Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lindsay Gauld reports from the Breck Epic...

The following is a race report submitted by the venerable Lindsay Gauld, the indomitable Cannuck from Winnipeg. Like a fine wine, he only gets better with age:

Breck Epic 2011

Marty Halprin and I just completed the 2011 Breck Epic with a good ride on Stage 6 and I thought I'd take the time to write a little about the event before we head off to the infamous Stage 7 which is the name for the post race awards banquet and party. Today's stage was 60 kms with 6200 ft of climbing. It included 2 climbs over Boreus Pass ( 11,500) from the north and then a return pass from the south. After yesterdays death march over 12,500 ft this seemed easy.

Anyone looking for a fun well run event would be well to consider this race for a number of reasons:

The day had some of the nicest singletrack we'v e experienced all week and was a perfect way to end a terrific week. We saw a number of the same riders we've seen all week but were actually a number of places further up in the field than most days. All in all it was a great way to end. We remained 4 th in the 100+ category but at last night's awards race organizer Mike acknowledged us as being far ahead in the 120+ category. In a funny twist, we would have finished 2 of the last 3 days in third in the 80+ category and were ahead of the third place Italians yesterday as well until my tire problems.

Central start each day - I guess at 63 the allure of racing all day and then trying to sleep on rocky ground in a tent is lost on me. We stayed in a really comfortable time- share that was a 5 minute glide to the start line each day. We could literally be lying down resting till 20 minutes until the start. We signed on for the dinner plan and the food was well planned and as much as you wanted every night. For those younger than myself, they do offer a tenting option with breakfast and dinner as part of the package.

Courses- we did find ourselves on the same trails several times including two days with a early morning wakeup climb up the aptly named "heinous hill" but the trails are de3signed to be ridden in either direction so we often found ourselves descending some trail we'd climbed previously. All in all the variety and quality of the trails was outstanding. A huge amount of time and effort has gone into developing this trail network and as one who has spent a lot of time on trail work myself, I really appreciate the level of commitment.

3 or 6 days - we did the 6 day race but there is also the option of doing 3 days, those being days 2 through 4. Those are the 3 toughest days, so it's certainly not taking the easy way out but it might fit some people's time commitments better.

Scenery - this seems like a strange one to mention but it truly was spectacular. I've really got to get a better setup for my camera ( I had it in the back pocket of my jersey which was awkward ) as there were so many picture moments out there. Day 5's ride over the continental divide at 12,460 feet made us feel like we were on top of the world with glorious vista's in every direction.

People-People-People - I wrote that 3 times as that was far and away the best part of this race. From Mike and his crew and the wonderful volunteers at the aid stations we saw nothing but smiling faces full of encouragement. The race is big enough yet small enough that it felt like you were friends with all the other racers by the end. Marty and I met and spent time with the Dead Goat Racing crew from Calgary and they are all terrific. Another group from Minnesota included an Arrowhead Acquaintance as well as Molly who is an mother of three and was planning her ten year old's birthday party for when she got home. The guys from Italy were about the same speed as us and we spent many hours near each other on the trail. We also had a lot of ride time with Boomer from Mississippi and he was a pleasure to be around. There were so many other friendly riders that I can't say I've ever felt a better vibe at a race.

That about sums it up. I do want to say that it was a pleasure to share this experience with my friend Marty. We' ve been racing in Manitoba together for well over forty years and this is the first time we've hooked up on something like this.

Now we're off to the Stage 7 event. I want my wife Lynne to know that it is walking distance so she needn't worry.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Check this out...if it works.

testing...see photos from my recent trip up nord...

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…

Friday, August 12, 2011

Planning on embarking on a cold weather expedition...Mallory offers sage advice...

Check out the online news magazine, The Almanzo ( http://www.almanzo.com/ )...Mallory weighs in on how to rectify problems associated with polar exploration. Plus Kershaw interviews an extraordinary woman that won this Spring's Trans-Iowa, and much more....

