Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I am still out there....

Please forgive me for my lack of recent prose production...but the remodel of this OLD HOUSE, including itz 1920s wiring has made updating this blog from home very difficult during the deconstruction/construction project. A project that will take until October to complete...The bad news is that it may very well bankrupt us. The good news is that once this project is complete, we will be happier, better, and more committed US Citizens...Content in knowing in your hearts that we have done our part to help stimulate the Northland's economy by providing local employment for talented craftsmen and helping the nice bankers to get back in their yachts!!!

Things I am working on or need to get busy with: 1. Finishing up the last chapter of the Trans-Wisconsin; 2. Race Recap on the Levis-Trow 100 (it hurt me); 3. Critiques of recent books that I have read (including the weighty, Unbound: Women of the Long March, and WAR by S. Junger).

I am working on getting my immediate authorities (the wife and off-spring) to sanction me for participation in Salsa's 24 Hours @ Afton... Mostly because I want to support Salsa...because they are such a cool group of people and I am still planning on (and dreaming about) racing Solo at the 24 Hours @ Seven Oaks. I am getting in some quality rides, short but high I have a solid base built up so I don't need a ton of time in the saddle right now anyway, but with this thing going on at home....Afton and 7Oaks may be my only races until October's Heck of the North...and then, of course, the real season starts with the Tuscobia 150 miler in December and the Arrowhead 135 in Late January 2011...

In brief: Kudos to Jason Buffington for an impressive effort at Levis!!!!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

You think long distance gravel/dirt/single track racing... hard. Try having your 1919 house remodeled from the ground-up!!! You won't be hearing from me much for the next four or five weeks....weeze under CONSTRUCTION!!!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Part I of two final parts of the Trans-Wisconsin Recap....

Part VI: Summit Day

“…Good leaders know that exhaustion is partly a state of mind, though, and that men who succumb to it have on some level decided to put themselves above everyone else…I still remember how to negotiate the long, horrible process of physical collapse. It starts with pain, of course, but pain is at the edge of what I thought of as a deep dark valley. At the bottom of the valley is true incapacitation, but it might take hours, even days, to get down there, working your way through strata of misery and dissociation until muscles simply stop obeying and your mind can’t even be trusted to give commands that make sense.”
from WAR; Sebastian Junger’s new work on his experiences in the Afghanistan War

From last bivy to Drummond…Working our way ever farther down into the “strata of misery.”

Amid an infinite air-force of merciless mosquitoes, we made ready to put in a huge day after again just a few hours of rest, (bivyied in squalor, next to the route). We were “bone-deep” tired (my femur bones even hurt, if you can believe it!), yet there was a collective sense of excitement in the air as we knew we could make it to Lake Superior in the time frame that we had set for ourselves. However, compounding the mixed messages, there was also a kind of sense of desperate urgency as well, for it was the general consensus that for the both of us, three nights like the ones we had just “spent” represented about the extent or limit of our endurance; we were near what Junger describes as the “bottom of that valley of true incapacitation.” In other words, we calculated that if we did not make it to the finish before our next bivouac, we would require a long time on the ground before being able to continue. This realization in fact matched my understanding of what I am capable of in terms of riding a bike. I figured given my affinity for a good stout, average level of fitness, and very average genetic tools; ninety-six hours on the go (toss in a few hours of rest each 24 hour cycle) was at about my maximum ability to ride my bike without a significant sleep (eight hours or more). It is amazing to me how the top guyz in events like Race Across America (RAM) can go for days and days without any sleep! But I digress…

…..In any event, we were low on water (and food) as we had failed to make the desired campground at Black Lake the night before where we knew we would be able to get water, so that was our first goal of the day. Just thirty minutes down the gravel, at Black Lake, we find a hand pump and nice bathrooms where we took a quick break and got ready for what we knew was going to be a big effort to push it to the end point. Our next goal was to get something good to eat and to reload our packs with food. So with that in mind, in gorgeous early morning sunshine, we rode at a good pace towards Hayward on beautiful, yet rather convoluted, backcountry roads.

At one point, we came upon a segment of gravel that was being tarred for the first time. They had one of those rookie-type guyz standing out there with the SLOW/STOP sign. As we came upon him, with dramatic flair, he flashed point-blank, the STOP side of the sign and told us, in the kind authoritative voice that betrays a rookie’s confidence, that we could not go any further, that we would have to find an alternative route. “You guyz are gonna have to turn back and find another way!”

