Sunday, January 20, 2008
What an amazing experience!
Wow! What a race! Here are a few facts. Approximately 60 miles of snowmobile trails and drifted in bike path from Dubuque to Dyerville and back. I believe the high of the day was -6 with windchills between 20-30 below. At the race meeting Lance Andre, the race director, tells everyone that no one will finish as the conditions are just too bad. Lance is a pretty darn good rider so I felt like the chances of finishing must be about nil. The prerace meeting goes a bit longer than I had planned and I had to rush to get dressed and out the door. The race began three blocks away and before I even got to the start my difficulties with my first winter race began!
I got to the start and realized in my haste I hadn't blown the Gatorade out of my Camelbak hose back into the bladder and in less than five minutes the hose was COMPLETELY full of ice. Here I was, I hadn't even started the race and my hose was ice. Off went the start and we rode down city streets at about 10 mph. I was blowing, sucking and holding onto the hose to try to work the ice loose to know avail. I decided to stop and to see what I could do. I worked on it for a few minutes and then decided to put the whole hose into the compartment next to the warm bladder to try to thaw it out. I drank 1/2 of a Boost can for some liquids as I didn't know how long it was going to be before I could drink again. Here I was already five minutes behind and then a guy comes up on me who had missed the start as he had forgotten something at the hotel and had to go back. We entered the first snow section and this was the worst part of the whole day. The snow was probably 5-6 inches on top of a very rutted out layer of ice. I think this one mile or so section took me about 20-30 minutes at least. I ended up walking quite a bit of it as my chain kept coming off. You see, I decided that 32 X 20 would probably be too tough as when I asked Lance about gearing he had told me he was running 1 X 1 much of the time two nights before the race. I went into the bike shop on Friday and picked up a 24 tooth cog, but it had ramps on it as it was from a cog set. Well, wouldn't you know it my chain fell off at least 10 times during that rough section (sometimes every 30-40 feet). What I later figured out was that as long as I kept pedaling it would stay on, and it did for most of the race. My inexperience is showing I now!.
I am now 5 minutes behind the second to last rider and not feeling very happy, but I also knew that it was a long day yet and a lot can happen. I continued on and up a nice one mile long 7% grade PAVED bike path. I actually enjoyed this climb as I could sit for the whole thing and got nice and warmed up. What do I see, riders ahead. Those damn Pugsley's must be pretty hard to climb with as I was now making ground.
It was now back into the ditches and following the snowmobile trails. What was strange is that we were riding right along side four lanes of traffic and a side walk, but no, we were riding the ditches with drifts and snowmobile trails! I stopped, pulled off the Camelbak and found the Gatorade thawed in the hose so I decided to give it another go. I made sure to blow the Gatorade back into the bladder (this has worked for two years!). With a quarter of a mile the hose was frozen again somehow. I stopped and tucked the hose back into the bladder compartment. I pulled out the 1/2 can of Boost and, it was frozen solid. I then pull all my gels and my other two cans of Boost out of my pockets and put them in with the bladder in the Camelbak. Finally, I was off again.
Within another mile I found myself catching several riders. The single speed really was a saving grace here as I was able to out climb (can you believe it!!!???!!!!) the gear bikes as they were spinning at 5 mph. It was about this time there was a group of riders (between 6-9 I would say) that decided to call it quits. I don't know how far we were into the race, but I would probably guess around mile 6-7 or so. Goes to show how tough and cold this race was!
I continued on riding a little pavement and a lot of snow mobile trails. The picture above pretty much sums it up. While it doesn't look bad you can see how the tire tracks are swerving around. That is pretty much how it went quite a bit of the time. We went through several alfalfa ? fields and there were some decent drifts and a lot of soft snow. There was no way people were riding all of this stuff. Think of riding in a ditch where your tires sink 4-5 inches into the snow. Tough going. It was around this time that I would see people coming back towards me that had decided to turn it around and not finish the race. I was feeling better and better, but knew I wasn't drinking enough.
