Monday, October 29, 2007

Ya got 'til November 15th to "Cross the Rubicon."

As I mailed my entry fee today for inclusion into a pot of potential competitors for the 2008 Arrowhead 135 Mega-Classic, the following adages popped into my cluttered mind:

"Crossing the Rubicon"
"Alea iacta est "

"Burn the Bridges "

"Break the woks and sink the boats”
"Fait accompli"
"Leave the rope"
"bring the revolver and one bullet"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My ship has finally come in!!! I made mention on Skinny-Ski.Com!!!!

I love!!! To my mind, itz the best, most comprehensive website for all endurance sports in the Northern Midwest...It has it all from MN/WI high school running/ski events to great coverage of cross country skiing, mtb, road, cyclocross races, great interviews, etc... Itz a real jewel and labor of love...

"BayCross Cyclocross CoverageOctober 22, 2007 The BayCross cyclocross race was held Saturday in Ashland, WI, at Prentice Park. Scott “Enzo” Chapin took the win in a wet and muddy “A” race. He was followed across the line by Charlie Farrow and Shawn Gort. The “B” race was won by local Curt Cline with Dennis Liphart in 2nd and Rick Geisen in 3rd. The women’s race was won by Beth Reed followed in by Lisa Weispfenning and Suzy Sanders." Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, I am afraid that the brief reference to the results does not mention that apart from the winner, S. Chaplin, the rest of the racers were relative newbies mostly mounted on heavy mountain bikes and thatz why I was able to finish second...But hey ya gotta start somewhere!


(The author crossing over "The River STYX" by Paul Belknap via skinnyski)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

For a good time call Paul Belknap...Northern Wisconsin CX racing complete with all the trimmings!!!

With only 66 miles from my house, Ashland’s BayCross 2007 was a CX prospect too sweet to pass up!!!! And once again a grand time was had by all; which only adds further to my conclusion that when it comes to bike racing, Wisconsin has it figured out!!!! The grassroots event is put on by a small, but growing group of local enthusiastic cyclists coupled with a contingency of committed recreational youth directors. Their inspirational leader is Paul Belknap, a youthful visionary endowed with a mound of most impressive curly hair that is hard to miss!!! It is such leadership and commitment that will enable this race to just keep getting bigger and better. After the races were completed, Paul was already getting fired up for next year, when he hopes to have a consummate weekend race series complete with two separate race venues…
Although the Northland has been inundated with rain the past three weeks, a shy reluctant sun even made a rare appearance as the races began… The promoters had promised a “wicked good time” and they did not disappoint! This course was exactly what one would expect from a “classic” cyclocross including lots of mud, triple barriers, a strong headwind as one pounded along the perimeter of a big field (featuring curious, even supportive horses on ones right, behind a pictureques old fence), a “sand-trap”, two short sections of dicey twisty single track, a little loose gravel, a quick run-up, and even a dramatic river crossing!

