Sunday, March 24, 2013

Taking Mountain Biking Indoors!

Last time on the CFJ: My first experiences with Surly Brewing Co.'s Pentagram

As the doldrums of winter set in and began to take a hold of me this winter I really began to miss the dynamics of mountain biking. Yes, I've been riding, but without a fat bike of my own yet it's been a bland season of just commuting and putzing around town on an old steel beater bike. I've missed dropping drops, jumping jumps, slaying berms, and rolling rock gardens. It's been a long winter, and I'm excited to see the forecast for next week (looks like a straight week of high 30's and low 40's) and I hope this is our turning point, and that our phenomenal trails will soon open up.

My fiancee grew up in the Milwaukee area and this weekend was her bridal shower and bachelorette party. So, we hopped in the car and made the trek to Milwaukee. Saturday morning, while the rest of the bridal party was hustling and bustling around the house, primping and spraying, I was able to slip out for a few hours and make a pilgrimage of sort to a spot that I've always wanted to ride. A spot that would most likely help carry me over the next few weeks of the melt, a spot where hucking, rolling, and dropping are the norm over the winter months. I was finally getting my chances to ride at Rays Indoor Mountain Bike Park. I plugged the address into my GPS and I was off.

Being that I have never visited a bike park before, let alone one that catered to the mountain bike crowd. I wanted to get the "newbie" experience. I only brought my helmet with and planned on going through the rental process. Upon arrival at Rays, which is located in an old Menard's building, my first impressions were a bit mixed. I expected large signs, advertising, and billboards pointing to what I would consider to be heaven. I expected plastered logos, large graphics, and the like, much like one would see at Camp Woodward, for those who are familiar. Instead, I almost drove by the place. It's actually very humble and meek in appearance from the outside. It is what it is, and old Menard's with a simple yet effective small sign baring the logo of the establishment. This made me feel at ease. I didn't want to feel like I was walking into an amusement park, it immediately felt "right". I was there at 8:50 for their 9:00am opening, I admit, I was "that customer". 9:00am rolls around and I get a wave from the front door to come on in. Immediately I was welcomed by the front desk worker and she walked me through the rental process, which was very smooth. within 5 minutes I was renting a bike.

The Bike

Rays provides 4 different styles of bike to ride and the great thing is that you can try them all out without any extra fees. I decided to go with their Ray's edition, Trek dirt jumper. I've never ridden a dirt jumping bike and was very excited to give it a try. With a click of my helmet and a "Have a good ride!" I was off. Upon first impression, I was a bit taken a back. There was just so many things to ride and I wanted to ride them all at once. I took the first half hour or so to just get my bearings of the park and it's layout. There was so much diversity and so much to explore. Being that I beat the rush and was knocking down the door, I was forced to "share" the park with two other riders... it was rough :). I hopped onto the "green trail" which was a large green line painted around the park that took you over and through obstacles, berms, rock gardens, and anything in between. This trail would serve as my quick and easy way to get around the park from section to section. The park was very well designed and I felt that they did a great job replicating as much real world mountain bike terrain as they could. The berms were well constructed and flowed very smoothly, the skinnies were just as challenging as outside, the teeter totters were a blast, and overall the terrain was top notch. It kept me busy and it was not too different from riding outdoors. The green loop had one of my favorite trail features replicated indoors. After gaining speed down a ramp, hitting a small kicker, and then carrying momentum up a small ramp, one could choose between three different drops to do. Each of which transitioned as smooth as butter to an amazing landing ramp. I hit this section of "trail" every time I came by. It felt so good to actually be riding and replicating what is done outdoors.
The Expert Section of Skinnies and Features

The Sport Section of Skinnies and Features with the pump track in the background on the second level

