Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cheese Soup, Served Cold

"Oh look, stars," Steve said, pointing overhead, and sure enough, the inky night sky was full of them. I was a little surprised, given that it had been foggy or overcast since before sunrise. We all groused and joked again about the soft conditions, knowing that we'd be underway again soon. This was the longest wait yet, and I was beginning to wonder if we should backtrack to look for him. I grew impatient and walked back up the trail and into the box culvert. Maybe halfway in, the other end took on a pale blue glow, and ten steps later, the point of Brian's headlight appeared. I turned and walked back toward my bike, not eager to get back on.

I had posted a concept for a ride both as a blog and on social media with the idea of traveling the only mostly-gravel loop from Madison, sometime around the winter solstice. Long Ride, Short Day.  People have done this route before both as solo efforts (as I did this summer) and as group rides with names like the Big Ass Long Loop Shindig (BALLS) and the Militant Badger, but never as a group ride in the winter. It follows the Badger rail trail south to Monroe, connects to the Cheese Country ATV trail west and north to Mineral point, then goes along some paved bike path and road to Dodgeville, returning to Madison on the Military Ridge rail trail. Just over 130 miles, 110 of which are not paved.

The first attempt in 2013 was a solo ride for me that went only to a point just south of the Stewart tunnel on the Badger. Four inches of ice-crusted snow proved too much to bust through for that kind of distance.

This year had seen early cold, but with not a whole lot of snow, and with only minimal precipitation for the 3 weeks leading up to the ride. The forecast called for mid-forties and fog on the day of the ride. My guess had been that there would be patches of mud on the low spots along the route, but that most of it would be reasonably dry and firm.

The Start

It seemed that I was mostly right for the first half of the ride. Steve, Nick, a newcomer named Brian (who had done the Militant Badger) and I met up at the trail kiosk in Fitchburg at 06:00. Steve was a little late thanks to a non-functional taillight, but we soon enough struck south on the paved section of the Badger. When we reached the limestone, it was covered in ice and snow. This is not unusual, since this first section is in a groove cut through a hill that sees precious little sunlight, so we pressed on in our optimism and were soon rewarded with fast sections of exposed limestone.

I hadn't finished an important part of my morning routine, so we made an early stop at a C-store in Belleville. At this point, the ambient temperature was just coming up to about freezing.

Abandoned Road Bridge
The approach to the tunnel was also through a cut and covered in ice and snow. Nick and Brian both fell, fortunately with no harm done. Icy stalagmites had already formed on the floor of the tunnel, along with several loose chunks of limestone from the ceiling.

The Cheese

Further south we rolled through Monticello and on to Monroe, where we left the Badger and picked up the Cheese Country ATV trail. Though the surface is a larger aggregate mixed with more sand, the going was still pretty good despite some long icy stretches.

We stopped for lunch at a c-store in Gratiot, filling up on wedge sandwiches, pizza and chocolate milk. Upon returning to the trail, we found that it had begin to get soft and the spray was beginning to make a mess of the bikes. We made another brief stop at a Casey's in Darlington, which, disappointingly, was out of pizza.

Cheese Triangle
Nick had a brake problem out near Calamine (the spring on his rear caliper somehow got caught in the rotor) and I decided to inspect my nonfunctional rear brake while we were stopped. Turned out that the grease I had used in my rear hub is not waterproof and had leaked its grey matter all over the caliper and rotor on one side, the cassette and chain on the other, and all around the inner circumference of the rim. There was nothing to be done but rely on the front brake. Brian, being the slowest of the group, decided to forge ahead to Mineral Point, and I did the same a couple minutes later.

By this time, the temperatures were in the forties and the trail has turned to soup. The most effective strategy was to ride the narrow margins where roots made the going spongy but rideable. Steve and Nick caught me in short order, and it was clear that I was still not fully recovered from the flu I'd had the week before. We found Brian in Mineral Point, and pressed on after a brief break, wanting to clear the ten miles of road to Dodgeville before it got dark.

The Stretch

Rolling north up Shake Rag St., the fog started to get pretty thick, and stayed so all the way to Dodgeville. Fortunately, there's a separated bicycle path for most of the way that runs parallel to, and then crosses the four-lane US Highway 18.

A mile or so south of Dodgeville, the path dumps out onto state Highway 23, but we chose the option of crossing onto a short section of gravel named Lover's Lane. It was immediately obvious that it doesn't get much traffic, and still had snow drifts stretched across it that were weeks old. Dusk was almost over and the lights came on. There was more falling on ice and slogging through gravel slurry. I got off and pushed my bike at one point and declared that I could drop out and call my wife right then and there for a ride and be done with the whole thing. Steve gently reminded me that we'd soon be taking a break and to let him know if I needed anything. We rolled onto a Dodgeville pavement just as the daylight was giving its last.

Lover's Lane
Right about mile 95, we rolled into the KwikTrip parking lot soggy, tired and covered in limestone. We stalked the good provisions aisle by aisle and I remember thinking that this is about as lousy as I had felt at the very end of some of the longest, most difficult rides I've done. We did our best to eat, rest and rally, but concern about the 40 miles of unpaved rail trail ahead was clearly weighing heavily on our mood. I said I was concerned, which was sort of an understatement. I bought some string cheese, a banana, some chocolate milk, jerky, and chips. We were there for maybe 45 minutes, and somehow we rallied.