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Few pics from UP Nord...

We are so lucky to live in Northern, Minnesota. A Man needs to put together a Trans-Iowa like race that starts and ends in Grand Marais or Ely. The gravel up there is amazing, remote, hilly, breath-taking... A 300 mile loop race through beautifully hilly lake country.

I am in the middle of whatz been a great couple weeks of cycling...

A week ago, I had a blast on my four day sojourn (in search of honor lost) and then on Sunday, I very much enjoyed the Great Hawk MN Series Race (held just 9 minutes from my house @ Lester Park) where I rode me trusty Gunnar. In just a few dayz time I will race the Grand Fondo to be commenced in Dodgville, WI. It is a 300 K road race that boasts 20,000+ ft of climbing!!!

I have already written of the sojourn in search of Honor (elusive honor was not found), so I shall now submit a few words on the recent mtb race held on the trails of Lester-- It is a wonderful venue complete with very fast, tight, and smooth lines through majestic pines. It was great seeing all my old racing buddies. Guyz that I don't see as much now that I have begun to pursue the longer, more obscure events. I now race in the kinds of races that are reserved for the forsaken and outcasts of society... In any event: Thanking COGGS and Ski Hut and all the other volunteers and contributors for a top-notch race experience. Gear wise, I went with what was on my bike (34X19), which turned out to be spot-on. I was able to climb all the hills and still felt like I could "give 'er" on the flats. There was a long down-hill that came at the end of each lap that was inclined to the degree as to cause the gearing to be overwhelmed and so I had to just sit back at let gravity to itz thang, but otherwise I felt like it was a fine set-up for that course. Yet just as I was getting in the groove, figuring out the fastest way around the course, and feeling good--The race was over!...Too short for an old guy that has lost any and all fast-twitch muscles (if I ever had any.)

Distance should not be an excuse at the Grand Fondo (Google: Dairyland Dare).
More to photos to come...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Just in from WikiLeaks

Just in from WikiLeaks:

An Exclusive Interview with a Mr. Blood Lust, Commander of the Northern Minnesota Special-Operations Deer Fly Task Force, charged with patrolling the northern confines of various and strategically important trails throughout the northern aspect of the Superior National Forest and surrounding areas. Mr. Blood Lust (BL) agreed to meet with the interviewer (in secret) to discuss recent allegations by a Mr. Farrow (CF) that the “deer fly insurgency is out-of-control” and in clear violation of Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949). CF contends that the near constant (and "unprovoked") deer fly attacks upon his personhood during a recent bicycle excursion indeed qualify as “crimes against humanity” and that furthermore the leader (BL) should be tried at the World Court in the Hague. Farrow claims both physical and mental injures have resulted and the only way he can heal is to have justice.

Interviewer: Sir, how do you respond to CF’s allegations that your Special-Ops force acted outside the generally accepted “rules of engagement?”

BL: Give me a break. Are you kidding me! Itz hotter’ hell out, ya can cut the humidity with a knife, we got like 14 dayz left to live and this fat old guy shows up wearing skin type lycra, sitting his big butt on top of a clown bike and starts tearing down our trails in the middle of our brief life span. We are trying to live our lives, procreate, do some dining out, chill with our offspring, basically LIVE and he shows up and disrupts the whole ebb and flow of our life-cycle. We buzz him, giving him a few warnings and he responds by hitting us with DEET. How would you react?

Interviewer: CF claims that you unmercifully and continually attacked his backside and even his naughty bits. That such attacks were ordered by you and that you even participated in these most “inhumane” attacks.

BL: Garbage! We are so sick and tired of always being the bad guyz. The whipping boyz. Your boss hates you, your kid’s a jerk, your wife’s meaner than a junkyard dog- blame the deer flies. The country’s going to hell-blame the deer flies; Leroy can’t get a job- blame the deer flies; the planet’s heatin’up- blame the deer flies; deficit spending is out-of-control- blame the deer flies; little Susie’s a hundred pounds over weight and only wants to play computer games- blame the deer flies!!! Farrow gets his butt kicked on the Taconite Trail…so whatz he do? He blames the….Were sick of it!!!

