Sunday, August 31, 2008

Three Cups of Tea aint gonna cut it!!!!!

Nearly 24 hours of driving, getting “roughed-up” down in the bluff country near La Crosse, and then driving some more…

WEMS LaCrosse Recap Car-to-Car (August 15th from 1:05 am to 12:30 am August 16th): A continuous block of free flowing, uninhibited, grammatically incorrect, sentimental, and reflective prose related in a most indirect and convoluted manner to a recent experience regarding a WEMS 12 hour race down in LaCrosse, Wisconsin in mid-August, 2008—Through most of the 1980s (initially as a confused graduate student and then as a confused professional piano mover); when I was pursuing all aspects of climbing with an unhealthy passion that is similar to how I now practice cycling; the best of the climbers living within the Boulder, Colorado area (of which I was a minor player as Boulder at the time was a Mecca for Climbers in the United States) began to speak into terms of “car-to-car” ascents. In other words, a trend began whereby hard core guys would, for example, get out of work or class on a Friday afternoon, head to the bar, have a few beers, and then around midnight drive the 90 minutes out to the Long’s Peak trailhead. They would then don their alpine packs, Petzl headlights, and power-hike up the long approach to the formidable and breath-taking Diamond Face. Then in a single push, maybe even utilizing “running belays,” they would blast up the vertical 1000 foot face, knock off the tricky descent, race down the approach, and be back in Boulder for Happy Hour the next day eager to share their adventure with impressible guyz like me. It was both “RAD” and inspiring to bear witness to their boldness, and so it was not long before every wannabe in the local climbing community started trying to pull off crazier and crazier “car-to-car” ascents (“Dude, lets like try and climb it, car-to-car!”). The very best even started doing bike–to-bike ascents, for example, I remember one of the top climbers from Boulder jumping on his road bike and riding the eighty miles to the Long’s Peak trailhead, climbing a 5.11 face route up the Diamond rope-solo, and then riding his bike back to Boulder all in less that 30 hours! Of course, just like in cycling, I was never close to being in the top echelon of the Boulder Climbing Community, but even fringe players like my buddies and me would revel in the planning and pulling off of relatively “sick “ itineraries from which to measure our propensity for pure unadulterated suffering and boldness. I remember one eventful weekend where a friend and I partied like, well like the University of Colorado Rugby Team players that we were on a Friday night, staying up all that night and then beating Colorado State in Rugby on that Saturday around noon, then rehydrating with a full complement of fermenting barley products, then jumping in my buddy's old VW Van and heading out to Hallet’s Peak (near Estes Park), pulling off the hard approach, then attempting to climb a moderately hard mixed alpine route just as the sun was setting, quickly getting in over our heads, pulling out the head-lights, getting the ropes stuck on the epic bail, cutting the ropes, miraculously getting enough rope freed up to make a series of desperate rappels, stumbling down the approach trail, and yet being back in Boulder around 1:50 a.m. for last call on Saturday night, loving every minute of it! By the mid 90s I had embarked on perhaps a hundred or more twisted misadventures that put pain and suffering above all else; always with an eye on how much fun it was going to be to rehash the whole sorted affair after we were once again safe on terra firma. Even though I am a lot older now, I am not any smarter, and I still love getting myself into a “tight place” now and then (Note: once I get my daughter out the door, I plan to head back to the mountains and really get myself into a fix or two, and I won’t be bringing any cell-phone). Accordingly such was my thinking on that Friday at the Brewhouse around 9:00 p.m. on the night before the 8:00 a.m. start of the 12Hours at Lacrosse (some five hours down the road). The fact of the matter was that I had not really considered going to LaCrosse because I was still hurting from both the 24 Hours Race @ 9 Mile that I had completed less than two weeks before and a chronically injured heal (that continues to plague me even now as I type this up)…