The Darkness 

It was dark when we left the store. We started out riding north on the main drag but quickly opted for back streets. We found the trailhead easily enough, but as we had suspected, most of it was soupy. There were a few stretches of snow or dry surface, but we mostly had to ride on the vegetation at the edges of the trail. There was a stretch of paved trail before Ridgeway we got to ride at speed, but it ended too soon. The parts through Ridgeway and Barneveld were the soupiest of all, and we rode the parallel streets where we could.

All of us were miserable, but Brian, riding a regular mountain bike with 2" tires and narrow drop bars had it the worst by far. We found ourselves waiting for him at regular intervals for increasing lengths of time. He told us a couple of times that we should just leave him, but no way would my conscience allow me to leave somebody alone after dark, in the middle of nowhere, on a trail with no other traffic. No way. As we rolled up on Riley, there was some joking about stopping at the Tap for a beer, and I suggested that we could also call and ask how much a cab back to Madison would cost. Brian vetoed the idea:

"I've come this far. I'm not quitting now."

So we slogged on. The low section of trail between Riley and Verona might not have been as bad as we had expected, but it was still some of the worst. The wait between the box culverts was probably one of the longest, but the last section before hitting pavement was also long enough to cause some worry. Steve and Nick and I were clearly past our Bike Fun freshness date, but I really have to hand the prize for raw determination to Brian. I honestly have no idea how he did this ride on the bike he had chosen.

The pavement was a major relief. There were some icy stretches, but forward progress was suddenly much easier and faster. The last miles rolled by in some kind of daze as the fog returned. We parted ways at the Three Trails, and I was the first to cross the bike counter at six minutes past midnight.

I Was Number One For a Day
I pulled in the driveway at 00:28 on the morning of the 14th of December and the wife was still up. She fed me and I took a shower before falling into bed. I was so exhausted, wired and mentally shattered that restful sleep refused to visit me. Taking the burden of others' well-being upon myself had taken a real toll on me—something I have to learn to deal with more constructively. I took it really easy all day Sunday, doing laundry, washing the bike and watching a couple of movies, finally sleeping well Monday night.


My hubris needs a check after this one. Frank and Tyler had both tried to warn us that the warm temperatures in the forecast were going to turn the trail soft, and it turned out that they were mostly right. It's sort of a shame that this is the only trail loop to which we have access from Madison, because it's really a little too long. Either that or my motivation is too short.

Pics on the Flickr.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Gravel Rig

Woody Anne (Trans Iowa 2014 configuration)

This is Woody Anne, my 2000 model year Surly Cross Check. It's the bike I've been riding the most for mixed-surface adventure rides and gravel events, including Almanzo, Dairy Roubaix, Trans Iowa, Heck of the North, Gravel Metric and more recently the Ten Thousand.

Really, she's nothing all too special. My parts choices are mostly based on wanting high functionality and durability at a reasonable cost. This usually means simple, yet effective. A full component list is available below for hardcore bikegeekery, but in a nutshell it's a 2x8, drop-bar cross bike with a good wheelset.

Anybody who knows me knows that I like this bike quite a bit. It's stable but lively, I've been fitted on it so that it's very comfortable, and I have little doubt about its durability. Even though I originally ordered the dark blue frame with the 1" headtube, I've really grown to like even the color of this one.

Here she is, all set to make our first attempt at Trans Iowa:

Trans Iowa Configuration
Note the custom headlight mount, which replaces one of the headset spacers.

Hey Tink
No plans to replace this one for the foreseeable future. Might switch out the bars for a set of Salsa Cowbells at some point. The current spec:

Frame: Year 2000 Surly Cross Check, TIG-welded double-butted Reynolds 631 cro-moly steel.
Fork: Matched, with lugged crown and 1-1/8" steerer

Wheels: Shimano 600 8-speed hubs, Velocity A23 rims, Wheelsmith stainless butted spokes

Crankset: Shimano SLX touring 170mm arms, RaceFace 38t single-speed ring; 29t granny
Bottom bracket: Shimano XT external
Cassette: Shimano 12-30
Front derailleur: Shimano Altus top-swing, top-pull
Front Shifter: Shimano stem shifter mounted on a clamp on the left side of the seat mast just below the top tube. Cable runs directly to the derailleur.
Rear derailleur: Shimano SLX short-cage with alloy pulleys
Rear shifter: Shimano 8-speed bar-end mounted on a Paul's Thumbie on the top section of bar just to the right of the stem.
Chain: Sram PC-851

Brakes: Tektro CR-720 with salmon pads
Brake Levers: Cane Creek BR-5 and Cane Creek Cross-tops

Headset: Chris King NoThread Sotto Volce, silver (recent addition)
Bars: Ritchey WCS, 42cm, 26.0, ergo.
Stem: Bontrager 100mm, 25˚ rise
Seatpost: Ritchey WCS alloy 27.2
Clamp: Surly Constrictor with Surly cable stop
Saddle: Currently a Brooks Cambium

Typical gravel loadout: Medium Relevate Tangle bag, Relevate Mountain Feedbag, Planet Bike Lunch Box, Planet Bike seat bag, Garmin 500 or Touring Plus, Lyzene HV mini-pump, Zefal bottle cages, Banjo Brothers map case.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Devil's Ferry Fall Outing

Grant came up with an idea for another cross-border operation for a fall color ride. Set up to start at Blue Mound state park, it ran north to Spring Green, Ferry Bluff, Devil's Lake state park, the Merimac Ferry, Gibraltar, Mazomaine and back to Blue Mound.

