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Monday, June 6, 2016

Tears, Puke, Blood and Joy - "The Dirty Kanza"

     It is referred to as "The World's Premier Gravel Cycling Event". For those who dare take on the 200 miles of Kanza, it is possible that all things in the title above await you.

     Asleep before 9pm the evening before the race, I looked forward to a solid nights sleep. The air conditioner had been set to slightly above hibernation temps. An annoying parking lot light was no match to the taping shut of the curtains. 4 am would rear it's ugly head soon enough. I was doing everything possible to stay knocked out until the iPhone alarm, backed up by the hotel wake up call, rudely interrupted my dreams of dry roads, overcast skies and tailwinds. Mother nature had different plans. Although not in the forecast, she cut loose with her own wake up call. The occasional flashes of light interrupted my otherwise deep sleep. Not enough to completely wake me but more in that sort of in between asleep and awake place. The rumbles that eventually followed, in concert with the wind and driving rain confirmed the earlier flashes of light were not of my imagination. "No matter". I thought, as the storm moved through before first light. "It's been pretty dry. These gravel roads will eat that rain right up. Might even keep the Kanza dust down a bit."  WRONG.

     Ted "freaking" King?!?! Come on!!! Really?!?!? This dude has raced in the biggest bike races in the world, literally. The Tour de France, The Giro d' Italia, the Vuelta, he has toed the line at them all. And now he was being announced at the starting line of the DK200. There are few other sports, if any that you get to compete on the same playing field at the same time with some of the best in the world. Ted was not the first big name to race here, but with due respect to other greats who have raced here, Rebecca Rusch, Dan Hughes, Brian Jensen, Yuri Hauswald to name a few, he's the biggest. To follow in his tire tracks was pretty cool. The word is out and much like Leadville years ago, professional road riders are starting to realize the joy, beauty (and pain) that gravel racing provides. There are no big paychecks awaiting the winner's here, but I believe it reconnects them with the true challenge and individualistic nature of the sport that drew them to it as kids. The Dirty Kanza is as pure as it gets...a crystal clear mirror showing you exactly who you are.

     Ten miles into the race, just as quickly as things started moving, they nearly came to a halt. "Wreck", I thought. Fortunately that was not the case, although some might debate that. Mother Nature's early morning deluge had proved too much for the low lying farm ground of Emporia to absorb and we found ourselves riding...very slowly...through about a foot or more of water. It lasted only a hundred meters or so but it was enough to, like a magnet, attract the mud and gravel up into the drive train of every single bicycle. It could not have come at a worse time. Everyone jockeying for position, antsy, jittery, impatient and then one by one, ten by ten it happened. There may have been as many as 100 by the time it was all over...derailleurs were snapping everywhere, sucked up into the back wheel spokes and in just ten miles, ending a race, for many they had been training a year or even longer for. I narrowly escaped. The year prior, in very similar conditions, unwilling to take DK's medicine and be patient, I too had snapped my rear derailleur. There are few worse sounds to a cyclist's ears. It wasn't long until we were clear of the rain soaked lowlands and on our way to the first checkpoint some 40 miles down the road. I can only imagine that there were many like me, who's bikes hobbled into the first checkpoint, ridable, but not working entirely well. I pedaled those last 30 or so miles without use of my small chain ring. Joel and Mark , a couple guys crewing at Almonzo a few weeks prior had taken me in, and were it not for their skills I might still be out on the race course.

     The 2nd leg of the Dirty Kanza is where things get "interesting". Three years prior, on my first DK, I arrived in the first checkpoint pretty full of myself, asking a fellow rider what all the fuss is about...something like "That wasn't so bad, I expected more from what I have heard about this race." I remember like it was just yesterday, his coy grin and humorless reply, "your about to ride the toughest 50 miles of your life" and off he rode. I would amend that slightly after four years battling this beast. He should have said " You are about to ride the hardest 100 miles of your life". Perhaps he was thinking it but didn't want to break this greenhorn's spirit so early in that day. I invite my friends to ride the Kanza not so much because I want to see them suffer but rather so we can speak the same language. There is no way to convey the conditions of, I hesitate to call them roads, in that middle 100 miles.


It's angry, it's mean, it's as at least one fellow rider found out, break your jaw and knock out a few teeth mean. The climbs are steep and seemingly stretch out to the sky. Fist size pieces of rock make these hills punishing to climb and treacherous to descend. You lose it pointed downhill here, "road rash" is the least of your worries. At the same time, when able, look in any direction and the views , similar to the climbs, were breathtaking.


     I doubt, other than those who oversee the herds of free range cattle here, that many other humans have ever seen this part of Kansas. It is pure, untouched, undeveloped  beauty as the creator made it however long ago. We were the first settlers, the great adventurers, striking out to find the frontier before it was swallowed up. Our horses were pedal powered, fueled by Gatorade and Gu. We faced different challenges from the great adventurers years past, but the spirit I believe, similar. All of us wished to see not only what was "out there", but perhaps, more so, to see what we were made of inside. Dirty Kanza provides you that. Fast or slow are just hollow words here. Ted King to the final finisher. Everyone takes the exact same test, perhaps crying the same tears, certainly facing their own inner demons and in some cases even leaving some blood on the sun baked prairie. Very seldom, from competitor to competitor is it asked, "What was your time?" or "When did you finish?" The question more times than not is simply, "Did you finish?" and if the answer is "Yes", perhaps there is nothing more in return than a simple confirming nod. For they know what you did the only way there is to know, by taking the test and passing it themselves.







Monday, April 4, 2016

WHO STOLE MY CAT?!?!

