Trip Plan: Drive to Chamber’s Grove Park, paddle on St. Louis River out the Aerial Lift Bridge to Leif Erickson Park via Lake Superior. Portage my paddleboard up 7 blocks to the shed at my house. Bike from my house back to my minivan via Skyline Parkway and Mission Creek Boulevard.

Start Time: Friday, August 2, 2019 – 7:44am

GPS Data:

Time:

  • Paddle: 4:33:26
  • Transition 1: 0:03:00
  • Portage: 0:14:12
  • Transition 2: 0:13:00
  • Bike: 1:29:22
  • Total time: 6:33:00

I had been dreaming up this plan for several months, all summer really. And once August hit I realized that the time to execute was dwindling. I checked the weather, checked my calendar, and saw an opening the very next day! Go time.

This idea of a sweet triathlon of paddle-portage-bike festered so much in my mind that I bought a paddleboard on kind of a split-second decision. What started it? I don’t know. But I think I was just staring at the Duluth Outdoor Recreation Map and the loop stuck out to me. I had done some recon on the St. Louis River, which served me very well.

On Friday morning of August 2, I wanted to head out at 7am. I made some oatmeal, made a wrap for lunch, packed some various exercise food like gels and chews and bars, a bladder full of water, and threw it all in a pack and then that into the van. I loaded my life jacket, paddle and paddleboard. The trusy 11’6” Surftech Generator will get me there, I thought to myself. My bike was, in theory, ready to go in the shed, along with my bike shoes and helmet. I had my house key, phone and car key. I was wearing my sandals, all set to go. This was an equipment, intensive trip plan, and the weak link in the chain, no pun intended, was my bike. More on that later…

After the calm morning drive, I put the paddleboard in the water at Chambers Grove Park on the very West end of Duluth at 7:44am. It was later than I’d hoped, and I thought I could maybe finish at Leif Erickson by 1:30 or 2pm. I started paddling smooth and purposefully. I seemed to be moving pretty good, and noticed a few 16 minute miles right away. The water was glassy. It was humid and even a little warm with the sun up, but felt pretty comfortable right away. The miles flew by and I passed landmarks like Boy Scout Landing, and saw the Oliver Bridge up ahead.

It struck me at the Oliver Bridge that I should sit down, maybe eat a bit of food. I took my time at the Oliver Bridge and it was my first real break in paddling for just over an hour. I was quick to get back going, excited to make it to Clough Island. Into the Mud Lake area, I was wading through the weeds, which was really frustrating. I was bogged down by the weeds dragging from my board leash. I tried to get them out, nearly losing my balance by turning around backwards and trying to fish those pesky weeds out with the paddle. It was a useless task and just a waste of time, since the board came to a stop in lilly pads.

I seemed to be going so slow and the frustration was setting in for sure. Through that weedy patch, I made it to more open water and  noticed my fin seemed to be awry. I didn’t have any tracking at all, so one paddle on one side would twist the whole board around, another paddle on the other side would twist it the other way. Ugh. I wondered if I nicked it on a rock or log or something and the whole fin busted off. Probably should check, I thought. I got down on my knees and reached under my board, causing the back to sink into the water. Carefully, very carefully as not to flip the entire paddleboard long-wise…. I felt a huge glob of weeds on the fin. Cripes. I got all the weeds off everything, EVERYTHING! and set my sights on Spirit Island and Clough Island.

The open water was a little daunting, just mentally strenuous to travel through. I felt a bit exhausted despite the wind and waves being with me. They didn’t seem to add anything, but paddling against them would be devastating.I made my way to the slot in Clough Island, but had to sit down beforehand. I was spending a lot more time drinking from my pack, kneeling, eating food, and resting, than I had the first hour. I had to check my phone for the correct path to take, as the correct narrow channel between Clough Island was hard to see and there were multiple options. Once I passed through, it was like night and day from Spirit Lake. The water was still, the breeze was at my back and cooling me down a bit, and it was great to have land on both sides of me. It’d been really sweaty, sticky, hot the whole day. The sun was baking hot, but luckily hidden behind clouds frequently. I was on the other side of Clough Island in no time, excited and nervous to explore sections I’d never seen before. I was making really good time, and thought that I was about halfway through the paddle portion at about 9 miles and 2 and a half hours.

