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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Arrowhead 135 - The Race That's Not A Race


Arrowhead 135

It is a race. It is a damn tough race.

It is a race that challenges those willing to take the test, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  But it is so very much more than a race. Some races, some places, capture the soul. The Arrowhead 135 is one of those races, perhaps the best of them.

International Falls, Minnesota plays host to the race the last weekend in January every year. It is a race famous for its potentially life-threatening minus forty degree temperatures and its brutal 135 miles. Much like the race itself, International Falls is so much more than it appears on the surface. Nicknamed the “Icebox of the Nation", International Falls spends 110 days of every year below freezing.  Yet, it is a warm place. The people who call this place home look out for each other--the environment demands it. It's in their DNA to be kind and caring. Once there, you will feel their warmth: a welcoming hug that says, "Everything's gonna be ok. We've got you.”

One hundred and thirty five miles on the Arrowhead Trail, from International Falls through Voyageurs National Forest to Tower, Minnesota--assuming you're one of the fortunate ones who make it all the way. Along the trail, await famous stops: CP1 - Gateway. Cowbells and cheering a-plenty!! 


MelGeorges.CP2 - A winter oasis...and a trap if one stays just a bit too long.

the Surly/Ski Pulk. CP-3 Vuvuzela horns announce the arrival of all who dare.

and of course, the finish! Crossing this line, one is forever changed.

If lucky, a wolf serenade by the light of the new moon may accompany your entry fee. Hopefully that's as close as you will get to the packs that call this place home. Remember, you don't have to be the fastest one out there. Just don't be the slowest.

There is no such thing as an "easy" Arrowhead. You get either one of the bone chilling cold years or the occasional "warm" year, when temperatures rise near freezing, often bringing fresh snow and forcing bikers to push rather than pedal and runners to put on snowshoes so as to discontinue "post-holing" with each step. That makes Arrowhead a formidable and unique physical adversary every year. Veterans will tell you the cold years are the best. Movement is quickest on ice cold, hard packed trails. However, make a mistake at  -40F, thirty miles from any help, and you may pay a steep price...in flesh.      

Those who come to this place to race are warrior poets. They are those who will not go quietly into that dark night. They are those who gladly exchange comfort for adventure, realizing that in comfort there can be no real joy. The very definition of adventure is an undertaking with outcome uncertain. No one really DNFs the Arrowhead 135. Some may find their own finish line before reaching Tower, Minnesota, having pushed themselves to their absolute limit. I say here, not only did they finish, but perhaps they found more in their journey than others who were successful in making it through the entire 135 miles. Victory comes in many different forms. When the call rings out, piercing the early morning darkness, "Release the Hounds", all who depart have already won. To be in their midst is an honor.

But none of that is what makes Arrowhead great.

It took me two years to realize the true beauty of The Arrowhead 135. I was intoxicated by the natural spectacle year one. Endless stands of towering pine trees. Night skies flooded with so many stars it becomes hard to figure out if there is more light than darkness. Blood stained snow signaling a fresh kill, probably from the night prior reminds one that we are not the dominant species here. If you are lucky, the snowshoe hare, the bald eagle, pine marten, or whitetail deer may be an occasional companion on the trail. Seemingly endless sections of hills. Mind numbing straightaways. The final 20 mile trail to nowhere? These were the things that I had thought made the Arrowhead great. They make it very good, yes. But are they what make it great? No.

Even with all of this, the race would still be just a race, albeit an amazingly beautiful, gut punch of a tour through the best of the north country, alongside kindred spirits, kind of race. So what is it that makes Arrowhead great?

It's the people. The Arrowhead 135 is not a race at all. It's a family. Race director Ken Krueger, his staff, volunteers, the International Falls community, and the racers who come here annually to take the test become brothers and sisters in adventure, each person realizing that without the others none of this would happen. Ken jokes, sorta, "if it gets too hard, just give up...”, but behind the jokes is a man who has taken the test as an athlete himself, and who has a deep respect for all those willing to do the same.