All right, I admit it...I don't have a cat, which in turns means no one stole the beast, but I was tired of trying to figure out a catchy headline for today's post. I read somewhere that "cats" rule the Internet...and "bacon". There is a VERY good chance however, that if I ever do use bacon in a blog post title it WILL involve bacon. In an attempt to assuage (my new word for the day) my guilt I am going to share with you a lesson re-learned yesterday. It is a lesson that allowed me to take some 2 million steps circling Lake Michigan. It is a lesson that allowed me to write a book, when I had ZERO idea what I was doing. It is a lesson that gets my butt out of bed those mornings when everything screams "ONE MORE SNOOZE BUTTON!!" and it works in EVERY single situation you could ever find yourself.  Ready??? Wait for it...

Not yet. A little story first...(there may be a clue or three hidden in here)

Saturday morning was the 6th annual Gents race, a 100km bike race/ride where 5 people compete as a team and to record an "official" finish, must all cross the line together. If one person quits. it's a team DNF. It is the ultimate "no one left behind" event. Held north of Des Moines, Iowa, the course is tabletop flat and if the wind blows, it's gonna get ya. 65-ish teams were signed up. 50-ish showed up. 15-ish saw the fore casted winds of 30 mph, gusting to 50 and decided they would not even toe the line. This decision would seriously hamper their chances of finishing. (clue #1)

The weatherman was spot on. At 9:54 our band of brothers and one sister left Slater, Iowa, promptly made a left turn into the wind and Mother Nature punched us right in the face. I've ridden my bike in some pretty inhospitable conditions but NEVER in a wind like that. I'm 200 pounds and the gust nearly took the bike out from under me. We'd find out later it planted more than one competitor into the roadside ditch. I'm certain we all questioned our decision to start and our ability to finish right then and there, but we took stock of the situation, settled in and got to work. Equal parts excited and "what the hell have we got ourselves into". (clue #2)

Beth Steffensen Montpas and Teri Pottorff left the small starting town an hour or so before us. The race has a staggered start, seeding teams so, in theory, there could be a 65 team sprint to the finish. That hasn't happened yet but it does work out where most teams finish within a hour or so of each other. The wind whipping splintered three of their team very early on. Undeterred, Beth and Teri forged on. There would be no "Official Finish", but they were pressing on, eager to take the test they had signed up (and trained their asses off) for. It's one thing to imagine what a 50 mile an hour gust feels like, it's another when the reality of it nearly knocks you off your bike...all the while trying not to wreck your 4 teammates who are in the same wrestling match.


I am only guessing here, but' I'd be willing to bet these two made no promises of a finish to each other, but rather a pact to stay in the fight and see what happens. (clue #3) Yes, it was incredibly windy and a bit cold (40 degrees), but the sun was shining, there was no real danger, and the sense of adventure was palpable. It is not the sunny, slight wind at your back days that stories are told about. This day would be discussed around the campfire for years to come.

Kim Beaty Hopkins, Amy Lynch, Joann Skolaut Schmidt, Heather Wince and Karolyn Jones Zeller are all tough as nails ladies and I have enjoyed years of riding with them all. To be honest, I would have given them less than a 50/50 chance of finishing. This is not a knock. When Mama Nature welcomed me with that first swat to the face, I put my chances at less than 50/50 too. SPOILER ALERT - they did finish and were the ONLY all lady team to do so.

                                              (photo courtesy of Ken Sherman K&K images)

After the race Kim shared with me, "I fully expected at each turn, someone would suggest we quit, but no one ever did. We all just kept pedaling." (clue #4) I love her race recap on Facebook ... "Still trying to figure out how yesterday's sufferfest ended up being so much fun. Honestly, it was the hardest day I've ever spent in the saddle and I am thankful for teammates who worked together and took care of each other. The conditions yesterday made for the perfect playing field for this style of race...what might have been nearly impossible alone was manageable with the effort of the group. Thanks to Bruce, Kyle, Rob and the whole Bike Iowa crew for putting on my favorite race of the year...I hope I never have to ride in those conditions again!"

I stood at this trail head yesterday, sure of how bad the upcoming walk/shuffle/run was going to suck.


The previous day's Gents race, had been wonderfully brutal. It was the most challenging four hours ever spent on a bike and here I stood feeling pretty spiritually and physically bankrupt.Thankfully, I was able to turn off all the negative self talk long enough to take a few deep breaths and allow for the thought..."SHOW UP AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS." That's it. That's the lesson. Like so many times before, once started, the battle was already, in a sense, won. An hour later, grinning ear to ear, the lesson was further imprinted on my soul.

A reward awaits all those who show up. We do not all share the same finish line. For one Saturday morning in April, 240 or so crazy, mad, adventurous souls raced towards many different finishing lines. For some, it was two miles, for some it was 31, others found their finishing line at some other nondescript place out on that windswept prarie. Some found their way the entire 62 miles. Back at the Nitehawk, the event host bar, all eventually gathered again. I doubt you could pick out who traveled what distance. If you SHOWED UP, you took home a story. You won.









