Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Fatbike Frozen Forty-ish


So dere wazz dis race thing up dere in Minnasootah on Sadderday, dontcha know, and I found out dat it's real cold like in da winner time, ya you betcha it is. Oh-kay dat dere be just aboot enuff of dat dere Mounty speak.


For a self proclaimed non racer, I find myself in a surprising amount of races; I have no explanation for how this happens but I found myself signed up for the Fatbike Frozen Forty in Minnesota this last weekend. What follows are my random thoughts and observations of my experiences during the race, none of the names have been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty.


The weapon of choice for the Frozen Forty was the Farley as it is my "racing" fat bike, why someone who says they don't race has a bike dedicated for racing is beyond me but it is what it is. Farley and I made the trip up to Minneapolis and our goal honestly from the get go was to finish the race. Looking at the forecast I knew it was going to be much colder than we are accustomed to here in Nebraska so I planned ahead and borrowed Damon's 45NRTH Cobra Fists... a little more on that later.


Minneapolis has an amazing amount of top quality single track, I'm not going to lie, I'm  more than a little jealous of all the great single track options that they have available to them and Elm Creek was no exception. While Elm Creek was a hoot covered in snow and a wee bit of ice, I am betting that in the summer when it's dry it'd rate at least a 3 on the ole hoot scale. That is something I might just have to come back and find out for sure in the warmer months.



Knowing that the parking was going to be limited we set out to get there by at least 8 am even thought the race didn't officially start until 9 am. It was COLD, they were not lying about the Frozen part in the Fatbike Frozen Forty. Temps at 8 in the morning were hovering around -15° actual temperature, none of that wind chill stuff we like to use around here to make it seem colder and the high for the day was only going to be around 9-10° on the plus side of things. Heck the van didn't even start to warm up until we were almost to the parking lot.

Photo Feb 13, 8 38 39 AM

Back in my Montana days I might have been in flip flops and shorts but living in places a bit warmer than good old Great Falls I think I've gotten a little wussified. Thankfully they had a few tents with these awesomely warm heaters in them to help pass the time next to until the start of the race.

Photo Feb 13, 7 21 04 PM

The rest of the Rasta race team, we might not be the fastest team in the country but we sure do know how to line up by height for a picture! Rick and Kris teamed up as a two person team as did Nathan and Hannah, I was the lone idiot to sign up for all forty miles... in a world of go big or go home, the smart choice would have been to go home.

Photo Feb 13, 7 29 56 PM

Time to get down to business or in my case time to start getting in faster peoples way. As you'll notice I managed to make it into a few of the pictures in this blog so not wanting to take credit for pictures that aren't mine I'll give the credit to Debe, Hannah Hoglund Photography and to the folks at RaceVista for most of the pictures in this one.


After a brief meeting at the start/finish it was time to get down to the racing.

Me Start

Yours truly at the start doing his best Sith Lord impression.


Rick taking off from the start.


Hannah on course with her Wednesday, supposedly Kris raced as well but in all of the photographs of the race I couldn't find a single one... hmm, either he is super fast and out rode the photographers or maybe he just had a little talk with Rick about the chain of command. Sometimes it's good to be the boss.


Swanson putting the power down and making it look easy, if the chronological order of these pictures are to be believed, he's already done with lap one and we haven't even made the first turn yet.

The start of the race was down the road, around a cone and then back into a short section of single track before coming back down the road again and into the actual race course, this loop was maybe a half mile and was meant to give a little separation to prevent a bottle neck of riders trying to get into the trees where passing would be hard. My goal was to survive the race as I knew I certainly didn't have the ability to win it so I resisted the urge to blow my load trying to keep up with the initial surge and just settled into a nice pace. This was the first time I had ridden with the 45NRTH CobraFists so I opted for a lighter glove figuring that my hands would be fine once we got going as that has been my experience from using the 1st generation Bar Mitts that I have but this turned out to not be the case. It was in this first separation section that I realized my glove choice was not going to cut it so before I even made it onto the actual course I had to make a detour back to the van for a warmer pair of gloves. Looking at the "flybys" on Strava I'd say I lost a good 3 minutes just on that glove exchange alone which put me at a bit more of a disadvantage than I would have liked but keeping all 10 fingers seemed like the right choice since they were already feeling the effects of the cold.