As a testament to where we were both at in terms of commitment to our goal, we simultaneously and in no uncertain terms replied with trumping confidence, “No Way! We are not turning back!”

Before he could respond or even take more drastic measures, we took off in pursuit of this huge red-asphalt machine that was putting down the hot tar-like asphalt, several hundreds of yards ahead of us…behind the machine was the usual cadre of guyz with shovels and rakes that, like always, just seem to stand there and look tough, maybe take a shovel or a rake every once in awhile for good measure. We quickly got directly behind them, they ignored us, and then I boldly bolted over into a wet swampy ditch next to the shoulder of the road and carrying my bike Belgium CX style, blew past the crew and enormous machine. Jeremy, a more law-abiding citizen than the author, hesitated, but then, he too, took off and made the dicey move to get past and onward…It felt great as we laughed and did the high-five thing! We were the Lords of our Universe!

Not long from there, we were able to stop and get a good solid breakfast and to reload on calories and fluids. The weather had become decidedly hotter and more humid, but we still gained favor from the friendly tailwinds. Never in all of my experiences have I enjoyed such a consistently favorable wind…

We made the CAMBA trails in good time and felt the ease that comes with the home turf advantage. I recognized aspects of the route from both the Chequamegon 100 and the Chequamegon 40. We even encountered signage left over from the Chequamegon 100 (probably should have been removed, we thought…but itz easy to contemn whilst typing away in the comforts of home! And also begs the question; “If we felt so strongly about it, why didn’t we remove it?”). The clouds began to darken as we worked our way through the CAMBA section of the course, but Jeremy assured me that it appeared to be just a passing thing…”Itz moving fast…we should be fine.”

Just as Jer predicted, the rains came and went near the end of the CAMBA trails, which of course, got us wet but it was warm out and the result was manageable. Then, about an hour or so southeast from Drummond, we got hit with the kind of swirling rains that would have stirred Noah’s loins to action! Never in my long life have I encountered such torrential rains while riding a bike (it was worse than April’s Trans-Iowa!)…It was crazy scary as the terrain was very hilly with many blind corners, but due to the fact that we were close to Drummond we soldiered onward rather than take shelter in the thick trees that lined the roads. Near to Drummond the road turned to asphalt and we encountered some car & truck traffic. At one point during the height of the biblical deluge, as I was blindly cruising down a long curvy descent, inexplicably two cars (as if racing) flew by me with such speed that I nearly soiled myself! It was just simple luck that they missed me as I am sure that they never saw me. The second car missed me by a matter of a few inches. I remember thinking in my heightened albeit exhausted state, “Wow! This is getting serious!!”

We finally made it to Drummond, home to a kind of gas station/fishing/hunting store and a bar. At that point we were soaked to the bone and extremely cold. I am reluctant to use the word “hypothermic” as I am sure the outside temps were in the 60s, but we were both shivering and having difficulty speaking. In my mind what happens next over the course of the final ten hours or so begins the final phase of this story…Reality begins to falter and the absurdity associated with exhaustion comes to dominate my recollections…stay tuned for…

From Drummond to Point Detour to Home Sweet Home… The “Dissociation Phase” when “muscles simply stop obeying and your mind can’t even be trusted to give commands that make sense.”

Entering the store in Drummond was like crawling out of the refrigerator into the freezer……
...for the last installment, you gotta wait week!!!! After I get back from the Levis 100

Saturday, July 10, 2010

It aint against the law to just think about it!!! At least it didn't use to be? But now w/the Patriot Act and all???

I am still working on writing up a final narrative regarding the last 24 hours of surrealism surrounding my recollections of the Trans-Wisconsin...But for a much better and realistic account (complete w/ pictures) go to Jeremy Kershaw's blog (see above for how to get to his work)...

Also, I am just back from a delightful, but brief backpacking trip on the North Country Trail (NCTS) with off-spring and off-spring's friend. Our Point A to B to A route started in the Pattison State Park and while we were harried unmercifully by the bugs, we still had a great time...Note: Not that I'd ever consider it, but for the rogue cyclist, this immense trail of over 4000 miles long could provide for an amazing off-road adventure. A rebel, amoral, and/or unscrupulous rider could potentially leave the town of Superior, Wisconsin and ride that single-track trail all the way to the Porcupine Mountains in the UP (and beyond...)...Itz just a harmless thought!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Part V: Will this race recap ever end?

