Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Odin's Revenge - Riding In A Sandbox

A few months ago I decided to throw my hat in the ring, metaphorically speaking of course, as it was actually a  postcard in the mail but either way I decided to enter Odin's Revenge, riding their short course  which is a mere 60 miles; like a walk in the park really. Okay, so in comparison to the long course, 168-ish miles, the short course isn't even half the distance but 60 miles is no joke either when you're talking an unsupported gravel ride in the heat. The short course is also technically not a race according to the event organizers, although it should be, but that didn't keep anyone "riding" the short course from pushing themselves hard and treating it like a race for the most part, myself included to an extent. There was a time a few years ago that I used to race... I also used to be thinner, younger, in much better shape, more of a type A, beat your chest and howl at the moon personality as well; of course gas used to be less than $2, people were nicer to each other and Al Gore hadn't yet invented the internet...  but shit changes, priorities change, life throws you curves, that's just the way it goes you either fight it or just role with it. Since I'm more of a racing has been that never really was, the 60 mile "ride" sounded like a great place to start to see what this gravel racing is all about. Don't get me wrong, I've put in my fair share of gravel miles but I'd never thrown my leg over a top tube in anything that amounted to an actual competition so this would be my first.

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After putting in a respectable 4 hours at work before punching the clock to start the weekend, I rushed home to collected my bike and gear before heading over Tyler's to grab him and his gear and then pointing the car west towards Gothenburg. Tyler opted for his cross bike, while I decided to stick with the Farley which has pretty much been my go to gravel bike since getting it, I have far less pucker moments on loose gravel on those wide, cushy tires.

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A few hours later and we had arrived at Walker's Steakhouse for the rider check in.

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From the looks of things we were a tad early as most of the riders were yet to show so we decided to go check in at the hotel and drop our bikes and gear off. Luckily for us we seemed to be one of the few people whose room was ready when we went to check in at the hotel, seems like quite a few folks were told that their rooms were not quite ready even as the hours ticked on towards 5 pm. My understanding is that the hotel was booked solid with Odin's racers and a wedding party and two employees had called in so it was kind of a perfect storm as far as timing went.

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Now this is more like it, by the time we got back to Walker's things were picking up and people were pouring in.

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Saw a lot of familiar faces and met a few new ones, including Guitar Ted. I've read and enjoyed his blog and various website contributions for a few years so it was nice to finally shake the guys hand and say "hi" in person. It was almost like being in the presence of a celebrity, not like an Oprah or Madonna level celebrity but more like getting to meet Donald Trump or any of the cast of Jersey Shores but you know, who doesn't like Snooki? Kidding of course, he seemed like a good dude and someone you could sit and talk with for hours.

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Can't remember what this guys name was because I have early on set of "I can't remember shit" but he was really good, I had my back to him initially and it took me a few minutes to realize it was live and not something from the jukebox he was that good.

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Not being that far from Lincoln there was a good contingency of Lincolnites, Pirates and Rasta Riders.

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Conversations were great, food was good, beer was cold and went down smooth, heck I even managed to win a pair of sweet cycling socks in the raffle and scored some free Scratch Labs mixes.

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Once the meeting was over most people headed to wherever they called home for the night to do any last minute prep work that might need done before turning in for the night, I didn't have much to do myself except add this sticker to the Farley's fork, it was the missing piece that tied everything together. After the painstaking hours applying the sticker it was time to turn in for the night, Tyler was racing the long course so WTFour in the morning was going to come really quick.

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Since I knew Rick was coming down, bringing his fat bike and we ride at similar speed, we loosely made a plan to ride Odin's together as well.

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Thanks to Comfort Inn for starting breakfast early and Debe for snagging the bacon, the sticker from last night ended up being pretty prophetic.

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Amazingly I didn't forget anything this go round, unfortunately the same was not true for Rick so he had to craft a custom Garmin mount the morning of the race. Is there anything, besides stupid, that duct tape can't fix?