We did a couple of prep rides, the first just he and I out of the village of Blue Mounds; the second to Gibraltar with Steve joining us. We rode very little of the course, but hit a couple of the more questionable highlights. I had never been to Gibraltar and found it to be magnificent, but both prep rides were excellent in many other ways too.

The course was revised several times by the day of the event, most importantly to eliminate a screaming descent immediately upon leaving the park in the pre-dawn darkness.

Family life has been busy lately, so I ended up driving out to the park the night before, arriving after dark. Grant and David had already set up in an adjacent site, and I was soon joined in mine by Jakey. It was in the upper 30's and windy, and I was a little cold that night. Apparently the coons couldn't sleep either, and they woke us up a couple of times.

We were slated to take off at 06:15, and we were pretty close. Grant's neighbor Mark had gotten up early and rode 30+ miles from Madison to join us. Rolled out in the dark and cold at 06:30, west on the rail trail to Barneveld and then north on roads toward Spring Green.

About halfway there it was gloomy as the sun came up, and it started lightly to rain. The breakfast place was a welcome sight with its big flapjacks and hot coffee.

Headed north out of town, the clouds started to break up and we got to practice our headwind skills. Leaf colors were a little past peak but lovely.

We stopped at Ferry bluff and hiked to the top for a look at the Wisconsin river and points east. The weather continued to improve as we embarked on the long climb toward Devil's lake.

Ferry Bluff
We stopped for a snack break but lost David shortly after resuming. Retraced the route to find him fixing a flat.

The longest climb of the day commenced just as the sun came out and the clouds rolled away. We reached the summit near North Freedom, finding some surprise gravel and getting buzzed by an angry motorist. We rode a short stretch of a very busy US 12, crossing onto Ski Hi road toward Devil's Lake state park.

Many had apparently assumed that this was the last beautiful day of the fall, so the park was really busy. We rode down to the lodge, ordered lunch and ate it while enjoying the view of the lake and its surrounding bluffs.

Back on the road, we arrived at the Merrimac Ferry to find that it was also in great demand, and we bought concessions and chatted while waiting for it to arrive. Fortunately, there was plenty of room for bikes.

Next up was a stop at Gibraltar Rock, which entailed an almost impossibly steep climb up an abandoned, moss-covered pavement. The view was worth it.

Mark split off from us at Mussen Road and County Y and headed back to Madison with the hope of getting there not long after dark. Soon after, we rolled through Roxbury and then back into the hills just as the sun was setting. Then we made the mistake of wanting to cut off a few miles, and allowed Grant's Garmin Touring to reroute us onto rather busy highways 19 and 14 to Black Earth as it got really dark. Fortunately, both highways had pretty decent paved shoulders, and we shortly returned to much less-travelled county highways.

By this time, the batteries in both Grant's and my Garmins had run out of gas (a disappointment and a story for another time) and we switched to navigating by knowledge of the local topography. Luckily we were already on County F, which ran into Blue Mounds, but nobody knew how far we had still to go. Uphill and in the dark. Turned out that the final climb was huge, long, and beginning to get quite cold. But persistence pays off, and we finally passed Brigham county park and began the short descent into the village.

David left us before we even arrived at the Hooterville Tap and set out to drive back home to Illinois. Grant, Jakey and I went in and had burgers, beer and pizza before shivering our way back to camp. Even though it got down into the lower thirties, I was ready for it and haven't slept so well in recent memory.

Broke camp the next morning, and had breakfast at Sjolinds in Mt. Horeb with Grant and Jakey. Drove home.

125+ miles. Good, good stuff.

Pics on the Flix.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Edge of Driftless

This was another cross-border ride we did with our friends Mike, Tim, David and Dave from Illinois, and Dan from Des Moines who happened to be in town for a conference. Met up pretty early at the Jane Addams trailhead in Orangeville and struck northeast onto a couple of gravels. Once in Wisconsin, things changed over to mostly pavement.

The weather and the scenery were both beautiful, and we ended up riding a bunch of stuff we had never seen before.

All the pix can be found here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ten Thousand

Went to the inaugural running of Axletree's Ten Thousand down in Freeport. Grant and I got up early and took off on time, but missed an exit in Monroe and ended up getting there about five minutes before the start. Went to the pre-race before we took the bikes off the car and ended up starting a couple minutes behind he field.

Meh. So what? We were in it just for the ride anyway.