Apart from the writer, Mike Weispfenning and his lovely wife, and Shawn Gort and his whole entourage including two top-notch offspring and lovely wife, and another fellow and wife of whom I met for the first time- all represented Duluth in fine form. Note: It is the author’s sincere hope that next year more Duluthians will make the trip over to support this top notch race, Mike Haag was especially conspicuously missing-in-action :( ... In any event, Mike W’s wife in a fine effort, took second in the B race!!!! The A race was comprised of about 10 to maybe 15 racers? The obvious favorite was the multi-talented Scott Chapin of Hayward who has always been a strong cyclist (and skier & runner), but this has been a “break-out” year for him with most impressive finishes in many races this season. Therefore, the writer’s forlorn strategy was to attempt to shamelessly hug his wheel for as long as possible and hope that he would break a chain or get a flat. Accordingly, after the initial start (which required running to ones bike) I nestled in behind Scott’s wheel and steeled myself for 60 minutes of blatant opportunistic drafting. At my age, there is no such thing as pulling through!…Doing his duty, he pulled me and the rest of the group through the flat field (with the significant headwind) and as the group took the hard right onto the gravel railroad grade, I was still right where I needed to be. Then suddenly just before we were required to take a hard loose-gravel descending right onto some muddy-slick rutted terrain, big old Mike blasts out and takes off, Scott reacted in kind as I did, but I was too slow, so as we headed into the tricky river crossing it was Scott in the lead followed by Mike and then the rest of us including everybody’s buddy and all-around great guy, Aaron Swanson. Although deep and slippery, Scott cruised the crossing with no problem, but Mike of whom I was following closely, hit the water’s edge at a weird angle which sent him cavorting headfirst into a substantial tree. It looked like it hurt something awful (apparently he cracked his helmet he hit it so hard). The crash caused a complete halt to any forward progress. Standing in the river, I looked up and just caught a glimpse of Scott riding away. Mike went on to finish the race, although I’d give his crash a #4+ on the Scotty Johnson Scale of Narley Bike Crashes (SJNBC-see below for explanation of scale). After we all got out of the creek, the race was back on and while Mr. Chapin easily kept the rest of us at bay, increasing his solo lead with every lap, the other top spots were, at least for the next couple of laps, frequently changing hands making for exciting and fun racing. Plus there were lots of spectators cheering everybody on!!! Ultimately, it was a great time for all and at the conclusion the racers and family members were all treated to a plethora of sweet breads, life-giving coffees, brownies, even cheese dogs!!!! This is a wonderful local event!!!!
Note: the SJSNBC is a practical scale or "std. measure" used to offer context and relativity to a particular bicycle crash. A #1 being a hard fall to the floor resulting in abrasions. etc. A medium ranged score of a #5 or #6 usually involves full-on pain with broken appendages and bike parts...a #7 0r #8 usually requires the use of an ambulance. While the #9s and #10s involve cosmic pain, season-ending injury, and/or catastrophic bike destruction. Thankfully, the writer has never witnessed a full-on #10 but I did see a #9+ which was the infamous Scotty Johnson crash several years-ago (for whom the scale is honorably named). Letz just say that the crash involved a high-speed, high-impact collision with one's private-sensitive area and a top-tube followed quickly by another high-speed, high-impact to the same area by another biker. Scotty took the severe dual hits while well into the single-track and so then had to wait considerable time for the transport to the ambulance. He wiled away agony by eating the readily available soil and vegetation, removing his bloodied shorts, and by crawling and clawing partially naked into a shallow pit near the crash site...and well, it just gets uglier...but one gets the picture...a #9 is very very bad!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"It was a full-on CLASSIC, dude!"

A belated muse on the term “classic” in the context of the Chequamegan and the ThunderDown @ The UnderDown:

Life is what happens while ones waiting for the next big race…Lately, I have been unusually busy, way too busy with work and parenting, etc., but I fear it is just the beginning as my wife’s adventure into graduate school has manifested into less time for me on the bike and even less time on the blog. I love bike racing
and I greatly enjoy reflecting in print on past race performances/experiences and yet due to the time constraints resulting from my new role as single-parent, I have simply not had the time…and itz a sad thing, as the last two races in which the writer was involved represent two of the premiere races of the season; namely—The Mega-classic Chequamegan 40 and the potentially “classic” 12 Hour Thunder-Down at the Under-Down. Thus the following is an abridged compilation on my experiences regarding these two highly thrilling endeavors, complete with a short prelude dealing with the term “classic” as applied to cycling events. The idea is to submit to the reader the obvious contrasts between these two late season races and yet at the same time make a compelling case that; while these events are very different, it is these differences that make them classic “can’t miss” events for 2008!!!