Interviewer: CF also accuses you and your troops of never going to the front. That you guyz just sat back and let him do all the work. That you all flew in his slipstream the whole trip. How do you respond to that?

BL: Again more lies! He invades our home and now we are the bad guyz. I’m done! No more…but let your readers know that we are done being pushed around.

“Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour,

their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs.

They shall, at all times, be humanely treated, and shall be protected, especially against all acts of

violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity. Cyclists shall be especially protected

against any attack on their honour….” Article 27, Fourth Geneva Convention (1949)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Trip Report of recent effort on the Pugsley...

Across the Northland from West to East

Trip report—

Day 1: From Duluth to Thistledew Lake.

The plan was to leave Wednesday night as soon as my wife got home from a late shift at the hospital. She usually gets home around 11:00 p.m. on such nights, but sick and/or injured people rarely watch the time-clock, so it went long and she did not get home until well after 1:00 a.m. on Thursday. So I opted to sleep in and thus did not leave Duluth until 6:30 a.m. The initial 35 miles or so involved rolling asphalt following basically Hwy 9 to Hwy 7 to Alborn, but the roads leading northwest from Duluth are for the most part scenic and the weather was perfect.

My heart soared as I embarked on a four-day sojourn, to be free and on the road…I hope I never lose that feeling! At Alborn, I was able to access the Alborn to Pengilly State Trail which is an old railroad grade that runs right through a series of rather amazing swamps and bogs that are home to large stands of cedar and tamarack and a plethora of wildlife including large dorky-looking cranes. Indeed, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting this 40+-mile trail turned out to be with many and varied sights and sounds including zillions of frogs croaking, birds chirping, and a quadzillion bugs buzzing. There were aspects of the trail that provided fast going on hard packed dirt and yet on other parts the going was tough and slow, as I had to plow through deep unconsolidated gravel. I remember thinking that it would really be hard to ride this trail on a cyclocross set-up. An army of motivated deer flies, in the hundreds, (later it became much much worse) began to harass me nearly as soon as I left the asphalt, but as I could ride at a relatively steady pace of ten to twelve miles-an-hour, they seemed to be content to just fly along in my draft and yell insults at me. Not long after reaching the Meadowlands and continuing onward, two older local fellows passed me up on ATVs. They stopped at a picturesque bridge over looking the St. Louis River and we had a nice conversation. It turned out that they were counting cranes for a group of geeky ornithologists from the University of Minnesota. They would pass me and then I’d catch back up as they often stopped and armed with binoculars they would scan the bogs for the big cranes. Near Pengilly, I caught back up to them and in the course of our conversation they suggested an alternative route that was “better,” “much drier,” with “more ATV traffic,” than the snowmobile spur trail that I had planned to use to access the Taconite Trail (The Taconite Trail is 160 miles long and takes one right into Ely).

Following their suggestion was also good for me as it allowed for a more direct northern route to the Taconite Trail (TT) as well as putting me only five mile out from Nashwauk as opposed to twelve miles from Coleraine. (Originally I had planned to go a more north by northwestern path that would have led me to Coleraine and an access point to the TT). So I followed their advice and the going was good on solid double-track dirt and gravel all the way to Nashwauk. Once in Nashwauk, around 3:00 p.m., I stopped at a grocery store and loaded up on some various forms of sustenance including the tried-and-proven Cherry Pop-Tarts and Nut Goodie products. As I loaded up my mount, several of the locals commented on the size of the tires on the Pugsley, this became a theme. “Those are some big tires!” was the common salutation I received upon engaging the civilian population through out the journey. Leaving town on Hwy 65 (asphalt) in search of an access point to a spur trail to the TT, I spied a group of ruffians smoking cigs outside a motorcycle/ATV repair shop that was well past itz prime. Somewhat lost, taking a chance, I stopped in and asked for advice in terms of accessing the Taconite Trail. To garner acceptance amongst these wary, simple men, I passed myself off as a motorcycle aficionado, who’d been forced to ride a bicycle due to several run-ins with the Law. Feigning a passion for all things Harley Davidson, I even took the time to photograph one of the men’s newly painted “Hog” in an effort at building solidarity. When they inevitably commented on the size of the wheels and tires on the Pugs, I told them that they were motorcycle rims and immediately further increased my status within their cohort. I had won them over! They enthusiastically conveyed the best route to take, with good cheer, and I was off again with a plan in hand.