Wednesday, March 30, 2016

THE GENIUS IN "JUST ONE STEP"

The next time you feel over-whelmed or under-motivated ask yourself "Can I take just one step?" STOP RIGHT THERE!!! I can hear your mind already trying to move you on to step 2, step 3, step 438. Do NOT take the bait!!!
      Let's use today's workout, or if you are just trying to get your first workout in years done, as an example. What I love is that this works for beginner to elite and all in between. Identify your first step and ask the question "Can I put on my running shoes?" STOP, answer the question. Yes you can! Now ask, "Can I take just one more step? Can I walk out the door?" (I am assuming you have answered the "Can I get dressed question"). STOP. Answer the question. Don't listen to any of the mind's background noise. Of course you can. 
     Does the scheduled distance of the workout have you beaten before you begin? It makes no difference if today's walk/run is 1 block or 20 miles. Ask yourself the question, "Can I take just one step?" STOP, answer the question. Yes You Can! Can you take another step? Yes You Can!! How about just one more? YES!!! Can you feel what is happening? Can you feel the momentum you are building? Congratulate yourself every step of the way. Hooting, hollering, self hi fives are all great things. Look yourself square in the mirror, saying  "YOU ARE ON FIRE!"
     This is the genius of "JUST ONE STEP." It places you perfectly in the moment, and in the moment, anything is possible. The one block walk that seemed so difficult to start just 10 minutes earlier is now underway. You have created momentum and now there is no stopping you...that block is going down!! Even cooler is the fact that you may create so much momentum, you walk a block and a half. Is today's workout a 20 miler? Doesn't matter the distance, this works every time and at any time.
     "JUST ONE STEP" is undefeated. It NEVER fails, no matter where you apply it. Starting a business? Focusing on steps 28, 47 and 94 can lead to never taking step ONE. Identify the goal, the steps needed to attain the goal and then dedicate to only one thing...THE FIRST STEP. Step two will wait patiently for you. It isn't going anywhere. Wanting to take that dream vacation? Identify where and when and what is the very first thing that needs to be done in order to take the trip. Don't let your mind wander. Take "JUST ONE STEP". Will the journey, the challenge be without difficulty or challenge? Perhaps yes, more likely, no. Will it take a few unpredictable turns? Hopefully. We call that adventure. If at any point you begin to feel overwhelmed, don't freak, you got this. That feeling is a great alarm. Take a few deep breaths, slow down and identify exactly what needs to be done next. Remember, you can always take "JUST ONE STEP". And just like that you are back in business, centered and on to the next step.
     At the age of 26, I decided I would not drink TODAY. I might get drunk as a skunk tomorrow, but just not TODAY. Can you guess what my mantra was the next day? I identified my goal to quit drinking, but it was overwhelming. NEVER is a VERY long time. Today I could handle. 
     In 2009 I decided to try and run across the state of Iowa a marathon a day for 11 days in a row, 292 miles. I had never done as many as two marathons back to back. When times got tough I always asked "Can you take just one more step?" The answer was always yes. In 2012 I decided to take on Lake Michigan, 1037 miles in 40 Days. I estimated the journey to be 2,000,000 steps. Many days the first conversation was, can I make it three steps from the foot of the bed to the toilet in the RV? I would not, could not allow thoughts of the 50,000 steps that lay in wait, to do so would have paralyzed me. The answer to the 3 steps to the "loo" question was always yes and it allowed for the "Can I put on my running shoes" question (remember that one?), which was also always a "Yes" and just like that I was out the door and underway.
     Each "JUST ONE STEP" allows you to see a greater vision of what is possible. It allows you to see what would have otherwise been hidden from your view. The beauty of "JUST ONE STEP" is that it always entices you to take another, and then another, and yet another. You become your own snowball gaining in size and speed,  eventually rolling nearly without effort, unstoppable. 
     Two promises I can make you. One...100% of things never started, fail. Two, someday, you will look back in awe of where "JUST ONE STEP" led you.

Dream Big Dreams,
Steve Cannon

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

"40 DAYS" IS THE NEW #1!!! Own it NOW for just $0.99!!

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!! To all of you who have read this blog, bought the book or ever offered so much as a "like" on Facebook!! Who the hell would have ever thought a kid with a 13 in English on his ACT could ever write a book?!?! Remember, it's never where you start that matters!!

For the next 4 hours Amazon will offer 40 DAYS for just $0.99 HERE!!!

Dream Big Dreams!!! I look forward to watching you fly!!

Steve Cannon





Monday, February 29, 2016

LOSING MY MIND 6 MILES FROM HOME - THE TUSCOBIA 158 (part 3 of 3)

WARNING....A GRAPHIC PHOTO OR TWO  (and a bit of language) ACCOMPANY THIS POST!


The bartender and the few folks still in the bar welcomed me with a mixture of "What the hell are you doing out there" and "Get those clothes off and get by the fire". I wasn't in that bad of shape but I can imagine someone walking into the bar with a frozen face, off of a bike, at 1 am in these conditions, is not what the clientele were expecting. I accepted their offers and did as instructed, for the most part. I wasn't sweaty so I actually added a layer, but I did head over towards the fire and allowed the barkeep to make me a pizza of my own. Leaving Ojibwa, I'd have bet you that by this time, the lights of Rice Lake would be in my view. How had the wheels come off so fast? At the time, I only knew I was struggling and food, drink and rest were necessary before taking on the last 15-16 miles. Sitting next to the fire, wrestling my face mask in order to get food and drink into my mouth must have been quite a sight.Thirty minutes later, an entire Pizza in my belly and two water bottles full of nearly boiling water, so as to make it to the finish without freezing, I left my Saturday night beer drinking buddies behind. I had been on the bike nearly 19 hours.

Well fed, well hydrated and properly dressed, spirits were still good. Every piece of gear I had was now on. Wool knickers were covered by insulated wind pants. The three layers that had served me so well all day, sometimes zipped, sometimes not were all fully zipped up and safely shielded by the non breathable, body heat enclosing rain jacket. My hood was up and fully zipped over a head beanie and my 45 North wool cap. There was not a single part of my body that was not covered by at least two if not three layers. The "CobraFists" (hand protection that mount onto the handlebars), each had a couple hand warmers in them to keep the digits protected. At the time there was no way of knowing exactly how cold it was, but it was COLD. Make a mistake and expose any body parts to this weather and the damage could be permanent. Others had already found this out or were about to.