It was about now that we had a couple of pretty darn steep climbs on the pavement that tested my fitness even with 32 X 24. I would guess one of those climbs to be around 11-12 percent for a little ways anyway. Then, we hit the mother of all B roads. This was the best B road I have ever been on and it was amazing. The whole thing was down hill and it had ruts galore. It was a picture of beauty as it was in a forest with cliffs off to one side. I loved this section. I would later find out I was the last one on in contention to finish.
Within another mile I hit the heritage trail and I was happy to be there! The going was easier, but I still only was able to go 7-8 miles per hour. On a geared bike I think I could have managed 9-10 (which isn't saying much!). This trail, while easier, was still slow going and the miles seemed to take forever. I think I had to take this trail for about 15-16 miles, but it felt like 40. I started cramping up and I tried to drink as much as I could. By this point in the race I had drank my other Boost and a frozen Snickers. I drank some more Gatorade and had some gels, but I think the damage was done. I continued on my way with about 80-90 percent confidence that I was going to finish. What was giving me problems at this point was my dehydration was setting in as I was cramping quite a bit and my rear hub was frozen as I would lose engagement every minute or two and find myself spinning as if I didn't have a chain on the bike at all. I felt that as long as I could keep moving forward I would keep shooting for the finish.
I was staying warm and even took off my arm warmers (I had three other layers over my arms and a coat above that!). My feet were getting a bit cold, but with a little walking I was keeping that in control. I finally made it to within 4 miles of Dyersville (the turn around) and here came the leader. I thought, "Damn! I am only an hour back!". With about 3 miles to go to Dyersville came second place. I got to thinking that I just might do ok!
I stopped here for a quick drink and found that my hose in my Camelbak was completely frozen as the air in the bladder now was freezing and the Gatorade was getting slushy. I still had nearly another 40 minutes to go now as the hub was really acting up. My legs weren't doing me any favors either. With about 2 miles to go into Dyersville here came 3rd, 4th, and 5th place. Within another few minutes here came 6th and then 7th place. I rolled onto the city streets of Dyersville and was cramping badly. I found the gas station check point with a little riding around and some guess work. I got off the bike and my hamstrings and quads seized up on me and that was it. I knew I had to call it a night. I walked into the gas station and found that I was number 8 (and the last!) to the check point. I think they had somewhere around 35 or so starters so I was happy. If this had been an A race, or even a race I was taking serious at all I MAY have just rested for 30-40 minutes and then pressed on as there were houses around if I had gotten into a dangerous situation, but taking nearly 6 hours to go 32 miles with another 25 to get back to the finish with temps only getting colder, being dehydrated, a frozen rear hub, and a beautiful wife ready to go to the post race party in four hours I decided to bag it.
This was a tough decision in a sense as the way home was completely on the bike path, with a slight decline and a tail wind. But, I made the right choice.
Amazingly, Lance had set up a sag wagon so I was able to get picked up at the gas station. Low and behold another rider had been picked up. In the car getting a ride was none other than David Pramann, the Arrowhead 135 course record holder (He did the Arrowhead 135 in 15 hours 45 minutes!). He was getting picked up after his Camelbak spilled inside of his jacket. It was great knowing that even super studs like Dave have races that don't go the way we would wish them to be (absolutely no offense to Dave).
So, I got back to the hotel with only cramps and some dehydration. The party at 10:00 was great and it was fun meeting new people. I was most of all happy to spend time with Tammy at the party as normally she doesn't go with me on these events and I was a very proud husband.
Could I have finished the race? I would like to think so. Would I have missed the party? Yes. Would I have had as much fun rolling into the hotel at midnight in pain with no one there to greet me? Absolutely no. I don't, and will not, regret for a second that I quit this race. Other than the winner, who was also on a single speed 29er!, the other 6 guys that made it to Dyersville were on Pugsley's (pretty sure anyway!). And man, are they cool bikes! I think there was a total of four finishers. I made the right choice!
Read the recap here.