So from Nashwauk following an ATV trail, I was able to gain the TT proper about eight miles due west. The TT at that point had obviously seen recent ATV traffic and while the going was much rougher than the earlier trails, I was able to average about eight to nine miles an hour. The difficulty was in the ever-increasing numbers of deer flies giving chase and the intensity of their ruthless attacks upon my personhood. I stopped and dowsed myself in DEET, donned a bug net, and cursed them with great feeling all to no avail. It was madding but it did have the effect of forcing me to ride as hard as I could for to slow (or worse, to stop) meant a total over-run by the voracious little beasts. I was up against it and rather frantic, waving my arms around like a lunatic, completely harried, disheveled, ungentlemanly-like. It went on like this until approximately 6:00 p.m. (or an estimated three hours) when I crossed Hwy 65 again and salvation.

I’d like to write that choosing to leave the Taconite Trail was a difficult decision (the stated DBD mission was to forge through to Ely, so to leave the route meant, among my peer-group; “disqualification from the race”, “dishonor”, and even could be considered “traitorous conduct”), but the truth is that I never looked back. I was so desperate to get away from those little nasty hellions that the repercussions of my actions never entered my frenzied mind. So with nary a thought of the abandonment of Honor, I left the TT and took off, riding scared, heading north on Hwy 65. Even on the tar, the deer flies gave chase but it seemed that if a man could maintain twelve miles per hour or better, they at least had difficulty landing and giving their painful bites. I was too agitated to consult the map; I just rode northward in full retreat. By then it was getting well towards dusk and I began to consider stopping to bivy, but I did not want to just pull off on a regular tar road. As luck would have it, I came upon a sign indicating that a MN State-Forest Campground lay four miles down a gravel road. With little hesitation, even though it involved an eight-mile detour as the road headed northwest instead of northeast, I made the left turn and headed down a beautifully forested gravel road. That night I set up my little bug net shelter and rested/slept, bug-free next to Thistledew Lake. The same Thistledew Lake that is home to Thistledew Correctional Camp (where my good friend Guy Evans used to work as a trip coordinator).

Day 2: With respite came reflection and the onset of guilt. I knew that I must once again try the Taconite Trail (TT). Having purchased a detailed comprehensive map of all of the Superior National Forest in Nashwauk, I was able to discern a route that would afford me access to the TT and yet also allow me the option to still complete a northern loop to Ely and then back to Duluth following mostly gravel should the TT continue to be under the control of the deer fly insurgency. Early morn under a beautiful clear-blue sky, I rode tar and gravel roads in a southeastly direction to McCarthy Beach State Park where I again was able to get back on the Taconite Trail. I was not twenty feet into the trail, which was heavily overgrown with grass and showed no evidence of ATV travel, when I came under a vicious attack from my arch rivals, the Deer Flies. As I quickly dismounted and began to lather myself in DEET and fumble for my head-net, I heard their commander call out, “Take no prisoners, give no quarter, to the victor go the spoils!” And then, in an instant, they were on me! Several squads went for my face, as a platoon attacked my lycra-clad buttocks, a full brigade went for my ankles; one group of Special-Ops even bit my naughty-bits. Without orders, without a plan, in total disarray I turned and rode away in full flight. For me, the Taconite Trail clearly belonged to the enemy!