The Drops

The largest thing I noticed and appreciated about Rays was that they catered to beginner riders, and I noticed that in their design of the course. To me, getting new riders to feel the stoke is important, and in my opinion, Rays caters to that very well. They have a whole section off to the side, removed a bit from the park, closed off with the exception of one passage in and out, it's quiet, and you can't see out to the park. It's in this back/side room that they teach beginner riders the basics. The floor has painted "skinnies" to get riders comfortable with riding on a narrow path. They built very small obstacles and "jumps" and even have an area where you can practice falling into foam mats. It's in this area that I met Ryan. Ryan was in the middle of a group lesson where he was teaching a couple the basics of bike handling. I sat removed from the interaction and just watched. He was a very good teacher in my opinion and took the time to break things down and explain things to the riders in a very effective way. Being that riding is so intuitive and such a "feeling" thing, I often have a hard time teaching it, but watching Ryan teach in this area confirmed to me that Rays is more than willing to teach and reach out to new comers and that this place is very welcoming. After the lesson was over I pedaled over to chat with Ryan and introduce myself. Through our conversation, Ryan was able to confirm what I suspected and told me that the lessons aren't just for beginners. He said ANYONE can walk in and get instruction on improving any part of their riding that they want to improve. I can't stress enough how cool it was to see how intentional Rays was in designing this area for the new comer, all distractions were removed, and all of the "chaos" of the other riders hucking themselves in the jump tracks, foam pits, off ledges, and over the coping in the street park were removed. With a few riding stories exchanged with Ryan, I was back out into the "chaos" as he had another lesson to teach.

All day long I spent most of my time on the XC loop taking myself between the "Sport" and "Expert" section of skinnies and features. Here I was able to continue to work on riding narrow, elevated, terrain. The features were constructed just as they would have been outdoors and offered as much variation as I wanted to experience. These sections were extremely fun and offered a change in pace from the other two sections that I spent a lot of time in. On the second level of Rays, tucked into a corner, they have a phenomenal pump track. It was probably the best designed pump track that I've ever ridden. It was super smooth and once the rider finds their own groove it's possible to do lap after lap after lap, without so much as a half stroke of the cranks. I visited the pump track quite a bit as it provided a great workout and was very fun to ride. I also thoroughly enjoyed their mini rhythm section. This was a mix of pump track and kickers in a compact loop that you could lap out on. Between these two areas, I put the jump bike to work.
The Pump Track

The Berms of the Pump track.

 The only two areas I did not take advantage of were the foam pit (rental bikes aren't allowed in the foam pit) and the street park (quarter pipes, half pipes, and bowls aren't my thing) but it was very fun to watch riders practice their new tricks in the foam pit. I watched from a cat walk as a kid, somewhere around the age of 7, whipped his first 360 into the pit and caught the "stoke" for a few moments. It was fun to watch him over the course of the day as he practiced more and more tricks. There was a lot of very strong, young, riders on 20in bikes tearing the hell out of the ramps. I was very impressed with the stuff they were pulling off on the jump tracks.

As my time began to wind down I mainly stuck to the rhythm sections and played on the jump bike. The bike performed flawlessly in the park. It was set up as a single speed, however, outside on trails I would have preferred a cluster of gears on the back. It took about 45 minutes of riding to figure out both the "flow" of Rays and how this new geometry worked for me. Once this was dialed, I had a blast and was able to ride and push myself to do new things. Overall, my time at Rays exceeded my expectations. I wasn't sure what to expect with an "indoor mtb park" in the middle of Wisconsin, however, they know what they are doing! I was able to see how the park would benefit a rider by keeping them engaged. It is a substitute for long days in the saddle, no. Is it a place to keep you skills sharp over the long months of winter, YES! Is this a substitute for riding outdoors, no, and Rays knows that, so they close in the "off season" while we are outside. Overall, it's a very well run place. The staff are extremely helpful, they cater to all riding styles and skill levels, and it's top notch in my book. I will be paying a visit whenever I can. Thank you Rays!

If you would like to visit the website, I've attached a link. I suggest if you're in the area you check it out.



