Royal 162

Royal 162
photo by Craig Linder

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rider on the storm: Rapture anxiety and redemption

"Fear not the movement of the heavens above or the earth below, for change is what we are, my child. Righteous are those who look up and sway with the wind, who look down and dance with the shifting soil, who swim with the movement of the tides, who seek the truth around them and discover that we are and have always been in paradise. The reflections of heaven on earth. Amen!"  Reverend Maynard James Keenan-Sour Grapes

This past weekend was a big deal. My oldest son had his seventh birthday, I finally recovered from my efforts at the Royal 162 and the ensuing head cold to get out and do some riding and supposedly, the righteous were to ascend to heaven leaving the rest of us sinners to toil on earth. Here is my recap-

First, I want to say that I love my two sons more than anything. I would endure great pain and suffering to assure their well being. On Saturday, that pain and suffering manifested itself as spending a good part of the day at the Mall of America. I don't like malls period. Much less the grand daddy of all malls, however it was Jackson's wish to visit Legoland and fine dine at the Rainforest Cafe to mark his glorious seven years on this planet. I happily obliged. While there, I began to wonder, is this it? The Rapture? Is this what purgatory is for Brian Hall? Seeing the joy in my kids eyes as they swam through Lego nirvana snapped me back to reality. Still no Rapture.

After kicking it at the mall, I needed to get outside. It had been storming on and off all day, but when I got home the sun was shining with some threatening looking clouds off in the distance. My trusty gravel bike is out of commission for the time being. It gave its all last Saturday in the rain and mud and is now in the stand getting a well deserved overhaul.
Ol' girl cleans up well but still in need of new cables/housings, grease and adjustments

I made some upgrades to my road bike this spring and got it good and light. The thing feels like a rocket and is really fun to ride. I got out for a little over an hour. The rolling thunderheads were fantastic and as the sun got lower in the sky it pierced through breaks in the clouds with beautiful colors. It was an amazing night and as I headed for home, I found myself out of the saddle on a steep climb. For a moment, just a moment, I couldn't tell if my newly built carbon bike was so light that I was floating up the grade or if I was in fact feeling the "lift" towards the heavens. As I crested the hill it became apparent that the sensation was merely gram reduction at play, not the Rapture that so many billboards had promised. Undeterred, I found my way home and enjoyed an incredible sunset over the St Croix river from my front porch with one of Belgium's finest monk produced beverages in hand.

Sunday morning dawned sunny and warm despite forecast for storms all day. My plan was to join the local group ride at the LBS down the street if it wasn't outright pouring. I rolled up at 8:02 and no one was there. Must have just missed them. I was loaded for 4-5 hours on the bike, so I set out on my own despite the dark clouds to the west. I worked my way down the St. Croix river valley until it spills into the mighty Mississip, then continued south along the river and it's dramatic bluffs. There were little bouts of rain, then the sun would break through, plus it was 70F, so it felt luxurious. I would have given just about anything to have had that sun pop out during Royal like it did this day.

Long hours on the bike alone tend to lead toward reflection. With all of the Rapture chatter, I thought of the quote above from one of my favorite artist. I don't believe in heaven or hell, but heaven on earth sums up nicely my little world. I live in my tiny Victorian man-castle with my two beloved sons, have a hot girlfriend, great friends, loving parents and a friendly ex-wife; I'm fit, healthy and pursue that which interests me. As I rode on, the storm raged, and I felt light and exhilarated. The storm tapered off and I glided across a section of brand new, smooth asphalt tucked under a canopy of trees bursting with new green leaves. Looking straight down on the wet road was like looking into a mirror, reflecting everything above, my own little reflection of heaven on earth.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dodging Worms and Rural Midwestern Culture: My Royal 162 Race Report

