Friday, October 5, 2018

Race Day Adventures: 2018 Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival

When the calendar flipped to September, I proceeded to tick off the boxes leading up to the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. I needed this weekend as a short vacation away from life and responsibility. I craved time away, a weekend to spend time with friends and ride my bike. To push myself differently than I've had to push myself this year- which has been far more mental/emotional than physical. I knew going into Chequamegon I would be asking myself a lot. Training rides weren't able to happen, instead, I spend days down at my Dad's property. The work I did down at his place wore me out differently than days on the bike. I would say that this was my least active riding year to date- something I'm embarrassed by, yet at the same time, I had a tendency of burning myself out with riding too much. Maybe, just maybe, I'd find a happy medium somewhere.

The drive up to Hayward was wonderful, completely predictable, and highly enjoyable. The sun was shining, traffic was easy enough to handle, and I enjoyed seeing the start of fall colors peeking out. I like to call them "Party Trees"....mostly green but with a bright hue of red or yellow peeping out.

Pulling into Hayward feels like we're pulling into our second home- I get excited every time. We stopped at the grocery store close to our motel location so I could go about the joyful activity of procuring some non-Iowa beers. Pulling into the parking lot, we parked next to a vehicle that had a fancy Specialized Chisel, and what looked to be the limited-run of the Super Light Specialized S-Works Epic.

Yes, we totally love looking at cool bikes. Even tho, with our vehicle you would never know what we had for our two-wheel rigs as they were hiding. Shoot.

After securing my beverage purchase, we checked into our humble motel, which to my happiness had far better internet in our room than years prior! That was a welcome treat to be sure.

We waited for our friends, Stego and Kenzie to get into town, so we took some time to unpack and relax for a bit. Sitting in a truck for several hours is fairly tiring, that's for sure. After everyone was somewhat unpacked and settled, we went to registration.

While in line at registration, I saw someone who looked like someone I will be featuring on Josie's Bike Life soon, but I didn't feel confident with calling out "Hey, Becky!"
So, I kept taking a side glance and wondering to myself "Should I? I should, shouldn't I?"
Nope. Chickened out.
Went to scope some of the merch and wouldn't you know? She was there, too. I just started to pull up Facebook on my phone when she asked "Josie?" Ha! That was a fun moment. It was super awesome to meet someone who I'll feature on my blog, as it truly doesn't happen as often as I'd like.
After chatting with Becky for a bit, we went to the Borah stand to say hello to Tad. Oh, Tad! He's such a great fellow and I feel so awful for the flood damage rehab he and his wife are dealing with. That didn't stop Tad's face from showering us with a big, beautiful smile as he pulled out his custom Decorah Bicycles sparkle jersey! That jersey, dang! It matched perfectly to his Specialized Epic. Very nice!

We then made our way to Sawmill Saloon, as those delightful little potato barrels were calling my name for the second year in a row. I opted for a very "safe" meal of Chicken Strips...and let me tell you, with the Sawmill Sauce they were fabulous!

Travis and I made the decision to call it a night early, to ensure we would have plenty of time to sleep. (In other words, plenty of time to possibly attempt to sleep, if sleeping before a race happens for me.) Surprisingly, I was able to fall asleep and stay asleep, until my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. to which had us with the unfortunate discovery of thunder, lightning, and rain.
Lots of rain.

We waited until the weather calmed before we went and snagged some breakfast sandwiches from Kwik Star. I don't have the best pre-race appetite, so something is better than nothing, and a little something is better than getting sick from too much.

Eventually, we took our chance and drove over to the start- found a place to park the truck so our friends could find it, and put our bikes in our start gate. I had this big ol' goofy smile on my face as we rode our bikes over. "It's race day!" We crossed our fingers that the next round of rain wouldn't bring strong winds and knock our bikes over. We had to sit under a canopy for awhile, to wait for the rain to lesson and not have us be completely soaked.

Once back at the motel, we took our time getting changed and I took extra time to get myself pumped up for what I expected to be, a slightly wet Chequamegon. I mean, it couldn't be any worse than my first Chequamegon, could it? Nah.

