Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Went South to the diftless area of Wisconsin fer a long bike race or was it a ride?

“We are calling the race due to severe weather. We can have you picked up here right away and then have your bike delivered once we get a full load,” Conveyed the polite head-volunteer manning the second to the last checkpoint of the Dairy land Dare 190 mile race.

“I am NOT quitting the race!” exclaimed the old fool from the North. “What is it about you guyz in Wisconsin…whenever it rains you wanna call the race…I aint quitting the race because of a little weather, which way do I go?”

The Dairyland Dare did not disappoint, but at the same time it did not inspire the writer to loftier goals or act as a cathartic exercise in philosophical experimentation. However, the free beer-tickets combined with the post race beer truck did arouse deep primordial urges with respect to the author’s fragile psyche. Indeed it was well worth the money and time. In fact I'd say it is perhaps the best organized event I have ever participated in.

Perhaps it is just a sign of the times— for we are living in an “embellished” society where words like “heroic,” and “extreme,” and “ultra-extreme,” are routinely used to describe what just a few decades ago would have been labeled “solid effort,” ”good showing,” or “impressive effort”; yet, while the promoters of the Dairyland Dare are certainly a bit precocious with their assertion that their race is the, “Toughest One Day Challenge Ride in the Midwest,” it does indeed require a concerted and focused effort to complete the approximately 188 miles in a respectable time-frame. Note: In terms of sheer difficulty and/or needless suffering (in my little myopic world), in the Midwest, the Dairyland Dare ranks well below the Royal 162, all the WEMS 12 hour events, all 24 hour mtb events, both the winter races, Tuscobia 150 and Arrowhead 135, and it is about 33.3% as tough as the Trans-Iowa. I will say that given the many hills and the distance, this race is comparable to the Ragnarok 105 gravel road classic, held every spring in the coulees surrounding the Mississippi River Valley near Red Wing. In fact the scenery is remarkably similar.

The route is simply picturesque in an upstate New York or Vermont kind of way. Rolling forested hills, quaint little hamlets, and neat working family farms that harbor back to a more simple time in this country when many folks made their living from an intimate relationship with the land. It was perhaps the most varied and interesting racecourse that I have ever done. It seemed that every turn revealed another glimpse of an old farmstead, or a trout stream, or a deeply silent forested hollow. But I digress…

The once proud Kershaw and I rode aspects of the “driftless area” (where the bull-dosing glaciers did not go) of Wisconsin last summer during the “stimulating” Trans-Wisconsin; the hilly, flowing terrain is perfect for cycling. So I knew that the course would be most excellent.

Part I of the Plan: The operational plan was to do the event Team Six Navy Seal style. A blueprint involving a painstakingly planned “couch-to-car-to-race-to-car-to-bed strategy.” Having all my ducks in a row I earnestly began the couch part of the operation. The time was approximately 5:00 p.m. on Friday, August 12th. Offspring was off doing her thing; the dog was napping, as I positioned myself upon the couch with the plan being to relax for two hours before my wife got home. Upon her arrival, I would begin the six to seven hour segment of the car part of the operation. Just as I closed my eyes, the phone rang. “Did you get a chance to plant that tree? Like you promised?” At once wide-awake, I replied with feigned sincerity, “Yes of course!” Immediately I was up, out the door, and digging a hole and planting the tree. The digging and planting aroused the physical needs of the dog. The digging and panting also aroused the humor inherent in the offspring, “I’m gonna tell Mom about this!” Just after guiding the Man-dog, Loki, on a final stroll up the nearby trail to relieve himself, my wife pulled up. The time was 7:30 p.m. I jumped in my Chevy Prism and hurriedly backed out of our newly finished garage. In my haste I clipped the driver side mirror, ripping it off and damaging the garage door rails as well. Sheepishly, I assured both wife and dog that I shall make it all “look like new on Sunday.” My offspring silently giggled.

Part 2 of the Plan: On the road, racing down Highway 53, free at last, my heart soared! It took me a while to adjust to driving sans driver-side mirror, but the traffic flow was minimal and the radio was filled with captivating topics, including the fundamentalist stations that are always so up lifting. One such station featured an interview with a highly motivated “born again” that was just back from China on a mission to convert (and save) all them Chinese people to his Hell-fire brand of Christianity. It is nice for guyz like that to try and fix all of them China folks. Given my status, I am often afforded top-notch accommodations at these venues and the Dairyland Dare was no different. I pulled into the huge parking lot of Lands Ends (a big clothing maker located in Dodgeville) around 3:00 a.m. and made for a nearby picnic table (of the type used by workers on their lunch breaks) armed with my blankie and pillow. I asked the security guard that came and checked on me (he was a really nice guyz) if they still make any clothes here in Dodgeville. He said, “Naw…they make it all in China.” I thought again about how nice it was of that born again fella to go over to China to save the Chinese. Then I had the thought that maybe in the not so distant future born-again Chinese people from China will come over here to the U.S. and save me. So it goes…

Part 3 of the Plan: The parking lot began to fill in earnest around 5:00 a.m. The volunteers arrived en masse and then vans loaded with bikes and mechanics were the second to arrive in my immediate area. The vanguard of Team Vision Quest (VQ) from Chicago began to set up shop, while the volunteers began to put set up tents and the like. VQ is the enterprise set up by Robbie Ventura of USPS fame. Google “Vision Quest” and read about it for it really is a well thought out venture that has tapped into a thriving niche market in cycling. I must say that I very much was impressed with him and his group of riders. During the event (and post-party) I had the pleasure of pack riding (and sharing a few cold-ones) with a few of the large VQ contingency and immensely enjoyed their company. During the line-up for the start (6:00 a.m.) I found Drew Wilson and Jason Novak, two friends of mine from Rochester. Drew Wilson distinguished himself at the Royal 162 earlier this spring and has the potential to be a great endurance racer, yet he has of late caught the “roadie-bug” and may be in need of an intensive re-education protocol. The DBD leadership has made no secret of their interest in Novak for he has all the tools to be a “Leader of Men.”