Next stop was the Bong Bridge. It looked close but the cars were tiny. Instantly the landscape changed from remote nature to industry. It was kind of cool: all sorts of piles, machines, metal and wood. The open water was again tough. I thought I changed direction slightly, or the wind had, because I felt like the waves were crossing sideways past me.  I didn’t know exactly where I was to go under the Bong Bridge but just kept paddling to where the most straight line seemed to be and it kept being the right way. Before the Bong Bridge, I could see the Blatnik and Aerial Lift Bridges as well, all three in my line of sight. I saw the line I needed to take…

The Bong Bridge was a mammoth structure, and cool to go under. More industry… a lot of hustle and bustle as I paddled into the late morning on a work day. The cranes and trains were going, and time seemed to go right on by. I kind of got past the frustration and into robot mode. Paddle paddle paddle. I seemed to be moving really good, and I saw a few sub-15 minute miles flash on my watch. It took forever to get close to the Blatnik Bridge, and I was looking back to the Bong Bridge to compare the sizes of the cars and determine how much longer it’d be until going under the next one, then on to a straight shot to the Lift Bridge. When I could clearly see the line to get under the Blatnik, I also spotted a huge freight ship coming straight towards me. It was really cool to see. I knew it was so far off, but I still wondered if I was in its way, in a critically dangerous situation head to head with a 700-foot ship. As it got closer to me, and I got closer to the bridge, it turned and I turned and had a sizable gap between the massive ship.

I noticed the Vista Fleet carting people around in the bay, the big ship honked loudly to its final destination, and I was crossing under the Blatnik Bridge in no time. It seemed like a long ways to get there and make the corner, but it was also very cool because another docked freight ship was right at the corner. I got very near it, paddling right alongside a shipping yard, and my attention was on the industrial area and not on the monotonous nature of paddling and paddling and paddling. And paddling and paddling. GAH. I saw a hefty 14 mile marker beep on my watch.

The bay was getting super choppy, with sea birds seemingly swarming me. I got a bit anxious in this section. The first two bridges were straightforward but the Lift Bridge is something else. What if another freighter comes through?? I got near it. No big ships. The blue bridge had gone up and a charter fishing boat arrived behind me, awaiting the bridge to lift. I just went!

Under the Aerial Lift Bridge and there were tourists everywhere. It doesn’t take a ship coming through the bridge to bring people out to the pier! I paddled out towards the end of the shipping channel, taking in the experience I had thought about many times. I didn’t know what to do… wave to all the people? I could tell they were looking at me. A guy yelled to ask if I was going to Michigan. Maybe, I told him. A lady at the very end of the pier, as I made the turn, congratulated me and said I was brave. Y’all don’t even know what I done done! I didn’t say that… Her friend asked if I fell in yet. I said no, not on purpose, but might jump in because it’s HOT. I laughed, I think they chuckled… I didn’t break my stride. Then I jumped in the cool Lake Superior water. It felt great. I climbed right back on and looked towards the North Shore of Lake Superior to Leif Erickson Park. I thought I spotted it, and set off.

On the big lake, the water was perfect. There were really light roller waves, a very light chop pushing me right towards Leif Erickson. The wind was at my back and it felt good to be soaked in cool Superior water. I noticed my hands were pained. I took a moment to look. No blisters, really. But they felt blistered. My back and shoulders and lower side abs were getting sore. Oof. I couldn’t believe I made the trip. It was a pretty wild endeavor to go that far after not having paddling even close to that distance on a paddleboard. I felt elated coming in to Leif Erickson. There were people on the beach at Leif, and I probably looked strange just coming right ashore and walking off into the park. I didn’t know what to do there either… wave to them? I stopped my watch, clocking about 4 and a half hours and over 17 miles.

