Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Militant Badger Ride 2013

Some Background

I haven't posted to this blog much lately, mostly because I haven't been doing that much riding. I participated in the 60 mile portion of the Dairy Rubaix back in April.

The Dairy Rubaix was a good time, but a false start to my season.

The following weekend I did the half-marathon event at the Illinois Marathon, and managed to finish in less than 2 hours. But then things got busy at Good Oak, and I honestly don't think I did a ride more than 10 miles for the next 2 months. If I did, it was going out and doing site visits for work. I lost a lot of fitness, probably less riding fit than I've been in 10 or 15 years. On my first 'real ride' in months back in late June my legs were pretty much blown after just 25 miles of riding. And I continued to put on weight, topping out heavier than I've ever been at over 180 pounds.

I did finally get back on the bike, but I didn't come roaring back like I had hoped. I was still busy with work even through our typical July-August slow spell. And then some good news and big changes in our life, my wife gave birth to our daughter Violet in late July.

Despite all these aspects of what I'm going to call a well-rounded life, I have been able to get a moderate amount of riding in over the past 3 months. I've had a few hard rides, my mountain bike has gotten dirty, a pair of metric-centuries, and even a full century, where I had a great time riding with some Illini Bicycle Racing Club alumni, my riding buds from college, at the Pumpkin Pie Century down in Ottawa. That ride ended up being a pretty big challenge for me.
Good times.

I give all this history to give some frame of reference for where I was physically when I was coming at this event. While not completely out of shape, I am by no means in peak condition or even 80% or 90% which is where I usually am when I am fit for racing.

I also was feeling a little low on energy all week leading up to the ride. I get  this condition I call "Random Fatigue Syndrome" which happens on random days, at random times (usually during the afternoon) and at random levels of intensity... and despite many trips to the doctor over the years, I've never been diagnosed with anything. Usually it happens in periods though where it will pop up regularly for a week or three, and having felt crummy all week I feared it would effect me on Saturday. Then again, with a business to run and a baby to help take care of, I could have just been tired... its hard to tell the difference anymore.

I debated whether to do the ride at all. If I wasn't feeling well, would it be worth it? I could get a lot of work done with a whole Saturday's worth of time available to me. But in the end, I decided to head out with the ride and at least ride to Monroe, and if I wasn't feeling well, turn around and get a solid 80 miles in before lunch.

Getting Ready to Ride

The Militant Badger is a 145 mile loop ride largely on rail-to-trails in southwest Wisconsin. With the additional distance from my house to the starting point, it was going to be 150 miles for me. The ride starts by heading south out of Madison on the Badger State Trail. At Monroe it heads northwest on the Cheese Country Trail to Mineral Point. From there it was less than 10 miles of bike routes and bike paths to Dodgeville where we would pick up the Military Ridge Trail and head back to Madison. There are grades along these rail to trails, but the only real climbing was between Mineral Point and Dodgeville, and it was steep, but not too long. This is basically the BALLS ride in reverse, so some call the Militant Badger the SLLAB ride. The main difference is that BALLS is a two day event, we were going to try to travel the same distance in just 1 day.... I told Carol to be ready to pick me up in Dodgeville, just in case.

The weather forecast was not looking great. Though it wasn't too clear, about when or how, it was apparent it was going to rain on the Militant Badger. As such I assumed it would pour for hours, so I dug out all my rain gear and stuck it in a big Revelate Designs seat bag. I pulled a rear fender and a mud board for my downtube out of my parts bin. When I was all done setting things up on Friday night, my bike was pretty well loaded.

I got up at 5am, did my usual morning pre-ride fiddling and headed out the door. It was brisk at right around 32 degrees. I think I chose my clothing well, I wanted my main outfit to be comfortable in the 45-50 degree range where it would be most of the day,  but with some extra insulation for the morning that would be tolerable for a slow roll out at around freezing.

I arrived at race headquarters on Jennifer St. just in time to get into the group photo. After a little more milling around we all hit the road. It seemed to me there were about 15 riders in all, but I knew at least two people, and perhaps more, were planning on turning around in Monroe, so either way I went I would have company. We rolled out of town at a casual pace for the paved section of the Badger Trail. I was mostly quietly thinking about what was ahead of me and listening in on conversations, but I chatted for a while with a guy named Kieth.