Just as obscene language and overt violence are overused in the movies and on TV; the term “classic” is over used as a descriptor for cycling events. And like in all things overused, when the term “classic” is used generically to describe any and all races, then the term looses its effective meaning. Accordingly, in my view, there exists only a handful of real authentic “classics.” Examples of general cycling “Classics” that come immediately to mind include The Paris-Roubaix, The Tour of France, The Trans-Alps, and the Iditabike in Alaska. In my little micro-world of cycling, “Classics” include the Powder Monkey course at Spirit Mountain, The Chequamegan 40, and the MN State Cyclocross Championships. The Ore-to-Shore is on its way to becoming a classic and the course that I raced on at the Thunderdown near Merrill, Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago has the makings to one day claim the title as well. The list goes on, as it would seem from what I have been able to gather that the
Trans-Iowa certainly could claim ownership to the title of “classic” in the near future and the Arrowhead 135 is clearly justified in claiming to be a “winter classic.” Ambiguous, subjective, and contextual; it is hard to adequately articulate what a “classic” cycling event encompasses. The obvious attributes include the course, history, depth of challenge, participation, level of competition, etc. Yet, I think the best way to describe a “classic” is to simply observe that the experienced racer (or the knowledgeable racing fan) will
know when he or she has participated or witnessed a classical cycling event.

The Fat Tire Festival of which the Chequamegon 40 is the main act is a full on CLASSIC. From the anticipatory hours leading up Saturday’s big XC race to the low key, yet momentary intensity of Sunday’s short criteriums, it’s a showcase for all that is good about mountain bike racing in Wisconsin. The annual epic battles in which the top-notch racers engage provide fertile ground for the annals of legend. When I just spontaneously think of the Chequamegan, I am reminded of a very youthful Harry Anderson’s great effort several years back; of Greg Lemond’s victory by in the late 80s; of Tilford’s great efforts over the years; of the Postal Rider winning [his name escapes me, Jemminson?]; of Brian Narum’s top ten finish several years back; of Bushey’s Kelly frame breaking; of Todd McFadden’s amazing second place finish; of Doug Swanson’s great repeats a couple of races ago, Sara K-J's great victory in 2006; of lining up next to famous mountain bike icons like Ned Overend, Gary Fisher, and now of course Jesse Lalonde’s unprecedented victory this year on a single-speed. Lalonde’s victory was so amazing that I have heard people say crazy things like, “yeah, well on that course, a single speed is an advantage.” In any event, I love the Chequamegan. I cherish the event and even though the course itself is rather mediocre, it’s the extraordinary competition that makes it such a classic. The numbers of talented racers that turn out for this race is outrageous- a minute or two either way can easily mean the difference between a top 20 finish and finishing way back in the 70s or worse. For example, this year I was in 60th place at the half-way point and I knew that if I felt good I could easily make the top 40, but if I faltered (as I did) I could certainly finish way back in the 90s or 100s...Plus the course allows for a full on road race feel coupled with a frantic start, scary high-speed descents, and a set of crippling Birkie “rollers” at the end. Even though it’s only about two hours, it really wipes a guy out. This year, I was completely gassed with about thirty minutes to go. But who cares? In other words, from my perspective this race is all about trying to hang with my biker heroes for the first hour or so. Itz not about really contendin', itz about pretendin'...And this year, I rode along with the Lalonde boyz for a few minutes as the massive peleton crossed Rosie’s Field, for awhile I rode in the same group as Erikson and Fisher, and at about the halfway point I got to see lots of Ski Hut guyz fly by me…And afterwards I got to chill with lots of my biker buddies including Sara & Scotty K-J, Mike Haag, Grady, Jan Rybar, Dave Pramann, Team McFadden, Rosscoe, Harry, Ekimov, Whitey, Mark W, and many others etc…The Fat Tire is as advertised; namely a “festival.” Essentially, the Chequamegan is a “Classic” festival in the true sense of the word; just ask any one of the 2500 participants.

