Sunday, September 25, 2016

Race Day Adventures: The Chequamegon 40

It was sometime in January when Curtis asked if I had signed up for Chequamegon. "What do you mean? I can sign up?" Well, it turned out that there was not going to be a lottery used to get into Chequamegon but rather you have the opportunity to sign up until all the spaces are filled.

Chequamegon was one of those events where I thought it would be in my 5 year plan. I apparently short change myself all the time when it comes to my physical and endurance levels. I felt that it would be a wasted opportunity if I didn't sign up- because what if it went back to the lottery system the following year? I didn't dawdle.

I signed up that evening.

I cleverly managed to procure Travis as my transportation because I like to plan things WAY ahead of time and I wanted company. I knew we wouldn't have a hard time finding friends to meet up with as quite a few Decorah locals attend the event either participating or spectating. With Travis on board and room booked, I started planning my very loose "training" schedule.

Fast forward to Friday, September 16th- the day before Chequamegon. We made plans to close shop early (noon) and head out on the road. For those who are customers of ours, mark you calendars as Chequamegon 2017 is September 15th, 16th, and 17th! We will be closing at noon again that Friday.

Butterflies were just starting to do uppercuts in my gut. I had spent the following months following a half-ass training regimen which included...not really training. I had every good intention of doing so, but I had other insecurities to overcome first- like not being afraid to go for a long gravel ride by myself. Weeks before Chequamegon I overcame fears and went on 2 solo rides to rack on miles prior to the event. I felt accomplished, I knew I would finish the race, but I had no idea how I would do...and I chose to not worry.
Nerves aside, this was the most easy-going I've felt about an event since I started casually participating. I'm not sure if it was because I knew I'd be riding with other riders in a league that far outweighed my own along with weekend warriors, and the yearly participant. Not having attended Chequamegon before, I had nothing to lose- just experience to gain and the confidence to know I could complete it.

Race day morning came and my stomach was in shambles. I couldn't escape the pre-event stomach bug that seems to plague me no matter what. I sipped some hot coffee and made myself eat a couple of Skratch cookie bars I had baked before the trip. Telling myself as I repeatedly ran to the bathroom that all would be well.
We walked my bike to my gate, Number 7, the furthest gate from the start line. There was a row of bikes already in place and I decided to be ballsy and put my bike in the second row. I knew no matter what, I would be passing people from other gates (Really? Really) and I wanted to give myself some sort of advantage because I wanted to get to my middle spot as soon as possible.

I feel I'm a strong mid-pack rider (for events); I'm not the fastest person on the bike but I'm not the slowest. I also know that as soon as I can get myself away from the biggest group, the sooner I could get into my own groove and ride my ride.
I was given a lot of great advice for my first Chequamegon, all of which was much appreciated. I was feeling very focused and hyper-aware during the roll out. I talked with two fellows a little bit while we were slowly rolling closer to the start. A compliment was given on my bike (Gaston) and I was giddy with anticipation. What some may find crazy is I decided to do Chequamegon on flats. Yup. The lightest most grippy flats I've owned yet- HT pedals.

I felt my heart tug as I saw Travis watching me from the sidelines and imagined we were both feeling "all of the feels" as we knew that I would ride off into the perpetual unknown that is Chequamegon. As all of the riders and myself rolled out, I had the biggest and goofiest smile on my face. I watched the other riders and simply did as they did. We rolled to Rosie's Field which words of advice were for me to shift down several gears before dumping in. At first I thought "Nah, it looks fine" but believe me, I was grateful for the heads up and made it up the first hill with relative ease.

Now, being this was my first Chequamegon event, I am completely not seasoned with the locations of most of the climbs or areas that people would be able to name. For me it was a whirlwind of challenge and excitement- especially because it was SO wet! I felt that the Time Trials this year prepared me to handle riding in wet, sloppy, and muddy conditions. However, I rode Time Trials on a plus bike and this time I was going to see if I could make it up greasy climbs on my 29" wheeled machine.

I was most pleased to discover I totally could! 

I loved that I had to use strategy with riding. Seeing lines ahead of time, following other riders, sneaking past some on climbs that I was quicker at, keeping myself at a safe distance when descending...the list goes on. I was worried I would be bored with the duration and potential monotony; my mind was far from bored!

At one point I was leapfrogging with a woman, I had been near her before Rosie's Field (I think) and then saw her again later. "Are you Josie?" I heard her ask. "Yup!" It was Melissa, a woman I had interviewed after I signed up for Chequamegon! "You're doing great, lady!" she said and we continued on. Eventually I was ahead and wouldn't see Melissa again until after we finished. This is the coolest part about interviewing rad women and participating in events- getting to meet them!

Eating and drinking during my ride were things I kept having to remind myself to do. With the addition of the wind jacket, my access to my jersey pockets were limited. I opted to use my Camelbak that had side pockets for my emergency necessities- inhaler (which I forgot to use!) and additional GU packets/Clif Bloks. I felt success with retrieving my water bottle that had hydration mix, however consuming the liquid was not very graceful. I probably got half of it in my mouth and the rest of it down my chin. During the race I was amazed as to how many water bottles had escaped their riders, it was a sight to be seen!

The mud puddles I rode thru impressed me, both with how deep they were and how I managed to not fall over and become a mess of brown muck. I would look down at my gear cluster periodically to make sure it wasn't too bad- I brought a brush with me if it was needed.

I was excited to see signs letting riders know that Pirates were ahead. I was stoked to see the Pirates! It meant rum! I'm not one for drinking on my rides, but I did take a shot to relax my lungs. The warmth of the liquid seemed to calm the capillaries and the flavor made me think of coffee. A kind fellow had tried to convince me to have another, but I declined. One swig of rum is good enough for this wench.