It was now time to head on over to the start and count down the minutes before we would get to roll out. Word on the street was that if you liked mud, you'd be delighted over the course conditions. It evaded me as to how much rain (total) was had; all I knew was it would be wet. Okay. I can handle wet. I can handle mud. Bring it.
Next thing I knew, we were rolling out and down the street- everyone was cheering and whooping as riders went by. You were surrounded with the sounds of vibration from the bike tires rolling around you. It makes me radiate with excitement!

Now, in true Josie fashion, I find the rest of the race a blur. I know Rosie's Field, but after that, until I get to the Pirate Hill and Fire Tower, I'm lost. I just ride!

Of course, the first big puddle I sloshed through, threw mud up under my sunglasses and got in my eye. A concern Travis had, and one I didn't...ultimately to be proven wrong. Oh my gosh. My race is thwarted from literal mud in my eye. "How did I do this in 2016?"
Eventually, I blinked enough to clear it, but it became a silent concern of mine the rest of the race.

My knee was fairing okay, surprisingly, but I found myself feeling like I was pedaling though brownie batter. Gravel roads seemed to grab my tire and prevent me from rolling easily. What's going on? Why do I feel so slow?

Travis asked at one point if my knee was bothering me. "No....it's fine."
"Well, are we going to go any faster?"
I didn't know what to say. Other than I couldn't go any faster. I was on the tail end of my period. I had 40 miles to ride. My body felt like I was pushing it through a slog. No. I'm not going to go faster "right now." I might later, but it takes a while for me to warm up and I don't want to blow my body up halfway in.

It was a struggle, that's for sure. I know part of it was not having much for base miles and the other part was the conditions. Aside from my body and the mud, things were going well, that is until my chain dropped. I am not sure where I was on the course, but I remember being surrounded by trees and was riding uphill. All of a sudden, I could pedal but not go anywhere- I looked down to see my chain had come off the front. "What?!"

I may not be nimble and quick, but I can get my chain back on. I moved off to the side, looking up to see where Travis was. He was gone. No idea where he was or how far he was either. I'm grateful for the person who rode by and knew who I was and asked if I was okay. I let them know I had dropped my chain- they told Travis who was further up ahead. I caught up, my chain dropped again. Damnit! So we got it back on and rode some more...until we had come down a bigger hill and it bounced off again. This time, no matter how many times we tried it kept falling off. Powers of deduction concluded because of the narrow/wide structure and the chain so covered in grit and debris, it couldn't fully go down on the teeth. So, our backup hydration- Skratch in water bottles, was used to rinse my chain off. Magic! Here we go!

We made our way to the Pirates. I was going to have my shot of rum no matter what.
I grabbed my rum and lost my line. So imagine Josie riding one-handed, into a rut, and proceeding to ride uphill through that rut. The pirates went wild! I got a helpful butt-push out of the rut, and I was once again on level ground; then I drank my rum.

I was shocked that I rode one-handed that long! Ha! It is definitely a weakness of mine.

The only negative, "poo poo" comment that irked me was when we were riding some of the muddy hills towards Fire Tower. The first lineup, many were walking, but I was able to keep my bike going and pedal through the sludge. A fellow asked "What? Are you going to win this?"
I was in my own zone, so I didn't realize how potentially irked he could've been to have a woman ride by him instead of walk.
"If I can ride it, I'm going to ride it."
He said something about catching up with me later on, and I pretty much was like "Okay! Sounds good!"

The next hill I ended up walking, a good line wasn't had and it wore me out to try. I could feel cramps threatening my calves. Oh great...That is why I try to keep riding.
Eventually, I got to where I could ride again and we rode until we reached the start of Fire Tower.

Fire Tower...
I love the sign "Rocky Danger Hill!"...it makes me think of those funny animal memes, like a snake being a "Nope Rope."
Photo Credit: Kelly Randolph
Fire Tower was a "Nope" this year. I didn't have it in me to try and figured it would exhaust me further if I did. Just about everyone was on foot, and to try and get a good start in the mud wasn't going to happen. My calves were burning, but I kept trudging. Eventually, I got to a point where I decided I could trudge faster, so I scampered as fast as I could under the circumstance.