Part V: Creature in the night gives way to Adaptability, Redemption and Hope…Day Three delivers the needed miles!

Andy Dufresne: [in letter to Red] Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Day 3, like itz predecessors, presented itself as another beautiful one and once again a little before 5:00 a.m. Jeremy yelled at me to get going and so I got going! With little, if any, food left in our packs and a long way to anyplace to buy sustenance there was nothing holding us to that campsite! As we packed up to go, an early riser from a nearby tent, the only other occupant in the area, sauntered over to ask if we had heard that strange (and seemingly very close) barking noise in the early morning hours. I had indeed heard it, had yelled over to ascertain if Jer was hearing it, but he was fast-asleep, and even had caught the beast’s green eyes several times in the focused light of my headlamp as he boldly encircled our camp. The persistent, even aggressive, but decidedly hoarse bark, that continued for sometime, was such that I had never heard before, like a dog barking in spite of a severe sore throat, and given the size and low ground clearance of the animal (based on my quick and intermittent lighted views of his eyes) leads me to think that it may have been a disgruntled Right-wing badger?

I am happy to report that by Day 3; we were both really pleased with how well we seemed to be recovering after just a few hours of repose. Of course, we both felt generalized fatigue and localized discomforted in the nether regions, but our legs and more importantly, our cognitive motors seemed up to the task each and every morning. Jeremy’s ability to hit the ground sleeping is a most desirable trait for the enduro-cyclist (and alpinist), perhaps a hereditary characteristic that I unfortunately lack. I am the kind of guy that needs a significant amount of time to essentially unwind before falling asleep (a luxury that is not afforded one during these kinds of endeavors). After fighting it in my youth, I have come to accept the fact that I simply cannot fall asleep without a relatively long prelude…so it goes. Yet, I have, through experience, developed a very elemental coping mechanism, maybe even sort of a “yoga-like” technique (itz not yoga, but maybe itz on the right track?), where I can really really relax and then presumably rehabilitate and renew. As a young man, I use to lay there and stress out about not being able to get to sleep (a self-fulfilling anecdote), compounding my anxiety was the fact that the other guyz appeared to be sleeping. Now, resigned to the high probability of no sleep, I fully embrace the lack of movement, concentrate on deep, but easy breathing, and try to think positive thoughts. I no longer freak out or agonize about not sleeping, if sleeps comes thatz great, if not I try to relish the moments…I mean it really is great to be alive! My conclusion is that in the near term, especially for a few dayz and maybe for up to a week, one can get by on such a regime. Or at least it allows me to accept my fate.

My overall point being that perhaps our greatest attribute as a species is our ability to adapt to our environs. I remember reading an Outside magazine account of a regular guy’s effort in the classic Great Divide Race in which he maintained that if one could get through the first three dayz, he/she would have essentially passed that critical phase where many drop out. Presumably, the notion being that three dayz of exposure to the trials and tribulations of riding the Continental Divide was sufficient time for most in the race to adapt to the new reality, accept their new “paradigm,” and thus go on to complete the task. The idea to take from this is that if one can just “hang-in” long enough, for just a little bit longer, adaptability will often kick in and make the effort easier as the time progresses…In our case, the paradigm had shifted…and we were ready (and able) to push it hard to make the 90 hour completion goal.

We knew the morning would involve more sand, but the hope was that we would be out of it in just a few hours and we were right. At one point, mid-morning we even came upon a short segment on the course that was so sandy that even Joe had been forced to walk; our hearts soared for here before our eyes was evidence of his mortality! In that same section, we encountered impressive bear tracks.
To be out of the sand was sweet liberation!

TWMBT Cue Sheet #7 starts on Highway 10 and ends fifty-seven miles north on Highway 64; in between lies the town of Thorp, where we stopped for a delicious lunch at the downtown Dairy Bar CafĂ©. From Thorp to Highway 64 is mostly good riding. Yet, using our better judgment, we decided to detour around a minor aspect of the course because it clearly appeared to cross onto private property. Based upon a later audio-report via Dennis Grelk, who also felt that to proceed would be to invite controversy; our instincts seemed to have been confirmed. It is our contention that this part of the course will need to be modified for next year’s race due to the problems often associated with traversing private lands. As stated earlier, while we feel there will need to be a few changes made to the course (including and especially with regard to the Jackson County ATV Trails and also a road, farther north, that dead-ends at a river), overall it is a thing of beauty that clearly encompasses the dramatic and distinct geographical wonders of the Beer & Cheese State. In any event (see page 74 of the required DeLorme Wisconsin Atlas & Gazetteer, as the course bisects it), the route winds through beautiful, remote lands interspersed with neat farms, small enclaves with impressive old churches complete with divine steeples, and a notable Amish presence.