I backtracked nearly all the way back to Hwy 65 and turned northward. From Hwy 65, I turned east onto Cty Rd 22, which is a wonderful gravel road that takes one into remote country that looks to have been farmed many years ago for the landscape is dotted with old broken down barns, farm machinery, and the like. At one point I came upon an abandoned farmhouse that piqued my interest. So I went in and investigated. As I looked around I wondered about the place, the history, the people that lived there. I conjured a vision of a simple, but fruitful life with strong, lean, and tanned men and women and children doing chores by day and listening to the radio at night…there were still books and magazines laying about including an old copy of Little Women by Alcott and stacks of old 1930s and 40s National Geographic. The human condition…such an absurdity, but undeniably captivating!

The psyche of a cyclist on the move is easily mended and it was not long until the Deer Flies and the Taconite Trail were just fleeting memories. “Let them have the Trail for the time being”, I reasoned, taking solace in having read that the Deer Fly is lucky to live but four to five weeks and they are already at least three weeks into it! I relished in the thought of them dying en masse in a week’s time. Sitting on the steps of the old house, I pulled out the map and put together a new route. A route that would take me to Cook, then Buyck, and then across to Ely via Cty Rd 24 and the Echo Trail (Cty Rd 116). From Ely, I would check out the Tomahawk Trail.

I made good time as I was riding solid gravel and benefiting from a consistent tail wind. In Cook, I stopped for a solid portion of corn-beef hash, eggs, and life-giving coffee. In Buyck, I stopped at a quaint little bar and ordered a Grainbelt Premium beer from a well wore barkeep, then another one, and felt like the Lord of all My Dominion. A few miles up from Buyck (like in BIKE), I took a right onto the Echo Trail and was immediately impressed by the hills, the lakes, and depressed by the re-emergence of the deer flies. But, as stated earlier, if one can maintain a speed above about ten miles an hour, they don’t seemed to be able to physically attack. On a positive note, their constant efforts at biting acted as a catalyst for me to keep up a steady pace of about ten miles an hour. It became a kind of game as I’d attempt to drop them on the descents and then they would yoyo back up and catch up to me on the climbs. The little devils would actually fly in my slipstream, so I’d purposefully try to zigzag on the descents in an effort to throw them into the wind and force them off my draft.

Getting good water was not a problem on the Echo Trail as there were many campgrounds along the way, which were equipped with running water. I felt good and rode for a total of twelve hours that day, bivying about a half-mile off the road up on the Bass Lake Hiking Trail near Ely.

Day 3: The sun broke early as I dressed hurriedly for the deer flies had been replaced with a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. I was back on the rode riding for Ely by 7:00 a.m. but then only a few miles out from town, I got my sole flat tire. Luckily the gravel had changed over to asphalt and the bugs were gone. Also the flat was on the front, so changing the tube was not a problem, but it still took me some time. It was the Blueberry Festival in Ely and the place was packed with weighty and/or unwieldy tourons, the majority of whom were either talking on their phones or constantly checking their phones as they stumbled awkwardly along. I stopped, joined the throng, and walked the Pugs through the park with all the tent exhibits and took in the surreal ambiance. Middle-aged peddlers dressed awkwardly as French voyagers trying to sell the tourists everything from cheesy wildlife art scenes, extravagantly carved walking sticks, animal skin hats of the like seen in old Disney movies (think Grizzle Adams), and cheap jewelry purportedly made from genuine Lake Superior agate. Quickly bored, I went in search of a good breakfast. As I passed through the main section of Ely, I heard my name being shouted out, turned, and saw my old friend from high school and college (and longtime Ely resident) Bo Deremee. I was thrilled to see him and we enjoyed a delightful breakfast together in a café next to a popular gear store (the name escapes me). He looked great and he was fired up for the next day when his family was to embark on a long canoe trip starting way up North in Canada.

