Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Ragnarok 105 did not disappoint...

A letter to Shackleton

Dearest Ernest:
I hope all is well on the Karakoram or is it the Wendell Sea? Nude, but for a silk club-embroidered loincloth, in reflective repose, buoyed by a chalice filled with the House’s special cognac & Cuban cigar, comfortable before the hearth at the luxurious DBD headquarters, as my man-servant dutifully shaves and massages me aged legs, I hearken back to last Saturday’s gravel rode race...Twain’s description of the area gives cathartic fire from which to begin my muse...

“You'll find scenery between here and St. Paul that can give the Hudson River points. You'll have the Queen's Bluff--seven hundred feet high, and just as imposing a spectacle as you can find anywheres; and Trempeleau Island, which isn't like any other island in America, I believe, for it is a gigantic mountain, with precipitous sides, and is full of Indian traditions, and used to be full of rattlesnakes; if you catch the sun just right there, you will have a picture that will stay with you. And above Winona you'll have lovely prairies; and then come the Thousand Islands, too beautiful for anything; green? why you never saw foliage so green, nor packed so thick; it's like a thousand plush cushions afloat on a looking-glass-- when the water 's still; and then the monstrous bluffs on both sides of the river--ragged, rugged, dark-complected--just the frame that's wanted; you always want a strong frame, you know, to throw up the nice points of a delicate picture and make them stand out.” Mark Twain on the area around Red Wing, Minnesota circa 1880s

The Ragnarok 105 did NOT disappoint...This event represents everything I love about bike racing: Foremost, itz a scenic course; snaking through much of the beautiful Mississippi bluff country past intimate trout streams and picturesque farmsteads complete with rustic old red barns.

The length and breadth is challenging and worthwhile, unlike the ninety minute domestically groomed affairs that have come to dominate the local MNSCS and WORS “officially” sanctioned USCF races. Plus the terrain is varied with many hills, fast curvy descents, punctuated with long high-paced level sections. My favorite segment, which comes shortly after the fifty-five mile check-point, is a long, heavily forested, but easy dirt-trail ascent up the side of what the locals refer to as a “coulee.”

The distance (105 miles) and the timing also afford one the “real-life” opportunity to essentially partake in an abridged dress rehearsal for the enduro-classic Trans-Iowa that commences in less than two weeks.

It demands an amazingly generous entry fee from itz participants ($0.00) — a fee structure reflective of a grassroots movement that is gaining momentum across this great country of ours. Of course, the Kings of High Finance, Unfettered Capitalism and the American Way, no doubt, condemn this movement as nothing less than a precursor to “socialized bike racing”, but from my lowly, proletarian vantage point, it represents the very best thing to happen to our sport since the invention of the Pugsley, but I digress...

The overriding reason why I adore this event is the pleasure it gives me to intermingle with the wonderful throngs of cycling enthusiasts that it attracts. From the top notch race directors and volunteers to the riders that represent an assemblage of solid amicable fellows, not unlike those of that escorted you on your legendary boat trip to South Georgia so many years ago!!!

Thus, for exposure to the attributes mentioned above (plus many other reasons, as well) many came to Red Wing to race their bicycles. Amongst this throng are a fun group of the usual suspects that tend to frequent many of these longer more unorthodox events and of whom I have come to call my friends. Included (but NOT limited to) are the following: Chris Skogen, Josh Peterson, Jason Novak, Dan Dittmer, Jeremy Kershaw, Dave Pramann, Rich Hendricks, Jim Palmer, Joe Meiser, Charlie Tri, and Tim Ek...

