Monday, September 19, 2011

Another Chequamegon in the Books

"The Pilgrimage to Chequamegon"

The 2011 Chequamegon 40 is now in the history books and we've all come away from the experience with some damn good stories. So, what is it about the Chequamegon experience that makes it like a pilgrimage to Mecca for many of us mountain bikers here in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the surrounding area? For many it's the challenge of conquering the course and setting a PR. Then for others it is the camaraderie they feel from participating in the event and the friendships and stories that develop throughout the weekend. Then there is the fact that we all share a common thing...The love of bikes and the passion to ride them. One could even say that we relish in the punishment and suffering we go through to get there and also the punishment we receive from the terrain itself. Finally, there is the atmosphere that surrounds the event. It's all really quite amazing and I'm hoping that nothing about this event changes as a result of a corporate take over. To me, this would be really sad.

For many of us race day begins in the predawn hours of Saturday. Getting up at 4 a.m. so you can venture to the starting area to ensure you get a good spot close to the front. We arrived at 5:45 a.m. to find a hundred plus bikes already set up in the corral as they call it. After placing the bikes, it's back to the base camp for a good pre-race breakfast, coffee, stretching, meditating, preparing camelbaks, nutrition, drop bags, etc.

At about 8 a.m. it's back to the start to find a parking spot close by. Then you immediately go to the start area to check your bike and make sure some ass didn't move it to a different spot. Some folks actually forget where in the hell they put their bike in the first place and it ends up getting pulled from the area 15 minutes before the start. Others are doing pre-race rides, or warming up on trainers. These are the fast people, the ones who take it very seriously. Yet, most of us talk, joke, seek out people we know or stumble into people that you haven't seen since college. Like myself and my college track and cross country teammate Paul. Either way, it's all pretty damn cool.

Try to imagine 1,899 bikes and riders crammed in together 30 minutes before the start of the race. It really is a site to behold. The last 15 minutes before the race begins you can really feel the excitement build. People are nervously laughing and joking while others are quiet and lost in thought. Thinking about the journey that lays in wait. Then with a few minutes to go before the gun goes off we are treated to Hayward's very own "Mudcat" Grant singing his beautiful rendition of the National Anthem which always receives a roar from the racers and spectators. After that it's some quick nervous handshakes, thumbs ups, good lucks, fists in the air before the gun goes off. Then the entire army of 1,899 riders makes their way down the narrow mainstreet of Hayward, WI with thousands of people cheering and rattling cowbells. It's amazing and very nerve racking at the same time. I watched a video and it took over 5 minutes for the last people to cross the starting line.

Your head really needs to be on swivel during the first mile or you will go down. At the end of mainstreet is the sharp left leading to Hwy 77, then a sharp right and the pace really picks up. Three miles from the start in town you take another sharp left, dive down into a ditch and up a hill into magical Rosie's Field. This is where the race truly begins. From there it is northeast to the finish and cold beer at Telemark Resort. The photos of racers crossing Rosie's are always amazing.

Along the way you ride the Birkie Trail which is notorious for its hills. After the Birkie you turn onto a snowmobile trail and then onto Phipps Fire Lane, a nice stretch of fast northern Wisconsin gravel. Once again you hit the Birkie and more hills all the way to the crossing of "00" and the 16 mile mark. This is where you get a sense of how your race will turn out. From there you climb up Janet road to another fire road and Pirate Hill, where if you so choose, you can nab a shot of rum from these fun buccaneers dressed in black. If you're lucky they will also fire their canon off as you go by. By the way...the rum was good:) Your ride continues uphill on Boedecker Road and winds its way through the forest to the notoriously difficult Fire Tower Hill and the final 8 miles of the race. Here is where most people's suffering really begins and this section either makes your race or breaks you. For many riders this is where their nightmare begins...Cramps!!! Here the Birkie Trail dishes out its final punishment with relentless hills. Each one steeper and longer than the last. This were riders have to "dig deep into their suitcase of courage". Yes, I stole that from Phil Liggett. Last year I was nearly driven to tears on this section, constantly having to get off the bike and push. I've never felt so demoralized in an event. When you hit the five miles to go sign a wave of relief comes over you because here you know that there are only a few more climbs left. When you come to a crowd cheering you on and telling you this is the last climb, DO NOT believe them. They are lying...there is one more after that. You come out of the woods and begin the fast downhill descent to the finish, the cheering crowds, waiting comrades, and whatever awaits you in the cooler.

The course this year was dry and fast and no matter how good of a rider you are it always dishes out its fair share of pain and suffering. All of us had a good day on the bikes and some were far better than others. For myself, I was happy to finish at 3 hrs. 17 min. Slower than the 3:07 from two years ago, but I was satisfied. The course was also quite rough this year. Many of the gravel downhills were washed out and strewn with large rocks and loose sand making them rather dangerous to negotiate even at slower speeds. This would be bad luck for riders such as pro roadie Christian Vande Velde and our amigo Bob. Vande Velde was on his way to setting a new course record when a flat tire took him out of contention and the race. Our amigo Bob, at the encouragement of our local wrench tried a new set of light weight racing tires from Bontrager. He too was on course to a new PR, but that dream ended with flat. As if that wasn't bad enough the cycling Gods and the course offered him up two more flats. The amazing part is that he still finished with a time of 3:05. Damn fine riding. I guess that also tells you how slow I am.

The other odd thing about Chequamegon is that no matter how bad it was or how bad you suffered, by the time you are halfway done with that first post race beer you are already making mental notes and plans for next year's race. For me it's more road miles early in the season, more hill work, and a couple of other races. Lutsen 99er anyone? It may even be a tandem partnership with me as the stoker. Yup! You heard that right...tandem. You see, my friend Matt woke up one night with an idea. I really hate it when that happens. So, next year you may be seeing and reading about the adventures of the Jew and Italian. For Bob and Christian Vande Velde it may be different tires.

One other interesting fact I came away with was that out of 1,899 people who finished the race only 98 of those were riding single speeds. That is only about 5 % and Matt, Bob, and myself were among them. I like that...I think:)

Then, aside from the race itself, one must consider the Saturday night Tom foolery that takes place. Such as the incident with the spilled beer, a leaf blower, and a pissed off cook at the Sawmill in Seely. Whatever the case may be, we all want to be back here next year to experience it all over again and create more good stories and memories. Chequamegon does provides a lot of good memories.

What does the future of the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival hold...This we do not know. However, I will say this...With Life Time Fitness buying the rights to the event I hope they leave it alone and do not change a thing. This is event is all about the "local" people along with the color and flare that they add to it. So Bahram, don't come into this thing and make changes. Get rid of the donut holes at those aid stations and the rum on Pirates Hill, and I think you may have a mutiny on your hands. We're not looking for a perfect gem here. We've got a diamond in the rough and I truly believe that most of us like it that way. You could possibly make the big top a little more user friendly and maybe kick in for a free beer for all participants that are of drinking age.
2011 Chequamegon
It was truly another great year and I believe Kenny may be cramping or just looking for another cold beer:)

Autumn is knocking on the door and winter is around the corner. For many of us it's "post season" and time to have fun in the night. We refer to it as "Lights and Tights" time and I know that with our new single track trails it will be as fun as ever. It's also a time to get out on the bike and enjoy the beauty that autumn has to offer. Lastly, it's time to get the Pugsley out on the trails before the snow flies. Fatbikes are not just for winter riding and I'm anxious to give that big boy a taste of dirt.

1 comment:

Boz said...

Nice recount of the days events. I didn't make it down to catch some images, but the ones you posted really capture the feel for those not there. Thanks!