarding parking and when the afternoon ride was to depart. "This is SO COOL" I kept repeating to myself as I looked for a place to stash my car. With only 13 minutes until my first opportunity to ride was scheduled to leave I ended up with a frantic start to what I planned to be a very relaxing weekend. Just like Superman in a phone booth, I changed from casual summer wear to a Salsa riding kit in seconds and was soon rolling toward a large congregation of cyclists. I made it just in the nick of time.
Soon we were under way and I was chatting with some old friends and saying "hello" to some new ones. At the trail head we re-grouped for some final discussion and words from Pete Koski, Salsa engineer, shredder, and creator of my all time favorite mountain bike, The Spearfish. Dropping into the trail I was quickly reminded of the sweet single track that the Chequamegon National Forest has to offer. It is a cross country rider's paradise! Wheel to wheel, 20 riders swooped through the turns as the crispness of the early Fall air flowed into our lungs. It felt so good.
Things began to move from good to great as a healthy fish dinner was served and a thoughtful speech was delivered by Salsa Marketing Director, Mike Riemer. Mike took the time to acknowledge the sponsored riders that were in attendance and I was flattered by his comments to say the least. The evening then moved into a presentation by Jay Petervary and his experience with this year's Continental Divide Race which travels a mind boggling distance from Banf, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
The temperatures dropped quickly as darkness descended reminding us all that it really was Fall in northern Wisconsin. A trip or two to my car for another brew had my feet freezing and soaked as the dew laden grass seemed to hover just above freezing. It didn't matter as the weather forecast had me certain that all that moisture would burn off quickly in the morning. Plus, it was the aurora borealis that had all of our attention. Lights shimmered in the Northern sky while the stars burned brightly in nature's perfect painting. I couldn't take my eyes off of it.
I woke the next morning to the sounds of distant laughter and conversations that I just couldn't make out. This was quite the opposite from what I'm used to when camping with large groups of people. Typically, it's loud cars, or loud mouths that one deals with in these settings, not here. Rather than being annoyed by disrespectful people I was rather intrigued. The good mood and good vibe was palpable and running with this feeling was the back ground noise of free wheel hubs buzzing riders coasted past. "Is this heaven?" I asked.
I was surrounded by like minded, fun people who were all happy to be sharing a beautiful field of grass together. Could this get any better? I kitted up for the morning ride full of anticipation of another great day. This time we'd be heading a different direction on a piece of trail that I was vaguely familiar with. I couldn't wait to see what it had to offer. As expected the ride was everything I hoped for, tasty single track in an old growth forest, and good people.
That afternoon I could feel the miles in my legs, due to a few hard efforts I had thrown in for good measure. The fatigue I felt had me making the decision to take a little time away from camp for an old fashioned bacon cheese burger down at the Seeley Sawmill Saloon. The alone time was nice as I enjoyed the burger and a little Wisconsin Badger football action on t.v. Although I wanted to stick around and catch the game I knew the late afternoon and evening events were scheduled to get under way soon, I wanted to get back. As I pulled into camp I noticed a classic game of kick ball going on, each of the game's players had ear to ear grins plastered on their faces. "Man, this really is like camp, but with BIKES", I said to myself, a smile crossing my face.
My favorite presentation was Bjorn Olson and Kim McNett's story of their "Ring of Fire" expedition. Bjorn and Kim are from Alaska and two of the nicest people you'd ever meet. Their story was humble, honest, and compelling. They weren't afraid to discuss failure in a time when everyone expects success. I appreciated their style as they told their tale with class and dignity. Kim's reading of an article she wrote describing the adventure was riveting to say the least. I strained to soak up every word as well as the tone of her voice. The story was that good. I was moved and what's more is that Kim thought nothing of offering everyone a piece of smoked Salmon straight from Alaska. These were my kind of people.
That evening I had a chance to talk with my friend and teammate, Danielle Mustog. I asked her if she and her travel companions would be interested in skipping the group ride and joining me on a ride that would push a little further than the regularly scheduled one. She and her friend "Spoo" quickly agreed. We'd meet after breakfast promising not to rip each other's legs off- yeah right.
Breakfast was behind us and there we were once again promising to ride easy. As Spoo arrived Mike Riemer wished us a good ride and with that we were rolling. Holding true to our promises the ride was controlled, full of conversation, laughs, and beautiful country. What we thought would be 15 miles of single track gradually turned into 25. It seemed that we took turns complaining about how tired our legs were while laughing away the pain. It was one of those rides that didn't have a thing wrong with it, save my squeaky brakes.
Sadly, it was time to take down my temporary home. As I slowly dismantled my tent I contemplated the weekend. The memories were good and while I scanned the little tent city known as Salsa Ride Camp I asked myself one final question, "Is this a Utopia?" The answer was clear.
At 3:59 a.m. on Saturday, April 25th I will be straddling my bike on the main street of Grinnell, Iowa waiting for a man who goes by the name of Guitar Ted to sound the horn of his vehicle. The sound of that horn will cause me to put pressure on one of my pedals, launching myself into perpetual motion for what could be the next 34 hours.
Getting ready to toe the line in 2013...
This will mark the sixth time that I have stood at the starting line of the Trans Iowa, or what is often simply referred to as the "T.I.". To me, Trans Iowa is much more than a bike a race or a very long ride, it has proven to me to be a test of my determination, my confidence, my constitution. Pedaling a bike for over 330 miles on gravel is far from easy. In fact, it takes riders to another dimension, a place where mind and body crisscross in a confusing display of reality and dreamlike states. Oddly enough I long for these transformations as much as I fear them.
One might think that having experience on his or her side in such an event would offer an edge, but I tend to lean toward the notion that "ignorance is bliss". That is to say, going into this event knowing what I know only gives the butterflies in my stomach more fuel to flutter, and flutter they do. I have bolted awake in the middle of the night on and off for several weeks now, with thoughts like, "Don't forget to bring an extra derailleur hanger!" or "What if I forget to bring money?" The T.I. is a completely self-supported ride. The only help comes from you or the rider by your side. Those riders by your side tend to play an instrumental role in you making it to the finish line. Over the years I have received compliments and congratulations from people regarding the completion of this event only to have me respond with "Thanks, but I couldn't have done it without insert assorted names here."