Next time on the CFJ:  Spring Riding? We can only hope!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Switching it up a bit

Last time on the Campfire Journal: The 2013 bucket list

I've decided to switch things up a bit on the Campfire Journal and do a Beer Review. As you may or may not know, I enjoy craft beer! Adventures and craft beer seem to go hand in hand and I have yet to do a beer review, so here I go. Today I am going to take a look at a seasonal brew from Surly Brewing Co. A local MN craft brewery out of Brooklyn Center MN. Surly is well known in the craft beer scene specifically in Minnesota, however they are making quite the impression on the national level as well. Surly often pushes the envelope with their brew and does not limit themselves to styles. They seem to exist on the fringe and not label their beers with a certain genre (IPA, Brown Ale, Smoked Lager, Etc) they do brew in these styles, however they expand a lot and let the consumers pallet do the rest. I've been a long fan of Surly and they are my go to brew when it comes to grabbing a staple beverage to enjoy around a fire,and, I trust them when it comes to "new" things. That's exactly what today's blog is about. I trusted Surly to come through for me as I went out on a limb, and they did!

The Campfire Journal is honored to make its debut as a beer reviewer with Surly Brewing Co.'s Pentagram. Pentagram is a seasonal brew from Surly and it is reported that Pentagram gets its roots from Surly's 5th year anniversary brew FIVE. Pentagram is classified as a sour beer. Personally, I haven't dabbled in sour beers. I've had just about every other style of beer, but was always a bit turned off to the appeal of sour beers. My friend kept telling me to try them and gave me suggestions but I was joyously stuck in my world of IPA's and Double IPA's (these are my favorite) and quality stouts to give a sour a second look. With the seasonal release of a sour from Surly, I decided it was now or never and that I should give this genre of beer a go.

Surly released Pentagram in the Twin Cities area earlier this week and from what I hear about the TC beer scene, rare beers go fast. To my benefit, things are a little slower up here in Duluth. However, the supply is much more limited when it comes to these things. I called by favorite bottle shop and they said that their supply would be in on Friday. I called in today, and sure enough he had 4 cases. I had the owner put a bottle away for me as things were moving quickly ( I believe they were on track to sell out before 6pm). I jumped on the opportunity and went and picked up two bottles this afternoon.

I brought the bottle home and with anticipation I broke the wax seal and popped the cap. I grabbed my sniffer and poured this concoction into it and that is where I am at, right now.

My first impressions:

Appearance: Very dark, Black upon first glance, much more reddish and purple around the edges, plum color. The head poured an ivory white and stuck around for a bit, but dissipated quickly

Smell: Very wine like, lots of dark fruit smells, spicy, cinnamon, nutmeg, strawberry, plum, fruit, dark aroma much like a robust red wine

Taste: I've never had a sour before, and was a bit apprehensive, however, Surly did great! Very complex, lots of the same types of flavors as smells. Robust fruity flavors. I get a big hit of RAW Cherry juice, Strawberries before they are really ripe, and a lot of sweet plum. Wine like qualities from a deep red made an appearance (from being aged in wine barrels), and obviously a bit of a sour taste was present. The sour made this beer taste much more like a wine than a beer. It's very very interesting and left me slack jawed. For my first dance with a sour beer, I can only imagine that this is one of the best to try first. It took a long time for the beer to leave my taste buds, It had a long after taste that was welcomed!. I can't describe much more than that. There was an over abundance of fruit and spice in this beer and it's delicious.

Overall: I am very impressed and I am wondering why I hadn't tried sour beer's before. This in an excellent beer and I am so thankful that I gave it a shot. It's a great package deal, the smell, color, taste, mouth feel, bottle art, marketing, etc. This is one that I have added to my list of beers to look for yearly as they come out. Once again, Surly Brewing has not let me down. I would give this beer a 4.7/5. It's very delicious and I can't wait for this one to come out again.  I am going to age my second bottle for a year or so, as people have suggested, and see how the flavors mellow out and the beer changes. I can't wait to try Pentagram 2012 a year or so down the road.

As stated above, Surly is one of my go to breweries that provide a quality product for sipping around a fire (Furious, Coffee Bender, Abrasive, Etc) and experimental and seasonal brews (Smoke, Darkness, Five, Syx, etc). I can't wait for the release of Seviin this year, and the next batch of Darkness! Quality local brews, brewed by the best! Thanks for checking into The Campfire Journal! Keep checking in for more adventures, beer reviews, and the like!

Next time on The Campfire Journal: Snowboarding and my progress? Spring Cycling? Anticipation for the Almanzo 100? Come back and find out! 



