Friday, January 23, 2015

Racing at Home

Stoked to be on my homecourt! / Photo: Neil Washburn
As I said in my last post, I love traveling to races! I'm going to go ahead and say the exact opposite in this post: I love staying home to race!!

After spending hours on the road and either staying at friend's houses or motels, it's nice to wake up in my own bed and to go somewhere familiar to race. Grand Rapids is super saturated with a bunch of different fat bike racing opportunities: in a good way!!! It's really amazing to live in a place where there is a different place to ride your bike every night of the week, no matter what the conditions... during the WINTER! Isn't this supposed to be the "off season" for bicycle shops? I have to laugh every time I think about that, because I feel like I'm busier when there's snow on the ground! With the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series, Michigan Fat Bike Series, Short's Brewing Fat Bike Series, and a bunch of other weekly fat bike events like the Thursday Throwdown at Koetsier's Greenhouse... you don't have to go far to really enjoy riding fat! Plus, there's indoor spin classes at the Ada Bike Shop every Tuesday night, and plenty of gravel to ride if groomed fat bike trails aren't for you (but why wouldn't they be?) I'm beginning to sound like a super annoying record on repeat, but we are so lucky to live in West Michigan and so lucky to be surrounded by such awesome and ambitious cycling community members that organize stuff like this!

After traveling for the last couple of fat bike races, I was really looking forward to the Brewery Vivant Farmhand Fat Bike Race at Cannonsburg Ski Hill on January 10th. This was the fourth year in a row that the Farm Team had put on this race, and it's been incredible to see how this race has grown each year. The first year they held this race, it was at the Farmer's orchard off of Lake Michigan drive. I "raced" duo with a coworker and I don't think I've ever laughed so hard or fallen so hard while riding a bicycle. (I also wore my roller derby helmet!)
The inaugural Farmer's Fat Bike Race - 2011
Since then, the race has been held at Cannonsburg Ski Hill. There's beer, food, and snowboarders who look inquiringly at our giant tires. I love everything about this race! This year especially we had some incredibly hecklers! Some goofballs from Velocity USA came out with a boom box to pump up the jams, there was a yeti spotted out in the woods, and the best part about the whole race: lots and lots of familiar faces from Grand Rapids Bicycles! Big, big kudos to all of the new fat bike riders out there that had battled the ski hill for 3 hours - that trail turned to mush and that single track was hard! I made it out of the Farmhand Fat Bike race alive, but with bruises on my knees and thighs from whacking myself on different parts of the bike while dabbing downhill. My crowning moment of glory during the race? Cheering on Jenny Scott and making an awesome snow angel on the side of the trail as I tried to pass her. My boots got stuck in my pedals and I laid on the ground squirming while she laughed at me. It was awesome! I was still pretty exhausted from the Tuscobia 150 the weekend before, but I couldn't miss my favorite fat bike race of the year! So happy I didn't let my tired legs keep me from having a really fun time.
The Farmhand start / Photo: Neil Washburn
Yeti love at the finish line / Photo: Neil Washburn
Myself, Chelsea Strate, Danielle Musto, April Morgan, Kim Thomas / Photo: Tom Morgan
The next day after the Farmhand Fat Bike race was a Fun Promotions event at Pando Ski Hill. Another race less than a half an hour drive away from my house?! Yes! When I woke up Sunday morning and felt like I had been hit by a bus, I almost wanted to bail from the race... but that darn stubborn voice in the back of my head kept saying, "it'll be fun! it'll be fun!" Luckily, Danielle Musto and I had already agreed to race duo, so instead of riding through mush for 2 hours we'd each only be riding through mush for 1 hour! Plus, Chelsea Strate had partnered with Eric Fredrickson from Salsa to race against us. There's no bailing allowed when you wake up to a snarky text message on race day!!
Unlucky Chelsea crashed at my place all weekend
Pando was just as mushy as the Ski Hill. I was happy to have to ride up that ski hill only three times! Danielle and I were able to take first place in the duo category, with Chelsea and E Fred hot on our tails. My parents had made it out to Grand Rapids for the weekend, and it was neat to be able to bring them as my pit crew. I don't think I drank any water while I was riding, but they cheered, held my jacket, and were really excited to meet my fat biking friends. So glad they were able to make it!