Andrea Cohen and Bonnie Gagnon would finish one two in the Women's division. Andrea Cohen would end up with frostbite on two of her toes and would be unable to compete at Arrowhead two weeks later. Bonnie nearly froze her ear off..." I thought something was hanging out of my cap so I kept trying to rip it off, only to discover it was my earlobe". The pieces of skin in this photo are from her ear.

 
Mark Scotch would finish the race on his bike in just over 22 hours. Towards the end of the race he had to abandon his goggles due to icing.



Mark has a ton of experience (and as you see, a great attitude) in these conditions. He didn't do any permanent damage, but after finishing and getting inside, these were his comments..."The lights and sudden warmth hit me in a couple of minutes and my left eye felt like someone stabbed an ice pick in it. The pain was so intense it caused me to lose my balance and I had to lay down for awhile."

Mark McCulloch would not fare nearly as well. So intent on finishing and qualifying for Arrowhead he pushed through the numbing of his feet. His reward for battling Mother Nature for 25 hours on the bike?


Mark would end up in an emergency burn unit for three days and in bandages for 6 weeks. He just got the bandages off this week. They were able to save all his toes. It should be noted that Mark DID finish. It's a real possibility he'll never again be able to race in cold temperatures. I'm guessing there were more stories like these and I am certainly grateful to not have had to test myself in these conditions my first year.

I knew the remaining trail well from the year before. It would be a hilly 8 miles or so before the trail turned north and intersect with the spur into Rice Lake just 4 miles from the finish. This was the home stretch. The freezing temperatures had nearly reduced the bike to a single speed. A few of the hills, which had been ridable earlier in the day, now had to be walked. The walking actually felt good and allowed some time to reflect and enjoy the harsh beauty of my surroundings. This was the sharp end of the stick. It was so cold you could actually hear the trees crackling. It was as if mother nature's icy grip was attempting to squeeze the life right out of them. Certainly, it was obvious that the conditions were dangerous, but I had never felt so alive.

The hills began to subside and I knew the turn to the north had to be soon ahead, which would mean just 4 miles to the Rice Lake spur. My pace had slowed to what seemed like a crawl. Even the slightest incline required rising out of the seat and standing on the pedals to keep them turning. It felt like someone had attached a damn anvil to the back of the bike in comparison to how it had felt just 8 hours earlier.  That right hand bend in the trail had to be soon. There were mile markers on the trail, which I had ignored all day. I had no interest in counting up to 75 and back down to zero, but I couldn't resist nor could I believe my eyes when the marker read "2". In my fatigued mental and physical state I had not noticed that I had already made the turn to the north. The barn doors were swinging open. I was 6 miles from home!!

Had it not been for the trail crossing the highway, I'm not sure when I would have noticed. Crossing the pavement, the bike nearly slid out from under me. There was no ice. Getting off the bike, I couldn't believe it. "How freaking long had it been this way?!?!" I had figured it was the snow, or the length of time on the bike or a combination of the two. Thinking back, I remembered the bike pump outside the turnaround back at the gym in Park Falls. That fleeting thought to check my tire pressure, ignored, had cost me who knows how much time and anguish. The back tire was completely flat. Pushing the bike 6 more miles would mean 3 hours or more. That's a tough pill to swallow when you have already plugged in 30 - 45 minutes. I made the decision to stop and air up the tire. No big deal, I had a fat CO2 cartridge to get me started and hammering on that hand pump to fill the rest of the tire would keep me from getting too cold.

Working on a bike with big bulky gloves is not easy. Combine that with your mental state after 20 hours on the bike and it gets way tougher. The zippers on the Bike Bag Dude frame bag were nearly frozen shut. It wasn't that they had gotten wet or had any history of trouble. Far from it. These bags, hand made in Australia are the best. Nothing wanted to work in this cold.  The CO2 cartridge and I had a quick talk before attaching it to the tire. "We don't need any trouble here. You need to do your job now. This is why your here. Understood?" I wouldn't normally make a habit of chatting with a CO2 cartridge but this was not your average tire needing air situation. It turned out the cartridge was not a good listener. Slowly unscrewing the device to release the air, it puked it's contents right back at me."SH#T SH#T SH#T". Strike one. I tightened it back up in attempt to save what was left in the cartridge, checked the connection and gave it another go, each time taking off my gloves in an effort to make sure I didn't mess things up. The second attempt was no better. Strike two. Did anything work in these conditions?!?! Pumping up a Fat bike tire by hand is no treat. It takes forever. Time is not your friend in these conditions. Racers in the Iditarod Trail Invitational have a saying when it's gets really cold. "Move or Die."  The hand pump would have to do.