Back on the bike and onto the course the first thing I noticed that the single track was in pretty decent shape with a few icy corners and off chamber sections, not being a huge fan of ice I probably took it a bit easier on these sections than was absolutely necessary but Obamacare don't pay my deductible. With the new gloves on, my hands warmed up in no time and a decent hilly switch back section in the first quarter lap had the rest of me warmed up as well, maybe a bit too much as it turned out.


Not having a whole lot of experience riding in double digit negative temperatures, most of my layering was a guessing game based on what has worked well for me in Nebraska. I'd say the foot wear and top layers were spot on, as we know the gloves were not and as it turned out neither was the bottom layer. Normally I just wear a pair of thermal Pearl Izumi snow pants that I had thought up until this point were really warm and wind proof. About half way through the first lap I started to notice a little discomfort in the area that the twig and berries call home but nothing alarming at this point, I initially thought maybe it was just some numbing from the saddle but that eventually was proven wrong. On the upper sections of the trail things were fine but as we would ride into the lower sections the temperatures would drop by, what I would guess was, about 5° as my exposed face immediately felt it and so did the boys. At one point I noticed some of the numbness and tingling you can feel when your toes or fingers are cold but it was not my toes or fingers that were experiencing this feeling. I know a race is supposed to challenge your manhood at times but it's not supposed to actually take it from you altogether so I decided I needed to pull over and assess the situation. While everything ended up still being there it was a lot colder than I expected in that area and I swear I felt an ice crystal or two... talk about an ice beard in a place you don't want one. With no choice but to continue riding since I really had no idea how to get back to the start other than by continuing on the course. I got back on the bike and was racking my brain as to what I could do since I was only 3/4 of the way through the first of four laps. As I was heading back to the start/finish I remembered that I had a couple of hand towels in my bag in the van for wiping sweat off after the race and thought maybe they would work to solve my plumbing issue. I know most people have heard of the Terrible Towel used by the Pittsburgh Steelers but I think the towel pictured here that spent the better part of 47 miles stuffed down my pants acting as an insulating cod piece brings a whole new meaning of terrible to the towel descriptor but it did the trick and provided just enough warmth for me to continue with the race. As I was taught in my Marine Corps days sometimes you have to adapt, improvise and overcome so that you can stay in the fight. I'm not entirely sure that this was exactly what Chesty Puller and Dan Daly had in mind but since they didn't sign up for the race I wasn't able to ask.


I really don't know how many people showed up for the start of the race, 200 signed up but there was no way that many actually showed up, at the end of lap 1 there were 90 riders who rolled through in the 40 mile solo race on the way to lap 2 and I was sitting at about 85th. Not exactly stellar but with the need to change gloves and check on the jewels safety overruled speed on that lap and not being the quickest rider to begin with it was unlikely I'd make up much ground on speed itself.


Lap two somehow ended up being a little slower than lap one even with the two stops on lap 1. I felt like I was cruising along at the same pace and was going to finish even stronger than the first lap but it just wasn't in the cards for me that day. Even with the insulated Podium bottles the water started to freeze on the second lap, at the beginning it would require me to stop and take the lid off to get water but by the end of the lap the lid was frozen onto the bottle and I couldn't even get into it by removing the lid. Luckily I had two other bottles that were still in the van and they somehow remained just warm enough so that they weren't frozen. I suspected that putting them back in the bottle cages would only result in them freezing after a lap as well, the only way to keep them from freezing was to store the bottle in my middle jersey pocket to keep it a little warmer.  This however meant that I would still need to stop after every lap to switch the bottle out for one in the van and that I would also need to stop whenever I needed to drink and I'm sure that helped to account for the slower lap time but not drinking at all for the remaining two laps just wasn't an option. It also seemed like lap two was the magic number for people to start dropping off as only 84 people rolled through the check point, down 6 from the first lap. At the end of lap two it was another stop to switch out water bottles and then on to lap three.