The volunteers call this place home, they know how tough it is. Be it gear check, pre-race meeting, or getting your third grilled cheese at Melgeorge's before even asking for it, the volunteers here are the gold standard. Some I remember by name: Frank and Mike, finish line volunteers, we met pre-race and hung out together in Tower. I believe we will be lifelong friends. Others, I remember their faces, but more than that, I recall their generosity, kindness and enthusiasm. So often, endurance races leave us a bit in the "blues". The physical demands of the event draining the soul. A small price to pay, but a price nonetheless. Given time, each day the sun shines a bit brighter; the pep in our step returns, and life regains its "normal,” whatever that may be for each of us.

Arrowhead is different from other races. It has been just over a week since the race ended. All of us have returned home to share our stories with friends and family. But there is more to Arrowhead than just those stories of adventure, EPIC as they may be. If we look closely, we can see past the beast's gruff exterior and into it's heart, the best of all realities confirmed: no matter the news headlines and the endless social media bickering, people are kind and caring, wanting the best this life offers, not only for themselves, but for each other. Nowhere have I been where that is more evident than the Arrowhead 135. Thank you all. 


Special Thanks to Rasmussen Bike Shop, BarYak, Bike Bag Dude, Out There Nordic,
Wilderness Sports, My Awesome Family and Friends For Supporting My Dreams!


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Greetings From The Great White North

Hope this finds you nice and snuggled in, ideally next to the fire place, your skis, snowshoes or fat bike now at rest after the days adventure.

2 years ago, having just purchased a fat bike I decided, with the help and advice of many, to head to Park Falls Wisconsin and test myself against The Tuscobia 150. Now here I sit, typing to you from a one bedroom apartment above Out There Nordic in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Winter and all it's activities have captured my soul and if all goes according to plan, most of the winter will be spent here. Bjorn Hanson, his wife Kris (owners of Out There), son Per and dog Kussy have made me feel right at home. The next few months will be spent learning all things about xc skiing (Kris is a coach and has taken me under her wing), Fat biking, snowshoeing and learning how to survive AND enjoy nights spent in 10-20 below temp's. There is no TV, no car, just simplicity. Rice Lake is about 8200 folks and the pace of life here is perfect. A year ago I had the thought...."I wonder if I could figure out a way...". It was a bit scary leaving the known behind even if just for a few months but I can't remember ever feeling so excited. The snow is here and it will stay for the next 4 months.



This is what winter should be. If your ever in the area please stop in and say hi. Bjorn and the crew will be happy to chat ya up and if your looking for ski gear or advice about said gear, they really know their stuff. (A waxing clinic is underway downstairs as I type this.)

One last thing before I let you go. Whatever your "I wonder if I could..." question is, please make it happen for yourself. It will be better than you could imagine it.

The quiet space has also got me just about finished with my second book Upside Down in the Yukon River. Here is a little excerpt for you. (excuse any typos or misspelled words. She still needs to take a trip to the editor).


New chapter -
"Good day Mr.Cannon. Your reason for entering Canada?" - the customs agent asked. "Headed to the Yukon" I replied, a bit full of my adventurous self. "Taking on the world's longest kayak race."
I can only hazard a guess, as this was my first attempt to pass into another country, but my sense was that most answers were one word, maybe two and the agent would manufacture a smile, stamp the passport and grant access. Perhaps he or she may, if having a better than average day even follow up with a half or perhaps three quarter "Enjoy your Stay." My instincts reckoned that with hundreds or more likely thousands of "reason for entering's" and an equal amount of passports to be stamped there was little interest or time for banter.
I could almost see it happen....just as the words "enjoy your stay" were traveling from mind to mouth, elbow at the ready, passport about to be stamped, the gentleman caught himself. "What's that you say? Kayak race? World's longest?" Again, only guessing, but this fella snapping out of routine probably was an occurrence of some rarity. Certainly the token response of "business" or "pleasure" surely was met with only a stamp of the passport and a "Next please."
"Yep, that's right", glancing quickly over my shoulder, a hundred or more folks in wait, "Off to Whitehorse. 700 kilometers down the Yukon River, Whitehorse to Dawson City."
Perhaps I touched something in the man. Was he more than he appeared (most people are). Maybe he was a great adventurer or at the very least a flicker of adventure still burned inside the man. A few seconds delay at the Customs I surmised was equal to minutes in other situations. This line stopped, or slowed for more than the required time needed to move us travelers through seldom, if at all.
Looking up, stamp holder arm half cocked, stalled but at the ready, the gentlemans head still raised as I replied. The man took just a moment to fully absorb my answer. With a genuine smile of approval, he seemingly stamped my passport with not just seal of Canada but his own seal of approval. "Good luck man. Welcome to Canada!" And with that, I left the United States behind for the first time in my life."