Thursday, January 24, 2013

2013 bucket list

The 2013 Bucket List of Adventures

Some of these are new to the list, some are repeats that I  enjoy and re-use just to keep myself grounded around the things that are important. Here is a small taste of what I want to do in 2013 as far as adventuring goes

Get Married
Camp as much as possible with my wife
Do a weekend or two out on the SHT
2-3 BWCAW trips
Bikepack to Ely using as many gravel roads and trails as possible
Commute All Winter by Bike
Ride as many 100 + mile gravel grinders as possible (hopefully 4)
Ride a century + ride a month from March- November
Finish comfortably  in the top half of as many of the gravel centuries as I can
Travel with my spouse to somewhere new
Keep as many miles off the Subaru as possible
Successfully be a one car family
Pick Raspberries in Bayfield
Harvest Wild Rice (last years harvest was bleak due to poor weather)
Build something cool with my own hands
Enjoy as many bonfires as I can
Brew a few batches of homebrew
Play my guitar more
Jump in the Atlantic Ocean
Eat a Lobster in Maine
Night hike under the stars and moon
Sip a glass of wine while watching a phenomenal sunset
Catch a few Z’s in the hammock
Catch a few fish
Push myself on the Mountain Bike to do something I held back from this year
Catch an outdoor concert
Brew coffee over the fire
Show my wife the Northern Lights, as she has yet to see them
Camp out in a quince
Save up and buy/build a fatbike
Rock climb more
Wake up in the morning covered in dew from sleeping out sans tent



Thursday, January 10, 2013

Winter Commuting Part Deux

Last time on the CFJ- Dipping my toes into winter commuting

Well, what can I say? This winter has been hit or miss and extremely inconsistent. I haven't really had the long stretches of grueling days on the bike. The weather in Northern MN has actually been kind of unimpressive so far this year Yeah, we had some snow early on, that made for a fun few rides. Yeah, we were below zero, that made for some bitterly cold miles, but overall, this winter is a flop. I'm not impressed. Where are the winters I knew as a child. We had sub zero ambient temps for high temps for weeks on end. Snow would stick around and accumulate, IMO, Winter has gotten lazy.  I haven't been able to XC ski, I don't want to get my CX bike all salty and gross, and the commuter is as I predicted unreliable. So! I've come to the conclusion that if this weather continues to be as lame as it is, I'm going to need a fatty sooner than later. The weather is PERFECT for a fatty and I can only imagine what it would do to my overall level of activity on the bike in the winter.

Back to the commuter. As predicted (somewhat in jest) in my last post the beater bike has left me fixing the chain twice this year, and as predicted, my drive train blew apart at the most inconvenient time and all over a Duluth hill. Once on the way too work, and the other on a simple ride around the town. It's fixed and hopefully I can make it through the rest of the winter sans issues.Commuting has been going well and I've been able to continue my streak of riding more than driving. I enjoy this winter riding thing and I think it's here to stay!

Next time on the CFJ- the 2013 adventure bucket list


Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter commuting has started!

Last time on The Campfire Journal: A review and recap of my time spent with a Salsa Mukluk

Winter Commuting: First Impressions

A few weeks ago I decided to hang up my CX bike for commuting and focus on riding my “beater bike”.  The decision to hang up my CX bike was kind of forced and I wasn’t too happy for the reason. I was riding one of my routine loops around Duluth and I went to shift into my bigger ring only to have my shifter fail to respond when I gave it a nudge. It turns out I broke one of the throws inside and it needed to be sent in to Shimano. So, begrudgingly I unwrapped the bar, took off the lever and sent it in. Being that I didn’t want to ride my full suspension rig (it was cleaned and shelved once I borrowed the Mukluk) I decided I’d get accustomed to my cold weather ride as snowfall was pending, and the temperatures were dropping.