Interesting enough laps 2 and 3 were both at relativity the same pace, lap 3 being only 24 seconds slower than lap 2. Other than the water issue I was getting into a groove and just plugging away on the laps at this point. Nutrition was actually pretty good this go around, which has been an issue on races in the past, the fact that it wasn't hot might have helped as well. I survived the race on nothing but Clif Bars Shot Bloks that I had in a Revelate Designs Jerrycan. This was also the first time using the Jerrycan as opposed to the Revelate Gas Tank bag and I have to say I thought the Jerrycan was a much more out of the way setup, while not as roomy as the Gas Tank it sat out of the way for stand up efforts more than the Gas Tank. Of course just like the water the Shot Bloks ended up freezing so I would have to pop 2 in my mouth and let them sit there for a bit before I could chew them. Even after warming up enough to chew them, they were never really soft again but more the consistency of really old Jujubes but they were keeping me going so that was the most important part and the Jujube memory form childhood was nice as well. At the end of lap three I was sitting at 71st, on the surface it seemed like I was climbing the ladder and getting faster but in reality I was just surviving the attrition that was starting to claim people left and right, we dropped another 11 riders from lap two and 17 total from the start of the race.


Lap 4 was probably my worst lap of the day, temps were starting to drop back down from the high of 10° and some of the previously icy corners were starting to become really slick. This was the only lap I actually went down and only the one time on the first icy off camber section shortly after the start of the single track, it was like whatever grip there had been earlier was completely gone. Ice combined with sloppy riding due to fatigue caused me to slow it down a bit more than in any of the previous laps, by my estimation I probably did the last lap in the 1 hour 55 minute range, so not a ton slower but slower. I did finish the race but as you can see it wasn't registered, why  you might ask... well that's a good question. The good answer is that in Minnesota when they tell you that the cut off is a certain time, unlike most other races I've ever been in that is not the time you have to start your last lap but the time they are going to pack up their shit and leave! I mean it's their race so they can do what they want as the organizer but generally speaking if someone is still on course why would you just pack up and leave? From a liability standpoint alone wouldn't you want to know that you didn't leave someone broken and bleeding on the course due to a crash?

Cut off time was 4 pm, which seemed really reasonable, 40 miles in under 7 hours... problem was it was closer to 50 miles than 40. I noticed at the end of lap 2 I had a little over 24 miles and at the end of lap 3 I was at 36 miles, with the grand total mileage for me coming in at 47 miles in 7 hours and 23 minutes. What that meant was when I got back to the start/finish, everything was gone, tents, timing station, race crew... everything had just disappeared. I did see someone who asked for my bib number so I figured that they were going to record the time even though it was not officially timed but it seems that they did not. Why is the 7 mile discrepancy a big deal, well in the broad scheme of things it's not but I was averaging about 7 miles an hour and I finished 23 minutes after the cutoff, so had it been 40 miles instead of 47 miles I would have finished well under the 7 hour mark and not slightly over it. Again in the spectrum of global problems it's very small, I know I finished the race, Strava shows I finished the race and even though it's not recorded at least one member of the race organizers or timing people knows I finished. Water under the proverbial bridge as they say, the event was a blast and I had a great time despite the odd circumstances around the finish of it. Would I do it again, probably but most likely not the 40 solo again since they allow 2-4 person teams and they also have a 20 mile option. The distance was certainly manageable but with subzero temps and the problems that come along with that, as mentioned above, a shorter distance seems like it would be a bit more fun. As I've said I'm not really a racer so I tend to get into a comfortable groove and stay there and enjoy the surroundings and the ride, heck it was all I could do to convince myself to not take the camera along like I have for the last few races I've been a part of. I set out to finish it and I did, so there is that.

Overall I felt I had a good race, the issues I had at this race were new issues that I didn't have from previous races so at least I wasn't repeating mistakes of the past. One thing about the gear that really impressed me were the Wolvhammers, total time from arrival to leaving was probably closer to 8 hours in temps ranging from -15° to 10° and my feet were never cold, at all. Not being cold makes for a much nicer race experience regardless if you're the fastest or the slowest, comfort is key.

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