In contrast, two weeks after the Fat Tire, I traveled with Nikolai (with Kate & Ross in tow in another vehicle) over to the sleepy little hamlet of Merrill, Wisconsin to partake in the last of the WEM series; namely, THE THUNDERDOWN @ THE UNDERDOWN. WEM stands for Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series and I am here to bare witness that this series is a real jewel. These WEM guyz know how to build single track, they are not worried about attracting large crowds (which is kinda refreshing), and most importantly they know how to put on a real mountain bike race. I was completely surprised at the amazing single-track that we raced on at the Thunder-down, the first lap was like, "I can't believe how great this is!." It was top-notch, challenging, fast, discriminating, required climbing strength, prejudicial against balanced-challenged riders (like the author), Good technical riders were rewarded, guyz that can ride in tough conditions were supplemented, while fair-weather rider received their deserved punishment. In other words on this course, it aint good enough to be fast on easy stuff and it aint good enough to be a talented techy rider…to really go hard and fast at the Thunder-down, you have to have it all. Itz a lot like Spirit Mountain in that aspect.

Kate’s parents put us up for the night before the event in an authentic log cabin built by her father on beautiful rolling, wooded country just a few miles away from the race course. The hospitality was top-notch, FIVE STARS, and it was a grand time. It is my sincere hope that someday I will be able to return the favor as it was really generous of these fine people and I really enjoyed the time spent at their wonderful home. As stated above, the race venue was just down the road.

Now again, in staying with the theme, this race is not yet a "classic" as it lacks history, etc…But I’m tellin’ you it has all the components to one day become a bonafide classic! All it needs to become a classic race is for the word to get out and for endurance racers to make the commitment. The soloist can choose between three, six or twelve hour tests. Also team brackets are also available. Along with fourteen other “brave soldiers,” Rosscoe, Tim Ek, Nikolai, and the author all signed up for the 12 hour race. In total, there were approximately fifty racers or teams competing. With a 8:00 A.M. start, the day began cloudy and cool, but warmed for a few hours and then the rain started and it rained and rained and rained and the course became harder and harder to negotiate (note:they had to call it when the lighting started; about two hours earlier than the official finish time of 8:00 pm). Itz been a few weeks and with a less than top notch memory I have forgotten most of details…In order of importance, I do remember the following: They had great “free” beer at the conclusion (I think it some kind of
pumpkin ale, earthy, spicey, and slighty warm...nectar of the gods for a man who had just spent ten hours+ on a bike), Rosscoe WON, putting it to all of us as he was clearly the best rider, as stated above we had to quit with two laps to go, about 6:00 I was bummed, cuz part of me held out the hope that Rosscoe's bike would break (my mantra throughout was "Rosscose bike will break"), Eki was not himself in so much as he was suffering from a bad cold, Nikolai did a great job for his first time out, Kate and Eki’s lovely wife were both a ray of bright sunshine at the conclusion of each lap. Itz was a great race and may be destined for the esteemed title of “classic” in the future. Got to go!!! the offspring is into something!!!! & the cat is screaming bloody murder!!!! & I think the two are somehow related!!!!!!!…… it goes!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I'd forgotten how fun a CX race can be....

