Category Archives: Community

Friendship and Fat Biking…

I was introduced to fat bikes a few years ago when I participated in a local event, with my friend Colin: A Winter Fat Bike Relay Race in the snow.  I borrowed my friend Mike’s fat bike, and Colin and I teamed up to compete in the three lap race.

The race was for fun, put on by the local MTB club: CORBA. There was snow when the race started, but as the sun came out and stayed to party with us, the course, quite quickly, liquefied into grassy slop and mud.  Still, we raced on, wet and muddy, laughed and drank beer.

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After the race,  I cleaned the bike up (twice if I remember) and thanked Mike for lending me his Surly Pugsley.  It was a weighty blue beast, a touch small, but reliable in the corners.

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Just writing this reminds me of how fantastic the biking community here in Bloomington/Normal is and I am forever in debt to Mike and Colin (and the Local Bike Shop), for being fantastic friends, and introducing & inviting me to participate in these things…

Since then, I have been lazily eyeing a fat bike for purchase.  My relay race experience left me wanting more in terms of racing and fat biking, but time passed, and as money permitted, I chose  Mountain, Cross, and Gravel bikes and rides instead.    During this same time period, all new fat bike models have come out from every bike company and they are becoming increasingly lighter, faster, made from Carbon, and Ti, in a cascade of price ranges.  Any way I cut it, most of the time they were too expensive for me, and I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on a bike I was not going to race.

Colin got in contact with me about three weeks ago.   He mentioned that he had a Fat Bike, a Salsa Mukluk, that he was looking to part with after having purchased a different model, a Surly Ice Cream Truck, and was wondering if I would be interested.  I mentioned that I was interested, but would need some time to think about it.

He sent me this text message:

“In about 10 minutes I’m going to come by and put a fat bike in your backyard. That sounds inappropriate but it’s true.  Ride it this weekend and get rad.”

I did just that, and never looked back.

My first few rides were in a Elementary School playground with the dog.  I spent most of the time learning to wheelie, riding down stairs, and sprinting back and forth so the dog would chase me.

I raced the bike in the Fat Bike open at a local CX race, and had a great, but exhausting time.

I went on a Tuesday Nite Team ride with a few others on fat bikes and rode 16+ miles, with intermittent sprinting and ridiculousness.

On Christmas Eve, I rode 32 miles, and felt all the resistance of the large tires, and all the enjoyment of its ability to corner on suspect turf…

Yesterday, I rode it to the gym and back, in a head wind, learning the how important that high gear is.

What I found over the past three weeks:

  • Fat bikes will help you learn to wheelie
  • Fat bikes can move quickly
  • Fat Bikes can roll over just about anything
  • You will always have fun
  • You will rediscover your inner child
  • You can ride and have fun on any of the following surfaces:
    • Snow
    • Single track
    • Pavement
    • Grass
    • Mud

My final thoughts:

  • I think the fat bike is the perfect tool to bridges the gap between fun and training, road and all other trails.  Even my dog loves chasing it around.
  • A 4+ Inch tire gives you all the traction and comfort needed in all situations.
  • The Mukluk has all the bosses needed for bike packing…
  • Fat bikes are good for solo endeavors, but are better shared with friends.
  • Listen to your friends…buy a fat bike.

 

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Reportage: Chequamegon 40

The Set Up:

At the end of last year I started a fitness program with some members of our local bike team. The goal was to improve fitness, strength, speed, and endurance during races. Many of the work out crew were specifically focused on mountain biking as a discipline. I had been talking about participating in a mountain race since I moved back to Normal, and I credit our local trail (for ripping off the derailleur on my then bike) for getting me involved with BCF and their race team.

I was really dedicated to the program, and enjoyed the twice weekly sessions, even if they were punishing and I had trouble walking the next day.

Given the results I was seeing, and my love of mountain biking and CX, I made a lofty goal to race more mountain bike races in our local series to keep my stoke thru the summer and increase my fitness for the Fall CX season.  Plus, shredding on a MTB is fun!

In an effort to reach my goal and encourage more MTB racing, I signed up on New Years Day 2016 for Chequamegon, a 40 mile MTB race in Northern Wisconsin.  The race starts in downtown Hastings, and connects a series of fire roads, cross country ski trails, and single track to Cable, culminating in a massive downhill from the top of Telemark Mountain, at the Telemark Ski Lodge.   It is the largest mass start mountain bike race in North America.  It has been described as a mountain bike time trial.

I purchased a used hardtail from a teammate and then, stopped riding almost all together. I never quit lifting at the gym, but my riding dropped of significantly.  I was basically only bumming around town on my single speed and running some errands.

The suffering is real, and blissful.

Pre Race 

40 miles is potentially quite rough if you have never raced you mountain bike before, and especially if you have not been training, or riding your mountain bike.   Needless to say, between vacations to Canada and Alaska, and my lack of mountain bike training, I was not super stoked for how I was gonna feel or place when I raced.

I had already sunk costs in the bike (which is superb and rides like a dream) and in race fees.  I just had to suck it up and do it.  Experiences are everything, and I was not going to miss this one because I was lazy and unfocused.

On the van ride up with the team, I asked questions about what was a good time to finish in, what the course was like, what I should expect, etc.   Clearly, I was unprepared, but my team members (some of who I was just getting to know), were confident I would/could finish in under 3 hours.  I settled on targeting a finishing time of under 3 hours, and focusing on riding smooth and as clean as possible (no falls, mechanicals, or stops).

We arrived two days before the race and were able to pre ride part of the course during a break in the rain on Friday.  We rode a total of 10 miles, half of which were the last 5 miles of the race course.  This was crucial for morale on race day.  This was the longest ride I had been on with this bike in months.  I felt good.