This year I hope for many things, but above all I hope that I am lucky enough to travel with a good group of riders willing to look out for one another as I will look out for them.
Band of brothers...2013...
There are so many things to consider when tackling a ride of this size. One of the main things is the training. How much is enough? How to structure the training and how many long rides should there be? Should they be ridden hard or easy, alone or with others? I've struggled with all of these questions, but mostly I've always felt that I have never trained enough. The fact remains that I'm not sure if all the training in the world can make that feeling that comes over you after 20 hours of non-stop riding? It's the dizzying feeling that comes when one contemplates the distance covered, the obstacles that have been overcome, and the body’s refusal to go on.
For me this moment has presented itself in a sudden blast of overwhelming exhaustion. A deep yawn while staring at the blinking tail light of the rider in front of you, followed by the notion that the legs are really tired, then finally the panic that races through the mind when the feeling of not being able to continue becomes all consuming. Somehow, maybe driven by fear…I don't know…but somehow you keep pedaling making a promise to yourself to be there for your new friends, the way they've been there for you. Surprisingly, the moment passes and you find new ways to motivate yourself, usually the second sunrise is a good one. With the brightening sky in the east come new life, new energy, and a new reason to keep going.
The demons live within us all and to willingly push ourselves into something that invites them to open doors most would keep locked forever is a peculiar thing. I've met my demons, I've embraced their company, and I've had them turn and exit through the door I unlocked. It's a good feeling to see them leave, but it's also a good feeling to understand what they've brought to the fold and what to do with it. It's during these confrontations that I've forgotten I was even on a bike despite the gravel rushing under my wheels. It is during these moments that we begin to truly understand who we are.
The Trans Iowa is a living thing to me, an entity all it's own. It is so much more than another bike ride. A chance to look through a window many will never know is there. Looking through this window helps you find something more valuable than you could ever imagine; a better you.
Edit: Mike Riemer
Charlie Farrow shares more of what keeps him going in the wild with the conclusion of "The Spirit of Adventure: An Interview with Charlie Farrow"
A personal note: I'd like to than my good friend Charlie for taking the time to provide these well written and thoughtful answers. I hope all of you were just as excited to read these answers as I was.
Bravo Old Chap, Bravo!
There’s a myth floating around the gravel cycling world that you once pulled over in the middle of the night during a Trans Iowa and went to sleep, covered in news paper. Is there any truth to this story? If so, would you mind sharing the events that lead to this decision?
There is a simple rule that I follow that has it genesis from back in the day when we first started to go on climbing trips to Alaska. Rookies, from the flatlands of Minnesota, on our first couple of trips, we would get ourselves all fired up during the preparations leading up to the actual effort, but then we would get out there on these massive Alaskan glaciers and stare up at these incomprehensibly huge mountains and inevitability get ourselves completely psyched out. We would start up the route, get really nervous, then really scared, then super intimated, and then bail out—all within the first day or two of the climb. Then we would spend the rest of the trip drinking at the bars in Talkeetna and playing what-if scenarios. On the third trip, we resigned ourselves to committing to at least five days on the mountain, no matter what barriers we encountered, psychological and/or geographical. This resignation morphed into a simple rule. A rule that I try to apply to long distance bicycle racing, as well— When in doubt, take a nap. Of course the idea being that, just like your mom always told you, “things always look better after a good night’s sleep.” So yes, there have been several instances when I was ‘for sure” going to quit a bike race, when instead I remembered the little When in doubt, take a nap rule. I must say that it has worked every time. Corollary to the rule is therefore: Never quit a race until you have really calmed down, rested, and even (if possible) taken a little nap. Of course, now that I am getting slower, in several of the races that I like to do, the naps have to be very short or I end up not making the time cut-offs. The Trans-Iowa in which I slept in the cemetery was one of Guitar Ted’s earlier efforts, so I was faster (and the course shorter) so when I did decide to take a nap I had built up enough of a cushion of time to allow for a significant respite and yet still finish the race within the official parameter. Still, it is my sincere contention that there is great value in gutting out a tough race even if the final result puts one at the very end of the finishers.
In the past you’ve received awards for finishes that had you near the back of the pack. These finishes have at times gotten more attention it seems than the finishes of the top group. Why would you say that is?
I have “won” a couple of these highly subjective accolades for finishing back in the pack or near to last (or not even finishing), but I would not agree that such “awards” are viewed in the same light as those efforts produced by the really top finishing racers in a given event. I want to emphasize that I have always greatly appreciated and valued these kinds of honors, yet at the same time I have always felt that others were clearly more deserving, thus the subjective nature of such things. Jay Barre’s effort at last year’s Trans-Iowa on a fixed gear bike and Jason Buffington’s effort on a standard mountain bike at Tuscobia several years back immediately come to mind. Of course, these kinds of participatory awards are designed to acknowledge a job well done by the average wanker and is reflective of our culture’s ideological manifestation of equality. There is certainly value in recognizing the achievements of the common man and yet too much attention paid to such arbitrary performances can be counterproductive, leading perhaps even to a devaluing of the really impressive achievements of the highly talented. It is a straightforward process to reward those on the podium and rightly so. In contrast, it is a much more nebulous process when selecting by such personal factors as motivation, perseverance, or degree of suffering, etc. The allure of bike racing in this country stems not from a spectator’s view of witnessing a display of amazing athleticism from the bleachers. The draw is that an average guy can actually compete in the same game with some extraordinarily gifted athletes. I think nordic skiing and long distance running hold the same appeal. So I think that rewarding an average guy for pushing it to his limit is a good thing, but should not ever overshadow a winning performance.
