Tuesday, October 4, 2011
The Heck of the North Recap
The finishing hill of the race....Enlarge this photo to see the two riders going up it. Jeremy Kershaw is a cruel man
Made the solo trip up to Duluth, MN this past weekend to represent the Slender Fungus in the 3rd annual Heck of the North put on by Jeremy Kershaw. The 10 hour, 600 mile drive was worth being up in this beautiful area of the country. As soon as I got to Jeremy's house he was very welcoming and I met the rest of his family. They offered me food and for me to camp in their backyard for the evening. I graciously accepted.
Stopped at the Burrito Union before the race for dinner and had a beer and some fish tacos and chatted with some of the Duluth locals. They brewed their own beer there which was cool. Then I headed back to Jeremy's to get some shut eye before the race.
The backyard at the Kershaw compound. Met and camped with Chirs Skogen who puts on the Almanzo and Royal 162 races earlier in the season. I am going to register for the Royal 162 this coming year and Chris said he knew my friend Mike B...the bonk King! I told him we rode together during the SFCA Fruit Loop. The morning was around 35 degrees and the ground had frost on it when I woke up. I decided to stick with my plan of wearing knickers, craft base layer, rapha wool jersey, and salsa longsleeve jersey with a cycling cap under the helmet, wool socks and wool gloves.
I met the DBD at the beginning of the race, said hello and intruduced myself again. Gave them some whiskey provided by Ari and then finished getting ready myself. Everyone was in the same boat at this time playing the game: what should I wear for the race??
We began to line up at around 8 a.m. and the sun began to rise and warm our anxious souls.
Jeremy made some announcements for the "ride" and then hopped on his little sputtering moped and we rolled out. I was expecting that as soon as we let us go there would be a sprint and some jockeying for position. This was not the case. We all rolled out through the outskirts of Duluth together. Small attacks would come and go and we would yo-yo a little bit but no one ever broke free. I would take pulls where I could and tried to stay at the front and maintain contact with the leaders.
Charlie Farrow (above) would roll up next to me and smile and make some small talk. It was great to be riding with such strong riders and legends in their own right. These are the tough men of the Death Before Dishonor Crew...and I was trying to hang with them. They were cool and collected. Tim Ek seemed a little more nervous wondering when the break would come, wondering where the next attack would come....he was racing from the get go. I hung with the leaders for 40 miles, then there was a near wreck as a turn wasn't called out and riders started darting into the woods at the first trail section. I got mid pack and took off for some thick water and mud. I hopped off of the bike and carried it through this section. These riders were from northern MN and had mountain bike skills where I did not. There handling was tuned and they cruised through this section. I had a harder time and lost some time in this section. I came out of it and rejoined with a group of riders and headed into the halfway mark. I refueled with what little water was provided and Mr. Farrow (who pinch flatted) didn't even stop at the checkpoint. He knew the course, breezed through, and upon leaving....looked back at me with his dark eyes as if to say...."come on...lets go, back on the bike". Shortly after I was back on the bike and the legs were burning from the previous trail section. I wouldn't see the leaders until the end of the race.
Not shortly after that there was another trail section. I was burnt up and the legs were cramping. I wasn't used to this kind of riding. I stayed with a pack of riders and did my best to push through the trail. This was a near breaking point for me. I would grunt out loud and sigh just to get some of my frustration out. I was back on the gravel and moving again...
A lot of the gravel was heavily wash-boarded and made for a rough time in finding a decent line on the roads. I was riding alone for most of the second half of the race, trying to get some power back in my legs, eating as much and when I could and trying to ration my water for the end of the race. The wind would not stop and the large pine trees on either sides of the road made somewhat of a funnel for the wind. I needed to find a group to ride in but one never came....
Coming over a hill I got a glimpse of the lake in the distance and put the pedals to work. I was 20 miles away and knew I could suffer for a little while to finish at a decent time. I figured the leaders had already completed the course and Meiser and Ek were in the top spots. The last 10 miles were tough with a few very hilly sections and a small trail section that wasn't too bad. I hit the last climb with everything I had (first photo on the post) and made it to the finish. Jeremy congratulated me and told me a time which I heard six...forty... something, I expected to run around 6:20....and could have done so without the cramps that came on the second half. Next year I will return stronger. The results on the Heck blog said 35/112. Not bad
This photo has generated great controversy amongst the DBD.... Tim Ek came up to me after the race and told me I did a good job and that there were at least 20 guys in the race that had a chance of winning the thing. This was comforting and I agreed that there were some extremely strong riders in the group. Tim told me the race only got faster and he was maxed out on many occaisions. Great race to the top guys and everyone who rode their hearts out on the course. The Heck is a young race but seems to be gaining popularity and coming into its own....Tim has a great write up on his blog. I enjoyed a nordeast and some chips after the race and then met Charles Parsons (3 time Trans Iowa finisher and general strong man) at the burrito union and we shared stories of the race over beers and burritos.
The after party was at Jason Buffington's house and he had 4 delicious homebrews on tap for his guests. A big thanks to him and his family for having everyone over. More stories were told and friendships made. Charlie brought over his new pup named Loki...what a cool dog. It was great talking to all of the gravel racers and their different experiences. I heard an interesting story of the stressful lives of criminals as well....The pugs stout was great and I enjoyed several before calling it a night and heading back to the tent. I awoke in the morning to bid farewell to Jeremy and thank him for everything he had done for me and putting on a superb race. I will be back next year for sure! Great times in the north woods with some great racers and great people!
Beware of the men of the DBD.... they are crafty ones....
A big thanks to some people that made this ride happen:
The Arik and Holly Bruene Foundation for their generous contributions
The Andonopolous family for their encouragement and junk food
Wheel Fast Bicycle Co for allowing me to take a few days off of work
My girlyfriend for being supportive of these races
The Kershaw family for their generosity
The DBD for their comradery
JB - "Cookie"