Thursday, May 30, 2013


What happens when you run 6 miles of gravel in your bike shoes. 

I don't write techy gear reviews, mostly because they would consist of, "I rode an aluminum bike with 2 chainrings in the front and 9 or 10 gears in the back." I could walk my butt to the basement and count the rear cassette to be more specific, but I'm still milking the "I just rode 389 miles" laziness. I don't want Big E thinking I've fully recovered yet because then he'll stop waiting on me hand and foot.

So instead, my gear review will consist of sharing of the crap I manage to damage in the course of 3 days. Of course, I'm pretty sure you're all thinking that I wouldn't have damaged all this stuff if I had replaced my old crap in the first place. You'd be right. I was too busy riding to shop and I have serious aversions to trying anything new in a race. I did let Big E drop my bike at the shop a few days before the race, but I was adamant that they could only make it shift better. I believe I said, "Don't let them mess with my brakes."

Apparently some secret brake cable lubricating occurred. I'm thankful for this despite my adamant demands.

Anyway, I'm also thankful Crank Brothers sells build kits, Sidi sells sole pads and Giro sells replacement parts. 
Someone was a little aggressive in trying to make the dirt-filled Roc Loc work again.

Perhaps I'll also take the fact that my drivetrain is now worn to death and turn that into a positive too.  Perhaps it's time for 1 x something......

Monday, May 27, 2013


I woke up at 5:40 the next morning, before the alarm even went off.  It took a minute to understand what I was feeling.  I'd anticipated waking up sore and groggy, but instead I was sore and......excited. After Friday's adventure, riding the 145 miles to Decorah in the sun seemed like it might actually be fun.

About an hour later, I was headed out of Lansing to cross the bridge into Wisconsin. The sun was up, my belly was full of pizza and I was feeling confident about the day....right up until the moment I realized the bridge was grated metal. Aside from ice, I've only encountered one other surface on which I really dislike to ride. It's metal, especially grated metal. In fact, if there was a patch of ice and my only way around it was grated metal- I'd probably ride the ice.

Needless to say, I really wanted to walk that bridge. Unfortunately, my cleats were about the same size as the holes. So, I conquered one of my big fears before 7 am and rode the damn bridge. My worst nightmare of falling and grating my face off didn't come true and I crossed into Wisconsin thinking, "Hell yeah- I'm up."

Chris had given us the heads up that Wisconsin would bring us abundant pavement, hills and beautiful scenery. His description couldn't have been more accurate. Every grinder of an uphill ended with a view so amazing I'd remind myself how lucky I was to have saved this part for the daylight. Wisconsin also brought an abundance of friendly people my way. It seemed like every time I stopped to change cue sheets, take off a layer or run into the gas station for treats someone asked if I was ok, inquired what I was doing out here or simply stopped to say, "What a great day to ride a bike."

Heck yeah- what a great day to ride a bike!

I was almost sad that afternoon when I had to cross the bridge from Prairie du Chien back to Iowa. I had one last encounter with a friendly Wisconsinite before my crossing. I stopped at the gas station before the turn to the bridge. I wanted to make sure I was making the correct turn so I stopped a guy to ask if this was the turn for the bridge.

"Yes," he said, "but there's a lot of traffic on this bridge. You might want to ride up to Lansing and cross there."

I burst out laughing. "I came from there," I said, "and trust me, the traffic on this bridge couldn't be any scarier than riding across the metal bridge up there."  We chatted a bit more and I crossed the bridge (riding in the HUGE shoulder next to very little traffic) smiling and hoping people were this nice in Iowa.

The first part of Iowa sort of flew by. It was warm and sunny (in case you were wondering- SPF lip balm does not work as sunscreen on the rest of your body). I was happy to return to the gravel. There's something about sunny days on the bike that always remind me of my mom. Perhaps knowing she took her last breath pedaling her bike on a sunny day makes it easy to connect to her. It's like she hops on the back and turns my bike into a tandem. Whatever it is, on these days it's always to get in the groove and cruise along, lost in thought. 

At this point I'd probably been riding alone for nearly 100 miles that day so when I finally saw someone up ahead, it took awhile to realize it was another rider. I pushed to catch up, partly for the company and partly out of pure curiosity as to who it might be. A few miles later, I was riding along with Pat, laughing at the sweatshirt he'd bought in Preston still strapped to his bike.

We eventually split up, but not before he put the idea in my head to ride past Decorah that night to make the last day under 100 miles. I was feeling good so I figured, what the hell, I'll try that.

