I arrived at Brown County State Park, exactly on time, even though I had left a bit later than I planned. There wasn’t much traffic this early in the morning, and the cars that were on the road were moving at a good pace.
I pulled into the swimming pool parking lot inside the North Gate. Some light was just barely beginning to show over the horizon. The grass was covered with thick frost, enough that it almost looked like it had snowed. I parked my car and got out. As soon as I exited my car, I felt cold air rushing over me, and a breeze cut right through me. I was wearing the clothes I had selected for the event, a long-sleeved jersey, shorts, and knee warmers. Over that, I had corduroy pants and a sweatshirt.
I started walking toward what appeared to be the sign-in location. I heard someone calling my name, but couldn’t really see – it turned out to be Collin and Dan, who had both come in Dan’s car. I talked to them for a few minutes, and we decided to form a group with the three of us, since we were all planning on doing the “short” course of 35 miles. Everyone else was planning on doing the 52-mile course.
I had preregistered online and just had to sign a release form and get the wristband I was issued (which Sarah insists was to identify my body if I turned up dead later on). Chris was in the line next to me, so I talked to him for a minute.
I grabbed my alotted SAG (Support And Gear) bag and took it over to my car to fill it. The SAG bags would be transported to the SAG stop(s) for us – the 35-mile course only included one SAG bag. I put my spare tube, chain lube, a rag, the sandwich Sarah had made for me, my short-sleeved jersey, and a few other things in my SAG bag.
So far, I had been trying to kill as much time as possible, because the ride wasn’t scheduled to start until 8:05. I was too antsy to sit in the car that whole time, so I talked to the people who I knew, got my stuff ready about three times, went to the bathroom, etc. Then, around 7:55, they announced that they were postponing the start of the event by 10 minutes. I think they did that because there just wasn’t enough light yet.
There was a brief informational meeting, with a description of the course. We were given more detailed, printed information when we signed in. I was a bit surprised that we would be taking the road up about half a mile to the trail, not taking the connector trail up. I assume that the idea behind this was to prevent the connector trail from becoming too crowded.
A raffle of sorts was held for a new fork donated by one of the sponsors, I believe Nebo Ridge Bicycles. Everyone continued to stretch and attempted to stay warm during this time. They started the other groups, starting with the fastest and going slower, in waves every two minutes. I was pleased to learn that the shop where I bought my bike, Indy Cycle Specialist, was one of the sponsors.
After what seemed like ages of stretching, preparing, meeting, talking, and trying to kill time in any way possible, we finally started moving! I was looking forward to getting moving, to warm up a bit. The moment we started moving, I realized that it wasn’t going to warm me up as much as I had hoped.
Since we were on the road, there weren’t trees all around to break the wind, and we were moving pretty quickly. Soon, there was a big hill to climb, which could have been a good thing, except that I couldn’t shift to my small chainring. My front derailleur was clearly not adjusted quite right. I had to climb the hill in the middle ring; fortunately, this was doable.
As we got on the trail, everyone was still very close together. It was strange riding in this long line of bikes. It was a really cool experience, although a little harrowing, since I’m not used to having such a tightly-packed group. One mistake could screw over a bunch of riders – although I tried to leave more distance in front of me than a lot of the others did.
I continued to get colder. My fingers and my toes felt the worst, my fingers because my gloves don’t cover the whole fingers, and my toes because my shoes are ventilated.
Some jackass kept cutting across in places where there wasn’t any trail to try to get ahead of people, cutting them off in the process. He almost caused multiple wrecks. I have no idea what that idiot was thinking. If he wanted to pass someone, all he had to do was say so, and I’m sure they would let him. He cut Collin off once or twice.
After about two miles on the North Tower Loop, we began to approach a turn where I had wiped out before. (See http://onegeneralweblog.blogspot.com/2006/09/north-tower.html) It doesn’t look like a turn you’d have to slow down for very much, but it is slightly off camber, and there’s a slick rock or root that you can’t easily see. Dan was in front of me, and went into the turn pretty quickly.