Exiting Fire Tower was a sense of relief, but damn did my calf start cramping. There was a solid "Oh Shit" moment where I started smacking my leg. I started drinking Skratch mix and eating what non-dissolved salt tabs I could. Please, please, please, don't let this get worse!
I was shocked to find the cramp reduce, and then go completely away. Thank goodness!

I ended up swearing really loudly ONE time the entire time- we had just started on some of the grassy rollers towards the end when a big fat stick decided to be friends with my rear derailleur.
I halted to a stop...."Are you f*cking kidding me?!" Seriously. If I'm not dropping chains, I'm flirting with ripping my derailleur off?  This race was throwing down, that's for sure. It was like going out to my dad's to find out the electrical wasn't up to code and he needed a new septic system...What next?
I remember cresting the hill where our Decorah friends were hanging out. I totally teared up, because it meant I was truly close to the finish! I could be done with this race that had not one, but zero Hallmark Movie moments in it. As Travis and I crossed the line, I was on the verge of breaking down into tears. This year has been (to date) the most challenging year I ever encountered (in life). I've had to go through a lot, grow a lot and deal with a lot.

Biking is my therapy, and I've had less of that this year than ever.
Chequamegon basically took the mental/emotional aspects of my year and put them in a physical form. I had to work hard at something I wasn't ready for, I had to mentally overcome my own self-doubts. I had to deal with 5 or so chain drops, which is the most for mechanical issues I've ever had during a race.

Crossing the finish line meant more to me than just finishing a race as it seemed to really represent what my life is currently going through. There will be a finish line. It is possible, even if I come in unprepared if I keep at it- I'll get it done.

Travis was kind enough to rinse my bike, and I went off to the side so I could be out of the way. I ended up conversing with a fellow who had bought a helmet for his daughter a few weeks ago.
We both had attended Chequamegon the same number of years consecutively, and we both agreed this was the worst one condition-wise.

I met up with the Pirates, got a photo op, and more of that delicious rum concoction (I must learn what it is!)
I chatted with Stephanie over at Trek, a rad woman who I met at Trek World a few years ago.

I finally made my way back to Travis and decided to go in and look at the results. I totally didn't care where I ended up. I was shocked to see I was 10th in my age group! Holy cow! With 5 or so dropped chains, even. I was totally surprised and frankly, happy with the end result. Sure, it wasn't a great ending time, but I showed perseverance and determination throughout it all.

On the way out, I got to say hi to Courtney Norman! This time, I was kind of a creeper and as I was biking by, I saw her and decided to be a brave soul and say hi (and hoped really hard I wasn't having a case of mistaken identity). It was great to get a hug, even to I was head-to-toe covered in mud!

A shower was the most welcome thing, tho rinsing the clothes, shoes, and Camelbak came first. You bet I had a shower beer! We went to Frankie's, which I felt the pull of boneless chicken wings and opted to go that route for post-race nosh. I had to try the fried macaroni triangles, too. Oh my gosh! It was delicious.
Back to the motel, eventually to bed, and awake the next day to go on an out-and-back ride on part of the Makwa trail. Before riding, we had to find breakfast, and we went to Hayward Family Restaurant, where I had a delightful Eggs Benedict. Originally we were going to go to Norske Nook, but they weren't open for the day, and we were a group of early risers. I might be easy to please, but I thought it was great food and left very full.
For the ride, I led for some of the time, and then we had Kenzie take the reigns. She did an amazing job! I remember the first time I was told to lead on the Makwa trail, the feelings I had of "Oh my gosh, what's out there....will I get lost? Aaah!" I knew Kenzie would do a fine job, and that she did.
It's a treat to ride something different than our local trails, let go of the brakes and really gain speed. Oh, fun!

After our ride, it was time to head back to Iowa.
A long drive filled with conversation, old rock and roll, and sunshine.
Travis admitted my pace was fine, that I knew how to better pace myself than he would have. Especially given the conditions, this year, he felt worn out, too. (I bet not as worn out as I was!)
We'll see you again, Chequamegon. You were a doozy, but 2018 has been too. On that note, I look forward to bringing my game next year. Cheers!

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