What drives you to keep searching for the next adventure? Do you see yourself ever going in a direction that takes you away from previous modes of travel (i.e. bike, skis, foot travel)? Next adventures…
I really enjoy being out in remote places, that’s why I enjoy living in Duluth. It would be great to learn how to sail and I plan to pursue it when I retire from my teaching job. At this point, however, I still really enjoy a good physical challenge as well as the required planning and logistical work that goes into pulling off a meaningful race or trek. Winter is my favorite season and thus my short-term goals reflect this: I really want to attempt to travel the entire Superior Hiking Trail in winter unsupported or unaided. I would allow myself to deviate from the trail few times to purchase food and fuel during the effort, but otherwise I believe that the completion of such a trip is possible and would be extremely fulfilling. I also want to ski (or bike depending on conditions) north to south (~90 miles) across Lake Nipigon in winter with my man-dog, Hondo. And journey west to east along the Border Route in the BWCA in winter using an old school tent, compete with a wood burning stove. To be honest, I am not that interested in biking on snowmobile trails anymore, even the wild ones. Seems like a large majority of “them” don’t want us there, aren’t interested in sharing, and my thinking is that if a drove of out-of-shape sled necks can do the same route as I can and a lot faster, leave it to them, it really isn’t a recipe for a symbiotic relationship. As far as racing goes…I really want to go back to Alaska and complete the longer version of the Iditarod Trail Invitational. The Colorado Trail Race has great appeal to me as does the Tour of the Great Divide. I have heard great things about a mtb race that crosses Georgia. So many great opportunities out there….
My interview with Charlie Farrow continues as he shares some insight into how he views "limits", what he thinks of quitting, and some fond memories of riding with yours truly. So, grab a cold one and enjoy some thoughts from a modern day adventurer.
Have you ever legitimately feared for your life while pushing your limits?
Fearing for my life while pushing limits? I cannot say that I have ever gotten that far down the wormhole. To be honest, both physiologically and mentally, I am simply not cognitively advanced enough to really break down or break through what David Epstein has called psychological “limiters” within the context of endurance endeavors (see his compelling book, The Sports Gene, for a much more in-depth explanation). In a compelling TED talk Epstein maintains that "Our brain acts as a limiter, preventing us from accessing all of our potential physical resources, because we might hurt ourselves, tearing tendons or ligaments. But the more we learn about how that limiter functions, the more we learn how we can push it back just a bit, in some cases by convincing the brain that the body won't be in mortal danger by pushing harder.” I agree in part with Epstein, in that I do believe that there are highly motivated athletes amongst us that can “push” their limits beyond what their brains want them to do (or not do), but I am worried about the second part of his conclusion, that is, the part where he states that the brain of such athletes can convince the body that irreparable danger will not occur once these limits are surpassed or even transcended. You may recall that truly epic 24 hour national race that pitted the great Trek Rider Chris Eatough against the indomitable Aussie, Craig Gordan, in which they essentially rode each other into the ground. Gordan won, but the price was severe kidney failure and ultimately compromised health for a long time. My sense is that these limiters are in place for biological reasons and that to break through these limiters, may be to invite serious health problems down the road or even a shortened or compromised life span. Recently there has been a real interest in looking at the long term effects of endurance racing on its practitioner’s cardio-vascular systems. The evidence is still very new and to some extent confusing, but from what I have been able to glean from various ‘Google’ searches and in speaking with friends-in-the-know, pushing the limits a few times a year is probably okay, but breaking down biological “limits” is also not a healthy choice and thus doing more than three or four extended (24 hours or more) events per year is probably too much for most athletes. Below is a link to an interesting website that offers access to several recent studies done on endurance athletes and the long term effects on their cardiovascular systems. Nowadays, during a long race, like for example the Arrowhead 135, when I get really really tired and/or start to feel really exhausted, I lay down and take me a little nap or if I have the time, even a long sleep,…Its amazing how just a fifteen to thirty minute nap can revitalize one’s outlook on life’s little challenges and a good six to eight hour sleep can simply work miracles.
Often times it is the successes that we talk about, not the failures. Tell me about some of your failed attempts; were these "soul crushing" or motivating "I can’t wait for next time" moments?
Like you and the majority of the guys reading this, to me the achievement of finishing a race is very important and thus quitting a race should only be considered under very extraordinary circumstances. I take pride in the fact that I have really never simply quit a race because things were not going well for me. I remember a passage in Ned Overend’s classic, Mountain Bike Like A Champion, in which he stated that he will never be good enough to quit because he is having a bad race. In recent years, as I have gotten older, fatter, and slower, I have missed making the cut-offs on a couple long races, the most recent one was at the Tuscobia 150 where I made an ill conceived attempt to ski it and in doing so, missed the third time-cut-off at the 68 mile check point, but I have never just said, “the hell with it” and quit a race. We all have very busy and hectic lives and so these long races or endurance efforts act as a form of cathartic escapism for our regular and predictable routines. Quitting just is not an option. My amateurish advice or basic rule, for those in the game for the long haul— When things go wrong, I recommend to take the attitude that since you have taken the time and paid the fees to get into the race, use all the time allotted and see how far you can get. Remember that conditions do sometimes change for the better, so hang in there and hope for positive change. I remember five or six years ago, Jeremy Kershaw and I were battling really tough conditions going into the last couple hundred miles of the Trans-Wisconsin, including torrential rains and strong head winds. We were in tough shape, really dragging, but the circumstances were such that we couldn’t really quit, even if we wanted to (those are the best kind of races, in my view). Then, miraculously the skies cleared and the winds dramatically shifted to the point that for the last hundred miles, we honestly felt like we did not have to pedal and yet we were flying. It seemed as if we were heading downhill for the rest of the event. It was an amazing transformation. I guess in summary, I have always felt that there are very few reasons to quit a race. Obviously, one would be if a vital piece of equipment breaks and yet even in these rare situations, I have been able to borrow a bike or a seat post, etc. Last year at Chris Shotz’s ThunderDown Race, hitting a rock just after the start, I bent my chainring significantly, to the extent that I believe most riders would have quit because by the time it took to get it off the crank and then find some guys to help me hammer it back into functionality, I had already been lapped by the entire field. Yet, I soldiered on and actually started to turn some fast laps and while I finished near the end of the group, I remember that race with fond memories. In short, unless you are a professional cyclist, you are simply not good enough to quit a race unless you are really seriously hurt or if you have experienced some kind of catastrophic gear failure. If you are just getting your butt kicked by a bunch of faster guys, hang in there, eat the humble pie, and then feel good about guttin’ it out…
You and I have ridden literally thousands of miles together; many of those have taken place while laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of what we were in the middle of. Tell me about some times where you’ve paused and contemplated a situation that you were in that even you had a hard time wrapping your head around.
