Thursday, February 04, 2016

Back to health, eye on Iditarod

On January 9th, I joined some of my fellow idiots *cough cough* winter endurance riders in the Tuscobia 150.  This year it was 160 miles due to some added mileage and a change of headquarters.  The day before in Rochester we got about 3-4 inches of wet heavy snow.  Me, being an owner/landlord/maintenance guy of three rental properties was tasked to remove said snow from 3 different duplexes using the same snowblower.  Because I am tough and invincible I would lift the 150 pound (I looked it up) cumbersome snowblower into the back of my wagon and unload said machine at each property.  In reality I am old and feeble hurting my lower back.  Nothing that caused day to day living to be intolerable, but it was bothering me.

Anyways, back to the start of the race.  We took off from Rice Lake, WI at 6am, intent on getting to Park Falls 80 miles away and then making the trip back.  I could tell my back was not quite right, did some stretching, and sat behind the sizeable front group.  Eventually that group would get down to six I think (Ben Doom, Dan Lockery, Todd McFadden, Ryan Curtis, Myself, ?????), and I having troubles, was still there.  To my surprise,even with a few stops to stretch, add air to a tire, and deciding to slow down so that I would aggravate the back less, I still would catch the lead group.   The checkpoint 45 some miles in was a quick affair and most of us regrouped soon after.  That is when the nasty back spasms started (not good).  This was soon followed by stomach spasms (related, and also not good).  With my pace down to where I could just barely stay upright and my back at a point there was no getting better I decided to pull out of the race as finishing what was now 110 miles of the race would have been a way to severely hurt myself for a long time.  I was fortunate to get a ride with some friends whom had to lift my bike onto their rack as I was not able.  I would find out that with my tweaked lower back cycling was one of the worse things I could do.

Two weeks, a few chiropractor visits, and tons of daily stretching I found myself on the start line of the famous Arrowhead 135.  A much harder race though a much  more remote area in Northern MN.  The start was fast as Jay Petervary and Will Ross had started a pissing match early on.  My back was still not 100%, tight, but manageable.  The snow was soft and slow going.  I would find myself dealing with my lower back with more standing than normal.

Picture maliciously and viciously stolen from

 As we eased towards the first checkpoint about 37 miles in, I was feeling better and led the duo of Todd McFadden and Dan Lockery for a long stretch.  Soon after the checkpoint we were joined by Dan Dittmer.  Ben Doom was somewhere between us and the lead duo.  That is when I hurt myself again.  I fell to my side, nothing horrible though.  My knee took the brunt of the impact and smarted, but my already tender back got tweaked once again.  Once again I found myself barely able to pedal because of my back.  Once again I was forced with the realization that I was not to finish the race.  Once again I found a friend that would load my bike for me and give me a ride.  I lost 40 minutes to Dan in roughly 10 miles because of my back.

Once again I would go to the chiropractor, and despite making my back alignment right, I was still in a lot of pain.  I booked an hour long appointment with his partner that does massage, not typical massage though.  Almost like a physical therapy session and massage combo.  He told me he would be working through my stomach on the Psoas muscle most of the time.  That one hour session did a lot more for me than two weeks of targeted stretching.  I am not perfect, but so close to it I feel confident for Iditarod.

I have been taking easy since Arrowhead, but rode for 4 hours last night.  Close to an hour of TT'ing to Gamehaven to ride the now groomed trails with friends.  Rode well, TT'ed it back.  Best I have felt since injuring my back.  I am riding tons stronger now than either of those races, which puts me at ease.  Amazing what messing up your lower back can do.

24 days till Iditarod....

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

3 "big" races this summer.

So this summer has been busy for this Gringo.  Anyways, along with everything summer brings, I managed a bunch of smaller races and these 3 bigger ones.

Chequamegon 100

Hard not to love this race year after year.  100 miles of mostly fun singletrack in the CAMBA system in NW Wisconsin.  The race itself raises something like $15,000 for the trails and the organizers are super cool.  Staying at my family place up in Cable included factions of the Wolftooth Cycling clan and the Mtb Radio clans.  All good, lots of people, lots of fun.