That thought was in my head when I rode into town. I passed the Super 8 and rode straight to the store to restock with food. As I was packing up the bike, Dan and Hal from Canada rode up, having just finished dinner. They quickly convinced me to try to ride through the night to miss the next day's storms. We headed out of town as the sun dropped below the horizon.

Ten miles down the road, I realized I might be riding through the night alone. Although we were all riding the same speed, I wasn't ready to stop as often as Dan and Hal so I ventured off alone, hoping my light would make it through the night.  At that point, we were riding on a lot of flat roads so I alternated between turning my light off to use the moon on the flats and turning my light on to avoid crashing on the downhills.

I'm not sure how long I rode like this. I passed a tiny town with a bar, where I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack. Not long after, I saw more lights up ahead. My first instinct was that Dan and Hal had gotten ahead while I backtracked, but as I got closer I found Jonas and Lindsey, who had stopped to read the cue sheets.

The three of us spent the rest of the night riding together. Honestly, the miles passed quickly. We made a good bunch, Lindsey pulled us along for much of the night, leading the way with his bright lights. I navigated, reading ahead on the cue sheets and calling out turns. Jonas, who seemed to have endless energy, kept us awake with conversation.

We managed to make decent time, even with a short stop at a middle-of-nowhere pop machine that gave us all diet pop. We laughed and drank it anyway, happy for the caffeine.

We made it to Forestville State Park just as the first hint of morning arrived. We filled up on water and snacked one last time before our final push. As we were getting ready to leave, Lindsey pointed out that he couldn't believe how energetic I was after riding as far as I had that day (I'd been over 200 miles for a couple of hours now). Of course, as soon as I got back on the bike, the fatigued hit, as if the mere mention of it was enough to put me to sleep in an instant. I realized then that I had not sat down (except on my bike) since I'd left Lansing that morning.  Needless to say, I was happy to find Dr. Pepper in the pop machine in Cherry Grove. I carried it all the way to the finish in my pocket.

Of course, even after Cherry Grove, we still had one last challenge- the water crossing. At this point, I was itching to ride so I kept creeping ahead, eventually riding down the hill to the crossing alone. As I neared the bottom of the hill, I could see the rushing water. "Oh hell no," I thought. I was fully prepared to sit down and wait for Jonas and Lindsey to carry me across when I saw the sign.

So, I turned around and rode back up the hill, catching Lindsey and Jonas on their way down. We stopped to put rain jackets on, since the lightning we'd seen in the distance for hours had finally arrived with some rain. Not long after, I saw my first vehicle in what seemed like hours. A truck drove toward down the road, the driver sticking his head out the window. At first I thought it was just another friendly person wanting to know what the heck I was doing. As I got closer I realized it was Chris, coming to check on us. (Rumor has it, he only slept for an hour before getting up to make sure we all make it on to the re-route.) We chatted briefly, he told me Big E was waiting at the finish and then it all sunk in- I was gonna finish this thing.

I rode into town an hour and a half later, turning the last corner to find Big E and Chris (how this guy seems to manage to be everywhere at once I'll never know) waiting at the finish. I'd picked the perfect time to finish. (As if I had a choice....) The foot races had started two minutes earlier so I got a cheer from a small crowd as I came in. 

Truthfully, I don't know how to describe how I felt right then. We chatted for a minute and then I said, "I'm not sure what to do with myself now that it's over." Every ounce of energy for the last 25 hours had been put into pedaling.  I was a bit lost having to do anything else. I was caught between complete, utter exhaustion and not wanting to let the day go. I felt relief that it was over mixed with the familiar discontent that creeps in whenever I'm not moving forward toward a goal.

Mainly, I felt a bit overwhelmed that once I let the day end I'd never be able to match it, that in the real world things would never be this simple and that once I fell asleep I was going to wake up really, really, sore.... 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Alexander Take 2

A little inspiration from the fridge.

It was a little after 1pm when Courtney dropped me back off at the Sweet Shop. As I re-packed my seatbag to head out, it stopped raining. I left every layer of clothing on anyway, just in case. I was hoping never to be cold again. I would say I was hoping never to be wet again, but I still had the water crossing in front of me so I went for warmth instead of dryness.

I was hoping to make it to Lansing, 87 miles away. It would be my only chance of a hotel before mile 195. I had a bivy and a liner, but I figured after the cold morning they might not be enough. I made decent time to Harmony, despite some of the freshest gravel ever. (I actually rode by the grading machine.) As I re-stocked on snacks, the cashier mentioned some guys on bikes were here when she started her shift at 1:30. It was 3:45.

