Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Seeley Pre-Fat….

What a great event held each year.  It’s sponsored by the Seeley Lions Club.  Traditionally three weeks before the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, it very well may be one of the most diverse and challenging MTB courses you may find in the midwest.

It’s a combination of cross country ski trails and some great tight technical old school single track.  Approximately 3000 feet of total climbing the 25mile race.

The week leading up to the race I’d just been coming back to riding after taking the previous week/weekend off due to unusual fatigue after Ore to Shore and later fighting allergies that sometimes strike me in mid to late August.   The time off seemed to do me well and I was feeling pretty fresh.  Thursday leading into the race I’d pre-road the course at a fast clip and it was easy so I was pretty excited at my prospects in the race if I felt even remotely the same way on Saturday.

As good fortune would have it, woke up Saturday feeling great.  The weather could not have been better.  It was one of those days you think no matter what happens it’s still going to be a great day.   

Got to Seeley, early by my standards, about 90minutes prior to the race start… sorry to disappoint those of you who take wagers like Vegas bookies on how close to the start I’ll come screaming in…. though you’re right -- I deserve it most time though. 

Brought the bike I’d been training on lately and had such good fortune on at last years race.  It’s technically Kate’s Gary Fisher SuperFly 100… I just borrow it… sometimes.  Hey, don’t give me grief, bikes are made to ride not collect dust.  Truthfully though, it’s a great bike for this particular course, the full suspension, 29in wheels and cornering ability really comes in handy on the downhills without giving up much maneuvering and handling in the tight single track sections.

After plenty of warmup riding, chatting with others &  finding out who was there.  I was settling in and ready to go.  However… the rear tire was feeling abit more squishy than I though it should.  I squeezed it and sure enough it was a little low.  Odd, but not completely unusual, I quick connected with the speedy Nathan Lillie to borrow his pump and bring it back up to the 23-24lbs of pressure I’d decide to ride that day.   It was cutting it close to the start, but I still got to the line and sat in behind Todd McFadden & Chad Sova & next to Ron Raymond. 

Soon enough we were off, all I needed to do was stay near enough to the front so when it finally went off road I’d be in the group I wanted to be.  Scottie Kylander Johnson, given his recent injuries wisely speed things up round the first corner to stay out of trouble.  It triggered abit of reaction from the sounds behind me but no grinding metal or screeching brakes so it was all good.  From there it was the steady climb out & up to where the race finally gets off road & onto some cx ski trails with hairy crazy descents – they are soooo fun!

The race would bring in the most interesting dynamics of any race  I’ve done.  A couple guys with strong road racing backgrounds Adam Bergman & Pat Lemieux came to play, along with a pretty good young talent in Jordan Cullen.  MTB & road racing just ain’t the same thing & in this particular course each style would have it’s advantages & disadvantages. 

As long as the course was open it was clear Adam & Pat wanted to stay out front.  As we crested the first main hill & went to the cx ski hill descents I was riding in 4th or 5th position behind Todd M. Adam, Pat & perhaps Josh Tesch and I wanted to get to the front.  Pushing hard on the left side of the trail I made it up to & around Adam just in time for the first descent.  Here I railed it & got a decent gap.  Not something I wanted to run with for the rest of the race, but to keep the pace up & maybe start splitting things.  Plus if I was in front I could stay out of harms way of anyone else not handling the descent & corner well.  After another hill section or two Adam & I swap leads until I was sufficiently happy the race was breaking into smaller group.  From there I sat in with Todd, with Josh T., Pat & Adam leading out front.  For the longest time I was mistaken that Scott Kylander Johnson was with them thinking once this race got in single track, if  SKJ was ahead this race would be over. Unfortunately somewhere behind us he’d gotten held up. 

I’d love to say the race was super interesting the next 40+ minutes but not exactly.  Chad Sova, last year’s Pre-Fat winner finally caught up to myself & Todd on another steep hill climb and the three of us shortly thereafter caught up to Josh who’d dropped off the back of Pat & Adam.  Somewhere in the mix was Jordan & this other guy from Denver, but it’s alittle fuzzy in my memory right now.  At least four of us road together for quite awhile with Pat & Adam 15-20seconds ahead. 