Hope you enjoyed. If you want in on the early release just go to www.expandyourpossible.com where you can download a free copy of my first book "40 Days" FREE for the holidays. (GREAT GIFT ALSO) and that gets you on the list for early release info for Upside Down in the Yukon River.

Happy Holidays to you all and to all a good night.

Steve Cannon

Monday, November 7, 2016

200 Miles and the People That Made It Possible - The Spotted Horse Ultra

     Where to start??? I know some say that the beginning is the best place to do so. In this instance that would require rewinding the clock 40 plus years. It would require revisiting a time long ago when my Grandma Rachel would retire for the night, say around 8 pm, equal parts tired and excited. Granny was a lifelong Cubs fan and listening to the nightly radio broadcasts on WGN was one of the many loves of her life. The first of course was Grandpa Bill, the greatest man I ever knew. Many others I am sure have said the same over the years. He was extraordinary. They are no longer with us but are with me in spirit in so very many ways. It is because of two of these ways that I nearly missed the start of Sarah Cooper's Spotted Horse Ultra, and also why I was there in the first place.

     This was the inaugural year for the Spotted Horse Ultra. If you knew Sarah Cooper then you    arrived knowing you were about to be put to the test. In Ultras it is sometimes best to share what a race is NOT to best understand what it really IS. Here is what you will NOT find at Sarah Cooper's Spotted Horse Ultra. You will not find long extended sections of flat gravel roads that have you begging for an end to the monotony. Nor will you find cheering sections lining the roads, broken up by an aid station every two miles, or in this case, even fifty. There will NOT be a drop bag waiting for you at the Casey's (Mile 70) or the local C- store (Mile 135). There is NOT a single course marking. Not even an occasional "left turn here" where only a nondescript dirt road travels quietly off into the distance, hill after bloody hill hiding it's terminus. Not paying attention to your GPS or Cue cards at that moment? Enjoy the ride. Even going the wrong way, the scenery of this race is stunning. It's hills and views equally breathtaking in the effort needed to climb and the expansive countryside you will be overlooking upon conquering one of the hundreds...yes hundreds of hills this race gifts to all who dare. You will NOT share the company of others side by side 10 deep in each direction. There will be no roadside bands to quell the inner speak that says " Can I do this? Am I up to the challenge?" No Eye of the Tiger will blast around the next corner..No man made distractions exist here, unless you count the occasional farm home or shed as such. There will be no one cheering your name, no signs or cowbells....unless from around an actual cow's neck.

     What there IS. A true individual test, equal parts in and out. It is truly a privilege to spend an entire day on a bicycle. You WILL see the sunrise to your left shoulder, welcoming you to the day ahead. A mix of orange, purples and hues so beautiful they remain unnamed. Real quiet, the kind one
experiences on a walk, or in this case a ride through the countryside, far away from the ambient noise of the city. It is a quiet that can only be experienced. Attempting to describe it requires word smithing that is beyond this writer's skill set. If you are able to welcome the sun and realize it will be your companion for the day, time loses it's meaning and then it's power. You are free to ride all day long, free of the "when will this be over?", free from the "god, how much farther?". Then it's just you and the very best that Iowa has to offer, hill after hill, winding streams, dirt roads and the sudden realization that not a soul on this earth knows where the hell you are. Can you feel that? When the sun switches shoulders and now gives you it's last bit of warmth before setting, you will, if quick, be done, if not so quick, close to done. The day will end soon enough and after recovering you will long to return.