As the start approached there was a lot of worry among racers about the certainty of rain, rain, and rain.  Sometimes you have to shift your thinking so I just started looking forward to the long day of wetness.  Anywho, the trails handle rain well.  I was excited to hit it on the 907 "Hit It".

So I hopped on my bike on the Rock Lake road start line near the front just as we were sent off to ride in the rain, kicking my rear fender off as I am a moron (Mistake #1).  I got it back on, took off, and started passing riders making my way into the "meat" of the riders on the fireroad lead out.  Then, again, because I am a moron, I found my tires were getting really low.  Thinking about it, when I used Brendan's super neat power tool pump I forgot to close my valves (Mistake #2).  Hopped off, pumped up my tires, rolled into the singletrack among the last 5 riders in the race of around 130ish starters.  Looked like a fun day to work through the field in the rain and muck:)

It took awhile to get through riders on Rock Lake as the trail is tight, twisty, and loaded with slippery wet rocks.  People rode scared, but my Whiteout (code name "Hit It") was eating up everything is sight like it was OCB time for the obese.  Eventually I started moving up, having fun on my semi-local trails.  Rock Lake, Patsey Lake, Namakagen, Rock Lake again, Danky Dank, Esker, and then back on fireroad.  At this point I had passed a ton of riders, we were about 35ish miles in, rain was still coming down, and my brake levers pulled back all the way to the bar because of pad wear (had some spare pads just in case).

Rode that 10 mile stretch of fireroad slowly as the soft soil seemed to hug my big tires extra hard, especially compared to the skinny tire folk.  Stopped and chatted with my BFF at the aid station, grabbed some fig newtons, adjusted my brakes, and headed out on Seeley Pass.  The ground I lost on the fireroad was made up quickly as I passed more riders.  Polished off Makwa, then caught up to Mike Pfieffer on Hatchery Creek.  That was a bit of a surprise to catch him after working my way through the field.  He is a much leaner man than I and I think the cold and wet was getting to him.

About 45 miles in at the aid station just having ridden the road in the background.  Picture credit goes to my BFF.

Got through the halfway point at the Hatchery Trailhead quickly and headed North.  I had heard Ben Welnek was just 6 minutes up in roughly 5th or 6th place and the rain seemed to be almost done for the day.  Here is where I started to have trouble.  In hindsight it is easy to see that I was not eating enough leading up to the race, but I had spent the entire day feeling like I was trying to catch up on calories.  Finally on gravel pit road I had a short lived bonk.  If you have never bonked, imagine not having the ability to ride a flat trail because you are so void of calories.  Anyways, it lasted maybe 5 minutes (which maybe a record for bonkville) as I had been eating a ton all day, but it took me the next 20 miles to fully bounce back.

In that time I was passed back by Mike and a few others.  With 10 miles left I would recover and roll in strong once again, finishing in 9th place at 9 hours 35 minutes.  RESULTS  There was lots of carnage out there thanks to the rain/cold and the conditions that followed.  Just a fantastic race and I highly recommend!
Finished.  What you can't tell is that my back was covered in mud, clothes were soaked.  Rain stopped coming down in the last 40 miles.

Maah Daah Hey 100  "The raddest race in the baddest place"

So The Cheq 100 was a little chilly and a lot wet.  Well, MDH was not.

The drive to get to the West side of ND is not especially exciting, but armed with my buddy Mark and our lack of maturity we muscled through.  The race finished in Medora by the Interstate on the south end of a long trail in the Badlands.  We would drive North and soon started to see areas of amazing sites that would make the drive worth it.
Cool, but no where near the coolest thing I saw on the trail.
The start was filled with a motivational speech, big climb, and a full blown helicopter whizzing around taking shots.  How cool.  I gauged my effort as this race can be divided into 4 segments, and the 3rd segment will be the worst of them all. A bottle fill and hug from Lynn Scotch and I was out of the 1st check point.  I was using all bottles for the race thanks to my Bike Bag Dude chaff bags.  I am not a fan of Camelbaks when the heat is up.