It rained on us pretty good starting maybe 20 minutes in, fogging glasses and covering us in slurry. Rode with a fat biker and leapfrogged with Kierstin and Dan, who would all ultimately do the short route.

This was the maiden voyage for the roll chart, and I was really glad I made it shed water. Speaking of maiden voyages, Grant had built up his new Soma Wolverine the week prior and put the finishing touches on the night before. There were a number of stops for adjustments.

The route ran north and west into the Driftless area, and some of the hills were just about steep enough where a person had to walk. The rain quit eventually and we swung back and forth between gravel and pavement; occasionally, in the middle of nowhere, the pavement would just start or end.

Where the Pavement Ends
There was one checkpoint and one c-store, both with ample water. Good thing, because we got a couple peeks of sun and it warmed up and got good and humid. Grant and I mostly rolled and talked but also took occasional turns at dropping or lagging.

There was some very pretty scenery on route, and a B road that couldn't be beat. Came upon some good ol' boys parked near the end of the B, drinking and having a good ol' time with the laughing and the bullshitting. They asked whether we were the sweepers, and well, we said no but knew then that we were at the back of the pack for the long route.

Minimum Maintenance Road
The joke then became that we would welcome some rain to cool us off a bit. Nearing the finish, we passed Pearl City and I agreed to the rain, but only if it hit after we got back on the pavement. Within a few miles of the finish we got our wish and it poooouuuurrrred. Rolled into Krape park as the second to last group to find only Chad and a couple of others still there. The last group came in as we were changing into dry clothes in the parking lot.

Had a lousy meal at a hotel restaurant in downtown Freeport and drove home in a huge thunderstorm.

Great day, all in all.

Pictures are in the album.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cheesehead Triangle

Took a day off from work, left home and picked up the Capitol City bike path to the Greenbush and Southwest paths, got on the Badger headed south and rode through the tunnel to Monroe. From there, I rode the Cheese Country ATV trail to Mineral Point, grunted up Shake Rag Street to the bike path along US151 to Dodgeville and caught the Military Ridge trail back to Madison.

Sounds simple, but was by far the longest I've ever ridden all by my lonesome. Three counties and 17 towns.

Even on a 29er with really big tires, the ATV trail was no joke. Hard work. Hot and humid.


Still, 147 miles in under 14 hours on that thing? I'll take it.

Pics on the Flik.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Gravel Metric 2014

Wind Farming
Drove down to DeKalb with Nate and Steve to ride Axletree's Gravel Metric, the ride with the clever videos. Grant skipped this one because apparently there was some kind of dispute on their ride while I was at Almanzo.

Pretty big field of locals, Chicagoans and Sconnies took the start. Rolled out of the NCC parking lot, onto some pavements to get us out of town, and turned the dogs loose on the gravels maybe 5 or 6 miles out. Pace lines held until maybe 25 miles in where we did a long stretch of turf grass trails through a state park. Interesting at times given that some folks obviously don't spend a lot of time on surfaces other than pavement. It was pretty hot and quite a few people would run out of water as the ride went on, but we were smart enough to stop at the park and top off.

Peeps were feeling a little low at the halfway checkpoint, so that slowed us down a little, and we took another longish break at the water crossing around mile 45-ish. Couple of really fun B roads on this one. Ended up taking a little longer than I might have liked overall, but we had a good lunch afterward in good company.

Word has it that the next running will be the last, so make it if you can.

Pix over on the picture site.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Almanzo 2014

Drove down to Preston with Handyman the night before the Almanzo. Got a bit of a late start and stopped in LaCrosse and had dinner at Qdoba. Lots of talk on the way down about riding in general an how this would be his first century.

The Trailhead Inn Resort in Preston is recommended. Clean and sufficiently appointed. We didn't get in until 22:00, missing the grass track race and registration. Even the hotel office was closed and our key was in a note taped to the room door.

Decent breakfast but nothing special, after which we lost track of time a bit and I had to urge the Handy to trim his toenails later and omygawd, we gotta be to Spring valley in about 20 minutes to check in! We rolled into our parking spot on the edge of town with maybe 7 minutes to spare, so I grabbed our waivers, left Handy at the car to get ready, and rolled into town to get our numbers. As I laid my hand on the door of the community center, the megaphone dude barked:

"One minute to registration closing! One minute left!"

I think I got the last pair of numbers before the start.

Handy and I worked our way up at the front, sang Happy Birthday with the crowd, and we were off.

Starting Rabble

He hung on my wheel all day, frequently asking me to check pace. In retrospect, maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. This was the Almanzo where the horses ran with the riders, but we missed that.

Preston Trout Festival
It was Trout Festival back in Preston.

Fat Bikes Float
The water crossing was great.

We had fun.

Dinner at a decent pizza place in Fountain (the Village Square of Fountain) with good pie after. Quick tour of the former jail behind the butcher shop now a slaughterhouse. Then the drive home.

I drove to the Wisco border, and we switched drivers and I got coffee at a c-store in LaCrosse. Handy drove to Castle Rock where we switched again, which was good because he was out right after we got underway. The Prius had a CD player, but the only disk I could find was a badly scratched Rush album.