Eventually the race heads into single track, it’s here the technical riding of the guys I was with really shines vs. that of riders who mostly do road racing.  It was but a few minutes into the single track that I was trying to hang on to Todd wheel when we started to slow up?  I’m like - WTF?  We’d caught up to Pat & Adam.  Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it.  Here’s the MTB racers etiquette  as I’ve come to know it….“Yield to the faster racers”.  Don’t mean to call anyone out but maybe that’s not how road racers do things as Pat & Adam refused to let anyone pass.  I think Chad, Josh, Todd & myself were more bewildered than anything else at first… like come on.. what? you’ve got to be kiddin’?  I later could sorta see Adam’s point of view even if I didn’t necessarily agree – he said since he was at the very the front of the race(ie winning) he shouldn’t have to move over.   In the meantime, my heartrate is dropping as the effort is slowing and I’m not really complaining.  Perfect time to recover some and then attack them in the open sections. 

Myself, of the bunch racing at the front, probably sat dead middle in terms of the different abilities.  I can single track faster than Adam & Pat, and I’m pretty sure I had the power to ride in the opens & flats on the full suspension that Chad, Todd & Josh may not have been able to with their bike setups.  However on the flip side, I’m probably a knotch below all of them at their strong suits.  So I’m getting excited thinking for once maybe a race may play out in my favor!?  If I don’t loose Chad, Todd & Josh and can come around Pat & Adam for the different sets of single track this race could get very interesting… only that grand illusion…. was soon to be gone. 

That low tire I was nursing at the start was a leak in the sidewall of the tire that wasn’t sealing up.  After two sections of single track I had no choice but to jump off the bike and try to re-inflate it.  Unfortunately the cycling gods wouldn’t have it and despite my best efforts it got low again eventually causing me to stop altogether to try & put in a tube.  More mechanical mishaps with that so I was finally left to walk the bike out.  Ugh. 

After getting to the finish & catching up with others I found out I missed a real interesting remainder of the race – normally MTB racing isn’t too antagonistic, unfortunately the road guys continued the strategy of jumping ahead in single track, holding things up.  And there was another incident with Todd & the guy from Denver who thought Todd had somehow wronged him in an earlier part of the race.   Not pretty, let’s just leave it at that.

Anyways, Todd’s racing as good as he has in years, was able to break free the final several miles, as Adam had to stop to fill his tire and only Pat hung on with Chad close behind.  Pat sat on Todd’s wheel resting up the final miles not taking a turn and outsprinted him at the end.  Call that what you want…. Todd had a super race.  Chad finished 3rd but if strategy had played out different could have equally had the win.  Josh had 4th, Adam 5th, followed by SKJ.

I finally came trotting out of the woods in like 50th.  Oh well, it was good while it lasted & that’s bike racing.  You don’t know when your luck is going to turn.

Hung out afterwards catching up & visiting with friends along with my girls Hope & Grace – they always are hitting me up for the free donuts holes & Gatorade at the finish line.   I think I’m onto them as to why they like coming to Daddy’s bike races….

As soon as the awards wrapped up I headed to Hayward to catch up with a good friend.  Won some gift certificates at the raffle after the race – promptly put them to good use as we picked up candy for our kids at Tremblay’s and hung out and had a really good time catching up.  Funny story – unless perhaps you’re famous, or in an advertisement, a person never expects to see a picture of themselves in public.  So we’re in the County Market grocery store in Hayward walking down the isles and I see this huge photo of the start of the Chequamegon Fat Tire 40 race on the wall past the checkout lines.  Half joking, half serious I say “yeah, I’m up there in the that picture”  When in fact I have no clue from even what year that picture was taken.   I was talking out of my butt.  Then we get closer & I glance up again to where I’ve normal placed myself at the start of the race (right hand side).   And sure enough 2nd or 3rd row  in– there I am!?   I don’t know if my friend was impressed or though I was goofball, but I think we both thought it was pretty funny.   I should have asked the cashier for a ladder & a sharpie & gone up & signed it… anyways…

It really ended up being a perfect day even for all that stuff that didn’t quite go right.  Sometimes in life we’re lucky enough to have those days.  It really helps to remember & hold onto them.  To keep in mind that life doesn’t always have to go according to plan to still be really good and well worth smiling about. 

Up next, getting these ribs healed up and ready for Copper Harbor’s race this Sunday.  It’s gonna be a good one!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I used to think…..

That hurting your back was the most disruptive body part to injure.   I’m re-thinking that right about now.   It’s the ribs that are getting my vote.  It compromises your movement and you certainly don’t dare sneeze, cough or laugh – let alone other normal body functions….

Anyways, it’s a day after the crash & though I could be feeling worse.  I could also be feeling a whole lot better.  Just gotta take it one day at a time… like so many other things, it’s so much easier said than done.   But I firmly believe that those roadblocks or challenges life tosses our way don’t have to be bad things.  You can learn alot about yourself, get stronger in different ways and come to realize things that you wouldn’t otherwise if it never happened. 