He wiped out, exactly as I had done in exactly that spot. It wasn’t bad at all, his wheels slipped out from under him, but he jumped up and started riding again right away – I didn’t even have to stop! I was impressed with his reflexes, although I don’t think he needed to hurry so much. Then, he made another mistake. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but he tried to make another quick recovery. Apparently, his chain wasn’t quite in gear or something, because he snapped it in two! I stopped to see if I could help, while the rest of our group continued on.
There was nothing I could do to help Dan. I didn’t have a spare chain, or a chain tool, or a master link, or anything like that, and neither did he. I had thought about buying some or all of those items, but never got around to it. All I could do was let Dan use my cell phone to call Collin and let him know that the ride was over for him. I offered to give Collin a ride home so Dan could just go home and not have to come back.
I felt terrible for Dan. I knew how excited I was about this ride, and I’m sure he was, too. I have also had some similar mechanical problems recently, and I know how frustrating that can be. Sadly, there was nothing I could do, so I continued on my way. Collin said he’d wait for me by the Aynes loop so we could regroup and ride it together.
By the time I reached the Aynes loop just a few minutes later, my toes were so cold that I seriously thought they were going to break off. I thought about the guy in the parking lot beforehand who had to have two other guys help him get the covers on his shoes, and how I had laughed at him. Now, I envied his shattered pride and his warm toes.
Collin and I talked for a few minutes, mostly complaining about Dan’s broken chain. We took off to ride the Aynes loop. The climb was gruelling, as always, but we both did pretty damn well. Collin is definitely in better shape than I am and generally goes faster; I told him to go at whatever pace he wanted. We were both just there to have fun, but I still didn’t want to feel like I was holding him back. We climbed at about the same rate – in fact, I could have gone a little faster on that part. I learned to leave plenty of space in front of me, because sometimes Collin would screw up and stop, and it was better for me not to stop in the middle of the climb. I even made it over the rocks toward the top of the hill and the rock garden, which are always questionable for me.
The Aynes Loop was a smooth, uneventful ride. Collin did a great job, especially considering he had only ridden it once before. Neither of us had any major screw-ups, and we rode it pretty quickly. We were still very cold at this point, but that climb definitely helped generate some heat.
Things really started to get interesting when we reached the Hesitation Point trail. We were still pretty frustrated about Dan’s chain. I was slightly behind Collin and saw him take a pair of tight switchbacks too quickly, going slightly off the trail with his front wheel and getting thrown from his bike. He shook it off, got up, and started riding again, but that spawned a series of mistakes and sent Colling spiraling into frustration.
I’ve had similar things happen to me before; in fact, I’m sure any cyclist can understand this feeling. Things are going fine, but suddenly you make a mistake, and get so frustrated and so determined to, as Collin put it, “make up for lost time,” that you just make more and more mistakes. So it went for Collin. I kept my distance and saw him crash probably 5 or 6 times on the Hesitation Point trail. Most of his crashes were due to stupid mistakes and trying to go too fast.
I encouraged Collin to take a break, because often that can help in a situation like this one. We rested for a few minutes, but apparently, it wasn’t enough, as Collin’s woes continued, culminating with a failed switchback attempt in which he knew he was going down and tried to lean toward the uphill side (we were on the side of a big hill).
Unfortunately, his attempts to crash safely didn’t work – I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I think he indeed fell to the uphill side, only then his wheels slid out from under him and his bike fell of the ledge, bringing Collin with it. Fortunately, there was a pile of logs maybe 4 feet down the side of the hill, on which Collin and his bike both landed. I’m sure he ended up with some nasty bruises from that fall, but if it hadn’t been for those logs, he would’ve fallen a lot further, and it would’ve been much worse. He handed his bike up to me and climbed up to the trail.