"Why won't this damn thing go on?!?!?" I couldn't get the pump to attach to the valve stem. This made no sense. Had I lost my mind? Had it abandoned me to the point that the simplest of tasks could no longer be performed? Then I remembered back a month earlier using the pump on my girlfriend's bike. She had a different stem so I'd had to switch out the small pieces inside the pump to make it work. This was not a huge problem. If you were doing this on a summer evening back in Iowa it was not even a small problem. Here, the clock was ticking. Yes, I was dressed right and yes I had kept myself from sweating and these things saved me from being in real trouble, but eventually the cold would win if I didn't get this show moving. It was necessary to take off the gloves again in order to get the end of the hand pump off and switch the two small plastic pieces back. I focused as best I could, so as to not drop or misplace a part. It wasn't easy. Exposed to the cold for this many hours, trivial tasks like taking off a helmet can be difficult. It took only a couple minutes to make the switch and...it didn't fit. "Ok, Dumbass, you gotta focus!" I must have taken the two pieces out and then put them back in the exact same way. Taking a deep breath and focusing with all my might, I removed the two pieces again, made sure to flip them correctly, placing them back into the pump and screwing it closed. Again, it would not fit. Removing it from the valve stem, I prayed that it was just cold. There was no way I could have messed this up. It would not go on. I snapped. "God DA#%, SONOFA#&@TH, WHAT THE #@%& IS GOING ON?!?!" I screamed into the dark, frigid air. There was more expletives in the barrage than I care for my mother to read here so use your imagination. This was the simplest of tasks, I thought, now nearly out of my mind. Remembering something I had read years before about Everest I did my best to calm myself. The quote was in reply to a question as to what killed most people on Everest and the reply was "panic". This was not the place to lose it. The problem was not the pump, it had no reason to fight me. My fingers remaining attached to my hands for the remainder of my life were of no concern to it. Focusing with the thought that "this is it, this is your last chance" I breathed deeply in an attempt to laser my focus. Mother natures ice cold tentacles were finding their way into me. Soon she would have me firmly in her grasp. Screwing the top of the hand pump back on I said a quick prayer before attempting to reattach it to the valve stem. If this failed, I'd have to start walking and was unsure if that would be enough to warm me. It's doubtful anyone has ever been forced into their sleeping bag 6 miles from the finish at Tuscobia. I hoped not to be the first.

It went on. I pumped for all I was worth, not so much in an effort to get back in the race as to warm up my nearly shivering body. Hand pumping a completely flat fat tire is no treat. I welcomed it. Switching hands when they grew tired, the activity was working not only to better the tire condition but I could feel my core warming. Optimism is a good thing. There was reason to believe the finish was once again near. The tire was not fully inflated but it was close enough to get me home I figured. The pump was stuck. I could not get it off the valve. Cursing ensued....loudly. If not careful, I could pull the valve stem completely out with the pump. When the pump finally disengaged, valve stem intact, I packed up, threw my leg over the saddle, and got the hell out of there. I was done with this place. It felt like a prison break. There was nothing to see looking back over my shoulder but it sure seemed like I was riding for my life.

It was clear within a couple of minutes that the bead on the tire had not sealed completely and I was losing air fast. If you have ever seen a tractor pull this was almost identical. With each stroke of the pedal it was as if the weight behind me got closer and closer. Eventually, standing on the pedals, pulling on the handlebars in an attempt to get every watt of power out of my legs, the bike just stopped. I was still 4 miles away. I could see the lights of Rice Lake, which only added to the cruelty.

I had turned the cell phone on, just in case this became a real emergency, which it was certainly close to. Text messages between those back home and Chuck (who was forced out of the run due to back problems) let me know that Chuck was waiting in the finish area, wondering where in the world I was and why I wasn't finished yet. Fortunately, with cell service, I was able to reach him and share with him what was going on. He was kind enough to share with the folks back home that I was all right. He'd had enough waiting and let me know he was on his way out. The 1965 western he was watching back at the finish couldn't compare with the real life drama taking place just a few miles down the road.

There would be no more chances taken. I  pumped that tire as full as possible, daring it to pop. Rage was my new found fuel. Desperation was the kindling. Less than 4 miles were left between me and the finish. The trail intersected the road 3 or 4 times in this last section. "3 one mile repeats", I told myself. I took off with all I had. Chuck raced ahead and I could see his headlights eventually turn in front of me. Blazing past him, tire still holding, I screamed like a schoolboy on his first carnival ride, his phone camera flashing in an attempt to capture the moment. 2 stops later, Chuck again waiting, I was convinced I had made it. Nearly falling off the bike, I realized I was not yet there.  "I can't do it bro, I can't go any further". Completely, physically and mentally bankrupt, the summit in my view seemed unattainable. Chuck offered encouragement and with one last deep breath I mounted the old horse for what I hoped would be the last time.

The blinky light at the end of the trail confused me at first. There was no way a bike could be in front of me. Had I miscalculated yet again? Would there be another mile, maybe two? My mind raced in desperation before realizing the red blinking light was not moving. The building lights just to the right confirmed my hopes. That small $2.99 red blinky light marked the end of the trail. I slowed as I neared it, Chuck howling that I had done it and laughed as I shakily came to a stop..."Dude, don't stop, not here, just across the street to the building!!"

Straddling the bike, I leaned over, hugging him. "You did it man..."Fu@#ing epic!!" He exclaimed. The building and the "official" finish could wait. Straddling the bike, hoping not to fall, I leaned over. "I love you bro. Thanks for being here. Let's go get warm."


This concludes "Losing My Mind 6 Miles From Home...The Tuscobia 158".