Prior to entering downtown Ely, I had stopped at a new fancy DNR-type headquarter and spoken with a knowledgeable guy about the Tomahawk Trail (the snowmobile trail that connects Ely with the Northshore Trail). He then generously called a friend that is charged with mowing the trail and the news was not good. Accordingly, the trail segment immediately south of Ely involved several miles of deep bog and would be near impossible to even hike through. He conveyed that when mowing they had to wait until mid-December and freeze up to prepare that section of trail. Although he did add that the trail became much better south of the little town of Isabella and that I’d be able to ride that section to points near Finland. Given that my route (heading south) passed right next to the access point of the Tomahawk trail, I did make the effort to check it out for myself and it was indeed basically indiscernible from the immense bogs that surrounds the south side of Ely on the east side of Hwy 1. My heart sank for I knew that I was defeated. Kershaw was right, I was wrong! The DBD membership would all have a good laugh at my expense.

As I left Ely on the rolling asphalt of Hwy 1, it was obvious that a big thunderstorm was brewing. Not far from the Kawishiwi River (spelling?) it started to rain hard and the wind picked up. Finally the intensity was such that I had to find shelter for the rain was so heavy that I was near blinded from the spray. Salvation came in a most extraordinary way. Once again running away from forces of which I had no control I took a hard left off of Hwy 1 onto a gravel road hoping against hope that Lady Luck would shine on me. Surprisingly, I came upon a picnic area complete with a majestic CCC-era log pavilion. I made for it and to my great satisfaction it was populated by a crew of older Duluthian ladies that were there in the vicinity for a picnic and had taken shelter in the old log building to wait out the storm. They had delicious chocolate chip cookies and heavily calorie-laden bars, which they generously shared with me whilst I regaled them with tales of great feats of DBD exploits from yesteryears when I was a MAN to be reckoned with. The time passed quickly amongst these kindly folk and before I knew it the sun shined through, and I was back on the road again.

To be honest I had begun to grow fatigued and the miles began to wear me down. My Manhood-area had become extremely raw and chapped, as I had foolishly elected to save the weight and carry but one pair of cycling shorts. Even the magical elixir, Brave Soldier Chamois Cream, had begun to lose itz rejuvenating effect. Especially now that I was drenched through and through the discomfort gave way to a mild degree of suffering, but such is the life of the long distance cyclist! At least the Deer Flies had moved on…or at least that was how I placated myself as my nether region became engulfed in flames. Finally I reached Isabella and left the asphalt for the beauty and intimacy of gravel, but not before I took an extended break at a small saloon where I enjoyed a pair of ice-cold Leinenkugels’ drafts and all was once again right with the world! The gravel road led me to the Tomahawk Trail and it was indeed in a lot better condition than up in Ely. I jumped on it and rode hard for a good ninety minutes before I crossed another gravel road. But alas the Deer Flies were back and I had no stomach for fighting the good fight, so I bailed and took refuge on the gravel where I could at least stay a little bit out front of their venomous bites. I had planned on camping at Nine-mile Lake, but I got there at 7:00 p.m., the weather was fine, I was out of food, and so I figured I’d might as well push for Finland, where the camp host (@ Nine-mile) assured me there would be camp sites available because of the fact that the bridge was out on the main thoroughfare. He also assured me that I’d be able to cross the river on an ATV/Snomo trail that was just a few hundred yards down from the main bridge. His advice turned out to be spot on, which unfortunately is rather a rare occurrence. I am always amazed at how little the majority of locals really know about where they have lived their entire lives! Of course, being a “camp-host” he probably was not a local.