I put my hat down and tried to hike the board home as quick as possible. I knew I looked strange. I saw my friend Tina on the opposite corner of Superior Street and she said I looked weird. I said she looked weird. I didn’t mean it… A couple blocks up, I heard someone yell at me and then stop at the stoplight right next to me. “How far do ya got?” “How far do ya got to go still?” I noticed the person… who was it… OH! It was Jared Munch, a local paddler who had recently completed an insane paddleboard trip to the Arctic Ocean from Duluth. I followed along online after seeing him on the news. I said four blocks. He said I could strap it on, motioning towards my board and towards his roof rack. I said no. I also said he was a legend. Then I told him I was paddling then schlepping my board up to my house four blocks away, then biking back to my car. He said it was a triathlon (“paddle, uhhh… portage, and bike!”), and cool, then the light changed and he sped away. I yelled “YOU’RE A LEGEND!” It was cool, and very random, to see an adventure paddleboarder by happenstance as I complete my own adventure paddling excursion.

I stormed home, switching the board between my arms to alleviate my sore hands. My grip was very shaky. I got home and couldn’t be more happy to set the board alongside my shed. I rushed inside, let the dogs out, grabbed my lunch wrap and cold fizzy water, and almost didn’t know what to do. I changed my wet running shorts to bike shorts. Then I started to eat. I ate the wrap in record time as the dogs looked on in confusion. Before long, I started mobilizing for my bike leg. Bike out of the shed, shoes out, board in, paddle in, keys and water and snacks in my bike bag, phone in the bag, shoes on and out the door. I locked up and walked my bike up to the alley.

My rear derailleur had broken weeks prior, and I was too lazy to get it fixed until the day before. That point in time happened to be mere hours after I decided I’d go on the trip the next day! So I went to my local bike shop Ski Hut. They didn’t have the part. Dang. They suggested Continental, another local bike shop. I said I’d just order it from them to be picked up anytime after noon the next day. On my way home, I just needed to call Conti because I couldn’t shake the idea of not going on Skyline the whole way. I was so obsessed because I’d read an article on Duluth’s history of Skyline Parkway on Zenith City Online. They outlined the now defunct Mission Creek Boulevard as one of the early sections of Skyline and home to the original Seven Bridges Road. That met up really close to Chambers Grove Park and also was some cool off-road biking as it was now essentially double-track trail through the woods. I just had to ride the gravel bike! My call to Conti was a success, and they had the part. I rushed down. They had the long cage version, but my 1x front setup wouldn’t be ideal with the long cage. Hmmm. I left empty handed, stopped back into Ski Hut after calling to cancel my order, to re-place my order. Ross was laughing and said it’s OK. Gah, what a debacle. Tri bike was the only option. Unless….. I set up a singlespeed. So, late into the night, I tinkered around in my basement trying to get it to work. I ultimately did, but the chain was absurdly tight and the cranks didn’t turn very well. I felt nervous with the first few pedals on my sketchy setup. But so far so good onto the bike leg. Up to 7th Street, across Mesaba, up a big hill and onto Skyline headed East towards Enger Tower.

The view to my left of what I’d just paddled was great. I felt so accomplished and happy that I was going to get this done, barring a mechanical issue or major accident. It was no time before I was passing Enger Tower, and the singlespeed was working perfectly. I didn’t notice the tight chain when I was pedaling, and the gear ratio was actually really good for the rolling ups and downs mixed with flat. I was having a blast, despite being really hot right away.