have enjoyed every minute of our time together. Throughout my life, whether it involved playing football in high school and college or rock and ice climbing in my twenties and thirties or riding bikes in my forties and fifties, my strongest and most meaningful friendships have always resulted from doing athletic feats with other people. The power of shared experiences while pursuing adventures coupled with shared exposures to misadventures seems to really solidify personal relationships. The act of doing something challenging and the shared experiences that results are the building blocks for solid friendships. One memory that really sticks in my mind is the time you and I were riding together in the Trans-Iowa chasing the two leaders. At this point, you were essentially pulling me along as I was intellectually at the level of an aged mollusk. It was late night and somehow as we left a little town, ultimately confused, we got totally turned around, and thus started heading back the way we came. In a most surreal moment, far out in front of us, we spied a series of lights heading towards us. I thought it was perhaps the lights of a tractor and you were as confused as I was. It was such a strange thing to be riding towards the lights but not realizing what was happening. Eventually as the lights came closer we realized that it was a group of two comprising Troy Kraus and the eventual winner, Dennis Grelk. We were stunned and also incredibly thankful that we had run into them. Dennis was feeling very strong and thus lead us for many miles, until we encouraged him to push ahead. Of course I eventually fell apart, while you and Troy finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. I will always remember watching those strange lights coming towards us on that remote gravel road out in the middle of Iowa…
Part III, the final installment coming soon.
Approximately 15 years ago, give take a few years, I began riding and racing mountain bikes in and around Duluth, Minnesota. It didn't take long before my joy and interest in the sport became a passion. Cycling slid into a slot in my life that used to be occupied by baseball, softball, and running. I noticed these sports falling by the wayside as I found that being on two wheels was often at the forefront of my mind.
As my interest in the sport of cycling morphed into regimented training and competition that I bumped into a charismatic local named Charlie Farrow. I'd heard of him, but didn't know him. He was always the guy at the races that had a crowd of people around him, seemingly hanging on his every word. There was something about him that people liked, I needed to know more. It wasn't long after my curiosity had piqued that I was racing my bike in some unknown event somewhere in southern Minnesota that I discovered the real Charlie Farrow. I had performed terribly in this particular race. In fact, I was so far back that I was no longer in touch with the main field. I struggled on and on until I finally crossed the finish line alone. I was completely dejected and feeling like a failure. As I collected myself near the finish line I noticed one more rider coming in. "Wow" I thought, "this guy is super happy and he's really close to the back end of this race". It was Charlie! He recognized me from Duluth and we began to talk about the hardships we faced in this little two hour event. I took note of his upbeat humorous attitude regarding our performance. I also noted how he wasn't beating himself up like I was. We parted ways, heading towards our respective cars when I heard him mutter to himself, "I think I was last". I recall smiling to myself, even laughing out loud. I knew I liked him, but more importantly I knew I had a lot to learn from him.
Since those early days Charlie and I have come to be best friends and I don't use those words lightly. We've logged more miles on bikes than I could ever pretend to count. We've driven long hours to races while solving the worlds problems with answers that were obvious to us. We've discussed more books than anyone should and analyzed the state of the universe over and over. I've been at the front of ultra endurance events with him, accomplishing more than either one of us ever thought possible, most likely because we were together. I've also been at the other end of many events wondering how we'd made it as far as we had, only to find that it was most likely because we were together. I don't know how many times I'd question my own readiness for events such as the Trans Iowa only to hear my friend tell me, "I think you're gonna win this thing". He's picked me up out of the dirt and I've promised him I'd get him to the finish line. This is the kind of bond that develops when two guys go to places physically and mentally together that many will never even conceive of.
Charlie is my inspiration. To me, his soul was made for adventure, he understands it, he craves it, he lives it. Adventure is a concept that he has taught me and I've been chasing it's elusive shadow ever since.
I've decided to interview my friend in an effort to give you a glimpse into a world very few know about.
This is Charlie's story:
Adventure seems to have always been in your blood. Can you tell me a little about what you did early on to satisfy your desire to seek out your own extremes?
As a youngster, I was very fortunate to have great parents that always were very supportive in going along with any and all of my crazy ideas that I decided to bring to fruition. We were allowed, even encouraged, to frequently camp out in our wooded back forty, no matter the weather conditions. Yet, several early experiences come to mind that I feel acted as catalysts for what has turned out to be a life long love of adventure. A course in high school in which we planned and executed a week long trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota, a National Outdoor Leadership School course involving a seventeen day winter camping trip into the heart of Yellowstone during my sophomore year in college, and a summer of jumping on and riding the rails, and then vagabonding out West with a former professor of mine after graduating from college…All these experiences, early on, combined to cement my passion for rouging it and experiencing the world at a real basic level. Post-college, I was lucky to attend the University of Colorado for graduate school and so it was in Boulder, Colorado where I fell in love with all forms of climbing. When I first started climbing (back in the mid 1980s), it was generally assumed that if one was really serious about the sport, one would eventually progress to the point of being an alpinist. To be clear, in our little world in Boulder, the title of “alpinist” was a special, exalted, title that was only bestowed upon a man or a woman that could essentially practice, with great skill and efficiency, all of the various types of climbing on a remote and cold mountain with complete self-sufficiency. I still believe that the guys that are climbing the hardest alpine routes in the world are some of the most committed and resourceful athletes in the world. Of course, I never was anywhere close to being a skilled alpinist, but I came to love the alpine realm and the challenges it afforded. Climbing was my passion for something like twenty years, but it is a sport that requires one to live in the mountains (and/or to be willing to travel extensively) so once we moved to Duluth, I began to look for an activity that would be similar in commitment and preparation but would not require big mountains. Endurance cycling fit that bill very nicely. Now I include the guys that can full-on race such impressive unsupported events as the Great Divide, Iditarod Invitational, and the like, to be some of the most committed and resourceful athletes in the world. Thinking about this question reminds me of a classic Hemingway quote: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” I think what he was getting at was that a true sport requires a very intense level of personal commitment.
I’ve heard it said many times that you always seem so happy while competing, seemingly immune to the "dark times" that many ultra endurance athletes talk about. Are you afflicted by these so called "dark times"? If so, how do you get through these periods?
This question reminds of a great exchange that occurs between the two principal characters in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s:
"You know the days when you get the mean reds? Paul Varjak: The mean reds. You mean like the blues? Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?”
