Funny how it isn't really that much of an adventure if nothing goes wrong, but sometimes that's exactly how a person wants it to go. After failed attempts in 2009 and 2010, I got my finish in the Triple D Winter Race this year, and the bonus was that I placed in the single digits.
Drove down to Dubuque the day before and checked into the hotel. Hung out with some friends, had pizza and beer, dressed the bike and watched a little TV. Finally laid down for a fitful 8 hours, listening to the Packer faithful cheer during, and party after, the playoff win over Atlanta. Got up the next morning and did my routine, got some route maps and went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. They were really slow, and I ended up rushing through getting dressed and to the pre-race meeting. Briefly traded good-luck wishes in the lobby with another friend who was down to do the ski race, and said hi to his family.
Lots of fat bikes at the meeting. Mostly fat bikes.
The weather was ideal, about 12˚F, and mostly cloudy with little wind. It was a little different for me this year with my family and our friends accompanying me to the start. A boost, really. We chatted and took a few photos as the racers lined up in front of the Star Brewery, exchanged a few hugs, and I was off with the herd through the streets of Dubuque.
It's a controlled rollout through town, and for the third year in a row, I dawdled. Talking to Bob and Dave a little, I ended up in back as the race was about to start. I know that from a total time and finishing place perspective, this was a strategic mistake, but I like talking to people and not taking the racing part too seriously. I soon excused myself and moved up closer to the halfway point in the pack just about the time the race started.
Forgetting to pump up my tires in my rush to get ready that morning turned out to be a blessing. The 6 psi in front and 8 psi in the back turned out to be just about perfect for the unplowed section of the bike trail that came next. Thousands of footprints had been made in melting snow a couple of weeks prior and then frozen into thousands of random bumps. This is where I began to pass people. Anyone with skinny tires or a little less experience on this kind of surface struggled. Finally, we came the tunnel—single file through the gate and then across Central Ave. and out onto the private snowmobile trails parallel to the Northwest Arterial.
Here the real fun began. After a couple hundred yards, we came to the first climb—a 15% grade pusher with an icy base. The toe cleats in my Lake boots seemed to do almost nothing. Tried to kick into the snow to get purchase, but it was mostly too hard. Bit of a struggle for a while. At the top, guys were already stopping to strip off layers, and I passed them too.
Word has it that we climbed 800 feet in the first mile, and I believe it. Lots of sketchy turns with off-camber sections, more pushing climbs, a couple of descents where I went off alongside the trail in the soft snow to keep my speed down. Passed a couple more people and eventually fell in behind Jesus Joe on his Pugsley. I had long practiced riding in the tracks of a fatbike to increase efficiency, and it was working here. Plus, there was no good place to pass and I felt like I should moderate my pace a little. Problem is, I did this for a little too long, and that was my second strategic mistake. I think I could have pushed my pace a little more at this point without exhausting myself.
(photo courtesy of Mikael Wolke)
Humke Dumpty and the B Road
I passed more folks in the fields shortly after we crossed Radford Rd. and started to pick up the pace a little. We came next to a paved path through an industrial park, and another racer (either Ben O or Curtis) caught up to me there and eventually passed me on the next section of trail west of Seippel Rd. These trails ran over some tough open farm field terrain up to Humke Rd. I had passed a few more racers but was joined by Jeremy, a member of the Iowa City crew. We chatted for a while, passing the time over two or three miles of pavement. Soon, the road curved, but the course did not—we dropped down onto a wide, well-used gravel road, and then onto a rutted, snow-covered minimum maintenance "B road." Jeremy was a little behind me, and I heard him dab or fall down immediately.
Then something really exciting happened. The B road runs downhill through a wooded area, and I wasn't braking. In fact, I think I was hooting something about how great the B road was as I leaned into a sweeping right turn. Suddenly, my front tire caught an icy rut and decided to go to the left. Way to the left, toward a precipitous dropoff at the edge of the road. Out of sheer panic, with the bike almost sideways, I clamped down on the rear brake lever and locked up the rear wheel. The yawing momentum whipped the rear end around to the right and as I put my left foot down, I came to rest, still standing and straddling the bike. Pointed back toward the top of the hill.
"You're facing the wrong way!" Jeremy yelled.
"You meant to do that."
"Yes I did."
The rest of the B road was a barely controlled blast. Seriously, you could sell tickets to it.
(photo courtesy of Mikael Wolke)
On to Heritage
At the bottom of the hill, the B ended and another gravel road that led to some pavement, which finally came to the Heritage Trail. By this time Jeremy had caught up to me again.
The trail is more scenic than the average midwestern rails-to-trail, winding up through a river valley from Dubuque to Dyersville. The trail is used during the wintertime to connect all sorts of snowmobile trails, so it was well-packed and pretty fast. Jeremy and I tried to chat, but there wasn't really room to ride abreast. After a few minutes, we started to pass participants in the running race headed in the other direction. After another 10 minutes, I was struggling to hold 10 mph at Jeremy's wheel, so I excused myself to answer nature's call (which really needed to happen anyway) and stopped to regroup.
After eating and drinking a bit, I got back on and continued riding, which turned out to be another strategic mistake. I had failed to put any more air in my tires. Finally, after maybe 45 minutes after leaving the end of the B road, I stopped at Gun Club road near Epworth and pumped up my tires to 10 and 12 psi and raised my saddle. In the course of doing so, I was passed by 4 or 5 bike racers.
What a Difference a PSI Makes
It suddenly felt like I was riding a different bike. I went from an average of about 9 mph to well over 11. I passed all of the people who had just passed me within maybe 20 minutes, and they were all well out of sight before I reached the Holy Cross road underpass near Farley.
The tunnel was very icy inside and I nearly biffed it. Came out the other side thinking Tarley Funnel icy...bad...slow on the way back. The trail to Dyersville was level and out in the open, with stretches of drifted snow in some places, and big rough icy patches in others. At some point along this segment, I decided that my bike should now become known as "Ruby." Ruby the Red Pony. Clearly, my brain was doing its best to keep itself busy. I also began to wonder where the race leaders were. I took it as a good sign that I had not seen them yet.
Rolling over a couple of really soft drifts, I began to offer Ruby some encouragement. Come on girl, you can clean this one! Good girl, that's my good Ruby! For icy stretches, it was more easy, girl...steady on now. Soon we were rolling down a stretch of smooth hardpack downhill and picked it up to a steady 14 mph for better than a half-mile, which felt really good.
Then I saw him, like something out of a desert scene from Lawrence of Arabia—the tiny but growing lead bike coming toward me as I neared Dyersville (though not as near as I had hoped.)
It wasn't who I had expected. I had no idea who it was, but it wasn't Lance (the race director and last year's winner.) I had the camera out, so I yelled "say cheese!" Damn point and shoot missed his reaction though. Soon after, I passed Lance, hot on the leader's tail, and two others before arriving in Dyersville.
I pulled into town past the tank and dropped onto the snowmobile trail adjacent to the road (just like on the route map), discovering very quickly that there were no other bike tracks down there. I immediately got back up on the road and followed it past the grain bins, turning left at the stop sign. I thought I had seen a cyclist in the distance who might have missed the turn and wondered whether Jeremy might have gotten lost. Nothing I could really do about it though.
I rolled up to Chad's Pizza at about 1:45 and signed in.
Coming soon: Part 2: the Journey Home.
Official results are here.
Lots of photos here.
Race reports from the other finishers:
Drew, Troy, Ben S., Dave