I didn’t enjoy starting and stopping, partly because of the tight chain, and was happy to cross Piedmont headed West towards the open road. I cranked past the neighborhoods and got into the more remote countryside section of Skyline. It was a flash before I was climbing up towards the cemetery and Highway 2 intersection. The climb up Thompson Hill was brutal, but I was making really good time. I crossed I-35 without a hitch and got a little jostled past Spirit Mountain on the rough road. Down the other side of Spirit was extreme, and I was scared for my bike and scared for my life screaming down the steep and rough road. The heat of the day was getting to me into the Magney area as the pavement turned to gravel. I drank water, and realized that my one bottle was going to have to be rationed. I climbed up, knowing there was a big downhill ahead. The big hill down to Beck’s Road was paved and much calmer than by Spirit. I knew the intersection of Mission Creek Boulevard was near and I saw the Skyline sign with END ahead. I thought I was on the Voyageur 50 Mile course and took a gander that the road we ran on for that was also the one I was looking for. I had to unclip to go up a little incline, then down and around and across Becks Road like I recall from the map and from Voyageur. On the other side there was a parking lot and gate. The gate had a tiny sign alerting construction along the area and mentioned Mission Creek so I figured I was on the right trail. It was definitely part of the Voyageur course, and I predicted it would make for a very fun biking section if my memory would serve me correctly.

It was rugged and pretty slow going on the Mission Creek Boulevard, but cool to see the bridges that I’d read about and to think about the history of this path I was on. It was fun for sure. My fatigue was nonexistent on the bike but I was definitely hot. All I could think about was root beer and white Gatorade. I’d get that at the gas station, for sure. The Duluth Traverse mountain bike trail criss-crossed with the double-track trail I was on and so I thought about the same trip but on the DT instead of Skyline. Nah, this is better. I got to a crossing of Mission Creek itself and in my haste, went right through the water, totally submerging my left shoe. I kept plugging along, noticeably traveling downhill the whole way, which was nice but a lot of braking. I crossed a few familiar sections of the Superior Hiking Trail and eventually popped out at Highway 210. It was a great ride back down because it was smooth downhill and I didn’t pedal. The wind was through my hair and I knew I was done in once piece and in great time. I rode straight to the landing at Chambers Grove Park that I’d put my paddleboard in hours before, stopped my watch, loaded my bike back into my car and drove home.

Race Day: Saturday, October 3, 2015 – 8am

A great way to quell the post-Ironman blues is to register for more races. I had this one in the books for a long time and was looking forward to do some casual training and participate in a fun-time, low key race. Little did I know, the Heck of the North Gravel Cycling Classic would be RAW racing. Pure grit. I didn’t predict that I’d be sucked in to the mix, only to be shot out the back and left alone to bike home with my thoughts and my useless, toasted quads…

The Heck of the North is a 100+ mile gravel bike race in the deep woods north of Duluth. The race starts and finishes a few miles out of town from Two Harbors, MN. The course is made up of mostly gravel roads, but also some pavement and some really gnarly and tough riding. I’m talking about rocky, rocky, bumpy logging access roads, ATV trails, soft snowmobile trails, and perhaps even a bit of singletrack mountain bike trail. The variability of terrain is what makes this race so cool, and also why everyone in Duluth needs a cyclocross bike. I had so much fun going on training rides because you can explore anything you want. Need to connect on the pavement? No sweat, you can haul ass at 24mph. Cut through on mountain bike trails? A little precarious, but it’s do-able. Then the gravel…. oh, the gravel. So fun.

Another super fun part of the race is that the course is a secret. Nobody knows the route until Friday night at packet pickup, when we received cue cards with turn-by-turn instructions. Some of the instructions were comical: turn left at the brown gate with the tall grass onto an unmarked gravel road. Then right onto an unmarked gravel road. Then right onto an unmarked gravel road. Then left onto an unmarked ATV trail.

