Monday, January 11, 2010

By the Ice of My Brow

So, I raced in the Triple D Winter Race again this year and, well, at least it was a Double D. My goal, as last year, was to finish the 62-mile mid-January event in a reasonable period of time. Something like 10 or 11 hours. Once again, not so much, though this year was a considerable improvement for me (and many others, I'm sure) over last year.

About 10 days before the event, the long-range forecast in the Dubuque area was for moderate temperatures (20˚F) and only a 20% chance of precipitation by race day. Weather in the Midwest isn't known for adhering to forecasts though. Trail conditions improved right up until the Wednesday before the race, when a storm came through and dumped 4 or 5 inches of snow, with winds creating some large drifts. Fortunately, Friday was quiet and the snowmobiles broke a nice new trail on top of the old, leaving a packed trough down the center of the Heritage trail.

Saturday morning was clear and cold, -2˚F with a light wind out of the northwest making it feel like about -15˚. Spirits were high as we rolled out of Dubuque and headed for the trailhead. The route was altered somewhat this year to avoid the private ATV trails, which were still drifted shut.

Slogging Behind the Tandem Team
As we reached the edge of town, we had to walk a mile-plus section of the path within the city limits that the city doesn't plow, but that gave me a chance to chat with Mr. Coleman and get a head start on my eating and drinking.

Easy Roll
About 5 miles out, we came to the real snowmobile trail, and I started to hit my stride. The Pony did well on the hardpack down the center of the trail, and the WTB Wierwolf LT (cheers Tarik) front and Mutano Raptor rear tires hooked up really well at about 14 psi. I started to outrun the other 26" skinny-tired bikes but for the tandem crew (you read that correctly—I know, it was a shock for me too) though the fattie bikes and many 29ers had long since left me in the dust. I was running at about 9 mph average and feeling like I was working but managing quite well. And it was a beautiful day.

Then at about mile 12 or 14, I saw the tandem crew pulled over for a snack and decided that looked like a great idea. I had just stopped and said hi when we all heard and then saw something coming down the trail. A Snowcat was approaching, pulling a grooming sled. I thought, and then said out loud, "great, they're grooming it." To which one of the tandem guys said something to the effect of "I'm not so sure how great that's gonna be." Unfortunately, he was right. The groomer pulled all of the soft snow from the edges of the trail into the depression where the hardpack was and made it almost impossible to ride even with the fattest tires. What it left us was less than a foot at each edge of packed snow with a really variable hardness. The net result for anybody with skinny tires was a little riding followed by a little walking, a pattern which I repeated for the next 14 or so miles. Uphill all the way.

After the Groomer
(kind of a lousy photo, but I really was busy trying to get through the stuff that was worse.)

I followed the trail of first the Pugsley in front of me, then a skinny-tired bike, and then a whole bunch of tracks recorded where the groomer had met all of the riders. Passed a bunch of runners and skiers going the other way, but very few snomos. Huff, puff. Zig-zagged back and forth across the trail, looking for the longest possible stretch of solid snow before getting bogged down and having to walk again. Sometimes I'd go 20 feet, sometimes 200 yards. On the bike, off the bike. Stretches where fatbike tracks had floated right over soft spots, I sank in. Very frustrating.

So yes, this event is a mental challenge. By about mile 19, I was muttering a steady stream of obscenities (okay, it was a loud mutter) and vowed that, frak this, the DDD and I were through. It was about 2 in the afternoon and about 10 above at this point, and I had to decide what to do. The combination of walking and riding made for difficult eating, and the exertion and delay were burning through my water supply. The plan had been to make Dyersville in under 4 and a half hours, but that was clearly out the window at this point. I met a skier at Epworth, and he told me that I was less than 10 miles out and that the last 5 miles into Dyersville were pretty good for cycling. So even though turning around would have meant going downhill all the way back to Dubuque, I decided to ride there and sag out rather than turn around and soon have to hunt for water.

Very soon after Epworth, I saw the lead bike coming at me from the other direction. Lance, hauling on his fatbike like the devil himself was chasing him. What do you know, a couple minutes later, Dennis followed, also going like a madman. Passed another biker or two (Cory and Nick, I think) as I struggled to the Farley underpass, where I ran out of water.

Fortunately, Dysersville was about 5 miles away, and trail conditions improved considerably. The temperature dropped and the wind picked up, so I went to a balaclava and the goggles. Saw a few more riders, including probably Adam and Ben, and for sure Frank maybe two miles out.

Turn Left at the Tank
Pulled into town, turned left at the tank and rode maybe a half a mile on the road to the Quick and Handy. There were about 7 or 8 other bikers there, half of whom were dropping out and catching a pickup truck ride back to the start. I called the Sag coordinator and dropped out and I think I was the last of about 15 to sign the book at 3:30 p.m. Bought water, juice, cashews and beef jerky for the ride home. Realized while loading the bikes onto the truck that every inch of me was soaked with sweat. Yum.

Riding Home
Here I am with Z and a very nice race volunteer whose name I didn't catch. The other Mr. Z and the Decorah were in the back of the crew cab. Conversation was lively and we steamed up the windows in a hurry. Turned out I had made the right decision when we spied that damn groomer from the truck, heading back up the trail into Dyersville. Arrived back at about 4:15 p.m.

Here are the other accounts so far:

The Tandem Duo, the Shockstar, Mr. Davie Gie, Colin and our winner, Lance.


MrDaveyGie said...

Very good report and excellant ride. I think everytime I ride in winter conditions I learn something. I learned a lot Saturday. Now I realize I would have done better with out the studs and my fatter Big Earls and low pressures. Well time to start the new biking season. See you at Triple D 2011. :-)

Antoine said...

Great write-up, enjoyed it very much. Thanks for taking some pictures when you must of been feeling like shit.

Chin up, you will finish this race one year!!! ;^)

If the weather and snocat gods are unkind to you in 2011 I would be looking at the fatbike classified.

Mauricio Babilonia said...

It's true Dave, you really do learn something new every time. True for me even after 20 years of riding in the winter. Glad you got a chance to participate in the craziness, and hopefully we'll get to meet in person one of these days.

As for tires, I haven't seen the results yet, but I think all of the finishers were on fatbikes or 29ers. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Antoine, thanks for the encouragement, and I'm already running my finger down the classifieds ;-)

Antoine said...

If you haven't already seen this race-report Michael I think you'll enjoy it:

Mauricio Babilonia said...

Antoine, thanks for the link—I've added it to my post.

His story sounds about right. It's funny, because he called during the post-race meeting and most of us were at that point aware that he and two others were still out there. I was a little concerned and glad to hear that he was OK. Unfortunate that he missed out on the massage. She was good.

Tarik Saleh said...

Good the LT worked out a bit for you. I do agree though that the pugsly front wheel might be the trick for the soft stuff. Slippery slope though. Pugsly front wheel will work great, but your tiny 2.35 on the back wheel will fish tail and then next you know you have your fatbike for the next year. Good luck in ought eleven.