Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Royal 162 did not disappoint. Chris Skogen, The Force behind this event and a catalyst for this wonderful movement, is famous among the Midwest gravel crowd for putting on a flawless, meticulous race, and this one was no different than the several others I have participated in over the years. Given the fact that the last couple of these things have been commenced in fast, idyllic spring conditions, I guess we were due for some tough riding.

If the truth be known, the Duluth Boyz were even quietly excited about the prospect of riding in weather that we have come to consider status quo. WE are use to riding in this stuff…During the course of the last six months or so, seems like every time we have gotten together to do a group training ride the weather has been inhospitable, implausible, even downright un-American…“When will it get warm?” “Can you believe this wind?”“Will I ever ride my bike in shorts again?” “I am so tired of being miserable.” “How are your feet doing? Mine are numb again?” “I am so sick of being cold!””Will it ever get nice out?”—Are just a few of the common themes of conversation during our rides up in Duluth over the last six months…

So in planning for this thang, we figured on having to dress warm, but in packing on Thursday night, I forgot to bring both adequate hand and leg gear which meant that I had to start wearing just shorts and a pair of light wool army-surplus gloves. Misery ensued. The overall suffering can best be summed up by two rather disturbing symptoms of my stupidity. One involved the realization that my hands were so numb by mid-race that I was unable to muster enough strength to squeeze the liquid from my bottles. Thus, in a desperate effort at improvisation, I was forced to revert back to my early infancy attempting to suckle the nipples on the water-bottles in an effort to retrieve the life-giving sustenance. The second occurred towards the end of the race when riders are faced with wading across a significant stream (that hit me at about mid-to-high calf), I was worried for some time that this crossing would really cause me to get even colder, but my legs and toes felt nothing; to my surprise they were completely numb. I remember thinking, “thatz weird!”

The pace at the start, to me, seemed pretty fast and I knew when we hit the first hill and I struggled to hold on with the group that I am use to riding with— that I was going to have a long long day. Have you ever been in a race where you feel like you are working way harder than you are suppose to and yet you are still getting dropped? It was that kind of day for me. It got so that I became convinced that my rear brakes were rubbing. I stopped and checked this several times and each time the brakes were fine. Then I became convinced that I was struggling because of a slow leak in my rear tire. I stopped and checked my tires—they were fine…I began to obsess that my cleats were coming undone, that my frame bag was rubbing on the front wheel, that my front brakes were rubbing, that I had somehow hooked into an iron anvil (initialed with the letters T.I.) and was towing it behind me, I fought with the zippers on my jacket and on my frame pack, my glasses blatantly worked against me…and so on and so on…

Eventually I made my peace with my situation and adjusted or transitioned to a “survival mode” approach to the challenge. I may be gettin’ slower, but I still know how to grind ‘em out to the finish…Slim as it maybe; I always like to start off thinking that I have at least a mathematical chance at finishing with the top guyz. But now at this point in my racing career, I am not the kind of guy that goes down with the ship in a blaze of glory. In other words, after about ten miles or so of burying myself to try and stay with the front row, I pulled back on my harried forlorn effort to hold on and instead dug in for the long grinding haul.

Plus, given the tough conditions, I knew that it was a statistical likelihood that many of the guyz in this race, ahead and behind me, would not finish and so I figured that if I could just hang in, I’d at least get a Top 10 spot. After awhile I was fortunate to end up riding a lot of the course with young Robert Held from Rice Lake and then we joined up with Ben Doom from Saint Cloud (proprietor of Revolution Cycle & Ski). Note: Revolution Cycle & Ski is a great store, so if ya ever in Saint Cloud stop by and spend a ton of money.

Young Held was the driving force for me early on and I am confident in submitting here in public that if he keeps it going he will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future. He has all the tools to be a total long distance hammer-head! Yet, it was hard to draft off of him (or to draft anyone) due to the constant mud spray. Ben Doom is an experienced and fast cyclist that could be a top tier talent in any of the sub-categories of bike racing, but instead has begun to forge a path that will lead him to be one of the top endurance/adventure racers in the Midwest within three years…look for him to vie for the win at the 2012 Arrowhead 135 (you read it here first!). In any event, I very much enjoyed my time with these two extraordinary guyz and look forward to shamelessly drafting off of them again in future races.

