Black Friday

This was truly a "Black Friday" ride. One of the most challenging to date. I hated (almost) every minute of it.

This always happens when I bother to spend hours preparing for a destination ride. The weather never seems to be ideal, and once I am out there I begin to regret my decision. All the preparation seemed like a waste of time. This was one of those days.

Of course, Thanksgiving day was in the 60's and perfect for riding, but there was a family gathering and glorious turkey, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy to be consumed. Black Friday was to be half the temperatures with some quite strong winds. I woke to check the forecast. Good, looked like the worst of the winds were to take place later in the afternoon. I began to plan a basic route...from Sturgis, through Burr Oak to just outside Coldwater. All of this heading north to northeast (going with the wind). Then heading north to north west to Union City, then west to a place I've never heard of Sherwood, MI. From there back south to Colon, back through Burr Oak then west to Sturgis. I figured it was 25 miles or so to Coldwater, so I'd be looking at maybe a 60 mile or so day. Not bad, since I was planning on just cruising around.

With a route now planned, I headed out asap to try and beat the worst of the wind. I was dressed in all my standard full-winter gear. I could tell even riding with the wind, the gusts were up to 14-15mph. Was kind of tired, but felt pretty good. Happy to be out on (likely) my last road ride until spring.

Until this Darryl parked just before I snapped this pic, BurrOak was absolutely vacant.

I saw plenty of deer and hunters (while I presume) their wives were out shopping, gathering up deals at Walmart and such. From a distance, I saw an old man walking back to his truck with rifle in both hands. He had not seen me travelling on the adjacent road. He never got in his truck, but was instead hiding on the back side of the truck, where I couldn't tell what he was doing. As I neared, still riding, I could see the last 8" or so of his rifle poking out from behind the truck pointing across the road in my direction. He still can't see me. My heart began to race, adrenalin pumping. Thinking for a split second, "OMG, he's going to shoot me." So I slowed, and as I got up next to the truck, he started clearing the chamber of shells from the chamber. KA-CHA, KA-CHA, KA-CHA!! It scared the crap out of me. All this happening in 10 seconds or less, I thought my joy ride was going to end with me with a hole in my head splayed out on the center line like fresh road kill. It took me nearly 5 minutes to calm back down.

 Hmmm....note to self. Branch County. Bad.

About 10 minutes from reaching Coldwater, I could tell the wind was getting worse. When I previously traveling with the wind at 15mph, now it was pushing me doing 20mph. So the gusts had to be up to 25mph or so now. I turned to go north-northwest and couldn't believe how hard it was to pedal. I had to lean far into the wind left, then when the gusts would disappear, I would end up swerving into the road, still leaning just not against anything now. Not safe.

As I had to gear down due to the wind, I realized that my gears were all messed up, as I only had access to gear number one (granny gear) and anything on the big chain ring. This was frustrating. I either had to pedal at very high rpm's to make it to 10mph fighting the wind, or else pedal very hard in a higher gear to gain any sort of speed. Still, I made the best of it that I could and kept on pushing.

I was starting to feel the effects of dehydration (dizzy spells, confused about simple things, loss of short term memory in forgetting names of roads I was looking for, and mood swings). I stopped once to eat a few ShotBloks and nearly fell over I was so dizzy. The wind was piercing my winter riding clothing to where I was getting very cold fast. It seems every time I "free-style" a route, I have to bail on it because it ends up being too long and ridiculous. Today was no different. If I had finished out the ride as planned, it likely would have been near an 80 mile day. A long day in perfectly nice weather, not good for a 35 degree and blowy, gray day. I thought if I had any chance of getting back alive, I had better turn around now. So, disappointed, I did just that. Bailed.

As I was riding along (talking to myself now), I looked ahead and spotted a State Trooper in his car parked in the middle of nowhere. I stopped to chat, he rolls his window down, suspiciously...

Trooper: "How you doin' today?"
Me: "I'm okay. Just wanted to say, if you're out here looking for speeders, I'm not one of them."
Trooper: (now realizing I'm just there to chat, gets friendlier) "Ha ha, nope, I can get you right here though. (holding up his radar gun)
Me: "So, what are you doing out here?"
Trooper: "We have a young man causing some trouble, so I'm waiting for him to come past."
Me: "Oh, fun."
Trooper: "Where you headed?"
Me: (explaining my route) "...so I decided I would try to go to this place called Sherwood today. I grew up in Sturgis, live about 20 miles from there and never heard of it."
Trooper: (looks back straight ahead out from his car, nodding his head - like Terminator or something) "Yup. Nice little Meth community they got there."
Me: "ha ha! Awesome!"