I am happy most of time and I am especially so during endurance cycling events because the whole endeavor is based on a very positive and essential, fundamental, aspect of the human condition; namely our innate desire for getting from Point A to Point B. I love the simplistic nature of it all. Of course, I am still mostly content doing big loops, but it requires more effort on my part to remain positive during events like 24 hour mountain bike races that are commenced on short courses. Long races that require one to do many loops are mentally draining because I begin to feel like a caged gerbil may feel as it continues to run but never gets anywhere new. In any case, it has been my experience that the guys that do these things are really basically happy people. At least the ones that stay with it for more than a few years. I believe that happiness is quite contagious and its fun to be around happy people. Happy people are also usually confident people as well. In any event, to be honest it goes against my nature to get “the blues ” during a long distance event, most of the time I am able to finish long events with my positive attitude intact. Yet there have been a few races that have really smashed my psyche. The most recent one was last April when I made an attempt to ride a single-speed in the 320+ mile Trans-Iowa. Clearly the last fifty miles of that race forced a wave of “mean reds” into my consciousness. I was keeping a pace that was just barely, minutely, fast enough to make the cut-off for an official finish. I was estimating that if I could just maintain the pace I was on that I could finish the race with about five to ten minutes to spare. It would have been easy to just quit (ego and genteel nature intact) had it not been that I was so close to making it with less than fifty miles to go. Yet, as the last hours burned away, it became maddeningly apparent that it was going to be so, so close. Although I can tell that I nearing the end of my endurance, my positive nature kept expecting a break. A break or at least a respite in the form of a shifting wind or an easing of the constant rolling hills…but nothing but stronger headwinds and more dramatic rollers appeared. I became uncharacteristically despondent and as the desperation grew within me I began to panic and I was overcome with an intensity of sadness and regret that clearly came from some very dark recesses in my mind that had absolutely nothing to do with finishing the Trans-Iowa. It was as if the lonely situation coupled with the exhaustion brought upon by the thirty plus hours of self-propelled movement, had acted as a kind of key to opening a hidden door that led to some troubling inner turmoil. I made a turn onto a kind of blind corner and then looked down the road and spied another huge hill followed by yet another one. I pulled off the road and just collapsed onto the grass and laid there encased in self-loathing and despair (Thanks a lot Guitar Ted). I was less than six miles from the finish and yet the time left was something like fifteen minutes. I finally calmed down enough to call Jeremy Kershaw and he came and picked me up. I was too embarrassed to go to the finish line because I knew that the guys there would be super nice and supportive and yet I was too broken to face them…I was worried that I’d break down in front of them. So how does one get through something like that? My advice is to sign up for the same race and go out there and try again…but this time use gears. Riding the Trans-Iowa on a single speed is only for really strong riders, riding it on a fixie is only for those from another realm…
All athletes make mistakes form time to time. Can you recall any colossal mistakes that you’ve made?
Back nine or seven or even five years ago, when the Arrowhead 135 (AH) did not attract the number of quality of riders that it now does, I use to have a chance of finishing up near the top. When an average guy feels like he has a legitimate chance at being towards the top in such a race, he or she may make impetuous gear decisions based on saving weight in favor of staying warm and thus safe. In fact, a rational case can be made that going light in the AH is prudent because it allows one to finish up faster and thus forgoing the need to be exposed to the cold weather for longer periods. But mine was not a rational decision, mine was a stupid decision. Several years back, I think it was the 2009 race, I felt like I had a chance to do well, so I elected to go super light. A strategy that included leaving my warm neoprene overboots at home. At the start, the temperature was around twenty below and while it warmed up during the day my feet never really followed suit. I arrived at halfway checkpoint with the top chase group so rather than taking the time the warm up my feet, I followed the guys out the door after a quick reload on fluids. As is my usual routine in this race, I started to fall apart about five hours out from the finish, got unceremoniously dropped by the chase group, found myself alone with my thoughts, and then suddenly realized that my toes were completely numb. Thankfully I was coherent enough to realize the implications and thus made every effort to warm up my toes by swinging my legs vigorously and walking a lot to try to get the circulation going again. I am convinced that had I not done the extra work to warm up my feet, I would have suffered extensive frostbite, but even so, for some odd reason I was not able to get my right big toe warmed up enough to spare it from a pretty significant frostbite injury. I was lucky that Duluth has one of the best burn units in the Midwest and so with their expert treatments my injury eventually fully healed. That was a really stupid thing to do…and I was lucky that I did not lose my big toe because of it…
Words like "epic" and "adventure" are tossed around pretty frequently these days. It seems that a bike ride to pick up some milk can even be lumped into the "epic" category. What are some official or nonofficial events you’ve been involved with that you’d call “epic?”
Yes, I totally agree that the terms “epic” and “adventure” get overused nowadays. I have done a handful of epic or adventurous climbing trips in my day, the most out-there being a successful ascent of the East Ridge of Mount Logan way back in 1997 with just two other climbers. As far as cycling goes I’d say a very early solo-effort that I made to ride around Lake Superior when I was twenty-two and a complete neophyte, qualifies as a true epic. It took me something like thirty-five days, but it was a real adventure given the equipment I used and my lack of experience. Recently, I would have to say that my ride around Lake Nipigon, located about fifty miles north of Lake Superior, a couple summers ago, could be termed a real adventure. I think I am the first guy to ever bike around that huge lake and the remoteness of the landscape and the complicated route-finding made it feel like a real old-school adventure. Out of the five day effort, I went three full days without seeing another human being. When is the last time you went half a day when you did not see another human being? In terms of official races, in my small world, the most epic or adventurous race that I have done is the Trans-Iowa, with the three hundred+ mile Iditarod Invitational a close second. I believe this to be so because of the fact that these truly unsupported races are often commenced during very difficult weather conditions. I think the Trans-Iowa, while being much shorter in time spent battling the route, is perhaps the most “epic” because adding to the potential for tough weather conditions, the time cutoffs are unforgiving, and the route finding requires intense focus and vigilance. The Trans-Iowa truly is a classic adventure race. I wish there were more events like the Trans-Iowa and the Alaskan race. Most of these so called “adventure races” are really nothing more than serious endurance contests. Don’t get me wrong, I am in awe of the athleticism and mental toughness inherent within these guys that can go for incredibly long periods of time in constant and fast movement. Take a twenty-four hour mountain bike race for example, the guys that win those things are incredible athletes in possession of equally incredible mental toughness, but there really is no adventure involved. The top guys have full-on entourages that take care of their every need, the rider’s only job is to ride as fast as he/she can for everything else is done for him or her by their crew members. Adventure racings needs to be differentiated from endurance racing. A true adventure requires complete self-sufficiency, serious commitment, and a high degree of personal resourcefulness, along side or combined with a test of endurance.