Not saying you should go looking for the stuff -- as life has a way of putting things before when you least expect it.

Now if I can sit down & manage some pain long enough, I’ll eventually get around to a recaping what started as a great race & ended as a really fun weekend…

Monday, August 29, 2011

What’s worse than crashing your bike?……

Crashing your bike going downhill.

What’s worse than crashing your bike going downhill?

Crashing your bike going 25mph downhill.

What’s worse than crashing your bike going downhill at 25mph?

Crashing your bike going 25mph downhill on a gravel road.

What’s worse than crashing your bike going downhill at 25mph on a gravel road?

Crashing your bike going 25mph downhill on a gravel road and cracking your ribs… that is what’s worse.

What a way to start  Monday…..can’t laugh, can’t sneeze, ugh.  Oh well, think positive, heal quickly and be back in action in time for the last two MTB races of the year, Copper Harbor & the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival.

Recap on Seeley Pre-Fat to come….

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Missing a round of racin’….

Instead of building off a really great Ore To Shore race and heading into another weekend of MTB racing, things didn’t quite go as planned. 

Earlier in the week, it seemed to be taking forever to feel recovered from O2S.  I kept thinkin’, ok, tomorrow I’ll feel better… and the next day would come and the same thing.. ok, I feel better tomorrow.  Finally by Weds, things seemed to be getting better, I was in particularly good spirits – decided to hit a really hard 40 minutes of intervals in my 2+hr ride… it went decent, but by that night had me right back to feeling fatigued…. or maybe it was the bar league softball game that went til 11:50 that night… that’s an entirely different story…

Anyways, this time of year I can get a some allergies kicking in on occasion as well & that sometimes masks what the real the problem is so I’m pretty sure that was part of it too.   Hence, with just over a month of racing left, taking a break for a few days and skipping both the Calumet Deer Chase and River Falls Border Battle races was the advice I got…. and took.  Believe you me, not in the least bit easy.  I know taking a break was the smart thing to do… why is it so hard sometime?  Calumet has some of the all time most fun trails to ride and with River Falls it’s a good race and I like to drive down that direction whenever I can.

So what’d I do instead?  Well, stuck pretty close to home, worked on the trails here and then at the last minute Sunday evening decided to pre-ride next weekend’s Seeley Pre-Fat race course – “evening” being the key word.  I swear I’ll never learn.  I get so used to the having daylight past 9 o’clock in the summer that by the time mid August rolls around & the sun is setting considerably sooner I find myself stuck out on the trails in the near pitch dark.  Tonight was no exception and almost a replay of 8 or 9 yrs ago when we got a late start pre-riding the Seeley course and truly had to feel our way out of the woods.

Fortunately, I recalled a short cut, but still didn’t get back to the car til 9.  It’s definitely pretty dark by then.  Oh well, someday that stubborn & persistent (or is it foilable) person inside of me will learn… actually, nah, I doubt it.  Make things interesting and keeps life humorous.  And we could all use a laugh more often even if it’s at our own expense.

Well, congrats out to the racers at Calumet & River Falls, I’m sure I missed a good time.  Gotta thank Tom Carpenter for filling me in on how the Calumet race went, that definitely would have been fun ripping it up.

Looks like I'm probably down to only three MTB races left…excited, but bummed that the season is winding up too.  Seeley Pre-Fat Sat 27th, Copper Harbor, MI Fat Tire Festival Sun 4th and then the grand-daddy of races Sept 17th the Chequamegon 40.   All  different, but all great races.  Not a much better way to end the year than with those ones.  Perhaps I’ll pick up another race after that however I’m also looking forward to another cyclo-cross season.  Have some news on that horizon I’ll share later…

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ore to Shore…..

A special friend earlier this week, did me a huge favor & confirmed just because crazy & unexpected things happen in life, it doesn’t mean you are crazy.  And that life has twists & turns you never expect, but doesn’t mean you can’t still embrace them and hold onto them for what they can be.  They perhaps happen for a reason and are more unique & special than you realize.

That may be an apt description of life lately but it echoed itself in the Ore To Shore Hard Rock MTB race in Marquette, MI this weekend.  “The Rock” as it’s often referenced is one of the biggest races I looked forward to each year.   48 mile miles of off road racing on one of the fastest & longest yet reasonably challenging courses of it’s kind in the Midwest.  Attracting 700+ racers, it’s a great spectacle to witness.

Drove up Friday afternoon, and though the weekends adventures began rather uneventful, it wouldn’t stay that way long….   Arriving later, I missed pre riding with McFaddens & co. but needed a nap so I snoozed in the van waiting for registration to open & Kate & the kids got out & played/biked nearby.  Just what I needed from the busy & at times sleep deprived week I had.  Woke up felt great, got the registration package and then off to pre-ride the last 21 miles of the course.

