Joanna and I woke up early on Saturday and hit the breakfast buffet in our hotel before heading over to the lodge for the race start. I had picked up my number plate at Gabby's the night before, so all I had to do was grab a few ties to attach it to my bike. As Joanna went over to speak to the organizers about where she'd be (and to grab her volunteer t-shirt!), I decided to ride around a bit and check out the scene.
The first thing I noticed was that this year's group seemed to be lacking in some of the insanity that was everywhere in 2012. For one thing, there was a noticeable lack of costumes compared to last year. I mean, sure, Unicorn Guy was there, and so was a barbarian (who would later win the belt) and a few cowboys and girls. But there were many more folks in full kit and a few who were unmistakably there to race. And that was fine - they could have the line if they wanted it. For my part, I was there to enjoy the opportunity to ride some awesome trails, meet some cool people, and have a few beers at the rest stops.
At about 9:30, we had the pre-race meeting and were told to place our bikes in the field just down the narrow singletrack section from the lodge. I tried to put my bike someplace where I'd find it, headed back to the lodge, listened to the national anthem, and then we were off. I was in no hurry, knowing that running hard at the beginning would be stupid since we were going to hit the first long climb almost immediately. So I semi-jogged along, grabbed my bike and followed a guy on a fatbike up the trail toward the first rocky climb.
Sure enough, it was impossible to make the climb without walking -- even if I could ride it, it wouldn't have mattered because there were a bunch of other riders walking all over the place. So hike-a-bike it was.
|Top of the first climb|
I flew down the side of the bluff was dumped out on a side street to connect to the next section of trail. I found myself riding with a group of riders from all over - one guy was a local transplanted to Seattle, a few were from the midwest, and one guy was from right down the road. We just kind of flowed along and eventually reached the very steep descent down the power line run into the first rest-stop. I'd reached the area a bit earlier than I thought I would, and really didn't feel like my stomach was ready for a beer (I know -- lightweight!) so I kept rolling on. I guess most of the others agreed with me as our little group pretty much stuck together on the road section that brought us across Route 14 for the first time.
After crossing the highway, I found myself riding with the local guy as we hit the base of the long fire-road climb. I didn't know anything about where were headed, but as we turned onto the road, a lady standing by the side said, "Enjoy the rocks up there!" I turned to the guy I was riding with and said, "I don't mind the rocks ... I'm more concerned about what she means by 'up there'!" But that was definitely accurate -- the next five miles or so were pretty much all up.
It was on this section that I encountered my first real "racer" of the day -- I had ridden ahead of the other guy before the top and was riding with a few guys when a girl in a full Metal kit started yelling for us to let her pass. She was on a mission and we just let her go. At the top of the long climb, we hit a brand new and very loamy section of singletrack that turned in and back on itself again and again for about two miles. I've never been a big fan of loamy trails -- they just suck the life out of me as I seem to spend half my time just trying to keep my wheels from sliding out. This one was just like that -- everything was off-camber and I even managed to go over the bars at slow speed when I got my rear wheel wrapped around a tree branch somehow.
Eventually, we exited this section and then started down this really narrow and wickedly fast descent with a few tight 180 degree switchbacks thrown in. That was one of my favorite sections of the entire day, and I was sad that it wasn't longer. When I popped out on the road below, I actually managed to miss the arrow and went about half a mile off-course. After I backpedaled and got back on track, I swung through a small section that dropped me out at the second rest stop, and as soon as I stopped, I was handed a beer and one of the other guys I'd been riding with gave me his flask for a whiskey shot. I hung out for a bit and chatted with the other riders. It was tough to get moving again -- it was getting warmer at that point and that beer went down really smooth.
But I knew there were more waiting for me at the end, and in that frame of mind, I started back up the loose dirt road climb. The top of the climb put us back on the fire road we'd climbed earlier and I started down it bearing in mind that I had to stick to the right as there were still some riders heading up. I'd gotten behind some of the other guys I'd been riding with when I took the wrong turn, and I caught up to the guy I'd started to the whole climb with near the bottom of the descent. We rode together back across the highway and back to the first beer stop/aid station. I had another beer there and hung out for a bit before starting back up the long and nasty power line climb. On the hike-a-bike climb, I fell in with two other PA boys -- Montana Miller and Rob Lochner. The hike took a long while, but we eventually popped out on the road and were directed to continue straight into the neighborhood. A few turns later, I was back on some trail and headed for the big descent of the day (but first, I'd have to climb the sandy, loose section to get to the top of the bluff.)
|A view of the bluff from the road below.|
As I came through the lodge area, I could see a couple riders were already in -- that was fast! My Garmin was reading just over 3 hours, and there were still another 9 miles or so for me. So I headed on up the climb and was feeling pretty good, but then I hit my only real snag of the day. My saddle bag kept unclipping and falling off. I stopped a couple of times to re-clip it, but eventually, just before I reached the top, I gave up on that and took it off altogether and shoved it in my rear pocket. That made it easier, especially knowing I had the rocky descent coming up.
And I hit the descent full throttle.
I never intended to race anything, but to be honest, I was just feeling really good. And since I'm from the east, where rocks are the order of the day for just about every ride, I knew I'd have no issue on that descent even with my rigid fork. I flew down the rocks and hit the fast rolling doubletrack that led to the finish going all out. I came across the line with a huge smile on my face -- a screaming descent is how every race should end!
After I finished, I hung out for a bit, had few beers (okay, maybe about four or so) and then headed back up the road to see Joanna, who was still at her post at the bottom of the steep descent. I hung out with her for a bit and then as she was getting ready to leave, I headed back to the lodge one last time for another beer. After that, Joanna was ready to head back to the hotel, and I wasn't against the idea myself, thinking that a nice hot shower would be perfect right then.
We missed the after party in favor of a full dinner in town, which was okay by me this year because I knew that we had to be up really early for the long drive back to Chicago the next morning.
In the end, this year's SSUSA was one of my all time favorite rides. I had so much fun riding the awesome trails in Minnesota -- they really had a little bit of everything. The 29nsngl guys really outdid themselves on the event. And once again, I left thinking that there was no way I'd miss next year's event (in Copper Harbor, Michigan.) It's been a year full of ups and downs, but this was definitely one of the biggest ups. The combination of having Joanna there with me (and involved in the event!), the awesome trails, and the always-fun laid-back party vibe, this was as much fun as I've had on a bike in a really long time. I met some new folks, had some good beers, and the whole travel-with-my-bike thing went off without a hitch. As far as vacations go, they should all be this good!