In any event, I was sitting at the Brewhouse with my small nuclear family and it suddenly dawned on me that I should buck-up, be a MAN, and go do that race in LaCrosse. So I went home after a great meal and several top-notch pints of their Oatmeal Stout, got the kid and wife to bed, watched some Olympics on NBC until 1:00 am (mostly spring board diving, beach volley-ball, McDonalds’ propaganda and BIG OIL ads touting some yuppy doctor or engineer here in the US working for the nice people @Exxon to save all the poor Africans from malaria—made me proud of both Exxon and the good ole RED, White, and Blue!). Then at 1:05 am sharp, after packing up a few racing essentials, I took off for LaCrosse, Wisconsin. My wife had checked out the audio version of “Three Cups of Tea” from the library which is about a former climber turned do-gooder that goes around Pakistan and builds schools for the local kids that live near K-2. Loaded and ready for a long day, I fired in Disk #1, headed the old Chevy Prism south on Wisconsin 53, and kicked back and tried to get my head right for the long haul. I don’t remember that many specifics about the first five hours of the book as I was totally strung out on pure black Holiday coffee but as best as I can recollect, in my world, the first five hours of the book read like some kind of hero worship causing me great discomfort. I was disappointed, then upset, then out-raged, that the actual dude that was building the schools did not write the book. The book was written by another guy (some wannabe journalist) that was super impressed by the actual guy that was actually doing the school building, or at least trying to get a school built. Maybe it was my state of mind, but I could not get past the fact that the guy that wrote the book was not the same guy that was building or at least trying to get the schools built. So as the miles flew by, I developed this sort of contrived bitterness (and then anger) inexplicably directed towards the guy that was reading the book out loud, until I had a revelation that the guy that was reading the book was most probably not the same guy that wrote the book and almost for sure was not the guy that was trying to get the school built for the poor kids in Pakistan near K-2. It really started to bother me about all this and I thus became really bogged down mentally as I argued within my inner-cognitive forces about the implications of the school building guy allowing someone else to write the book, why didn't he write his own book? It made no sense to me although I ultimately conceded that while it was a bad thing for the guy to write the book given that he did not help to build the schools, I did grant the need for some room for (or aspect of)journalistic information gathering,like in a magazine piece (but this book was misleading because it implied that the school builder was the author). Yet, in conclusion to allow yet another one to read it was essentially unforgivable. So... just as I had resigned myself to shutting the whole “Three Cups of Tea” thing down and to instead listen to the BBC, I looked up and saw the Mississippi River and a crack in the darkness—dawn was breaking and I was near La Crosse. It was a little past 6:00 and I was the first one to the race site, so I turned my car around and headed back into town in search of some real coffee, but to no avail. I did find some gas-station coffee, a few bananas, and a reload of ice for my trusty cooler. I was back at the race course around 7:00 where I checked in and grabbed a nice pit area for me and my buddy Tim Ek (who I correctly figured had come down the day before with his lovely wife, Amy). The gun went off at 8:00 and I limped over the thankfully short run-out and jumped on my trusty fully rigid steel-is-real Gunnar (created by the nice folks over in Waterford, WI, just a couple hours south of the race course!). The course was amazing, but way hard with lots of log hops, rock gardens, and steep descents. In fact the course was much harder than I had anticipated, and so my heal took a terrible pounding. I crashed hard on what I think was the four lap driving my heal into a rock and causing me to question my entire existence here on earth. It hurt so bad that I had to just sit there for awhile and then once back on my bike I was fairly certain that I was going to have to do something to ease my suffering. As I rode back to the start/finish, I resigned to sit out a lap and to ice it and to fashion some kind padding to help alleviate the potential for any further injury. The “lap sit-out strategy” put me way behind the leaders, but worked wonders on my heal and so when the guyz came back around, I jumped in and rode well for the rest of the event, staying abreast the usual suspects, but of course a lap down. Although my heal hurt the whole time and on one of the last laps a hornet “with extreme prejudice” stung me on the buttocks, I had a great time racing with my buddies Tim Ek and Terry Brannick. It was one of Brannick’s first 12 hour races and he looked totally strong. I remember thinking as I rode while continually feeling a jarring pain shooting up my heal, how the OLD MAN had fought the great marlin even though his hands were in tatters and how he remained strong-willed and committed by gaining resolve from the example set by the great Joe DiMaggio, who ironically was suffering from a heal spur…so it goes…Anyway, I finished it out and hung out with the boyz for awhile and then headed back north on 53. I was tired and so the resolve to banish “Three Cups of Tea” had weakened as had the irrational acrimony. So I set back and let the one guy read the other guy’s story about the old climber turned do-gooder who finally got a few schools built and even got himself a wife…just as all was ending up on a high note the red lights of the towers came into view and I knew I was almost back in Old Duluth, I looked at my watch and it was 12: 20, I figured that if I pushed it a little I’d be back at home in a total time of just a little shy of a full day!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Race Report regarding the 24 Hour National Championships held near Wausau, Wisconsin in early August 2008

