Friday, August 28, 2015

Northwoods 2015

Northwoods 2015

Not a lot of takers this year, probably because we scheduled the weekend before Gnomefest. Madison Steve called in sick on this one, leaving just Andy, Nate and myself. Nate got to the cabin during the day on Friday and did a bit of scout riding, while Andy and I did our usual horsing around plus fish fry at the Hilltop, arriving just before 21:30. The three of us shot the breeze until turning in around 23:00. We all apparently needed some shuteye, because nobody got up until 08:00; and even though we kept breakfast simple, we didn't get legs over bikes until 10:30.

No cabin to cabin this time, just a day loop, but practically all new territory. Andy had been obsessing over the route rather intensively for a couple of weeks, and it did not disappoint. Some choice gravel and paved roads to an abandoned railbed running through Powell Marsh up to Mercer, then a bunch of snowmobile and ATV trails and gravel out to the northwest, with a stop at Lake of the Falls. Then a loop back to Mercer, returning home via the railbed and some pavements.

But for the main highways, there was almost no motor vehicle traffic. We were passed by maybe a half-dozen cars on the back roads, and encountered maybe 8 ATV's (mostly UTV's actually) on the trails, in 4 groups. Our pace was brisk, but there were plenty of stops for pictures, eating, and wayfinding. A steady south wind helped keep the moving average speed up. One stop at a resort bar offered Miller High Life shorties and plenty of bemused looks from the locals. Adventure cycling is apparently not a very popular activity in those parts.

Out at the far end of the loop, the hour started to get late, so we cut off a few miles of the planned route and turned into the wind for home. Made another stop at the grocery store in Mercer to fuel up. Found some high-quality swampwading on the return route, and had to turn on the lights for the last few miles of pavement. Popped open a couple of beers back at the cabin, took a group photo, and jumped in the lake to wash off the swamp.

Bicycle-Eating Hole
Seventy-two miles, nine and a half hours out.

Photos on Flickr.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cheese Triangle Counterclockwise

Because apparently, twice in one twelve-month period wasn't enough (and one might have thought this abomination in particular would have cured me). It was good to get the yayas out after the Trans Iowa fiasco, but I won't be doing this ride on anything less than a 2.2" tire ever again. Ever.

Picture party here.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

With a Bang and a Whimper

Driving Rain
The third time was supposed to be the charm, but the weather had other ideas.

In a nutshell, Mother Nature won this one 94-1. The course started out generally northeast, and that morning there was a 20+mph ENE wind, it was maybe 42dF and it started raining about an hour into the race. I will remember this event as 4 Hours of Drowned Rat.


Neither of my fellow Madisonians signed up for Trans Iowa the Eleventh, but my postcards went in the mail at the appointed time and I got in. My dad agreed to be my support crew, and we drove down Friday morning by way of LeClaire (with a brief visit to Antique Archeology).

The Meatup on Friday night was great. Saw quite a few people I knew, and the pre-race was a little long but lots of fun. Back in the hotel room, everything was set bike-wise, so I laid out my kit, took a shower and laid down to pretend to sleep. There was a brief thunderstorm, followed by a wind that howled and moaned at the window all night.

Got up at 02:50 and looked at the radar on my tablet. A huge pinwheel of precipitation colors spun slowly over the state, complete with what looked like an eye on the Missouri border. East winds at 15, gusting to 22.

Ate a bit and dressed, putting a rain shell over my hydration pack. Rolled out of the hotel parking lot toward downtown and had trouble getting my body to follow my plans for a big ride. It wasn't raining yet, but it was cool and the crosswind was unmistakably strong.

There were 95 of us at the start out in front of Bikes To You, and the feel was tense compared to the previous two years. My dad had driven down and we said our goodbyes just as Mark stepped up to make the final announcements. A couple of minutes later he tooted the horn and we were off.