Friday was hectic to say the least. I wasn't organized and the weather report for Saturday was ever worsening. After throwing everything in the car and dropping my kids off at my parents for the weekend, I headed south to Rochester to pick up my race packet. Being my first time racing in an Almanzo event (hell, this was only my second ever bike race) the rumor was that race director Chris Skogen, puts on a top notch event and his race packets are crafted with loving care. Upon receiving my personal envelope in the crowded bar that was serving as the evenings race headquarters, I quickly left and found a nice, quiet, Greek place and carefully opened it and was not disappointed. Beautiful graphic touches that showed care and craftsmanship. I actually felt bad cramming these elegant cue sheets into my frame bag after I had made all of the turns on the page.
After a great dinner, I checked into my room, got my kit all lined out and hopped in bed. I usually don't have a problem sleeping before a race, but the couple in the next room over were busy well into the night, so I didn't set off on the most rested foot. The morning was cold and damp. Some nervous tension in the parking lot as everyone readied their bikes. Judging by what happened to me and what I witnessed and what I have read from other reports, we collectively went too light in the clothing department. I was packed with enough calories and water to make it through most of the race, knowing there wasn't much of a chance to refuel, but my gloves were woefully inadequate and a warmer layer on top would have been welcome.
We started off at a good pace, not too crazy and it wasn't raining, but the wet gravel instantly coated all but the front rider. Think of adding a lot of water to Portland cement and throwing that mixture through the blades of a fan and riding into it at 20 mph. Regardless, it was great to finally be moving and the riding felt good. The course was beautiful. The leaves in Minnesota really popped in the last week and these gravel corridors snaked through dense forest and the green was vivid! I lost the lead group of 12 or so riders when my front derailleur got stuck in the big ring at the base of a hairpin turn with a big climb. Riders were strung out and there was little pockets of working together, but mostly the chase group was all over the place.
After the first town, I fell into a group with Charlie Farrow and Rob from Rice Lake. We had a nice run of working together, but after the entertaining cyclo-cross section of the course, I ended up popping off the back and riding by myself for pretty much the rest of the day. It had been raining for a while by this point but my spirits were still high and I felt great on the bike. Coming out of the river valley and forest and out into the wide open farmland changed that prospective. There was a constant 20+ mph wind and a cold steady rain. The temps were in the mid 40's and before long my hands really began to suffer. I tried all my ice climbing tricks; swinging my arms to centrifuge the blood into my fingertips, putting my hands inside my jersey on my belly, but the constant rain and wind made it all useless. It got to the point where I couldn't operate the zippers on my frame bag, shift my bike or open my foot wrappers. I had to stop to eat and to change my cue sheets, and when I did, I started shivering uncontrollably. Even when I got back up to speed and had the motor working, I still couldn't stop shivering. I needed to find a place to warm up, but in the meantime, I couldn't stop for any reason. Right around 100 miles into the day, my little oasis presented itself. Tucked into this tiny farm berg, not really a town, but a collection of houses, was a bar.
I must of looked like an alien walking into the dimly lit room, covered in wet limestone silt and shivering, yet the patrons and the bartender treated me like I was their long lost brother. I stayed for 45 minutes eating hot food, drinking coffee and regaining my normal body temp. I answered a lot of questions and in short time felt very much at home despite my muddy intrusion. The bartender even gave me a pair of knit gloves out of her truck! I was blown away. I left a huge tip, gave an even bigger thanks and headed out before I got too comfortable. I was a new man. I had a huge smile on my face as I rode away, and with 60 miles still to ride, I knew without a doubt I would make it.
Just down the road a second oasis appeared. A truck parked on the side of the road with a couple muddy bikes on top and two cold riders inside warming up. I was greeted and offered pizza, wine and coke. I was actually too full from my bar stop to accept anything but a coke to go, but was still very grateful for the thoughtful gesture. Good Nebraska folk!
The rest of the ride is mostly a blur. I kept looking down at my newly acquired knit gloves over my cycling gloves which made me smile. Mostly I remember the worms. The roads were saturated with the constant rain, so the worms were making a mass exodus for the surface. I had empathy for their situation given my grim circumstances earlier in the day. I made every attempt to weave my way in between their outstretched bodies. This and following the cue sheet kept my cold and effort addled mind quite occupied. There were awesome volunteers at the state park, a river crossing up to my knees and passing a handful of riders doing the 100 mile race, but really it was me and my gloves and the worms.
Crossing the finish line was anti-climatic, but very satisfying all the same. I shook Chris's hand, gave thanks for a brilliant challenge and spent the next 40 minutes trying to wriggle out of wet clothes, get into dry ones and get my bike on the car. I was spent.
Stats and gear geekdom- Out of about 60 riders, 25 finished. I was 18th in 13hrs 47min. Winners completed it in 10:43. I rode my Salsa La Cruz Ti with Edge 45 clinchers/35c Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires. 50/34x11/28. Revelate Tangle bag and new version Gas Tank. Awesome rig!
Much praise goes to Chris Skogen for an amazing (free) event that represents the heart and soul of grassroots bike racing. Thank you for all you and the volunteers do to make this happen each year.