24 Hours @ 9 Mile Report--

A slightly exaggerated and belated recap of the author’s experiences during the National 24 Hours Mountain Bike Championships held at 9 Mile near Wausau, Wisconsin during the first weekend of August.

Although improbable, okay, although nearly impossible, at the starting line of any usual ultra-endurance cycling events, I like to imagine during that brief moment before the gun goes off that I have a chance at a podium finish. The longer the race, so the theory goes, the longer others more talented and youthful than me have to get themselves or their bikes into trouble. In that instant before the start, as the other racers are making last minute adjustments to their chamois, I like to ponder the fact that notable infamous figures in history have often started off strong, even grandiose, and seemingly invincible only to find themselves floundering after the initial adrenalin diminishes and the long hard toil of attrition begins. Think of Napoleon, Benedict Arnold, Nixon, and the list goes on and on. So as the others tense and hyperventilate waiting anxiously for the sounding of the start pistol, I relax secure in the lessons of history; narratives that are chock full of fast starters taking a dive long before the game is up. Such was my approach as I took my place in the front line at the National 24 Hours Mountain Bike Championships held at 9 Mile near Wausau, Wisconsin during the first weekend of August 2008. The problem with this approach was that I failed to delve a little more deeply into the lessons of history which also teach us that the true victors of history are often those who never lose contact with the “infamous” characters and therefore are at the ready to seize the moment once an opportunity presents itself. Think of Wellington at Waterloo or Churchill during the Battle for Britain as cases-in-point.

Part I: When core values conflict the twin brothers of disillusion & despair are born…

