Once we got racing through, I felt pretty good, and it wasn't long before I decided I was going to try to finish. We were pushing and clawing our way up the huge climb on snowmobile trails along the “Arterial Highway” out of the Mississippi River Valley. The racer in me got the best of me and I started pushing it, just a bit, I was no longer out for a Sunday ride. By the time we got to the top of the climb I counted 13 bikes strung out in front of me (with the leader certainly well out ahead even at this point) leaving me in about 15th place!
I have to say I felt a bit proud of myself for just being a better snow biker than a lot of the other guys. Sounds immodest, I know, but here I was on my proto-fatbike (44 mm rims and 2.5” tires) and I was keeping pace with the guys on the fatbikes that were much better equipped for the loose snow conditions that day. I was carving corners better, picking better lines, rolling over loose squirrelly sections, taking the short downhills faster, and overall not crashing as much as everyone else. I was holding my own despite being injured and out of shape and on a lesser bike. But I thought about it later and realized that my ~20 years of snow biking experience might have something to do with that. I would be surprised if anyone else out there had been snow biking for as long as I have.
I managed to catch a couple guys over the next few miles of rolling hills. There was a group of four of us together as we rode through an industrial park, fairgrounds, corn fields and cow pastures. Somehow on the last climb (effectively, the last climb of the whole race) up to the ridgetop, I managed to drop the other riders and I hit the paved Humke Rd all alone with at least a minute gap on the one guy still behind me.
The pavement is where my bike actually does have an advantage with its faster rolling tires and lighter wheels I made good time while tucking myself into a quasi-areo pose, lowering my head and shoulders and gripping my brake levers instead of my handlebars. Then came Potter Hill Road, one of Iowa's infamous “B Roads”. This is the most fun part of the course; a technical, rutted, rocky section of steep downhill double track. I passed 3 more riders here! But, to be fair, one was on a fixed-geared bike, and another had dropped some gear out of his bag on this rough section and was walking back to go pick up his stuff.
Doing the math later, it seems I must have broken the top-10 by the time I hit the Heritage Trail... but that was as good as it was going to get for me. The snow on the trail was very fluffy and loose since it had been cold and the snowmobiles had churned it up. And it was clear that I had “shot my wad” I was getting sore and tired already. So it was only a matter of time before the riders on fat bikes began to, one by one, pass me as we rode on towards Dyersville. It was hard, non-stop pedaling as I rode up the ~1% grade out of the Little Maquoketa River Valley. My gluts and hamstrings in particular started to really hurt, I had to get off a couple times and walk in order to stretch out the muscles.
I ran out of water right around Farley, but I figured it wouldn't be long before I got to LeRoy's Pizza to refuel. I was feeling a bit sick from the hard effort of the past 1-2 hours so when things leveled out near Farley, and we had several miles with little snow on the trail, I sat up and soft pedaled, trying to bring my breathing rate and heart rate down so my digestive system could do its thing. More riders kept passing me here but I had to just keep telling myself that I was in it to finish, not to race. And if I was going to finish, I needed to pace myself. It seemed to work, and I wasn't feeling so bad by the time I got to the turn-around point in Dyersville.
I took my time refueling and resting at LeRoy's, I was there almost 40 minutes, while others were getting in and out pretty quickly. Then back on the bike I started out slow, trying to let myself digest my meal. This wasn't easy with the 20mph headwind coming at me, I was down to 6mph on hard ground for a time there. Another 2-3 people passed me. But eventually I started down into the river valley and the wind was cut by the trees and hills. It was now pretty warm, above freezing, and the trail was, to my surprise, getting well packed under the treads of the fat bikes, so the rolling was pretty fast. I was able to move around a little more on the bike so my sore muscles didn't get any worse at least. I went back and forth with a couple riders on the ride back to Dubuque, but in the end I think I made up one spot.
I took a few seconds to get some photos on the return trip, this is what I came up with:
Notice the little burned section on the left. I'd like to think this was a bit of restoration work on the (seemingly) lovely bit of prairie along this old rail line, but it was probably just an accidental burn.
This was taken while in motion on my bike, must have been a lot of light to freeze the action! (also, the fact that I was only going 6mph might have had something to do with it).
Scenic Iowa farmland as seen in the short open stretch at the "top" of the course.
Most of the Heritage trail travels through a scenic river valley, that looks something like this.
I was in and out of the checkpoint at The Handlebar in Durango (Iowa) pretty quick and back into the dark night down a dark tunnel that is the Herritage Trail. Coming to the highway there was no route marking at all, I had to guess where to cross to get on the snowmobile trails, and I guessed right. I was a little annoyed by the lack of route marking, but more pleased with myself for actually finding my way along the route, and through the streets of Davenport without getting lost (a first)!
I finished in 25th place overall in 8 hours 45 minutes. Technically the race was divided into fat bike and “skinny” bike categories, so technically I may have finished 3rd or 4th in my category... we'll see when the results are up later in the week... No rest for the weary, after a shower and a short massage, I was in the car and on the road for 3 hours to Batavia, so I could be at my wildfire training at the Morton Arboretum this morning.
In retrospect, I would only change 3 things. #1 Get in shape. #2 Get a fatbike. #3 pack an extra bottle of sports drink for the outbound leg of the race so I don't run out of water and fuel. Other than that, it couldn't have gone much smoother all things considered.