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Once the Garmin was adequately secured we headed over to the KOA and met up with a few other Cycle Works riders who were also having a few issues, Monsignor Tucker was having some tire seating problems but he was able to get them to work for him with Corey's assistance.

Odin's Revenge 2015.
Photo by Debe Dockhorn

Rastas had a strong showing for the short course.

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Like I said, this was my first time riding in Odin's Revenge and my first time in Gothenburg so I can't swear to it but all this water doesn't look normal. Seems like everyone has been getting more than enough water this year.

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Gratuitous crotch shot or a display of Travis's unique way of carrying his in ride nutrition?

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This is Jeff and his daughter Piper, Jeff was planning on riding and attempting to win the long course but at the last minute decided to ride the short course on a tandem with his daughter instead. If you ask me he might not have won the long course but he was still a winner that day, especially to his daughter.

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Prep time, crotch shots, water measuring and tire fixing time was officially over and it was time to get down to the riding/racing. At this point in the race I was holding a strong fourth place, the fact the race had just begun and that we were being paced out by a truck is of little consequence if you ask me, fourth is fourth.

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There was about a mile and a half of asphalt at a moderate pace before we would be dumped into the gravel and I'm already dropping places.

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And then we hit the gravel, if you can call this stuff gravel, to me it more resembled the sandbox type sand you'd find at an elementary school playground in both depth and consistency; not ideal for riding in and nothing like the gravel we have in Lincoln/Omaha. I was really glad at this point that I decided to bring the fat bike vs. the cross bike, that extra float kept me on top of most of the thick stuff.

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As the flats started turning into rollers, I settled into a nice even pace that I was pretty sure I'd be able to maintain for the entire 60 miles. While the bigger tires might float on the gravel more than the thinner cross bike tires, they require a bit more effort to push up the hills and I didn't have anyone pick me up if I bonked so I decided it would be better to give up a few positions to keep from burning out too soon.

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Rick and I spent most of the race trading places, he'd pull ahead for a bit, I'd eat a few gummy bears, get a second wind and catch up or pass him and then we'd repeat the whole process over and over and over again. I'm not complaining as it was nice to have the company and at our pace I was also able to look around and really appreciate the scenery of the land we were riding in.

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Not sure if the cows were not used to seeing people or if the sight of people meant food but man did they seem to take an uncanny interest in us and just stare as we rode by.

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A bit of a TMI moment, I started to feel like I needed to drop the deuce as soon as I got to the KOA even though I had tried several times before leaving the hotel, I didn't see a bathroom anywhere in sight and the gas station wasn't open yet so at his point there wasn't much to do but just ride and hope for the best. At about mile 10 it almost felt like I had a turtle head poking out at times but since bathrooms were at a premium I figured I'd just have pinch it closed, vent as necessary and hope for nothing solid to try to sneak out. Mile 30 brought us to Potter's Pasture and Porta-Potties, after struggling with the jersey/bibs for a few minutes I was finally able to free myself... and there I sat and sat and sat. Confronted with the perfect opportunity to evacuate, my previous impatient colon now seemed gun shy... gave up after 5 minutes with not a plop, drop or so much as a wet fart as time was burning and I still had 30 miles left. Rick had gone on so I had a bit of catching up to do but managed to get back up to him in a few miles and so the yo-yo continued. On the bright side the need to vent subsided after the failed attempt at Potter's, the sight of what was in the Porta-Potties must have scared it back up into the intestine.

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The final 30 miles was mostly a gradual decent with a few "bumps" here and there to keep a person from just cruising home. The last 8 miles of dirt was Canal Road, about the only hard packed dirt we saw all day and it was a nice welcome over the loose, deep gravel we had been slogging along in for most of the ride, my average speed and legs appreciated it immensely.

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After Canal Road all that was left was the same mile and a half of asphalt and then Odin's Revenge was done for me, 60 miles, 4 hours 48 minutes with an average of 12.4 mph according to the Garmin, the official time was three minutes more but whose splitting hairs as either way it was good for a share of 9th place with Rick as we rolled in at the same time which is good because I don't know if I would have followed had he decided to sprint it in.