The Spotted Horse offers a space to clear the mind and get lost in the moment. It offers a true challenge, one of both body AND spirit. 150 miles or 200 miles. Thousands of feet of elevation gain. (My GPS showed close to 15,000 for the 200. I'm told it is closer to 12,000). If you come to Iowa, to The Spotted Horse Ultra, hoping for a true test of put the bit firmly into your mouth, no frills, no excuses, no BS, it's me vs. the distance gravel grinding, you will come away completely satisfied. It is as stout a test and at the same time stunningly beautiful a ride as you will find ANYWHERE in these United States. It is every bit the equal of the Almonzo 162, The Dirty Kanza 200, The Heck of the North and I say this having ridden them all.


   
     I showed up at the race on just a few hours sleep, suffering a Game 3 Chicago Cubs' loss in the World Series. A 4 a.m. wake up and 6 a.m. start came all too quick and with sleep still in my eyes,  I nearly missed it. My love of Ultras be damned, I was not going to bed before the game was over, win or lose. Grandma Rachel wouldn't have liked that. To win the series would have meant more to her than I could have ever imagined. For those non-baseball fans, it had been 108 years since the Cubbies had won it all. It was the longest drought in all of baseball. I felt as if while I watched, she watched, through and with me.

      When times got tough, and they always do at some point in a race like this, I'd look over the countryside, reminded of the long Sunday drives Grandpa and I would take. He'd take note of everything as we drove..."See that eagle there in the distance son?" "That next farmhouse... I've sold feed to them for 16 years, over a hundred cows in that lot.". "Keep your eyes open, the deer will be coming out as the sun gets lower". Everything became so much easier remembering those special times. The soreness of the legs drifted away, the voices in the mind fell silent. It was as if he was right there with me again.

That is what Sarah Cooper's Spotted Horse Ultra offers.

Monday, October 10, 2016

"Upside Down in the Yukon River" - (And a FREE Book Offer For YOU)

Howdy y'all. Book #2 is in the works and I can't wait to share the finished product with you!! Hope this finds you planning your next or first BIG adventure.

An excerpt from the upcoming book "Upside Down in the Yukon River"... enjoy.
(my apologies for any typos. remember I got a 13 ACT in English. True story)

Chapter 7 (Who wants to name it? I'm serious. What should we title it?) -

"The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them" - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

I was most certainly well "over my ski's" on this one. The Yukon River Quest. 715 kms, 444 miles. That is the distance from Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon. My longest paddle to date? Perhaps 50 miles. Unknowingly, I had enlisted the assistance of the heavens. Rules of the Universe, of which I was just vaguely aware were now being put to the test. Now, some 12 years later, I can attest to a simple truth. The Universe lines up behind all who dare. It matters not wether you are "qualified" to take on the test or not. I'd suggest if we are already "qualified" it's not much of a dream in the first place. (See chapter starting quote.) I like imagining the secretary to the "Universe" as he/she looks over the constant stream of dreams passing by, occasionally exclaiming "Yes!!! Finally something worthy of our powers. Get luck, fate and coincidence on the line...we got us a real kindred spirit here to help!" The point is this. We are capable of SO much more than we imagine. Most "dreams" once accomplished, looking back were only a small test of what we can achieve.the beauty however, is that with each accomplishment we gain confidence in the Universal laws and begin to trust that we are only limited by our own imagination. The Universe excites in the endless possibility of all things. Armed with the knowledge that impossible exists only within our own minds, the world becomes our playground. If you knew without exception that failure was not an option, would the size and scope of your dreams change?
If you'd like to be informed of the release, save a few bucks and get a free copy of "40 DAYS, Life, Love, Loss and a Historic Run Around One of the World's Largest Lakes" visit www.expandyourpossible.com
#dreamBIGdreams

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Going Up?" - Bikepacking The 10th Mountain Hut System

"I can't.....catch....my.....breath!!!"

Turquoise Lake, just a few miles outside of Leadville , Colorado was long ago out of sight and mind.



Now, well over 11,000 feet, climbing towards Hagerman pass, I gasped for air, putting a foot down to steady myself before pedaling any further. Oh how my lungs yearned for the thick, often cussed, humid air, so abundant back home in Des Moines, Iowa.

