Category Archives: Reportage

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.


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.



Road Trip: Canadian Highlights

Earlier this summer my VSLF (Very Special Lady Friend) and I took a trip to the old country for a family wedding.  Since it is fairly expensive to travel to Canada from our location, we generally make them longer trips (around 10 days) and work in a mini vacation for ourselves too.

Our high level itinerary is below.  I actually wrote a really detailed itinerary in GoogleDocs because I like being organized and sent it to my family to keep them in the loop. It also helped to ensure we wouldn’t be overlapping or missing any big extended family activities.  It was met with giggles and loving familial ridicule.

There are quite a few good stories to tell, but will only be sharing the highlight reel:

Day 1: Pincher Creek/Waterton for a day hike with my close friend Blake up to Goat Lake, around 14 Km round trip (there is a really cool circuit overnight backpack from here I would like to do).  It rained the whole time and it was still fantastic.  We were dead tired from some travel delays and an overnight stay in our rental car so we smashed some Tim Horton’s Double Doubles for energy.  We ate summer sausage and Laughing cow cheeses on Pita bread with dried mango for snacks.

Day 2: Crowsnest Pass –> Frank Slide –> Radium Hot Springs and Dry Gulch Provincial Park for Camping.  We said our goodbyes the next day and after a big breakfast we headed for Frank’s Slide and Crowsnest Pass (Migratory route for Golden Eagles).  Franks Slide was pretty humbling to witness and hike around.

We were fairly excited for the drive that day through mountain passes and forest heavy scenery.  We stopped for road side blueberries, and local ice cream and beer, and of course to put our feet in cold, cold rivers.  We rounded it out with Pad Thai for dinner and more games of Speed.  Our campsite at Dry Gulch was really nice, cozy and near many mountain bike trails.


Day 3: Dry Gulch Provincial Park –> Stanley Glacier Hike –> Banff –> Bow Valley Camp Ground.  This was a pretty sweet day, although we did a bit of driving and had an underwhelming time in Banff, the hike was spectacular with a primo lunch spot.  We ate some poutine post hike and then went to our final campsite, which was the cleanest one I have even been in! Stanley glacier has been described as a rock and roll glacier, “a big, iconic slobbering tongue a la The Rolling Stones.” It was true.

Day 4: Meet the family in Canmore at Tim Horton’s for more double doubles, carpooled to another day hike to Boom Lake, headed into Calgary. We got to spend some quality time with my sister, who I had not seen in months!

Day 5 and Beyond: Family, Family, Family and VSLF was able to fit in some horse back riding.  I was able to rent an FSR (Full Suspension) Mountain bike for a few hours with my sister along the elbow river!


A few lessons learned:

  • We were able to reserve all our campsites online ahead of time for super cheap.
  • We drove a lot, but it was worth it.  As a results we were able to hike in different parks every day, and each drive was pretty spectacular.
  • We should have picked out our hikes ahead of time.
  • More research on hot springs would have been good.
  • Bring climbing Gear next time or rent bikes for Canmore to Banff Trails
  • Banff is great if you have never been there, but can be overwhelming due to the volume of people.
  • Grocery stores are the best places for food, period.
  • There is good Mexican food outside of Waterton.

All in all it was a great trip!




Meandering thoughts about Midwest’s “Mountain”

This February some friends of ours rented a cabin near Mountain, Wisconsin settled in the southern part of the Nicolet National Forest.   It was a great break from a fairly brown and dry winter here in central Illinois.   It had been a while since I had been that far north in Wisconsin – 4 years maybe?

As a kid, every Winter I spent a week up in this area cross country skiing with my Scout Troop, exploring all the local groomed trails and jumping up into the Upper Peninsula for better snow or steeper hills.  It is where I learned to ski (both XC and Downhill).  With exception to the bigger trips to the National High Adventure Bases – Bahamas for sailing, New Mexico for Backpacking, Ontario and Manitoba for Canoeing – this was my favorite annual trip and still remains my favorite winter activity.  I still try and ski once a year (even in town if I can).

We stayed at an old Civilian Conservation Corp Camp, turned conservation education camp, called Trees for Tomorrow.  I highly recommend stopping by – it is farther north, in Eagle River, but in the same area and worth the trip.  You can rent all the equipment to XC ski there.  The local rangers used to put on education sessions, the last I can remember was on Raptors – he brought in an Great Horned Owl and a Hawk.  Our Troop was given the run of the place, and were free to use the main auditorium to play movies on the big projector screens in the evening.

