This was my eighth shot at the Triple D winter race, having started back in 2009 as a complete newb. We've had a strange winter this year with few snow events but lots of freeze-thaw action. Fearing a repeat of 2013, I took two bikes along. Went down to Dubuque a little early and scouted the Heritage trail a bit, then later met up with Utah Steve and Paul to pre-ride the creek bottoms at the start of the course. Scattered icy patches had me ultimately deciding on the studded 29er.
Race morning dawned very cold. At the 10 a.m. start, it was -7˚F, with a 15 mph northwest wind gusting to 24—but hey, at least it was sunny. Every bit of skin had to be covered.
The start was pretty orderly this year, which was good because the creek bottoms still had some open water. The snow was rock-hard but not very fast.
The creek bottoms were pretty protected, and the industrial park was okay, but the tops of hills and open fields were right in the jaws of the wind. I went to drink out of my Camelbak about 45 minutes into the race, but the insulated hose was very stiff between the bladder and the bite valve. I had stuck the bite valve down between the pack and my back, and it was still useable, but the hose was frozen solid. Fortunately, I had a bottle of sports drink in my frame bag with a chemical warmer, and it was still good. The cold had me thinking of quitting even before Junction 21 (mile 10), but I stuck it out. Checked in briefly in 26th place and got a refill on the water bottle. Felt chilled starting out again, and started considering turning east at Heritage to drop out and shortcut the course back to the hotel.
The Humke B road was as fun as ever, even with a little bit of two-wheel drifting on the smooth ice near the bottom. It was enough of a thrill that I figured I might as well ride west on Heritage for a while and see how that went. Ran into Frank, who was pumping up his tires, and I stopped and did the same. He suggested working together, and I thought that sounded good, so we continued on.
I had gotten a comment from a fat biker earlier suggesting that my bike would just fly on the rail trail. Sadly, this was not the case. I'm not sure exactly why, but it didn't feel at all fast. I suspect that the Nokian Extremes on a wide rim are too squared-off, resulting in every stud and every tread block hitting the contact patch all the time. That, and they aren't light or lively tires to begin with.
The section between Holy Cross Road near Farley and Dyersville was bad—there's just no other word for it. Mostly open country with that stinging headwind. Frank could ride faster than me, but reasoned that doing that section together would be better than doing it individually, and he was right. We traded pulls but were still hurting by the time we rolled into the second checkpoint at Chad's pizza.
We took quite a long break at Chad's. I had concluded that doing things right in this weather was much preferable to doing them hastily. I swapped out my chemical foot warmers, drank and refilled fluids, added a hat and ate as much as I could. Also dealt with an exclusively male problem, countering a bit of redness and swelling with a strategically-placed spare wool sock and chemical warmer. Had a bit of a shiver attack that concerned me, but it went away as soon as we started out again.
The return segment was out of the wind and mostly downhill. The trail was in good shape, so I put on the cruise control and did some rolling recovery. Frank pulled easily away from me and became a dot in the distance. I finally felt good for the first time since starting, and kept a steady pace with only one food/drink/nature stop. I switched to my light gloves and then to no gloves at all for a while. I occupied my brain by eating chewy bits (honey stinger bites are especially good for this) a little at a time. As I approached Sundown Ski Area, a fox ran onto the trail and ran ahead of me for a couple hundred yards. I considered it a good omen.
Frank was leaving Durango just as I was parking my bike. I checked in and got a water refill, ate some pizza and chatted with the volunteers and a few people who had dropped out. I wasn't in a particular hurry, since I knew I'd be riding in the dark soon anyway.
Dusk was falling and I was chilled as I left Durango. Before I was warm again, about a half-mile down the trail, I saw a bike laid out and its rider standing over it. I asked what was wrong, and it turned out to be a broken chain. I asked whether he had the part or tool to fix it, and he replied that he did not. I said that I had the part and the tool, but he responded that he didn't have the required knowledge. So I got the stuff out and had a look. The chain was threaded wrong, so I instructed the rider to re-thread it correctly and got out my quick link and mini tool. Could not get the broken side plate off with the pliers, so we dug out the chain tool and I went at the rivet. All this time, my hands were getting progressively more painful and less dexterous. Of course, the rivet was seized and I had a hell of a time getting it out. I really had to crank on my poor little chain tool, and even then I had to use the pliers to rip the side plate off and to get the rivet and other side plate out. Finally got the quick link in though, and got the rider on his way. As soon as he was back up, I hopped on the bike and shot down the trail, looking to get the bio-furnace relit. Twilight was fading as I left Heritage and passed the driving range.
The last leg along the Northwest Arterial was a slog. It was hard to navigate in the dark, it went back up on a hill, and it turned a bit west, back into the wind. Plus, I was alone at this point. Had to stop at one point and check my map and GPS to make sure I was still on course. Finally got to the downhill and into the creek bottoms, walking a fair amount by this point because my feet had gotten cold again. My Transition lenses were also still dark because of the cold, so I couldn't see all that well either. Toughed it out to the finish, rolling in for 15th place at just after 19:00 all tired and cold, but with no injuries and feeling pretty good.
(photo by Davy G)
Pics over yonder.
My clothing was as follows:
- North Face Skully beanie with ear covers, a homemade fleece face mask that seals at the nose and vents out the bottom, plenty of Dermatone and Vaseline on any still-exposed areas. Added a neck gaiter in the field before the first checkpoint and a thin wool cap at Dyersville.
- North Face arm warmers, 32˚ synthetic base layer, UnderArmour Cold Base 2 (all skin-tight), covered with a Mountain Hardwear SuperPower Transition soft-shell jacket. PI lobsters at the start, followed by PI WXRs and then no gloves as I warmed up. The bike sported ATV bar mitts.
- Legs got Pearl padded shorts, and some old Nike lycra tights, both covered with Swrve mid-weight WWR knicks and some garage sale gaiters.
- Tall, thick Surly wool socks, a pair of thin wool socks, chem warmers and LaCrosse Quickshot 8", 600 gram boots for the feet.
I ate Curiak dough, Honey Stinger chews, Honey Stinger waffle cookies with Nutella and pork jerky on the trail. Drank Hammer Perpetuem and water.
The bike was a GT Peace 9er Multi 2x8 with Schlick Northpaw 47mm rims and Nokian Gazza Extreme 296 in the 29x1.9 size. Titec H-bars and Thudbuster LT; platform pedals.
(Photo by Amber Bettcher)