My winter rig is kind of a hoot.  I got it for free and for my first year going year round, free fit the bill just fine. I did some research on this bike and from what I gathered online, this thing is almost as old as I am. My winter steed is a very heavy 1989 Panasonic (yes, you read that right, the same company that made your T.V. made bikes at one point) steel, lugged frame, mountain bike. It has “oval tech” chain rings, and extremely old and probably all original Sun tour components. I equipped this geeky little bike with studded tires, a flat bar, some lights, reflective tape on the frame and full fenders to aid in battling the snow. Yes, it’s old, Yes, It’s geeky, and YES I plan on riding this thing all winter. Full disclosure, I really don’t expect this thing to make it through the winter. Something’s going to go wrong and I wouldn’t be surprised if the drive train exploded all over the hills of Duluth. I am not going to neglect this bike. It will be and had been taken care of, however, like I said, the parts are old and very hard to find/replace and being that I don’t want to sink much money into this thing, it will have to do as is. 

Steam rising off of the lake, an early morning spin across town.

I have an incentive set up with myself this winter. If I commute and ride to work as much as I normally do on the bike that I have, then I’m going to actually do a proper winter build for next year and equip myself with some GOOD gear. Nice boots to run clipless, internal hub, full cable housing, studded tires, fenders, etc, etc. Probably a Surly Ogre or something along that line.  I’ve been marking the calendar, and so far things have gone to plan. I’ve even wrote “ogre” on my bars to remind me of my deal with myself when the days do get tough, the temps bottom out, and that 5 A.M wake up call makes me want to roll over and hit snooze again. If I can make it on this gear, I can do it on anything.

The first few weeks of riding have gone well. I’m still trying to find the right mix of clothing that allows me to ride and stay warm without sweating out of my clothes. I did hit a few “cold” days but I know in the back of my head that these “cold” temps are nothing compared to what is coming as winter really gets its grip on the Northland. I find the hardest thing to keep warm has been my nose. I don’t like having things over my mouth when I’m riding as it makes breathing more difficult and leads to fogging in my glasses, any tips and tricks in this area would be appreciated. I do have a mask with holes over the mouth area, but it restricts my air flow when I’m climbing. Other than that, things have gone well. The studded tires have performed as I expected they would. The fenders have kept me dry and things are going smooth.

 I have a few plans for this winter once the snow actually begins to accumulate in Duluth. I am going to try to be as car free as I was in the summer, running the bulk of my trips in Duluth on bike. I’ve figured out a way to mount my XC skis on my bike and am anxiously waiting snow so I can bike out to a destination, ski for a few hours, and then bike home. I figure if I can’t trust the bike to put on longer rides out of town I might as well use it to transport my ski/snowshoe equipment and utilize it that way.

So far, no hiccups, nothing abnormal in my commuting routine, just waiting on this “introduction” to winter to be over and get into the real challenging days that are around the corner. I know they are bound to happen.

Next time on the Campfire Journal: Music in Duluth? A review on new, local, establishments? Winter? Bikes? Check in and find out! Thanks for the visit!


Monday, November 26, 2012

My experiences with a 2012 Salsa Mukluk

Last time on the Campfire Journal- the HECK of the north recap. My first, but not last, Gravel Century

As of late, fat bikes like the surly pugsly, 907 fatback, salsa mukluk and beargrease, as well as many others have been the buzz in cycling magazines, and social media. Up until this past July I was convinced that I would never want a fat bike to be in my arsenal of bikes. To me they appeared cumbersome, slow, and no fun at all. That all changed for me at the 2012 Wausau 24. Last years W24 had a few fat bikes in it, and I thought the riders were crazy for pushing those rigs through the woods. This years W24 brought more fat bikes to the scene and even a few 4 person fat bike teams. There was one team in particular that I was watching come through the exchange area between my laps and my teammate’s laps that seemed to be having so much MORE fun than I was, and I was having a blast! They were smiling ear to ear with their legs over fatbikes. They didn’t look any more or less tired than anyone else, they weren’t complaining about being “slow”, and they were killing it on the course. In that moment it occurred to me that maybe… just maybe, there was something more to this fat bike “trend” and just MAYBE, I was the one that needed to shift my views on these rigs.

