Thursday, June 14, 2007
RED ASSiniboine Race Recap...
Red Assiniboine 300 Race Recap in light of a quote from one of the sacred Hebrew texts:
“Never expose yourself unnecessarily to danger; a miracle may not save you...and if it does, it will be deducted from your share of luck...” The Talmud
I have no doubt of the contextual authenticity and even the historical correctness of the above quote from The Talmud, I mean back in the day of ferocious wild beasts, marauding mean-spirited Vikings, malcontented Visigoths, and behaviorally-impaired Inquisitors just surviving a normal day for those Jewish guyz was probably cause for celebration, so to go willy-nilly looking for danger in such an environment clearly could be construed as reckless and even harmful to the whole of the tribe, [The Talmud is a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs and history]. However, it seems to me that to live exclusively by such a creed in today’s sterile America, would essentially condemn one to a life of secure boredom. No thanks! In today’s McAmerica, A little real danger is what the vast majority of the population needs. Of course there is a fundamental difference between perceived danger and real danger. For example, there is absolutely no danger in playing a paramilitary computer game or even bungee jumping for that matter. There is some real danger involved with trying to climb a mountain, such as the Grand Teton. Sans guide company and trade route the danger factor exponentially increases, etc. Danger enables us to appreciate safety. Putting this author on a bike in Canadian farm country with the goal of racing said bike for 300 miles involving complex navigational skills is dangerous, there's just no doubt about it! Maybe even dangerous enough to imperil the whole Northern Hemisphere! :)
Now my dear Mom likes to say that miracles happen every day, but if the above parameter from the Talmud is to be believed, there is a definitive amount of miracles floating about and therefore we better use each and every chunk of luck as if it were the last chunk available. Plus, to complicate matters even more, the above Talmudic code does not seem to offer or quantify how much “share” of the luck is out there for individual dispersal. Being an optimistic, I’d like to think that there is a huge surplus of luck banked somewhere in the heavens just waiting to be retrieved and put to good use. Okay…stay with me I am getting ready to transition to the bike race!
In any event, over the last month or so I have used up a fairly substantial amount of free-floating, albeit apparently finite luck in pursuit of a rather dangerous activity. Racing a mountain bike is a relatively dangerous endeavor for most people. For an aging man with failing eye sight, mild dementia, poor decision making skills, and questionable coordination, there can be no doubt that racing a mountain bike is pretty dangerous. So I have begun to rely quite regularly on luck as if it was an infinite resource, not unlike my neighbors that buy Hummers, speedboats, and ATV/snowmobiles and dump hundreds of gallons of oil and gas in them each and every week.
For example, I totally lucked out @ the Cable Classic. The hit I took upon landing after ramming that barrier should have realistically put me out for the season, but I damn well lucked out!!! Two weekends ago at the start of the Wausau WORS race again I was involved in a serious crash and again I lucked out…But my most recent and significant luckiest moments of the season so far came during this last weekend’s Red Assiniboine 300. A 300 mile mostly gravel road race up near Winnipeg, Manitoba. Surely by anyone’s measure, going 300 miles on the back roads of rural Canada mostly unsupported has elements of danger to it. The fact of the matter is that I was able to enjoy a wonderful experience all really because of some extraordinary luck. Therefore, the following is a documentation of a series of lucky events that ultimately put me at the finish line of the Red Assiniboine 300 at 4:10 a.m. on last Sunday morning.
Lucky event number one--Tim Ek’s essential advice and support in preparing for the race. Tim completed the Trans-Iowa race back in late April in fine form. Lucky for me, he was very willing to generously share with me the many nuances and/or tricks involved with pulling off a race of this statue. My hope is to one day join forces with Mr. Ek on some far-flung cycling adventure as I think we would be a solid team. He is a tough focused humanitarian and I am a lucky guy with a glandular problem…and a powerful drive for Guinness Stout and other ales...
Lucky event number two involved meeting up with Dave Simmons and his two buddies from North Dakota; namely Nathan Barten and Rick Mangan. Hooking up with these guyz put a total positive spin on the whole weekend. They are a fun bunch of very nice fun-loving cyclists that enjoy the preparation and the comradeship of these kinds of events as much as I do. In youthful exuberance, Nathan was bent on riding a “fixie” for the 300 miles, but alas while he fought the good fight, the distance was just too far to ride such a set-up, even for a young tiger like Nathan. While Rick did not race, he was an integral part of the success of the weekend as he was incredibly organized and helpful. I totally lucked out meeting up with those three guyz. I met them at the pre-race meeting being held @ DeLuca‘s, an amazing full-on Italian restaurant complete with spicy pasta drenched in top-notch virgin olive oil. I arrived late, so the food had already been distributed and eaten by the rest of the crowd. Not wanting to cause any undo problems, I sat back content to listen to the remaining instructions and to find some generic caloric sustenance after the meeting adjourned. As luck would have it, Rick pointed out to me a beautiful young woman [presumably one of DeLuca’s daughters] and in no uncertain terms instructed me to see her and to explain my circumstances. Rick has a confidence about him that is contagious, so with out hesitation I followed his instructions and within minutes I was enjoying wonderful pasta and pizza.