So we got home on caffeine, Limelight, Tom Sawyer, about half of Red Barchetta that ended in garble and Handy's occasional half-awake attempts at conversation. We made it, though I wouldn't say I was perky. Pulled into my driveway just after midnight and I managed to stay awake through my daughter's dance recital the next day. So, success.

Pictures over that-away.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Trans Iowa 2014

Well, that was sort of a bust, but at least it had a silver lining.

Training didn't go so well this year. About 6 weeks out, I came down with what I'm pretty sure was Norovirus, followed about a week later by a stubborn, flu-like respiratory ailment that kept me home from work for 3 days and hung on and on. The combination blew a huge hole in what was supposed to be the most intense period of training, and despite my best efforts, the miles just didn't get racked up.

Then there was the anxiety that normally precedes a big ride, exacerbated by the visceral memory of last year's meltdown. In retrospect, I'm pretty certain that what happened in 2013 was really a massive bonk. I just didn't eat enough during the overnight or in the morning for my body to be able to finish the job. The memory of that feeling, combined with frustration over having been sick for so long, did not put me in a good frame of mind for the task of finishing.

The trip down to Grinnell was similar to last year, except that it had rained a little over the previous week and that Grant wasn't racing this time. Nate had tried to get in, but the growing popularity of TI had crowded him out. The four of us arrived an hour or two before the meat-up, settled in to the hotel room, prepped the bikes, went to the pre-race dinner meeting and then to bed.

I'd had TI brain for weeks. It felt like I was in sort of a fog, stressed out and scatterbrained. Grant even mentioned that Steve and I did not seem our normal selves. I'd had no idea it was that obvious, but now there I lay in the hotel bed, unable to tame the monkey brain. I got a couple fitful hours of sleep, but nothing restful. I was already awake when the alarm went off at 02:45.

The Start

The start was very similar to 2013, but pointed the other direction on High street. I chatted briefly with fellow Madisonians Kristin and BJ, and we had our photograph taken by the representative of the Wisconsin Gravel Syndicate. Mark made his announcements, including a repeat of the previous night's warnings about some nasty rail crossings a couple miles in.

Trying to find a rhythm near the back, I have to admit that I really felt like crap. I was able to hang with the moderate and steady Slender Fungus crew for a little while, but fell off of that pace too. Decided it would be best to just bide my time and see whether I would perk up as time went on. Chatted briefly with early TI vet Sprocket, and was with him when we came to the first minimum-maintenance B road, still wet from the previous day's rain.

The Cross Check was sporting a set of full-coverage SKS plastic fenders, and I learned about 100 yards onto the B why almost nobody else had them. The soil in this part of Iowa has a high clay content, and sticks to everything, especially bike tires. Even walking the bike, they jammed up to the point where substantial effort was required just to push. I tried staying on the grass at the edges, and that helped, but there were also places where it was mud all the way across. At the end of the B section, I spent a lot of time scraping with my "B Road Buddy," a modified plastic putty knife made for just this purpose. Steve had it worse, since his Handsome Devil had less fender clearance, especially under the fork crown.

Full fenders were permanently scratched off the equipment list right then and there.

After the mud scraping, we were genuinely at the back of the field with a few other stragglers. One rider had both of his lighting systems fail long before the sun came up. Another had had a flat tire. 

Just as the sky began to lighten, I watched Steve's blinkie light recede up a hill past the turn he had just missed. He was too far away to hear me yell, so I just continued on, missing the next turn myself by reading the wrong line on the cue sheet. Looking down at the road and seeing no bike tracks, I turned around at about a half mile and stopped the timer on the GPS. About a half mile after getting back on course, I re-started it and was remarkably close to having the GPS odometer and the cues back in sync.

Within a couple of miles, about the time the sun was breaking over the horizon, I caught up with Steve, now back on track. He told me that he had caught another rider's wheel and a rut, causing him to crash, and that he was in doubt about whether he would continue beyond the first checkpoint.

As we rolled along, the course turned from the southwest to the southeast, then primarily east, and the wind began to build out of the east. It hadn't really been noticeable until this point, but it had come to a very steady 10-12 miles per hour with some slightly stronger gusts. Nothing to write home about, but a factor.


Checkpoint One

We made the first checkpoint in Lynnville at 8:25 or so, over an hour before it closed. There was a convenience store right before, and Steve encouraged me to ride past the store and check in, mistakenly thinking we would otherwise not make the cutoff. So I did, happy to see a couple of familiar faces from the Slender Fungus and WGS.

Jake, Agatha, and Derek were just leaving the c-store as I arrived, but Steve, Giggles and a couple of other familiar faces were still there. Suddenly I realized that I had forgotten my wallet back in the hotel room. I knew exactly where the damn thing was too: in the back pocket of my jeans goddammit. I talked to Steve, and he had decided to drop, so he lent me a pair of twenties and called the boys for a ride. I went into the store and got water, a slice of breakfast pizza and a small candy bar, determined not to repeat last year's mistakes—I'd be leaving this stop with about 100 ounces of fluids. When I came back out, I refilled, said my goodbyes to Steve and headed out. Stopping briefly at the CP to reset my odometer, I chatted up and thanked the volunteers again. Overall pace for the first section was just over 10 miles per hour.