The start was uneventful and it was not long before a large group of perhaps fifty settled in for a good pace line. By mile fifty or so the group had been whittled down to about twenty-five, or may be thirty riders. The descents were the only sketchy part, as we would regularly hit 40 mph and not being use to these kinds of speeds I purposefully allowed myself to always be on the tail-end of the peloton. The dreaded pile up came as the group bottomed out on a long curving slope. One guy misjudged the corner, abruptly and recklessly and foolishly tried to reconfigure his line and essentially flew into a pack of six to eight riders causing a colossal crash. Imagine the crunching sound of hundreds of plastic milk cartons being stamped on by a herd of fat people stampeding to get into a Wal-Mart at Midnight on the day after Thanksgiving. The whole group stopped, as it was obvious that people were hurt. Jason, who is a medical professional and humanitarian of the highest order, stayed with the fallen ones in accordance with the Hippocratic oath. Bravo Novak. The rest of us soldiered on.

The pace (mostly 17 to 19 mph) was fast by my standards (gravel roads, single track, snow, etc.), but the asphalt roads were perfect, zero wind, and with the skinny tires combined with a big pack of riders it was easy to keep up and even take a few pulls at the front. Then suddenly my whole world drastically changed. My front tire went flat! In a nanosecond I was all-alone, off the bike frantically trying to change the tube. I made the change in good time and took off going as hard as I could go hoping that somehow I could catch the group. I figured that we were early into it and that maybe I could catch them especially if they decided as a group to take a few minutes at the next rest stop. Then not more than a couple of miles down the road the front tire when flat again. My heart sank and I knew that I was done in terms of riding with the lead group. This time I thoroughly checked the tire and found a shard of glass. I used my second (and last) spare tube, inflated the tire and was about to take off when Jason came riding by. I jump in with him and he filled me in on the specifics regarding the crash. Together we rode into the rest stop. These were full-service rest areas like no other. They were stocked full with every kind of beverage and foodstuff an endurance biker would ever wish for including ham and cheese sandwiches. I grabbed one and a bunch of gels, a coke, filled my bottles and was just about to take off when I remembered that I was completely out of tubes. I asked the volunteers about any tubes and they quickly ascertained that they had forgot to grab the box of tubes. Instead that assured me that two tubes would be waiting for me at the next checkpoint fifteen miles down the line (and there were indeed two tubes waiting for me when I got there!).

Jason lingered at the stop whilst I took off “like a bat out of hell” as I felt great and still optimistic. I rode hard for nearly fifty-five or sixty miles alone giving it all I had. I would only stop if I were near the end of my water supply; otherwise I was cranking it out. I really did feel good. I remember as I climbed a particularly long and steep hill thinking they my training buddy, Tim Ek was probably doing the same thing over in Afton. As I was descending a long straightway hill I spied a group of five heading up towards me. As they grew near I realized that it was a fragment of the leaders. They had missed a turn, gone several miles in the wrong direction, and were now heading back to regain the route. I, too, had missed the same turn and thankfully (and luckily) seeing them allowed me to only add a few miles to the total mileage. I jumped in with them, but they were too strong for me to hold on for very long and I had to let them go. I do remember asking one of the guyz what his odometer read and he said, “122 Miles,” while mine read 117 miles. Based on my ending total of 192 miles, I figure I went about five miles the wrong way and so they must have gone twice that far in the wrong direction. Yet, I still felt pretty good and I have done enough of these things to know that “things fall apart” and that if a guy can hang in there, good things can present themselves as the drama unfolds.

With about forty miles to go I came upon a rest-stop and was delighted to see not only the five guyz that had passed me earlier but three others as well. They were obviously taking an extended break, so I blew through the stop hoping that maybe I could gap them. Yet it was not long before they caught me and yet I did notice that only three looked unfazed, while the others looked decidedly mortal. I don’t know why, but since I had no way of knowing the truth, I decided that these guyz were the leaders and so my heart soared because my best hope was to make it in the top ten. To date I am still not sure how it all played out in terms of placing. I guess I’d like to see them just come out and either call it a race or call it a ride. I consider myself a bike racer and when I am riding against a bunch of other guyz, I be racing!

In any event, I hooked up with a really nice guy from Wausau that is an eye surgeon by day. We rode well together and it was reassuring to ride with another during the heavy rainfalls that we were getting hammered with from time to time. Near the end, maybe with 25 miles to go I came upon a rest-stop where a volunteered informed me that they were encouraging everyone to quit the race. I was in no mood so I just rode on. I finished it up in a little over 11 hours and I felt really pretty good. At the time of this writing I am not sure as to my finish, but I am confident that I was in the top 15, maybe better? Next year I hope they have it as a full-on race as it could be a classic.

Part 4 of the plan: After enjoying a few free beers and brats with several of the VQ boyz, I jumped in the car and headed north. The radio was filled with captivating topics, including the fundamentalist stations that are always so up lifting. One such station featured an interview with a highly motivated “born again” that was just back from Ghana on a mission to convert all the Africans to his Hell-fire brand of Christianity. It is nice for guyz like that to try and fix all of them folks from Ghana. The BBC was on and it was of great interest to me to hear of the world cricket results and yet try as I might I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I had to pull over at a rest stop and crash for a couple hours.

Part 5 of the plan: Snuck in at 4:30 a.m. jumped in bed. At 6:17 a.m. Loki welcomed me back to reality. So it goes…

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