I apologize to the regular readers who have written me looking for their daily fix of Over the Bars. I have been working hard on a new website for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin (that will include a daily blog). We hope to have the new website launched in the next few days, so stay tuned. I have also been working behind the scenes on the Hoan Bridge issue, fingers crossed.
Pinch hitting today on Over the Bars is my friend Steve Smith, a fellow Milwaukee bike commuter who did his 20th “Race for the Cock” in the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival over the weekend. For years Steve and a few other friends have had their own race-within-a-race for a traveling Rooster Trophy. Steve is a good writer, so I asked him to share his experience at the Fat Tire 40 with us this year. Below is his account of this year’s campaign.
As a 20x competitor in the Fat Tire Festival, Chequamegon occupies National Holiday status on the family calendar. I eagerly anticipate the annual pilgrimage to the hinterlands. It serves as a Daylight Savings Time of the cycling season, marking the psychological end of summer and beginning of Fall and Winter pursuits. It also brings the possibilities of racing on a 40 mile course that reads like a favorite book.
The antagonists are well known. There’s “Start Line,” which demands bikes to be placed in the paddock at 4:30 a.m. for the 10 a.m start in order to avoid the scourges of “Controlled Rollout”, a raucous affair that sends 1,900 competitors charging out of town at 25+ mph. Make it through the inevitable pile up and you get a date with “Rosie’s Field.” The deceptively grueling but important scamper up, over and through the field is a Bad Cop interrogation on your fitness and the rest of the day. Make it onto the wheel of the right “train” and you’ll be in Cable in no-time.
Having suffered a fractured patella (knee cap) almost one year ago, this would be a introduction of sorts to the characters of Chequamegon. I feared the power output and demands of dealing with the steep pitches of the thugish “Birkie Trail.” As such, I planned a more conservative approach for this year’s chapter. I would ride “easy” to Double “O” and then try to pile on the coals for the remaining 24 miles of the race, with an expected finish in the 2:40 range.
The bone dry and fast conditions helped the strategy play out nicely, with many of the hills rideable, if not downright dusty. I made it to “OO” in 1:00 and had plenty of gas in the tank….until I ran into a classic Chequamegon Ambush. Swapping out my empty bottle with one from my jersey pocket, I noticed that the extra full bottle in the cage was gone…a victim of the rocky/rutted descents of the Birkie Trail. Bombing down the back side of “OO” I watched with horror as the new/only full bottle rattled loose and exploded under my back tire! The math on that = ~23 miles and at least 1:30 to Cable x 2 sips left in the empty bottle!
I began to eagerly anticipate the Pirate Hill and shot of Rum (fluids!) and the next water stop 11 miles down the trail. Along the way, I was able to get a couple sips from other competitors kind enough to share.
A quick refill with 12 miles to go put me in good shape for the final scenes of the race: “Death Zone,” from mile 8-6, dumps riders back onto exquisitely painful Birkie Grinders. Settle that score and then prepare for Mile 2, the most difficult mile of the entire race. With mind anticipating the end (“Only TWO to GO!” volunteers cheerfully offer), legs are often in full revolt here in the Misery Mile. This year was no different for me, with stabbing cramps puncturing each pedal stroke up the short/steep grades. Joe, a friend who’d been hunting me all day, passed me here adding to the misery.
The mercy of Telemark Hill came thankfully soon after, delivering me to the line in 2:38.
Then comes what is becoming the best part of Chequamegon. The scorecard attestment ceremonies circulate between Coops Pizza (taco pizza), Norske Nook (peach pie), The Sawmill (beer, live music) and The Moccasin (supplementary hydration, pool tables).
By Sunday, the book goes back on the shelf for another year.