Photos courtesy of Skinnyski
Fire Tower Hill...pictures do it no justice.
Another Chequamegon has come and gone. For the last couple of years, I’ve really tried to make this race one of my key races for the year. I’ve really grown to love the event even though it’s not your typical mountain bike race. There are a lot of things to love about the event, the beautiful north woods of Wisconsin, 2,500 mountain bikers from all over the nation, a lakeside cabin and some of my good mountain biking buddies from Des Moines among many other places.
My goal was to better my 10th overall finish from last year, and even though I was pretty adamant that a lesser finish would not be a disappointment, I was a little disappointed with my finish this year. I actually began to feel the disappointment setting in shortly after I hit the transition from Rosie’s Field to the first section of the Birkie. Yep, five miles into the 40 mile race, I knew that it was going to be a struggle.
Back to the start. I rolled up to the start line about 5 minutes before the cannon sounded and slotted myself next to my bro Mikey Phillips. My first major goal of the day was to make the lead break, and the best way to do that is to stay on the wheel of somebody that is always in it. After the cannon went off, Mikey and I were rolling along next to one of the lead ATV’s. There was a tandem next to us with a couple of dudes. The guy in front was pretty chatty with everybody else, which is OK if you can do it and ride in a straight line. This guy could not hold a straight line to save his life. Mikey and I looked at each other with same expression on our faces, just waiting for the tandem to cause the first pile up of the day.
1700 mountain bikers en masse.
As we rolled out of town, the ATV’s took off and I found myself on Jeff Halls wheel. A good place to be, so I did everything that I could to hold it, including shoving a few elbows into a few cats that tried to butt in. As we hit the rise in the road on the approach to Rosie’s, all kinds of hell started to break loose as all kinds of people started to crowd towards the front. I made it into Rosie’s without too much trouble and rode as hard as my legs would allow.
As we approached the Birkie, I could see the lead group starting to form and it was actually within reach…if I’d had good legs. However it became apparent that I had brought the wrong pair of legs with me this year. I tried to go, but my legs said no…no way, not today. I settled into a pace and tried to get myself a little recovered from the effort through Rosie’s Field. I could tell that I had a long line of others behind me as we wound our way through the first section of the Birkie. As we hit a long, super fast downhill, I saw Doug Swanson running across the trail with his bike. I went off line to miss him and as soon I went by him, I heard the metallic sound of bikes clashing behind me. As I started rolling up the next hill, I took a quick look back and saw nobody.
I continued on, pushing the effort thinking that maybe I could bridge my way up to somebody ahead of me. A short while later I took another look back and saw Jesse Lalonde closing in on me. Sweet! My chances of bridging up to the lead group took a huge turn for the better. We rode together for a couple of miles and swapped a few pulls. He asked me if I was good on the flats and I told him that my legs weren’t good for anything today. As we hit the next hill, he swung out from behind me and carried is momentum up the hill and left me for the buzzards. There is a reason that he does so well on singlespeed and I saw one of the many reasons firsthand…momentum.
So I rode alone in no man’s land, with Jesse disappearing into the distance ahead of me, and nobody in sight behind me. I buried my head and did my best to keep the effort going, hoping that I could catch somebody ahead of me rather than be caught from behind. After about five miles of no man’s land, the latter happened as I glanced back to see a long line of what turned out to be about 40 riders bridging up to me. I backed off the effort and about a mile later I was passed by the first guy in line. I quickly jumped on his wheel with intent of staying at the sharp end of the group.
Despite minimal training, Kent Carlson tore it up, placing 6th in the singlespeed class and 83rd overall.
The Eppenators, before they broke a chain and bent a chain ring.
Not having the greatest of days but making the best of it.
Despite the crappy legs, I found it pretty easy to hang near the front of the group. However whenever I took a pull, I was quickly reminded that my good legs were on vacation. So I kept myself in the top five of the group and tried to save myself as much as possible for the climb up Fire Tower Hill. As we approached Fire Tower, I kept hearing the grinding noise of knobby against knobby. One more reason to keep myself near the front of the group. Shortly thereafter, I heard the sound of a skewer rattling into some spokes. It never ceases to amaze me, I can almost understand things like that at the start. However when we’re single file this far into the race, there’s no reason to continually get into somebody’s wheel, and even less of a reason to plow your skewer into the spokes of the wheel ahead of you.
So we hit Fire Tower and I was sitting probably 5th wheel. I locked out both ends of the bike and motored up in my middle ring as hard as my legs would allow. I hit the top without incident, took a quick look back and to my surprise saw nobody near me. So hit the throttle and quickly closed the gap on the group of five ahead of me.
Our group consisted of myself, Michael Simonson, Adam Swank, Ted Hanes, Kelly Magelky and possibly Joe Brzuchanski. We worked together fairly well until we hit the last few miles of the Birkie, which consists of a lot of steep rollers that usually do a pretty good job of breaking up small groups like ours. I had nothing on the short hills and found myself constantly having to bury myself to bridge back up to the group.
I actually felt OK going up Fire Tower.
On the last couple of hills, I gradually lost contact with our group. As we descended onto the finish at Telemark, I closed back up, however it was too late to do anything. I came pretty close to passing Ted, however he saw me coming and held me off.
I ended up finishing 19th overall, good enough for a reserved entry into next years race and 2nd in my age group. Dewey Dickey once again got the best of me and took first place in our age group by a crushing 6+ minute margin. Brian Matter crushed the course record by over 5 minutes and furthered my argument that he is the fastest guy in the Midwest right now. Cole House and Steve Tilford rounded out the top three overall. I did manage to beat my fastest time with a time of 2:10:35, however things like that are pretty meaningless in a mountain bike race as course conditions cause a lot of variance in how fast you can go.
Brian Matter outkicking Cole for the W.
The Eppenators after they broke their chain and bent a chain ring.
Deep in the bowels of the pain cave...
Julie had a pretty epic race, finishing one place behind her goals of a top 50 overall and a top ten in her age group, good for 51st overall and 11th in her age. If she hadn’t hit the deck at mile ten, she would have easily achieved all three of her goals, including a sub three hour finish time. When I caught up to her right after she finished, she had dried up blood running down her arm and a dirt covered face. Despite the blood and dirt, I could still see the smile through all of the dirt and a wonderful smile it was! It was that kind of smile you see when somebody just had a lot fun on their mountain bike.
I could go on and on with other stories about the weekend, and a great weekend it was. In the end, I’m happy with my finish. I can’t complain about a top 20 overall and placing in my age group in a race this big. Julie and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of our cabin mates, Jim and Sally Logan, Ken and Kristin Sherman, Lang Wightman, Brian (Potato Cannon) Benson and John Newell. Good peeps!
Next up is the final race of the Psycowpath series and race #10 of the IMBCS at Lake Manawa State Park in Council Bluffs. The tight, twisty nature of the course lends itself to only a few passing opportunities. Kent McNeill beat me by the width of a tire last year, so I’m hoping that I can return the favor this time around.
Thanks for reading,