I rode for awhile along with the first place woman and the other fat biker I shared the "lead" with.  Across the knee high river crossing and up a substantial climb and we were at the 1/2 way point.  Up till this point the course was filled with awesome trails, amazing views, and tough terrain.  As I passed through that 1/2 way point that would all be the same, except now the temps would shoot up and the hills would become more persistent.  That 3rd section would be amazingly tough as temps got up around 110F and the air was dead still.  Never had I not wanted to drink my water on the bike because it was so warm.  My skin was beat red from the heat, and it was so dry that I never saw a speck of sweat.  People were all suffering, including myself.

Anyways, it was a matter of just pushing forward through the carnage at the checkpoints which offered air temp water, a small bit of shade, and loads of riders wondering if death would be a better alternate.  I would finally arrive at the 3rd aid station, knowing I had made it through the worst of it.  The last quarter of the race is more open and had a touch of WIND!  That wind was just enough to keep my temp down and I was able to finish strong.  During this whole time of suffering never did I lose sight of the fact that the trail I was on kicked butt!

The finish finally came in Medora, 105 miles after we started; 12th overall, 1st fatbiker.  A friend would tell me that the temps were now 97F, and that felt SO much nicer than what we were treated to on the course.  My bike and gear performed perfectly.  Such a cool event, I I can't help but look at the new 150 option for next year.....

Ironman Wisconsin

Huh?  Ironman as in swim/bike/run/tattoo?  Yeah.  Just something I wanted to cross off the list of cool things I have done in my life.  I started "training" for this September event in May.  Granted, that was not a matter of increasing my swim and run mileage, it was a matter of STARTING to swim and run.  Even then, I did not put in nearly the time that most would have trained for this event.

So anywho, I did do the Pigman 1/2 Ironman distance a month or so before the event.  That race proved what others have told me, I had not been training enough.  So the next month was a cram session of running and swimming.  Longest run was 14 miles, longest swim 1 mile.

Race day came, and I found myself with Mark Carey who was about to show me his world of multisport.  To prove it, he even has the M-Dot tattoo:)  I was more than nervous for the swim, a tad for the run, and not at all for the bike.

Well, the swim went really well compared to my fears, the bike could have gone better as I passed close to 1,000 people, and the run went well considering I had to walk 7 miles with stomach cramps.  I ended up finishing just as the sun went down in roughly 12:30 hours.  Going off memory my times were 1:27 swim, 5:49 bike, and 5:03 run.  Not an event I plan on doing again as I would rather commit that training to riding my fatbike:)

Oh, and I am Ironman tattoo free.....  

Ironman?  Did someone say Ironman?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

2015 Iditarod Recap Part 3 of 3: They shoot animals in this much pain.

Part 1 here, part 2 here.

As we left Rohn, the winds whipped violently in our favor, but after a few icy crossings the hills were now destroying my moral.  I would watch Ben climb many of them seated, while I was forced to push.  Eventually the hills became more rolling and I was able to get into a rhythm out of the saddle.  Despite my best efforts, my rear end was still extremely painful and not wanting to numb up.

So for about 25 miles we rode through into night across the much improved section of the burn (thanks Iditarod Dog Sled organizers for the hard summer trail work).  We would be one of many confused by a haphazard creek crossing that forced us to seemingly double back past huge tents occupied by buffalo or moose hunters sleeping.  Ben and I treaded quietly as they had guns and potentially high blood alcohol content as they slept in the wee morning hours.

Ben would soon complain of not being able to stay on the trail and needing to bivy.  Me, being the wonderful person I am, cracked open the Red Bull I had been carrying since the start and handed it too him.  And you want to know what he did 15 minutes after chugging it?  He bivied anyways with his tummy full of MY Red Bull.  Thanks Obama.

Well, at least he didn't tip over this time.
So on I went by myself, up and down the rollers with the knowledge that Ben's body could be found 30 miles past Rohn.  I left Ben around 4:45am and by 5:15am I was battling my own sleep demons.  Often when I would be forced to push up a climb I would take 20 seconds just to drape my now ever increasing beat down body across my handlebars and close my eyes.  Standing relentlessly had been wearing me down far quicker than if I had the ability to sit and even rest while on the bike, but I was intent to push through this low.