I rode away hopeful some of them might stop in Mabel so I could catch up. I passed through Mabel since I still had plenty of water and entered the land of State Line Rd. As I rode along, cursing the wind every time I turned east onto State Line, I realized I was literally riding on the edge of more rain. If I turned north, I rode into sprinkles. If I turned south, I rode into sun. When I rode east, I rode right down the middle, skirting the rain. Somehow, this made the wind seem bearable.

The time passed quickly as I amused myself with this realization and around mile 90 I discovered I was finally catching someone on a bike. As I got closer, I noticed the familiar yellow bag on the handlebars. Ian! Fitting that I would catch up to him first, since he was the one who, in no uncertain terms, told me I'd better get my ass back out here.

Ian and I rode together for the next 25 or 30 miles. We passed Craig and Don at mile 103 where they stopped to bivy. The next 10 or so miles were the most beautiful of the trip. As the sun set, we headed down Irish Hollow Rd. Five miles of downhill later, I was still trying to convince both of us that since Lansing was on the river, maybe, just maybe, we might not have to ride back UP today.

I was wrong.

At some point in the next few miles, we turned onto a road with Hill in the name. I knew we were doomed. At first we rode up together, but eventually we each needed our own pace for what seemed like 5 miles of endless up.  When I got to the top it was dark and windy. At one point, I heard what I thought was screaming coming from the trees. I reluctantly kept riding, eventually turning the corner to discover a windmill screeching in the night.

Around 10:30 I arrived in Lansing and discovered that one hotel was full and another was not answering their phone. In a bit of a panic and at the advice of the bartender, I left Ian, who wanted to bivy, and went in search of a bed and breakfast. At nearly 11pm I rang the doorbell. Frank reluctantly opened the door. I figured I had a short window in which to prove I wasn't crazy so I blurted out the short story of my day and explained that I wasn't sure if I'd make it through the night in my bivy.

Less than an hour later, I was asleep in their only available room, a suite, having showered and dried my clothes in my own in-room dryer. My light was charging. Sam was resting on the porch. Life was good.

Tomorrow would be even better. So glad I kept going.....

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sliver Linings

I'm not really sure where to begin. A person (or at least not a sane one) doesn't just hop on a bike on the morning of a 382 mile bike race and start pedaling. I mean, you actually do sort of just hop on your back at 5am and start pedaling, but that's not really the beginning. I guess the beginning was back on Feb. 11th when I sent Chris this email:

"I got my 3 days off. I'm in for Alexander. Bring on the gravel...."

That was it. Then I all I had to do was just ride my bike a lot. Of course, it snowed for about 2 more months after that so I ended up riding my fat bike a lot, which was probably a good thing, because by the time Sam was all loaded up for Alexander, she ended up weighing about as much as Gracie the MiniMuk.


Anyway,  on Friday, I rolled out of the Spring Valley Inn and into town for the 5am start on a fully loaded Sam. (I was happy to discover that my awesome Barking Bear Bagworks framebag can hold 100 oz of drink and 2 whole pizzas). 

I'm just going to fess up right now, because it will come up numerous times, that I was fully under-dressed for the start. You'd think that when I arrived in my shorts to find everyone else in full rain gear, I might have booked it back to the hotel to get mine. Unfortunately, I didn't actually have full rain gear at the hotel because, well, I don't actually own full rain gear.

So, I followed Chris and the rest of the crew out of town in the pouring rain in my shorts and flimsy jacket. (Hey- at least I had my 2 pizzas!) At first we rode in one big bunch, with me in the back. Eventually, I worked my way up to Martin (whose name I thought was Mark until the finish), happy to have a little company for awhile. At some point, I realized I was getting really cold so when Martin made a pit stop, I pulled over to add a layer. I managed to get the warmer clothes out of the bag and get some of them on, but when it came time for the fine-motor skills stuff, I realized my hands were useless. So there, in the middle of the road less than 25 miles in, I had to ask Martin to buckle my helmet. When he was done, he zipped my jacket. When we hopped back on our bikes and headed down the road, I realized I had to use the palm of my hand to shift. I also realized that if this 382 miles was going to happen, I needed to warm up.

Less than 10 miles later, I got my chance. I was riding along, trying to keep Martin in my sights, when my right foot started to feel stuck to my bike. I took a few more pedal strokes and suddenly I was pedaling with my right pedal attached to my shoe, but not to my bike. Over then next 1/2 mile, I ended up putting the pedal back on numerous times, just to have it come off a few pedal strokes later. As other riders caught me, they tried to tighten it down, but to no avail. Eventually, I put the pedal back on the bike and resorted to running the ups and one-legging the flats and downs. (There is video of this out there somewhere) At some point during the 6 miles of this, I realized I was warming up. Every cloud has it's silver lining....