The timeline was kind of funky for many families – leave Illinois the day after Christmas, and returning on NYE.    This annual pilgrimage to the Mountain area became a family tradition – my parents, sister, and eventually some of my sister’s friends would come up.   We spent each day, all day skiing, drinking hot chocolate and having snowball fights at night.  While in undergrad – I would go on this trip, and do a same day return to campus to spend NYE with friends. 10 hours total in car to be able to fit as much excitement in as I could.

These trips to Mountain and Eagle River became a defacto model for how we chose to plan and spend out time outdoors.  Long drives book end the trip allowing us to get the hell out of central Illinois and into unfamiliar geography.  Grocery stores for lunches, snacks, provisions, not restaurants.  Spending 10 hours outside each day to max out the time off before we had to head home.  I don’t think this is a unique way of doing things just for me or my troop, but the way to diehards in the middle of a state of mostly farm land do.

I think somehow Wisconsin is taken for granted as a State. Being from Illinois, I love going there, and I think it might be one of the Midwest’s best states.  The farther north you go the better it gets for living, skiing, paddling and Mountain Biking.  Devils Lake is perfect for climbing, and hiking.  Kettle Moraine is beautiful, and has backpacking routes and killer MTB trails.  The farther north you go the more plentiful the outdoor space becomes – Dairy’s and farm fields give way to hills, and valley’s carved out by the blades of indifferent Glacial Ice during it’s northern retreat. Walls of trees buffer everything and eventually you run into a natural moat, a giant sea of fresh water – Superior.  Directly East is Lake Michigan, another inland titan.  You can surf both apparently.  What are we doing here?   Funny how one word can trigger all these thoughts, memories, and information…



Reportage: Tough Mudder – Half

I recently had the opportunity to take part in the “Chicago Tough Mudder – Half.  While it is advertised as the Chicago TM, the course was actually in Rockford, at the back of the Airport, and in the surrounding swamp/river/farm fields.  They create a little tent city for the weekend’s events, and there is food, beer, changing and shower stations once inside the gates.   Attendance was high, and apparently had the most participants of any Tough Mudder event that year (they are weekend long events). The Cost was high too – $85 a head.  The course was 5 miles long, broken up by a total of 8 obstacles along the way. From a terrain perspective – the course was very flat and much like that of dirt/double track, for trail running.

I don’t want to write about this at length, but I do want to share 7 Observations and a 2 final sentences about the experience overall.

7 Observations

  1. FUNRunning around in the mud with a team of friends is FUN.  Accomplishing stupid tasks for no reason, other than to do them is fun! It doesn’t seem like exercise, or difficult, but it is.  Our team (Team name: Mud, Sweat, and Beers) wants to do the full (10 miles) next year!
  2. CONSPIRACYThe conspiracy theorist in me (in a joking way) thinks the whole operation is funded by the CIA to recruit more people for the US war efforts abroad, specifically in the US ARMY and US ARMY reserves.   On the level, the US ARMY is a sponsor so is the RESERVE, and they advertise heavily in the Mudder Village area.  There are Army Vets, and active duty personnel involved in putting the event on as Advertisers and Volunteers.  There is even a mini skills test guided by the army located in the Mudder village you can participate in after the race (a big obstacle course).*****
  3. PATRIOTISMWe sang, as a group (each wave did too) the Star Spangled Banner before the start of the race. See above for added context.
  4. TEAMWORK – The Tough Mudder MC made an impassioned speech about team work, giving your all, effort, and in general, the unforgiving and rewarding nature of the obstacle course.  More importantly, he stressed that while this was a “race” and a “competition,” that we would most definitely need each other (our team) and OTHER teams. This speech was interpreted by most (derived by the looks on the participants faces) as really cheesy and over the top, but it turned out to be true.
  5. COMMUNITY – The point of a Tough Mudder event (read: boot camp) is to humble (read: Break) you and realize you need to be a part of the whole and that as a whole – you can accomplish anything.  Teamwork (see above) and community is the name of the game, and together we are greater.  This is true.  We could not accomplish all the obstacles without other teams help and assistance.  Because we were aided in our pursuits – we aided others and we all finished the race and “won” that day. It was bonding – strangers helping strangers.  This was evident at the shower station later, which were communal, and gravity fed, so everyone is forced to kneel down and scrub off all the mud and dirt.  Strangers huddled closely together and showered off, exchanging “war stories” and what they had all just experienced together.  It was actually kind of great to witness and be apart of.
  6. SPONSORS – Off the top of my head, I believe the most Iconic or accessible American Sponsors were chosen to support this event: US ARMY, PAPA JOHNS, ANHAUSER-BUSCH, OLD SPICE..but free samples and beer make it okay.
  7. EVERYMAN – or Every Person.  You don’t have to train, but you can.  People took is seriously and sprinted, while others chose a run/walk combo to complete the event.  Some teams just walked the whole thing.  There were some truly large, and out of shape people working through this event with a team.  There were all gender’s and ages present. We were witness, as a team, to all body types participating in these events.  It was pretty impressive.