A few months later I found myself towing the line of the Heck, which is a 103 mile, self supported, gravel road race through the wilderness north of Duluth. Once again, a Fat bike was in the mix. This rider was going to crank out 100 + miles on a fatty!? Everyone else was on some mix of a sleek CX bike or at most a 29er. This guy was on a fat bike. I couldn’t deny it anymore. I had to try one out. I had to know WHY. I just had to throw my leg over one and ride it to see what it was all about. If this guy was going to ride this race with one, and those teams in Wausau did just fine, there must me something more to these things. I had to find out.

Last year my friend bought a Salsa Mukluk. I remember not really understanding why he wanted one, giving him some crap, and accusing him of wasting his money. A year later, I find myself eating my words as I ask him if I can borrow it for a month or so. He obliged, with few snarky comments, and let me take his Muk back to Duluth.

My first ride took me down through Canal Park and onto Park Point. Park Point is  a long “finger” of beach front property that juts out into Lake Superior. It’s a long strip of loose sand, driftwood, and beach debris. I figured this would be and appropriate testing ground as the perk of owning one of these rigs is the flotation provided over loose terrain. Well, the Mukluk did awesome. The very first thing I noticed upon throwing my leg over the tube was that this thing felt STABLE. The large tires took some getting used to, but it was extremely stable and predictable.  The Second thing I noticed is that people notice the bike. If you don’t like attention, don’t get a fat bike. So many questions, so many stares, so many remarks about the wheels and tires, if you’re not a people person, a fat bike probably isn’t for you. They are a magnet for conversation. My first ride on the beach had a large handful of people "oogling" the bike as we rode over the sand. The third thing I notices is that I couldn't help but smile. This chunk of aluminum and rubber had me smiling from ear to ear. One of the most bizzare sensations was the amount of floatation and the ability to maintain speed. This thing just floated over everything. I rode the surf, I rode the beach, I rode the dunes, I did log rides on driftwood and “drops” off of the ends into the sand. I was having a blast on this bike. I could not believe how this bike felt and how it made me feel. Something clicked inside of me and I wanted one. Instantaneously, I wanted one. There was the time in my life before the fat bike, and now that I’ve seen the light. I can’t deny it! I found myself lusting after a fat bike.

I continued to ride the Muk all over Duluth. I climbed the hills of Duluth to the single-track trails in Hartley, then I climbed up and over Hawks Ridge down to the lake to ride in Lester Park with it. I loved how the bike handled. I loved how it felt, and I could easily see this being an “all day” bike. On the singletrack, I found myself riding sections of trail about as fast, and even sometimes faster, than I would on my full suspension rig. The large tires inspired extreme confidence in any berm I were to encounter. Root sections and rock gardens were a breeze as well. The large wheels and tires roll over anything and carry a lot of momentum. The amount of momentum that’s generated from such a large tire was something to experience. I felt like I was rolling in a tank at times and that nothing could stop me. This bike is a beast. Again, I found myself smiling, ear to ear! 

Over the next few weeks I continued to play with the Muk on the beach, on the trails, and out in the woods. I was not 100% convinced that I would want one yet as I had not rode in a group and was not sure how I could “keep up” to my buddies. I didn’t want to be the “slow one”. Here enters the final “test”. This past weekend two of my best friends, one of which is the owner of the bike, and I met up at Lebanon Hills in Dakota County to ride. The day was brisk to say the least. We donned our layers, filled the bottles (even a small. square, seven ounce one, if you know what I mean), and set out. They were on their full suspension trail rigs, and I would rock the fatty. Needless to say I did just fine. The Muk and I hurled ourselves over root sections, climbed the log piles, dropped the drops, rode a few features, jumped the jumps and SLAYED the berms. The fast rolling tires coupled with the insane amount of traction had me setting my personal high mark on some of the berms and carrying all the speed I needed out of them. I had such a blast riding on the trails of Lebanon Hills in a group that I was “sold”. Once again, smiling, ear to ear!

The fat bike, in my opinion, is here to stay and has a spot in my arsenal. Now I just need to find a spot in my pocket book.  I’ll eat my words over and over and over again. I apologize for judging before I rode. I have been converted, and it was a lovely process. Until next time! Peace.