Months earlier, Outside magazine had shared an article detailing a three night,4 day bike packing trip through the Rocky mountain's 10th Mountain Hut System. Already familiar with the hut system after  adventuring the past few years on winter journeys, the idea of loading the fat bike, kicking it with great friends and pedaling to the sky was a certain "Hell Yeah." Touring/Bikepacking has been a love now for some time. A 2000 mile, 12 mountain pass, 5 state, 1 marathon bike trip in 2004 sealed my fate. In truth, the adventure bug had bitten me years prior, but this first really big 'go' really opened my eyes to the wild, high places, the joy of seeing them self supported and on two wheels.

Outside laid it out perfectly, detailing mileage, things to see and do, the area, pretty much all the intel one would need. Maria and Kevin, two great friends were in from the start, it may have actually been Maria who first found the article, so maybe it would be correct to say Michele and I were in from the start. Joe and Joanne Schmidt were next to fall in line. They had a BIG trip planned already for that time that entailed heading out to Montana to see their son Stephen, doing their own biking around Glacier and much more. They were helpless to resist the temptation. I don't remember them fighting it much, or at all. A few more days added to the front end of their journey, bikepacking with friends, early fall in the Rockies? Duh.

The 10th Mountain hut system is a national treasure. Years prior, Bill Dabney and Tim Bock, great friends from Denver had invited me to join a crew headed up to Janet's cabin. They had been picking off cabins for a couple years, back country skiing, using different 10th mountain huts as base camps. I should clarify, that to classify many of these structures as huts is akin to calling the White House just a house.




 It appears that there are some more primitive dwellings in the hut system but so far, I believe I've stayed at 8 or so of these, none of which would be called roughing it, unless perhaps your name was Donald Trump. (sorry, couldn't help myself). Janet's cabin consisted of the following. Composting indoor toilet, which is no small deal. A two a.m. January walk to the outhouse at 11,000 feet is a bit more adventure than some may like. Look up during the walk though and all will be forgiven. The kitchen, or in this case, kitchens are propane served, stocked with utensils and well lit thanks to the solar panels feasting on the over 300 days of sunlight Colorado supplies. If your bones are a bit creeky after carving out a few lines on the virgin snow or snowshoeing up the mountainside to take in the view from 12,000 feet, the wood burning sauna will heal what ails ya. Like I said, certainly not roughing it. Janet's, if memory serves correctly, sleeps well over 20 so an added benefit of these trips is that you'll likely meet some like minded cool folk. I've found, almost without exception that people who dig hiking up mountains in the winter or pedaling up them during the warmer months, supplies in tow, don't suck. On this inaugural trip up the snow packed trail to Janet's a gentleman in his early seventies was toting a couple bottles of wine and some ribeyes on the sled behind him for he and his lady. I'd have been impressed with that were it at sea level and had the guy been in his thirties. Lucky gal. Like I said, plenty of cool folk. I have yet to find another wood burning sauna on my travels through the 10th mountain system, but each "hut" has impressed in it's own unique way.

Betty Bear to Skinner's to Uncle Bud's, that would be the sequence of huts we'd be seeing on this journey. All sit above 11,000 feet so don't be lulled to sleep by the posh accomodatio's, this trip is far from soft. If there was one shortcoming of the Outside article, through no fault of their own, it is that conveying the lack of oxygen available while attempting to pedal a loaded bike up double digit percent inclines, over and around rocks bigger than your head, is impossible. I'll do my best to do so here.....it's a real bugger...and if you are not physically prepared it will suck the joy out of your trip, may induce debilitating headaches and perhaps a few tears. A couple tips. Drink often, eat often, rest often. Leave your flat lander ego behind and allow your body, not your mind to be the boss. Each little break allows the opportunity to take in some of the most remarkable views offered on this planet. Eventually, you will find your pace in this rare air. To be hurried in this place is to miss an opportunity to immerse in solitude, to breathe in a silence not found in everyday life, to make deposits into the mental bank account that can be withdrawn when needed upon return to your "real world." It is in these places that one is afforded the opportunity to lose oneself...and find oneself.





Thanks for taking the time to read part 1 of "Going Up? - Bikepacking the 10th Mountain Huts". Part two will be coming soon. Headed out for a bike ride so that's all for now.

If you have enjoyed this, perhaps you would enjoy my first book, recently released "40 DAYS - Life, Love, Loss and a Run Around one of the World's Largest Lakes" - Now available FREE HERE.

Dream Big Dreams,
Steve Cannon


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.