Cinder Bloch Lochner and I finished the drive from Pittsburgh late Thursday night, then setup camp. I crawled in my tent, insisting that I was going to switch my shorts to pants so that I wouldn’t get eaten by mosquitoes, and immediately fell asleep instead.
Friday morning, we rode a thousand miles from the camp into town to check out the trails. Surprisingly they were really cool. The town was on a sort of island- with the Mississippi River on one side, and some lakes on the other. Craggy hills surrounded the place. The trails cut up into the bluffs, narrowing down to twisty 10-inch-wide ribbons of hardpacked dirt. We cruised back and forth through the trees for a couple hours then rode a thousand miles back to the campground to get cleaned up and ready for the race check-in.
At the pre-race party at Gaby’s, a dive in downtown Winona, a guy handed me an ear of corn while I was playing pool.
“Here, it’s good. Take it. Go ahead. It’s good corn,” he said.
I took it and it was good corn. I walked around with my ear of corn for the rest of the night and talked to people about corn ears. Meanwhile, a $30,000 pile of bikes formed outside:
Then Cinder Bloch and I rode a thousand miles back to the campground. We sat around a fire with the guys we were camped next to, some funny talking Wisconsinites on the right and a transient software developer from Austin on the left. I fell asleep in my chair. At some point I crawled into my tent.
The next morning I woke up, put on my helmet, took off my shirt, slung my inflatable stars and bars M16 over my shoulder, and rode a thousand miles to the start with Cinder Bloch, the Wisconsinites and the app guy from Austin.
At the pre-race meeting at the Holzinger Lodge, somebody said some stuff through a megaphone. But I didn’t pay attention, because I was talking to a drunk guy with a hunting slingshot.
“What do you have for ammo?” I said.
“Nuts and bolts,” he said.
“No screws or nails?” I said.
“Nuts and bolts. That’s all I like. Nuts and bolts,” he said.
We rode our bikes to a field, and left them there for a running start. A $10,000 bike-fruit formed in a tree:
Kaolin Cummens told his very small son to tell me “Good luck loser!”
“Good luck loser!” yelled the tiny man.
Then I ran, grabbed my bike, and rolled onto the trails. The first trail was wide-open flowey and fast. A bunch of guys that were really serious about racing hammered past me. Then we hit a wall of a climb, and started to hike up the bluff.
I got to the top of the bluff, and jumped back on my bike to ride the exposed craggy ridge line. But the guys who were really serious about racing kept walking. I bumped the guy’s back tire that was in front of me.
“Hey, come on man. Bikes are for riding,” I said. He ignored me.
The trail smoothed out again, and the serious guys hit it. Zoom, gone through the twisty smooth stuff. Down a steep loose fall line descent, and onto the road. I slowed down to let Cinder Bloch catch up.
After a while he did, and we cruised along the pavement behind a guy on a fat bike wearing an aero helmet, and next to a shirtless guy with a can of Pabst rattling around in his bottle cage. We hit a gravel climb, and the can of beer ejected.
“Hey, trail beer!” I yelled, and stopped to pick it up.
“That’s fine,” said the shirtless guy, “Keep that since you picked it up.”
“Damn right. Dropped beers free beers,” I said. I cracked the can open and split half with Cinder Bloch.
At the top of the climb, we dropped into some up and down cross country ski trails. A guy behind me was riding a bike that creaked like a rusty knee replacement.
“That thing sounds terrible man. You should dip it in a tub of oil when you get home,” I said.
“It’s a single speed man, it doesn’t need any lube,” he said.
“The noises it’s making indicate otherwise,” I said. Then he passed me.
Eventually, Cinder Bloch and the group got away from me. I headed into some super twisty fresh cut trail, and saw riders coming the other way. Thinking that I’d just chop off a corner, I jumped in behind them.
I rode a few more miles to the first beer stop (or aid station, as the confused riders thought of it).
“You’re in fifth! Only a minute thirty behind the leader!” said the beer stop volunteer. Guess I cut out more than a corner. Whoops. I briefly thought about trying to chase down the leader, then decided that it would be too much work, grabbed a beer, and sat down on a rock to wait for Cinder Bloch.
15 minutes later, he came around the corner.
“How the hell did you get up here?” he said.
“Obviously I’m faster than you,” I said. I waited for him to finish a beer, then we headed up the gravel. Down some more trail, back onto the road.
We headed back toward the last ten miles of the course. The Drunk Cyclist crew and Shanna from Endless were headed the other way. Two miles into the race, they had stopped to drink and hang out for two hours. Doing it right.
Cinder Bloch and I rolled into the second beer stop, had a couple, then walked up the fall line trail back to the top of the bluff. Along the top of the bluff for a while, then down a sandy decent. Root drop, off the brakes, slide around a turn, lean way back. The front tire breaks loose, but slides straight. Sand sprays. Made it. I bust the strap on my inflatable stars and bars M16, and stuff it into my handlebars.
More road back to the start finish. We stopped for a couple more beers, then hit the last and funnest miles of the course. Through the trees, left right, left right, twist around a switch back then over a log, through a crotch tree, down a rocky descent, and rip the last wide open miles to the finish.
We rode a thousand miles back to the campground to shower, then a thousand miles back to the start finish. By that time, a viking and a girl and a mini skirt had already won the derby for the belt, and the bucket ball match for the preliminary hosting competition was underway.
Bucket ball is played like soccer, only with a bucket and bikes. Riders ram the bucket as hard as they can to get it to the other side of the parking lot, and end up ramming each other. Like this:
It was awesome.
We drank beer until the free beer ran out, then grabbed some Bub’s (pronounced boobs) for dinner. Then the after party, and the hammerschlagen (a race to drive a big nail into a stump) hosting competition finals. Which Michigan won.
A few guys that had a punk band played some
loud stuff that I’m ten years too young to fully appreciate, one of the 29nsingle guys gave me some free drink chips, which I used until the free drink chips ran out.
And then we rode a thousand miles back to the campground, and I fell asleep in a chair next to the fire.
It was a pretty excellent weekend. Next year, Copper Harbor, Michigan. You should go.
All photos ripped from Cinder Bloch Lochner and Facespace. Except that hammerschlagen one. I stood on a chair to take that.