We exchanged a few other little conversations, then I was back on the road, secretly hoping that I would see him come blasting by me chasing down the "young man" he was looking for.

On the way back, already feeling defeated, at three different points, I got chased by a total of 5 dogs. The first ones I out ran, but they hung with me for quite awhile - nipping at my heels. Of course, they ran out at me on a slight uphill into the wind and used almost all I had left to outrun them. I was still fighting my gears and had to swerve at them as they were trailing me in order to gain time to find a working gear to outrun them in. The next time dogs ran out at me, I was completely out of energy and I could not even attempt to outrun them, so my last resort was to yell in my deepest, angriest voice "GO!" This worked surprisingly well, stopping the dogs dead in their tracks as I rode away.

I was wishing the ride was over now, but had probably 15-20 more miles to go. At 10mph, this was going to take too long and I wasn't sure I could make it. And then it started to sleet. My hands were numb, I could feel my core temp coming down. Shivering when I should have still been warm. I found a wooded area to shelter myself from the wind and took a seat on a guard rail, and had to do the unthinkable. Call for a ride home. My wife met me in Burr Oak, my arrival and hers was timed almost perfectly. I could barely speak when I got in the truck, dizzy and rather confused how I could have gotten in this rough of shape.

 I never saw this skull until I was ready to leave.
It had been resting on this post next to me the entire time.

For some reason, it's always easier to remember the miserable times you have on a bike, rather than the glorious ones. I don't know why that is. Just because you don't want it to happen again? I saw a sign while riding that day that said "You add to your legacy each day. Good or bad." I guess that's all this was, creating a good memory of a bad day.

I ended up with 50.4 miles on the day. Probably about 45 more than I needed.


Iceman Cometh 2012

I did what I could to get amped for this race. It wasn't until two days before that I finally began to get excited. For weeks leading up to this point, I wasn't completely sure I was ready for it. My riding and training has waned since August when things at work began getting crazy and life at home was getting more hectic. Just no time to focus on it.

We awoke Saturday morning to snow flurries in Traverse City. Not just flying through the air, but actually sticking to the ground. Lovely. Actually, I think that is part of the lure of the Iceman Cometh race. You sign up in March for a November race, show up and ride. It's always going to be a surprise.

Matt Longest and I, along with our spectating wives, boarded the 8am shuttle bus at Rasho Road. We actually had to wait around as they scrambled to get our bikes on a second box truck as the first filled up quickly. Had we missed this shuttle, we had better drive directly to Kalkaska ourselves so we didn't miss our starting waves, so things were a little touch and go for awhile. This was not the case last year, barely anyone was on the bus.

Matt checking tire pressure in Rasho Road field.

Waiting for the shuttle bus.

Excited. Nervous. Waiting.

Once in Kalkaska, it was the usual hectic chaos that is Iceman. Bikes and spandex as far as the eye can see. People completely overdressed. And since anyone can pretty much race Iceman, there are plenty of characters to watch as your teeth chatter away waiting in line for an open porta-john.

 Me acting like a retard, jumping around in the parking lot trying to stay
warm and embarrass my wife all at the same time. I succeeded at both.

We finally found Brent and Cindy. Brent was a nut-job...freaking out from the excitement. Cindy said he was literally pacing around in the parking lot back and forth before they left their hotel. We stood around waiting for wave 22 to assemble. Here are some funny things Brent did/said as we waited to start the race:

     -  after putting on a skull cap for warmth, Cindy had to remind him to wear a helmet. He forgot he took it off and was going to set off racing without it.
     -  while queueing for our wave, I got us about 3 riders deep from the front. Brent says: "sir, what are we doing at front of this wave?" Tony: "Its where we need to be."
     -  he then wanted to talk strategy. I told him to go hard at the start, try to stay with the lead pack for as long as possible. It will hurt, but you will settle in soon enough. He said "i think i want to start gradually so i dont burn out too quick." I don't think I even answered his comment.
     -  Tony: "Brent, this is everything you've worked for all summer long right here. Make it happen." His response: "Tony, my butthole is puckering."

HA HA...Dear God, let's get this race going before my friend has a meltdown!!

 Brent and I at the start.

Wave 22 start.