Lucky event number three involves the heaven-sent headwind. It was lucky for me because it made riding in a group a necessity. In all bike racing, I tend to start off way too fast and then limp into the finish. Yet, every once in awhile this strategy works for me, so I just go with it on the off chance that I will finish strong. At my age and ability, I am always willing to take risks. I mean why not? Itz not like I’m saving myself for the Tour of France or the Olympics! This headwind prevented me from doing something stupid like trying an early breakaway, which was something that I was contemplating if the conditions were right. The idea being that such a break would be my only possibility of winning. I would make a break near the start of the race (within the first 50 miles), the rest of the group would take the maneuver as the workings of a crazed fool and let me go. I would go hard until I bonked, but I would have enough left to eek out the win. While such a plan may possibly work at the Arrowhead 135 where conditions can drastically change, such a strategy, given my ability and the nature of this race would have been mere folly in that it would have been a clear invitation for disaster as I am sure that I would have gotten lost. In fact it is perhaps such absurd ideas that the Talmud cautions against? The course was probably 85% gravel, 10% old asphalt, and 5% dirt B-type roads...it was mostly flat, but there were a few really big hills, in fact we walked three of the big hills. We were cruising, especially the first half. Initially, we were a group of six riders lead by a charismatic fellow originally from Winnipeg and now living in Newark, Delaware with his wife and two young children, Blair Saunders. Due to the significant headwind, Blair [clearly the strongest rider from the onset] orchestrated the tempo, with each guy pulling for three or four minutes..."if you feel strong go for four" was my motto...[most of the time when I looked at the speed it was between 31 and 29 kilometers per hour]. About half the group would pull for around four minutes and the other guyz would pull for two or three minutes, Blair always doing more than his share at the front...Again there was a really strong headwind, so it was a huge difference in effort exerted between leading and pulling...
Eventually the group started to fall apart (as all things do) with Dave Simmons dropping off with a tightening back and so on and so on and so by the 70 mile mark or so there were just three of us left...Blair, a streamlined and youthful 41 years old, me at a crusty disorientated 47, and Marty at an amazing Dorian Gray-like 56!!! Mr. Saunders reminds me of an older Doug Swanson, he is built like Doug with those long legs endowed with a seemingly effortless pedaling stroke. Also, like Doug, he is very amicable and cheerful, sort of unaffected by his obvious superior talent. Blair was on a really sweet handcrafted Van Dessel ti/carbon cross bike with bars set-up so he could rest on his elbows, but the majority of the guyz were on mountain bikes, several on 29ers. In asking around about bike selection it seemed that the general consensus among the locals was that the roads were too bumpy for the long haul on a cross bike. Lots of “washboard” and unconsolidated crushed rock on the gravel, did make it tricky to ride in a tight group or at night. I was on a steel cross bike, equipped with flat bars, which worked great for me. Although, next year I would consider riding my 29er or at least going with bigger tires [I ended up getting 2 flats and lots of other guyz got flats as well from hitting big pot holes]. Blair Saunders was running tubes with slime, which is a plan that I might go with in the future.
Lucky event number four involves throwing myself at the mercy of Marty Halprin. As implied above, Marty is a majestic looking older gentleman in his late fifties that is for lack of a better description, “tough as nails.” A jeweler by trade, he is a long time avid, talented cyclist, whose real strength it seems is on the road. I don’t know, but from riding with him for over twenty hours, I would wager that he is a top-notch time-trialer. In any event, let me set the stage for my redemption: I had left the start thinking that a camelbak full at 70 fluid ounces, a big bottle in my bike cage at 24 fluid ounces, and another bottle of 24 fluid ounces in the back pocket of my jersey would be sufficient for hydration. From experience these 118 fluid ounces are enough to get me through about four to five hours of good effort and so with four checkpoints along the way with water, the plan was that I would be good to go in terms of staying hydrated. Well into a remote part of the race between checkpoint #1 and checkpoint #2 having drained my camelbak and my bottle on the bike, I reached back to grab my jersey bottle to discover that it was missing. Certainly part of the effect was psychological, but I immediately started to feel like I was drying up. I could feel the strength ebbing from my legs, I started to feel light headed. I started to panic. I was desperate to stay with Blair and Marty not only for the efficiency of riding in a group, but more importantly I had no directions as the rest of my cue sheets were waiting from me at Checkpoint #2. I had miscalculated about the checkpoints mistakenly thinking that we would have a drop bag waiting for us at Checkpoint #1, when in fact the drop bags were at the second checkpoint. So at that point I was riding with no ability to solo navigate . In a stupor and probably somewhat ashamed, I waited to assert my dilemma until I was starting to experience leg cramps. Riding at the back, I was cursing myself, “How could you be so $%#@ stupid? You are totally screwed!!!” Finally, I think in despair I uttered something like, “Hey fellas I am out of water…I’m bonking…I’ll need to stop and find some water…” Now lets be clear: this wasn’t no picnic, no Saturday tour as these guyz are competitive, (you can tell by the hunger in their eyes) and it was totally my screw-up plus water was in short supply with them as well, so I would not have blamed them…but just as the proverbial curtain was falling on my Canadian début, just as I bowing out to face my self-prescribed destiny out in the dusty farmlands ALONE, (“with no direction home, like a rolling stone“), Marty pulled out one of his bottles, handed it to me and ordered me to drink. “Drink all of it”, was his command. So I drank the life-giving nectar of embodiment with a smile on my face for Lady Luck was back in my camp in the personification of a designer of custom jewelry endowed with Herculean quads from the hinterlands of Canada! Miraculously and almost instantaneously I could feel my strength return…A saved man, we rode on together to the second checkpoint.