It was sometime around here that a fellow had ridden by me and looked down "You're doing this whole thing on flats?! You're a badass!"

Soon Fire Tower loomed ahead. My tentative goal was to ride up the whole thing, however the mass of folks surrounding me both front and rear stopped and started trudging up the hill. It had been miles since I had seen another woman and when we came to Fire Tower, I was walking next to two. Lucas had appeared again, having some unfortunate mechanical issues after he had passed me earlier. It was a mad, steady, and calculated scramble up the hill. Towards the middle, a fellow or two had decided they would get on and poke their way up to the top. I was inspired. I decided that I wanted to impress myself and thought "maybe I can, too!" So I mounted my bike and pedaled upward, hearing Lucas give words of encouragement as I continued forward and rode the last half of Fire Tower successfully.

Riding so many miles at a steady clip in unsavory conditions does take a lot out of a person- it also makes you feel like a winner. I knew more climbing was ahead and was thankful for the aid stations, taking them up on the energy drink they provided and a lone doughnut hole. I have to admit, the doughnut hole was the most difficult thing I tried to consume, but once it was down I felt better.

Lucas caught back up with me and was behind me as we came to a giant puddle. I followed behind a rider who went off to the right. Suddenly I felt a bump and heard a big splash- Oh Lucas! He had followed too close and hit my rear tire and losing balance...I felt awful. All I could say was "Sorry!" and "I thought you needed a bath!

There was one climb I didn't do successfully and I can't tell you exactly where it was at, but it was on a grassy trail section. I had taken a line to the left and spun out. The fellow behind me was kind and we chatted a little. I had mentioned it was my first time attending Chequamegon; everyone was so encouraging, particularly because my inaugural ride was so...well, wet.

There was a section of grass rollers that came upon us and I found myself riding next to another lady for a bit, leapfrogging each other as we went up and down. She was nice to chat with, tho I had a hard time making my first initial "Hello!" She complimented me on my climbing, I mentioned I lived in Decorah, Iowa. "Iowa has hills?!" I smiled "Yup! Decorah does!" It seemed like the rollers were never going to quit, all I could say to myself was "Challenge Accepted."

I was making my way up the last big climb and had Fuhrmann ran next to me yelling "Dig deep! Dig deep!" I couldn't help but laugh at the handful of ferns hiding his beverage. I crested the climb and started on a wickedly fun grassy downhill. O'Gara, Benji, Spinner, and Travis were all cheering me on- my smile was huge! I let out a whoop and started to feel all the feels. Heading down the hill, I soaked in the irony of an upcoming incline right before the finish. One more climb? Worth it. I had joy swimming thru my body and I wanted to break down in tears. I was so happy and stoked that I managed to do something that I thought would be nearly impossible when I signed up. From whim to reality, I was able to come out feeling as good as I could for my lack of experience.
My bike performed flawlessly. I have nothing but good things to say about Gaston- the fit and feel of the bike was amazing. Having confidence bombing down some of the gnarly fire road sections helped a lot with keeping up my momentum. I was pleased with the tires I ran along with the air pressure (23 psi)
Travis was kind enough to have some cold beer waiting for me, and it was delicious! I was thrilled to meet Gary Crandall, the fellow who was behind the event and helped connect me to some fabulous women to interview prior to Chequamegon. He was quite impressed with my mud freckles!

Some folks may be wondering what my goal was for the event since it was my first time. The main goal, of course, was to finish and my secondary goal was to be in the top 10 in my age group. I made my way to the results computer with a small sense of anxiety, because I had absolutely no idea how I did nor did I pay attention to my race time. I typed in my name...*drumroll* I was 10th in my age group! I finished in 3.18.39- sweet! I was the 52nd female and was 916th out of 1,400 riders. I was pleased with my finish and results- I couldn't have asked for anything better out of this ride.

We made our way to the condo where our friends had stayed; I took liberty to take a hot shower before all of the testosterone showed up. It was glorious! We later went back to the Big Top for we could hang out with Kelsey and Patrick (and our other friends.) Not long after, we went back to the condo where the truck was parked to head back to Hayward. I was ready for t.v. and pizza, I felt that my socializing was at the max and it was time to relax and eat some much needed calories.

Final notes on the weekend-
It was fabulous and I agree with folks- it's something that you should do at least once. Everyone I met or rode with seemed very nice; it's an event that really makes you feel like you're part of a family. You have a mix of serious riders who can really pull out the rpms and you have folks who attend yearly for the fun and community that Chequamegon brings. Everyone in town seems so incredibly stoked for you to be there, the volunteers are great, the pirates may slap your bum, and the smiles are infectious. If you're looking for legit singletrack there won't be much in this race. (Keep your eyes open for the Borah Epic!) If you enjoy gravels, distance, and rollers you will find a happy place. With the unfortunate weather that Hayward/Cable experienced throughout the months (lots of rain) there were sections of trail and fire road that were eroded, which provided extra challenge. Several mud sections to roll thru, and greasy climbs to conquer- boredom wasn't an option! If you mountain bike you will find that your skills will greatly aid in your ability to maneuver the tricky spots and longer gravel/road rides prior to will help you with rollers and distance.

Thank you for the ride, Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival...we'll see you in 2017!

Special thanks goes out to Borah Teamwear for the awesome Decorah Bicycles jersey, Shebeest for great shorts that can handle the miles and to SockGuy for rad socks!
A huge thanks to Travis for building one heck of a race bike and for being the best support crew/beer chiller/and cheerleader!

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