Monday, September 30, 2013

Heck of the North 2013

It was supposed to be Nate, Kierstin and I, but Kierstin dropped out about a week before the event. Nate and I made the long drive in his car with the bikes laid out in the back. That worked really well, preserving the aerodynamics and allowing his Focus about 38 miles per gallon. Grant and his family drove up separately.

Nate and I arrived a little early and met Duluth cyclist Doug for lunch at a restaurant. Doug commutes year-round and has also done the Arrowhead 135 on a bike. Conversation at that lunch convinced me that I was not really Arrowhead material, or at least would not be unless I upped my winter camping game.

We hit registration and got our numbers, where we saw Grant and his family briefly, got some dinner and took off for the cabin I had rented up in Silver Bay. It was quite rustic and some distance from the start in Two Harbors. It was just one big room, with two beds, a stove, desk, mini fridge and a sink with running water, but no shower or indoor toilet. At least it had electricity and gas heat.

Rustic Cabin
The morning of the race we got up and mad a big breakfast, but I had completely forgotten to get any kind of coffee. We had packed most everything the night before, so we got on the road in plenty of time and took the back roads to the start. Fall colors were out in force, and we hit some local gravels, so it turned out to be most excellent.

We arrived just as the parking lot was reaching capacity, and ended up parking in the grass right at the entrance. Got the bikes out and did the usual pre-race rambling around and meeting people we knew, found Grant, dropped off our drop bags and got lined up. Jeremy made the final announcements and released the hounds just a couple minutes past the hour.

It was a stampede out of the gate, a full gallop down an arrow-straight former railbed. Softball-sized and larger stones mixed into the aggregate sent riders to the margins with flats starting maybe 100 yards into the race and continuing periodically for the first mile or two. i realized that i would be nursing a caffeine withdrawal headache for some time to come, and Grant and Nate went well out in front of me. Passing under a railroad bridge, the course eventually came out onto some gravels and pavements. The sun gamely made an effort to show its face, and we were having a grand time pacelining off to the south. 

Then we came to the snowmobile trails. It had been wet, and besides being rough, they were swampy too. The fat bike crowd cruised through this section but the rest of us struggled. I tried to ride through what looked for all the world like a puddle but turned out to be a hub-deep hole. I vaulted the bars and landed hands and knees in a bed of wet sphagnum.

North Shore State Snowmobile Trail

Sunken Tire
After a steep run-up, the higher ground was more rideable and we soon came out onto a doubletrack.

Somewhere around mile 40, it began to rain and the wind picked up. As we neared the north end of Duluth on a pavement, we spied a group coming toward us at speed. We thought we were lost, but it turned out these were the leaders, already on the return leg.

We rolled into Duluth, up the Seven Bridges Road and into the checkpoint. We were there quite a while, eating, refilling water and changing into drier clothing. Upon leaving, we discovered that the wind had picked up a bit more and the rain was falling in earnest. Soon soaked again, we headed back off to the north in a swirl of blowing leaves.

A guy on an orange Vaya followed us through the stream crossings and passed us shortly thereafter. As soon as we turned into the wind, the three of us dropped him like a bad habit.

Closer to the finish, I passed on a Coke handup. Nate shared a bit of his, and I learned never to pass on a Coke handup so close to the finish.

The last couple of miles consisted of chugging along a couple of miles of ATV trail strewn with big rocks and puddles. Fantastic stuff. The finish saw us covered in slurry and ending up somewhere above the middle of the pack. The rain stopped and the sun peeked out. Several riders with disk brakes, including Orange Vaya Guy, came in with no brakes—the wet sand had apparently worn the pads to nothing.

Why Ride Around Them?

Angels With Dirty Faces
Heck has a fantastic variety of surfaces, from paved and gravel roads to forest trail to stream crossings, doubletrack, railbed and city streets. Beautiful scenery and a great crowd too.

Dinner at an understaffed restaurant in Two Harbors, ice cream and then back to the primitive cabin in Silver Bay for a good night's sleep. Back to Madison the next morning.

I loved it. I want to do it again. 2015, I hope.

Pix on Flix.