It was a real problem finding my rhythm that morning. I was just gassed for the first five or six miles (which were directly into the jaws of that wind) and fell mostly off the back. Distant flashes of lightning added to the consternation. Eventually we turned north and then west for a bit, so I was able to rally and get the diesel started somewhere around mile ten. Right about that time, droplets of water vapor began to swirl in the beam of my headlight, and by mile twelve it had begun to drizzle. The roads were already saturated from the previous night's rain, and I found myself pushing pretty hard even on the downhills. Maybe twenty minutes later, the rain began in ernest and a couple of bright flashes of lightning lit up the landscape. I stopped briefly to eat and put on my waterproof glove shells.

North again, then west, then north, and then there it was: the cue to turn directly into that headwind for eight miles. Though not visible, the sun was up and had turned the landscape into the storm at sea scene from many an old war movie. Recently graded, this road had a pretty good surface, but still required constant attention at the tiller. No eating, no photographs, no clothing adjustments. Just pedaling, cranking up the hills and rolling like a lumber wagon down the other side, as if waiting for the cold, sodden amber to harden.

A guy with a MPLS cap was on his phone in the lee of a couple of pines, so I pulled over to have a bite and touch base. My feet were soaked at this point because my rain pants turned out to not be impermeable. The rain had also run down my sleeves and gotten my inner gloves wet. I would find out back at the hotel that my dry pair had also gotten wet inside my frame bag. Eavesdropping on Edward's phone conversation revealed that he was dropping out and arranging for a ride.

This made me admit what had been obvious for at least the last hour—I was not going to make the checkpoint within the time limit. Not even close. I thought at that point that maybe the top third of the field would make it, but found out later that only one person would make 54 miles by 08:30. I got back on the bike and started up the next hill, starting to think about where I would drop out. I sort of wanted to see the B-level (dirt) road at mile 34, still ten miles away. I stopped to move my phone from my pants pocket to my jersey pocket (under my rain shell) to make sure it wouldn't drown. Edward passed me, wishing me safe travels.

Right about that time, two riders came over the hill in the opposite direction.

"You going home?" I yelled.

"Yup, all the way back to Madison!"

Turned out to be Chris and Adam, a couple of past Trans Iowa finishers, on their way back to Grinnell via 16 miles of pavements. It took me all of five seconds to decide to drop out right there at mile 24 and join them. Chris was cruising along in good spirits, but Adam was on a mission. He gapped us off within the first five miles and disappeared over the horizon soon after. Chris and I had a pleasant conversation about his recent move to Madison and hope to meet up for a bit of riding soon.

Disappointment? Yes and no. No, I was not disappointed to miss the cutoff. So it was a whole springtime of training—so what? If you aren't enjoying your Trans Iowa training for its own sake, you're probably doing it wrong or should just find something else to do. Yes, I was disappointed to not be able to ride all day, shooting the breeze with friends and meeting challenges out in the boonies. That seems to be Trans Iowa though. You just don't know what's going to happen, and that's part of the attraction.

Next year? Yeah, probably. If it happens.

(2014 report, 2013 report)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sunup to Sundown Three, Last of the TI Training

Illinois Woodlot
Saturday was my final long training ride for TIv.11, and a beautiful day out. The start was chilly, but still and quiet. Tyler, Jacob and I met at the Jenifer St. Market, rolling out at 05:00 on the dot to collect Utah Steve and Harald as we crossed Commonwealth at 05:20.

The cruise down the Badger was pretty easy, and the sun broke over the horizon just about the time we reached Belleville. We rode around the ice stalagmite in the tunnel and Utah Steve peeled off at Monticello to hit New Glarus and points west on his way back to Madison.

After hitting the Kwik Trip in Monroe for some eats, we turned off onto the roads headed west and mostly south into Illinois. The wind wasn't much of a factor at this point, coming out of the west-southwest, but made us hopeful for a tailwind on the way home.

I lagged quite a bit for the remainder of the ride. I knew I was riding a heavy (TI-equipped) bike with people who were faster than me, but I think I also wasn't fully recovered from the Hall of Elms ride.  I could definitely feel it in my legs. Though I may have been a little frustrated at first, I hadn't advertised this as a no-drop ride, so I hold no ill will. It also occurred to me that it was good practice for resisting the temptation to push outside of my pace and take the long view.