Part II Coming Soon...
It's weird how it seems I ride my bike the most in the winter. I'm not sure if that's true, but is sure seems that way. Maybe it's just the structured aspect of riding that gives me the sense that I'm almost always on my bike. Winter came a couple weeks early this year with a moderate snow dump and a blast of arctic air that apparently everyone is feeling. Nothing like just getting right into it.
Regarding the (sort of recent) broken ribs situation; I've been feeling pretty good lately and I've been thinking a lot about training, especially with my recent entry into the 11th running of the Trans Iowa. I've come to find that training is a fickle thing, sometimes it works great for me and other times I don't feel like I've changed physically at all. I guess it's a matter of changing the routine, so this year that's my plan. Strength training will be a priority as will traveling longer distances on the super heavy fatbike. Of course I plan to mix in the gravel bike, which will be ridden on tar and hard pack snow. Oh, and the days of thinking I can just eat whatever I want, because I train a lot are OVER! It's sometimes hard to control the weight of your gear, but you can control the weight of YOU. So, that's my plan...build power...be lighter...be stronger! I'm not sure if it's a recipe for success or not and judging from what I've seen on the T.I. roster I'm sure I'll once again be "just trying to keep up", but for once I'd like to be the guy setting the pace.
Overall, I'm excited about a new formula (for me) and I can't wait to be deep into it. Hopefully, I'll see some results!
Now's the time, get out there and get it done!
As many of you know, about two and a half weeks ago I was involved in a serious bike crash caused by a car. I was fresh back from completing my 2nd Vapor Trail 125 out in Colorado. The Vapor proves to be some of the most rugged and difficult mountain biking I've ever done in my life, I didn't fall once. Then, the day before my home town's Heck of the North gravel road race I hit the deck on a section of road I've ridden hundreds of times, because of an illegal turn made by the driver in front of me. The four broken ribs I suffered took me to a new level of pain as well as a serious case of the "downs". A lot of people have been telling me that it could have been a lot worse and when I'd hear that I'd nod, agree and say to myself, "yeah, but it still really sucks". The time is passing and each day I feel just a little bit better and can do a little bit more. Things are different right now, but heading back toward the way they used to be. I don't ride to and from work right now, instead I get a ride to work and I walk home. I'll add that a week ago I shuffled along, now I actually walk! Hell, if you were to see me you would most likely think I wasn't injured at all. I need to remind myself that I still am hurt and no matter how long I stare at all those bikes in the garage, I'm still hurt. Yes, sometimes I open the garage door and just look at them. The blue one pictured on the right really needs a bath, the Ti La Cruz sits in there still loaded and ready to go to the Heck of the North. I haven't had the heart to tell her that she most likely will just be heading back to the trainer. Despite my desire to get out there and ride in this spectacular fall weather I need to be patient.
My trip to the doctor today was a good one. He's been my doc since I was a very young man and he's been through all 7 broken bones with me, as well as a knee surgery, and a torn spleen. I didn't need to explain to him that I love riding my bikes, he already knows. Together we studied the x-rays and he let me know that I'd be o.k. to ride the short way to work next week, with the special instruction..."DON'T FALL". I told him about the accident and we talked about good people as well as bad. While saying 'good bye' he mentioned that he couldn't believe the driver just left me there. I shrugged it off, because now I'm looking forward, not back.
I'm excited to ride next week, even if it's for only 15 minutes at a time, but to be honest I'm nervous. I'm sure the uneasiness will pass, but for now I think I'll be extra careful around all those big steal boxes with wheels.
Looking ahead I see big races and big adventures. I can't wait to back in the game. I once told a good friend that I feel more comfortable on two wheels than I do on my own two feet. Soon I'll be back on those two wheels.
See you out there!
It was Friday afternoon and I was finishing out the work day talking with my co-worker about the week. A glance to the clock told me I needed to get going as my friend Quinn would be to my house shortly to borrow a hydration pack from me for the next day's Heck of the North that we'd both be competing in. The "Heck" is a 100+ mile gravel road race through northern Minnesota, it is not something to be taken lightly. I had prepared my Salsa La Cruz the night before for the event due to my Warbird suffering a worn out bottom bracket. The La Cruz was solid and ready to go, however I was not used to riding the bike and things were slightly different than what I was used to on the Warbird, especially the brakes. The Warbird has disc brakes, which require very little hand strength for a great deal of stopping power while the La Cruz uses traditional rim style brakes and in my case had cables that probably should have been replaced. The first thing I noticed on my ride into work was sticky brake cables that needed a stronger than usual grip to get real stopping power. This would later prove to be a critical factor in the moments following my departure from work last Friday.
"Have a good race", was the last thing my co-worker said to me as I walked out the door. Soon I was rolling out of the parking lot and into the neighborhood streets following an older model Subaru Legacy wagon. Coasting down hill at about 20 mph with a comfortable 2 car lengths between myself and the car things seemed very normal. The car in front of me gradually started to pull over to the right as if it had reached it's destination, so I began to veer left in order to give myself some space while I passed. At the moment that I closed the distance to the slowing car it suddenly took a sharp left back into the lane as if to make a U-turn. Shocked, I moved further left in an attempt to pass by the front of the car knowing the driver would stop once she realized I was behind. However, she seemed to be accelerating toward the curb in front of her and off to my left. I couldn't believe that she had not looked around her at all before trying to turn around in the middle of the road. It was clear to me that she intended to nose up to the curb in front of her (she was now perpendicular in the road), then back up a bit, and finally put it in drive and complete the turn around. My options were diminishing rapidly. I was closing fast on this car and my plan to "sneak" between the front bumper and the curb were now minimal. In a nanosecond I concluded that if I tried to slip between the curb and the front of the car I would most definitely be hit and pinched between the high curb on my left and the car. I decided that I needed to hop the bike up onto the curb, but I was running parallel to the curb making the hop up to it more difficult. What I feared most about the move was exactly what happened. My front wheel went up to the top of the curb without issue, it was the back that had problems. I was in such a situation with the front of the car closing in fast that I had no time to "load" the bike for the complete hop. As a result of the miscue my wheel began to slide along the edge of the curb as it fishtailed hard out to my right. I had no choice but to dab my left foot into the grassy boulevard in an attempt to bound one footed along side my bike, which at the rate of speed I was traveling this would prove to be a tough proposition. On the first dab my foot met with firm purchase followed by an 8 foot bound through the air with the bike still clipped into my right foot. As I sighted my landing I recall noting the heaved surface of the concrete and how I'd be hitting it's uphill slope. My foot seemed to only graze the side walk as the hard bottomed cycling shoe ricocheted off the wet cement.