Kate dropped me off & down the trail I went.   As fast as the course is I was still surprised by it.  I kept the pre ride in check due to a cassette & spoke issue I couldn’t fix until back to the van and the lower traction tires were alittle less than ideal after the rain left parts of the course slick.  Nonetheless was having a good ride, clearing my mind for tomorrows race.  About the time I’m entering this really beautiful outlook/overview of Lake Superior I get a text wishing me good luck for tomorrow.  The timing of it could not have been better!  I’m feeling great.  Life is good. 


(Smartphone picture & power lines don’t do this view over Lake Superior justice, it’s just really beautiful in person).

As I wind up the ride and about 1 mile from the finish, I can’t complain things are good…… then I hear a “pssssst”.   What the..?


I pick up this errant nail that was laying in the trail, laying my rear race tire to waste.  Aggh?  It’s now 9:30 EDT, how can this have happened?  So immediately, my mind starts to scramble, what am I going to do? I look through my phone to try to find someone, who knows someone, who could help.  I start with Paul Belknap (who’s now in Pennsylvania) to get Tom Carpenter’s number.   I call Tom to see if he’s got a tire to spare for tomorrow, he tells me his bike shop/sponsor QuickStop Bike Shop in Marquette is open til 10pm and should be able to take care of me.  Sure enough, I got over there just in time.  After some back & forth good natured harassing with fellow racers Nate Guerra & Tyler Gauthier about various tire selection, who they themselves were setting things up for Saturday.  Nevin at the shop, helped me out big time getting the exact replacement Bontrager XR1 tire.  He also ground down the chain stops on the cassette alleviating the spoke problem.  Perfect help & timing.  Can’t say thanks enough.  Guess the pendulum of luck was swinging back my way.

Headed to hotel, shooting for a good 8hr nights sleep.  Only that didn’t go over too well as I woke up at 1 & didn’t fall back asleep til almost 4am.  Head spinning, just couldn’t sleep. 

Got up at 7:30, had a slight headache from lack of sleep but nothing a shower, some stretching & food couldn’t cure.  Put the finishing touches on prepping the bike , getting the kids ready and though alittle late we got to the start with 15minutes to spare.  A quick warmup and to the start line… gotta love having been awarded a preferred start & getting in the first few rows rather than 700 racers deep.   I see the bunch of the regulars and line up next to the always great guy Chad Sova and pro road racer Cole House.   Di McFadden & Michele Peariso in front of me I wish them good luck and soon it’s “go time”!

At the start I know immediately I’m going  to stick to Chad Sova’s wheel to get to the front & out of more of harms way.  He’s savy & does a great job of getting where you need to be at the front.  I felt the pace this year was really high right from the start.  So I had to do a delicate act of managing a reasonable heart rate around 170bpm and yet stay toward the front.  It went ok, but I was probably in the middle 30’s to 40th place in the early miles of the race.  Not where I’d like to have been, as I was feeling alittle extended but otherwise fine. 

As race entered the city of Ishpeming, things settled down abit, pretenders & contenders were starting to separate.   I got in a good grove riding with Nate Lilly & Adam Swank and soon afterwards was able to do some passing on hills that followed and keep Chad Sova in sight.

It wasn’t long after this story gets even more interesting… Ore to Shore has a history of racers in the front getting off course.  I always wondered how in the world is that possible?  Well,…. let’s just say Josh Tesch & myself now know how & why.  I was riding strong through a series of up & down climbs pulling away from others and finally passing Josh when we came to a road crossing.  The most obvious way looked to be right so we took it.  We tucked into time trial cycling positions and tried to catch whoever was out of sight in front of us…. about a minute or so of that and one of the least fun sights I’d ever seen in racing was about to play out.  We came upon another road crossing and at that moment two other racers flashed by just in front of us, one was Tyler Gauthier.  We almost T-bone them.  Hitting the brakes & narrowly missing we quick did a u-turn and got back on course.  

With the lost momentum we did our best to catch back on but Josh said he was at his limit and with 35 miles to go I wasn’t about to blow up trying to catch them myself.  Riding in 13th place at that time eventually Darrin Braun & Mike Anderson & one other guy caught up we all worked together.   Not much longer Todd McFadden & two other guys caught up as well.  That stayed together pretty much until we came upon what they call “Misery Hill” an impassable rock hill that one has to hike their bike up.  Some love it, some hate it.  I don’t mind as it adds character to the race. 