In any event I arrived in Finland just at dusk. I was starving, but I made for the campground initially to ascertain if there were any sites available, and found that the place was empty except for a raging party of about twenty local losers that were already so drunk that many could hardly walk. “Hey come over here and let me ride that bike!” snarled one particularly obnoxious old drunk in farmer’s overalls that looked like the grandfather from the Walton’s. Another old fool screamed, “You must be from Canada!” which had the strange effect of causing all of them to break out in a cacophony of hooting, shrill laughter. Disconcerted, I made haste to the other side of the campground and found a discrete site, fairly hopeful to not be discovered. I quickly set up my modest little bug shelter, put on my pair of long pants and made for the bar via the other end of the tiny town.

Did I mention that I was starving, had no food left, and so had to go to the only bar that looked to be open. I was thinking that there was a gas station and even a general store in Finland and there are, but both were closed. Just a few (maybe four at the most), stoic and feeble old townies were ponied-up to the bar, otherwise the place was empty. So I sat at the end of the bar, like a gun-slinger would do. I ordered up a Budweiser (in an effort to fit in) and inquired as to a menu. The homely, albeit buxomed barkeep, a washed out blonde with a big hairy mole on her neck and her best years well behind her replied, “We stopped serving at 9:00…and itz past 9:00.” Forgetting my manners I beseeched her, “Surely there must be something? I am so hungry” In obvious disdain, she disappeared through a swinging door only to return moments later with the following deal, “There’s an extra large ‘hot and spicy” pizza in there that got ordered but nobody picked it up…you can have that if ya want it, but itz uncooked.” I patiently explained that I had no way to cook it and thus could they be so kind as to cook it for me. All the while the old men silently, expressionlessly, looked on. Again she disappeared through the swinging door and then reappeared within a millisecond. “Yeah, we can cook it but it’ll be awhile.” So I sat there alone for what seemed like an hour. The townies never looked up from their drinks, never spoke. Looking around I noticed that there was no TV, not even a radio or jukebox, and yet found that lack of amenity to be rather pleasant. But soon I noticed, even became obsessed with the fact that the room was so quiet, so quiet that it felt weird. The men sat statue-like and the woman, behind the bar, stared into nothingness. The only movement was her right forearm moving cig back and forth between lip and ashtray. By the time the pizza arrived I have downed four Buds and was ready to gorge myself, but to my dismay the pizza was nearly raw. The crust was obviously under cooked, even runny, like eating Elmer’s Glue and the ingredients were cold. But at that point I just went with it and ate it. I ate it in silence as the townies looked on it silence and the woman stared into nothingness. It was so strange, now it seems funny, but then it was so so strange. It was a big pizza, one of the biggest I have ever seen, so I decided to ask for a box along with the bill. I don’t know why I asked for the box, but it seemed like the right thing to do. The bill came and I nearly fell on the floor. They wanted $37.00 for four watery rice-brewed Budweisers and a barely warm pizza. I said nothing, remained silent, silently paid the bill, and limped out of the bar. I was a broken man devoid of any semblance of Honor. The men watched me as I walked out into the twilight. As I crossed the river via the ATV bridge, I opened up the Styrofoam box and threw the remaining pizza into the abyss below. I barely slept that night for I knew that I was not a man, not even close. The party raged late into the night, complete with fireworks, and instead of going over there and shutting it down, like a real man would have, I cowed in my little bivy all the while suffering from heart-burn, hiccups, and the like and wishing that I was home in my comforty bed with my blankey.

Day 4: I awoke with significant cotton-mouth, a messed up tummy, and a bruised ego. Luckily, I had Tums on board and it was not long before I had Finland in my rear-view mirror and I had that Pugsley chugging towards old Duluth. Homeward bound. The rest of the route was straightforward and uneventful. Just seventy miles of asphalt back to Duluth. I did stop for a good coffee at the Mocha Moose, which was nice. So it goes…my odometer read 398 miles. That Great Divide Race is gonna be a tough one…but every time I’m out in it, I make mistakes, but I also learn some things, I get a little bit better prepared….

Note: Look for pictures from this effort in a few dayz time, once I figure out how to load them on the computer.