My carefully crafted plan was to break with the norm and to forgo any and all inclinations to try and draft off (both literally and psychologically) the fast guyz and to instead approach the whole thing as if it were a solo 24 hour time trial. This plan was based on a careful objective review of my experiences of the previous year’s 24 Hour Championships in which I initially rode on a wave of adrenaline gunning it for the first nine laps only to then really struggle to remain lucid and even up-right for the last half of the long long day (I ended up 12th overall, but badly abused). Yet the novel plan also required me to essentially attempt to suppress the essence of my fundamental approach to sport. I have always been a “burn bright and flare out” kind of guy when it comes to bike racing; I like to start fast and hope against reality that I can hang on; sincere and committed to the possibility that if I am really lucky and the other guyz are unlucky, I’ll be in position to finish in a top spot. In other words, this solo time trial plan forced a concerted reversal in terms of my core philosophy of bike racing. Logistically this meant that I would blind myself to the compelling need to follow closely the actions of the leaders and to instead try and aim for a lofty albeit individualized goal of "racing against the clock" with the hope being to achieve eighteen laps (which would specifically involve completing each lap in an average of approximately an hour and twenty-four minutes). Eighteen laps was not some nebulous goal as I reasoned that to achieve such a goal would place a rider on the victor's podium. Plus, I knew from the previous race in 2007 that I could realistically endure turning the fourteen+ mile loop in seventy-five to eighty minutes during the day; and so the hope was that by the time the darkness came I would have built up enough of a surplus as to allow for deficit laps until the resurrecting dawn of a rejuvenating sun arrived to save me. As mentioned above, a major component of the strategy was that the writer was to consciously refrain from reacting to any of the other solo racers including the 12 hour guyz. Other than an over-zealous race official harassing me every lap or so about the trim job that I had performed on my race number (he ultimately made me stop and then willy-nilly stuck another race number over my original one compromising the range of my brake levers…so it goes); the plan worked well and I was feeling pretty dapper (especially with the advent of Scotty K-J’s fancy suspension fork on the front of my Trusty Gunnar) until on the ninth lap, when I sustained two flats. With the initial set back (occurring on a short section of new trail), I had everything I needed and therefore fixed the flat easy enough and in good time (Note: several top racers including Chris Fisher of Velo-Rochester and Chris Strout of World Bicycle Relief generously stopped and offered assistance). However upon the second flat, having only one CO2 canister left, I was unable to get the rear wheel to hold air. This flat occurred on a tricky rocky uphill section. It was dusk and the mosquitoes sensed my dilemma and therefore attacked with such merciless vigor that even the most ardent of the Taliban would have been impressed. Attempting a forlorn escape from the blood thirsty swarms of culicidae, I attempted to jog the bike. But alas an injured heal sustained a week prior forced me to hop along in a pathetically jerky Quasimodo-esque fashion. Yet as we all know, mountain bikers are in general good Samaritans, so it was not too long before a generous and delightful woman stopped and loaned me the tools I needed to get back in the game. As I finished up the ninth lap and recorded my time on the big flip chart that I had created to assist me in keeping on schedule, I noted that I had taken nearly one hundred and seven minutes on that pivotal lap cutting deeply into the surplus time that I had established during the previous laps. This was a bad thing as I knew that I would slow considerably during the dreaded darkness. Yet as I began the tenth lap with headlights blazing I hooked up with Chris Schotz (a highly respected and talented enduro-rider from near Merrill, Wisconsin) and we rode together the whole lap, which was a great respite for me as I found it much easier to partner up and to take turns pulling and lighting the way, plus I knew him to be a great rider so I was pumped to think that I could match his pace (of course, at the time, I did not know that he was fighting a losing battle with the fatigue demons). I remember enthusiastically thinking, as I rode behind him in close order that it would be of considerable benefit if I could ride out the darkness with Schotz. I also made a mental note that the whole solo-time trial plan did not jibe with my personality and that what little talent I do possess as a bike racer comes from my raw passion to compete with others; that the idea that I could somehow ride “my own race” separate from the others was theoretically sound but did not work for me in practice. I need to feel the emotion and intensity that only comes with racing with others for if left to my own devices I become complacent and disillusioned. In any event, I was disheartened soon after completing the tenth lap to learn from Chris’s support group of two hanging out near our communal pit-stop area that Schotz was shotz and out of the game.