At the top it’s now just Todd McFadden, myself & two other guys.  The four of us work together pretty well each giving a pull at the front.  I start hearing this funny clink/clunk on my bike periodically, doesn’t sound right but it’s not slowing me down.  

Our rotation goes on for the next 12 to 15 miles or so……and past another two water bottle handoff spots.   Here’s the problem for me… No kate.  No water.  So in the back of my mind I’m downed my last oz of water and there’s 20+ miles to go, what in the heck happened.  She’s really good about getting from spectator/water checkpoint to the next.  So I’m visualizing this great race I’m having going from sizzle to fizzle.  Fortunately, at mile 27.  I see Scottie Kylander Johnson who’s doing water bottle handups for his wife Sara, Todd McFadden & other racers from Duluth.  On a hope & prayer as I’m going by I ask if he’s got an extra bottle.   Scottie’s like “Yeah sure!  Hold on!”  I coming to slow roll as he races back to his water bottle stash and come flying back with a bottle, hands it over and gives me a push to get going again.   By this time Todd & the two others have 150 yards on me and I have to work hard in an effort to catch up – but they held up a bit for me AND I got water!!!  (Yet still in the back of my mind… what the heck happened to Kate!?)

The last larger climbing portions of the race were coming up and we were doing fine but I could tell our pace was slowing.  Having been low on water, I wasn’t able to help pull through as much as I would have liked & being only a group of four it needed a really good rotation of racers.  On next to the last climb, two groups caught up to us lead by none other than Chad Sova.  It added another 14-16 guys into the mix.  That’s both good and bad.   That’s extra guys to help share the workload but also the downside of more competition to try and thin out at the end.

Three or four guys stayed at the front for most of the next 15 miles of the race.  I finally glanced behind me with 9 miles to go and was shocked to see no one behind me…. I’d been riding towards the front between 5th & 9th position of the twenty racers the group had been.  So it was pretty wild to turn around and see half of them gone!  It was like… who swooped down and took ‘em away.  That’s how it is when racers fall of the pace, you don’t hear it happen.  It’s just they eventually aren’t there. 

I’m relieved at this point being thankful the group is down to this size and we’re within the top 20-25 racers.  I’m thinking I just gotta hold it together this last 9 miles as I fought off leg cramps from the dehydration that was creeping in.   At the 5th & final water handoff station, there was Kate & Hope.  On the drive home we later figured that my misdirection early on with Josh had bypassed the first water station.  Because she never saw me she waited around too long & missed me at the other ones until running into Scottie Kylander Johnson who filled her in on where I was.

With 4 miles to go, we hit the “sand dune” downhill section all together.  It lead up to the last sharp climb in the race.  I don’t know what’s it’s called but it’s hurts pretty bad by that point in the race.  I managed to climb fine just in front of Chad but just when I hit the top, my legs completely cramped up.  Quads, hamstrings, everything.  Ugh!  I had to slow pedal & stand to try to alleviate it but by that time the group of 7 or 8 was gone &  away from me. 

Now it was just a matter of racing as hard as I could the final 3 1/2 miles and holding off any larger groups of racers that might be catching up from behind.  I didn’t work this hard and fight through this race to let that happen.  I got to the final 1.5 miles where it opened up again and saw no one in sight behind me, breathed a little sigh of relief.   I could still see the group in front --but barely, so I concentrated on that, the finish line and prayed for no nails in the trail like had happened the night before. 

With good fortune & managing inevitable problems that came along I crossed the line to finish 23rd overall.  Can’t exactly complain about that as I’m really happy with my race.  Wasn’t the top 20 I was looking for but given the circumstances of racing without enough water & cramping I gotta be happy.  I took first place overall in my 35-39 age group out of 110 and outside of Todd McFadden & one other guy, I was the third fastest guy over 35 – not  a bad result for this little hobby/habit I have on the side…

Oh yeah, and that clink/clunking noise that started half way through the race?   It was my rear wheel’s rim…. because a nail was stuck through the new tire pushing into the rim.   Somehow never leaked air… how lucky was that.  1313340206149

So plenty of ups & downs, and good fortune to balance the lesser fortune of the day.  The cycling gods had to be with me.

Had a great time catching up with friends & fellow racers afterwards, swapping race stories.  Finally got something to eat, jumped into a cold Lake Superior with the kids and then headed home.   Tired, more than alittle beat & exhausted but a very good time had.  Got alotta people to thank in helping have made this years Ore to Shore so great.  If I missed mentioning you directly in here you still know who you are.  Thanks a million. :)



 At the beach….. Daddy & Aaron Cooper Douglas…