Today at approximately noon without a Blackwater convoy, unarmed, and purposefully leaving the safety of the GREEN ZONE (Congdon), I, with reckless abandon and blantant disregard for body & soul, rode my trusty steel Kelly thru the Sunni Triangle (Central Hillside,West Duluth, and part of Smithville) heading for the Lake Superior Cycling Team's Cyclocross Race over at the base of Spirit Mountain. While there were many mega-dual exhaust Triton V-8 extended cab monster trucks that ardently support the troops and proclaim that God Blesses the USA cruising about, I made it w/o incident, rode the race, had a blast, and then rode home again thru the Sunni Triangle [howz that for some 'run-on' sentences :) ]...It ultimately was a great day with almost four hours on the bike. Plus, I was just totally pumped to see two of my all time favorite students there at the venue...Neal Smith and Bryan Lindquist!!!! (Note: Of course, I care deeply for all my students; as our esteemed leader sez; "No child left behind."and every kid in ESKO is above average!!!) Seriously, Thanks guyz for made my day!!!!! I felt kinda bad for the LSCC guyz cuz they put on a great race and only a handful of the A riders from the Twin Cities showed up...LSCC guyz like Tone, Mike Hall, Shawn, Mike W, Hanson, Bart, and a host of other super wonderful volunteers all did a great job!!!!
I guess maybe there was a big race somewhere else or maybe the big-city boyz were having their toe-nails done or a bikini wax? Or maybe they were all scared off by the prospect of a hill or two on this northern course or worse yet a section of single-track, like the kind in a mountain bike race--no doubt scary stuff for big city boyz w/ fancy-pants bikes use to racing in manicured city parks!!! Doug Swanson showed up though and there aint nobody better than him in my book!!!!! His lovely wife Ann also was in attendance. So, I guess if ya got the fastest CX guy (and one of the most amicable) in the Midwest, it don't really matter who else shows up....Plus my good buddy, despite a big crash and a resulting bruise the size of a golf ball, Scotty Johnson had a great effort finishing second behind Mr. Swanson. Also Kudos to Joel Calahan for a fine effort. Joel is the guy that gave me his only tube in last year's Arrowhead 135 (I'll never forget that as it was one of the most generous acts I have ever been witness to!!!) Also, I wish more Ski Hut guyz would have shown up, but maybe they were all at the tanning booths or having a tupperware party or training for another Dooooathlon? As for me, I shamelessly jumped on Hollywood's wheel and just hung on for the whole 60 minutes....I love that Hollywood!!! The world would be a better place if there were more groovy cats like Hollywood... The guy is sooo "mad beat!!!" He'z a total groovin' beatnik, dig it!!![Please excuse me, but I am currently reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road, so itz very cool to be BEAT. FYI: Kerouac is the founding father of the Beatnik movement]...Can ya dig the beat!!!! In any event, the course was a blast-- fast singletrack, some mud, some gravel, a couple of hills, the barriers; essentially a consummate CX course in my amateurish opinion...
PS...Thanks to my favorite young couple, Kate and Rosscoe for several handups...Now there's a nice pair of young people!!!! Well I Gotta go...need to rehydrate as a man builds a powerful thirst after survivin' two rides thru the whole expanse of West Duluth on the main thoroughfare, I'm lucky to be alive...gotta go so I can count my blessings!!!!

Friday, October 12, 2007

So anyway...I see 'em and I figure that they are in LALA land...

So anyway I'm out trying to get a ride in and to maybe get a quick CX practice session in before tomorrow's CX race @ Spirit Mt....I'm riding down on the Lake Walk, heading for Canal Park and onto Park Point, I see 'em and I figure that they are in LA-LA land...He's a solid 400 pounder (he looks surly) and she's gotta be pushin' 300 (she looks depressed)..she's got the little squealer dog (he's loving life) on one of them leases that lets 'em reel the dirty little son of a %$^&@ in...Like I said, I see 'em and like I always do, I approach with the assumption that they got no clue...chances are they don't even know they are in Duluth...Both of 'em are hurtin, ya can tell by the way they are moving...Urban bikers, if they want to live gotta pick up on this kinda thing! With these two; we're talking Mega-Tourons that are up to see the damn leaves, he's got full blown acid-reflux raging in his guts and her sluggish gall badder is aching somethin' awful; they just ate huge mounds of trans-fat at the Pick-Wick. Like a well paid Blackwater mercenary, I sense danger a foot... So I scope out an escape route, if she steps onto the path, if he blows a lougee, or if the foo-foo dog wants to do the Tango with me, I'll be ready... Just as I'm about to pass, she does an impressive blind crossover move right into the bike path, but itz no big thang as I am use to it and I'm ready, so I pull a sweet maneuver involving a hard right onto the grass...but this time where there should be grass, instead there is soft quicksand because of some construction thingy. I hit it at a weird angle and WHAM! I'm over the handlebars!!!! The fat guy and the foo-foo dog both manage slight smiles, while the lady screams bloody murder...I land hard on my left side, but I'm up and back on the bike and outa at least I got a little CX training in before the big race... So it goes