Monday, October 5, 2015

Deerfly Chase 2015....

It’s been one interesting year for me in the mt bike racing world.  Not a lot of posts (if any) but always something on my mind to share --perhaps as training time winds down it’ll get out there.

Anyways, if I can say nothing else this has been a year of things not going according to plan and yet having the perhaps the best collective race results particularly in the “bigger” races.

I love however the past 5 years I’ve been able to wind down the MTB season with what’s becoming a standby venerable MTB racing event.  The Deerfly Chase at Hickory Ridge Trails just outside of New Auburn, WI.

This years edition went unconventional & pushed it’s date on the calendar into the first weekend of October, but the same fantastic weather conditions that have blessed the now 5 time event in the end of September hung around as well.

Fortunately due to some fitness, skill & a healthy dose of luck I’ve had a front row seat to the previous editions of the event going back to 2011.  I was hoping that this year that streak could continue going into Saturdays (Oct 3rd) event.

A concentrated effort on being prepared & to the race ahead of schedule would surely throw off my would be competition, who knows all to well my lack of timeliness & the regular squealing tires of the Swanson minivan as it’s known to slide on two wheels into the closest parking space for any given race. 

Well, this year didn’t play out much different… still the last to sign off at registration, 15minutes before the starting horn.  Hey, I’m thinking it’s all about marginal improvement year over year.  Maybe by the time I’m 80 I’ll have gotten to the point of arriving an hour early.

As I regretfully digress …. back to arriving this year, brought the whole fam along, van deck out in bikes inside & out.  Unstrapped & unloaded, checked for tire pressure & Stages power meter signal & it was off for a pre-ride of the last 1/2mile of the course.  Alittle snafu last year in not knowing where the finish was likely caused my demise to a single speeding demon Nate Lillie for the victory & an attempted threepeat. 

Got a good look on pre-ride, saw some new single track that replaced former ski trail finish & headed for a  last minute  bathroom break & to the line.  Looking around…. Hmmm….  many of same cagey characters from previous editions. Robo-leg Lillie, Mr. Universe Ryan Fitzgerald, Matt O’meara, Kevin Roytek, only to name a few.  Others missing but replaced with new fresh faces ever eager to get rolling into the mix.  The line of races was 125 deep on the pavement rollout behind the two 4 wheelers.   Race Director Noah, gave timing extraordinaire Bob Schwartz the high sign & off for a pleasant mile or so rollout.   The rollout is a nice touch for how this race starts before unleashing the hounds….

I don’t recall what Noah calls it after that mile rollout but there’s a sharp left hand turn onto some Gorilla Gravel road climb.  I know the race is only 5yrs old but had to be going big time at this point as there was a helicopter drone, probably straight out of Jeffrey Bezos, Amazon black ops garage filming us, trying to get the secrets of what makes this race so special & spectacular…. look for your Youtube posting, I’m thinking this stuff is somehow gonna get leaked by some Edward Snowden looking type…

Well, the race takes off in earnest this point with Fitzgerald taking to the front at a nice pace.  I’m happily settled into 3rd or so behind Nate Lillie.  The climb this year had a Prime of untold value on it, only I couldn’t get Noah to confirm if it was Optimus or not.

A few racers whom I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing opted to raced to the front & collect ahead of Ryan, Nate & myself.  From there it’s a nice rolling gravely section that has good speed & stretches the race out alittle.  So we tooled along that for awhile with Ryan, Nate & myself taking turns at the front. 

Noah has a nice breaking point in the race as it detours over what appears to be old logging roads.  I find this part of the race course one of my favorites as it’s rock hard fast terrain but with parts to still be mindful of.   One can just power down hard, so when Nate looked over at me on the left hand corner I assumed & correct me if I’m wrong Nate --  it was “go time?”   I may have had a devilish smile as my legs were aching to drop the hammer & so they did as I started drilling it, later easing up for Ryan to take the lead on the next incline.  This was enough to stretch out the race for good as Nate & Adam Tripp brought in the troops from behind.

A quick transition of some single track where I took to the front again & I had a gap over everyone, but knowing it was a long race opted to ease up as I assumed we’d regroup for the next gravel section.  Only the pace put all but Ryan in the hurt locker & we had a 30-50 yard lead coming out of it.  Looking behind a few times, we hmm’d-haw’d over keeping up the pace or easy off.  Without trying to pull away or ease up the gap stayed & it was appearing it’d be a 2 man race for all the marbles.  As we could only later see Nate & Adam working on catching but not closing the gap. 