We all stopped in Freeport and Brodhead for resupply. Somewhere north of Brodhead, Harald and Tyler pulled away for good, and Jacob and I were left to finish it off. The anticipated tailwind made matters easier, with one more stop at the KwikTrip in Oregon for a slice of pizza, which really hit the spot!

Finally, this was probably the last of the Trans Iowa training for good, since I'm pretty sure this will be my last Trans Iowa. Barring some unanticipated turn of events, I think a third one will do me.

So begins the taper; next weekend is the Dairy Roubaix, and the following week it's on to TIv.11!

More photos? Over here.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Hall of Elms C+X

No, not cyclocross, 100+10. More training for TI, this time solo. Started out about 07:35 with almost the full setup, bound for New Glarus, Evansville and the Hall of Elms. The goal was the whole distance at an overall average speed of 12 mph.

Starting out was great with sunshine and a light wind out of the southwest, but it would not remain so. Just about the time I hit the highlands west of town, it had kicked up into a substantial headwind. Combined with driftless hills, the pace ground down to about 10 miles per hour for a while. The crosswind was a little better down near New Glarus, though it leaned the bike sideways and threatened to blow me into traffic.

Turning east was fantastic, and I definitely got back on pace by the time I had reached Evansville. Did a 15-minute stop at the Quickie Mart and continued on to the Hall of Elms.

Hall of Elms
I had suspected while riding, and later confirmed, that the wind shifted around to the west-northwest and then the northwest as I made my way home. The last 20 miles or so were a real character builder. I was pretty shelled for the Badger game and honestly, for most of the day on Sunday.

Weather data:

Time Temp WindDir Speed Gust
7:53 AM 36° SW 5.8 -
8:53 AM 39° WSW 10.4 17.3
9:53 AM 43° WSW 11.5 17.3
10:53 AM 48° SW 13.8 -
11:53 AM 52° West 12.7 19.6
12:53 PM 54° West 12.7 25.3
1:53 PM 55° WNW 15.0 27.6
2:53 PM 56 ° NW 16.1 29.9
3:53 PM 57° WNW 11.5 27.6
4:53 PM 57° WNW 12.7 21.9

Photos over on that other site.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Training for Trans Iowa v.11

Access Road Gravel Ice

Been out there, chipping away at it day after day with no big frills or expectations. Seems like the 95% aerobic/5% anaerobic training pattern has been working, albeit slowly. I certainly feel less stressed out and more focused this year.

Having tried it twice so far, I have a pretty good idea about what I might expect. If the weather and the fates are even remotely cooperative, the third time might be the charm.

(TIv10 report, TIv9 report.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hollandale Century

Wow, I'll tell you, the dogs sure wanted a good run for this early in the season. We rolled the first 12 miles or so at such a nice, steady pace, and then as soon as we hit the first decent-sized hill: WHAM! Everybody was out of the saddle and into the hammerfest. Everybody but me.

My view for much of this ride was a bunch of butts, often in the distance...

Valley Riding
We stopped for lunch in Hollandale at the Good Times Log Cabin. Darn tasty food for such a little town.

Then, around mile 75 or so, I began to get my revenge. People started to remember that, oh, yeah, a century is a hundred miles long, and slowed down.


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Northwoods Rides

A couple of years back, Pal Andy came up with the idea of doing some mountain bike rides out of his cabin, which is on the eastern edge of the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin. The concept was to do off-road rides more in the original spirit of the activity rather than riding laps on purpose-built singletrack trails.

The common thread has been a drive up to the cabin the night before, setting out on the road into the forest and then traversing any and all surfaces that present themselves. These rides would not be complete without either getting a bit lost or doing some swamp wading, and they're better if we end up doing both. If we arrive back without being exhausted, wet, dirty and scratched up, we haven't done our jobs.

Day loop: Andy and Eric M. I wasn't on this one, but it was the birth of the concept. They apparently saw a bear cub, got a little lost on the equestrian trails, did quite a bit of swamp wading, and Andy was bonked out so bad he was nothing but babble for the last 6 or 8 miles. Eric hasn't been back.