Completely forgot my plan to change from the Garmin 500 to the Garmin 200.

Then I was alone. Rolling out of town, it was obvious that the wind had already gotten stronger and steadier. It was a nice day otherwise, with the sun shining brightly, but that wind resisted every turn of the pedals. Now came a long grind though open spaces, with hills arrayed to the horizon. Fortunately, the gravels were in great shape with a nice smooth hard-packed track over the vast majority of the course so far.

Not too far west of Lynnville, I came across a rider (in Rassmussen kit, I believe) struggling against the wind across a broad river valley. I offered a pull, but he declined saying that he would be too slow.

A short while later, just before the second B road, I turned south and uphill along a cut in the road, lee to the wind. There, among the weeds in he cut, lay a rider and his bike, enjoying a full-on ditch nap in the sunny calm. I felt bemused and a little envious.

The second B was much better than the first. The clay had dried leather-hard, and following the track of the 80- or 90-some riders ahead of me was cake. Stopping in the shelter of another cut to eat a bit, remove my shoe covers and adjust my errant front shifter, I was soon approached by another rider.

"Ay, you wanna work together a bit?"

"Sure thing. I'll get packed up."

Dave was from Winnepeg, an area he described as conspicuously devoid of hills. This made efforts to draft...well, interesting. It didn't help that his bike wasn't really geared for Iowa rollers either. If I recall, he was running a 38t chainring with maybe a 28 or 30 large cog in back. Flatlander gearing. I'd pull him on the flats, but he'd lag up the hills and outrun me on the downhills. Still, it was good to have somebody in league against that unrelenting wind, and his company was pretty good too.

Bridge Dave Panda

After a little while, we took a break in the wind shadow of a garage right next to the road to eat something. Remarkable was the sensation of not having the wind noise in our ears—it was like closing the door on a noisy machine. A woman came out of the farmhouse to chat with us, asking what kind of ride we were on. She seemed relatively unsurprised and entirely Midwestern nice, asking whether we needed anything. We thanked her and continued on.

80-some miles into the race at this point, and I had begun to cough regularly. I hadn't really managed to kick the respiratory ailment from a couple weeks back and I was beginning to feel it, especially in the face of what was now a constant 20 mile per hour headwind. There wasn't much to do but put our heads down and push against it.

"Aw shit!" Dave called out at the crest of a hill.

"Dave, what is it? What's wrong?"

"There's another hill up there."

"Dave. This is gonna be your day now. Better get used to it."

We actually managed to reel in a few people at this stage, including Troy from Dubuque, making his second attempt at TI. He was in good spirits and gamely tried to help with our sporadic attempts at making a pace line. He ran out of water around mile 100, but found an understanding farmer willing to offer him some. Dave and I left him at his request and pressed on.

We also came across Mick from Nova Scotia (which spurred a lively discussion about transporting bikes to the states) and a couple of others including a guy on a fixed gear. We stopped at the top of a hill around mile 100 to eat and drink and shoot the malevolent breeze.

I ran out of water just as we rolled into North English, about a mile shy of our next stop. Almost 100 ounces in 52 miles. The wind was just sucking it out of us.

The Casey's General convenience store at mile 115 was busy. Busy with people dropping out of the race, phoning to throw in the towel, and with support vehicles and crew picking them up. John from Nebraska, one of those who had witnessed my meltdown the previous year, was there, sitting against the wall and waiting for a ride. The wind had done him in. Taco Sam was holding court on the sidewalk out front, chatting with the drops. Dave and I went in to buy refreshments. Water, pizza and chips to start.

Back outside, I lent my phone to a racer who had no cel service. I talked to John and Sam for a while, and Dave lay down on the sidewalk and fell asleep using the brick wall for a pillow. I considered my options. Our average speed for the second leg had been about 9.4 miles per hour. As always, I had watched my GPS closely right before the 100-mile mark, which had been crossed at about 13:48. Almost ten hours to go 100 miles. No time in the bank. After refilling my water and downing an entire Gatorade, I went back into the store, where I had a pretty serious coughing jag in the candy aisle. I held the lugi in my mouth while I paid for my candy and granola bar, hocking it into an out-of the way corner once back outside.

Troy pulled in and said that he was ready to drop. He called his wife back at the hotel. Checkpoint two was still over 50 miles away, it was pushing 16:00 and I had no idea which direction the course went from here. Not that it mattered, since the crosswind was almost as bad as the headwind, and I was pretty sure we wouldn't  be going west for a while. I felt my resolve ebb as I went back into the store for an ice cream bar.

The Drop

Troy's wife and daughters were having fun in the hotel pool, so he decided to just start riding back in the direction of Grinnell, and I agreed to go with him. There seemed little point in riding further out on the course if I had no intention of pushing hard to make the 21:30 cutoff. Why make the inevitable decision farther from my support? I called the boys and let them know I was out, then Mark to let him know that Troy and I were both done. In one way, it felt like I was giving up too easily, but in another it just seemed like this year was not meant to be. For a lot of reasons.

