Me, Jenny and her parents (who happen to be professional photographers) left our place in Moquah, WI for the ~5 hour drive to International Falls, MN which was made longer by an ill-fated stop for lunch at the India Palace in Duluth which wasn't open until noon. So if you can't expand your cultural horizons by having food of some other ethnicity than American just order pizza...right? We ate at Pizza Luce for lunch and I recommend it. By the way, if you're ever in Duluth keep a lookout for trashed cars:
After our culturally insensitive culinary experience we continued on towards International Falls and checked out the trail along the way:
We made it there with plenty of time to run through the mandatory gear check. They require you to carry certain gear in the race and they run an official check to make sure you have it all. “It all” being 1) sleeping bag rated to -20 or colder, 2) insulated sleeping pad, 3) stove 4) at least 8 oz. Fuel for the stove (you can also take Esbit Tablets which are solid fuel that takes place of a stove) 5) insulated water container that holds at least 64 oz, 6) 2 red blinky lights (one for the front, another for the back) with at least 3 LEDs each, 7) lightsource/headlamp, 8) you must take enough food to have at least 3000 calories left over when you finish, 9) 10 square inches of reflective material on both the front and back of your person 10) Whistle on string around neck (because, as the race website puts it, “you're mouth will be too numb to yell”), 11) pot to melt snow/cook food, 12) Bivy bag or tent.
The rest of Saturday I spent putting my bike back together as we had taken it apart in order to fit it in the car:
I spent time readying my drop bag (they allow you a 15 pound bag of food to ship ahead so when you get to Melgeorges at midway you can resupply your food) and cutting maps up so that they would be smaller for me to take along on a 135 mile ride. An aside: at about mile 125 I pulled one map out to look and see where I was and opened it up and it turned out that when I cut the map in two I had grabbed the wrong piece and looked about like this when I realized what I had done:
Sunday I turned in my drop bag and went to the mandatory pre-race meeting and then attended the post-meeting spaghetti dinner. We had been told by the race website that this would be our “Last Supper.”
Then we went back to our motel and since I had pretty much gotten everything ready by then just kind of sat around and got anxious for the start. I guess we also went outside and they got an idea of the patterns of my reflective material and blinky so they could recognize me after dark. In retrospect this was almost unneeded since they only saw me once after dark. :) More on this later.
The race start was at seven and the Chocolate Moose didn't open for breakfast until 6 so I got totally ready before we left for the Chocolate Moose, I ate about the most greasy and unhealthy thing on the menu (a big omelette with hashbrowns and buttered toast. In a desperate bid for I ordered wheat bread for the toast but it ended up being mostly a vehicle for delivering the butter to my stomach.
We drove back to our motel and the rest of the gang drove over to the start while I rode over to the start. I wanted to get one last short ride in to do a last minute check of my gear to make sure it wasn't going to fall off. I got there with only a few minutes to spare. I checked in and then went out to the starting line and after a few minutes we took off. I'm kinda glad I didn't have much extra time as it was -10 and I wasn't real keen on standing around more.
Race start to the first checkpoint ~35 miles
The race started when race director Dave yelled “Release the hounds!” and fired a gun into the air. And with that 63 bikers started riding (they would start the skiers and runners about a minute later) out into insanity.
Since I had no intentions of even trying to stay with the leaders I just hung back around mid-pack and started grinding out miles. Since I had my bike taken apart in the car and had not ridden it all that much since I put it back together I had to stop several times to adjust the saddle height and once to put some more air in my tires. But both of these are examples of operator error and really the bike performed nearly flawlessly throughout.
In red is Jeff Oatley who would eventually win with a time of 15:50. How anyone is able to keep up a pace like that is beyond me...but then again a lot of things are....
Me at the first road crossing of the course
Me crossing highway 53 which is the first major road/highway crossing of the course.
I kept plugging along for a while and then met another biker coming along the trail the other way. I was pretty sure that I was going the right way but then again my dad sleds with axes and so I must come from questionable stock.
It turns out I was going the right way and eventually I came to the first checkpoint at Gateway General (a gas station/general store on highway 53). I had all the food and water I needed and said to myself, “I don't need no stinkin' rest.” So I checked in and out at almost the same time (passing maybe 10 bikers in the process), took enough time to give Jenny a kiss and hit the trail for the next checkpoint at Melgeorges which was roughly 35 miles down the trail.
Just after I decided to leave Gateway and keep on truckin'
Me checking out of Gateway
Taking off on the way out of Gateway towards Melgeorges.
To be continued....click here to read part two