Dad, me, Mom, Danielle, E Fred, Chelsea
Cuties on the duo podium!
I was also able to get a taste of the Thursday Throwdown at Koetsier's Greenhouse since I haven't had to taper down for a race this weekend. Last night was incredibly icy and I took each turn as gingerly as I possibly could, especially after hearing that Danielle had slipped around one of the corners! I found myself really wishing that I had put studs on my 45NRTH Dillingers; while simultaneously being super stoked that I had finally been able to get my Sarma Naran's built and put on my Beargrease. Now I see what all the carbon fiber ruckus was about!! Those wheels are F U N ! Lightweight, super snappy, little rockets on the climbs... those things are going to be awesome next weekend at the City of Lakes Loppet! Dan helped me set them up as tubeless, and that's a whole other fat bike thing I'm looking forwards to becoming more familiar with! Last year I was really nervous to go tubeless because I was afraid of the stan's freezing in cold weather, or of getting a flat and somehow having the fluid explode all over me and then I'd freeze and get hypothermia... seriously every wacky, asinine scenario played out in my mind about going tubeless on my fat bike! So far so good though. So far I'm sold! The bead lock on those Sarma rims is pretty stinkin' tight. I don't think I'll be having any problems. :)
How cool is it that we get to drink beers and talk about fat bikes inside of Koetsier's Greenhouse?!
That starting shoot was icy! / Photo: Michael Mielock
I'm not planning on racing this weekend and am really looking forward to finding some friends to do some local rides with. Sunday GRBC is hosting a group ride from the Fulton location at 11:30am, which should be a ton of fun because it involves some of my favorite coworkers, bikes, and brews. I've been holding on to my Brewery Vivant growler and freefill from the Farmhand fat bike race for this very occasion. ;)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Holy Wah! - Tuscobia 150

Holy wah!!! Where to even start about the crazy adventure that is the Tuscobia 150?!

Bike trip!!!
Traveling to and from a race is sometimes always just as exciting as the race itself! I feel like I'm getting away with something a lot of the time when I'm traveling for a race, because I get to see new places and I get to check out cool things along the way. It's a good excuse for a partial vacation. New restaurants, seeing friends and making new ones, climbing on top of 200ft tall ski jumps... it all adds to the adventure and the allure of racing for me. I definitely got away with a lot of things while on the way to Park Falls, Wisconsin for the Tuscobia 150. The way home was a totally different story! I'll say it again: Holy wah!!!

The Tuscobia 150 started at 6:00am on Friday, January 2nd. Which meant Dan and I were on the road for New Year's Eve. I was so so so happy that Dan was able to come with me for this race because 1) I enjoy his company. A lot. 2) I had never done a winter ultra before and I was afraid of being stranded out in the wilderness. 3) It's always a relief to have a mechanic with you when you're traveling so far for a race 4) I wouldn't have to make the entire drive by myself or stay in creepy motels by myself. 5) This meant I got to kiss him at midnight. ;)

We stopped in Escanaba for the night at the Hiawatha Motel a half hour before midnight and were able to pop some champagne just in time! Happy 2015 everyone; we had no idea what was in store for the beginning of the new year!!

On our way to Park Falls, Wisconsin, we ran into I climbed on top of some really cool things:

Boat yard in Escanaba
Boats, boats, boats!
The world's tallest wooden ski jump

Conquered! - I slid down it on my tush!
Iron Mountain, Michigan
Trying to see some bats...
We made it to Park Falls in time for the gear check and for the rider's meeting. Most rider's meetings I've been to are about 10 or 15 minutes in length... this one went on for forever! The race promoters were very strict about making sure the racers had the correct amount of reflective material and lights while out on the trail. The Tuscobia State Trail is a snowmobile trail, and I guess the DNR has been weary of other people out on the trail due to the snowmobilers traveling at high speeds. By the end of the rider's meeting, Dan and I were feeling very warm from being crammed in such a small room with so many people in it, very tired, and very scared of the snowmobiles!
Slightly nervous that I would become a Jill-cake on the Tuscobia State Trail
We left after the meeting to go back to the hotel room to scramble for extra lights and batteries and to cover my bike in more reflective tape. I wouldn't be riding my Salsa Beargrease in the Tuscobia 150... I would be riding a carbon fiber UFO. ;)
Last minute check-over of the UFO
The morning came so fast! I felt like I had just laid down when the alarm started ringing. I will say it a million times after every bike race: Dan is amazing. Not only does he make sure my bikes are working in tip top shape, but he gets up to eat breakfast with me at 4am. Then he drove me to the race start and waited for me the entire race, answering frantic "How is Jill doing?! Why did her tracker stop?!" texts from my friends and family, despite not talking to me for the entire 25 hours that it took me to race ride the entire 150 miles. On top of all of that, he was also at the finish line waiting to see me cross-eyed and goofy from spending so much time on my bike in the cold. Like I said, he's amazing.
Race start!
Holy Wah! The Tuscobia 150 reminded me a lot of when my friend Emma and I rode bikes around Lake Superior back in 2012: super stoked to do it and slightly ignorant to the difficulties that would arise. It was mentally a really tough first winter ultra.Weeks now after the race and there's still a tingling sensation in my left hand and a little bit of soreness in my right knee. It seems like a dream that I finished in one piece and that I was able to race last weekend in both the Farmhand Fat Bike Race and duo with Danielle at a Fun Promotions LLC race!