The combined sounds I heard in the next instant were the clatter of a bicycle hitting and sliding down a hard surface, a whoosh of air as my lungs were instantly deflated upon impact, "ooooofffff"...the sound of my own voice, and the crunching of a full bag of potato chips - my ribs. I rotated into a chest down position and slid that way for about 10 feet.
White hot pain seared through my upper left back and I was completely stunned. I sat upright in the middle of the side walk and began to rotate my shoulders in order to check that my collar bones were in tact, surprisingly they felt fine. I rose to my feet and turned to where the car sat perpendicular in the road just as it was when I careened over the curb in front of it. The driver stared at me as I yelled, "WHY?". I'm not sure what I wanted from her, but in that moment I don't think I was just asking her why she decided to pull an unexpected U-turn, but more of a "Why did you break my ribs?, Why did you just put me on the couch for weeks?, Why aren't you getting out of your car?, Wait...why are you driving away?"
I circled my bike about 3 times as I tried to make sense of what happened. I growled into the air as the pain seemed to ebb and flow in a way that made me light headed. With the adrenaline flowing I mounted my bike and began riding down the street one handed as extending my left arm caused excruciating pain. I worried about how uncomfortable I would be the next day riding the Heck of the North. My head was spinning after about 5 blocks of riding and it was then that I felt my ribs moving under my skin in "clicking" action. It was then that fear began to rise inside of me as I contemplated possible internal injuries. I tried to stay calm and focused on getting home. As I arrived at 27th Ave. W., a formidable hill, I knew that it would be impossible to ride up it in my condition. Just then a woman pulled into her driveway talking on a cell phone. As she emerged from her car I yelled to her, "Can you help me?"
As I explained my situation to her the girl that put me on the ground 5 minutes earlier drove by again! I yelled out to her as she went past and I saw her avert her eyes from me while blasting on the gas, clearly uncomfortable with seeing me again. Seconds later I had Amy on the phone and she was on her way.
Amy shoved my bike in the back of the car as I slithered into the passenger seat muttering something about getting to the hospital now! Fortunately we live very close to where I went down, so we made a quick stop for my wallet and insurance information. I skidded down the sidewalk at approximately 3:55 p.m. and was talking to a nurse at 4:20 p.m. My case was a slam dunk for the staff on duty. I had the sense that I was the 4th broken rib case they'd seen that night. At one point I actually said to the R.N., "To me this is all very confusing and to you guys it's all pretty straight forward?". Her reply, "Yes". I left it at that.
Laying on the couch that night, a dull ache coursing through my whole body I replayed the situation over and over in my mind. The extreme impact my body took, the position of the car sitting in the road, and the look on the driver's face. Should I have tried to squeeze between the moving bumper on my right and the high curb on my left? Maybe I would have made it. Maybe I would have had my leg broken by the car and various other injuries? The questions never end. I made a split second decision, it didn't completely work out -or did it? Time to stop thinking about all the could've, should've and start thinking about getting back to business as quickly as I can. A good friend recently reminded me that "bones will heal and the pain will leave" and he's right.
So, now that it's all over maybe I should say "Thank you" to that girl in the car and let her know that "I'm motivated now more than ever."
Be careful out there guys.
See you soon!
The word freedom is often loosely tossed about. We hear it on the news every night and we take it for granted as we go about our daily business. To a 12 year old boy who's world is confined to his neighborhood the word freedom means very little, until that special day when he holds that first two wheeled machine in his hands. That first real bicycle represents so much, it tells the boy that he is trusted, that he is encouraged to go see the world through his own eyes and come to his own conclusions. That first bicycle tells him that it is time for him to start making his own decisions ... left, right, or just a little further. That first bicycle has the potential to teach him the meaning of the word freedom in a monumental way.
I received my first bike that I considered a real bike when I was 12. This bike had 10 gears, drop handle bars, brake levers that offered braking in a couple of different hand positions. It was love at first sight. I remember staring at my Huffy Santa Fe, promising that I would always keep her clean and never treat her poorly. To me, it was the most important day of my life. I could now travel at faster speeds, cover more ground, and stretch my boundaries outside of my neighborhood. I didn't know where I'd go, I just knew I would go.
I took things slow at first, riding to baseball practice, cruising around my school, or just riding circles on the street while my best friend and I solved all of our problems. It wasn't long before I discovered the phrase, "Mom, going for a bike ride!" as the screen door slammed behind me. I was free!
My best friend and I would meet at the top of my road. Many times we'd have nothing but a water bottle, and miles of road ahead of us. One memory stands out for me as I think back to those days. My friend and I were contemplating where the wheels would take us when it came to me suddenly, "I know! Let's go to the lake where my Dad and I go fishing!" I knew the way, but I didn't have any comprehension of the distance. The length of time the ride might take or the distance didn't matter to two 12 year olds, all we had was time. So, we started pedaling and talking. We covered all the topics available to men of our age, the price of burgers at McDonalds, how much we didn't want to return to school in the fall, and of course girls. It wasn't long before we were outside of our city and deep into the country. "Do you know where we're going?" was his question as the black top turned to gravel. I was positive of the route and the miles were peeling off our rear wheels as we continued forward. I assured my friend that everything was fine as the heat of summer was upon us. We took a short break to remove our baseball hats in an effort to keep cool. There was no such thing as helmets for kids in those days, in fact, we had no safety gear whatsoever, nor did we have the knowledge or means to repair our bikes. The thought of something going wrong never occurred to us. At that time we existed in a place where everything was perfect. Clipping our hats to our seat posts we pushed on.
