Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Race Day Adventures: 2017 Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival

I'm going to start off this Race Day Adventures post by saying there is truly something special about attending Chequamegon 40- either as a spectator or race participant. This was my second year participating in Chequamegon, and Travis' first year. Our friends, Stego and Kenzie came to spectate for the first time, too. Several of our other biking friends from Decorah came to race or spectate, and that adds extra fun to the whole adventure!

I know I mentioned last year, and I'll mention it again- the event is put on well. There are plenty of course markings, a lot of helpful volunteers, pirates with rum (yay!), and in general- a whole lot of fun. Chequamegon is one of those events where you somehow make new friends while you pedal your way thru the beautiful scenery of Cable and Hayward. I got to meet a woman I interviewed for my blog: Sara Johnson, and got to say hello to a fellow from last year who remembered me!
If no one else remembers me on the route this year, I know one fellow on Fire Tower will be able to say he saw "Decorah Girl" climb it.

Anyways, let's get started...

Was I ready for Chequamegon? The answer is "No."
Several factors were against me when it came to my idea of accumulating training miles this year. One of those was my IUD debacle. It took me long enough to get it sorted out by waiting until things had gotten to the point of being so intolerable, I couldn't emotionally stand it anymore. I had 3 races where I probably could've done better physically and mentally had I gotten it checked out sooner. June will be my "Independence Day" from the aforementioned birth control. I can't get over how much better I feel without it; it was too little too late for proper training this season.

Second, I went gung-ho with FWD - Fearless Women of Dirt activities. I was excited and passionate about having events and special rides. Take that on top of being busier this season, I squashed out a bunch of riding time that could've potentially helped me prep for Chequamegon. Do I regret my decisions? No. Will there be changes next year? Yes. Without a doubt, yes.

However, the biggest change I noticed was my feelings towards the event. I was excited- the kind of excited you get on Christmas Eve knowing that the next day you get to open presents. (In my case, I got to open presents on Christmas Eve AND Christmas due to my parents being divorced, so Christmas Eve was always extra-exciting for me.)
I found a lack of pre-race nerves, more I had a sense of calm about it. I was going to do this, I knew it would probably suck for me- but I was excited for some time off from work and an opportunity to ride my bike with Decorah and Chequamegon friends.

I was as ready as I could be with the lack of riding under my belt. I'm one that if I pay a race fee, even if I don't feel ready, I'll show up and do my damnedest to do the best I can under my personal circumstance. In that case, I was ready.

Our drive to Hayward to America's Best Value Inn was uneventful. Once we got checked in and the truck unloaded, Stego and Kenzie arrived. They came with us to registration, something I wanted to get out of the way as quickly as possible so we could go eat supper. It was quick, efficient, and attacked my nerves with lots of stimulation because of all the people. It's fun and infectious. Because of our timing this year, we managed to secure a table at the Sawmill Saloon, easily, for supper. I had been recommended to try the potato barrels (not sure what they are called, but basically giant tater tots that are far superior to tater tots. Amazing texture and flavor! Bacon! Need I say more?)
As typical for pre-race supper, I had fish. It seems that 1. Fish is hard to screw up. 2. It is light and is protein. 3. It's good. I ate everything off my plate with gusto and washed it down with Squatters Double Hop IPA (I call it Hop Farmer due to the label.) I felt good. I was ready to go and chill.
Before going back to the motel, we stopped at the grocery store kitty corner from the parking lot, which has an impressive beer selection. You can do a Mix-A-Six or purchase 4 or 6 packs off the shelf. Great stuff, and my second favorite stop to make besides Woodman's. I acquired some of my favorites and then a couple new ones to try. You could tell a biking event was in town as there were several folks there (all men) buying beer. I felt really proud of myself, walking up to the register with three 4-packs and two 6- packs, ha! (I took all but 1 bottle of this precious bounty home with me!

Back to the motel to hang out and eventually sleep. For the first time prior to a race, I could say I slept well, which typically does not happen. Especially on an unfamiliar bed, in a room that isn't home, without a cat snuggling me. Either way, sleep found me and I was grateful.