Nick and his pops, Dave, were both registered to race, and Nick invited me to stay at their hotel in Two Harbors on Friday. Dave is usually the race photographer, so that duty was transferred to his wife Rhonda. We all went out to get pasta after packet pickup with Nick’s grandparents. Then to the hotel. I hadn’t really looked at my bike at all. In fact, it was still pretty dirty from a muddy ride the previous weekend. I had a knapsack full of spare tubes, tools, bike boxes, and sugary exercise food. Once we got to the hotel, I tried to sort everything and plan how I’d like to pack it all on. I seemed to get it all on… about 1,000 calories worth of maltodextrin, two spare tubes, a co2 cartridge and spare pump, plus one bottle of Gatorade. I affixed my number 182 to the front and was pretty much ready to rock for the next morning. The only challenge was water and the cue cards. I had won a weird vest water bladder thingy that was designed for skiing or snowboarding, almost as a midlayer to keep the water from freezing, but had been collecting dust unused. It definitely wouldn’t work for running, but was my primary hydration solution for this bike race. However, I was nervous get too hot or irritated with 2 liters of water on my back in this weird meshy vest. The alternative, carrying another 20oz water bottle on my frame, has its own challenges–running out of water and having to refill and the chance of ejecting the bottle on the inevitably bumpy ride. I attached my second bottle cage to my bicycle and decided to sleep on it. As far as the cue cards, I’d likely have to reference them, but I could also be in the pack the entire time and not need them at all. I figured I’d just throw them in my pants or something… I’d sleep on that, too.

We woke up the next morning at 6am or so. First things first, I went to get coffee and cereal. Lots of Raisin Bran. I had the vest bladder filled up from the night before and tested it out with my race kit. It felt fine, but the water was full of gross hotel tap water. But eh… this will work.

IMG_0060Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I looked down at my cue cards and decided to mount them on the top of my handlebars. With a pen, I punctured each one and laced a twist tie through each top corner of the stack. They were surprisingly well affixed, and I could simply rip the cards away as I progress through the course. OK we have to go because we’re late!!!

Nick and I drove out, following the rest of the Nygaard clan. I got my bike out and rode it down a little rocky hill to a big fire and tent area where people were beginning to congregate. I felt the chill of the morning through my whole core. My fingers were already frozen. Maybe fingerless gloves weren’t the best glove choice… Nevertheless, I didn’t question my choices. It’s bound to warm up. I forgot my sunglasses, though, and had to run back to the van to grab those.

 

IMG_0082Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

After dawdling around for 20 minutes or so, someone started yelling and everyone moved towards the entrance road where the race was to begin. As the race director Jeremy was outlining some race details, a truck came roaring down the road and the bikes spread to the sides of the road like the Red Sea for Moses.

IMG_0094Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

Next thing I knew, we are starting off. I was kind of far back… perhaps the middle of the pack. I wanted to be in the mix for sure. I was biking faster than ever on the TT bike and I knew I was very aerobically fit and had the endurance to complete a 100 mile bike ride. Then again, I knew that some of the people up front were no joke. Arrowhead finishers, beasts on the mountain bike circuit, and former winners of this race. Pretty much, I’m a tri dweeb and a chump. But I heard a funny piece of advice about how to race the Heck: a local enduro mountain biker Dave Cizmas told me to go with the lead pack until you completely explode. Then, eat a lot of food and just have a fun rest of the day. I went into the race with this mentality. Maybe I could stick with them until the end!

The first 9 miles of the race was a loop back to the start/finish area. It was mostly gravel road. The pack was manageable. It was a little sketchy at times to be so close to so many other people. Especially on the gravel, sometimes you’d hit a rough spot or washerboards and there’s nothing you can do except ride it out. I stayed pretty far to the right side of the road right off the bat. When the gravel turned off into an ATV trail, I realized my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them. Ouch. A guy behind me was yelling at me. He said that my spare tube that I shoved in between a strap on my flat kit was dragging. I looked down and it was flapping around in the wind. I scooped it up and held onto it. The same guy informed that if the tube got caught in my derailleur, it was be a very bad situation. Yes, that would be bad!!

