A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
The Spirit of Adventure: An Interview with Charlie Farrow - Part III
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….