Next time on The Campfire Journal- Winter Commuting in Duluth! My first impressions as I set out to ride/commute year round.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Heck of the North 2012

Well, it finally happened! I took the plunge and it was worth it. The Heck of the North lived up to all I thought it could and then some. The day started out nice and early. My phone alarm didn’t even need to do its job as I was already awake from the anticipation. My riding partner, Cayman, and I loaded up our bikes, did a final check, and made our way to the start location. We were fairly early as we wanted time to check and double check our rigs, tweak the last little things, load the packs, and get down to business. The starting area was a buzz with the usual chit chat and banter. Talks of tire pressure, gear, clothing, and the ever daunting “washboard” gravel that lay ahead. Eight O’Clock brought a quick speech from Jeremy Kershaw about the race and we headed into a neutral roll out.

I’ll admit it. I was nervous. A large peloton of riders formed on Jean Duluth road and I tucked into the group with Cayman. While in the roll out, my cue card let loose from the holder I had rigged and landed in my chest due to the wind. Nervously and frantically I clung to the sheet of paper that was going to get me through this thing. Apparently, this frightened my fellow riders as I zigged and zagged in the peloton as I tried to re secure the cue sheet in the elastic of my chamois’ leg. Sorry to those who I may have frightened. I was nervous, and trying to multitask while not killing myself or others while we were at speed. Anyway, the race was underway.

The temps were cool but not cold and the day was just perfect. The colors in the trees were at their peak, the sky was as blue as ever, and there were no clouds to be seen. Cayman and I set into a pace that would work for us. I wanted to continually ratchet things up and he kept reminding me that we are in this all day and that we had never done this type of race before. Heeding his advice, I calmed down and settled in. We started cranking out the miles and things went just fine. The gravel was mostly smooth for the first half with scattered sections of washboard.. The second section of trail that connected the course ran through the Brimson bog. This section had me laughing and enjoying myself. We were riding together on a decent section of snowmobile trail, when all of a sudden, right in the middle of the trail a large section of very soft ground appeared. I watched riders dismount and make their way through this patch fairly unscathed. When it became my turn, I thought that I picked the same line as everyone else, but apparently I missed it. I took my first step and I landed in mud up to my knees. The bog sucked onto my foot and I had a brief moment of panic where I thought I was going to lose my shoe to the swamp. I lifted my leg up to take another step, hoping to find solid footing. Nope! More bottomless muck. At this point, Cayman is behind me laughing and trying to coach me on where to go. His advice didn’t work. I continued in this fashion through the section of bog. Once I was firmly on the other side I did a quick check to make sure everything came with me that was supposed to. My feet were wet, my tights were muddy, and I added about 5 pounds to my total weight in mud and water. I couldn’t help but laugh, after all this is what I signed up for. We then made our way out to the next section of gravel, County Road 131. This road would take us into the checkpoint.

Let me just say this. CR131 is by far the worst road I’ve ever biked on. We were fighting washboards all day long, however, 131 had washboards that would beat my Subaru to pieces. 131 was 10 miles of slightly up hill washboard that had very minimal lines to ride. I was forced to put my head down and grin and bear it as I rode the washboard. This section was the only section in the whole race where I felt a little defeated. It was long and straight with no end in site. This made me feel like I was not making any progress. I had problems getting the legs to spin at a consistent cadence. This was not helped by the fact that my body was more concerned about my teeth, which were being rattled out of my skull. This long section couldn’t come to an end fast enough, in my opinion. This was the only section that I couldn’t help but release audible grunts, groans, and curses as I rode it. If it weren’t for the checkpoint ahead, this section could have been the deal breaker.

Cayman and I rolled into the checkpoint eager to be off  of that God forsaken "road'. I must have looked a little beat as well. At the checkpoint, one of the volunteers had commented on my condition and said I looked "very lost". She then helped me find my drop bag. Thank you! I ate half a sandwich, sucked a gel, re loaded the bottles with some perpetuem mix and we were back on the road.

My only complaint about the whole race happened right here. Cayman and I misread our cue sheets and took a right when we should have maintained a straight path. This cost us some time as we were off course for a significant amount of time. It was a mix up of cue sheet, rider error, and signage. Nothing too big, as we were not in a place to “podium” anyway. We got back on course and started pounding out the miles. We were in sync and doing two person rotations, making up lost time, and crushing the gravel again.