Then an early race agreement was struck between riders, Ryan opted to make his efforts on the gravel & open sections, allow me the pleasure of taking the lead in some of the most fantastic single track the state of Wisconsin has to offer.   This stuff holds a cherished place in my racing heart a close second to the Seeley Pre-fat race course trails.  Tight, twisty, not all the artificial man made jumps & bumps from machine building & the ever growing “Starbucks singletrack” IMBA world.  Rather it’s more like real world, ducking, weaving, corning, diving,  twisting& turning thru the woods.   (Ok, ok, sorry for the Starbucks/IMBA comments, I like that stuff too. Just wish EVERYTHING wasn’t starting to look that way.)

The first hour of racing went by so fast, had to have pretty high concentration, I was definitely pushing the pace, out of pure enjoyment more than any kind of racing savvy (more on that later).  Ryan would drop off the pace at times but then like some yo-yo or a damn piece of chewing gum stuck to your shoe come screaming back up to me. 

I shouldn’t speak for Ryan but I think we were having a good time.  We’d get out on the open stuff he’d do a nice strong pull even on some shorter single track when I didn’t get around him fast enough. 

In the later third of the race, in talking to Ryan figured we’d finish with at least a 4 minute lead.  But this is also where the trails wander in all sorts of directions and in that same moment our thoughts of a comfortable lead come to a screeching halt as we first saw Adam Trip thru the trees… what the!?  Where did he come from!  Later realizing maybe he wasn’t as close as first thought.  Next it was a another switchback around a hill & there was Nate Lillie!  Dang, we’re pounding it on the trails & keep thinking these guys must be catching us, what kinda horse power is Nate driving in that 27.5 bike of his? 

Time splits were starting to be given to us and we heard 35 seconds,  almost in disbelief, perhaps we heard it wrong.  So much for the 2-3minute gap I thought we had.  About this time I get out of the blue a twinge in my leg.  What the heck is that?  I don’t cramp, this is not happening.  Dangit!  I also know what this means, a bonk is on it’s way & I’m not near enough to that finish line.  So I put on a higher cadence effort & conserve at every opportunity and like waves my energy level would come & go.  I was now hoping the repeated efforts Ryan had been making earlier to stay close in the single track maybe was having a fatiguing effect on him as well.

We navigated the multitude of long race/short race junction points, made it thru boulder heaven and a mud bog that flat out stopped our bikes faster than some gooey campfire cooked marshmallows.   

In the final 15 minutes I started to go really flat, energy wise, not mechanically.  Like the life force is being sucked out my body through my eyeballs.   I started the early phases of blacking out, for real.  I had a serious bonk coming on.  My vision started to get darker & gray. I’d blink hard thinking it’d go away.  Na-uh, wasn’t gonna do it.

I hung with Ryan on the final gravel section & open ski trail section with only a mile or two to go.  Noah added a new near 180 degree turn onto single track & in my near unconscious state I bobbled that & let Ryan off to the finish on his own. 

I pushed in that final mile seeing the friendly faces of my wife Kate & son Marshall (11) to finish 2nd on the day.  Happy for Ryan to have had such a solid race & it was a fantastic time riding as hard & fast as we did.  Only weeks earlier on a Chequamegon 40 pre ride we’d had a sorta flip flop of events.  That’s the great thing about bike racing you can never tell how it’s all gonna play out. 

After I came thru the finish, we chatted for a bit and waited to see how things played out behind us.  Nate came in for 3rd, a super effort  for a great guy.  His first race back from a major broken leg in March.  Goes to show we as capable of coming back from pretty big problems & to never give up or feel like you can’t get back.   Just gotta put your head down & keep trying.

It was a rush of riders after Nate, all with some good stories & tales to share.  

Did a cool down ride with my 2 favorite girls, Hope (9) & Grace (7) & then off to the Deerfly post race party of eats, drinks & awards.   Noah & his leadership have put together an extraordinary event with a feel like none other.  I personally greatly appreciate all the efforts that go into making the Deerfly Chase possible and a huge thank you to all the volunteers and incredible trail builders who have made the Hickory ridge trails the very special ones that they are.

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