Saturday, April 28, 2012

North to Aitkin

Take Highway 65 north to Aitkin

County Road 14, then follow 14 for 11 miles to Savanna Portage State Park.

The Continental Divide marks the great division of water: water to the west flows into the Mississippi River; water to the east runs into Lake Superior.

I went up to help a good friend launch a dock this weekend. As you likely know the weather was snotty and the wind was about 12 knots. Good sailing weather but I brought a Fat bike, so, that works no matter what. My buddy is returning to bike riding after several years so we rack up the bikes and head up County Road 14 to the trailhead.

We are running a bit late and I need to be back in the cities for some other plans Sunday (nothing worth posting but I'll see what I can do) so we ride out to do the Continental Divide trail. It's a sharp ridge trail and only a few miles. The hills are rollers but we climb a few hundred feet before a flowing downhill. These trails are mostly cross-country ski trails so they are fast and flowing.
I still manage to blow my chain on a hill climb. I am in a bigger gear then I should for a large climb but I come in carrying a head of steam and stand to start putting the power down and ping!

I have all the parts and tools to splice in and off I go, but still. This was a new chain. I don't think it had 50 miles on it. I may need to look into a better derailleur if that's causing problems. I break too many chains.

This is the Continental Divide, I guess. It's a classic plaque history lesson. I would rather ride but Brad enjoys taking in the history while he's on site. I can see that but the flowing trail is more rock-n-roll and I'm hearing the music now that I got my mechanical out of the way. I haven't been on the Fatbike for a month or so and I'm having a good time.
This is one of about 5 portages around downed trees. We are obviously one of the first 'hikers' of the season. It's a huge old Red Oak that had core rot.

You really can't go for a ride in a park or any place in Minnesota for that matter without running into lake so here it is. Resplendent like any other, enough said.
All state parks have these raccoon feeders. Patrons are instructed to not feet the wild life directly so these are staged for late night bandits to feed and aspiring photographers to get really great red eye shots of critters.
We finish our ride in the late afternoon sun and that means snack time. I was packing the best bar treat. It was caramel, nuts, M&M's, Whoopers and other chewy goodness. I got it at the coffee shop on the way to the park. We are out of time so Brad and I rack up and head back to the cities. All rides are good and this one did not disappoint. It wasn't epic, fast or long but it was nice trail and great terrain.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


DiG DUG - Remember that video game? I didn't learn anything from it that works in real life.

The MSS started a dig to clear a passage 10 years ago and I end up on the trip due to some extra phone calls from Josh pulling for me so I make the short list of diggers. Seven in total.

Lets get into the pictures because it's digging dirt, you know how to do that right?

Javier (in yellow) hikes a narrow slot using climbing skills call "chimney"  moves. It's friction climbing in that you use friction to hold yourself in place and not hands and feet. See Josh on the right! That's about the best belly scumming I've ever seen! This crack is vertical, he his not laying on a ledge with his feet hanging. He is holding himself in the air because the slot and his torso are the same size. He worms himself up a few inches at a time with great effort. I follow Josh up the same slot.

This is the top of the slot. We are in a narrow passage about 20 feet above the dig. Our intent is to down climb the other side and dig out while the rest of the team (4) dig in. The slot gets very small and you have to make sure you don't get stuck. My helmet 'sticks' a few times.
We set up a cable ladder and down climb into a the space we need to dig out of to connect with the main passage. These ladders are a little difficult to climb on but the narrow slot makes it better in that you don't swing around but you also can't move and you hang up and 'stick' when you want to 'fall'
I'm  really lucky to be the digger when we break through but I also feel mixed that I didn't spend years digging and others should have been in front at the breakthrough. This is Al, he's a great guy. He and I shake hands through a 5 inch hole before we widened it to the size you see in the picture.
 Javier is very happy, It was his project, I think, and he's been pushing this lead for years.
Al and I not long after the break through. Everyone is electrified with the accomplishment and a small party goes off in the new passage. The 4 diggers from the far side pass the restriction with ease and explore a room only seen by 5 or 6 people before.

Josh and I volunteer to retrieve the cable ladder that was left in place to make sure we could return if the breakthrough failed. We climb the slot and lower the gear and drop the rope so that we don't have to carry anything but it also commits us to returning via the original route which is small and requires us to drop down the small chimney we went up at the start. It's also very wet.

This is Josh squeezing through the last bit. It's muddy, wet and greasy. With the main passage now open, it's possible Josh and I will be the last people to pass this restriction.

