Freedhem 76

Saturday, July 6, 2024 – 9am

I was so pumped for the Freedhem race. No real expectations except to push my body hard, explore some new terrain I really haven’t seen before and have fun. I drove down with Ryan on race morning after a pretty unpleasant 4am wakeup call. I felt confident in my packing and wasn’t too flustered in the morning. When I loaded my bike up, I realized an alley animal had knocked over my trash can and shredded the contents inside. C’MON!! So, I started the trip by picking up last week’s trash with my hands. Yuck. I got Ryan and we had plenty of time to make our way to the Fort Ripley area. It was a great morning, low wind, sunny skies and the forecast was looking optimal. There was a chance for showers later and Ryan and I wondered if we’d get rained on at all. Decently warm, which is great training for Day Across in a month.

I talked to fellow Duluthians Tony and Dave, Nick and his dad Dave, Dave’s wife Rhonda, and the race timer Mike. All smiles in the pleasant summer morning before our race started. The 106 mile race and 22k run began shortly after we arrived and we were able to calmly get everything organized. It was a perfect arrival time, and as 9am drew neat the field assembled at the start line, pointed to a straight grid-pattern gravel road to the east. Dave Nygaard and I weaseled our way into the pack towards the front. Yikes. I was ready for the early-race intensity of biking in a group. My goal was to be competitive in the single speed division, and Dave pointed out a guy in a high-profile purple jersey and pink bike who would be in the mix. Should be easy to spot! I figured I could stay with Dave time-wise. We were fairly close together last year at Le Grand du Nord, I had a faster time, but I felt like my fitness was pretty weak to where it could or should be this year. With a sick guitar solo for the national anthem, a five second countdown, and the blare of an air horn through the microphone, we were off.

The pack was large, and stayed together for a long time. I tend to stick to the sides for better or worse… I’m pretty self-conscious riding a single speed bike in a deep pack and I feel like I accordion more than my geared compatriots. At every road crossing and turn, a surge would occur and I was feeling super gassed early on trying to respond to the group. I mean, this is the lead pack, I figured. My pink bike competition was right up there. I could tell my gear ratio was harder than his. We were fricken MOVING early on and it was fun and intense.

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I took an inside edge at a right turn from a gravel road to paved when I heard my chain snap and I went down hard. The flash of the moment was me on the ground sliding towards the shoulder of the road. I popped up and saw the pack riding off into the distance and Dave Nygaard circling back. He asked if I was OK. I seemed to be OK. I instinctively checked my elbow, which was definitely chewed up with road rash. I had a dumb thermal long sleeve shirt on, which was partially shredded but maybe protected my skin a little bit. My knee and hand were scraped up, but nothing critical. I waved Dave off and he went back for the pack. Him stopping for just 20 seconds was easily enough time to miss the lead pack.

I immediately noticed my chain was dangling off my chainring. The quick link! I had major concerns about the day before as I was tuning my bike up for the race. What the heck, it just blasted off. I got my quick link tool out, I had one spare quick link in there, and tried to get it in. The chase pack of 10-15 riders passed and asked if I was good. I said I was. The next pack with a few less riders passed and similarly asked if I was good, and had everything I needed. I said yes, and thanks. I was struggling, though. Gah. I wasn’t in pain, luckily, but sweat was dripping into my eyes in the humid morning sun on the side of a busy-ass highway, just not able to get my quick link to pop into place. As the riders passing me thinned out, one person was riding slow and asked if I had everything I need. I muttered how my quick link was being finicky. He stopped, helped me out, and said I just need to step on the cranks to pop it into place. Duh! I forgot about that trick! Damn, I felt like an idiot. But we couldn’t get it to stay. So frustrating. I shushed this angel of a human off. He said I might have the wrong quick link for the chain I had. Just go, I told him. He left me. I’d figure it out. I knew what to do. Get the link in, stand on the crank. More people passed me, sporadically and not in groups. I just couldn’t get the fucking link to stay! GAH! I was swearing, yelling. I spiked my chain into the ground, I was so mad. This was completely preventable, I told myself. I then lost one side of the quick link and couldn’t find it. Ok, on to the next step. I have safeguards for this reason, I told myself. I got my spare piece of chain and took off one pin to get the single length of chain that I needed. I pressed the pin into the hole on my existing chain. It didn’t fit. Huh. No way. Unreal. I’ve been lugging around dead weight with 6 links of a chain that isn’t even the same size as the chain I had on my bike!?! A bit of yelling, some swearing, (zero crying), and I ultimately could not think of a good feasible option. I didn’t have my phone, I knew how to get back to the start via the race course. That’d be a long 18 mile walk. If I could call someone, I didn’t know who would help me anyways. I could try to find my way back as the bird flies… I mean, it’s generally a grid pattern and I was on a highway-type paved road. I tried to find a way to get back via my GPS watch, which had the course loaded in. I tried “Back to Start” and it started beeping at me to take the left turn and take the exact course back. Gah. A couple riders moseyed on up to me. I asked if they had a 9 speed quick link… that’s the missing piece. Sure enough, he did! He grabbed it from his pack and said us 9 speeders have to stick together. I asked what would happen if he had a chain issue… and he said he’d risk it. Wow. I shook the man’s hand, he helped me get the quick link on my chain, I smashed down on my crank arm and it popped right into place. Money! They started off riding as I biked back to my crash site to get my helmet and glasses back on. And I was riding!

