Monday, September 15, 2008

Cheq 08-Hills, Mud, Rain, and Fun

The 2008 Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival is in the books and I must say that the Amigos did have one hell of a good time. The race was not without the usual challenges: surviving the first three miles, crashes, mechanicals, hills, hills, more hills, rain, mud, ruts, roots, rocks, and cramps. Oh, did I mention hills?

Our weekend started by meeting up at MG Cycle. Bob and Kenny in one vehicle and Grasshopper and myself in his vehicle. Matt was delayed by Maple Grove's finest. Apparently he was speeding down Weaver Lake Road. He, of course insisted to the officer that he was not in violation of the law. Well, not exactly. The officer told him that his partner clocked him at 54 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone. Of course Matt argued the fact and actually lucked out because the squad's printer was out of paper and the officer was unable to print a ticket. Apparently they don't write them up anymore. Before leaving the scene, Matt insisted one more time that he wasn't going 54 mph. After driving to Seely, WI with him I'm inclined to believe the officer.

After arriving at the cabin and getting settled in we, or Bob, decided we should go for a reconnaissance ride to check the trail conditions, loosen our legs up, and get my bike dirty. The shake down was fun. We took some nice single track from the cabin and it led right out to the Birkie Trail. We found the conditions to be wet and muddy in some spots. Turned out Bob's bike ended up getting dirtier than mine. One of the advantages of being a slower rider. You get to watch everyone else hit the soft stuff and you can then avoid it. Rather smart of me I must say.

The shake down ride did two things for me: loosened my legs and served to make me more nervous than I was before hand. Afterwards we freshened up and headed to the Telemark ski resort to pick up our packets, have a beer, and check out the vendor booths. Before that however, we had to get Grasshopper's bike checked. It was shifting horribly and definitely needed to be looked at. We stopped at Riverbrook Bike and Ski in Seely and the wrench there was able to make the necessary adjustments. While we were there we marveled at the fools who were coming in to rent a bike to ride in the race the next day. We marveled even more at their amazement that they were going to be riding 29ers. I'm not even sure if they even knew what a 29er was or that they even made mountain bikes like that. All I could do was shake my head and laugh.

When we arrived at the resort to check in, I was amazed at how well organized it was and how quickly it went. We picked up some goodies at the vendor booths. Kenny was especially proud of his Chequamegon zip-up hoodie. We enjoyed a beer, sampled some "53 x 11" coffee and visited with other cycling friends who were up for the race.

Once back at the cabin, Kenny amazed us with his culinary skills. After all, he is not called "Ken the Cook" for nothing you know. We had a marvelous salad, served along with some other veggies, bread, chicken penne pasta in an alfredo sauce, and another pan of penne in a meaty bolognese sauce. Along with this of course was a variety of beers. Needless to say we stuffed ourselves. The night was also spent readying our bikes, ourselves, and other gear for the race.
The more I readied my gear, the more nervous I got. How many gels should I take, should I use NUUN hydration mix or the Camelback Elixir. In the morning I decided to go with the NUUN.
I've used it all summer and am pleased with the results. I carried six Clif shots of different flavors (two shots per hour) along with one pack of Clif Shot Blocks.

After dinner Kenny conducted what could be called a chemistry class. "Kenny's Kemistry 101" He expounded upon us the virtues of his magical koolaid, E-lyte, and other assorted nutritional supplements mixed into an antifreeze looking cocktail that Kenny swore would get him through the race without cramps. He was right! It appeared to work and to the amazement of the rest of us he didn't glow in the dark. Bob tasted a sample of the E-lyte solution that had not been diluted and he looked like he was going to vomit. Kenny carried a small vile of this non-diluted solution to inject into his veins if he started to cramp. I'm thinking EPO here, but we all know that only roadies are dopers.
Kenny and Bob ready to roll

Sleep came amazingly and surprisingly quick along with Bob and Grasshopper getting up at like 4 in the &%$#ing morning to get the bikes down to the starting line. I was honored to have this role last year with Bob. Matt was not shy about going about the cabin making as much noise as he possibly could just to let us know he was up and doing us a favor by getting our bikes to the start. They arrived at the starting line at 4:45 A.M. and found a scene of madness. Apparently it gets worse every year and one of the race officials was rather pissed off that so many racers were setting up before the established 5 A.M. time. Like there are a lot of people driving the streets of Hayward, WI at 4:45 in the morning. What the hell!