The only map Troy and I had was a highway map of the state, which showed only the numbered paved highways and none of the gravels. We rolled west out of North English on the pavements, with the intention of getting picked up in Montezuma, maybe 20 miles out of Grinnell.

The tailwind was heaven itself. On one of the paved highways we averaged one 3-mile stretch at over 27 miles per hour. Then we hit the gravels and actually followed part of the course backwards for a while, this time with the wind's blessing. Troy was good company, and I found that I was truly having fun for the first time that whole day. We rolled and talked about Dubuque and the Triple D, family and friends, jobs and bikes and life in general. We were in no hurry but we were making great time. Navigation was a little bit of highway map pavement and a lot of seat of the pants guesswork. Mostly west with a little bit of north thrown in, we used water towers as waypoints. One turned out to be just a water tower, alone in a cornfield, not Montezuma.

We stopped at a c-store in Montezuma and were feeling good, so we decided to press on to Grinnell. There were no county maps to be had, so we asked a series of cheerfully curious locals what the best route might be. Nobody had an answer we much liked, so we decided to wing it.

We called support again to update them and rolled west on F57, a pavement with a paved shoulder and signed as a bike route! We turned north on a town road just before Lake Ponderosa and almost immediately came upon a gravel, marked as a B road running off to the west. Neither of us had to even pretend to convince the other, we just took it.

Slaying Demons

This area had been looking very familiar, but not 50 yards after making the turn, a wave of recognition washed over me. The farmstead on our right was the very place that last year where I had seen a family out mowing and failed to stop and ask them for water. Along this stretch ran the very floor of the meltdown, less than 10 miles from where I threw in the towel, only this time I felt great.

B Road Honking

Unloading the burden of not finishing either year felt great. We zigzagged north and west as the sun set, knowing that if we came to highway 146, we'd be due South of Grinnell. Two more B roads later, we crossed I-80 on 100th and could see the lights of a town off to the northwest. We picked up the aptly-named Diagonal Road, where my GPS died and then north onto a westbound gravel toward town.

Just as it was really getting dark, we rolled onto pavement. A couple of dogs ran out from a farm and challenged us in the roadway. The younger was not vicious, but quite enthusiastic about not allowing us to pass. Then a bit of mistaken northbound travel to the GAR highway and finally, into Grinnell itself.

We had strayed quite a ways north and had to ride two or three miles south once in town to get back to the hotel. Members of the Slender Fungus were there to greet us at the entrance. As stories were exchanged, we noticed the first few flashes of distant lightning. We were going to miss the storms. 

Trans Iowa 2014: started in the dark and finished in the dark, with big, hairy demons slain between.

Troy and I, Returned

Photos are over on Flickr.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dairy Roubaix 2014

Dougway Rd.
This is a fun one down in Grant County, Wisco. Starts in Wyalusing state park near the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers and goes south along the Mighty Muddy through the driftless. Not all gravel. Mighty hilly.

Photo photos over on the Flix.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sunup to Sundown Training, Part Two

Because it worked so well last year, Steve, Nate, Tyler and I did a long spring training ride that began before sunup and went almost 150 miles to sundown. This time was a ride down the Badger State Trail to Illinois. It had been a long winter and there was still some ice in the tunnel and snow on the trail in the highlands north of Monroe. The weather had been threatening all morning and a severe thunderstorm hit us just south of Monroe, forcing us to hide out at Clarno lumber until it passed. Good thing, because it hailed like crazy.

Back underway, we crossed the border into Illinois and the Badger became the Jane Addams Trail. Hail lay like snow on the bridges especially, calling for a little extra caution, but the sun was out and we were making time again.

We had lunch at a Mexican place named Amigo's in Freeport, checked out the new bike shop downtown and were back underway. Picked up some fine Illinois pavements and gravels northbound and even found some surprise Wisco gravel north of the border. Rode a little bit of the Sugar River Trail, but cut some of it off short in the interest of making up some of the time lost to the thunderstorm.

Stopped for a snack at a C-store in Oregon and followed our well-worn route back into Madison, dodging lightning bolts as we rolled in through Nine Springs and across the causeway.

Return to Madison
You know where to find the pix.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Epilogue to TIv9

It's been a long time, I know, but I wanted to have some perspective before I published this. It's changed a lot since I first wrote it last year. There have been a lot of rides since, including another TI. Thanks for waiting.


Having the phone cut out was worrisome, but I figured the boys would be smart enough to find me. I got back on the bike and rode a half-mile, turned right on 60th and climbed the remaining half-mile to F-46. All they had to do was drive the route backwards, and boom, there I'd be. I laid the bike down in the grassy ditch and commenced the wait. "Re-trace the route," I muttered over and over to myself. I took the caps off all three bottles and managed to consolidate a couple ounces of water, which I drank immediately. 

It was a huge relief to see that VW top the hill on the other side of the highway. I stooped my stiff old cowboy body over the bike and removed the computers and lights, then slowly rose back to a hunched-over stance. Steve would later tell me that I looked about fifteen years older when they picked me up.

The car wheeled around and Grant, Steve and Nate piled out. Steve asked:

"Now, before we offer aid, you're sure you're done?"
"Yes, I'm sure."