We did that first loop and I was feeling pretty good. I don’t know where Nick was, but was happy I didn’t get straight up dropped.

IMG_0111Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0115Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I didn’t know what this race was going to be like, and things were looking smooth! I stopped to shove this dumb tube into my bike shorts, then got back to it. We crossed a main road, Hwy 2, and got onto a small access-type road. I think it was Alden Grade. Essentially, it was a two-track trail. It was hard to pass people, but everyone was cruising at a pretty good clip. We jetted onto a more standard gravel road and I got an idea of what the main pack was like. It was large. There was probably 50 people all jammed together. It felt like we were going so slow. Why wasn’t anyone making a break? Well, it’s not going to be me! I hung in the pack and was feeling good. Then, I saw Nick come up on my side. Yeah baby, we were in the mix!

After a few more miles, we turned into a really chunky road. The pack quickly split up. This road was clearly a logging access road. There were two divots on either side of the road for tire tracks, and the road was littered with large rocks. Signs of logging activity were all around us–forested land, large stacks of tree trunks, and equipment. Plus the sign that said “logging activity”.  The road was windy, up and down, and pretty technical. I was zinging by guys with flat tires. You’d hit a rock and bounce into the air. I was trying to crank as hard as I could and kept pedaling through the divots and bumps. It was this section that I noticed that my hands were hurting. The frozen fingers had vanished, but I was squeezing so hard on my handlebars. I couldn’t let up, though. A guy in front of me flipped over his handlebars and was down. We were zinging through muddy puddles. This technical section was taking its toll. When I thought that I couldn’t take it any longer, we popped out to another gravel road. This felt like biking on glass compared to the logging road. A pack of the five or so people around me formed and we were off. Quickly, we realized we were going the wrong direction as we passed two or three other cyclists going the other way who had made the same mistake. The group grew to 8 or so, and when we re-passed the logging road, finally on the right path, a group of 4 or 5 latched on as well. And there was Nick, back in the mix! A tandem bike was hauling us along and we were off on a pretty good clip. At this point, we were probably 3 hours in.

A few miles of gravel and we got into the first section of State Trail snowmobile trail. Our nice little pack broke up once again. I was excited about the State Trail sections because I loved training there. Trying to go fast is a different story. The soft grass just saps one’s energy stores. Nick jammed his nuts bad on a culvert. We were making our way along, though, and before long we turned back onto another gravel road. To my surprise, there was the main pack. Everyone was stopped. Some people had their bikes upside down, some were maybe peeing or eating. We rode up to them and this big main pack started up again. It was another 10 miles of gravel and pavement until the half way point.

I was trying to eat a lot of food while in the pack getting strung along. I was feeling pretty good except my hands. I shook my hands out and was doing everything I could to grip softly. All the sudden, it was hard to keep up. I was towards the back of the pack. Then on the back of the pack. Then, the pack dropped me. No, no, no. My worst fear was to be literally left in the dust. Ok, I’ll just keep them in sight and they’ll maybe slow a bit, I thought to myself. A solo guy behind me was gaining ground, and he caught me. He told me that we’d work together and catch the pack. We took turns surging ahead and sure enough, it worked. I burnt a few matches on that one, though. I stayed in the mix and recouped some energy stores. Then, I made a few moves and was up towards the front. Then, I took the lead. It was fun up there! We turned onto Lester River Rd, and it was just this pavement section and what sounded like a little bit of mountain bike trail until the halfway point.