Marxists or worse, as some claim, I think not... Whether willing or even duplicitous participants or simple unsuspecting quarry, Chris Skogen and Jeremy Kershaw are said (by informed AM Talk Radio experts) to be leading forces, at the local level, behind Obama’s sinister, albeit covert plot to socialize all aspects of life in these United States and while I am personally and morally opposed to (even sickened by) such anti-American tenets as providing access to affordable health-care to the poor (or even to the middle-class for that matter), I must admit that I reject our Tea Party patriots’ contention that an Obama administration take over of cycling is imminent. The fact is that I have come to wholly embrace these young men’s vision of long gravel road races organized by racers of whom are motivated by the sheer love of pure cycling competition. Skogen is the architect of the resoundingly successful Almanzo 100, while Kershaw is the maestro of the Heck of the North. From the looks of it, Skogen must have gotten lost on Saturday’s race but I am sure that his love of the game was unaffected. In contrast, Kershaw, a good friend and training partner of mine, did very well finishing high up overall and in second place within the tough SS division and is certainly keyed up to have a great effort at the inaugural Trans-Wisconsin. Bravo Jeremy Kershaw!

Josh Peterson is the epitome of the Blue-Collar, “letz roll up the sleeves and get to work”, endurance cyclist. He is tough, competent, and fun...He was outfitted last Saturday for a full day out with his Salsa Fargo all loaded up. His aim was to do a test-run in anticipation of June’s 550 mile Trans-Wisconsin. As mentioned above both Jeremy and I are aiming for that one too...should provide plenty of good writing material.

Like Peterson, Jason Novak approached the Ragnarok from the perspective of a dress rehearsal/shake down for the bigger more complicated upcoming races; in his case, the Trans-Iowa on a single-speed. I have known Jason since the early mid 1980s when he was a varsity trackster and I was a coach at our alma mater, Rochester John Marshall. Look for Jason to earn a high finish in Iowa.

I don’t know Dan Dittmer that well, but I can tell you that he is a leader of men! He won the Salsa sponsored 24 Hours @ Afton Alps last year and he scored a very impressive fifth place at this year’s Arrowhead 135. We had a nice conversation in the early part of the Ragnarok and I look forward to riding with him in several upcoming events.

Dave Pramann, Rich Hendricks, Jim Palmer are all very old men. But they are wise as well and great competitors. Pramann, in my world is the best snow-bike racer in history, showed up on his beloved Pugsley and rode it in such a manner that he was the talk of the race at the conclusion. I heard several riders comment on his incredibly fast descents atop his 70 mm rims. I make no secret that I think Pramann is one of the greatest cyclist in Minnesota.

Rich Hendricks, while new to the game of gravel road racing, is incredibly fit and once he gains some experience, will be a force at the front in these races. It is noteworthy that he is an invaluable component of our off-season DBD training sessions in which he is always pushing the pace, especially on the hills. Eki won the King of the Mountain competition in this year’s race in large part because of Rich’s relentless attacks during our long winter training rides. Inevitably on every training ride, as we approached a big hill, Rich would stand and deliver, Eki would respond in kind, whilst the rest of us would just let them go and marvel at their tenacity...The crew from Duluth are all better cyclists because of Rich’s amazing endurance. Rich finished strong in the Ragnarok with the first chase group which included Pramann and also Jim Palmer.

Jim Palmer would have been in the lead group had he not experienced a flat. Even though this is a long race (six hours+) the pace is such that if you get a mechanical if is very difficult to catch back up. Palmer is a great guy and I look forward to seeing again soon as both of us are fired up for the Almanzo 100, which commences in mid May.

Most everybody that showed up to race this thing knew that the favorites would have to be Charly Tri, Joe Meiser, and Duluth’s very own Tim Ek. Tri won the Ragnarok last year going away and destroyed the field at the Levis-Trow 100, Meiser won the Trans-Iowa and had a stellar performance in the 2000+ mile Great Divide Tour race, while Eki took second overall in the 12 Hours WEMS series and was a close second to Joe in the Trans-Iowa. Meiser is a great endurance rider and a fine amicable fellow as well. Like Skogen and Kershaw, he has joined the movement at the leadership level to offer free (and novel, amazing, and creative, etc...) endurance races to the masses. In a stroke of genius, he has set forth the Trans-Wisconsin for our cycling pleasure, a 550 mile south to north trans-state mountain bike race course that stokes the fire within the manly loins of any and all Midwestern enduro-freaks. I am so fired up about it that as I write, I am having trouble ingesting my sherry, squirming about causing my man-servant to draw blood... Joe Meiser will be one of the men to watch in ten dayz time...He is a big ole boy festooned with bulging muscles, a perfect physique for shameless opportunists like the author to duck down behind and live in the slipstream. He would have served you well, Ernest, on the trek to Elephant Island.

