I've never been much of a racer, but I do get into the spirit for this event. Been having some trouble with my left hip since early November; flexors, adductors and the sit bone. A real pain in the ass. Though I'd been on the mend, I toed the line concerned about not being able to get very far. Mrs. Babilonia made me promise that I would be able to lift my bike onto the roof rack the next morning, to which I solemnly swore.
The rollout at the start always begins slowly as we pull out of the Star Brewery courtyard, but builds a fair amount of steam as we near the edge of town. Lance explicitly said "5 miles per hour," but we were up around 12 by the time we crossed 32nd street and the proverbial starting gun went off. There was just enough snow on the unmaintained city path to keep the pace moderate with some sliding around. I had a washout turning onto the first bridge and racked my jewels on the top tube—a real auspicious start. Entering the tunnel under John Deere road, the prehistoric reverberation of every kind of knobby fat tire drowned out the conversation. We single filed it through a narrow gap and headed out onto the private snowmobile trails. The sheriff stopped traffic as we crossed Central Avenue, and shortly thereafter the climbing began in ernest.
The first hill was a 220-foot, 10 or 12-percent grade about 4.5 miles from the start and our first dismounted push of the day. It was followed by a series of its smaller, off-camber siblings for the next two miles.
I passed fellow Madisonian Frank Hassler in this section and wouldn't see him for the rest of the race. Started running neck and neck with Ben Oney and James Zimmerman (on his brakeless, fixed-gear Pugsley) and would trade places with them all day long.
A little over a mile of downhill respite on paved bike path before going back to the ditch. Some sidewalk, farm fields, cattle range and more farm fields. A couple of open water and snowmobile bridge crossings.
My chosen tire pressures were working really well, with the Big Fat Larry on the front at 6psi and the Endomorph on the rear at 8psi. Plenty of grip and cushion without really risking a snakebite flat.
Right around mile 14 a group of about 6 or 7 of us started the final pushing climb to Humke Road. Took a break at the top and chatted with a guy on a Moonlander whose name I don't know. He was having fun. Set off down the tarmac and was soon joined by Ben and Joe Nolan. Felt good to have a break from pushing and hit 25mph+ on the big downhill just before Sundown road. Then it was onto the gravel and down to the B road, which is the best part of the whole course. The B is a rutted double track that drops down about 300 feet at 8 percent through a picturesque woodland. Much fun in spite of the patchy ice in the bottoms of the wheel ruts.
At the bottom of the B road, I saw Joe walking back up the trail. He asked whether I had seen his gloves and I replied that I hadn't. Once I rolled out onto Girl Scout road, I decided to deviate from my plan and wait to see how firm the Heritage trail was before adding air to my tires. Cresting the hill, I could have sworn I saw a couple on a tandem up ahead. Very surreal.
Turning onto the trail, I saw what I think in retrospect may have been Craig's cheering section. They told me that I was the 14th or 15th bike to go past them. I immediately started seeing runners, male and female, coming down the trail from the east. The only person I recognized was Laurel Darren, one of the female bike racers from last year. Within a couple hundred yards, I had decided that more air would make things go faster, so I pulled over and got out my CO2. Two things:
- A single 16g cartridge will take an Endomorph from 8 to about 12psi with a little left over, and another will take a Big Fat Larry from 6 to almost 10psi; and
- While you may not need your gloves inside your pogies on a relatively warm day, you still need to wear them while using CO2. That stuff is cold.
A couple of snowmobiles passed me at Gun Club Road and shortly thereafter, Rob McKillip caught and passed me. Or I should say that I wanted him to pass me. With the snow all chewed up in the wake of the sleds, somebody had to make a new track. Better him than me, and it turned out that he was really good at it. I followed him all the way to the tunnel under Holy Cross road near Farley. My strategy for dealing with the hip was to stand frequently and pedal for 5 or 6 strokes and sit back down. That, and wiggle around on the saddle a lot. My quads frequently reminded me that they weren't too fond of the whole production. But so it went, and it turns out that standing will increase your speed.
Just after leaving the tunnel, I spotted a 20-something male sitting in a huge pickup alongside the trail. I immediately assumed that this was someone's cheering section until he leaned out his driver-side window and shouted:
"Go get 'em, Grizzly Adams!"
Best. Heckle. Ever.
Fan? Redneck with a six-pack of Grain Belt on the seat next to him? I may never know.
From here, the trail got a lot faster. It was largely clear of snow and downhill, so average speed picked up to something more like 14 or 15 miles per hour. Rob tucked into his aero bars and quickly opened up a large gap. I shifted up, passing James again and putting a pretty good gap between us. The speed felt great but was tempered somewhat by intermittent drifts across the trail. They were well-tracked but I still didn't relish the thought of biffing it at 18 or 20 mph, so I checked speed somewhat while crossing them.
Pulling into Dyersville there was some nice clear pavement. Then some gnarly stuff in the ditch. Then some streets. I pulled into Chad's Pizza at about 2:05, refilled the fluids, grabbed a bag of peanut M&Ms and was out the door for the return trip by about 2:12...