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Until next Blog,
Dream Big Dream
Steve Cannon
Author - "40 Days - Life, Love, Loss and a Historic Run Around One of the World's Largest Lakes"

Thursday, February 25, 2016

LOSING MY MIND 6 MILES FROM HOME - THE TUSCOBIA 158 (part 2 of 3)

PART II

The previous year at Tuscobia, my first attempt at any race on a fat bike, temperatures before the race were nice and cozy, somewhere around freezing. Biking the mile or so from the hotel to the trail head, the pre-ride skies were a perfect crystal blue. Winter had not yet provided any real opportunities to ride in the snow back home. It was super exciting taking the fully loaded Salsa Mukluk out onto the Tuscobia trail to test her out. Less than twenty pedal strokes down the trail, I was on my ass. The bike just disappeared underneath me. Hopping up quickly I looked around hoping no one had seen 'the rookie" dump it. "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again", the song goes. Swinging my leg back over the saddle, I was sure it was just a minor issue. "Probably just need to get a feel for the old girl," I thought. Fifteen pedal strokes.....BAM, on my ass again. I was literally getting a "crash" course in fat bike tire pressure. Looking down the seemingly endless trail, it was not lost on me that I had come to this place to attempt 150 miles and had not yet made it 150 feet. This was not a good start. I let what seemed like half the tire pressure out of both wheels before attempting to remount my bucking bronc. Had this been a rodeo, I was still in search of my first 8 second ride. It helped, but  the bike still needed all the 6 foot wide trail to stay upright and had you been watching, I'm sure it seemed more like I was wrestling the bike versus riding it. Had a snowmobile been coming the other direction, it would have been a coin toss as to whether or not it would have turned me and the rig into a hood ornament. Thank goodness for Joe Stiller. I try to give this guy his props as often as possible. Out of the goodness of his heart he had shared with me the gear and clothing tips needed for this type of racing. He vouched for me to the Scotch's (Helen and Chris. Race directors), asking only that I don't make a fool out of him. He had been out with his lovely wife Tina and found me on their return trip back to the trail head. They were not wobbling all over the damn place. "Keep letting air out till you stop sliding all over, then your good." And with that he reached down and seemingly emptied my tires of air. We shared some words, some hugs, took some pics, he and Tina wished me luck and off they went. Continuing on, the bike was much more stable. I wouldn't say it was rock solid underneath me, but I was able to get my first 8 second ride in and then some. By the time the pre ride was over I had covered 5 miles. It took just over an hour. I was tired. Humbled would not do justice to how I felt going to bed that night. Scared sh*tless would be a better description. Trail conditions were better the next morning by comparison. The temperatures had dropped to -7F which hardened the trail a bit. I had never ridden a bike in those temperatures. My clothing set up was spot on and after the first hour I'd made it 8 miles. The day would warm quickly and the trail deteriorated with each uptick in the thermometer. I'd come to find out that warm temperatures are no friend to the winter endurance racer. 24 hours later, at about 6 am, making no stops other than to refuel at the checkpoints, I finished the Tuscobia 150. I was hooked!



This year's version of Tuscobia was the exact opposite. Pre-ride temperatures were at or slightly above freezing and again, that makes the trail crap!! From the moment the gun went off, sending us on our way at 6 am into the darkness, it grew colder and colder with each passing hour. Those unfamiliar with winter ultras would see this as a bad thing. Most, if not all of us racing, welcome it. Leaving the halfway checkpoint in Park Falls, I remembered making this same ride, on this exact same road as we started the race the year prior. I had been so apprehensive, even scared of what lay in wait. Not now. Now, I was fully fueled, 79 miles to go and although always respectful of the race and Mother Nature, this was not just an attempt to finish. The first half of the race had gone nearly exactly to plan. No longer was I riding a bucking bronc. My horse was firmly set underneath me. To the outsider watching it was a guy on a bike, separate. That is not the case however. I imagine the bike living, that we are in this deal together. "I give you my best, you give me your best." More than once, on rides when my tank gets low and times get dark, I tell the bike, no, I ask the bike for a little help. Sounds a bit out there, but this stuff is a real mental challenge and those who do it will tell you they have spoken to their bike, their sled and even the occasional tree that appears to be "old uncle Fred" who died years ago. Hallucinations are common place in this world.

It was difficult to remain patient. I've always been fortunate that I am able to eat ALOT and usually continue on in races without incident. Training and racing had taught me that the engine would process the new fuel quickly and that the muscles would warm to the task ahead quickly. Darkness would soon be upon the race. It was certainly at or below zero by now. It was of no consequence. All parts of the body, toes to the tip of my nose were good. Within a half hour, all systems are firing perfectly. My jacket, vest and under layer all unzipped, letting the northern air in to keep my body temperature regulated. The trail was getting harder and harder, faster and faster. Turning my headlamp on I laughed thinking if I went much faster I might actually out pedal my light. Full of gratitude, I thanked the trail god's for the blessing. This was why I come to these places, these exact moments. I was not riding ON the trail, I was riding WITH the trail. Me, Bike, Trail, all one. Grinning ear to ear, I was FREE. Not a soul on earth knew my whereabouts. I was only known to the trees that cheered my passing or to the deer or the wolf that called this place home. There was no fast or slow, cold or hot. It was 35 miles or so to cover the distance between the halfway checkpoint in Park Falls to the stone building in the park outside of Ojibwa.

(picture taken on a slightly warmer day)



Ojibwa was the only checkpoint on the way back to the finish in Rice Lake. Once you left there, it was 40 miles home. I took stock of where I was exiting the trail. Outside the old stone building were a bunch of runner sleds and a handful of bikes. Swinging open the giant old wooden doors revealed part mess hall, part M.A.S.H. unit.