Highway 64 was the start of the Perkinstown ATV trail section and the source of our number one anxiety of the day, for we were concerned that it too would entail long sandy sections. Fortunately, the Clark county ATV trails immediately north of Highway 64 are in stark contrast to those in Jackson County. Instead of quick sand, we found fast flowing, and even thrilling double track! It was fun, the temperature was mild, and the breeze continued at our backs….we were pumped!!!

Perkinstown is essentially a bar. Collectively feeling the stirring palatable urges of optimism that comes with progress, we stopped only briefly to reload on water and eat a few barroom delicacies. I did take time to ingest a life-giving Leininkrugels Honeywiess…Onward we rode in good time, praising the wind for its charity…

A plan-of-action began to evolve that basically held that if we could get to within about 180 miles of the finish before taking a substantial bivy break, we could pull it off and be back in Duluth by early Tuesday morning, perhaps around 1:00 a.m. This possibility of success was fostered by the fact that both Jeremy and I are quite familiar with the areas north of Hayward and further northward to the Lake (via Highways 77, 63, oo, and 2, etc.). Plus I have intimate knowledge of the CAMBA trails and supplemental gravel fire-roads as well, for my parents during my childhood had a cabin on Spider Lake and since then I have spent considerable time riding the CAMBA trails. Jeremy, too, is knowledgeable and experienced in traveling the area. So we were on the verge of entering our home turf and we could feel the pull, the excitement, for the proverbial light at the end of tunnel had been glimpsed!

Details blur together when I attempt to search my mind for interesting or noteworthy specifics of the ride after Perkinstown and the ATV trails....just grinding it out hour after hour, thankful for good company, a tailwind, and moderate temps. As mentioned above, we did experience a few navigational issues and I do remember that we fell short of our goal of resting at the Black Lake campground. As the clock ticked past 1:00 a.m. our energy stores were on “empty” and we began in earnest to seek appropriate terra-firma to crash out for a few hours. Respite came with a cost, the bugs had found us!!! By my calculations, we have ridden more than 173 miles on this our third day out. Or to think about in a different light, just 172 miles stood between us and Lake Superior. I lay my head down to rest with the knowledge that we could do it!!! More to come…

Look forward to Part VI: Hallucinations, Floating on Ground Clouds, and eventual Victory & Salvation (courtesy of Rich Hendricks) @ Point Detour, Lake Superior…

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Part IV: The mornful cry of the my most distinct memory from Day 2....

Part IV: Day 2 from Viroqua through Kickapoo and into the efficiency sucking, heartbreaking sands of Central Wisconsin…

“There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in the spring, or the rustle of insect's wings.... And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the Whipperpoorwill or the argument of the frogs around the pool at night? ----- Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If man spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know----- the earth does not belongs to man, man belongs to earth…”Chief Seattle, 1856, upon surrendering his tribal lands

Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

After four hours of “rest;” Day 2 brought an early start, a good breakfast in Viroqua,… and although a sunny day complete with a heaven-sent wind pushing us Northward, to me it felt like it must feel to be stuck in the fabled Doldrums. The Fact is that that specific time on our journey (Day 2) is pretty much a vague, even blurry memory for me, probably because it was just basically a slow enduro-grind, a forced march, or a day to simply get over with, so as to be able to hopefully say at the end of it that we were “over halfway!”

The picturesque Kickappoo Trails consist of both moderately challenging double and single-track. Although not in the same league as Duluth single-track; if a guy went there for an afternoon to ride the trails, he’d enjoy the effort, but for us it was just a matter of get’in ‘er done. Lotz of grass and a fair amount of hills, it was obvious that these trails get little use. It was easy for us to navigate as we had Joe’s Nano-Raptor tire tracks to follow. However, we were slow on the second half as it became progressively hillier and thus on many segments we walked. Yes, we walked many of the hills and yet we could tell that Joe was riding everything. Later on and into the night on this day characterized as sand, sand, and more sand; the observation that Joe was always riding no matter what the terrain, coupled with the grim reality that we were walking almost all the hard-stuff became an ongoing marvel to us. The juxtaposition was evident in comparing our squirrely and snakey lines in the sand with that of his straight and fluid imprint, “How can he ride this?... Itz like hez attached to the pedals!”