Downpour Segment
Day loop: Andy and I; Peace 29er. (Pix) This was my first go at wandering around in the northwoods, and it made quite the impression. My family made the trip up, but only Andy and I went riding. He served as tour guide and made it quite clear that he knows the territory really well. I can't remember for certain, but I don't think he even brought a map. Got dirty, rained on, lost and scratched up. Ate wild berries like bears. Came home and did some swimming and eating as a group; the family and I went from there to a vacation on Washington Island (a longer drive than I had expected.)

Route Chat
Day loop: Andy, Nate; Peace 29er fat front. (Pix) Nate joined us the next year, and the 3 of us rented a car and stopped for fish fry on the way up Friday night.

Cabin Driveway
Cabin to cabin and back again: Andy, Nate, Chuck; Peace 29er plus front. (Pix) This was a new twist on the existing theme. Nate drove me and everybody's drop bags up to Phillips on Friday, where we would leave supplies at his family's cabin and then drive to meet Andy and Chuck at Andy's cabin.

While in Phillips, we got groceries and then met up with Nate's dad, who has a job relocating problem bears. As it happened, he had a couple of bears already on his truck, so we went with him to release them. I got to open the trap gates and we watched them run off into the woods. We had fish fry with Nate's folks and took the stuff out to the cabin before taking off for Andy's place.

Andy's and Chuck's families were along for this one, and Andy's family accompanied us on the rollout. Chuck and Nate were on cyclocross bikes; Andy and I were on mountain bikes. Labor Day meant that there were lots of ATV riders out on the trails.

There was a bit of confusion on the way into Park Falls, followed by some swamp wading and bushwhacking. After a stop at the convenience store, we picked up the Tuscobia trail to the west and then dropped south to Oxbo. Made it to Nate's cabin just before sunset, in time for a dip in the river. Grilled brats and corn and ate like kings (but not nearly all the groceries we had bought) before dropping exhausted into bed.

Woke up Sunday morning thinking it was maybe 06:30 to find that the sun was much too high in the sky for that—it was actually 09:15. We made a hasty breakfast and set out on the return trip. Lots of roads that morning and the skinny-tired riders left me in the dust a couple of times. Chuck met up with his family at Solberg Lake and they departed for Madison. The remaining trio rode back to Andy's place, had a dip and ate, returning to Madison on Monday.

Tree Portaging
Cabin to cabin and back again, again: Andy, Nate, Madison Steve, Utah Steve; Peace 29er plus front. (Pix) Chuck was replaced by two Steves this year; Madison Steve joined Nate for the drop bag run and general tomfoolery for a couple days before the ride; the other joined Andy and I in the rental car for his first Wisco fish fry on the drive up to Andy's cabin.

Everybody rendezvoused at Andy's on Friday night, where Nate and Madison Steve gave us the scouting report. As expected, there was water everywhere from the recent heavy rainfall. Any deliberate forays into swampy areas were crossed off the itinerary.

We got up reasonably early the morning of and headed out on the road, picking up a cross country ski trail at Round Lake to visit the historic logging dam replica. From there we caught some ATV trails and gravel to Smith Rapids covered bridge, then skipped some equestrian trail and swamp wading to find an old railbed, now used as an ATV trail. There was some getting lost before crossing 182 near  Blockhouse Lake and catching some pavements to Park Falls.

We rallied at the convenience store in town before picking up a section of the Tuscobia Trail. Caught an ATV route south to Oxbo, where we took a brief rest. Then there was some bushwhacking around Mason, Evergreen, and Swamp Lakes before picking up a gravel and pavements to the cabin.

It was dark and chilly by then and the river was high, so not much swimming happened. The floods had forced mice out of their natural habitat and into the cabin, and they were running around in plain sight as we cooked and later as we sat around the fireplace. The traps were overwhelmed. I didn't sleep well.

Day Two found us catching a gravel to the Kimberly Clark wildlife refuge, where there was more bushwhacking to get back to an eastbound gravel and pavements to Solberg Lake. After a brief rest, more ATV trails to Sailor Lake; pavements mostly up to Riley Lake, an ATV to the railbed from day one and finally the Round Lake trails and home.

Looking forward to next year.