Below: Everyone returns to a staging area to change out of the very muddy gear so as to not make a mess of the main passage and the tour route. Note the large formation behind Brian. Looks like a huge cow tongue, right?

Some of the formations on the way to and from the dig site.

 Diggers exit the cave.
And take a few pounds of mud with. You can't avoid getting mud covered. It's kind of fun for the first few hours and then you want to eat and you only have dirty fingers... Good thing I had peanut butter sandwiches. With them getting squashed in my cave pack and the poor light, I couldn't tell what was PB and what was cave mud. :-)
I don't remember putting mud on my face and I know it's not PB.
We need dinner before the long drive home so we run into town and have Mexican food as Los Gables. I think its good value. I'd go back but my beer tab was bigger then my food bill so maybe my priorities are wrong.
 This is my gear.
This is my climbing gear. With this much mud and only using a head lamp, you need to know your gear well. You really do need to know how to do things blind.
 After a good hose down the color returns.
This is much better but  I still check each piece very carefully and inspect for any damage. This harness is only for caving so it can take a bit more abuse because it's unlikely to see a fall. It only needs to hold body weight yet it's a full strength harness so it can take a ton of abuse before I need to replace it.

A short video to end things. This is Josh cleaning out a bucket used to move earth while Javier uses a pry bar to dig.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Creeking Sounds

Sand Creek Page 303. That's about as easy as it gets. Written instructions on how to play outside.

Go to the book store. Ask an associate where the "Minnesota" section is. If its a good store you'll have your choice between history and recreation. Most of the books are going to be day hikes. These are worth a cursory scan but mostly will be 'trade routes' that are overrun with tourist and families. It's common for the "best" routes to be popular routes and have nothing to do with quality. The "best" hike/routes have ice cream shops, lots of parking, super easy navigation and so short you can almost see your car the entire time.

Page 303 of Paddling Minnesota was going to be easy. We planned on it being easy because Josh and I went after work on a Wednesday. If your going to play on a school night, you want to be able to get home at a reasonable hour. Adventure mid week is like a free weekend but only if it doesn't go epic. I banked on the "trade route" being a sure thing and it was, almost.

You need to get out before this unmarked waterfall. It's easy to see but you should be near shore when that happens. It's the take out and we chain some bikes to a post so we can ride back to the cars at the head waters.
The Book said class 1 and 2 rapids for 3.5 miles, That means ripples and small waves to easy standing waves. It's doable in an open boat but you should have good skills. Josh and I have lousy skills and open kayaks. 

We cross this train track several times. I wanted to take better whitewater pictures but my new all-weather camera didn't arrive before the trip so I made due with my cell phone, again! But for the last time!

Different bridge, but you can't really tell. We are having a really great time. The water is low so we hit a lot of rocks but it's flowing fast enough that our boat skills are challenged and we lose some competition with shallow rocks.

I'm reasonably happy with how things are going. We are on time to be home before it's too late and the whitewater rapids are fun but not too difficult. The water is cold but not deep so we are not going to drown or go hypothermic.

The train crossings gave us a gauge of how far along we are because the water fall is just after the 5th crossing.

The river splits and I chose the left course believing it's better water. Josh goes right. I don't know if he got pushed off track or chose but it was passable but I think it was harder then my route. We reconnect about 100 yards down stream but I have trouble right at the end with a log and shallow water but I pass it and we meet up after a few minutes.

I just got a creek boat. It's 10.5 feet , down from my sea kayak of 17 feet. It's much easier to control but the large rock in the picture on the left got me sideways, rolled me and swept my paddle under the boat breaking a carbon fiber Warner Camaro worth $279 retail.

So I'm up Sand Creek without a paddle. This was not on page 304, I looked.

The trade route just gave us trouble but I have my Swiss Army.

Below: Josh cuts a mandrel for my paddle while I document the human drama.

Funny thing is about 10 minutes before this we talked about getting cheap paddles so we don't wreck our good flat water gear.

The patched paddle makes it but I have to rudder steer more and that turns out to be more effective in the whitewater and had I ruddered more and paddled less I may not have broken it in the first place.

The water ended on time just before sundown and we rode back about 4 miles on gravel. It's better then asphalt roads but less fun then trails. We enjoy the 20 minutes back to the cars.

We return, scoop up the kayaks and run off to our respective houses so we can go to work in the morning. I get home about 9:20pm so the entire trip took about 4 hours.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ragnarok 2012

It's been a week since I 'raced' in the Ragnarok and I am not kidding when I tell you, just looking at the pictures makes me feel the pain again. This ride is so much more then 100 miles of gravel. It's the hills that kill you.