Part II: Ride your bike long enough and you’ll meet your wild primitive id…

So from the eleventh lap onward, I began the long lonely lap-turns of darkness alone. I was pretty resigned to a sub seventeen lap performance by this point and my motivation was relatively low, although I was amazed how much the fancy-pants suspension fork had reduced the beating that the body takes during these things. At one point during the darkest of the dark ages somewhere along the trail, I resolved to treat myself to a change of cycling shorts and jersey. Buoyed by the thought of a fresh kit, I hastened my pace leaving behind momentarily a measure of angst. By this time it was well into the bewitching hours of early morning and so all normal people were in various stages of sweet slumber. As I pulled into our communal little camp area reserved for the have-nots; all was still except for a rugged middle-aged woman with steely gun-metal gray eyes. Although clearly awake, she was in a state of repose upon an outdoor recliner of sorts. Her look was reminiscent of old 1930s photos of stalwart Great Plains immigrant farm women looking out over the devastation of the Dust Bowl era. As I staggered a bit getting off my trusty Gunnar, I gave her a little nod and said something to the effect that if she didn’t mind, “I think I’ll change out of these shorts and put on some fresh ones.” Thinking that she would reflexively turn away, she surprised me by announcing, “Go ahead I’ve seen it all before.” I was too worn out to protest or move to a secluded area, but the super ego dies hard so while sitting on my cooler, I grabbed a dirty oily rag-of –a-towel in an effort to shield my privates, but alas upon getting the nasty jersey and then the sweaty grimy bibs off and over my shoes, I realized too late that my fresh shorts were located on a tree branch that was sufficiently out of reach from me in my current position. As I stood up to grab the shorts, simultaneously the towel fell back and our eyes met. She smiled at me, scanned the scenery, took a deep yawn, and then proclaimed, “Looks like you dropped your towel.” Sheepishly, I smiled and grabbed at the fresh shorts that had been pre-smeared with copious amounts of Brave Soldier Anti-chapping lube (to save time), but of course I fumbled-- causing them to fall lube first upon the dirt ground between her and me. Before I could grab the shorts, she deftly scooped them up for display. The lubed and thus exceedingly sticky chamois was full of dirt, pine needles, and various other minute, but lethal articles of debris. “Looks like you’re gonna be in a bad way,” she exclaimed as she handed me the soiled shorts. Beyond the point of bereavement, standing there in nothing but my birthday suit and my cycling shoes, with what little dignity I could muster, I took the shorts in hand and pulled them on. Pretending not to notice the pine needles, etc. spearing my most sensitive of sensitive areas, I thanked her and made haste in getting back in the race. Upon leaving the immediate area, I stopped quickly, took care to curse wildly at the moon and stars and then somewhat relieved, methodically went to work barehanded in an effort to remove the debris from my soiled chamois…so it goes…

Part III. Apart from the author’s divergence into folly, there was a full-on race going on!

While the author languished in obscurity ultimately devolving into a shameless cretin complete with a chapping, itching crotch; there were serious contenders intensely battling for top spots in both the 12 hour and 24 hour events and amazingly, forty-four year old, father of two little ones, husband, and full-time worker, Scott Cole was in the thick of it. Even though for this race I had taken an oath of rugged individualism at all costs, I was of course partially cognizant of what was going on around me to some extent as many of the key riders were passing me or some were even lapping me. I also knew from speaking to Kate (Roscoe Fraboni’s better half) from time to time at the pit-stop that late into the 12 hour race Roscoe was not in first place, but was also not out of contention and yet accordingly (from hearsay) he had been soaking in the proverbial “hurt tank” for several hours and was on the verge of pulling the plug. I also knew from riding with Bart Rodberg for a spell, that he was a hurting cowboy and in contrast I knew from getting passed by a strong Jason Buffington that he was on his way to a fine inaugural 12 hour race performance (9 laps and a fifth place finish). Regarding the MAIN EVENT, the first of the local big boyz to pass me that I recognized (and spoke with) was the very talented single-speeder, Ron Stawicki. He caught me on a mellow section on what may have been my eight lap, so I rode along with him for a while and attempted to bolster his motivation by conveying to him that I thought he was in fourth place (Note: Stawicki ultimately experienced serious knee problems which forced him out of the race). Later on during the night time, I also got to ride a spell with Chris Eatough and I found him to be a most delightful young man. We rode together for a few minutes, maybe even five minutes or so and talked like we were roofing/drinking buddies out for a little single-track action… I aint gonna lie to ya…it was pretty cool. In any event, several other “players” together with a few locals (apart from Eatough, Ross, et al) passed me on the ninth lap during my mechanical problems including Brad Majors, Chris Strout, Scott Cole, and one or two others as well as the warrior single-speeder, Ernesto Marenchin. Of the guyz that came by me, Cole looked to be the strongest, but I remember thinking, “He is too old to hang with those young guyz for the full distance.” Boy was I wrong! The veteran racer and hero of aging working class American cyclists and family men alike, Scott Cole ended up finishing in fifth place overall in what I assert is one of the most impressive cycling efforts by a regular local guy that the author has ever personally witnessed. Finishing in fifth place in such an event with such a competitive field on a very challenging course is simply outstanding and ranks up there with Dave Pramann’s historic effort at the Arrowhead 135 in 2006 and maybe even Jesse Lalonde’s victory at the Fat Tire 40 in 2007. Mr. Cole rode nineteen laps and was not that far from finishing in third pace in front of the long time professional Nat Ross. He came by me again just as dawn was breaking strong as ever and loving ever minute of it—to be honest it was darned inspiring to watch him ride that race. I remember thinking at the time, “there goes a nice guy that is having the perfect race.”