The next day we got up early, Travis went to Kwik Star to get some breakfast stuff- coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and milk for the cereal he brought. My goal was to eat a breakfast sandwich and keep it down. I typically do not eat well prior to races (last year I ate a couple Skratch cookies I baked.) Success! I ate the whole thing without feeling too barfy. After breakfast, we took our bikes to the start to put them in the lineup. A helpful person gave me some positioning tips and also aided me in getting to the proper gate. I parked my bike next to a bike who had a Decorah Bicycles water bottle next to it. "Who is this?!" we wondered. I figured if someone had our shop water bottle, then it would be easy for conversation.
Back to the motel to get ready, calm my nerves, and wait for Stego and Kenzie to arrive as they would be our truck drivers.

Mark this day as the first race I have not had to take a swig of Pepto.

It was time to get to the start. I managed one stop at the Port-a-Potty, questioning myself if once was enough. Every time I thought to jump back in line, the line grew. I gave up. It was at the 10-minute mark to be at your bikes, so we walked over to the gates. Travis stood with me for a little bit before he went to his bike. We discovered that the person who owned the bike I was next to was our neighbor, Kent! How fun! I felt more at ease.

The wait for the roll out seemed to take forever, but not. I was excited!

The roll out is an event of its own. The hum of the tires on the street, all of the people cheering you on, keeping a good line, making sure you're aware of the folks around you- it's a rush!

We had quite the slow roll into Rosie's Field and it was pretty intense. I made sure to have myself in an easy gear by the time I hit the grass, then it was just making sure I wouldn't get behind someone who was in too hard of a gear or folks who were off their bikes.

I wondered when Travis would catch up to me as he was in gate 7. Next thing I hear is "How's it going?" and Travis pedals his way past me! I tried to catch up, and I was finding it wasn't very easy. Travis fell back and asked if he should ride behind me, I told him he could do his thing. I spent a good while trying to catch my carrot. I struggled, but I'd eventually catch up and feel accomplished.

Travis made the decision to fall back and ride behind me, he could tell that it wasn't going to be easy for me to stay behind him long. I felt frustrated that it was so difficult to keep up- I wasn't upset at Travis but at myself and my own physical ability. So for the rest of the event, Travis was on my tail while I rode and pushed myself as hard as I could. 

I have to say, on some of the fire roads/gravels, you had the most beautiful scenery. Fall colors were showing and leaves gracefully fell to the ground as you rode by. I wished I could take some pictures!

I appreciated having the 28t oval chainring, the climbing range it gave me was awesome and I had plenty for the flatter riding. I was also riding on flat pedals with my Five Ten Freerider Contact shoes, I wanted the stiffer sole, in hopes it would help reduce foot fatigue.

The next eventful moment for me was coming up the Pirate hill. Yay for rum! I really enjoyed the flavor and the warmth it put in my belly. I continued on...eventually coming to a hill that I thought for sure was Fire Tower. I was ready! Then I realized I was ready too soon and it was just the hill prior to Fire Tower. Man, I wanted to get it over with. 

Well, the moment came soon enough...we were there. This would be my biggest challenge yet- one I was hoping to accomplish.
I followed another rider in and rode behind him until he spun out. I was so grateful to have Travis there, he'd call out a rider was coming. Other folks were helpful, too, and would announce my riding up so others could move out of the way. I had a couple spots where I was worried I'd spin out, but managed to stay mobile.
Then the biggest "Oh sh*t" moment came when I was next to a tandem. I knew the line I wanted to take and was trying to get there, but the tandem riders also saw the line and moved to the left in front of me. I was able to stay in control and rode behind them. I made sure to keep an eye on their rear wheel, and good that I did because they spun out. I made my announcement and cut in front of them, I feel barely making it, but I did! At some point a fellow said "Go Decorah Girl!" and Travis said, "and on flats, baby!" I would've laughed if I wasn't breathing so hard- but I think I did crack a smile. I was thrilled that Travis got to see this happen.