The Badger Trail

At the old trailhead on Purcell Road where the trail turns from asphalt to crushed limestone, I initiated a pee break and pretty much everyone stopped. From here the group splintered immediately, I saw a few people down the trail in front of me so I rolled up behind them and we had a small peleton of 4. This included my former neighbor Tyler and a couple guys I didn't know, one on a Trek 29er, the other on a touring bike. Apparently I was riding with the lead group here!

Tyler stopped to pee at some point and so did the Trek 29er guy. It was just me and the touring bike roadie dude through the the tunnel on the Badger trail. A few miles later the Trek 29er dude caught back up to us, but Tyler did not. We started pace-lining a little bit and I learned that if you draft a mountain bike you will get dirt thrown up in your face.

Now technically, the Militant Badger is a race. I had planned all along on just trying to finish. But I was feeling good and was riding in the lead group of three riders. As a long-time racer, I couldn't help but think that, being up in the lead group at the moment, maybe I should try to race this to win. I had a lot more food and water with me than these guys did, so I could just keep riding when these guys stopped to refuel somewhere and then put the hammer down to make sure they didn't see me again.... I had to work hard to quell these thoughts. They were optimistic, perhaps even delusional. And I was NOT here to race. Couldn't help thinking them though.

About 8 miles of out Monroe I noticed my bike was bobbing... apparently my front tire had lost some air. I stopped to check it, but being a tubeless set-up it had sealed itself and just needed a little inflating. As the other two rode away my delusions of victory rolled away with them. Tyler passed me while I was filling it, we chatted a bit as he rolled on.

Another pair of riders rolled up as I was getting back on the trail, including Keith and an older gentleman who's name I never caught, he was on a Brown Salsa MTB with S&S couplers. We rode together into Monroe in an informal paceline. Most of the way Tyler was just ahead of us. Tyler is a strong rider for sure, but he doesn't have enough road riding experience to know it saves a lot of energy to ride in a group rather than solo.

As we rolled into Monroe Keith and I decided to head to the QuickTrip visible from the trail to resupply. I stripped off my wool jersey mid-layer and liner gloves when we stopped. Before we could even get in the store Richard, the race organizer, rolled up to QuickTrip as well. A full camelbak and a couple doughnuts later we were back on the road, now a group of 3.

The Cheese Country Trail

In less than a mile we took our turn and got to the trailhead for the Cheese Country Trail. This trail was the real wildcard of the ride. Reports I had heard ranged from it being extremely rough, loose, sandy, muddy... to not that bad really. During the BALLS ride people had ridden it when it was flooded, or super soft with freshly churned up soft gravel and so forth. On Saturday, it wasn't too bad overall. The trail's condition did very a lot over the 44 or so miles. Some stretches were smoother than pavement. Others were deep, soft gravel with washboards. The surfaced ranged from dirt, to crushed limestone, to gravel, to pavement to some black stuff that was maybe crushed shale? The conditions varied over remarkably short distances so that you might be cruising along easily for just a few seconds and then have to grab on to your bars tight and carefully maneuver through a soft section. But overall by bike was set up pretty well for it with my 42c Continental Cyclocross Speed tires providing enough cushion and float and just enough treads on the side of these semi-slicks to keep me in control.

Honestly most of the stretch is a blur. At one point we caught a rider named Jason. Jason was on the exact same bike that I use for commuting an early 90's Ross Mt. Hood. Mostly in mint condition too! He said he got it for $30 at St. Vinnies, quite a find. Jason was setting a slower, but steadier pace than us so he didn't ride with us long, but passed us several times when we would take short breaks to pee or get food or whatnot, so we did a real tortoise and hare thing with him.

As we approached Darlington we saw another rider ahead and we slowly started to make ground on him. Turns out it was Tyler. The 4 of us formed up for a group the last couple miles into Darlington where we all stopped at Casey's General Store to refuel. Cheese-Its and chocolate milk. Good stuff.

Tyler left a bit quicker than Richard, Keith an I did, so we ended up with a 3-person paceline for the next several miles as the trail turned north and we were presented with a variety of winds from cross to head to tail as the trail twisted around a bit. As we apprached Mineral Point we could again see Tyler off in the distance. I think Richard wanted to catch him... but I wasn't feeling well so I started falling behind.