With the sound of a airhorn, wave 22 was off. I hung with the first 15 riders or so for the first mile until things settled down a bit. The pain from the frigid sub 30's temps piercing the vents in my helmet was almost too much to bear. "Just one more mile," I kept telling myself. Only then would I heat up a little and not feel the pain.

The pavement turns to dirt just 1.5 miles or so from the start. I had no idea where Brent was. I was intent on not letting him pass me. He did though, as I took a wrong line and got jammed up in some sand on the first (very) small incline. I hopped back on Blue Bomber, just in time to be only one rider behind Brent. Brent (and our line of racers) got held up by a slower rider in front. Brent was hesitant to pass, so I shouted "Brent! Take him!" He whooshed off into the weeds passing him and rest of us followed suit. I would soon pass Brent never to be seen again until the finish line.

I felt "normal" as any other race for the first 8 miles. "Normal" meaning, out of breath, deep, agonizing pain in my legs and lungs. Usually wondering what the hell I was doing out there. That is followed by the next few miles peeling off quickly and my attitude changing to the realization that this was my last race of the season. "Push, dammit, push!"

I was feeling good and confident, passing a lot more riders than I had last year. I felt really fast on the two track which was nice and dry for most of the race, and felt "average" on the single track.

Near mile 11 I started getting cramps in my hips. I have never had that before. Weird. They quickly dissipated as I stood and stretched a bit.

Last year, I only made it to Williamsburg Road (17 miles) before my bike suffered a few race-ending fails: rear shifter busted, snapped chain, complete with broken chain tool. Done.

I don't remember the hill where all this occured, I must have been more able to scale up it this year, but I definately saw the stump where my race ended and I layed the bike down in disgust. As I rode past the stump, all I could do was give it a dirty look. "Not today Mr. Stump. Enjoy your life in solitude, I'm racing today." I crested Williamsburg Road without ever flinching and never looked back. At this point I tried downing a cup of Heed while blasting past the aid station, but I dumped half of it all over the front of me, then choked on the rest that went in my mouth. Wow, that was definitely worth it.

As we neared Timber Ridge, maybe 8 miles or so out, snow started showing in the trees and on the ground. The trails were getting slick like grease, and gumming up drivetrains. I had never seen so many broken chains as I had that day. Every time I opened up my headshock I felt like I was losing so much speed, so I left it locked out for probably 75% of the race. It makes it terribly hard to see where you are navigating with no front shock, but it was the only way to keep up my confidence and speed. One tip: while bombing down rutted, gored out single track...just hold on for dear life and hopefully the bike gods will look out for you and guide you to safety. Today they were on my side. Rubber side down all day.

Mile 22: more prevalent cramps start in and I'm losing power. Left calf. Stretch. Then right hamstring. Stretch. Left tricep. Now the arms? What the hell is going on? Then my left quad and hamstring. Everytime I stood up to stretch or power away at the pedals, other muscles would revolt to the action. I really began to think "what am I going to do if I have to wad myself up into a ball in the woods as others ride by? I'm not going to DNF again."

I had to do the unthinkable in order to survive. Start walking hills. I had to walk at least 4 of them. The last two I dismounted at the base without even trying. Cramps were getting worse. It was so painful. My goal time of 2:45 had come and gone when I saw the 1K to go banner. The cheers from the crowd began getting louder. I could see colors through the woods. By now all I could see was the trail and the rear tire of the guy in front of me, everything else was a blur. I heard a "Go Wheelmen!" at one point, not sure who that was. I rounded the final turn and sprinted for the finish, challenging the guy to my right who was ahead by 1 full bike length, barely beating him to the timing ramps. I wasnt actually sure I had finished, for I never looked up to see the finish banner. There was just a guy waving his arms down, saying "slow, slow". I guess that was it. Likaboom, I was done.

Official results:
Time: 2:55:22
Place: 2512 out of 3906 racers
Place in age division: 60 out of 86

I peeled off to the left of where all the riders were collecting and found a split rail fence to prop myself up against. Cramps were terrible, I could barely stand. Just then I look up...Brent! He finished only 1 minute behind me. Freaking awesome!

The change of clothes felt fantastic. It snowed some more. What more appropriate Bells brew to have than a Winter White, while hanging out with great friends!

I had given it my all, for what training I was able to fit in these last few crazy months. I was happy to finish. Not the time I was hoping for, but I put everything out there that day, and I guess that is all I could ask for. I've learned a lot in my first full racing season, I hope to build off my experiences this last year and continue to improve my skills.

Cranking away around the last turn towards the finish.



Me and Matt chilling (literally) post-race with beers.