Graffiti between Cable and Hasting’s that has apparently been there for more than a decade.  The lettering keeps getting bigger.

The Race

Here is a video of the staging area before the start of the race.

 

I was staged in the last gate, #7.  The start was chaos as people start fighting for the front to avoid people who would be bottle necks later in the race.  I brought a Camel back with 2 liters of Scratch and 6 gels tucked into my short elastic, and quickly tried to pass as many people as possible.   I rode well, all things considered, and ran a few sections that I was unable to ride due to volume of people backed up trying to crest the hills.  I had a few mechanical issues, but felt really good the for 90% of the race.

One thing missed out on was recovery and fitness. The dudes who have been riding their bike and racing hard all year finished in 2:15 minutes-ish.  A few of those same.folks left that night and raced twice at a CX race back home the next day!  That’s a new goal to arrive for and really impressive.

Highlights of my race or things I learned:

  • Riding my bike more often would have helped
  • I cramped a bit at mile 36, and did my best to stretch on my bike on some of the downhills, and flats in between sprints.  No matter how much water you bring, take all the hand ups at the nutrition stations.
  • There were pirates on one of the hills who offered up free rum!  I gladly took a free shot and kept pushing.  I didn’t regret it.
  • I could have pedaled harder.
  • I climbed really well
  • All the rain really added to the fun of the race!
  • 40 miles on a mountain bike is really tough
  • A Narrow wide chainring without a clutch derailleur is kind of silly and potentially cost me my sub 3 hour goal.
  • Chocolate Cliff gels are the worst of the flavors. They are a thicker consistency than other flavors, and extra hard to process with little to no water.
  • Mini Cans of Coca Cola would be nice to have mid race – Rocket Fuel.
  • Flow is everything, carry the momentum.
  • There is a point beyond some types of pain, and sometimes it is blissful.

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Final thoughts if you are visiting the area:

  • There is fly fishing and canoeing galore on the St Croix river.
  • Hastings, WI has a brew pub called the Angry Minnow and its beer selection is primo. The pork tacos are delicious.
  • I may have become intoxicated and said I would participate on a team at the 2017 24 hours of Old Pueblo…we’ll see….
  • Check out the American Berkie, also hosted in Hastings.  It is an international XC ski race.

 

30 Miles out, Bridges, and Ghost Towns

Another Blitz has been planned!  Looking to span a bit farther than our 20 mile (minimum) radius…Same schedule: Leaving after work Friday, and biking west, camping, and then more biking in the AM, then Donuts.

The Deets:

  • A total of 16 hours away from home base (BLITZ)
  • A total of 67 miles (potentially up to 75)
  • 2 old abandoned bridges (potentially a 3rd)
  • Gravel (guaranteed)
  • Campsite is a potential Ghost Town/RUINS (100% happening)
  • See previous point – maybe the beginning of a horror story or reveal of a local cult

Here is a snapshot of the potential route:

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I was looking for destinations with this one.  I have been thinking of paddling the Mackinaw River next year from source to finish with VSLF and our pup, Brooks.  While doing research on Google Maps of the river/route, I came across some old bridges off dirt roads that seemed to lead to nowhere.    I found the first one not far from the BCF teams locally famous gravel grinder course, and then another 2 within 10 miles!  SCORE!   While scoping out how to access them, and determining property (Private/Public) lines, I noticed abandoned buildings clustered together near the second bridge right along the river. DOUBLE SCORE.  I hope to camp amongst the riverside ruins.

In my research about the abandoned buildings I see on Google maps, I found out that there are people who travel, and catalogue old bridges (Rail, and Automobile) and blog about them in detail  both large and small.  As a matter of fact, there is more than one person who maintains a digital bridge catalogue, for the state of Illinois.  Right now, I am totally psyched that the folks are into this seemingly banal hobby are out there! Their archives have provided great bridge beta for this weekend’s excursion.  I might snap some photos and send them on to the site owners in appreciation.

Pretty sweet what people are doing out their with their free time, really.  Deep down I feel like the bridge fascination is somehow related to an older generations fascination with Trains (models, engine types, old rail lines, routes)  and their past dominance of the American landscape (the original American transportation obsession).  Given that I can find a catalogue of old bridges in Illinois, sorted by region, I bet their is come research online that points to a connection between the two.

41 Miles for 41 Years

Tonight I participated in our regular Tuesday Night Constitution Trail Nite ride, our Cycling Teams weekly Winter, in-town training event.  These events are friendly and competitive (thanks impart to Strava), but we tend to refer to them as “Spirited.”  Here is my ride data.

Tonights ride was rough. My whole body is sore, in a good way.  I have learned to love that exhausted “spent” feeling.  I also love the gorging on food that occurs afterwards…But on to more important things…

Our “spirited” ride tonight coincided with the 41st Birthday for one of our Comrades (the Tiki). Encouraged by the wonderful 70 degree weather and the Tiki’s birthday stoke – some of us decided to ride a little beyond our average 30-ish miles, and instead opted to hit the 41 mile mark!

The Tiki and his stoke:

TIKI STOKE

This got me thinking about how people choose to celebrate milestones:

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What I like about both these examples is how each person chose to celebrate with their friends, and community, in a shared outside activity.  Friends join to support you in your effort, push you a little farther, and help you celebrate!   That is really what all this stuff is about right?  Friendship?  Community? Pushing each other?

How do I want to celebrate my 31st with my friends and community this year?  I hope its free, outside and full of laughter.

Camping?  Backpack?  Fly Fishing? Group Ride?  Mountain Biking? Bikepacking?

How do you want to celebrate your next milestone?  The start of your next year?