Lucky event number five involves aspects of the adage,"Man has always been his own most vexing problem." Essentially what we have is a series of ironic, paradoxical, even strangely chance events that ultimately allow the stronger, albeit community-minded Blair to cut the cord from Marty and I, which in hindsight was the best for all concerned. Again upon reflection, the fact of the matter was that Marty and I were pretty close in speed, endurance, etc. and therefore formed a symbiotic relationship, whereby in contrast we had become parasitic in terms of our relationship with the stronger Blair. Of course, at the time I was well into the advanced stages of what Barbara Tuchman, the acclaimed historian, would have coined, “the march of folly” in that I was still thinking and acting like we could hold onto to Blair, use and abuse Blair and that maybe in the end I would cut a deal with the devil and have a chance at winning the damned thing out-right. I don’t apologize for these thoughts because I am convinced that these Don Quixote-like notions are what allow me to stay positive during these endurance challenges and like Quixote I am completely harmless, if not but a little annoying. Now at this point in the narrative it is important to note that we were well into this bad boy [over 200 miles and ten+ hours into it] so I was in full-blown dementia…so the following simply cannot be regarded as anything resembling accuracy. I am simply putting ink to paper in as best as I can recall the subsequent events after leaving the third checkpoint. Marty was getting blasted in the hills after leaving the checkpoint partly because he is a roadie from the flatlands, partly because he aint no spring chicken, and also because he was on a mountain bike that had a front shock that would not lock out, so he could not stand and crank like Blair and I. In any event, he was getting dropped on the hills and I could tell that Blair was itching to go. I was thus put in the tenuous position of essentially choosing with whom to throw my allegiance. To be honest I cannot remember exactly how it played out, but I remember that I went with Blair and then I think we missed a turn and therefore had to back track which allowed Marty to catch us up. Now this turned out to be very lucky for me as I am now quite sure that I would not have been able to hold Blair’s wheel. So I would have eventually gotten dropped and knowing my navigational abilities, I would have gotten totally lost. Anyway, it all worked out well as Blair took off and won the event in a little over 21 hours. Marty and I worked well together throughout the night and finished the course about 100 or so minutes behind Blair. Riding into and through the darkness is always a challenging proposition. Into the wee hours of the night, I was very fatigued and yet we were able to carry a lot of momentum and consistent speed. Marty and I worked well together each taking our fair share at the front, although I do think that when it was all said and done, Marty probably did more work at the front when it was just the two of us.
Lucky event number six involves meeting all the very cool Canadians up north…the two guyz that won the single-speed category are most definitely worthy of note: Chris Huebner and Tomek Jasiakiewez finished a few hours after Marty and I despite being hammered with rain. I got a chance to socialize with them at the Lockery residence, which was very nice. Note: We lucked out and missed most of the rain!!!
Lucky event number seven is that my schedule was just too crazy in April to consider doing the Trans-Iowa III. The Trans-Iowa is a 300 mile race and the model by which the Red Ass 300 is copied. Missing the T.I. allowed me to sign-up for the Red Ass 300, so it goes for the lucky…
In closing I want to thank all the volunteers and organizers that put tons of effort into making this a top-notch event. Lindsay Gauld [super nice guy, force behind the event, former owner of Olympia bike shop, and amazing cyclist, former Olympian. Note: My friend here in Duluth remembers him from the 2005 Trans-Canada where he dislocated his shoulder, but refused to quit], Don Sissons for his great enthusiasm, Andy Lockery [They had the BBQ @ his place post race--his lovely wife was passing out beers to the recovering cyclists, for a moment I thought I had died and went to cycling heaven!!!] , Scott Wiebe, owner of Olympia Cycle & Ski [A great store that should not be missed if in Winnipeg], DeLuca’s Italian restaurant [very close to the Olympia bike shop], and the many others….Finally, huge kudos to Dean Gies from Duluth's Ski Hut. Dean is the best bike mechanic in the WORLD, plus he is a first-rate, A-#1 progressive scholar and gentleman!!! In sum, THE RED ASS 300 was a BLAST!!!!!!!!!!! At least thatz the way I am going to remember it?
Tempting the Terrapins: 70 minutes going real easy...still a bit sore...maybe more so than I'd like to admit.