After waiting for a few minutes, we continued on our way up to Hesitation Point. I had only ridden the new section of trail once, and I didn’t like it the first time. I hoped I’d like it better this time around, but I can’t say that I did. There are just too many rock gardens, and overall, it’s simply too technically difficult for me. It’s a lot harder than the rest of the trail, and I found myself first walking over rock gardens, then riding a couple hundred feet, then getting off to walk again. Eventually, I gave up and just walked a large portion of it. The good things about the new trail are that there are some really fun parts, and it’s a much more gradual climb than going straight up the fire road.
Collin and I took a break for a few minutes at Hesitation Point, took in the scenery and talked about our ride so far and his 21st birthday party November 17. He invited Sarah and me to come to the party. I sure feel old … I was surprised to learn that Collin is so young, because hardly anyone from work is.
We were on the road for the next 4 miles or so, which was actually a pretty nice change of pace. There weren’t any major hills to climb, and it felt like we were really flying after all that singletrack. We chatted along the way. A couple of times, we thought we were going the wrong way because we hadn’t seen any markings for a while, but that was simply because there hadn’t been anywhere to turn. Just to be sure, we asked a family in the campground if they had seen a whole bunch of bikes go by. They said they had, so we knew we were on the right track.
The next section of trail was some fire road, followed by some horse trail. These trails are not usually open to cyclists, and it was cool to ride on normally-forbidden ground. On the other hand, the more we rode, the more I realized that these trails weren’t well-suited for biking. They were pretty rough, with a lot of rocks, and some pretty scary descents that had a lot of loose rock and dirt. I’m not used to riding in such loose conditions – the bike trails are hardpack – so I was a little extra careful. I’m glad I was – I later learned that DJ, who was riding the 52-mile course, wiped out pretty badly in that section when he hit a rock at high speed and was launched off his bike. The dirt in this section was very dry and dusty and got kicked up a lot as we rode.
Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, I really enjoyed the extra trails. Brown County is a beautiful place, especially in the fall, and I had never seen this part of it before. There were some fun hills, some challenging climbs, and some pretty damn fast sections of trail. I was getting really hungry, and every time we’d see other bikers going in the opposite direction, they’d tell us we were getting close to the SAG stop, and remind us how much the return trip would suck, since it would be mostly uphill.
The trail got smoother and narrower and began to wind more. As we approached a hill, I could faintly hear music. I knew we must be approching the SAG stop now, because I knew they had a band playing there. As we got closer, I could make out bluegrass tones. Never has bluegrass music sounded so good! It was lunch time! We descended a particularly steep hill, and Collin wiped out again. We were almost to the bottom, and just walked the rest of the way.
In all seriousness, the bluegrass band was really good. There was, at least, a guitarist, mandolin, and banjo, I think. I’m not too sure, really, but it sounded great. They were playing in front of a cabin, which I think may have actually been someone’s home. There was a fire, and all kinds of refreshments were provided, including PB&J, Gatorade, hot chocolate, apples, and some energy shot things.
Collin and I ate some lunch and relaxed a little bit, sitting/standing in the sun, and enjoying the fire before we decided to go.
We had learned before the start of the race that our SAG bags would be returned to the starting point, but not until 18:00. We weren’t about to wait around that long after the ride, or come back, so we decided that whatever we couldn’t carry back with us was getting thrown out. I found space for my short-sleeved jersey, chain lube, and a few other items. I had to throw some things away, including the container in which Sarah had put my sandwich, and my spare inner tube.
As we collected our things and prepared to leave, Collin noticed his front tire was flat! This was truly a surprise – there hadn’t been any apparent leak in his tire, nor do I think that he rode over anything that might have punctured it. It seemed to have spontaneously lost all of its air. I fished my spare tube out of the trash. We found someone with a pump, but theirs was set up for Presta valves, whereas his was a Schrader. It seemed like it could be converted, but alas, that didn’t work. Someone else had a small pump. A guy at the Nebo Ridge Bicycles tent inflated Collin’s tire. We told Collin it would be best to put the new tube on there first, but he was convinced it would be OK. I tossed the spare tube in Collin’s Camelbak just in case.