The Race

You start in Park Falls, Wisconsin, ride 75 miles out to Rice Lake to a Tuscobia State Trail sign, and then turn around and ride 75 miles back to the start. The trail is straight and relatively flat. We lined up at the start at 6am and took off rolling in the dark. Endurance races are so different from cross country races: you want to pace yourself to make sure you have enough energy to get to the finish line. The longest amount of time that I had spent on a bicycle was 12 hours, and I knew I'd be nearly double that for the Tuscobia. I wasn't super nervous that I'd run out of legs for the race because I had been training for continuously pedaling along a long, flat surface; I was worried that I would get too cold or that my water would freeze -- our winter in Michigan had been incredibly mild and I wasn't able to simulate riding in the same temperature.
Tuscobia 150 ladies: Patty Jo Struve, Sveta Vold, myself
My goal for the race was to finish with a smile, and I'm happy to say that I did it!! Not many women have been able to finish the Tuscobia 150 on a fat bike and I'm incredibly proud of myself for sticking with it and for making it to the end. The first 75 miles went by very quickly, and I was surprised that I was making decent time. Aside from passing Jay Petervary and realizing that he was 50 miles ahead of me, I had felt good about reaching the turnaround before nightfall! Once I tagged that sign and began riding in the opposite direction, I realized that it would be the trek to the finish that would be the most difficult part. The trail began to deteriorate from the other riders, skiers, runners, and snowmobilers, and once the sun went down the mile markers seemed like they were getting stretched further and further apart. There were 33 miles between the Birchwood checkpoint and the Winter checkpoint that seemed to last for forever. My hands were starting to fatigue, and grabbing the water out of my insulated OR water bottle parka became too difficult to do while riding. My shoulders and knees were getting achey and as I trudged on I started to get really, really tired. Despite trying to sing off the sleepiness, there were a couple times where I fell over trying to dismount for a drink.

I was so, so happy to see the Winter checkpoint! The generous volunteers at the cabin let me lay down for a half hour while I dried my jacket off over the heater. Changing in to new clothes at Winter for the last 24 miles of the race was a soul saver! I was able to head out into the darkness with a dry chamois, dry socks, and a belly full of chocolate chip banana bread and coca cola! The mile markers continued to span further away from each other and I tried to ignore them so it wouldn't seem like the trail was as long as it really was. When I finally hit pavement, I couldn't help but tear up because I was just so happy to be so close to the finish line!! It took me just over 25 hours to ride 150 miles.

Now that the race is over, there are things that I would have done differently: an insulated Hydrapak hose is on it's way to Grand Rapids Bicycle Company with my name on it, shorter transition times at checkpoints, more caffeine, more sleep prior to the race... but honestly, I feel good about how I rode. For a girl who started racing fat bikes last winter, I'm incredibly proud to have just made it across the finish line! The single best thing about the entire race was all of the support I had from GRBC, my friends and family, and my cycling community back home. Knowing that everyone was watching that little tracker dot back home kept me from calling it quits - so thanks to everyone who sat at home, frantically wondering why my dot stopped moving when it wouldn't update, and cheering for me before they went to bed at night and when they woke up in the morning! I would have napped in a snow bank or tried to hitch on a snow mobile without you. ;)
Goal achieved: Still smiling at the finish!
The Tuscobia 150 was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but once it was over I immediately started thinking about doing another winter ultra. I have so much training to do if I want to do anything with more elevation or more miles! Lucky for me I have an incredible network of friends and loved ones who I can think of when the going gets tough. I can't wait to do more winter ultras! Get ready to cheer more, everyone, because my new goal is the 2016 Iditarod on a fat bike! ;)

The Gear

With winter ultras, there's required and recommended gear that you carry. Just recently we weighed my bike at the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company's 45NRTH Happy Hour, and it was about 50 pounds locked and loaded. This is what I brought with me. It's funny to race with so much stuff, but luckily I'm used to being a pack mule on a bicycle from riding self-supported around three of the great lakes. Who would have thought summer vacations would have prepared me for the world of endurance fat bike racing?
Blackburn Handlebar Bag
OR Compression sack, my sleeping pad, borrowed OR Bivy and -20 Big Agnes Sleeping Bag from Dan Jansen, Salsa straps
Revelate Designs gas tank bag & frame pack
In the frame pack: MSR stove, fuel, emergency blanket, waterproof matches, lighter, Stanley stainless steel pot, emergency fire starter, chapstick, cycling salve, tea light candle, notebook & pen. Not pictured: snacks, snacks, snacks, and vaseline for my face.
Also in the frame pack: my 3,000 calories
Gas tank: multi tool, lube, master link, so many snacks!!!
Blackburn seat bag. Not pictured: I kept a change of clothes, gloves, and an OR down jacket in here. I also hung an additional reflective triangle from this bag.
OR water bottle parka to keep water from freezing
Hydrapak, toe warmers, flat repair kit, extra lights, pepper spray. Not pictured: extra water bottles, extra snacks, extra CarboRocket Half Evil drink mix & CR Rocketlytes
Helmet, portable charger, a bazillion lights
Three things I was SO happy I had with me?
My 45NRTH Gaiters, a chocolate/espresso bean Enduro bar (it didn't freeze!), Smith goggles
In addition to all of the things that I brought with me on the bike, this is what I wore while riding:

