Sunday, July 7, 2013
The Lutsen 99er did not disappoint...
“A beverage as black as ink, useful against numerous illnesses, particularly those of the stomach or bowel. Its consumers take it in the morning, quite frankly, in a porcelain cup that is passed around and from which each one drinks a cupful. It is composed of water and the fruit from a bush the natives called Bunnu.
—Léonard Rauwolf, 1583, Reise in die Morgenländer
The Lutsen 99er did not disappoint. Yet things did not start out well for the author. Perhaps a bit of background or a brief digression is warranted to help explain the dire situation he found himself in as he made ready to ride his trusty Gunnar along a 99 mile course that begins and ends at the fancy Lutsen Ski Resort some ninety minutes of so northeast of old Duluth.
Being a true temperance man, fully in command of all faculties at all times, I am committed to a strictly held doctrine that allows one to ingest fermented liquefied barley and hops only after being awake for five hours. Of course abiding by such a dictate necessities great sacrifice and will power. Yet many of my associates maintain that it is this strict personal adherence to such a severe mandate that affords me my youthful good looks and easeful manner, (whilst my critics claim that it explains my propensity for hitting my head frequently). As a kind of scaffolding to aid me in staying true to this austerely puritanical life choice, I do allow for and even rely upon the ingestion of copious measures of an ancient mixture of hot water brewed or percolated through the powdered form of the fruit born from the Bunnu bush, upon awakening from my nightly slumber. While I do occasionally wash my parts in water, I find its taste to be woefully inadequate in comparison to the fluids associated with both the brewing of the Bunnu fruit and the various grains of the Great Plains of these United States of America. Therefore for me, in terms of hydration, it is Bunnu in the mornings and malted barley and hops in the post-mornings.
Thusly I return to the problem I faced pre-Lutsen 99er—
I was forced to leave very early from Duluth last Saturday as I thought the race started at 7:00 a.m. (it actually started at 7:30). I had wanted to leave at 4:00 a.m., but I overslept ‘til 5:30 due to the night before and an overzealous barkeep @ Brewhouse and the sublime Oatmeal stout he was touting, and did not get on the road until around 5:40 or so. We have great Bunnu here at home, but I was in such a rush I took off without taking the time to brew up a thermos or to pack away a cache of malted grains (to be enjoyed only after the clock struck 10:30). It was just as I was leaving the Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas that I realized my crucial mistake. With growing trepidation, for my wellness was at risk, I made the rash decision to soldier onward for twenty or so miles to the small hamlet of Two Harbors where I was confident that I could find my morning drink, albeit in a cheaper, less virile form. Salvation was had at a Holiday Store at the extreme outer edge of Two Harbors. I stopped and ran into the gas station, poured out a large dark roast, paid the sleepy buxom malcontent at the counter and hastily headed back to my car. I was by now worried about missing the start (I have done it several times) but even so, I gave the Gunnar a second look as it appeared slightly off kilter. A closer inspection revealed that I had not adequately affixed the straps and thus the bike was in danger of flying off the rack. I made the changes, jumped in the car, and took off. Not long down the road, I sensed catastrophe. Instinctually, as I looked into the rearview mirror, I groped for my coffee to settle my nerves, but there was no cup. There was no cup of Joe cuz I’d left it on the roof of the car. The die was cast, I knew then at that moment that I was in for a long day…My only hope was to get to the start at Lutsen with time enough, so as to find a coffee shop or the like before the gun went off.
The problem was that at this point my whole system was in disarray for the morning coffee acts as the catalyst. It gets the whole process moving. Not unlike the fabled Lung Fish of the Kalahari Desert that can sit encased in mud, idle for months, even years, in a trance-like state waiting for that one day when it rains; nothing is gonna happen for that Lung Fish until it gets itz shot of rain, there aint gonna be any eating or darting about chasin’ other Lung Fish or anything else that Lung Fishes do until it gets itz initial water needs met. Such is the case of my innards as they wait for the life-giving Bunnu. Without the life-giving essence of coffee there can be no catalyst for movement. Without coffee there can be no activity, no life, no chasing around other humans. I worked hard to hold back the tears of a forlorn man. Ultimately, there was to be no coffee on that day. I lined up at the start as a zombie. I feigned a smile as there were many friends about and their positive vibes were contagious. The gun went off and I took off in the knowledge that I was in for a long day in the saddle.