We started to reel in riders one by one and make up the ground we lost. The Fox Farm road was (and has been) a highlight for me. This is one of my favorite sections of gravel in the area. We made up a lot of time here and hit the pavement hard to gain even more ground. We were both in a very good spot mentally, we talked, joked, and shared stories as the miles slipped away under our bikes. We headed strong into the Moose Mile where our "mountain biker skills" helped us out immensely. That trail was a hoot. I loved every minute of it. It sure was a different feeling to be successfully riding a trail that I’d normally tackle on my plush mountain bike while riding a rigid cyclocross bike.We navigated this trail very well and carried quite a substantial amount of speed through it. Once we hit the gravel on the other side I had to make a cue sheet adjustment. As I was riding no handed, cue sheet in hand, both of my legs suddenly cramped up. One hamstring on one leg, and the quad on the opposite leg were both in horrible condition. At this point in time my primary source of calories and electrolytes had not been received well by my body. I thought I could go on without it to the finish, but that error most likely lead to the cramping issues. I continued to pedal through them and they worked themselves out. I walked a section of hill leading up to Lakewood road to stretch them out and see how things went. I hopped back on, crested Lakewood and made my way through the last section of familiar gravel towards the finish.

Cayman and I took respite on the decent to the lake. The air was chilly and we were soaking in the blessing that gravity was bestowing upon us. Cayman then made an observation that took the wind right out of my sails. He said “You know that we are just descending to begin a long climb, right?” to which I assured him that I was very much aware. The finishing climb is one of my favorite sections of road in all of Duluth. I ride this road and trail combination to work if I find myself in the lakeside area. The climb up Seven Bridges Road, through the Amnity Creek trail is gorgeous year round,  and even more so in the fall. We ground it out and met the head wall of Pleasant View drive.

Earlier, last week, I climbed this beast just to get to know it a bit. Today I met it with 90 plus miles behind me and a case of some cramps. I’ll admit it. I walked part of the climb. I started out strong and out of the saddle. Until this point I had done fairly well on all the climbing sections. Well, this one went a little differently. I dismounted and began to walk as this climb is steep and fairly long. I was in my own thoughts and began to think to myself and wonder if Cayman had chosen to dismount as well. No sooner had that thought crossed my mind and I was greeted with a pat on my butt, and a chuckle from Cayman, as he rode by to pass me. This simple action was the spark that I needed to complete the rest of this monster climb. I threw my leg back over the top tube, clipped in, and chased him down  and we both crested the monster that is Pleasant View. We descended together down Vermillion and rounded the corner towards the finish. As we approached we heard the clamoring of cow bells and a handful of spectators. It was a great feeling to hear their excitement for us as we made our way to the finish. At this point, I was in the "lead", but I wanted to cross the line together as this was a feat that both of us completed. I then rose out of my saddle and soft pedaled as we approached the finish. Cayman comes up to my side and just as we start to crosss the line, he flicks his bike forward so he could “cross” in front of me. He just chuckles and says “racin' is racin'” as he makes his way to the car. What a putz! My fiancée was there at the finish cheering us on. It was great to see her face and have here there as one of my many “to do’s” was checked off the bucket list.  Jeremy came and shook our hands and congratulated us on our finish. That meant a lot as well, a simple handshake goes a long way. With all of the miles behind us, that was that, the Heck was over.  We were left with our tired legs and our thoughts. We  then loaded up the car and made our way home to grab a shower and a well deserved beer.We had just conquered the Heck!

The Heck of the North was by far the best race event that I have ever been a part of. This is an event that I will be returning to annually for as long as I can. Jeremy is one heck of a promoter and he knows what he is doing. The Heck will forever be the race that got me into gravel racing. It is my first, but sure will not be my last. My only goals for this race were to have a good time on the bike, and to finish. Check, and Check! It was a great day in the saddle, one of the best I've ever had.

Oh… and for the record! On the website my name is two positions up the list from Cayman’s, Afterall, racing is racing, right, Bud?!'

The grand total.