Meanwhile a serious race was unfolding ahead of us between the top guyz, but we did not know who was up there battling 'cuz we knew folks were dropping out. Drew Wilson had been with us, the second tier chase group, but rode away from us early on and I figured that he may still be in the mix and I knew for sure that Joe Meiser and DBDer Buffington would yield to "…neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed goal.” And I surmised that Cornbread, Troy Krause, and Dennis Grelk were still up front as they had looked solid in the beginning (and have lotz of experience in these kinds of endeavors). But we could also tell by tracking the fewer and then even fewer tire tracks that people were bailing out.

By the time we got to the regular Almanzo trail, we knew for sure that Troy was out because of the onset of hypothermia and that Dennis had dropped (ultimately, I accurately predicted, with about fifty miles to go, that there were only five riders left ahead of us). This calculation buoyed my resolve to keep the bike moving forward…I even began to hope that we could get in the top six, given what appeared to be a high attrition rate amongst the lead pack.

Although a bit foggy as to the remainder of the effort, I do remember battling an unrelenting head wind for what seemed to be two hours or more. In the tempest, gradually the youthful power of Doom’s legs allowed him to pull away from me and I was happy that he was going into the 6th place finish. I finished behind him and not long after came Robert Held along with the always amicable Nordacotedean John Struchynski

Little did I know that whilst I was perhaps crossing that stream, the intrepid Joe Mieser coupled with the formidable Jason Buffington (both of whom averaged more than a mile-an-hour faster than my troupe) had gapped the rest of the fast guyz, composed of Iowan Jim Cochran and Nebraskan all-around good-guy, Corey Godfrey, and were setting up to sprint for the finish!!! The outcome was so close that on our way back to Duluth, Jason was not really sure of the outcome. But according to the official result, he was the winner…Of course in my mind, as yours’ as well; both of them are Top-Notch Winners…..

Overheard as pre-conditioned race fans looked on...
Pre-conditioned Race Fan #1: "Who are those tough looking men?"

Pre-conditioned Race Fan #2: "The biggest one leaning against the post is Buffington. The other younger, hungry looking one is Meiser. Word 'round town is their outlaw riders...they have no category....they ride with no license!

Pre-conditioned Race Fan #1: Well, why aint they in prison? Why aint Skogen in prison fer let 'em ride fer free? Why aint they all in prison? It aint right...ta ride without paying money to the USCF.

Pre-conditioned Race Fan #2: This here aint no sanctioned USCF race, honey. This here is the last frontier of Bicycle Racing. Guyz race here so they can have braggin' rights...nothin' more than that...The last two USCF marshals that went after them are...well... letz just say they aint of this world no more."


  1. Glad I wasn't the only one who couldn't feel the stream. I think we were better served that way.

    Did you consider just taking the time to stop and open the water bottles? I know I wound up stopping on the hour every hour to twist them open and drink as my hands were likewise debilitated. I'm sure I was quite a sight for the "100" racers when I'd stumble off my bike, take a seat and pry my bottles open using both hands and my knees.

    I can only imagine the alarm that an "old man" doing the same might have caused them.

    Any DBDers going to Kansas?

  2. Drew...I didn't have the strength to open the bottles!!!!!!!!!! :)
    You looked strong....verrry strong. Eki will be in Kanza.

  3. Thanks for the shout out Farrow! You were a driving force for me as well. Thanks for a great day of racing!

  4. Yeah, spend tons of money!

  5. Awesome painting! I want that over my mantle just above my Grandpappy's musket. Post is good too.

  6. Nice day you had with the racing track. Hope you will do great with your racing in future.

  7. Pssst Charlie- here's the new site for the 24 hour race I was telling you about. Also, they've got a 3/6 enduro on July 2nd. Good seeing you out there.