Finally, we had arrived at the shores of the lake we'd been pedaling toward for hours. Flicking our kick stands down we high fived as the waves lapped at our wheels. We had done it and we were proud of ourselves, but we were a long way from home. The realization that we had to turn around and cover those miles again in order to get home landed squarely on our shoulders. This would mark the first time I would enter what I now refer to as the "dark times". There were no more topics to discuss and we were tired. Our moods flew up and down as small arguments erupted over trivial things, but it wasn't long before they'd pass and we'd become the masters of our universe again.
Exhausted I stepped into the kitchen several hours after I had yelled those insignificant words about going for a bike ride. My mom, hands on her hips was there to greet me. The tone of her voice was one I knew all to well, she was concerned. I'd been in spots like this before, but this time I might have pushed it a bit. Even as a young boy I always craved a sense of adventure. For example, as a five year old a friend and I went for a "rock climbing" expedition. With my family cat in tow we covered approximately 5 miles in search of climbable rock with nothing more than a small back pack, a rope, and of course our cat. My parents launched a full on community involved search for us. We had no idea that we'd done anything wrong. So, 7 years later here I was again, answering the same question, "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!". I casually announced the name of the lake and watched her mouth drop open. She was in disbelief as the trip was about a 65 mile round trip. My Dad came home from work with my Mom giving him the news of what I'd been up to in the hopes that he'd be just as displeased as she was. He feigned concern and later gave me a wry smile, a pat on the back, and an "Atta Boy". I was hooked.
My Huffy Santa Fe and I went on many more bike rides after that day. I fell deeper into the curiosity of what lie over the next rise and around the next corner. I also fell deeper into the feeling of being free. Today I look over a different set of bars, but what I see is the same freedom I saw when I was that 12 year old boy, that will never change.
The Lutsen 99'er is fast approaching. This coming Saturday hundreds of like minded cyclists will converge on the tiny hamlet of Lutsen, Minnesota to participate in one of the most popular races in Minnesota. The event boasts a 99 mile version as well as a 39 mile version for those who are of the more sensible mindset.
Last year I went into this race with one goal and that was to just give myself a chance. I told myself that I would do whatever it took to keep up with the leaders for as long as possible in order to give myself a shot at the best result I could. Well, it turned out that I was able to keep up with them through the half way point, then through the 80 mile mark, and then I thought, "you've made it this far, might as well keep it up". I went extremely deep during this effort and I can still feel the pain of trying to close down gap after gap. It's the pain that gives me the jitters as I type these words. I never want to go through the suffering, nor do I want to dance with the demons, but if I'm going to give myself the best chance I can I have to.
This year is sure to bring even more talent to Lutsen which will most likely drop me down in the standings, but if I'm able to finish with the same smile I had on my face as I finished with last year it will be a success.
If you're heading to Lutsen this coming weekend or to a race in some other land, remember to just give yourself a chance, you might be surprised at the result.
A couple years ago I went way out on a limb, drove to Colorado with a bike and went about the business of racing in the Vapor Trail 125. This race starts and ends in Salida, Colorado and everything in between exists high atop mountain peaks. The beast starts at 10:00 p.m. for God's sake! The directors got my attention when I found myself signing off on what appeared to be life insurance during the registration process - what had I gotten myself into?
Well, I survived that epic ride and I don't use the word epic lightly. It was truly the toughest ride I've ever been on. I've suffered in different ways on a bike before, but this one was insane. With almost the entire race existing at over 10,000 feet and an elevation gain of almost 20,000 feet in 125 miles I was beyond wasted.
It's a good thing I don't have that great of a memory, because I sent out the registration form for this year's Vapor yesterday. At least this year I'll know what to expect, right? I hope to finish a little quicker than last year and I hope to not use up what's remaining of my 9 lives.
All that's left in front of me between now and September is a few long distance mountain bike races, a few gravel events, and the Big Work required for Big Racing.
So, I thought of you as I rode (the long way) home last night after work in a TORRENTIAL down pour. I had rain gear, but chose not to put the pants on as my lower half was already soaked and somehow reasonably warm due to the exercise. My top half however was getting soaked despite my rain coat which is a total joke and I'm in the market for a $300 jacket now. My gloves were a light weight fall/spring type of glove. Well, after about 5 minutes of hard rain they were completely soaked through. My hands were cold at that point, but what could I do? As I slogged through the gravel/closed portion of skyline (west of spirit mountain) on ultra soft dirt my hands continued to deteriorate. By the time I crossed the highway that heads up to Proctor off of 35 while going east on Skyline I was in serious trouble with the hands. They were so ungodly cold that I was almost crying. I couldn't shift the bike anymore and I was caught in the dilemma of, "the faster I go the colder they are vs. the slower I go the longer I'm out here". When I finally made it home the final hurdle was to somehow get the garage door open. My stumps that used to be my hands couldn't negotiate the tiny key, nor the lock itself. By some miracle of GOD I got the door unlocked and made it into the house. I almost stepped on Charley, because I was in such a panic due to the AGONY. Amy had to start a shower for me so I cold return to normal. Then it was off to "ladies night" at the Ski Hut for a promotion for women's cycling.
At the height of my pain I looked at my gps and the temp was 32 degrees and I could barely see with the rain coming down. It was possibly one of the worst/most painful rides I've ever been on due to cold. I almost asked someone if I could sit in their car for a couple minutes.
Enjoy the warmth of Omaha! It's cold and foggy again today.
This film has been on my mind since it's inception. Little did I know that a piece called "Racing the Kansas Sun" would turn into so much. I wrote that piece from the heart and every word of it came from an experience so real that there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about those hours on the prairie. I was excited by the attention the article was receiving, but never in my wildest imagination did I think it would evolve into what it did. I was contacted by journalists from Kansas, approached by Jim Cummins, the director of the D.K. about a special category within the race designed to motivate riders to race from within, and ultimately Salsa Cycles wanted to talk about a documentary. Saying that I was flattered doesn't come close to what I felt. I was moved, honored, and reminded that people crave honesty. People are inspired by not what is magnificent and spectacular, but by what is real.
I'm humbled by the amount of people my story has touched and grateful for not only what I've experienced out on all those race courses, but more importantly in what I've found within myself.
Thank you Salsa Cycles for not only believing in me, but for seeing the "Nitty Gritty" too.