I was relieved once we came out of Fire Tower- a goal, a huge goal, was accomplished. Now my next one was to see about bettering my time from last year which was 3:18:39. My original goal was to knock off 5 minutes off my time. I was feeling hopeful about coming in at 3 hours, maybe, possibly under! Until....fate came into play. I felt a twinge, something that isn't familiar to me, but I knew it would be something awful. A cramp. Damnit! My right calf muscle tensed and the next thing I knew, the inside portion of my calf was (well, I think it was) dented in. Oh...my...gosh....I envisioned myself falling off my bike if I couldn't get my muscles to stop seizing. I quickly ate some Salted Watermelon bloks and drank more water. I think that was my downfall in the first place- I was too conservative with water drinking for a hot day. I reached down and smacked my calf a couple times, shifted into an easier gear, and subsequently did not attack some climbs like I hoped I would. (Fun note: It took until Tuesday for my calf to not ache!)

Not long after, we were riding uphill past a fellow who had cramped so bad he had fallen off his bike. I felt awful. My leg had stopped being a turd, but I didn't have enough salted chews left to be helpful. I thought some good thoughts for him and hoped he'd find relief. Cramps are not fun, and I was lucky I only had what I did.

The rollers came, until we finally crested the final hill and saw our friends! I was so happy, I had tears welling up and a huge smile on my face. Now, it was time to haul to the finish!
Thankfully conditions were dry, so I was able to blast down the hill and around the corner without fear of wiping out. I shifted to an easier gear because you have a surprise climb to the finish. Someone on the sidelines yelled "Go Josie!" Yes for rad women! That made me feel like a superstar for a couple moments- thank you!

Crossing the line with Travis was fabulous. My legs were tired, my muscles in my calves, especially my right one, were so tight. I was relieved to know I could walk and I wouldn't collapse to the ground! (Big worry right there!)

I went to get myself an Angry Minnow Rye IPA, which by the way, tasted awesome. We socialized some with our friends and went to see the results.

I crossed the finish line at 3:10:19...I totally made my first goal a reality and then some.
Officially I was 901 out of 1829 riders
I was 7th out of 16 women in my age group (Last year I was 10th out of 17!)
I was 49th out of 147 women.

I was very proud and surprised- there will be another blog post about my 2018 goals. I came to the realization that I have them, and I have to give myself the chance to attain them. This year was fabulous, but now I have a mission...and for that...I need time.

We met up with Stego and Kenzie. A shower was needed and then, a visit to the local rock & mineral shop! Also...glorious FOOD!!
Supper (early supper) was at Angry Minnow Brewing where I had a BBQ grilled cheese with the most amazing, tender pork and delicious, crispy cheese coating. Again, my plate was annihilated- but I had room for a store-bought mini-pie and some light reading brought to you by Mountain Bike Action magazine. (Yeeeeah!)
Then back to the room for movie watching and chilling the heck out. What. A. Day!!!

Sunday we got up and met Stego and Kenzie for breakfast at the Norske Nook- which I will say the food was excellent and well worth the wait. Then we hit up Seeley Pass for some non-Decorah-style singletrack! We had about an 11 mile ride for our out and back, which I'll admit was plenty for what my legs were feeling like. Then we had our drive home.
I really, really, super really enjoy Chequamegon. Like the Borah Epic I went to this year, everyone is super awesome, friendly, and the event is done well. Hayward and Cable feel almost like a second home! The area is great, there is amazing food to be had, beer to buy, and new friends to make. It's fun, because once you do Chequamegon, you have an "in" with a group of people you don't even know! On the Tuesday prior to Chequamegon we were up in Onalaska and a fellow noticed my Chequamegon sweatshirt and asked if we were going- he had one it about 20 years ago!

Thank you to all the volunteers at Chequamegon who make the event so fun to attend. Your work and dedication is awesome and greatly appreciated.
Thank you to those I meet at Chequamegon, maybe we say hi, maybe we don't- but you're rad. Keep on kickn' ass!

Thank you to Travis for doing the hard part and riding with me, you pushed me, encouraged me, and sacrificed time to stay with me. Who knows what we'll do next year, but at least you got to see me kick Fire Tower's butt!

Thanks to the folks who own businesses in Hayward, Seeley, and Cable. Your hospitality is top notch.

See you in 2018, with bells on!

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