I was recovering from a cold the week before; I start out feeling ok but with weak lungs and a cough I still have.
I don't know too many racers but I find 4 or 5 guys I know and try and get a little advice and otherwise wish them luck.

The day is threatening rain, temps are cool but ok for hill climbing.

I have toed the line in about 18 bike races in my life so I still feel green but not a rookie. I've not raced 108 miles. I've ridden for 8 hours, I've ridden 100 miles, and I've ridden 50 miles fast (for most) but not all together in a fast, hilly 108.

 Pre-race briefing. There is almost always good information in these pre-race talks. Many people think its just the standard pre-race raa-raa and don't pay attention.

My wife has taught me over the years to listen and read when I just want to go. This briefing tells about a closed road but it's open and cross-able and to ignore the "Road Closed" signs.

Left: I'm in red with the yellow rain jacket on my pack. I'm clearing my computer.

 Toeing the line. I choose outside and back. I expect to be a mid to front-mid pack rider so I choose right side about 60% back. I size up the riders and I think I'm in the right spot. I expect to pass a few on the first hill.

Brett had a pre-Roc ride so I'm not totally green and I know the first 5 miles. I'm hoping to find some riders my speed to work with. I'm a little nervous about navigating and getting lost and running out of supplies.
The launch, the best part of the race next to finishing following "half way!"

I blow the launch and almost crashed in the first 10 feet. The start got me a bit off guard but I mount up and go to clip in. The right blows off and the left clips, I'm too slow and too close to others and I have to go low and kick the bike like a skateboard for 10 feet, yaw right (so I don't trap others) clip in, and then peddle out. I connect with Brett for the motor lead out (think pace car.) We talk about the race course and have an easy peddle to the first hill.

I find some riders to 'work' with but my cold has affected my lungs more then expected. I try and go it myself for a few miles with the main pack but most are too slow and the rest don't really seem open to working as a team with a solo guy. I pass and am overtaken by Dan Dittmer 3 times before I hook in to him and his buddy's wheels. They were gentleman and let me hook in and hide out for the first 40 miles.

I'm not proud of this photo but I'm the guy hiding behind Dan's friend. I owe him and his buddy a beer next time we are out. I never pulled for them. I was too weak.

This is the first checkpoint at 36 miles. I lose Dan and team. I was feeling good but I wasn't

use to feeding at that pace and didn't eat for the entire 36 miles so I was blowing up and knew I messed up.

My wife came down with our dog, Scooby, for support so I fired down some sugary drink and headed off. I eat on the go. At my pace I can feed as needed.

Out of checkpoint one. This is where not being totally green pays off. I'm thinking, slow is fast, and I have a great start. My pace with Dan was 15.7 (I think, and only 8 minutes behind the leaders, but they got lost...) and I was in a great place. If I could eat and pace out something in the 13/14 range I may recover for a strong personal finish.

Well that dream lasted about two hours. Mile 62 brought hell fire to the legs and hills that break your will to turn a crank. I never recovered and my legs, having no voting stock, had to take
orders from the president of "never quit". My legs called a wildcat strike on the next hill and I pushed my bike no less than 4 times. I had company on about half the walks and the topic was what a great race and what a great time we were having. I guess. If you go into a 100 miles of gravel, you want to hurt and hurt we got.

This is me rolling into Checkpoint 2 (81 miles). I am shot, I hurt, I just want to finish. I know it's going to happen, but I will need to pay the legs a small ransom because they are now in charge. I need them to help me finish so I have the team I needed all along, myself.

Finishing is always good but it's with mixed feeling I finish anything. My spirit to never give up is at odds with my sense of pure challenge. That is, I want a 50/50 chance of failure. I want to have failure because it's so powerful a lesson but you can't just be a puss and give in when it looks scary or hard.

If I finished strong and in the top ten, it wasn't hard enough. Winning is odd, it says you're the best but it also means you didn't set the bar high enough. You should not win, you should do well but suffer at the limits of human resolve.

I'm done; that red line in the last foot that counts. I'm happy to be done, my desire to quit was a 7 of 10 (10 is actually quitting) so I thought about it but I was using it as a tool. "Quit at the next check point" but that was just to keep the legs turning and the brain from going into despair. Strategic lies to keep your mind right.

I ride for 8 hours 8 minutes but take 8:26 to finish. I meet a good friend Troy near the finish, and we cross the line together. Troy passes me on the down hill so he was actually faster, but the finish was at the top of the hill so I crossed first but he beat me.

I'll do better next year. The first time is always the worst... Too Green.