Had I been alone to ponder my efforts in the sand against that of the race leader, I may have become a despondent and bitter old man! Yet, with Jeremy along, our deficiencies became the object of a kind of self-deprecating humor. Plus it was also comforting to have Jeremy along not only for the camaraderie but his navigational skills are far superior to those of the author; honed from years of guiding, trekking, and climbing from Alaskan peaks to kayaking in Greenland, he always seemed to know where we were, where the next turn was, or what lay ahead… Although it took us a disconcerting three hours, we finally pulled through the nearly fifteen miles of Kickapoo.

As alluded to above, Day 2 was the hardest day in terms of sheer physical labor. Interspersed with fun and even fast sections of ATV/snowmobile trail were energy sucking and motivation-destroying loose sand. It was not long into the day, when we simply gave up on riding the quicksand and instead accepted our fate and walked and walked…and walked…and swore with dramatic flair!

As this essay is my proof, we finally pulled through it and got back on the delightful gravel roads en route to Hatfield. To meet our goal for the day (~155 miles) we needed to get well beyond the Clark & Jackson County ATV Trails and by mid-afternoon it was obvious that we were well behind schedule. The Clark & Jackson County ATV Trails involved a series of trails that appeared on the map to be about twenty-five miles in length and started just on the outskirts of Hatfield. We arrived in Hatfield about 8:30 p.m. I remember this because the only gas station in the little resort town was to close at 9:00 p.m. Essentially we had to choose between loading up on Fructose corn-syrup at that gas-station or crossing the street and dinning at a busy and rowdy steak-house. We took a quick little break on the lawn next to the steak-house and took stock. As the workers inside the restaurant dutifully sang an anniversary song to a behemoth sized couple sitting in the screened porch…we quietly resigned ourselves to more pop-tarts and pretzels.

In an effort to break the somber mood (remember that at this point in Day 2, we had been on our bikes for over fourteen hours and we had barely made one hundred miles), I exclaimed; “I’m sure that these trails will be better. This is a destination spot for the weekend city-types that come to race their four-wheelers in the country…there is no way that these fat catz would ruin their fancy-pants ATVs in a bunch of sand like the kind we dealt with earlier today!” Such is the mentality of a demented optimist! Jeremy, a realist, only responded with a cautious, “We’ll see soon enough.”

So, Jeremy and I, as is our DBD nature, soldiered onward into our second night on a road clearly “less traveled.” At first it seemed as if my prediction was accurate, for the trail, although sandy, was ride-able, especially on the far edges. Plus, it was a beautiful night complete with brilliant stars and as if by magic, completely absent of bugs. As the darkness firmly established its domain, probably around 11:00 p.m. or so, the sad (and eventually maddening) call of the Whipperpoorwill began to haunt us and too “the argument of the frogs around the pool at night.” Jeremy, who is a man of nature, told of how the little bird is notorious for itz sad and unyielding nighttime mournful cries. Amused at first, little did I initially suspect that the little bird’s “song” would continue to follow us in close proximity, as if following us on purpose, well into the wee hours of morning confounding any hopes that I had entertained of a quiet respite.

Presumably as a test of our resolve, the trail became increasingly sandy and thus more and then even more difficult and then, ultimately, nearly impossible to ride given our strength. We walked "zombie-like" for long sections, looking for a place to bivy, and cursed loudly (with dramatic flair) for several hours. Finally just after 2:00 a.m. we came upon a nice little campground. With weariness bone deep within our manly loins, we threw down our merger belongings and attempted solace through stationary slumber. Jeremy, once again conceded the picnic table to the elder one. For the young one, sleep came abruptly with the end of ambulation, but alas, for the old one there was only a stilling of sinew, muscle, and bone for his myopic mind was restless and worried, wrestling with a hard truth to ponder-- In nearly twenty hours of effort, we had only been able to achieve about 123 miles…WE were behind schedule by some 32+ miles!

Look forward to Part V: Redemption and Hope…Day Three delivers the needed miles...and our spirits SOAR!

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…