This weekend Brett, Scott, Chris and I went to Wisconsin for the Chequamegon Fat Tire 40.
The fun was nearly never-ending.
We left Denver on Wednesday night after work, packed into Brett's new E.
We drove WAY further into the night than planned because of some sort of interesting farm convention happening in Nebraska, causing all of the hotels to be booked up. Once we finally got settled into a dive of a hotel in Seward, we slept for a few hours before getting out of there as quickly as possible in the morning.
(The apples Scott brought us from his parents' apple trees in Iowa were by far the best I've ever had)
In the early evening we made it to Eau Claire, Wisconsin where we met up with one of Brett's friends and got to cruise around on some awesome single track. The riding in Wisconsin looked to be just my kind of riding -- no hills, no rocks, just smooth swoopy funness. I hoped this is what the course would be like on Saturday. Unfortunately we were racing the setting sun and the vicious peloton of mosquitos so we didn't get very many pictures of the ride.
We had some good burgers in Eau Claire, stayed in a decent hotel, and got back on the road for a few hours on Friday. Soon we found ourselves in Hayward, Wisconsin -- our home for the next whoppin' day and a half. We were treated to standing in the world's largest Muskee (yes, I'm sure there's a big market for those, making the competition stiff).
After many too many minutes of trying to find somewhere out in the woods, we settled into the cottage on the lake and headed back to the car to drive to race registration a half hour away.
I forgot the camera, but registration was quite the sight. Chris has me used to these underground races where "registration" consists of a few beers and a two-minute prerace meeting. Cheq's race registration had 2800 people piled into some sort of hotel or ski lodge -- one line for getting your race packet, one for getting your ankle bracelet, one for your shwag bag, and one for testing your ankle bracelet. I have to hand it to the race organization though -- the registration was streamlined and quick moving. Everyone seemed really nice and happy to be there. After I went through the first line behind Scott, the lady at the table made the comment "Wow! There's two of you from Colorado in a row! What are the odds?" Ha, I had to laugh at that one. Shocking!
Brett, being the race veteran, was grilled by me and Scott throughout the night. We wanted to know EVERYTHING about the course. Scott and I had never ridden in Wisconsin (other than our hour jaunt in Eau Claire the day before) and we were both quite concerned that we might die. Chris, also having never ridden in Wisconsin, was cool as a cucumber. Getting over a nasty sickness and feeling pretty terrible, but cool as a cucumber.
We spent the evening scraping off the hoards of dead bugs from the front of our bikes, eating a tasty meal cooked by the chef of the house, and organizing race food and clothes for the next morning. There was a general air of stressfulness over where people would start, how early they should get their bikes to the start to get a good position, etc. Lucky for Chris and Brett, they had preferred start and didn't have to worry about getting there early to be in the front, and luckily for them, Scott and I didn't care AT ALL where we started in the group. That meant no one in our group had to get up at the butt crack of dawn to place bikes upside down in the middle of the main street.
The next morning found Chris up early making Brett, Scott, and I some pancakes and eggs. Worried about that northern Wisconsin weather, I was fully prepared to freeze at the start of the race. When I stepped outside to load my bag into the car, I was pleasantly surprised to find downright WARM weather! Who knew that existed up north in the fall (says the Colorado native)? We did our prerace activities, placing Scott and I's bikes in the middle/back of the quickly growing field of upside down bikes. We finalized clothes, food, water, and nervous chit chat about how a mountain bike course in Wisconsin could not possibly have 4,000 ft of climbing in it... even if it is 40 miles.
Before we knew it the race was about to start and Scott and I found our bikes. We chatted it up with the others around us -- most of them laughing when they heard we were from Colorado and actually concerned about the course. I guess being from Colorado means we're hardcore. Scott and I threw each other "haha, little do they know" glances and were soon off with the crowd. The sound of 2700 riders clipping into clipless pedals can never be replecated. I love that sound. The click, click, click, click sound is strangely comforting. The sound of 2700 wheels spinning down the road was like sitting in the middle of a vicious pack of swarming bees. Despite the start being the part I was most worried about (I know our group can stay on a line for 3 miles on a road, but you can't control the things 2696 other people will do). Turns out the start was pretty tame. No screaming crashes like I was warned about. There were stops and starts along the way, but overall it was fine.
Since 40 miles is a long way, and frankly would make from a long, fairly boring race report, here are a few memories, insights, and observations about the course:
1) The rolling grassy hills of the Berky were painful. I'm not used to miles and miles of rolling hills. I felt totally and completely retarded trying to ride them. I was constantly in the wrong gear. I do have to say that I quickly learned the benefits of not touching your brakes on the downhills. Why give up all that precious free speed?
2) Despite my previous statement, I learned in this race that I can climb. Really. Amazing actually how this suddenly came to me. I would climb past people walking up the hills ALL THE TIME. It was almost funny. On the one *big* climb of the course, I rode over half of it while strings of people hiked up the side. I rode everything else. And I wasn't even out of breath. At all.
3) Connecting to number two (I'm all about transitions today), breathing at sea level is significantly easier. People would be huffing and puffing and I was able to carry on complete (although often one-sided) conversations with those around me. I'm not sure my breathing ever reached beyond a pretty normal level. My legs, on the other hand, were hurting pretty good almost immediately! Strange.
4) Even though I've never actually done it before, I was really good at taking the water hand up on the fly. Must be all that 24 Hours of Moab practice being on the other side of the hand up.
5) Chris, despite being sick, feeling generally crappy, and being largely untrained, still beat me by an hour and a half. Humbling.
6) I only beat Scott by 8 minutes. Neither of us knew the other was that close. Otherwise it would've been a lot of fun to ride together.
7) Thank goodness fellow cyclo-blogger Vito warned me of the last 8 miles. "Relentless hills" is an understatement. It wasn't just hills, it was rollers. And we all know I hate the rollers.
8) Fighting a cold for the first 3 weeks of school, then doing a hard 40 mile race, gives the cold a considerable edge. My head and sinuses felt absolutely horrible the night after the race and I ended up sleeping a full 12 hours, starting at 7:45 pm, through the drunken banter upstairs. the sleep helped a lot though and I felt a lot better the next day.
9) I'm glad I took time now and then to look around. The leaves were spectacular in Wisconsin and they were especially pretty on a few parts of the course. Back at the cabin I picked 20 big red leaves to bring home to my students. For once I can teach them about the colors of fall without them looking at me with skepticism as all they see in Denver is green, brown, and yellow.
I think that's it. We took Sunday and Monday to drive home and Tuesday was back to work. It was hard returning to the real-world after a blissful 5 1/2 days of friends, fun, eating, laughing, and riding.
Thanks to Brett for all of the driving. Chris and I got to hang in the back and relax the whole trip. I'm not sure that has ever happened and it was lovely.
(P.S I finished the race in a relatively slow 3 hours and 51 minutes... although this was as good as I could do given my current fitness, so I'm pleased. Next year it'd be fun to go back and gun for the 3-3.5 hour mark -- easily do-able with a little work. At least I'll show good improvement!)