Matt warming up

After Bob and Matt arrived back at the cabin we readied ourselves with breakfast. Oatmeal, bananas, bagels and peanut butter, and strong coffee, which as Bob stated, "Had its desired affect." I had the shakes from nerves and was once again making frequent trips to the bathroom. Not as bad as the previous year however. Matt literally stuffed himself and then belched and complained about how full he was. 8:30 A.M. found us at the start for pre-race warm-ups, visiting, and laughter. I met my friend Sam from school and actually ran into a former CC teammate from college. Once at the starting area I only made three more trips to the john. I believe it was more like 9-10 trips last year.

The start of this race is absolute insanity. Three insane miles of people trying to get into position while taking other poor cyclists out on the way. Like they are going to win the race in the first three miles. I do not like the start of this race! It scares the hell out of me. Try to imagine 1,700 cyclists starting all at once with the shot of a canon. A parade start through town then the roll out to Rosie's Field "a magical place" where the race really begins. I saw several crashes before even getting out of town. One involved a tandem. What a way to start the day. Hopefully everyone was well and able to complete the race.

other cyclists. The colors, the buzz of the tires, the cheering of the crowd was amazing. Once we hit the highway out of town I lost sight of Matt and Bob. I was riding well and feeling good, but would soon encounter my first of a series of mechanical difficulties. Same problem over and over again for the first twenty miles or so. The problem was that every time I shifted down to ride a hill my chain would come off the inner most chain ring. This of course frustrated and angered the hell out of me because I thought the issue was taken care of. Kenny worked hard to catch me at about the twelve mile mark where we exchanged a few words and I surged ahead momentarily until my chain came off a fifth time. Kenny said he sawI felt good and stayed within myself for the roll out making sure that I kept my distance from me on one of the hills, off to the side with my bike upside down. He told me he didn't have it in him to say anything because he knew how frustrated I was so early in the race. Good thing it was Kenny and not Matt. There's no telling what type of smart ass comment he would have come up with. Just kidding Matt. Well, kind of. Anyway, it could have been a lot worse. It only came off one more time after that, but each time I approached a hill and shifted down I had to slow my pace down and shift down rather gingerly. This of course caused me to loose momentum on every hill for the rest of the race. Each time it became more and more difficult to get my rhythm back.

Do you think there is a little bit of adrenaline flowing in this crowd?

It felt good to hit the "00" check point at 1:20 considering the problems I had with my chain. I was riding well and feeling good. It wasn't long after that the rain began to fall. Lightly at first, but by the time I reached the finish line it was pretty steady. At about the 27 mile mark I got my first cramps. Of course it would come right before the toughest climb in the race "Fire Tower Hill". First, it was my right quad, then my left, then back to the right quad and calf. I punched, prodded, and massaged my legs all the while telling myself to keep the damn pedals turning and don't stop for nothing. Accept of course to push my bike up portions of the Fire Tower climb. Not many riders can make it pedaling all the way. It gets too congested and if a rider goes down in front of you, you really have no choice but to dismount and walk or run (yeh right) your bike to the top. I was able to ride up some portions, but had to walk the others.
The mayhem on Fire Tower Hill
photo courtesy of Skinny

Right before Fire Tower my friend Sam passed me on his single speed. He didn't realize it was me until I met him at the top of the climb. He was standing off to the side catching his breathe and I hollered to him to get those damn wheels turning. He turned to see me and looked somewhat surprised. I wouldn't see him again until the finish where he would offer me a beer.