We started heading back on the narrow trail, then the horse trails, and sure enough, Collin’s tire started losing air again. He stopped to check it, and it was going down, but still OK for the moment. 10 minutes later, it was completely flat. We didn’t have a pump, so we thought this was going to be the end of the line for Collin. He called Dan to see if he could pick him up afterall. I continued by myself. It looked like I was going to be the only one of the three of us to finish all 35 miles, provided something didn’t go wrong with my bike as well.
Collin called me and said that some guys had come along who had a pump and fixed his tire. That was one thing I noticed about this Epic ride – there was a real sense of community, and people were coming together to help anyone who needed it. It’s great to see people working together like that.
We decided to meet at Hesitation Point and do the rest of the ride together. However, I took some long breaks on the horse trail to give him a chance to catch up. He caught up with me once we were back on the road.
We took a break when we got back to Hesitation Point. I called Dave to find out what the status of their group was. He said that Chris, Ken, and DJ were going pretty slow, and he went ahead of them at a faster pace, since he had to catch a flight to Minneapolis that evening. He said he was about 30 minutes behind us – which was impressive, since he was doing the full 52 miles!
Collin and I headed down Hesitation Point. I ended up wishing I had taken the fire road down – the new section is just too difficult, even on the way down. I was really taking my time by now, as I was absolutely exhausted and didn’t want to make any dumb mistakes. I made it through the Hesitation Point trail, albeit with some difficulty.
We took the short route down the Aynes, and that part was quite a bit easier, in part because it’s an easier section of trail, and in part because I’m more familiar with it. Collin had taken off ahead of me this time and we were just going to meet at the bottom. I’m glad he was comfortable with doing that, because I didn’t want to hold him back, nor did I want to go too fast. I finished that section of the Aynes Loop and started down the part of the North Tower Loop that was next. There’s a climb there that can be pretty hard, and I was really running out of steam. I did the Hammer Gel “shot,” which is really just a packet of energy goo. It was pretty nasty, and I’m not sure how much it even helped, although I’m not sure what would have helped at that point.
I made it back to the Parking Lot Connector, which is the final 2 miles of trail or so, maybe a little less. Now my memory actually gets a bit hazy, that energy goo stuff was kicking in, giving me a caffeine buzz, and I was almost delirious from exhaustion. My phone rang, but I ignored it, since I was almost done. I did the Connector trail pretty fast, as I was on a roll, I couldn’t wait to finish, and it’s a fast section of trail. I made my way down the last hill and into the parking lot, then rode back over to the pool parking lot.
There was a finish line of sorts set up by the pool parking lot. I pulled in and a guy who was standing behind a table gave me a bag with a “Brown County Breakdown” T-Shirt in it, and strangely, some electrolyte replacement capsules designed for use in hot temperatures. I hadn’t even bothered to put my short-sleeved jersey on or take my knee warmers off! It had been really cold for most of the day. Well, whatever. He pointed to another table that had some food in it.
I saw Collin and we talked about how awesome it was that we had just ridden 35 miles. It hadn’t really sunk in yet – in fact, I’m not sure it has now, either. What an achievement!
Collin informed me that Dave had called him, and that he actually finished at about 10 til 3. He must’ve taken the road down, as there’s no other way he could finish that quickly – and he didn’t pass us, which he would have had to do to finish before us if he had taken the trail. So, Dave beat us to the finish, even though he rode an addition 15 miles or so!
I don’t care about that, though. I was in it for the fun, and I had a great experience. I finished the 35 miles, which was my goal for the day – I had no timeframe in mind. Which is a good thing, because it took just over 7 hours!