Tuscobia ‘11 was a bit of an adventure this year. Not so much in terms of physical difficulty or ultra-ness, but more in terms of unsuitable weather and mechanical/logistical problems.
In other words there wasn’t enough snow to ski and my bike fell off of a car. In an attempt to be a good blogger I brought along my camera, but in 115 miles of racing I didn’t take a single photo. Maybe my New Year’s resolution should be to take photos.
On the drive up Thursday the 15th we got a good look at the snow or lack of it. The western end of the trail had none and while it got better the further east we went it still wasn’t covering the grass. I was prepared though. I had brought along my bike along with the two pair of skis I hoped to use.
I had decided to bike the 150 mile race, but at the pre-race meeting I found out that Mark Scotch was planning to ski in spite of the conditions. Not wanting to miss out I quickly changed my mind and prepared to ski. Rumor was that the course was skiable all the way from Park Falls to Birchwood, more than 60 miles of the 75 mile trail. Honestly I didn’t figure I’d be able to ski 150 miles. I hadn’t been on snow and hadn’t been skate skiing in several weeks on account of ice. I would be happy to get 75 miles in.
We started in the dark at 6am and immediately the trail was rough and barely skiable. Mark and I were both doing a lot of double poling and I was doing more than my share of face-plants. I was the slower of us, but I can’t feel to bad about that. I’ve been skate skiing for less than a year. After a few miles the trail smoothed out enough that we could skate. It still wasn’t perfect. The snow covered portion of the trail was often too narrow to get a good stride on and in many places gravel showed through. Whenever I skated onto one of the gravel patches my ski would suddenly stop and I’d fall on my face.
After a while I started to get the hang of skating on the rough trails and occasionally I managed to get into a rhythm for a few hundred yards. I was even starting to get the hang of the (few) steep downhills on the trail. My double poling was inadequate though. I was trying to use too much arm strength and wearing myself out. Before long my arms were jelly and I learned through trial and error how to pole more efficiently, keeping my arms in and doing crunches down the trail.
(photo Roberto Marron)
The trail was getting worse though. Every mile west brought us more gravel and ice and less snow. Eventually there were bare patches all the way across the trail and we were forced to walk.
By the time we got to the first checkpoint at Winter 30 miles in we had had enough. Skiing wasn’t really an option anymore and we didn’t feel like walking 40 more miles only to turn around and do it again. We rested for about an hour and made the call to turn around and ski back to Park Falls. Since both Mark and I had brought bikes along we decided to abandon the 150 mile ski and enter the 75 mile bike race the next day.
(photo Mark Scotch)
We skied back 10 miles to the towns of Loretta and Draper where Anton Oveson stopped and offered us a ride in his car. I was stopping often to rest by that point and the ice on the trail was making it difficult to get a good push-off. We decided to take the ride back to Park Falls and rest up for tomorrow rather than face the rough trail in the dark.
The next morning I loaded my bike onto the back of a car for the drive to the 75 mile start at Rice Lake. I rode the bus with the other racers. About halfway there I got a phone call from Helen Lavin, the race director, that my bike had fallen off of the car. The front tire was destroyed and there was some more minor damage. I figured my race was over, but Helen called around and managed to contact Jason Novak who had dropped out of the 150 mile race. He generously agreed to loan me a wheel and my race was saved.
The rest of the 75 mile racers started while I waited for the replacement wheel to arrive from the other end of the race course. I spent the next two hours at the home of Jim and Liz Broome who own a kennel very near the race start. They generously offered me breakfast, coffee, and conversation while I waited. I was well fed by the time the wheel arrived. That’s one of the things l love about these races. A little adversity always makes for an interesting story and more often than not a good time. I started the race two hours late, but I figured I could still catch a few stragglers.
The first ten or so miles to Birchwood were fast on the bike. There was very little snow on the trail and I was averaging over 10 mph on the Pugsley without really trying. At Birchwood I passed all of the 75 mile runners. I made a slight adjustment to my saddle that made all the difference in terms of comfort and continued on at a good pace. Snow cover increased, but it still wasn’t anywhere near skiable. I was flying along and soon had my jacket unzipped and my gloves off. Biking felt a little like cheating compared to running or skiing.
I caught several bikers and arrived at the Winter checkpoint before dark, much earlier than I expected. After a break for chili I started the final 30 miles. The same 30 miles I had skied the day before. There were a few spots on the trail where my rear tire punched through crust, but by lowering my tire pressure I kept this to a minimum. Aside from some problems with my sleeping bag working loose from my front rack I had an easy time of it. I finished around 10pm and wasn’t tired or sore at all
(photo Chequamegon Canoe Club)
As I sit now, a week and a half later, there is still no snow on the ground and temps are approaching the 40s. Things are not looking good for skiing the Arrowhead, my big goal for the year. Perhaps I’ll be doing more biking this winter.