"Number 18 In!!' I let the volunteer know. It would be impossible to fully describe the environment, due to all that was going on and also because I wasn't there to hang out. A fire raged in the huge stone fireplace. Crock pots full of soup lined the walls. This was a dangerous place. The kind of place that could convince the wary adventurer to relax, warm up and stay awhile. Checkpoints are an evil temptress, so beautiful and inviting. Overstay your welcome and she's got you. Some folks were sleeping in the corners, perhaps not sleeping as much as passed out. Others were attending to their feet or attempting to dry out some clothes or get on different/more clothes before venturing back out. The volunteers were magnificent, offering to help in any way you needed. If you were looking for a soft place to fall, this was it, but beware, you might not get back up. "Number 18 Out!!" 12 Minutes I stayed. Only the eventual race winner, Ryan Atkins, was in and out quicker. I had no idea as to my place in the race and didn't care. I was functioning at or near my best. I'd been on the bike 14 hours and 40 minutes.

The 40 remaining miles included a small town, Birchwood. The year prior Birchwood was a checkpoint on the way out. It was 25 miles down the trail to get there I figured. If in trouble, food, fluids or otherwise, it could provide some sanctuary. Looking back, it would be interesting to see what actually happened to the weather that night, when the cold REALLY hit. It felt like it started sometime very soon after leaving Ojibwa. There are some that would argue it happened much earlier. Certainly below zero is cold, but it was now at or headed to double digit below zero temps and things were starting to happen to me and my trusty steed that I had never before experienced.

Have you ever asked yourself why you don't see many mountain climbers or arctic explorers with big beards? Because as you sweat or the moisture from your breath reaches your chosen method of face protection, they freeze to each other. Eating and drinking was becoming a real challenge. The mask and the hair on my face were frozen solid to each other. To drink or eat, I would have to pull down on the face mask, which did not want to move at all, just to get anything into my mouth. Find an area on your body where you have some hair and give it a very, very slow pull until you fear the hair is going to rip out of the skin. How did that feel? The big, tough guy beard I had been growing all fall and winter was slowly forming a nearly impenetrable ice shield to my mouth.



It seemed that the trail had a bit of a grade to it soon after Ojibwa as well. My pace was slowing. Shifting the bike to compensate for the perceived slight grade, the gears would not hold. Each time the trail would get a bit easier, I'd up shift and then would be unable to shift down again when needed. My bike was freezing underneath me. In this kind of cold, any moisture or wax on the cables will freeze. It would seem that neither man nor bike were built to handle this. This was graduate studies in winter racing. I'd later hear that Race Director Chris Scotch told one of the racers that wind chills were near -40F. I don't know if that's true, but I do know the real temperature was at or near -15F.

The darkness, the never ending trail to nowhere and the seemingly slower trail conditions were starting to take a toll on me. Thoughts of doubt began to creep in. The "bad people" were paying me a visit. I don't like the "bad people". They remind me how dark it is, how psychologically painful the incessant stream of  lightly falling snowflakes in my headlamp are. "Your bike is failing. Your brakes are freezing shut. These are the kind of conditions that mame, or worse, kill people." The "bad people" are very dramatic and damn hard to shut up. I had hoped to blow right past Birchwood and attack the last 16 miles. Now I just begged for a sign of the small Wisconsin town. It had been pitch black for so long, without so much as a single bend in the trail. I fixed my gaze low to the ground. Occasionally my headlamp would catch an oncoming snowflake just right and I'd think perhaps it was a farmhouse or highway light only yo look up and realize it was nothing but my mind playing tricks. I was in the desert, able to think of nothing but water. It was light that I thirsted for though, any light would be a break from the total darkness that had my senses screaming for relief. This was Tuscobia at it's best...or it's worst.

Finally, a light. Then soon after a turn in the trail and another few lights. Birchwood was in sight. What an awesome relief. I couldn't wait to pull over at the first bar, score a Pepsi and just be out of the darkness. The temperature was probably -10F by now but it was the darkness that I longed to be free of, not Mother Nature's icy cold grasp. The looks one gets hopping off a bicycle at 11Pm, walking into a bar, face frozen are, as you can imagine, priceless. They had been prepped for my arrival however by another cyclist not far ahead who had stopped in for a soda and some pizza. I benefited from his leftovers and was quickly back on the trail.

Things seemed a bit amiss as I got back on my way. Realizing I was not yet to Birchwood was a very real punch in the gut. I was most certainly going slower and the legs, so strong just hours before were struggling to keep the pace my mind believed capable. "I should have been to Birchwood by now" I thought. Back into the darkness, with less gears at my disposal than just an hour ago, the sufferfest was beginning. I didn't feel low on calories. I was still peeing from time to time. "Why can't I make this bike go?!?!?!".

Birchwood was no longer a place to blow through and attack to the finish. It was now as much a goal as the finish line. I needed Birchwood and all it could provide. Shelter, food, drink, you name it, I was longing for it. Race mode was turning into survival mode. The legs were leaving me and with them, my attitude."

This concludes part 2 of 3 - "Losing my mind 6 miles from home and the Tuscobia 158"

If you have enjoyed this, follow the blog and check out previous stories/adventures here also.

Thanks for stopping by,
"Dream Big Dreams"
Steve Cannon
Author - 40 Days - Life, Love, Loss and a Historic Run Around One of the World's Largest Lakes








Tuesday, February 23, 2016

LOSING MY MIND 6 MILES FROM HOME - THE 2016 TUSCOBIA 158 (part 1 of 2)

WARNING PARENTAL DISCRETION ADVISED (FIRST PARAGRAPH ONLY)...

"God Da*^mn it, Son of a bi#$h, What the &%*^ is going on?!?! Why won't this #%*#ing thing work?!?!?!" "F^%#!!! F^%# F*^#!!!!" I raged at my dilemma, alone in the most frigid temperatures I had ever encountered. If I didn't get moving quickly, there was going to be REAL trouble.

