Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2009 in retrospect.....

In a shameless effort to copy recent reflective efforts by my intellectually superior training cohorts, namely Buffington and Kershaw, I am submitting an off-the-cuff (without looking back at race notes) retrospective on what I consider to be personal highlights from the last year in terms of my so-called cycling exploits.

My 2009 cycling season was personally structured around three big events that were spaced nicely apart from each other in approximately three to four month time spans. The Arrowhead 135 in early February, the Trans-Iowa in early May, and the 24 Hours @ Seven Oaks in September with my performance goal being to achieve top three finishes in these top three events while supplementing these peak efforts with five or six other races including the Ragnarok 105, the Almanzo 100, the Heck of the North, and four 12 Hour WEMS races. I met that goal in two of the three events while failing miserably in the T.I.

The Arrowhead 135 after three previous full-on epics including a thirty-six hour descent into frozen hell a couple years back, this time, to be honest, was rather uneventful. Essentially, the 2009 AH 135's version, for me, came off without a hitch. Sure there was the leaking bottle that drenched my manhood early on and the brief time spent in Lucifer’s Teepee near the end, but all-in-all it went pretty smooth. The weather was not an issue, course conditions were not perfect, but doable, and my gear all pretty much worked as advertised. Pulling off a second place finish was more about Pramann & Andre’s collapse at “the Teepee from Hell” than personal skill. Conclusion: I dare say that I have figured out how to be relatively competitive in the Arrowhead. Yet, this year’s race, less than three weeks out, is going to be the most competitive ever with the usual suspects vying for the top spots complimented by several Northern Stars from Alaska and two from the western states, so my experience as a four time finisher may not be enough…but even so, as I write this I am “race-ready”, so I am planning to earn a top three finish or at least give up the ship trying… In the future regarding this unique and grass-roots event, I want to ski the Arrowhead sometime and more importantly, I also want to do the race and then ride my Puglsey home from the finish line via snowmobile, I mean "multi-use" trails... :)

The Ragnarok 105: Eki and I had a good plan-of-attack going in and it was bolstered by Pramann’s early season beer-gut and Meiser’s decision to use the hilly course as a dress rehearsal for his Great Divide effort (complete with a fully loaded Fargo). But alas, Eki flatted (rear wheel) in the wake of a lead group surge essentially killing our plan to attack as we headed into the half-way checkpoint. I tried to make something happen alone at the checkpoint, breaking hard right out of the box. Charly Tri, the young and very powerful Rochester rider, was the only one that responded. For the author, this was both a good thing and a bad thing for Tri was the spark that sent us forward and allowed us to break free, but with about twenty miles to go, he simply rode away from me. Conclusion: Second place in the second race of the season! Not bad for an old man…but really the ‘rag’ was just a pre-ride for the Trans-Iowa…

As far as pure endurance cycling goes, you know, like in turning over the pedals for hours and hours and hours on end, the 2009 Trans-Iowa really really hurt me like no other cycling event has in my long and undistinguished career. The early break right after the initial forty mile checkpoint involving Mesier, Eki, Pramann, and myself was unrelenting and ultimately torched me. A rational explanation of my performance at the 2009 T.I. requires the facing of a hard truth which is simple and incontestable—the lead group’s pace nearly killed me. I tried to make light of this hard to reconcile “truth” in my post-race public narrative citing my “nap in the cemetery” in a humorous tone, but to be frank the advent of my initial collapse some 180 miles into it (and subsequent struggle to finish within the race's time constraint) represented the culmination of several hours of ‘other worldly’ physical and mental distress. In other words, I found myself in a wholly new and perplexing level of physical and psychological reduction when the front runners mercifully left me on that lone gravel road. Exhausted, played out, done-in, wasted; for the first time ever in my life I was too tired to go on. As they rode away from me, I was paralyzed. I don't mean that I "felt" paralyzed, I was unable to go, like in the term, "incapacitated." I was there on that spot for a good fifteen minutes, got up, and then laid down again...this went on for several hours where ultimately I crashed out in the cemetery. It is true that I was sick in that I violently threw-up a bunch of times and experienced severe heart-burn, but the sickness clearly came from being so tired and not vice-versa. Mind you, I was not hurt or even cramping up, I wasn’t dehydrated, or low on calories, I was just too tired to continue on…like the guy that one reads about that is too exhausted to walk down to his high camp after topping out on an 8000 meter summit. Instead he only seeks rest even though he knows that it will mean the end. Conclusion: I admit that the ’09 T.I. scared me and shook my confidence. Yet it has also had the effect of compelling me to prepare myself so as to prove able to hang with the front runners in the 2010 Trans Iowa (and to relish each and every Bell's Kalamazoo Stout that I ingest for the rest of my dayz). I am training harder than before this happened...Another good thing is that I learned that with a few hours of rest, I was able to continue and finish the 320+ miles unfazed and with the love of the sport untarnished. My hope is that last year’s performance was just the result of a down day and that I still have a few "competitive" Trans Iowa’s left in me …To be honest, I will not be happy unless I finish in the top five come this last weekend of April.