The sun would finally come up, and with 25 miles left to Nicolai (about 60 since leaving Rohn) my body went into a progressively quicker downward spiral.  The good news is the terrain is pretty much flat here and I got to see possibly the largest moose in existence, the bad is I now entered what has been dubbed Tussock Hell.  Tussocks are pockets of super tough grass (*corrected by Heather Best) and end up looking like a field of mini Cousin Its.  Last year before being fixed they threatened us all through the burn (the 40 miles or so after Rohn) as we flew down hills, but had been filled in with snow during this stretch making the little mounds tolerable.  Now the Tussocks were void of snow, and nasty.  Standing was how people got through much of them, pushing was how they got through the rest.  For a guy that had already been standing for the last 100 miles, I mainly pushed.

Sweet ride on a sweet part of the trail.

Welcome to Tussock Hell

Last year I reached a new physical low as I rolled into McGrath.  This year that feeling was trounced by my march of death into Nicolai.  I was beyond spent.  My calves ached from the excessive strain, my body reaching a point of exhaustion it had never even considered before.  My ride pace was never that slow because it is hard to go slow when standing in a big gear, but I needed frequent stops.  Each stop I was sure my calves would lock up for good when my feet hit the ground.  With 15 miles left I was not able to keep the bike on the trail as I was turning incoherent, so I threw on my down jacket, leaned my bike on a tree, and the used the top tube and tree as a standing bed.  I slept for maybe 5 minutes, dreaming some wild dreams in the process.  I forgot the dreams pretty much right away, but I do remember they were pretty nuts.

The rest was not enough to recharge me, but enough mentally able to keep my bike on the trail.  So with that I kept pushing onwards, stopping frequently, in a new pain I never felt before, exhausted beyond exhausted.  I would meet and speak gibberish to the Erik Parson's group that was headed South touring the trial.  Once on the river by Nicolai you know it is about a mile to the Petruska's.  I walked 3 times in that span.

This is near the time I was at my worst.  I wanted to know what I looked like.

Coming in to Nicolai

When I got to the last checkpoint at about 1pm, I plopped down at the table; quickly consuming a helping of lasagna, coke, several cookies, and Ibuprofen.  Then I went to lay down, only getting up when I realized I was in too much misery to sleep and Ben had now arrived.  He seemed a little shocked to see how destroyed I was.  In all reality I had no idea how I could complete the last 50 miles to McGrath, figuring I would at a minimum I would be there through the night recovering.  I asked Stephanie questions like "When do they fly to Anchorage from here?" and "How much is the ticket?".  I was not planning on quitting, but at that moment I didn't see light at the end of the tunnel.  More Neosporin application and rest.

Ben would leave, and I would sit on the couch.  I didn't realize it at the time, but my mood improved and I was soon joking with everyone, including my new "sister".  About 40 minutes after Ben left in came Jeff Oatley (heading to Nome), Heather Best (Jeff's wife and on pace to set another women's course record), and Phil Hofstetter (heading to Nome).  They would head to the table and I would join them in another meal.

With my mood improved, the realization of a few hours of sun left, my body feeling a bit better, and a chance to ride with others had me getting ready to go.  I followed the group about 5 minutes after they left with one less chamois (I had started with 2 on) thinking the different chamois may rub differently.  Soon I would catch them and latch on like a bad tick for the rest of the ride.

It was great having the mental distraction of ride mates, and Heather and Jeff are always fun to talk with.  Even better between the Neosporin treatments and different chamois I could sit most of the time!  What a feeling!!!!!!  My legs actually felt fresh because I was using muscles not fired for over 24 hours.  I felt like I could ride ahead, but really enjoyed the comfort of the group and was worried about another implosion.  So in we rolled together as a group, only 9 minutes behind Ben; who was surprised to see me.  I would be tied for the 7th person into McGrath, 6th person in the 350 race.  It was not the result I was looking for, but I put forth the effort I wanted.  Hell, I stood for about 1/3 of the course, so things had not gone ideally.  That is ultra racing though.  Crap is sure to happen.

Jeff Oatley and Heather Best, an Iditarod power couple. 

A picture of me finishing the race.

