Friday, July 2, 2010

Trans-Wisconsin...Part III...Stuck on Buck Creek Road again....

Part III: Day I: The nutz and boltz of it…Prairie Peddler saves my A%$, too many roads named, “Buck Creek”, and the village idiot, early morn, screams, “Ken’s Kitchen is open!! Ken’s Kitchen!! Thatz where you need to go!!! Kens Kitcheeeennnnnn!!!!”

“One of the greatest joys known to man is to take a flight into ignorance in search of knowledge.”
Robert Lynd

“I don’t know about that.” The general response to any and all of our questions to locals during the 2010 Trans-Wisconsin

The morning of the start of the Trans-Wisconsin delivered a beautiful sunny sky complete with a palpable tailwind; a noteworthy and indeed, significant tailwind that would assist us for the entire four dayz en route to Lake Superior. The field, including Dennis Grelk, Chris Finch, Drew Wilson, Dave Pals, Steve Fuller, Steve McGuire, and Andy Schuette all gathered at the Gangsta Bar and Grill for breakfast.

In my world, Steve McGuire had the “coolest” ride which was built up around an artistically crafted titanium frame by Black Sheep (of Colorado), complete with beautifully curved tubing reminiscent of a Renaissance nude. Both Steve and Dave Pals were attempting the route on single speeds (2 to 1 gear ratios)…As admirable purists in their pursuit for simplicity, I often thought of them sheepishly when I bemoaned too much about my lack of easier gearing when battling the formidable saw-tooth hills that frequented the initial 200 miles. In stark contrast to my ride, Dennis Grelk had a Surly Pugsley set-up equipped with 2.5 WTB tires and a full-on frame-pack/rack system with enough gear to get the job done and much more…He always goes “heavy” but he’s young, strong, and he ultimately completed the route…so it goes. At this point in itz evolution, the fact that is exists no prescribed or standard “recipe for success” in terms of bike and/or gear configuration (or even age or body-type) regarding these long “unsupported” kinds of races, to me is very compelling. Yet, there can be no doubt that those running gears had a tremendous advantageous over the single speeders, given the hills and the sandy ATV trails of Clark County (and north of Highway 2).

At the onset, riding at a good pace backed up by the complimentary tailwind, Jeremy, Joe, and I established a few minutes worth of a gap on Drew Wilson and a few others including Joe’s brother, Mike. We rode well together and enjoyed each other’s company. Clearly and not surprisingly, Joe was the strongest and seemed to enjoy leading out, so Jer and I let him, while we rotated behind him between second and third positions. Winds at our backs and Joe pulling us along, Life was Good, and then at approximately the fifty mile mark, on a long descent, I noticed whilst braking, an unusual and repetitive oscillating-type of noise coming up from the rear wheel. When I let off the brakes the sound went away, or furthermore, when I was on the flats and then applied the brakes, the sound did not reappear, so I easily cast it from my memory to refocus on shamelessly pulling off of Joe’s wheel. Shortly thereafter, we entered a quaint little town (about fifty four miles south-southeast of Prairie Du Chien) and abruptly stopped at a busy little diner on Main Street. Joe was fired up for lunch and since both Jer and I saw in him our best “meal ticket” to the Grand Lake hundreds of miles to the north, we did not hesitate to follow. Almost as an afterthought I looked down at the rear wheel to see if I could see any obvious anomalies. I spun the wheel and then lightly applied the brakes and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Yet, when I firmly applied the brakes, I could see that there was a “bad” or “rotten” spot on the rear sidewall that was essentially cracking, and folding or flexing inward when the brakes were applied with force. The ramifications hit me with full force!!! The sidewall of the rim was worn-out. It was paper thin and it was just a matter of time, in the very near-term, until it completely failed. I was dumb-struck, but I should not have been because the wheel is old and been through years of use and abuse. Just in the last two months I had put that wheel through the Ragnorak 105, the Trans-Iowa, and the Almanzo 100, and in the last few years, at least twenty long gravel road races and prior to that, years of cyclo-cross abuse…Things do eventually fall apart!!!

But all the same, I was in shock when I stumbled into the diner and conveyed my revelation of doom to my partners. Joe passed me a glass of chocolate milk and I downed it like a cowboy taking his last shot of gut-rot whiskey before heading out into the dirt street to meet his maker. Jeremy was speechless and yet Joe was unshaken; as I stood there on the verge of tears, he nonchalantly pulled out his cell phone and put a call into his buddy, Marty Larson, the owner of the Prairie Peddler Bicycle Shop of Prairie Du Chien. The whole conversation took maybe three minutes. He looks up and tells me, “My buddy, Marty has a wheel for you in Prairie Du Chien.”