70 miles earlier I sat in the halfway checkpoint, refueling as fast as possible for the return trip to Rice Lake, Minnesota.



The legs felt great, temperatures were falling fast and my spirits were high.(The energy bar frozen in  my beard nearly took a minor surgery to remove after finishing). I was here to race, to push myself to the absolute of my abilities. I'd been on the bike for 10 hours,  now in the place where body and mind are fully aware of what is going on, unified in the single minded pursuit. Day to day, minute to minute trivial ramblings of the mind, emails, twitter, text messages, all static, now gone. Everything was very simple now. Stay warm, but not too warm. Sweating can be deadly in these conditions. Keep the food and fluid intake consistent. I wouldn't necessarily categorize it as survival mode, although it can become that. This place, this race will show you exactly who you are. It will strip you down physically, mentally, even spiritually. If you are able to hang on, to push through, it will also provide you with a deeper connection to all that is real and an expanded version of what you believe possible. The thermometer was  headed toward an overnight low of somewhere around 15 below, with the wind picking up a bit, chills could dip to -40 F.

This was my second go at Tuscobia. One year prior I had come to this place with only one goal, to finish my first winter fat bike event. A 150 mile Alaska ITI qualifier seemed like the perfect place to do so, right? Understand, one cannot just pay the entry fee money and show up to run, bike or ski the Tuscobia 150. I only got in based on a decent warm weather ultra resume, but more so because a race veteran and now great friend (Joe Stiller) vouched for me. No one has ever died on this race, but visits to the trauma burn unit to save toes or other extremities are a real possibility. There are no aid stations waiting for the athletes every 2 miles, or 10 miles......or 20 miles. The race directors are not so much concerned with your ability to finish as they are your ability to survive on the trail overnight if things go haywire. The required gear list is extensive and you either pull it behind you on a sled if you are running or in my case, load it onto the bike.



150 mile racers must carry a -20 degree (minimum) sleeping bag, a stove to heat water or create it by melting snow. 3000 calories (typically in the form of a large jar of peanut butter) must be on board at all times. We are instructed  to "figure it out" if we are unable to continue on. No one is coming to your immediate rescue here. There are few problems that rest, water or food can't solve. Race director's, and damn strong racers also, Helen and Chris Scotch,  tell us in the pre-race meeting, "get off the trail, so you don't get run over by a snowmobile, get your sleeping bag and bivy out, grab some calories and water, a few zzz's and continue on." We are given 48 - 60 hours to finish, depending on the method of forward propulsion. The majority of DNF's at these events come from mental exhaustion, not physical. It has been said that "cold, tired and hungry makes cowards of us all."

Tuscobia provides a very unique mental test. Imagine pedaling, running or skiing down a never ending tunnel where the view never changes. Close your eyes and go to that place. Imagine yourself, looking up hour after hour, minute after minute, step after grueling step only to see the exact same view in front of you. This race is a never ending effort to nowhere, a real life Chinese water torture. Each time you look up from the trail, beyond your conscious perception, a bit of your spirit is taken away, until eventually it breaks the will to continue. Once darkness falls, the sensory deprivation multiplies exponentially. The first 10 hours or so one can at least enjoy the beautiful trees lining the trail, the contrast of colors from the white of the snow, to the green of the pines, to the occasional sliver of blue sky and sun.The view rarely changes, but at least it's a view. Now, darkness is your only companion. Go to the nearest closet in your home, step into it, turn off the light, close the door, hop on the bike trainer or run in place for 8 hours. That is an evening at the Tuscobia 150.

Riding the last 10 miles or so into the checkpoint I played a fun game of "count the leaders". The previous year I was probably 50-60 miles into my journey when the first biker passed me going the other way. I was in awe. This dude was like 30 miles or more ahead of me. "Damn, that is awesome!!" I thought. It would be another 30 minutes or so until I'd see another bike coming my way. I'd met Jay Petervary the night before at McDonalds. I've since found out, he too enjoys the more than occasional ice cream cone, winter or not. They must have given him the "secret sauce" ice cream. He went on to win in record time. My ice cream, delicious as it was, had a slightly less superhuman effect. I finished in 24 hours, maybe 9 hours after Jay. It's great watching some of these cats throw down and sharing the trail with them. They are quick to share what they have learned through the years and inspire me to get better, faster.

Each mile that ticked by that I didn't see the leader coming back at me was encouraging. These races are such a mental challenge. I'd suggest that is where most underestimate the difficulty. Everyone who shows up has the physical ability to get to the finish line. As your attitude goes, you go. The ability to stay positive in all conditions is the most valuable skill one can possess. The bike leader came back my way just 10 miles or so from the halfway. I spent the remaining miles counting riders. 2...3.....4.....5....6....7....And there it was, the end of the trail. I recognized it, as last year it was the finish. The race was being done in reverse this year. I'd spend just enough time in the school Park Falls gymnasium, where the checkpoint and turnaround was, to get some soup and me and top off the water bottles before getting out of there. There were no delusions of catching the leaders but I had plenty left in the tank and was eager to take up the chase. Rolling away from the checkpoint I noticed a bike floor pump near the back door and a fleeting thought to check my tire pressure disappeared just as quickly as it came. The chase was on.


This concludes Part 1 of 2 - Losing My Mind 6 Miles From Home - The Tuscobia 158

If you have enjoyed this, "subscribe to/follow" the Expand Your Possible Blog and check out the previous stories from this year's Arrowhead 135 and Actif Epica.

"Dream Big Dreams"

Steve Cannon
Author - 40 Days - " Life, Love, Loss and a Historic Run Around One of the World's Largest Lakes"