All at once there were smiles, laughter and pats on the back for the smelly old dimwit. I was so relieved to be done. I might have been moved to tears of joy,  had either joy or tears been in stock, but all of my cupboards were pretty much bare.

They hadn't brought water, but there was Gatorade, which might have been better anyway. I put my lights and computer in the back of the wagon and sat there while they loaded my bike. Another rider approached, looking rough too, but asked if everything was alright. I replied that it was. I don't know who it was or whether he finished. I don't think he did. [We think this was Dave. He was found wandering in the road a few miles away, out of it. He did not finish.]

Once underway, the talking began. I don't remember much of it, but I'm told that I had no filter between impulse and mouth. I may well have told them that I was not going to ever do TI again. Ever.

Back at the hotel, there was water with electrolyte, food, beer, a shower and two beds to choose from. Re-acquaintance with food and beer was clearly going to take a while. I managed a little of both, but more food than beer.

My first real encounter with my smell happened as I disrobed to shower, and I washed everything twice. Shorts included.

After putting on clean clothes, I laid down to take a nap not expecting that I would be afraid to go to sleep. I was afraid that if I went to sleep that I would die. Lose control and crash, perhaps.

We went to dinner at a restaurant in town. We saw some other TI racers and their crews, had a nice meal and rented a couple of movies from a Red Box. This is 40 was funny in fits and starts but mostly lame. Argo was excellent, at least judging by the parts I was awake to see.


It took at least a week to feel normal again. Large parts of my intellect went on hiatus. A few pieces would return each day, and I think most of it was back within a week.

Physical soreness was mostly gone in a couple if days, but I had night sweats for about a week. Electrolytes and hormones, most likely. My saddle area grew new skin within a couple of weeks, but would not be the same for most of the summer. My power on the bike returned in mid-May and  I felt pretty good racing Almanzo a mere three weeks later, though I did fade substantially near the end. (There were a couple of flashbacks as well.)


I had gone into Trans Iowa thinking maybe there would be some kind of big epiphany out there in the wilds, which seems pretty unrealistic in retrospect. There did turn out to be big, obvious lessons, including:

- Ultra endurance racing is hard.
- Details (like hydration and nutrition) are always important. 
- Positive thinking is essential.
- Seldom does anyone do anything like this in isolation.

Much of this I knew, but now understand more fully. 

Also learned were some things about cycling:

- Everything is going to hurt at some point, and easing off to work through whatever it is usually helps. 
- Staying seated while climbing keeps a steadier heart rate and seems to conserve energy. 
- It pays to have your rig in top shape, and to train with the setup you intend to use.
- Within reason, gear is just gear and physical training only goes so far. Mental proficiency counts for much more than I had thought.


Sean Mailen said in 300 Miles of Gravel:

"The season of my life is good. I've got...I'm getting ready to get married, and a lot of things are going on, and it's just, like, that level of endurance you learn you have physically, it also translates into mentally...and like you know what, I can handle this."

Yeah, I guess, maybe. I had been through most of that (and some more interesting stuff) before TI, and frankly, none of it as clear-cut as dirtball bike racing. Maybe it is of profound help to some people. It'd be interesting to hear what Sean would say a decade from now.

For me, the most profound lesson has been that life's little annoyances are now more likely to be identified for what they are. I've got a little more courage to face the unknown. I'm a little less passive and a little less inclined to just muddle through. Not much more than that, but I'll take it. Every little bit helps.

I sent in a postcard and am on the roster for next year. Iowa gravel and I have unfinished business. I'm just about finished with overhauling the bike. 

I had an exchange with singlespeeder Matt on Twitter:

Me: Also, will be taking another whack at #transiowa at the end of April.
@mdub71: Best of luck
Me: Thank you. Wait. You're not on the roster...
@mdub71: I got my three, and that shit is hard. You will see me around.

That shit is hard.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Chill Was Gone

Joint operation between Bonk King and I. We were a little foolish to name it thus, given the time of year. Nate, Grant, Scott and I with Mike and David from Illinois. We the Madisonians met up in Fitchburg with our pals from south of the border. Rode downtown to give the lads a tour and stopped at Micky's Dairy Bar for pancakes and other breakfast fare. Scott joined us and we headed south on the Badger to Sun Valley, Frenchtown and Belleville. Cold, with just a hint of sleety drizzle.

Paid a visit to the tunnel before heading over to New Glarus via Exeter Crossing. Sun came out as we stopped at the Brewery for a sample beer and then down to the Bakery for pastries. Back east via Exeter, the crew was getting pressed for time, so we cut off the Attica part of the loop and headed north through Dayton via D and back to the Badger whence we came and returned to the Hotel d' Fitchburgs.

Grant, Nate and I stopped for the Park Street la Hacienda meat platter on the way home.

Truncated from our original 125-mile plan, but long enough.

The Chill is Gone Ride
(Not many) pics here.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Triple D 2014

Trained wrong, ate wrong, set the bike up wrong and did not live up to my own expectations. Didn't even take any photos. Not gonna beat myself up about it, and on the bright side, I finished. Better luck next year.