We were cruising in a large pack down towards Lester Park. Then pandemonium. Yelling, people turning, stopping, skids, and I slammed on my brakes. They weren’t stopping me fast enough and I thought I was going to crash hard into a tree. The turn off of the road came up quicker than anyone thought or saw and it was a traffic jam. Luckily, I was towards the front and didn’t get to jammed up. More luckily, I somehow made it onto the trail quickly and without incident. I could hear the chaos from behind me and something told me to just go. I tried to jet through this woodsy singletrack as fast as possible. I’d have the upper hand going into the halfway up front. I could hear cheers ahead, rode down a hill and saw a table with goodies and Rhonda and the Nygaard clan.

IMG_0150Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0152Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I chatted to Rhonda for a second and turned around to see Nick coming in. I grabbed some Mountain Dew, threw away some garbage, and grabbed some food to shove in my bike bag. Rhonda took my second tube that had fallen out so long ago, too. Nick said that we’d have to dip out quickly after he filled his bottles. I had to pee, so went ahead to do that in the meantime. I peed in the trees and saw Nick bike away in my peripheral vision. I must have evacuated a liter of pee! It took forever and was a heavy stream.

I hopped back on my bike and started the ascent out of Lester Park. I was feeling tired. This was the first time I really felt fatigue in my legs. There were a few guys up ahead of me and I wanted to get in with them and then rejoin the main pack. Out of Lester and onto some gravel roads, I wasn’t making up any ground. In fact, I was losing ground. I didn’t want to blast myself trying to get up there, so I started just riding at a comfortable speed. It wasn’t fun being alone! The pack is so key.

I was by myself for a long time. The guys in front of me were long out of sight. After a good 45 or 60 minutes, I finally got in with a group. I heard my name “Mike Ward!!!” and was joined from behind by Ross, a Ski Hut mechanic, a coworker of his, Matt, and another guy. Ross had just won the Heck Epic, a two day gravel biking event a few months prior. I was in good company here, I thought to myself. Hopping on the back of their pack, it felt so good. So, so, so nice. I was able to let my legs rest a little bit. I got amped up and took the pull for a while. After a few minutes, I was spent and went to the back. We were together for another 45 minutes or so until another section of State Trail. We made it through just fine, but lost the last guy. Also, I lost a lot of food. Somehow, three Stinger Waffles and a gel were ejected from my bike box on the State Trail.

We didn’t wait for him and kept trucking along. After a few miles of gravel, we bumped onto Pequaywan Lakes Road, a paved road. Still trading pulls, we swallowed up another guy and he latched on. Another few miles and we entered Fox Farm Road, which is pure gravel. I glanced at my cue cards and saw that we’d be on Fox Farm for a good while. Then, it’s a quick 15 miles or so back to the finish. The end is in sight! I was feeling decent, but it didn’t take long to realize that I was falling apart. I’d pull for a minute or two and get spent. When I was on the back, it was so hard to stay on the wheel in front of me. I’d fall of ever so slightly, then have to dip into the hurt tank to get back. I’d fall further and further back and it would hurt more and more to get back with the guys. Then, I gave up. I stopped pedaling and watched the guys ride away. They realized I was off and actually turned around and yelled at me. I told them to go on without me. I was done. This is what Dave was talking about. When you blow up and get dropped, just eat a bunch of food and have a fun day. Except my food fell out. I ate my last few gummis and was completely out of calories. Ok, I could still have a fun day. Except my legs were totally shot and I was out here on damn Fox Farm Road alone. I looked both ways. Behind me was nobody. Ross, Matt, and the other guy rode out of sight. It was like a light switch. A marathon run is like slowly chipping away at your energy stores… falling apart slowly. Today, I hit a point where I was dead. Toast. I couldn’t pick it up at all and had no energy. One minute, OK, next minute, done. I don’t think it was a food thing or really bonking–my legs were simply out of energy. I burned too many matches and was out.

Fox Farm took forever and it was tough. When I turned off onto Laine Road, I was at least in somewhat good spirits. I wanted to just enjoy being out here. It’s OK to pedal an easy gear really slow. I wasn’t going to win. My race was really over at the halfway point. Just finish and have fun, I thought. Soak it in. What else would I want to be doing right now!?! I was about 5 or 6 hours in and at mile 90 or so.