The course was varied, interesting, challenging, and seriously fun when it came to blasting through big puddles and fast flowing streams, but I was surly and incontinent for the first couple hours. Less than an hour into, I was still racing, still a man with a mission. I went to pass a guy on a rugged, grassy descent and cut him off in my panic to miss a boulder. No one went down, it was accident, and so he probably should have let go after I mumbled a half-hearted, indifferent “sorry”, but he loudly and profanely called me on it using an overtly aggressive tone and so I uncharacteristically aggressively returned in kind. The result was an escalating childish tick-for-tat shouting match that went on for more than a few seconds, maybe more, and then we got back to trying to stay on the bumpy course. I immediately felt stupid and foolish. I felt ashamed of myself. If you are reading this and you’re that guy, please accept my apology. If there can be any justification for my actions, please accept that it was the lack of coffee talking, not the usual happy-go-lucky me. The fact of the matter is that I was being a jerk and there ain’t no way to get around it. To conclude this sad chapter: Amid a throng of bike racers, conjure an aged, bloated, weighty, crimson-faced man squeezed into a blackish jersey (with flaming orange highlights), pressed into tight ratty red bib shorts, ranting away at some poor, youthful bike racer as the others look away aghast and you will begin to feel why I am embarrassed. Later, I told my buddy, Eki, that I was probably 80% in the wrong.
Shortly after my little inexcusable tirade, I came racing down a relatively steep incline and drove my front wheel into a basketball-sized boulder; by luck it was a glancing blow, a flesh wound. I did not go down as I was able to sort of ride it out by turning hard as I made impact, careening off, and thus staying upright; sparing my rear wheel. Yet there was no denying that I felt the wheel buckle on impact and so I waited (with dread) to hear that “POW” noise that comes with a catastrophic blow out. But inexplicably I did not hear that “POW” noise. Instead I immediately heard that high-pitch tweeny noise of a spoke breaking under the pressure. I pulled far over and off the course into a cluster of bushes, partly to not cause a crash as there were many in hot pursuit, but mostly to try and hide from the guy I’d cut off just a few minutes before (and those that witnessed my infraction and subsequent rant). Stranded, alone, and forlorn. As I dismounted, I remember thinking, as the cruel pestilence of summer fell upon me with unbridled bloodlust—Such is the providential righteousness and justice of the trail. "Upon a pillory - that all the world may see. A just desert for such impiety."—Or in short: I got what I deserved.
Initially as the merciless, albeit opportunistic mosquitoes, deer flies, and no-seeums had their way with me in devilish delight, I tried to twist the busted spoke around its neighbor, but it didn’t work as it kept hitting the brake caliper. So I was reduced to just bending the broken spoke back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, in harried fashion, until it broke off at the nipple. A particularly ambitious rogue, perhaps in pursuit of some kind of medal of valor, attached himself to my lip and gave me a bite so hard that I winced and slapped simultaneously. I was not able to determine if it was the slap or the bite, but the blood was mine. My brave enemy fell crumbled to the forest floor. Perhaps the account of its fatalistic heroism shall become part of the annuls of insect lore. A salty blood taste and resulting pain forced concerted action, I jumped on the compromised bike and took off, only to hear and feel and see that the tire was rubbing, rubbing, rubbing hard on the fork with every revolution. The buggy vanguard with fresh reinforcements seemed to revel in my despair, especially the fearsome deer flies brigade, which had taken me to a new level of feverish loathsomeness. I cared not for my future; my only concern was to get off the wet, marshy trail and away from my tormentors. Instinctually, for elevated thought was no longer within me, I sensed that my only salvation would to gain the higher ground in the form of a gravel road.
Rightly so, I took the busted wheel as a proper punishment for my transgression and yet I hoped that I’d be spared a full on DNF. The compromised wheel acted as a governor, allowing me to push hard with maximum effort, but with little speed to show for it and the certitude that in the near future, if things did not radically change, the constant rubbing would wear a hole into the tire’s sidewall. Finally I arrived to a gravel road. I rode up to the apex of a hill and with a wind blowing; the bugs went into hiding, providing me with a brief respite. I stopped and pulled off the front wheel. As I inspected the damage, Brian Hayden of Duluth (a former reputable road racer in his youth), in a gesture not unlike that of the Good Samaritan of Biblical fame, stopped and offered that he could render the wheel usable if I was in possession of a spoke wrench. Of course I had no spoke wrench, but he stayed anywayz and as the constant throng of riders came whistling by, we begged for a spoke wrench, ultimately to no avail. Finally I convinced him to leave me to my fate. And then shortly thereafter I too decided to try and limp the bike onward to the first aid station, where I hoped there maybe a spoke wrench and also a person able to use it as designed.
