Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Triple D Report: Part II

All righty then.....Here is the second, action packed portion of my Triple D event report. You can check out yesterday's post for the pre-event stuff. Warning: Super long post!

Lining up 70 riders
With everyone raring to go, we all lined up for the controlled roll out through the streets of Dubuque. Lance said he wanted to get us over to the Heritage Trail before turning the riders loose.

Dubuque was sleepy and the streets were mostly devoid of cars. It was Sunday morning, after all, and most folks were sleeping in, or at church, or riding in Triple D!

Conditions for the start of the event were "pleasant" for January in Iowa. Bright, sunny skies, a light breeze, and a temperature in the upper teens.

The mood amongst the riders seemed to me to be relaxed and ready to have a great time. I did not detect any nervousness, but I am sure some folks were. Me? I was one of the chill folks. Heck, I even took a pull off of eventual second place finisher, "Spinner" Reyerson's flask of blackberry brandy to set the mood right. Folks around me in the waiting line to roll out were talkative and seemed to be of like mind to me.

The congregation of the "Church of the Fat Bike"
So with a hearty cry from the riders and the  lonely clang of a single cowbell we set off on our 65 mile journey at a little after 10am. The pace was relatively easy on our way northwards through the streets. Some folks on porches and stoops stood aghast as we rolled by with a loud roar from the Larrys, Endos, and the few Husker Du and Nate tires in the field.

I was chatting up race organizer, Lance Andre, as we rolled along. I asked him how fat bikes had been growing in popularity, since he is rather close to the scene. He mentioned how at the beginning of the Triple D, the fat bike was rare, but in the last year, he said the fat bikes had "exploded in popularity". He attributed this mostly to the followings that Salsa Cycles and Surly Bikes has, and the introduction by both companies of affordable, good quality fat bike rides.

I asked Lance then if this was the biggest fat bike gathering in Iowa ever. He replied that it might be one of the biggest fat bike gatherings ever overall, but certainly in Iowa. That was pretty impressive to me. I was honored just to be a part of that. Then Lance suddenly realized we were fast approaching the point where he wanted to turn us loose, so he bolted off to the front to bark out some final instructions.

This was a lot harder than it looks.
We started out on a snow covered bicycle trail. It had about 4 inches of unconsolidated snow on it, the consistency of flour. If you didn't pay attention to holding a line, setting your weight back, holding loosely to the bars, you were swapping ends and maybe even hitting the deck, like one rider did in this early portion.

This part found me within easy sight of the front. I was probably about 20-25 riders back, and I felt good about this part of the event. We were not going at some infernal pace, burning up all my matches in the process. Not the case in most events, no matter their length, but Triple D is very different. I would find this out in a little bit.

In a little while we were obliged to squeeze through a narrow gap and into an open area on snowmobile trails. These were heavily traveled by snowmobiles, but they weren't packed in. They were tough to navigate, and I tried scoring the wheel tracks of anyone on a Moonlander around me. Those tracks were easier for my "skinny" Larry 3.8"ers to find support in. The trouble was, there were some really skinny tired mountain bikers in the field and they were swapping ends and cutting up the trail so badly in spots that it was tough to find a good line this far up the field.

Then we were obliged to ascend a really steep climb that separated us and strung the field way out. Up along a highway now and the climbs were unrelenting. These were at pitches like those of a house rooftop, and with the snow, it was like trying to push your bike through dry beach sand. The sun was unrelenting, and riders were stopping to peel off layers, hats, and gloves. This included myself. I took off my gloves at this point and didn't put them back on until sundown!

After this we were going along wide open stretches of land dotted with industrial buildings and a few farms. The land looked easy enough, but the grass was deeper and hid more snow than it looked. This was a difficult section. You could maybe ride the flats, and certainly anything that went down hill, but riding up any incline on this stuff was so power-sapping that you were better off walking it.

I found myself amongst three or four riders that I was trading places with back and forth here. Once in a while we would over take a rider or two, and then a couple riders would pass us back if we paused at the top of a climb. This dance went back and forth until we reached a road which then got us to another "open range" area, as Lance had described it.

A rider approaching a snowmobile bridge
This section was a new section of private land that went around a dairy farm, crossed a creek, and several of these snowmobile "bridges".

These were erected to get snowmobiles over fence lines and other smaller obstacles like stream run-offs. They were basically "tee-pees" of wood or steel rod with large gaps between the runners of the bridge so that larger animals like cows could not get across them. The gaps weren't wide enough to stop fat bike tires, so you could ride over these if you kept your speed up and held your line. The front of my titanium bike felt like it was about to be sheared off by these bridges! There were several of these crossings in this sector of the course.

After wending our way along a stream valley, we slowly crawled out and upwards to a steep climb that had everyone around me walking at this point. Somehow, I passed about four guys here, just pushing along! Then, as we hit the paved road a couple of these guys passed me back. I was yo-yoing back and forth with a fella on a Pugsley Neck Romancer in this section. He was telling me about the gnarly, icy B Road descent coming up, and just before he dove in, he said, "It's nothing but glare ice down here!". Turns out it was most likely just something to psyche me out, since he was gone, and I never saw him again. He ripped through while I was cautious. It was like a rolling, twisting flume with a few ruts that ran down the trail and guided you downward. Sure- there was some ice at points, but it wasn't anything to fret over, as long as you weren't silly enough to ride right in the groove filled with ice.