Monday, February 02, 2015

26 Years of Winter Riding

Right around this week back in 1989, I saw my then-boss MMacD lug his snow- and salt-covered Ross Mt. Hood down into our offices in the basement of Radio Hall. It was the first time I had seen a mountain bike, cantilever brakes, or a winter cyclist. He let me test-ride it a couple of weeks later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

62 Miles of Mud and Snowpack

Triple D 2015
Mostly mud.

Utah Steve, PhD and I drove down to Dubuque on Saturday for the eighth running of the Triple D Winter Race. The weather had been warm, and the worry was that we'd be riding 62 miles of mashed potatoes. Turned out on the pre-ride that most of the snow was gone, but thankfully the ground was still frozen. We also attended the pre-race the night before and got some valuable insight into the course. Had dinner at an Italian place downtown and turned in for a long but somewhat restless night's sleep.
(Utah Steve and I at the start, photo courtesy of Utah Steve)

It was just below freezing and sunny at the start. race director Lance had wanted to say a few words, but the natives were restless and a couple of long-time vets sounded the rollout gun at 10:00 sharp. We were supposed to stage and sort into groups by speed at the actual start line, but the field just took off.

The ground was frozen and the trail pretty fast through the first couple miles of singletrack. Even the water crossings and farm fields didn't slow us down much. In the time since last year's race, I had adopted a more conservative and aerobic training style, but at this stage I was mostly ignoring my heart rate alarm—not burning all the matches, but definitely putting my shoulder to the proverbial wheel. The arm warmers, beanie and gloves came off, and I rode the rest of the race with my jacket unzipped.

(yours truly, rocking a cornfield, photo courtesy of Rob McK)

Tough climbs were to be had between the fun downhills, and the Humke B road (but really ice and rock chute, complete with downed tree blocking the main line) did not disappoint. We found a cold west wind up in the highlands, so the gloves went back on. I hit the Heritage trail before noon and grouped up with a couple guys. Drafting on the now-wet trail, we rolled into Chad's looking like Roubaix riders at about 13:30.

Fifteen minutes was longer than I had wanted to stay, but it was busy and I wanted to stick with newfound company Duane. Refilled water, crotch creamed, ate a little, and were well out of Dyersville before 14:00. It was still sunny and the trail was pretty soft all the way to the Holy Cross tunnel, where we found a few substantial, fast stretches of hard-packed snow.

Duane was good company and we rolled along not stopping much and picking up a few places as the trail continued downhill. We caught up to his pal Drew and became 3 for a while before getting another pulse of energy. The checkpoint in Durango had a lot of bikes out front, and Duane decided it was time to change his sweat-soaked base layer. He was cold enough, and his hands weak enough from his handlebars' bad ergonomics that I had to help him zip up his jacket. Riding again, he was chilled at first but warmed back up quickly.

We finished off Heritage and turned onto the Dubuque bike path along the Northwest Arterial, uphill and into the wind and setting sun. Pavement, road, grass, ditch, pavement and then onto the final section of singletrack before the gentleman's finish line. The course markings in the last section were really sparse, and Duane said he would have gotten lost repeatedly had he been by himself.

We cleaned the last few creek crossings and mucky hills, crossing the railroad tracks just a couple minutes before a long Norfolk Western freight rolled through. Ever the gentleman, Duane ceded me a place, I guess for serving as tour guide. We humped it back up to the hotel and put our names on the list at 16:58 for 32nd and 33rd places, respectively.

Tyler U. from Madison won it, Utah Steve, PhD took fifth, and Nick took 18th—so Wisco represented. There was some confusion about the final leg of the course (not surprising, given some ambiguity at the pre-race and less than ideal marking) and a bit of a dispute about the top placements.

The bikes and our clothes were well and truly a mess, covered in limestone from the Heritage trail. We left a trail of it in Chad's and back at the hotel. We ended up not taking our bikes inside and just locked them up on the hitch rack for the overnight.

So overall, a success for me. Not great time or placement, but I felt good for the vast majority of the race and recovered quickly afterward.

Now, a couple of weeks off before training commences for the Race That Shall Not Be Named.