Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Heck of the North 2013

So it has been a bit since my last post and the other things in life took precedence. I co-organized the Westside Dirty Benjamin, went to Panama, got bronchitis, thought I beat that until I got diagnosed with pneumonia. Seven weeks later, I'm looking at the changing leaves and riding in the beautiful the Heck of the North, 103 miles of gravel, snowmobile trails and some pave. I chose to ride my rigid 29er with 32 mm Vittoria CX tires single speed set at 38x17. I figured my legs would like that after the extended time off the bike. The last time I did the Heck was 4 years ago and I rode it fixed. That was the first and last gravel century I have done fixed.

The adventure really began a couple weeks before the Heck when I secured a ride and with it, a cabin to stay in with a large group of folks. I was stoked on not driving, hanging with the fellow gravel junkies and meeting new ones. The weather of late has been pleasant and so the forecast for rain on the day of the Heck was received with a bit of trepidation. Will it be a cold rain? Will it turn every road to peanut butter? Will the rain not be so bad until after a few hours of riding in it? How will the snowmobile trails be in the rain? The answer to all those is prepare and come what may!

Waking up for the Heck after a late night of socializing was a bit hazy but it was warm out. My belly was giving me troubles from either pre-race jitters or eating some cheese on the pizza feast the night before...I knew it wasn't the beer because that was still in my head. Everything was gathered, prepped and we made it to the start with about 30 minutes to spare. I checked in and talked with some fellow graveliers including Dana Hendrickson with whom I went to high school many years ago in the prior century.

I lined up at the start with a cranky belly and hoped to ride it off. The start sent us off on rail grade/snowmobile trails and folks were flatting left and right. The trail got to some soft, muddy sections and I saw a few over the bar incidents. I loved the section! Except for the parts where the people in front of me forced me to stop, most of the sections were very ridable and enables those mountain bike skills to shine. I really like it when these long endurance races mix it up and throw some challenging off-road, off-gravel miles at me.

After 18 miles, the trails and gravel lead us to a four mile stretch of pavement. My goal for the ride was to keep an average of 15 mph and not worry about placing. What this means to me is that I would start at my pace, latch onto a group, ease back when the hammering got too long, ride solo until the next group caught up and do it again. I was with a group of 3 or 4 on the gravel and onto the pave. I kept up with them for the next 10 miles and then eased back and kicked at my own pace. Then the trickiest turn of the whole race appeared at mile 32, a right turn onto the North Shore State Trail which looked like a little path. I passed it and went about 100 yards up before I turned around and notices some folks stopping there who were behind me. They seemed hesitant so i jumped in before I could get stuck behind them. This trail started with a number of soft mossy spots that killed all momentum. After that short stretch, the riding got fun and included a number of mud pits. After a little climb, the trail dried out and was a blast.

Up until this point, my belly was not cooperating but I pressed on like a set of fake fingernails. The trail was fun and I didn't want to sour that with the egg beater twisting up my guts. After the trail I was out on the road again like Willie Nelson and got into my own rhythm. This is around the time the rain started....somewhere after mile 40. I was rolling with folks but hanging on wheels led to sand in the teeth and on pave, a complete dousing. I let a few guys go who I was rolling with on the pave to save my legs for later in the race. As I was riding solo, a group of about 10 pace lined by me and I jumped on. I was stoked to see 3 women in the group and everyone was going at a good pace. With that many folks, I decided to stay near the front to eat less sand and drink less spray. Around mile 52 we were passed in the oncoming direction by the leaders of the race. The race course had recycled parts so that was cool to see them rolling and hammering away. We then started on the descent into Duluth. The belly was screaming so a pit stop was made and I put an end to that issue.

The climb up Seven Bridges Road went well and the next stop was the checkpoint at about mile 60. I snacked on some jerky and got on my way. I didn't have a drop bag...I think I did that once on my first gravel century but I like the challenge of carrying all I need so those stops are a quick in and out. I lost my larger group due to the pit stop but i was rolling at a good pace. I ended up latching on with 3 other guys and rolled with them as we passed folks heading to the checkpoint. I was feeling good 70 miles in despite the rain and deteriating gravel conditions. I was getting completely covered with grit on the gravel. At mile 76, a four mile stretch of pave in the rain cleaned me off, relatively, and I was looking forward to mile 80 to give shouts out to the rouge support group. I didn't want to stop because I would have started freezing my ass off in the rain but it was so good to see Alex, Paul and Lucy!

The next stretch of gravel was soft and took some energy to pedal through. I ended up feeling good enough to ride away from the 3 guys with whom I was riding. I was aiming for the finish and wanted to try to get there within 7 hours. I ended up catching up to Charlie Farrow at this time who was also riding single. I was stoked to see him. We got to talkin about our kids and the high school mountain biking that is kicking up in MN. He is a real class act and we hit the trail section together beginning on mile 93. He was worried since his chain was often falling off and as I got to concentrating on struggling through some muddy pits, I stopped hearing him behind me. I looked back and only saw trail. I hoped all was well but I was beginning to fade fast so I needed to get to the finish. The going was slowing and I knew I was not gonna make the 7 hour mark. I started to get dizzy with about 5 miles to go and 3 miles out, I just kept telling myself that is was only the same distance around Lake Calhoun away. I drooled myself in at the 103 mile mark in a time of 7 hours 10 minutes. I turned around from the check in table and saw the car and started putting my bike on when Jessica and Loretta jumped out and gave a shout. As much as I really enjoyed the ride, that felt real good to see them and knew I was that much closer to the cabin for food and a shower.

The Kona Raijin really feels good as a gravel beast and the Vittoria Cross XG Pro tires felt good as they have all year. I rode them at 40 psi which is a bit lower than usual and I liked it. As usual, I carried too much food. I ended up eating about 6 Gu Chomps, an Enervitine cheer pack, 2 Honey Stinger Waffles, some beef jerkey, two tall water bottles filled with carb/water mix, and my camelback of water. I would have felt better taking a bit more food in or grabbing a Coke at mile 80 but whatever. Big shouts to Alex, Mike, Bjorn, Jessica, Lucy, Murray, Ashley, etc. who all took time to cook or prep at the cabin. Shouts to Garrick and Paul for making fire. Great time with Tam Radish.