Final Thoughts:

  • Expectations – We went into this with little to no expectation or ego.  We told the couple that we would participate on a team with them after we were half in the bag from drinking beer all day.  We had no ego wrapped up in our decision to do it, just to participate with friends.  We chose to participate just to do something different, and see what all the fuss was about.  Expectations can ruin a good time.
  • Do it, you have everything to gain – despite the uber patriotic machine that fuels this – it is FUN and a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon with friends. We went for milkshakes and burgers after.  It was sweet. I genuinely enjoyed the community building outcome; The experience made me wish we all did feel like we were in this together.  It doesn’t seem that way anymore.
  • ***** I received a follow up email from Tough Mudder after the event asking me to take a survey, my submission gave me the opportunity to win a $50 gift card.  The survey was asking me if I ever considered joining the US ARMY or Armed Services and gauging whether after I participated in the event – if I was reconsidering my decision NOT to join!!


Reportage: Ghost towns and Bridges

We made great time out of town.  Starting at 530 pm, we bolted from the LBS, and headed West on the constitution Trail, the famous artery of asphalt athletics.  A 12 MPH tail wind that pushed us along with vigor into the western part of the county, into a horizon increasingly green, golden, and pink.  The temperature was perfect for our 20mph pace.

We made it to the first bridge location, only to find that it is on private property – a local hunting club owns access.  We decided to skip it, and took our time riding the gravel roads back to the main route we were following.

Private Property and Sportsman & Gun Clubs should have been the title to this communique, as they became a fairly common site west of Bloomington, especially around the Mackinaw River.  Who can blame them, it’s the perfect location for them. The river meanders so slowly through a few counties, and is buffered by a generous amount of green trees, plants and rolling hills.  This is where the good game is!


None the less, I do hold some animosity over their seizure and privatization of some of the most interesting geographical locations in central Illinois for purely personal, and commercial use.  Natural Resources like this should be shared, and we should not be limited by  property lines because we want to enjoy a river and the surrounding forest.  Not every beautiful place, resource needs to be exploited.  Also, it kind of ruins the concept that outside is free, by adding the caveat – *not applicable everywhere .

I digress…We left the main road for some more Spartan back roads, paved but hilly and low with traffic.  We managed to find a fairly steep incline known as Peacock Hill (on Strava), and climbed it slowly with our heavy bikes and gear.   As I crested the peak, a woman drove past, headed down the impressive grade, eyeing me and shaking her head, acknowledging the idiocy and unnecessary route we have taken.

Around 7:30, as the sun was sliding under the covers of the horizon we found Kentuckiana Road, and headed down some fresh gravel and rock roads to the second bridge and the Ghost town.


The second bridge was also on private property, or so the signage said, but fuck it – It was Radurday and we were out to see these old relics.   It was a mess, and amazing.  we followed 4 wheel tracks that traced the rivers edge until we found a heavily graffitied barrier.  We walked around it to reveal an iron skeleton the color of brown bark.  There were missing wooden boards everywhere. People had hammered their own boards down to be able to traverse shore to shore.  There was also evidence that people set fires on top of the old wooden planks that made up the surface.  Bizarre. We snapped some photos, and took in peacefulness of the location.  The sun was setting through the trees.


We debated camping out on the bridge for the evening…but thought better of it, given that it was again on (post fact – not sure this is true..) the Tremont Sportsman’s Club’s property.

IMG_20160520_202538The ghost town was in worse repair that the Google aerial image made it seem.  Most of the building were burnt down and full of bullet holes.  Overgrown with weeds and refuse, the site was spectacular.  The bursting natural reclamation gave the dilapidated buildings a special quality, maybe authenticity.   We took a bunch of photos, picked some ticks off of us and split a cliff bar.  We left before the local’s came to party.


We ended up camping a few miles down the road at the Kentuckiana Kampground, a massive RV camping location that has a few other gems tucked into it’s boundaries: Two mini lakes, Shuffleboard, Bag’s tournaments, Washer’s Tournaments, and the longest running Opry in Illinois, every Saturday night from May to October.  The place is friendly and offer’s many services.  Worth checking out!


We woke in the AM packed and head back home.  We found even more gravel North of Hopedale and Stanford and passed another shooting range just before town.  We ended our Sub 24 hour/Blitz weekend back in town with a coke and some tacos from Carniceria la Mexicana.  I consider this place as holding the touch for the best taco’s in town.  What a killer weekend.  42 miles on Friday after work, and close to another 40 Saturday morning.  Beautiful weather both days.  Check out the Instagram feed for photos!

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Get groovy, and stay Rad!