edit- sorry this thing got so long!
Almost got the mini stuck in a snowdrift at Royal's grave on the way down, glad we were able to push it out! Turns out his gravestone is completely under the snow anyways. Still glad I stopped by. Once we did get moving again we got to Dubuque just in time to check into our hotel and head to race headquarters for the Winter Riding Seminar. I definitely heard some things which will influence my future plans/purchases. Also, news about the trail conditions and weather reports. Heard it was going to be mostly rideable on a cx bike and the wheels started turning... if it was that icey my 29er might be an ADVANTAGE over the Fatbikes. How much of an equipment advantage would it take for me to maybe even BEAT the fast guys on their Fatbikes? Dinner at Tony Romas, some football and then a glass of champagne before bed (well, for me anyways. Kelly and Laura wound up at some bar with a door man, got themselves on "the list", and got into all sorts of trouble while I slept).
Sunday morning came fast. Pre-race meeting and more information on the course. Going to start out hard on private land, hilly, soft etc.. Then hit the Heritage Trail for most of the rest. Knew I'd lose contact with the Fatbikes early. Hoped my skinny tires would be enough of an advantage later to reel them back in. Knew that I'd have to ride smart and efficiently early. Trying to keep up with the Fatbikes in the deep stuff would render my advantage? later totally moot because I'd be in a coma.
Neutral lead-out ended and the first section of trail was rideable on my bike! Remembered running most of it last year and felt this was a good omen even if it was beyond bumpy. Lance Andre, Cody Larson and Ben Shockey flew by me after a bit but I settled into a pace that I could handle. It was obvious that the volume of the 26x3.7 tires was helping them absorb the bumps. We had a brief smooth/firm section after going under the underpass and I was quickly able to close the gap. Looked back for the first (and only) time and we already had at least a 2 or 3 minute lead on the field.
Settled into my own pace and slowly watched the Pugsleys pull away from me over the next 75-90 minutes. By the last couple miles on those early trails I was walking hundreds of yards of trail that the others had ridden, much of it on slight uphill grades. I was happy with my bike setup though and honestly surprised by how much of the trail I WAS able to ride. I really enjoyed the route. It was gonzo; up, down, along this road, across a random field, through a parking lot, school, shopping mall etc. etc., technical descending, barely rideable climbs, tons of vertical. Would be the route you'd take from Dubuque to the Heritage Trail if you had a motor on your bike and huge balls, must be nice...
Crazy fast descent down a level B road. Didn't use brakes, knew the guys in front were "out there" at that point. Slipped on ice and wrapped myself up pretty good. Back on and still descending at 25+ and finally out and onto the Heritage Trail. Told myself it was "Suck 'em up time" (my grandpa's way of saying it was time to get the momentum, come from behind and destroy your competition... usually used when he was beating me at H.O.R.S.E.). Got the average up over 13 the rest of the way to Dyersville. Flying along in the big ring toward the end, "suck 'em up time, suck 'em up time". Lance and Cody were already coming down the trail TOWARD ME before I even got to the turn off for the checkpoint! Plus they were riding in a Fat paceline. Started my watch so I'd know how far back I was, but even then I knew it was likely useless.
PUlled into checkpoint- Ben's bike still here. He's on his way out. Gatorade, no time to find a faucet and make perpetuem. No time to pee. Go. Couple miles of pavement. Almost closed the gap. Kept on it on the trail. Started seeing other racers going "out" still. With each one the trail got worse. Ben started slipping away as I struggled in the rutted drifts. I cursed the other skinny tired riders. Reminded myself I bought a road bike instead of Mukluk and that it was the right choice. Ate a frozen nutroll. Finally made it back to where we'd joined the trail on the way out and therefore past where any other skinny tired bikes had ridden. Back into the big ring. Ben's orange jacket! 1 one thousand etc., 185 seconds back. An hr later, orange jacket! 180 seconds. Damn. Conversation with myself, "15 or 20 miles left. You need to ride your own race now and save something in the tank", "ok".
Back pain- stem flipped low and heavy backpack, what was I thinking? 4 miles to Durango checkpoint. cool ski area on the right, beautiful rock walls all around me. ORANGE JACKET, FASTER! Big ring again. Ben was leaving the checkpoint as I pulled in. Took too long at checkpoint. 10 miles to go with the last 4 being paved. Knew I would have an advantage on the pavement, but he'd have a huge advantage on that first section of bumpy trail, which would now be our last section. I would have to get there before him or with him to have a chance of pulling off third (and more importantly? beating my friend). Pushed hard and got down to about 120 counts back. Actually started telling myself that "Ben was tired, Ben wasn't ready to ride this far" etc.. We left the main trail again and I just wallowed. Wanted to keep pushing but I was done. He again had at least 3 minutes on me and I was riding./weaving at about 4 miles an hr through an ice covered driving range that he'd probably flown straight across.
Another goal (actually my only goal for the race) was still in my reach- to finish! and I had time yet to finish it comfortably before sunset. Had a quick siesta under the overpass with some perpetuem washed down by a shot of Patron. I'd brought the bottle with expecting a 10+ hr slog with good company. It was to be a celebration of finishing and was to be shared with whomever I'd shared the suffering with... but this would do. This thing had become a different animal than what I'd expected, but it was still worth celebrating. Puttered the rest of the way in, carried my bike up the stairs and signed in for a 6 hr 40 minute? (or so) finish.
Cody had beaten me by an hr, Lance by just 10 minutes less. Those guys are crazy fast. Ben is a badass for his whole ride. He could have slowed down and ridden with me the second half but he's too competitive (or hates me?)... wouldn't want it otherwise. Plus the way he finished it off I didn't deserve that anyways, he was stronger. I hope he was still chasing Lance and Cody to the end. Impressed and humbled by how all three of those guys ahead of me rode. Frank Hassler was next to finish after me, glad to see him do well. Bob Gritman from Rochester also had good race on his 29er, particularly for a first try in something like this. Awesome to see him out there. Lots of great efforts from everyone. It's not like its easier to go slower and have to ride in the dark and cold. The last person to finish this race IS the toughest. Woman finisher near the end! Laura and Kelly lost a bit at the casino, but had fun. Awards. What bar should we go to? Is there really a bar called "mason dixon"?
No lights on at the bar- barmaid says she's going across the street. No bar across the street? "Just go in that door and go downstairs"... Amazing Irish Pub in the basement, crazy locals everywhere. Some sort of combination of winking insurance salesman, burlesque, blues brothers, fishnets, ugly sweater party and an "Irish" bartender who wound up taking his dress shirt off and just wearing argyle vest. Good company in the form of the guys "from Milltown" (Cody L and his girlfriend, Ben O, Curtis and Ben W). A few good games of billiards with Ben W, a few too many dark beers... switched to Strongbow. Back to the hotel around 2:30.
Pretty good weekend.
If you are considering this race, do it! It's about as approachable as "winter" trail racing gets (well, other than the Dickie Scramble, right?). More importantly it's run perfectly. Everything is properly organized. Everything is thought of beforehand. The volunteers are where they need to be and doing what they need to do with a smile. The course is beautiful. Lance does it right.
Sorry I don't have any pictures, I was busy. Check out the Triple D website for quite a few. I may add some here later.
Ben's Blog- http://theshockstar.blogspot.com/
Triple D- http://tripledrace.blogspot.com/
Lots more blogs over at the Triple D site- I'm guessing a lot of people have a lot of different write-ups, could be interesting to read.
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