Eventually, the dude we lost on the last State Trail section came speeding up behind me. He was the first person I’d seen since Ross and Matt dropped me. He told me he fell on the State Trail and I could see his face was bloody. He told me that we could work together and get through the remaining miles easier. Yes, I thought, I need to work with this guy. Being alone is terrible. I took the draft for a while. It didn’t last long and it wasn’t very strong. He took his turn and dropped me almost instantly. I sped up, he slowed down and I caught his wheel. A few more minutes of struggling to keep up with him, and I gave up again. Nope. I told him to drop me. Alone again. I turned off onto the State Trail for the final snowmobile section. This was fun and I was in good spirits. I could stand up and just push through the soft and slow grass and it was a welcome relief from the relentless gravel. It was really muddy through there and I thought it was funny go get a fresh coat of mud. I was laughing at myself thinking that the mud was getting old and I needed some new mud. I felt positive because I knew I was close…

The final section was on a gravel road that turned into an ATV/ horse trail. We cross the Knife River with no bridge and it’s just a hop, skip and jump to the finish. I looked at my cue cards and realized it was just a few more miles of pain. I didn’t think those final miles would be so terrible. The terrain was impossible. It was flat but rocky. It jumbled up my already shredded hands. My finger tendons were screaming. My triceps were done holding my torso up over the handlebars, and my quads simply wouldn’t work right. I could get more power by pushing my knee down with my hand. I was mercilessly passed by a few people in this last bit. I was looking down and didn’t even acknowledge them.

It was going on forever. It was pretty mental at this point and I was getting hungry. Not that exercise food sounded good, but it probably would have been beneficial. I was strung along by the idea of going straight to Culvers with a “no limits” approach to ordering food. I daydreamed about what I’d get. Definitely a Butterburger. Definitely ice cream.

Meanwhile, this fricken path wouldn’t end. Did they get the miles wrong? I thought about sitting down on the side for a second, just to recoup. Maybe I’ll walk my bike for a minute, I thought. No! I biked it in. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fast. It surely wasn’t comfortable. But finally, I saw County Road 2. This was the road we passed way back in the morning after that initial 9 mile loop. I knew the finish was right there. So, I picked it up! I saw a volunteer and started smiling uncontrollably.

IMG_0228Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I saw Rhonda and was so happy to finish. A left turn and I saw the finish line.

IMG_0230Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0235Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I was so happy to coast on in, but there was a car exiting blocking the way. Gah… I weaved around and crossed a line of tape in the gravel. A girl ran up to me to get my race number and I confusedly hopped off my bike and stood there. I felt so exhausted in every way. Nick came over the hill and had a very funny mud line from his glasses. I’m not sure how his entire face got caked with mud. Rhonda snapped a few more pictures and I loaded up my bike.

IMG_0246Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I chatted with Nick for a second, but had to hit the road.

IMG_2563Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I spent $17 at Culvers. On the drive back to Duluth, I nearly fell asleep repeatedly. I hit the rumble strips a few times. Just completely tired.

I was very quick to forget how terrible the race was. In fact, the next day, I was jacked up and I want to do another gravel race. There is something weird about endurance events. It’s definitely an addiction. I’m a compulsive biker and runner. An endurance freak. I am who I am.

Results

Race Stats:

Place: 21/145
Time: 7:05:40
Speed: 15.08mph

Bike: Diamondback Haanjo Comp

Food: 1 package of Trolli Britecrawlers, ~1 package of Honey Stinger Chews (Cherry Coke and Cherry Blossom), 1 Bearded Brothers Bar, 1 Honey Stinger Waffle (chocolate), 1 bottle blue Gatorade, ~2L water, some Mountain Dew, a quarter of a peanut butter and banana sandwich, a half a banana, 2 squares of caffeinated dark chocolate

 


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