After changing into fresh clothes, Heather, fresh off setting the women's record...again, challenged everyone to a push up contest.

I wanted a selfie with Kevin to go with last year's.

Joe says, "Your butt hurt?  You should have had a Bar Yak!"

This is Pavol, I am pretty sure there is not a joke out there he doesn't think is funny.  He would go on towards Nome.  Peter is doing what he seems to love, cooking up tons of food for the racers.

What has 2 thumbs and set a new course record?

A pile of man cakes.  There was a never ending supply of delicious food at the finish thanks to Peter.

The obligatory finish shot.

So I finished about 10 pm Tuesday night.  I decided not to fly out quickly on Wednesday, intent on catching the the flight on Thursday.  Well, that was booked with some type of basketball tourney taking up all the seats, so we would have to wait until Friday.  I would spend more time in McGrath then in the race.  Now, that is not a bad thing, but there is not a lot in McGrath, and that may be an understatement.  However, it gave me a great opportunity to hang out with some great people and really get to know them better.  Also, we started the initial chapter of the "Ride or Die" clan (things seem funnier when you are wiped).  Ben, Joe Stiller, Toni Lund, Tracy Petervary, and I are now the founding members of "Ride or Die".  This is pretty much an exclusive club for people who have tackled the Iditarod trail.  In general on the trail, you either ride or die, sooooooooo.

As for my backside?  I woke the morning after finishing sure that the moisture on my back end was blood (been there done that), but when I went to clean it up I realized instead it was a puss like substance.  Best to my guess I had some type of reaction with the Chamois Butt's back at Winterlake Lodge and that was the source of my biggest problem on the trail.  My rear end seemed to clear up much quicker than last year, again, telling me it was more than just saddle sores.

I had some amazing times during my trip, I also reached a new absolute low, and left everything on the trail.  Such an amazing experience.  There is not one person to thank for helping make this race possible, but tons.  Kathi Merchant did a great job.  The volunteers and checkpoints all had their different flavors that created one amazing experience, and I thank them all for their effort.

A trip of a lifetime for a second time, just amazing.

Rolling with the "Ride or Die" clan.

Yes, stuff is expensive in McGrath.  It all has to be flown in.

There are lots of machinery graveyards in McGrath.

Our host Peter off running an errand.

If you need to carry Doritoes on your bike, you need a Bar Yak.

Seems Legit

Same trail at different times can yield different results:

Celebrity Ben Doom talks with MPR.  We both made it on the air.  Pretty cool stuff.

We met this guy outside the grocery store.  Ask me and I will tell you some of his stories he told us as they are amusing, but maybe not ready for the general public.  In the middle of talking about the depression in McGrath, he mentioned how he should gets some friends on knife us for our bikes.  Awwwwwkkwwwaarrrrddd.  

Kathi Merchant, race organizer extraordinaire.

Part of the Ride or Die Clan.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

2015 Iditarod Recap Part 2 of 3: I stand, Ben falls

Part 1 can be found here.

So, I left Winterlake Lodge with a bit of sleep just behind Lackey, about 45 minutes or so behind Andrew and Logar.  Kevin and Ben would leave soon after me.  Through the darkness and up and down the now quite hilly terrain I went, occasionally seeing a light behind me, but not often.  Down the Happy River steps and up the wall of a climb out of Happy River; pushing my bike up, braking, pulling myself up, repeat.  Kevin would catch me towards the top of the climb and we would speak for a bit before he would come by.

Those damn moose kept post holing the trail.  I only like to #ridegroomed cause that is what is cool now.

I am not sure, but you might be able to see Kevin way up there if you squint hard enough.

Looking to my right.

Such a cool section.
Last year Criag Medred made me famous by saying I "pussyfooted" an icy overflow.  This year it had much less ice and I rocked the heck out of it.

Puntilla Lake, approaching Rainy Pass Lodge on the other side.