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Odin's Revenge was a great time put on by fantastic people, it'll definitely be on my must do list again next year... the question is short course again or try my hand at the long course.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Getting Out Of Dodge - Old Flathead River Ranger Station

"The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire,
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire,
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire,
We don't need no water let the motherfudger burn,

Burn motherfudger burn."

~Bloodhound Gang~


This is the second installment in the Getting Out Of Dodge trilogy and picks up after we have reached our cabin in Glacier National Park and spins the yarn of our adventure to a ranger station that once was but no longer is. 
  
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Great Northern Cycle & Ski in Whitefish Montana was on my short list of places I had to visit while in the area. Odd story behind this one actually, as most of you know or should know, I was born and grew up in Montana until about the age of 14 so I more than claim Montana as my home state. It's one of those situations where when I was 14 I couldn't wait to leave when the opportunity arose for our family to relocate to Colorado but now that I'm just a few years older than 14 and that wicked bitch hindsight has had her chance to kick me square in the man purse I speculate on how different things might have been, as we all do after a major decision. There are times my soul yearns for a return to the State I call home and perhaps that day will come but for now Nebraska is where I hang my helmet. Anyway because I still have a strong affinity for Montana, I often seek out places, shops, beers, etc. from the state. It just so happens that a few years ago I friended Great Norther Cycle & Ski on Facebook and Instagram and over that time we have had a few conversations and have exchanged "likes" and witty comments creating a quasi relationship online, I have purchased a few items from them as well so it only seemed fitting to stop in since I would be so close. 

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Even before I walked into the shop I was not disappointed that I came, that's an awesome air hose sign from the now defunct Teton Cyclery. Nice snag! 

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While inside chatting up Tom and Craig, I spotted this guy here and asked about the local trails. There were two that they recommended, one in Glacier and one that I never did have time to check out so next time I'm up there I will have to remember to bring the book back and try the other trail.

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Honestly I, like most people, didn't realize that there was any ridable single track inside Glacier National Park as almost all national forest land is closed to bicycles so it was awesome to discover that there is in fact was a trail that could be ridden in GNP.

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Looking at the highly elaborate and detailed map as well as reading the description of the ride, we were able to deduce that the trail wouldn't be all that technical and that the actual single track would only be about 4 miles so the "I don't ride single track" girlfriend decided to be even more awesome than she normally is and said it was one that she could do with me.

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Luckily for us the purveyor of the map started right from Apgar Village so we were able to start the ride from the cabin door.

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The first few miles was a paved multi-use path through the forest, while not technical or dirt it was still beautiful with great scenery.

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The path led us to a paved road that we followed for a little less than two miles, it looked like a well traveled road but we didn't see a single car on it while we rode it, maybe in busier times.

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We did discover that the paved road ended at a horse rental barn. We stopped and talked to and petted the horses for a few minutes, not sure where the horse trails are but this might have to make the short list of things to do on a return trip.

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We didn't realize how big of a outfit this little unassuming horse barn was until we spotted all of these guys out in the pasture who could be called to service if needed and I am guessing if they have that many horses then the need is there in the height of summer.

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Not a bad place to be a horse!

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The pavement ended at the horses and turned into a fairly rough and pothole filled gravel road for several miles. Michaela was not the biggest fan of this road but still pedaled on like a champ.

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Of course being rewarded with views like this for our effort certainly didn't hurt.

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The road eventually crossed the Flathead river via this wooden bridge, I remember seeing lots of these types of bridges in Montana from my youth but didn't realize that they would still be in service all these years later. I've always wondered what the center hump is for... personally I think the purpose is twofold, to help keep the driver from veering off the side of the bridge and to help make sure that two stubborn drivers don't try to squeeze two cars on the bridge going in opposite directions.

