• The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.

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A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.

Balsam Basher: Fatbikes, Crashes, and Booze!

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b2ap3_thumbnail_P3150543.JPGThe Balsam Basher put on by my local bike shop, The Ski Hut proved to be one hell of a good time. With the race being held in Duluth, MN it was a no brainer that I attend. Another motivating reason to show up was the fact that the trail conditions were/are superb right now with a melting and freezing cycle repeating itself over and over it was sure to be a fast paced event.

Now, I've slogged, pushed, and had too many temper tantrums to count with the best fat bike riders my area has to offer, but I've never gone wide open and simply "raced" them. I was excited!

I set my expectations low and hoped for a mid pack finish. As I lined up for the LeMans start I noted the heart and soul of Duluth's FAST contingent of cyclists, Scotty Kylander-Johnson, Todd McFadden, Dianna McFadden, Mike Bushey, just to name a few. Some familiar faces such as Jay "Hollywood" Henderson along with a few others had made their way up from the Twin Cities.

As I stood in the second row waiting for the "GO" I looked across the parking lot at the thousands of dollars worth of Fat Bikes laying in the snow waiting for their owners to jump on them. "Holy Crap, these guys take this stuff seriously", I thought as I my eyes scanned over carbon framed bike after carbon framed bike. The next thought through my head was, "Oh well, my trusty Mukluk and I will just do the best we can".b2ap3_thumbnail_P3150544.JPG

To my surprise I managed to hop on my bike and get moving in about 5th position. I wondered if I should let off and allow the other faster riders to get out in front of me. Then, the competitive racing Tim emerged and said, "Screw that, they can pass me if they can!". Weird...20 minutes into the race and no one had passed me. In fact, I had caught and moved through a few riders and was now asking "Hollywood" if I could sneak by him. I must admit the guy looked ultra smooth on his super light carbon Lampier (sp?). I've admired his riding since the mid 90's and I wouldn't doubt if the guy holds some kind of record for the most races ever completed - he races and then races some more.

I reminded myself to keep the heart rate in the "just below death" zone and keep the pressure on the pedals. Things were going smoothly as I began to "yo-yo" with a nice guy wearing a "Wolf Tooth" kit (didn't catch his name). Just as I began to think that this whole fast Fat Biking thing wasn't that tough the mistakes started happening as the track slowly started to break up. The leaders were up the trail a bit and had been punching through the crust from time to time revealing a speed sucking, momentum taking soft under belly to the trail. Putting a wheel in these spots brought a lot of internal swearing as what had just been gained seemed to disappeared in a second. It was up a short climb that I faltered and pulled my first dismount. "Hollywood" would pass me back on this climb and simply ride out of my life - kind of rude I thought. The mistakes kept coming and as I honed in on other riders rear wheels and noted how soft their back tires looked, I needed to let some air out...Damnit!b2ap3_thumbnail_P3150542.JPG

The top of a huge climb is where I decided to release a bunch of air out of my rear tire. The stop was about 40 seconds, enough time to allow "Wolf Tooth" and Dianna McFadden to pass me. I was determined to reel them back in, but what I didn't know was that the trail would soon turn into a white beach.

One lap down, one to go, but wait, a twist. An odd requirement was tossed into the format. If a rider did not want to do a lap around a huge field before heading back into the single track he or she must down a shot of apple tasting schnappsy stuff. "Hell, I'll take a drink if it means I can skip the field", I thought, so I did. That shot stayed with me well into the second lap, it was like the shot I had to drink 3 times, it just kept coming back up. 

The second lap was a whole lot different than the first as the trail had now seen all the riders, many of which were forced to dismount a lot. It seemed that every foot print broke through the crust, chewing up the trail. Ruts and foot prints took over huge sections and made the descents an exercise in blind faith and sometimes blind faith just didn't cut it. While descending a steep ridge I spotted a nasty looking rut and immediately chose to stay out of it, which of course put me right into it. My body and bike started leaning while the rut held tight to the front tire. Shortly after the "Ohh Crap" moment I was air borne, followed by a swim in white powder. The snow was so deep that I could not get up. I'd put my arm down looking to push off of something firm, but there was nothing. Eventually I rolled around enough to get in a position that I could use my bike as a huge snow shoe, climb on top of it and jump back toward the trail. It must have taken over 2 minutes to get out of that snow and it was super embarrassing. Luckily no one saw my flounder in the snow, most likely because they were doing the same thing somewhere else. As I pushed on down the trail I started to notice the body prints in the snow next the trail as riders ahead of me went for their own swim.

Soon I was beginning the long roller coaster descent to the finish line with super fast Dianna b2ap3_thumbnail_P3150546.JPGMcFadden in my cross hairs. Di was handling her carbon Beargrease like the champ she is. Coming off a recent podium finish at the Fat Bike Birkie I could tell she was in top form. With the track being quite narrow I tried to find a place to pass, but her pace was very similar to mine, it would have to wait for the field before the finish line. Di and I flew through the rollers of the closing miles until finally an open spot ahead in the trees, it was the field. I saw the volunteers pointing out where the finish line was and that's when Di stole a glance over her shoulder to see me smiling at her. Immediately we both rose from our saddles, grabbed a couple harder gears, and went for it. Approximately 50 meters separated us from the finish line as I pulled left and began to make the pass. The hard pack snow kept things quiet save the sound of our bikes slamming into harder gears, "CLUNK, CLUNK" as each of us looked for more speed. I felt my trigger go slack as I slammed into the last gear I had, but I was inching up next to her and was certain I'd take this sprint until I heard Di's bike make one more "CLUNK". "What! She's got one more gear?!" We crossed the line together with Di edging me out by a front wheel, for 5th place while I took 6th. It was awesome and there's no one I'd rather lose a sprint to than Dianna McFadden, such a class act.

Not long after my finish the always smiling Charlie Farrow pulled in with snow all over his clothes proving that he too had his swim in the snow. The finish area was a blast as cold beers and warm brats were on hand, all part of the entry fee. The Ski Hut put on a great event and one I'll be back for next year even if it means I have to push my bike around the course for two full laps.

Thank you to the Ski Hut, Salsa Cycles, and Rudy Project.

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A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.

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