Thankfully, I'd chosen a section with quite a bit of downhill to break my pedal so I made it to Preston with quite a few other riders. We warmed up in the Sweet Shop and I called for a ride. At this point, I figured my race was over so I grabbed my seat bag and started giving things away- hand warmers, garbage bags, my phone number.....

One thing I've learned over the years is that you have to start crazy endeavors such as this with total acceptance of any outcome. If you go in thinking you'll be devastated if you don't finish, you're doomed. So, when Courtney came to pick me up, I was okay with going. As I said goodbye though, Ian said something along the lines of, "Go find a way to get yourself back out here." Then I got in the car and Courtney said, "You know, I have Crank Brothers pedals on my bike." Then I got a text from Big E that said, "Bill has pedals and he'll drive them down."

By the time we got back to the hotel, I walked into Chris's room and said I was going back out there. I told him I'd wait for Bill's pedals and go back to Preston. "There are two pedals on my bike right there," he said. 

Done deal.

Monday, May 20, 2013

We Did This

On Friday morning, probably around 10am, I was waiting for a ride to pick me up in Preston, MN. I was in a coffee shop at mile 39 of the Alexander version of Almanzo. I'd broken a pedal at mile 33 and run/pedaled one-legged to get here. I stood at the counter, giving another rider my phone number, just in case he needed help later in the race. After he wrote it down, I introduced myself. The woman behind the counter, looking shocked, said, "But you don't even know him!"

"That's just how we are," I told her.

I had absolutely no idea how true that was when I said it. I had no idea that in the next few hours, 3 different people, including the race organizer himself,  would offer to loan me pedals. I had no idea that I guy I barely knew would give me a ride to Spring Valley, wait for me to regroup and then return me to Preston. I had no idea how many people would help me ride nearly 400 miles.

At that point, I thought I was calling it quits. I did know, however, that in the few hours previous a guy named Martin had helped me dressed myself in the middle of a downpour so I could keep riding, more than one rider had tried to fix my pedal and some old ladies I didn't know had offered to give me a ride to the nearest bike shop. I figured if there'd been that many good people in my life before 10am, I could trust another rider with my phone number.

A few hours later, with new pedals and dry clothes, I was back on the course. As soon as I started to pedal, my brain started to wander and I realized that this day had already made up for all of the days in my life when I've lost faith in humanity. For all the bad days, it only takes one like this to make me forget, because for every bad person in this world there will always be a Chris Skogen, or a Martin or a Courtney. As I rode along, I wished there could be more people in the world like them.

In the next 40-some hours, I discovered there are. If you had asked me three days ago if I thought I could ride 389 miles and do 262 of it all in one push, I would tell you, "Hell no." In fact, I still don't necessarily want to say "I" rode all that way, because, in fact, it was really "we" who rode all that way. Martin and I in the rain, Ian and I in the amazing first night sunset, Pat and I in the heat of day two, Jonas and Lindsay and I through an entire night. Not to mention the bartender who helped me find a room night one, the bed and breakfast guy who let me in at 11pm, Big E who raced his own race and then came back to wait for me early the next morning.

In the days to come, I will share the stories from my ride, but I wanted to share this part first. If there is one part of the story people read, I hope it is this part, the one says how unbelievably grateful I am to every single person who helped me finish this race. I pushed the pedals, but each of you carried me a little bit of the way. Thank you. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Fastest Turtle in MN

I can't really complain about the last week since I spent almost 20 hours on my bike. At one point, I left work on a Monday and had ridden over 6 hours by the time I returned on Tuesday. Of course, I arrived on Tuesday sans shower, but hey, I got my rides in.

The highlight of the week was this guy.
Seconds after I snapped this photo I discovered that turtles can, in fact, haul ass toward the pond when they're scared. He was fine with me taking his photo. He just wasn't real thrilled when another biker rode by an inch from his shell.

Other highlights of the week included figuring out how to pee in the middle of Wisconsin farmland without anyone noticing (hopefully), navigating the bike to some new trails without too much traffic (because driving to the trail is highly overrated) and discovering that GU's apparently don't actually expire.

While eating this one after seven hours on the bike, I somehow convinced myself that it not only lasted as long as a Twinkie, but tasted like one too. I have no idea if this is actually true. It just seemed like a good idea when I was hungry enough to eat my own arm.

Although once the gloves are off, I have to admit, my arms are pretty creepy.
Of course, I might have taken this the same day I arrived at work sans shower. It's all starting to run together.

Either way. Ride on, be happy, enjoy the sun!