This was what the Heritage Trail looked like for most of the way.

Well, it was only a short little jaunt over to the Heritage Trail where we would spend the rest of the ride. The technical, crazy hard stuff was over. I said to myself, "That was the knock-out punch, and I am still riding." I felt good yet, I was under control, riding my own pace, and holding my own.

As I entered the Heritage Trail, I saw a few racers up ahead, and I set off to bridge the gap to the first. I passed and then on to the second one. I sat on his wheel for a bit, but he was slower than I wanted to go, so I found a good place to pass and went onward for the third rider. Sticking my front tire in a groove and getting my weight off the front tire was key. If you weighted the tire too much you were fighting the front end, and swapping ends.

It wasn't long before I was up to the next rider, but something was different. He was going at a nice, steady pace, and as I set in on his wheel, I felt I should stay and work with him. He noticed me back there and asked if I wanted around him. I said no- it was good. We struck up a conversation that took us the rest of the way into Dyersville. Turns out his name is Craig, and he is signed up to do T.I.V8 this year. He was riding a fixed gear Pugsley, and was one of two fixed gear riders in the field.

A little detour around a bridge that was blocked off presented a quick down and up that saw me take a little tumble into some sticker weeds, but no harm done. I was back riding with Craig, and we came into Dyersville with the wind at our backs at about 3:45 to the Checkpoint.

Sunset over the Heritage Trail at the Girl Scout Road intersection.

You folks quick with numbers will note that it took me five and three quarters hours to go 30 some miles. Yes- it was hard going! And I was still in at 24th place at the time. Not too shabby for an older guy with a messenger bag!

The checkpoint was at Chad's Pizza where the Triple D had provided free food, drink, and a warm environment to enjoy all of that in. I decided before entering that I would make as short of work at this stop as possible. I felt good. I thought I could finish, and I was wanting to get after it as soon as possible.

I ate a slice of pizza, well salted, and then immediately got up to attend to my bottles and to use the restroom. My plan had me grabbing another slice of pie on the way out, however, about twenty guys piled in right on my heels, and swept all the food offerings up. I looked around, grabbed a bunch of saltine cracker packets from the salad bar, and headed for the door. My plan was to get back to the entry point we made onto the Heritage Trail before I stopped again. That was about ten miles down the road. It would mark the two thirds distance point, close enough, for the entire route.

The course was scenic
Craig must have felt my vibe and wanted in on it. He was hurriedly getting his stuff together to leave with me from Dyersville. We headed out and onto the open stretches of Heritage Trail where there was little snow, and also little shelter from a very steady, strong head wind.

I was leading, and I set a pace/cadence I felt I could maintain, but was still pushing the limits a bit. I was going with as much of a crouch as I could muster on a fat bike, and still watching my line where I needed to. I looked over my left shoulder at the long shadows from the swiftly lowering sun. I didn't see Craig's "right there" on my wheel. Hmm..... I took a quick look back, and he was about ten to fifteen yards behind me, but I wasn't going to back off my pace, because I was set in a good rhythm. I had to concentrate on keeping a balance between working too hard and losing ground. It wasn't easy, I had no computer, and no way to really gauge my progress except for the next guy up the trail that I could see.

This went on for about six miles. When I had passed a guy, I looked back and couldn't see Craig anymore. I wouldn't see him again until he finished later in the evening. I passed another young man on a Snow Blind Pugsley, and then I could see a blinky light about a quarter mile up the trail. I set my sights on that, and now with the sheltered trail blocking the wicked head wind, I went into time trial mode for the Girl Scout Road intersection.

That's a good place to stop for now. I'll finish this up tomorrow!


Steve Fuller said...

You were quicker than you thought G-Ted. You were into Chad's pizza about 2:45 PM, not too long before I left.

Ari said...

Great Job! I really love those images you posted.

Craig said...

Actually the name is Craig, although Don seems appropriate given my Quixotic quest. I've certainly been called worse, although I'd never admit that to a friend of mine who is named Don ;-)

Thanks for the conversation out there and great job on your first winter ultra. It's certainly one of the tougher ways to earn a metric.

Jerry said...

it was great to see you again Mark. Lance puts on a great event.

do you still have my light?

Guitar Ted said...

@Craig: Ooops! Sorry! I'll change the names to protect the innocent!

@Jerry: I gave the light to Meg, so hopefully it is back in Northfield. If not let me know and I'll pay for another for you. Thanks for loaning it to me!

Jerry said...

thanks Mark. I can track Meg down. If she doesn't cough it up, I'll take the value in parts from her husband. I figure that light must be worth a set of Husker Dus.

it's funny to read you were trying to follow BFL tracks. I was as well. I was trailing Adam from IA city for quite a while. his wide tires made those fields a bit easier to navigate.

MrDaveyGie said...

oh ya, it certainly does feel good to be part of one of the largest gathering of Fatties. Keep on rolling.

Small Adventures said...

Awesome report,Mark,and an awesome read my friend-good show!