Part IV. Tying up the frayed end-pieces.

During the hasty and frazzled post race debriefings, ramblings, and de”beer”ings, I found out to my relief that Roscoe had dug down deep and found the reserves needed to win the 12 hour event in an effort that exemplifies my contention that he could be a real force in enduro-cycling in the near future. I also learned that my buddies from North Dakota, Dave Simmons and Rick Mangan had survived the ordeal and were stronger, better, and more than ready to take on the Arrowhead come February. I learned that the amicable dudes from Colorado on their beautiful Black Sheep Titanium 96ers had won the 24 Hour Duo Event. I was happy to hear that Dave Shuneman had done a great job of maneuvering his fully rigid Kona around the track for better than twelve laps! As for the author, he rode in fifteen laps with an eye on another one but when Roscoe did a quick check of the results, via the handy on-site lap-tops, finding that the tenth place guy was not in reach, the old boy cut his losses, drank a beer or two, struck the tent, and made haste for Duluth where he had a birthday party to attend…so it goes…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Although behind on crafting a few recent race recaps (24@9 Mile, 12@LaCrosse, and the Border Battle Race), my most pressing post pertains to fine fare

The Ideal Market (aka The River's Eatery), located in Cable, Wisconsin is a top notch destination for high quality fermented barley, malt, & hops products (many local brews and even the standard setting Guinness) coupled with outstanding creative pizzas fired in a kind of modern open fired stone oven...Comprising the two essential food groups (beer & pizza), wonderful hosts, rustic inviting ambiance and much more, the IDEAL Market makes me proud to be an Earthling w/ a powerful thirst, hunger, and appreciation for great food and drink :).... The young charismatic owners have built an uniquely impressive and sustainable structure into this small, albeit progressive business (which also includes a well stocked grocery store- The Ideal Market, including local and organic Peace Coffee and various local bakery treats). If you are in the area, do the right thing, do the patriotic thing and treat yourself to a wonderful dining experiment at this wonderful place within the cozy pines of NW Wisconsin. Cable is located in the heart of a myriad of fantastic mountain bike trails (CAMBA), amazing ski trails, and several classic athletic challenges including the Birkie, the Chequamegon, the Seeley Classic, the PreFat and the Cable Classic. Sooooooo Go get a good workout in, burn some cals and then go to the The Rivers Eatery/IDEAL MARKET and knock down some healthy beers and eat a top notch full-on professionally made organic pizza.... Live it up NOW, cuz the Axis of Evil dudes are not far away and so ya might as well enjoy the basics of life before they come and get us (sooner rather than later if we don't implement that New and Improved and super cool, but slightly expensive MISSILE-shield DEFENSE SYSTEM.....Tell'em @ The River's Eatry "...that Charlie, Crystal, and Sophie sent ya..."

Monday, August 18, 2008

WEMS @ LaCrosse does NOT disappoint!!!

The 12 hours @ La Crosse was a full-on top notch affair!!!! Extremely challenging course, great folks running the deal (free beer and pizza after the race!!!!), and overall just another case-in-point that the WEMS is the best thing that has happened to mountain bike racing since "shammy" lube!!!! Kudos to Tim Ek of TEAM DBD (3nd place overall) and Terry Brannick (6th overall)...The aging author competed with the youngsters; leaving the beautiful Mississippi River Bluff country with dignity intact but also with a seriously sore backside from an angry, yet unprovoked hornet attack in the second half of the race, coupled with a chronically super sore heel that took another beatin' and forced me to sit out an early lap so as to ice it and numb it enough to continue!!!!

More to come including race recaps for the 24 @ 9 Mile and the WEMS @ La Crosse

Friday, August 8, 2008