So it was no wonder that there was a collective gasp in the lead group of seven when Joe flatted before the half-way checkpoint. As soon as he was out, the pace relaxed and everyone sort of wondered what to do. Tri is a bright and funny youth, also strong and fast, so he knew that he could win it, if it came to a roadiesque sprint-like finish, thus for him an easy pace played well to his strengths. The new fellas; Sean Mailen, Ryan Horkey, and John Struchynski (note: Sean & Ryan are comrades of Joe @ Salsa, & Sean will be in Iowa), were new to this specific game and so they too were seemingly content to wait and see. My good friend, confidant, and highly motivated training partner, Tim Ek is poised for a break-out season. Eki is the kind of man that would follow you to ends of the earth and never loose his grit or his humor. But, Eki, having already won the KOM title, too was content to ride at a pace that was fast enough to keep the chase groups out and Joe at bay, but not fast enough to attempt to drop anybody in the existing group. Eki knew, as I did too (that rhymes!), that if he could push Tri on the last big hill and maybe get a gap...he may have enough left in the tank to beat Tri to the finish. So the only guy that had a different take on what tactic to employ was the guy that was too fat to climb well and too old to match a sprint finish scenario, especially one involving a big hill. Guess who that was? I knew that if it came down to racing up the last hill and then sprinting into the finish that I would NOT be in contention... So it goes... As you well know, Ernest, sometimes a man needs to re-reevaluate and look forward to a brighter tomorrow...Perhaps, I shall exact my revenge on the dark back-roads of Iowa ten dayz henceforth!!! Yet again great competition awaits me. Mesier, Ek, Tri, and a host of five or six others are all heading down to Iowa for the 320 Mile Grand Spring Formal...One, or two, or all three of the above will surely be in running for the win...My plan can only be to hope to hitch a ride and see if I can stow-away for at least part of the run?

In any is what happened in one run-on sentence: Joe Meiser flats, pace slows, old guy tries a couple of forlorn attacks before the final scene, all of which are repeatedly repelled by the group, last hill appears with just a few miles to go, pace increases, Tri’s young&powerful legs take off, Eki hesitates and then responds with great power and tenacity oh his own, nearly catches Tri, but Tri holds off the attack and wins...

Please forgive me Ernest, but I must conclude this write-up for my slightly embellished tea grows lukewarm, my cigar stale, and I am wanted for a promised game of billiards with an old, cranky, and slightly drunk Mallory...We think of you often...Bravo and stiff upper lip old chap, you’ll be back at the Club in just a few years hence...

Cheers and Godspeed...


  1. Awesome write up Charlie. Looking forward to riding with you more in 10 days. I hope to be in a more lively spirit so I can enjoy everyone's company more. One of my main goals for the event is to have a guy with "MN" behind their name win.

  2. Good show, old chap... See you in Iowa soon. Hopefully I'll be able to catch and hold a wheel.


  3. Your Finest Hour....Winnie

  4. Excellent and entertaining writeup as always Mr. Farrow. Hopefully the lead group's testosterone and hubris lingers long enough in the air to power home those of us who merely wish to finish The Trans Iowa.

  5. Another navigational error by the hares might allow the tortoises to sneak in a win this time!

  6. Honored, as always, to make the story. Thanks for the great story. Another finger of rum for the DBD!

  7. Who are you calling "very old men?"

  8. Prose fitting of a glass of fine wine and a comfortable arm chair next to the hearth.

  9. Very nice good sir, very nice. 'Tis a pleasure to read. See you in May.