Before I begin, let me convey to Tim Roe and his band of gracious volunteers a heartfelt THANK YOU. The idea of transporting the racers to the start via a school bus was both novel and exceptionally fun. Some of my most stirring memories from the event stem from laughing and joking with the fellas on the bus including Chris Finch, John Kurth, Chris Schotz, Nick Wethington, Matt Maxwell, Dennis Grelk, Bill Shand, and as well as my own duo of training buddies, Jason and Jeremy. The comradeship that developed was very appealing and had the effect of getting the author even more fired-up for the grand reunion in a few weeks up in International Falls. We also had a wonderful time hanging out in the Edge-o-Town motel the night before. Thanks to Jeremy Kershaw for booking the room and in general taking a leadership role…A special thank you to Bill Shand for getting up pre 3:00 a.m. to start a great pot of coffee.
The finish located at the home of one of the volunteers speaks volumes to the generosity of the folks in charge. It was really fun to hang out and drink a few beers with racers and volunteers in this rustic Northwoods abode. I especially enjoyed spending time with Lance Andre, Karen DeBoise, and the race director, Tim Roe. Also a special Thank You to Rich Hendricks, who was at the checkpoint to offer me encouragement and vital information regarding the two guyz in front. Rich, like Jeremy, fell victim to the dreaded skinny-tire disease.
Race Recap…At least--How I remember it:
How can this be? This is killing me. I can’t ride on this! No one, nobody, but Pramann can ride this! Why would so many people be out walking on this trail? It makes no sense? This is crazy? Could it be that deer hunters over here actually walk when they hunt their tame quarry? No way, deer hunters don’t walk. None of the deer hunters I know walk!…No one would walk on a trail like this? My mom wouldn’t even walk on this, itz too soft!!! We are out in the middle of NOWHERE, who walks out here?….My weary mind agonized over the cause of the trashed out trail…It became an obsession…my brain needed a culprit to blame…to blame for my angst and despair. I cursed the perpetrators…
Then the solution to my quandary popped out of nowhere and appeared in my smallish brain…The reason for all the devastating foot traffic, the reason that the tiny little sweet spot is completely pock marked with deep footprints, the only span of track that is navigable on this relatively remote snowmobile/ATV is because of the Wisconsin National Guard! Thatz it! Itz the only way that any of this makes sense. The Commanding Officer at a nearby base made his charges hike the second half of the Tuscobia trail as a punishment for some dereliction of duty. I wondered what they did to receive such a harsh reprimand, for a forced march in this sugary mess would test the resolve of even the most ardent of infantry. The thought of the foot soldier, under orders, marching eased my demented mind.
Solving the source of the problem offered a momentary respite. Unfortunately having figured out the “why” part of the constant and thus debilitating foot prints (they had the effect of causing the trail to become nearly impossible to ride; unless you are Dave Pramann), did little to ease my frustration. Yet, I was buoyed by Andre’s erratic tracks because (as we all know) it is comforting to know that at least one of the two that I am chasing is losing the battle for smooth straight-line consistency that is so important in endurance snow cycling.
The juxtaposition of the two distinct tracks that I follow provides a study of sublime steadiness and efficiency contrasted with brute, obtuse, and energy-wasting force. Pramann’s tracks connote a ride that is rail-straight and narrow, smooth and economical. Andre’s work is scattered and harried, agonized and yet willful and scornful. An occasional body print in the snow allows me to smile…
My own work is similar to that of Andre’s and yet perhaps even more unsteady, zigzagged, and blunted. Ride for a few minutes, catch a disjointed edge with the front tire on the far right hand side of the trail, overcorrect thus slicing across the trail, careen off a rut on the other size, spin out, curse loudly, repeat. Ride for a few minutes, catch a disjointed edge with the front tire on the far right hand side of the trail, overcorrect and slice across the trail, careen off a rut on the other size, spin out, curse loudly, repeat. Ride for a few minutes, catch a disjointed edge with the front tire on the far right hand side of the trail, overcorrect and slice across the trail, careen off a rut on the other size, spin out, curse loudly, repeat. Repeat. Repeat…
This goes on for hours, well into darkness, and then finally I catch a glimpse of a red flashing light up ahead with about twelve miles to go. My heart soars for I believe that I am catching up to one of the leaders. But as I progressed, I noticed that the light is not moving, so I quickly infer that it is the tail-gunner from the marching troop deployment. It makes perfect sense that in an exercise of this sort the platoon leader would cover his rear. As I make my way onward I begin to practice various salutation strategies, “Well done, sir;” “I support the troops,” “Thank you for your service;” “I know a guy thatz in the army, maybe you know him, his name is….”
To my surprise it is not a soldier on a forced march, instead it is one of those goofy runner-types that shows up at the Arrowhead 135 every year. You know the type— lean and slight, serious, aloof, wily like a fox, hungry-looking facial features, sunken nervous eyes, and minuscule backside. This one was sitting on what may have been construed as his enduro-sled, perhaps taking a bit of a respite from is burden, as far as I could tell.
Of course bikers and runners relate to each other in similar ways to that of wolves and coyotes, but I am a gentle soul, I had all the gear I needed, and me larder was full, so I feigned compassion asking him, “So how we doing?”
He responded, as they often do, with a long incoherent dissertation on his immediate physiological and psychological merits and ailments including references to various Latin terms that apparently link up various muscles and ligaments, etc... It was during the initial phase of his lecture that I belatedly grasped the important fact that it was he and his fellow henchmen that were indeed the source of the trashed trail.
Once this revelation set in, cutting him off, I demanded, “Whatz going on? Why are you ahead of me? How did you get out front?”
“I am in the 50 K race…you know, we started up the trail from…”But before he could explain further, I was off in pursuit of a forlorn hope that Pramann or Andre would falter. At least I had the real culprits to blame…the knowledge gave me strength…
Of course Pramann was not going to falter and yet I did close some of the time gap that lay between Andre and me. Had it not been fer them crazy runners/walkers, I'd won the thing for sure, no doubt about it!!! Thatz a GIVEN!!!
At the start, the trail conditions caught everybody on the bus completely by surprise. Endurance guyz are by their nature, great optimists. A few beers the night before, mix in elements of “groupthink” to the equation, and by the time we pulled into the parking lot in Rice Lake at 7:30 a.m. we were all convinced that Chris Schotz and Jason Buffington, on their slick mountain bikes, were going to set the pace. A predominate theory was that the high humidity (a mist in the air) combined with below freezing temperatures, combined with a recent grooming of the trail would set up the snow and that it would be fast and maybe somewhat icy. The only dissenting voice had been Pramann, but he was not on the bus. Pramann had accurately predicted that it was going to a “slog” and that it could well take racers up to twenty hours to compete it and he was right.
Upon arrival and the requisite warm-up ride on the trail, it was obvious that it was going to be a very hard ride for the guyz on the snowbikes and that it may prove impossible for guyz on regular mountain bikes. The initial miles were bad but then after about twenty miles or so the course did get better. There was even a span of about fifteen miles in the middle section that allowed one to really ride fast. The last thirty miles were the toughest because the foot traffic made the already narrow and marginal “sweet spot” very rough. But so it goes…
Finally, I would be amiss if I did mention the impressive effort demonstrated by the good Dr. Buffington. He finished the race on a 29er in the “Pramann” predicted time-span of just under twenty hours…the only one to finish that started on a regular bike…Bravo Jason!!!!