Of course I was an emotional and nervous mess and could think of nothing but getting to that saving wheel ASAP. I jumped up and told Joe and Jer that I was skipping lunch and pushing it hard to Prairie Du Chien with the hope that I could catch back up to them after securing the replacement wheel. Flying out of that little town (Cassville?), I inadvertently sprinted pass a required right turn (Squirrel Hollow Road) and then found myself on another gravel road that dead-ended at a fish hatchery. It was beautiful muddy river bottoms country, but I was too freaked out to care…Out came the trusty Gazetteer and thankfully I was able to see where I had missed the turn off. It was an annoying thirty minute screw-up and so once I was on the right track again, it was not long thereafter that Big Joe caught me up, while Jeremy had pulled back a bit to ride at a more reasonable and individualized pace. The gravel roads of the Mississippi River-bottoms gave way to heavily forested and impressively hilly terrain in this area of Wisconsin and thus proved to be a challenge for me to stay with Joe and to also rely almost completely on my front brake to slow me on the many steep descents. But I was hyped up and energized by what appeared to be my good fortune; I dared to use the rear brake only with exaggerated gentleness as I had this vision of a catastrophic wheel failure, which of course meant the end of the race for me. But as the time progressed and I began to settle into a nice-enduro cadence behind Joe. Buoyed by the lush greenery and approving tailwind, my inherent optimism began to shine through…and I became complacently sanguine…as is my nature (and in many instances, my downfall!)…I began to consider the possibility that the wheel could maybe hold if I stayed off the front brake…I began to talk myself into the notion that the wheel would hold…why wouldn’t it? Itz always held before?

The workings of a demented brain….So, as we rode together at a relatively high pace, I began to consider with ever increasing conviction, the positive attributes of taking the risk of not getting the new wheel and to instead put my faith in the forlorn hope that the wheel would hold for the entire journey. That way, so the twisted thought went, I would not have to use up the critical time to ride into the bike shop (which is off-route by a considerable, but at that time, an unknown distance) and fall way behind Joe. Essentially, I knew that if Joe got that far ahead of me that there was absolutely no way that I could win the Trans-Wisconsin. To be honest, I knew in my heart that I could not beat Joe Meiser outright, but I did hold out the possibility of sneaking in for a tie…I figured that if I could stay with him for the first day, he might have pity on me and let me draft the whole way. Therefore I knew that if I lost Joe’s wheel, I was on my own. Compounding my reservations about using the time to go into Prairie Du Chien was the thought that Jeremy would also get so far out ahead of me that I’d be forced to try hard to catch-up to him (if even possible) for much of the race which would also invite sole reliance upon my less than impressive navigational skills.

So like all impulsive optimists, I sought to present my foolhardy case for non-action to an approving and receptive ear. Knowing Joe to be a man endowed with an engineering analytical mindset and thus a tough sell for the absurd, I still attempted to get him to tell me that given the physics of the forces at work on a spinning wheel, the concept of a wheel in full spinning motion would allow for a spreading-out of the tensile strength of the rim. Thus the conclusion being that as long as the wheel was spinning, it would not fail. Joe, who of course, is a gentleman, and thus respectful of his elders (even foolish ones), listened with feigned interest to my flawed discourse and then offered up the following analysis of my situation (a paraphrase, but as accurate as my memory permits): “I am unsure of your reasoning regarding the strength of your wheel. It seems to me that you are looking at three options: The most conservative option is to go the Prairie Du Chien and get the new wheel. A riskier option is to wait, see how the wheel holds up, and if the wheel is getting worse, you will have a chance to get a new wheel in Viroqua, which is about one hundred miles from here. The riskiest option is to go for it and hope it holds.”

So it came to pass that I decided to fall back on my propensity to procrastinate and thus wait on my decision until we arrived to the point along that route at which I would have to detour. If the detour was reasonable (as defined in my mind as costing less than an hour) I’d go for it. If the detour was too far away, I’d rely on that temperamental Lady Luck! As it turned out, at that point was a convenience store. Joe and I stopped and quickly reloaded on highly processed calories, my current favorites are cherry Pop-Tarts and Salted Nutrolls. Note: Riding in these kinds of events does not in the least assist one in living a healthy, holistic life-style. In fact, in general, hard-core bike racers represent one of the most physically and mentally stunted subcultures in America! In any event, as we stood in line with the locals, I began asking folks about how far it was to reach Prairie Du Chien. The estimates ranged from, “I have no idea”; to, “Oh I’d say at least 12 miles”; to “Just down the road a couple miles.” This oft demonstrated and generalized ignorance by locals of anything and everything geographical and/or weather-related became a sense of wonderment to Jeremy and me.