After the Fire Tower climb the race gets really mentally tough. There are some nice stretches fo fire road where you can get the wheels spinning, but those last eight mile of the race are hill, after hill, after hill...each one seemingly steeper and longer than the previous. I could sense that a lot of the riders had just resigned themselves to finishing and didn't care about their time or place. Most were withdrawn and having mental conversations with themselves. Talking to themselves for motivation, digging deep, to find those last reserves of energy needed to make that final climb before the downhill run to the finish. I was doing a good deal of talking to myself at this time. You find yourself wondering about your own mental state for wanting to do something like Cheq in the first place.

As I came into the line I could hear Matt yelling, "Do it for the kids!" I didn't smile or laugh. I just pushed hard, passed the rider in front of me right before the line. Once in the chute I was numb. Happy it was over is more like it. I think someone, one of the volunteers, asked me if I was OK. I just nodded, let them remove my timing chip, and walked out of the chute speechless and thinking about how much fun it was and what I can do different next year. Yeh, not even in recovery mode yet and thinking about next year. It wasn't until I saw the guys that I could really smile and laugh about the day. It truly was one hell of a good time. It amazes me how pushing yourself to your mental and physical limits can be so enjoyable. Now that I've done this race twice I can't imagine not doing it.

Bob had a wonderful ride finishing in 2:40:17 on the ss pushing a 36/16 I believe.
Matt also had a great ride with 2:55:00
Kenny and I, well, we finished a slower than last year, but who cares. We both had one hell of a time.

The rain was now rather heavy and both Bob and Matt were shivering like they were hypothermic. We got our bikes back to Matt's vehicle, loaded them up, and then I did a strip tease right there in the parking lot. I really wanted to get out of my kit and into some dry clothes. Of course, I'm doing this with Matt dishing out more crap the whole time. He is better at that then anyone else I know.

That night, Bob, Kim, Kenny, Diane, Patti and I went to Benihana to celebrate. Matt, unfortunately couldn't make it. The food was excellent, the beer and sake refreshing, and the conversation and laughter relaxing and fun. I've been doing nothing but eating, drinking water, and wanting to sleep ever since. I'm not afraid to say that I'm looking forward to a little down time, but I'm also looking forward to getting back out on the Elm Creek trails with the single speed and ride just to ride. My plan is to resume my running and Friday spin classes starting this week. Oh the joy of being back in Matt's class. I can't stand the wait. Also, this winter, I'm planning on getting into a cycling specific strength training program. Hate to say this, but winter and riding in the snow is also right around the corner.

OMG! This has to be the longest post I've written to date. I hope I didn't bore with too many details.


Petit Chèvre said...

Great post! Really good race report. Your experience sounds a lot like our Mountain Mama adventure in the hills of Virginia -- it's hell but we always reserve our cabin for next year on the way out:)

I also worked with a trainer for cycling specific weights and I think it has helped this flat lander in the hills.

Congrats on Cheq 08

Spin On

Kenny said...

Great report! It's always an honor to ride and spend quality time with you. By the way, it was me who said "do it for the kids!"

Next year I'll share my chemistry set with you.

Ali B. said...

Excellent details! Thanks for the play by play.. only sorry that your mechanicals sound so familiar to mine at Ore2Shore. bleck!

Ali B. said...

Vito - It is actually NOT over Labor Day weekend. I believe there is a different/smaller Upper Peninsula race over Labor Day. Ore 2 Shore is always around the 2nd weekend of August... it's nice and dusty red with a mix of mammoth bugs & an excellent mass start in the downtown of a very old mining town. Good times! Would be great to see you guys in 2009!

Vito said...

I need help! I have no idea what I'm doing tonight. Ali, I just checked and you're right. I may have to look into heading out there sometime for the race.

Kenny, my apologies. In my dazed state I thought it was Matt.