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After crossing the bridge we started to see the results of the 2003 wildfires that raged in and around Glacier National Park that year, it's also the reason that this is now the OLD Flathead River Ranger Station trail. The ranger station itself was a casualty of a controlled "back burn" by the USFS in an attempt to make sure that Apgar and West Glacier were safe from the fire.

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A very loose interpretation of the word ROAD was used here.

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A little farther up the road we came to the start of the single track that would lead us to the spot of the old ranger station. As we rode on the magnitude of the fires became apparent from all the new undergrowth and dead or partially dead older trees that were everywhere. All of this would have been thick forest before 2003 and now it looks more like a tree farm with most of the new pine trees being no more than 6-8 feet tall but nature heals and years from now this will once again be a forest full of tall trees.

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Most of the trail was non technical single track but with enough rollers, rocks and such to keep it fun. Actually with all that there was to see it was good that it was not more technical, I can imagine lots of crashes could occur from paying more attention to surroundings than trail if it was.

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The only sketchy part of the entire trail was this stream crossing but hopping off the bikes and walking solved that issue... on a horse it could be a bit of a pucker moment, especially if the horse didn't necessarily want to cross the stream. One bonus about bikes is that they don't think for themselves.

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I am not sure if it was because the 2003 fires threw off the blooming cycle of the Bear Grass in this area or if it's was more because nobody was here to pick them but we saw more than a few lilies in bloom on this stretch of trail as well.

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Spotted this little guy on the trail a few moments before he spotted us, his defense was to lay in the grass just off the trail so it's probably a good thing we weren't looking for a deer steak dinner. Although he was 90% legs and not all that stable on them from watching him/her initially so running might not have been an option even if he/she had wanted to, I'm guessing as he/she gains more coordination hiding won't be the go to defense mechanism. As we were stopped and watching him/her we started to hear some twigs snapping not too far from us and decided it was time to move on, mamma dear would probably not be all that understanding if she came back to find us ogling Jr and a hoof upside the noggin was not on the agenda.

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After riding for a bit more we decided to stop at an outcropping of rocks to take a peek and see what there was to see on the other side of them rather than just riding through oblivious to what was around us. You could hear the water but I didn't know how far off it was.

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The view of the Flathead River did not disappoint, if it weren't for the horseflies I could have spent all day just sitting and looking out over the valley.

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A few more miles up the trail and we reached out destination, the former spot of the ranger station.

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Would have been fun to be able to get to the river but it wasn't exactly a gentle slope down, getting there would have been easy with the help of gravity... getting back up on the other hand would have been a whole other story.

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Not wanting to need to call in a helicopter rescue we decided to just park the bikes and take in the views from up top.

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Figured this was also an excellent time to pop the top on the cold-ish beer we had packed for the ride and just sit and watch the world go by.  Twas another awesome spot to sit and contemplate if not for the constant harassment from horseflies, suckers were worse than the mosquitoes.

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After the beers it was time to pack up and head back, for not being a single track person Michaela did really well and only voiced a few complaints on the few steeper climbs. Someday we will get her converted and show her how to love the pain.

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The only moving motorized vehicle we saw on the whole ride.

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McDonald Creek just around the bend from and visible from our cabin, hit it up on the way back into Apgar.

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Post ride ice cream from Eddie's in Apgar Village, scoop of cherry and of course a scoop of huckleberry. While not in the guide, I highly recommend this as part of the ride.

About the only thing I would have changed about the ride is that it would have been cool to see the old Ranger Station but I also understand why they had to back burn that area, the loss of buildings and potentially lives could have been much worse had the fire reached West Glacier or Apgar. The fires in 2003 were the worst in the history of the park burning some 130,000 acres of forest, about 13% of the Glacier National Park, and costing the park more than $68,000,000 but still an old ass Ranger Station would have been a pretty cool place to sit and have that beer.

The third and final installment of the trilogy will cover the Going to the Sun Road but since the weekend is packed full of Odin's Revenge it might be a bit before I get that one penned.