I wore my wool neck gaiter and the 45NRTH Greazy cap for most of the Tuscobia State Trail. At the last check point I changed in to dry clothes and put on my Toaster Fork.
Top: Long sleeve wool baselayer, short sleeve merino wool tee, wool long sleeve jersey, my super awesome 45NRTH jacket
Bottom: thermal knickers, Sugoi firewall tights, Chrome knickers, 45NRTH gaiters, wool socks
We saw a Bald Eagle just as we passed in to Michigan! A good omen?
The ride home from the Tuscobia 150 was more eventful than the drive to the race and the whole 150 miles combined! Dan and I had gone back to the motel after the race, but due to the heavy snow mobile traffic outside of our room we weren't able to lay down for any shut eye! I also have a hard time sleeping after any long-distance race because every time I start to doze off I feel like I'm falling off of my bike.. So we loaded the Pontiac Montana minivan up with all of our gear and started our drive back to Grand Rapids. After a long discussion about how awesome it was owning a minivan and how we were going to get new tires on it and fix the windshield wipers and have the Montana for forever, we hit an icy spot along US 2 just outside of Norway, Michigan and this happened:
Pizza roll!!
Don't worry, the bike made it out just fine!
None of our New Glarus beer broke, either!
Good-bye forever, little Pontiac Montana
Has anyone ever wondered why it takes me so long to update my blog? There's just always SO MUCH to write about! ;)

We really had no idea what to do once the tow truck driver charged us $350 and dropped us off at the Viking Motel in Norway, Michigan. There were no rental car companies for miles, the van was totaled and full of stuff we wanted to take back home, and cell phone service was sketchy way on up there in the UP, eh. And then, by some stroke of luck (as if walking away from the crash without a scratch wasn't lucky enough!) we got a text message from one of the emergency EMT respondents' wife, wanting to help us get back home. We couldn't believe it! A complete stranger wanted to get a trailer and to help us clear out the minivan! Then, using the motel's wifi and this wonderful thing called Facebook, we found out that Rick Plite, Rick Folcik, and Scott Peterson were up in Rapid River fat biking... and that they had a truck that would fit hopefully fit all of our stuff! Our new friends Tony and Alicia agreed to pick us up in the morning and to drive us to meet up with our friends from fat biking back home in Rapid River.

First, we needed to get all of our things. Tony and Alicia swung by the Viking Motel with their truck and trailer to snag us up. As I was brushing my teeth in the wonderful blue porcelain bathroom, Dan came running in to our room and asked if I could hurry things up. Tony and Alicia were still on call as emergency respondents and they had just gotten a text: a woman was having a diabetic seizure. We got in to their truck and had hardly shut the door when they began speeding through the little town of Norway - sirens and all! If you haven't rolled a minivan and then an hour later sat in a speeding truck on the same roadway that you rolled the vehicle on before... it's an interesting feeling, trust me! We made it to the woman's house and had a brief reunion with the same ambulance, firetruck, cops, and other EMT's that had shown up when the Montana rolled, and then sat in the truck while everyone got the woman stable again. Dan and I came to the conclusion that angels are born in Norway, Michigan, while we were waiting for our new BFF's.
Raging Saturday night in the UP
In the morning, we hopped back in that truck and made our way to Rapid River, about an hour away from where we had gone in to the ditch. (Tony pointed it out to us!) and we were so, so, so happy to see some familiar fat bikes on the back of Rick's truck!

Somehow, magically, we were able to fit all of our things in with all of their things. Five humans, four fat bikes, and a whole lot of winter riding gear. Holy Wah! The weather on the drive home was still pretty snowy, but I was so exhausted from the rest of the trip that it didn't worry me. Dan's dad picked us up off the of 10-mile exit in Rockford, and it felt like a dream when we began unloading our stuff back in GR. What a trek! I love our cycling community and I am so lucky to know such amazing people! It feels incredible to be home and I still feel like I'm getting caught up on sleep.
Katy and Ninja are stoked that their cheese curds and beer survived!
AND there were more goodies from NiteRider when we got home! Big, big thanks to this lighting company for sending me out in to the wilderness with bright lights!

Everyone back home was so happy I had finished and made it home alive.
Ya'll are the best friends a fat biking gal could ever ask for! <3