I arrived into Rainy Pass Lodge not far from the rest of the clan, my rear end becoming progressively more painful.  Ever since the "sting of a thousand needles" I felt when applying chamois butt'r at the last stop my rear end had been getting worse.  Ben would roll in soon after I arrived, Jay a bit after him.  We had all hung our clothes to dry.  Well, almost all of us.  Andrew took off rather quickly to the surprise of the group.  We had heard the climb up Rainy Pass may not be in great shape, and as a rookie it seemed a little foolish to spearhead the charge through this section as it is easy to get lost of go the wrong way towards Hell's Gate.  I wanted to wait until Kevin and Lackey went out for that very reason.  

Ben is sooooooooo dreamy.  Not sure why, but he took one look at the deer and called dibs on this bed.
So I left after Andrew, Lackey, and Kevin.  I was set to leave with Jay, but a visit to the outhouse was in order.  Logar and Ben would still be at the cabin upon my departure.  This is where my race took a downward slide.  Most of the main climb up Rainy Pass is the type you need to be seated and power up.  My rear end was in a severe amount of pain, and initially I thought I could sit on it enough to numb it up like last year, but the pain was much worse and not subsiding at all.  So for most of the climb I would push while others rode; their ascension up the mountain was much faster than mine for this reason.

Heading out of Rainy Pass Lodge

This brush caught my pedal, stopped me dead cold in my tracks and I found myself swimming in a few feet of powder on the side of the trail (which is not easy to get out of).

Yeah, the view ain't too bad.

No one wanted to walk with me.

John Logar coming up to see me.  On the trail I thought he was being really nosey about my health, afterwards I found out he is an ER doctor.  Just another great guy on the trail thinking of others.

Ben Doom coming to say hi and then bye.

Lots of sketchiness on the trail this year.
The trail would soon level out a bit and the terrain a bit more rolly.  This allowed me to actually ride out of the seat, which besides pushing, was my only way to move forward at the moment.  I would catch back up to Ben, riding a good long ways with him.  Into and out of Rohn.  Well, I guess Ben wasn't always ON his bike.


What happened Ben?  Did you fall down again?

Look Ma, I am on top of the world!  Passed this sign without seeing it last year, but it was dark at the time.

Seriously Ben, this is getting old.

This icy corner was preceded by a really fast section,  sub consciously I think I was hoping to get Ben falling again.

The descent down this year wasn't nearly as fun.  The top was much slower where last year it was like a full on mountain bike enduro fest.  Once down into the gorge things got a bit more prickly as the crossings where harder to put in, leaving some bushwhacked trail and sketchy crossings.

Lots of this in Dalzell Gorge

Ben and I are coming back to do some ice climbing.

Pretty much all the ice including this river we rode on to get to Rohn after the gorge had obvious freshly frozen sections.  It was nerve racking as I was sure I would fall right through, pulling Ben in with me and then using his body to crawl on to get out of the water.
Ben and I would pull into Rohn about 6:30pm.  Jay and Lagor would be laying down trying to catch some sleep, Lackey and Kevin had already left, with Andrew having stopped for only 12 minutes and leaving with a brat in his hand.  He seemed unstoppable at that point.  Ben and I munched on the brats the volunteers brought in (which were awesome).  I would clean my back end with alcohol (OOOOOOUUUUCCCCHHHH!!!!!!) and apply Neosporin and we would soon lay down to rest.  I set my timer for 1 hour, planning on getting out of there and riding through the night.  I laid there, thinking about the fluid now in my lungs causing me to hack uncontrollably.  Also, the last 35 miles of only standing or pushing my bike had really worn on me (plus we were 200 miles in at this point).  Then my thoughts went to the fact we had close to 90 miles of terrain, much of it difficult, on the way to Nicolai and how I would probably need to stand for the entirety.  With that in mind, I said screw it, and turned off my timer.  I was dreading the effort that the next section would now require from me because when you are forced to stand, there really is no rest.  I could not sit for downhills.  I always had tension in my legs.

Ben and I would wake a bit before midnight, having tossed and turned with little actual sleep, to the sound of Jeff Oatley applying his squealing brakes.  Jay was getting ready to go, and I told Ben I was heading out which he took as he was heading out as well.  So at a bit past midnight, on our second night of little sleep and with 200 miles in our legs, Ben and I set off for the next 90 mile section into the wilderness that is "the burn", me out of the saddle once again.