The the trail started to get a bit rough. Freshly graded coarse gravel was a sort of grand-finale to a trail that just started eating away at you after a while and got really frustrating. Despite this, this are just south of Mineral Point was the most beautiful part of the ride. A hillsides with degraded prairie and pasture, oak woodland that gave you some sense of what the entire landscape once looked like, and appeared entirely restorable to me... I'd love to set up my dream of the Good Oak Land Trust here. So I'd like to say that my slower speed was partially because I was enjoying the scenery, but I was probably just being slow. We spread out a bit, Kieth dropped back and we ended up riding together while Richard caught Tyler and they were about 100 yards ahead of us as we rolled into the historic district of Mineral Point... and finally off the Cheese Country Trail... good riddance!

After a little route-finding Kyle and I started up the one real climb in the ride, about 300 ft of elevation gain from when we entered Mineral Point up to the Military Ridge.  It was a challenge with 90 miles on our legs already, but it felt good to stand up and stretch the legs a bit on the climb. By the time we got to the top Tyler and Richard were not that far ahead of us. Once we were on the road and bike path along the ridge top, with a nice tail wind behind us, Keith and I felt confidence we could bridge the gap and catch up to Tyler and Richard, which we did in just a mile or two. The 4 of us rode into Dodgeville together with a great tailwind in generally high spirits... somewhere in here we hit the 100 mile mark for the day, 50 miles from home.

The Military Ridge Trail

I had planned all along to stop in Dodgeville for a major refuel all along. My concept was to get rested and fueled up, feeling good, and then knocking back 50 miles of familiar trail wouldn't be that hard. Plus I was completely out of water, and my digestive system was clearly starting to get angry at me, which I know from Leadville a few years ago can really devastate my day. With the turn of the route, and the wind now blowing strongly in our favor the Richard, Tyler and Kyle wanted to keep riding, so I told bid them farewell, and I stopped at the Subway right across from the terminus of the Military Ridge Trail.

So far that day the weather had been great really. But a storm was rolling in, and in the time it took me to add 10 psi to my tires it had gone from great riding weather to a blowing rain storm. My bike was in a dry spot, so I went into the nice warm Subway to have a relaxing lunch. Perfect timing.

I tried to relax at lunch and sit upright as much as possible to let my guts do their job. It was still raining when I finished my sandwich, so I stretched for a bit, dropped a duce (a critical display that my digestive system was still functioning well) and after 45 minutes was ready to ride again. Felt great! The rain was petering out, a rainbow shown the way home. I decided to put on my new rain jacket, just in case the rain flared up again, but really, that perfectly timed stop prevented me from getting any more than a light spritz on me all day.

After a mile or two I caught up to Jason who was pulling off his rain gear and getting back on the trail. We rode together and chatted for 8 miles or so. He was still keeping his steady pace, and as I started speeding up again after digesting my lunch we parted ways. For the next 30 miles or so I just cruised easily through Ridgeway, Barneveld, Blue Mound, Mount Horeb, and then downhill to the Sugar River Wetland and into Verona. A few quick stops to pee and add a layer, but otherwise I just kept riding the whole way, and felt pretty good the whole time. For a while I was searching for my former riding partners ahead of me, but after a while there was enough other trail traffic that I decided not to waste my mental energy on it.

I rolled into Madison while there was still daylight, heck, the sun was even coming out again. I was both happy to be going through the Allied Drive neighborhood when it was safely light out, and a little disappointing I didn't get to use my nice headlight that had been on my bike all day very much. As I rode over the SW Bikepath's overpass over the Beltline I caught up to our neighbors and fellow mountain bikers Ben and Andrea who were out for a casual day excursion on the Badger Trail. We rode through town together on the Capitol City Trail and caught up a little, parting ways on Jennifer St. where I headed back to race HQ to sign in.

I received a warm welcome at Richard's house, he, Keith and Tyler were all there eating pizza and drinking beer, apparently having come in 30-40 minutes before me, or as they put it, I was about a sandwich behind them. I had a good time discussing the day's events and various other tales with them, before Tyler and I headed out and rode together home.

All in all, I felt remarkably good for having covered 150 miles. Despite the slower surface that limestone provides, I think the overall flatness of this route was key to me being able to complete this ride when I was most certainly not in peak condition. That and careful pacing, listening to my body and just having the experience of doing a lot of long rides like this, my bike was set up well and I had everything I needed.

Hopefully this is the first step among many for me to rebuild my fitness and loose some weight so I can be competitive in the Triple-D this year. I hope to do a couple cyclocross races yet this fall, but my sights are really all set on the Triple-D this year... If I can get fit, I think I can be a contender there.