Not long after I had started up again, Dave Cizmas came by me and offered heart felt assistance. Dave is a young and strong bike racer endowed with a most impressive physique that was sculptured in part by lifting engine blocks as a child. In any event, he told me that I’d better “fix’ the wheel before I tried to go much farther because if I stayed on track with the status quo, I would most probably wear a hole in the tire before I got to the aid station. His manly remedy involved slamming the imperfection out of the wheel “with great vigor” into the ground in an effort to force a righting of a wrong. A kind of “Might makes Right” approach to the problem. He was with his girlfriend, who was doing very well and had a chance to finish high up in the standings, so I told them to keep going and to forget about me. As they rode away, I took the wheel off the fork and slammed it against the ground with all the force I could muster. I placed it back on the fork and was surprised to ascertain that I’d “fixed” it good enough to minimize the rubbing. I was off again in search of the first aid station.
Shortly thereafter I arrived to a bustling aid station. I spied an Erik’s Cycles banner and made for the mechanic that was manning a mobile bike shop. He was in the process of fixing another bike, so I left mine and went over to a table full of great snacks including peanut butter and jelly filled raisin bagels. By the time I’d consumed a couple of the bagels, he was ready to assess my situation. Within just a few minutes and the deft use a spoke wrench, combined with a techy tensioner gauge, he was able to straighten my wheel to near perfect. As I thanked him and began to pull away, he warned me that the wheel would not be very strong and to therefore ride “soft” through the trails. As a testament to his abilities, the wheel held up very well, it did become a bit wobbly as the day progressed, but the rub was gone and it got me the rest of the way to the finish line.
In any event, whilst I wrestled with trying to lie in the bed that I’d made for myself, real men were out there racing. Three of the very top guyz (including 2nd place Lillie, 6th place Bush, and 10th place, 47 year old, Tom Meyer) all forgot to bring more than one gear and suspension forks to the dance, but they seemed to do just fine. Thatz weird, I hope someone sets them straight on the necessity of possessing all that techy, expensive stuff if ya wanna go really fast. Locals Eki, Mike Bushey, and Shawn Miller all put on great efforts. As implied above, my buddy, Tim Ek, finished in 5th place overall in an outstanding 6:21. This race effort for Eki stands as a measure of the potential he still holds, look for continued success for this man in his prime. Expect further high finishes for this humble cyclist. Mike Bushey was right there as well in 7th place. Eki conveyed to the author that Mike Bushey put on a well-planned clinic in terms of how to ride a rigid bike fast and efficiently. The amazing thing about Bushey, who is a highly accomplished mountain bike racer; he is just a neophyte when it comes to endurance racing. Apart from being a fine cyclist, he is a gentleman of the highest order.
Todd McFadden, the seasoned, albeit ageless phenom, may have won the whole thing had he not had to deal with a leaky tire. The good news is that after two efforts at plugging the hole, he used with success a new innovation in cycling technology; it is called a “tube.” Still the delays cost him and so he had to settle for a top eleven finish. Whilst on the topic of new and exciting innovations in cycling technology, rumors have it that some of the leading bike companies are coming out with high-end race bikes affixed with just a single front chainring! Also, (note: this cannot be substantiated by brand administrators at this time)—Just as Specialized took the lead in the development and refinement of the 29er, Specialized has created a kind of “clown bike” designed around very wide rims and tires. Apparently this wider “fat-bike” design will be used by those interested in riding on snowy trails. But I digress…
My buddies from a recent foray in Alaska were all there at the race. The indomitable, yet ever cheerful, Dan Dittmer was right there with McFadden. While Ken Zylstra and Mike Criego turned in admirable times. Other noteworthy performances included a high finish by local academician Dan Glisczinski, bean-counter Bart Rodberg, and the jovial duo of Don Jahr and Chris White. It would be amiss to also not mention the champion of the 60-to-Death category winner, Mark Wilhelmson. Greg Ames on his own hand-man bike turned in a good effort, as did Rudy O’Brien on top of his beautiful titanium Carver.
In closing, it all worked out and they even had a fine brew at the finish line. I still love bike racing…but I be a mess without me coffee in the mornin'