I passed my new friends, and thanked them profusely. I figured I had been sitting there struggling for at least 30 minutes. When I passed them up, the gal said “I think we’re DFL!”, as in “dead fucking last”. Hmm… now to move through the entire field…

I felt the wind was out of my sails, but hey, I was riding and it was an amazing morning with nice sunshine through cabin country. I weaved through a gravel road around a lake and we were on. All I could think about was the frustration of the crash. What if I took down other riders? My good friend Nick, or his dad?? That was completely preventable, and I remember being leery of the chain when I was tuning my bike on Friday. I should have addressed that then. I couldn’t get that out of my head. How stupid could I be? Why would I risk my health, but also the health and safety of the whole lead pack? Oh well, I kept pedaling.

The race was fun from there, although progressively more painful and difficult. I biked through a combination of logging paths, immaculate gravel roads and a healthy dose of pavement. I wondered if I’d see anyone. Tony and Schuney? Rhonda? Nick probably is close to finishing, I thought. I stopped at the first aid station at mile 40 and filled up on water. It was hot and I was drinking lukewarm water pretty frequently. Candy was my tastiest snack between my smorgasboard of chips, trail mix, pizza, the gummis, exercise waffles and gels. I left quickly from there, figuring that nobody else at the aid station would be down to ride in a pack at 18 mph. I was right, and passed every single racer going quite a bit faster. I was making good time but noticed I was slowing down and started counting down the miles. Halfway, 30 to go, 20 to go, ughh. I knew the highly anticipated sand pit left 10 or 15 miles on the course and I started looking forward to that. The second aid station was apparently right before that. I didn’t think I’d stop there. I tried to focus on continuing eating. My pizza didn’t sound too good but I wolfed it down anyways. Chips and snacks were hard to eat from my sandwich baggies. I passed a lemonade stand, thinking it might be the aid station. It was for sale though… who has 15 cents out here? I biked past the tables and tents with a salute.

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A few miles later and I came across the official aid station. I said I’d only stop if they had drinks. I didn’t need water, didn’t need food, would really like a cold Coke. When I rode up closer, volunteers were on both sides of the road with drinks in their outstretched hands. One gal had a water and a cold Coke. I didn’t know if it was cold, but just felt like it was. It had to be. It was meant to be. I asked her. She nodded her head, smiling, and I fake joy cried. She giggled. I grabbed it from my bike without skipping a stroke and kept riding to a huge hill. I cracked the can and chugged it. Cold indeed, and far more delicious than I remembered. As the hill started, I tried to smash the can down for storage in my pack pocket, and ultimately shoved it into my frame bag. The amazingly delicious drink powered me up the hill, and “The Beach” was right there. I turned onto a minimum maintenance road and remembered all the stories from my friends. Horrible sand. I could see bikers walking up ahead. I biked as long as I could but hit a sand pit and had to walk. I jogged my bike a bit as another biker was able to stay pedaling and zoomed past me. I passed Rhonda and a couple other riders. It wasn’t too difficult and in no time I was back on a gravel road, passing the rider that stayed afloat on the sand.

I knew I was coming in to the finish line and felt good about that. My body felt better too. I was tired, I had been in a decently low-energy zone for a while, I was bleeding in several areas on my right side and my left knee and shin was sore from a blunt force trauma, but all-in-all I was going to finish. I stood up and pushed up a little hill, and felt my right quad cramping. No! Not like this!! I immediately reached into my bag and tried to rapidly ingest potato chips. Salt, yes. Luckily, I avoided big issues… a couple more turns and I could see the finish line way down the stretch. I had only passed people, which was kind of cool. Then, presumably a 100 mile rider passed me up. I hopped on his wheel, nobody can pass me! He was going 20 mph maybe… really just cruising with the finish flags in sight. I couldn’t hang. Shucks. Well, I almost only passed people. I rode into the finish and was happy to be done.

It was painful dealing with raunchy road rash on my right forearm/elbow area, but my bike seemed to be in good shape, and the rest of my body was indeed relatively unscathed. I learned a lot about chains… Despite struggles and the race going dramatically off plan, I was all smiles at the finish. A beer from Jack Pines in Brainerd tasted extra sweet. The crash really messed up my whole race, and the worst part was how preventable it was. I could have had a good race. Oh well, that is racing! It’s not all bad if there is a learning opportunity attached. I’ll be back!

Race Results

GPS Data

Race Stats:
Place: 87/134
Time: 5:08:52
Speed: 15 mph

Bike: Salsa Warbird
Tires: 38c, 30psi
Gear Ratio: 40×15


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