In my little world, unlike racing in the Arrowhead and the Trans-Iowa which both necessitate working within and relying upon group efforts in order for me to competitive, the 24 Hours @ Seven Oaks (like all 24 hour mountain bike races that I have competed in), is much more of a personal vision quest seeking clarity through solo adversity and hoping that the others will fall apart during the long long night. The 24 @ Seven Oaks is a great event that is a “racers race” put on by Iowan guyz that love endurance racing and are committed to giving back to the sport. This race went really well for me and confirmed my belief that these things are all about waging a war of attrition. During the initial six hour stage of the race, I was way back. Halfway, I was up to fourth or fifth. With six hours to go I was firmly in the second spot!!! So it goes… I plan to do another 24 hour event next summer and this one in Iowa is tops on my list.

As stated above, this is a spontaneous retrospective on what personally comes to mind when I think back on the highlights of my 2009 cycling season. WEMS’ Metro-Challenge, Levis 100 miler, and La Crosse all have found their way into my clouded long-term memory but only in vague, albeit pleasant overtones. I remember the loveliness that is the Levis experience including great camping, lots of friends, and amazing course. The Metro conjures a silly vision of traveling with Eki in his fancy pants hybrid car, while La Crosse forces me to smile when I think back on Kershaw’s inaugural 12 hour event, Eki’s near collapse, and Schotz domination. The Almanzo 100 and the Heck of the North bring forth memories of great friends, lotz of laughs, fun pack riding...and thatz about as good as it getz...so it goes...

Looking ahead to 2010 and beyond: I want to extend my reach into the realm of “over the hills and far away ” on a bicycle. The Great Divide, the Alaskan Invitational, and the Dirty Kanza are all on my near future “Wish List” for racing. I am hoping for the return of the RED ASS 300 in Winipeg and maybe an opportunity to race a NUE event during the summer months. Closer to home, this summer I want to further my exploration of the potential for linking the North Shore trail with the Arrowhead Trail via Ely while mounted upon my Swamp-Pugsley. So much to do and so little time….


  1. So classic and well said. Bravo Farrow, Bravo

  2. Charlie, you are THE MAN! You dream, you inspire, and you DELIVER!

  3. I wish I could express myself like you do. I so understood what you went through in Trans Iowa. Those days tick away so fast and before we know it we are packing up the cars to make the trek to Iowa. I wish you a great season and on my behalf I wish to join you guys on the North Shore Trail before years end.

  4. I was staying at a cabin this summer, just a few miles down the road from the Arrowhead gas station stop. Took my flatbar Fargo out on the Arrowhead on what was probably the funnest few hours on the bike of this past summer. Temps were perfect. Wildflowers were bustin' out. Really awesome. I'm hoping to ride gas station to MelGeorge's at some point in spring, summer, or fall. Good fun.