Being an optimist, I chose to go with the best answer that fit my worldview and so I decided to part ways with Joe Mieser and to head into Prairie Du Chien in search of the Prairie Peddler Bicycle Shop and salvation. The actual distance from the detour point to the bike shop turned out to be only a little over three miles. Knowing only that the shop was downtown, on several occasions, I stopped pedestrians to ask directions and none had any clue about where the bike shop was located. One woman did offer, “I know they sell bikes at the Wal-Mart.”

The Prairie Peddler is a delightful little bike shop located on the main street of Prairie Du Chien and if you are in the area you simply have to stop by there and check it out! Mary Larson was waiting for me and quickly (and generously) set me up with a sweet Mavic rear wheel and it was not long at all before I was back on my way, less than 30 minutes spent in the shop.

The backtrack was easy as it was relatively flat, the whole affair had cost me less than an hour, and yet in my enthusiasm to be back in the game fully armed, I took a wrong turn onto a road known as South Ridge Road. Luckily I figured out the mistake before heading down a long descent. As I turned around and headed back onto Bouska road at the intersection of an east/west road called Irish Ridge, I saw Jeremy and Drew Wilson coming up behind me. My spirits soared as I did not want to ride alone!

Thus it came to pass that we formed a trio of riders, Drew Wilson of Rochester and the two DBDers from Duluth. We road together on the winding and hilly gravel for several hours and then abruptly at the bottom of a long descent, Drew was gone. We stopped and waited for a few minutes, then soft peddled for a few more, but at that point after many hours of riding we had each grown hard and thus were somewhat less than compassionate. We reasoned that if he was in trouble or had crashed he would have yelled out or we would have heard the devastation. This may seem like a banal, even heartless explanation or rationale but if you have done these kinds of events you know that self-preservation becomes a paramount motivating factor. Coupled with my obsessive commitment to being back in Duluth early Tuesday morning, I did not act the Good Samaritan. Instead, both Jeremy and I reasoned that Drew had simply decided to ride at his own pace. As I type this in the comforts of modern existence, it seems like a rotten thing to have done…so it goes…Thankfully as it turned out, we were correct; Drew simply wanted to ride at his own pace.

At stated earlier the DBD Plan was to be home in Duluth in such a manner as to allow me to take charge of my daughter by Tuesday morning @ 5:30 a.m. because that was the exact time that my wife needed to leave our house to get to work. Therefore given my commitment to this strict and unwavering parameter, I needed to complete the route in 90 hours. Or to look at it another way; to complete the route within my constraint, I needed to average about 155 miles per day.

Given this fixed constraint, on the first day, Jeremy and I rode into the sunset. We figured that if we could get to Viroqua that first day we would be on track to make the goal. The route took us through Sadie Hollow Park, which involved about four miles of single-track riding. By the time we reached the Park it was dark and yet we lucked out because we found Joe’s tracks and inexplicably we also found Drew’s tracks!!!

We were dumbfounded at the discovery of two sets of tracks. Joe’s tire marks made sense in that we knew that he was probably at least two, maybe even three hours ahead, but how could Drew be ahead of us? Then we realized that he had probably passed us up whilst we were lost following a confusing segment of the course that involved a series of remote gravel roads named South Buck Creek Road, North Buck Creek Road, and then just plain Buck Creek Road. Somehow we got turned around on these convoluted roads which ultimately cost us a big backtrack involving several long climbs. At one point we were so stumped as to which Buck Creek Road we were on, that we stopped and asked an old guy at a trailer about where we were, but he, of course, had no clue. “Sorry, don’t know where you guys are? I just lost my wallet, so I am a bit off today,” was the extent of his advice.

Frustrated, but resolute we followed Joe and Drew’s tracks through the single-track, having to walk most of the hillier sections. Well after midnight, with high hopes for deliverance in the form of a brief respite from the road, we cruised into the hamlet of Viroqua. Immediately we began to look for places to bivy. I am partial to cemeteries and baseball dug-outs, so I was pumped to see a nice baseball field complete with a roofed pair of dug-outs. Yet, before we could sleep we needed some food. Sitting on a park bench in Downtown was a pair of younger looking fellas that were obviously not Harvard Grads! We slowed up and called out, “Any place open it eat right now?” The bigger one yelled out in a fanatical scream, “Ken’s Kitchen is open!! Ken’s Kitchen!! Thatz where you need to go!!! Kens Kitcheeeennnnnn!!! Just down the road!!!!”

Of course, no place existed. We settled for stale pizza and other forms of fructose corn-syrup sustenance purchased from a 24 hour gas station and crashed in the nearby fairgrounds under a perfect little vending shelter...Jer gave the older one the picnic table... We had gone about 160 miles in 16 hours...and we were on schedule...and more importantly Jer and I were a TEAM!

Look forward to Part III: Day 2….Sand Sand Sand…

1 comment: