On the topic of Fat Bikes...


We've all been there.  You think you know something.  You know it front and back.  All of a sudden, your entire belief system is shattered.  That's how I feel today about fat biking.

When I first got into mountain biking, I was crushed when the first few snowflakes of winter fell.  How dare the season change on me.  It was shortly thereafter I was introduced to winter riding.  Fat bikes were just starting to make an appearance around here.  Heck, so were 29ers.  However, 90% of us were still riding our cross country steeds.  Trails weren't groomed...they were snowshoed.  Packed down by generous volunteers.  My first foray into winter riding was at White Tail Ridge.  I was in awe of the trail which was crystallized by the frost.  My 26" hardtail GT was a beast in the snow.  I had knobby Nevgals which rubbed my frame if I steered too sharp.  I loved it.

Hey, remember what snow looks like?

Then came the snow races.  Elk River was my favorite.  I had an older set of Hutchinson Pythons that I had studded up with self-tapping drywall screws.  Overkill for the snow, they were however a dream on hard-packed icy conditions.  I took home a few awards - even a Cold Bear Series title.  With toe warmers, flat pedals, and winter boots - I was having a ball.  The last race of the series was Fat Bike Fest - where the few fatties in the area really got to shine.  Watching those steel frame Pugs and the like...I always thought "Yeah that's cool, but I have my bike and it works for me." 


Proof.  That's me in the red on the advanced class podium/snow mound.


Then I took my break from winter.  I fell in love and out of love with skate skiing.  I snowshoed.  I rode the trainer.  I started hating winter. I grew jealous of everyone getting tougher while I was becoming a big baby about the elements.

All of a sudden, fat biking really started taking off.  Everyone I knew was getting one.  Chad had one back when I was still lollygagging on my 26" - but he traded it for a tandem when I got my concussion in 2011.  (Still one of the most romantic gestures ever.)  We mused about getting it back.  Then the talk about fat bikes and ski trails and this and that started overtaking Silent Sports and MORC.  Trail bosses started banning 2" tires.  I felt slighted all of a sudden.  Pretty childish, looking back.  I didn't even go outside in winter anymore.  I was still in the mindset of "I was just fine on skinny tires".  But I didn't know how different winter riding had truly become.  

This past fall, I had the opportunity to borrow a Mukluk from Cyclova.  I brought it to the Woolly.  One of my girlfriends told me it was like riding a giant marshmallow.  She said it brought the playful excitement of riding back for her.  She was right.  

Much like couples discuss when the right time to have a baby is, we had conversations about the new fat bike.  We ride the same frame size, and we have roughly the same size feet - so we decided to share a bike and a pair of Wolvhammers. I was told I wasn't allowed to name the bike.  We took turns politely and per the rotation.  And this arrangement lasted TEN WHOLE DAYS.

So now here we are.  One Mukluk and one Beargrease later.  It amazes me how different riding in the snow has become.  Trails are clandestine chutes of snowy singletrack.  It's so reminiscent of summer riding that it is hard to remember what it felt like on the GT.  

Our two fat bikes with daughter in tow during Light Up Osceola.


I'm still figuring out tire pressures.  It reminds me of when Chad was teaching me to ski and he'd always say, "This condition is completely different than the last time you skied."  It's always different every time I am out there.  And yet it is a riot.  Alicia Fisk and I train together often, so she has been my ruler to what my fat biking measures up to.  She was the first person I rode with when I went out with the Mukluk.  We laughed each time I tipped over, and laughed even harder every time I tried to get up.  It was like Bambi learning how to walk.  That's ironic because my mother always called me Bambi.  It's like she knew.

It's so encouraging to see all the women out there riding (and racing).  No wonder they come so strong into the spring.  I'm anxious to see how my fitness translates into the summer race season.  I am planning on doing Fat Bike Fest at Elk River this upcoming month.  That will be a real blast from the past.

Chad and I had a romantic evening of swapping out tires tonight.  He studded up his tires last night and after my ice skating lesson at Elm Creek today, he's letting me borrow his set.  I'm sort of giddy wondering what studded fat bike tires are like to ride.  I'll know tomorrow after hitting up the Woolly.

Until then, I keep looking at my black and blues all over from today's "ride".  I have a checkup this week.  I wonder if my doctor will have to ask me about my home life being "safe" again...




Baker Shaker 20km Race Report


While a good contingent of the team was up in da UP racing the Noquemanon Ski Marathon, I stayed local and added a few more laps around the Elm Creek man made loop doing the Baker Shaker ski race.

I think I may have injured myself though.  After a solid workout at Elm Tuesday night with Mitch and Tommy, I was kind of looking forward to an 8 lap race on the course.  I'm pretty sure that is clear evidence something isn't right in my head.

Pre-Race

Not much special here.  After picking up my bib I went out and skied about 5 km.  A little more would have been nice, but that was what I had time for.  The trail was in good condition and pretty dang fast.  Above freezing temps the day before and temps just below freezing over night made it nice and slippery without making it overly icy.  Fast Wax HSF-20 on my A skis.  They started fast and stayed fast despite the warming temps and reported slowing down of competitors skis.

Race

I lined up on the second row I think.  Off the line there was a little jostling but as far as I could tell no one went down.  Starting from the practice field there isn't much runway until you get to the trail so its probably best they started us tightly packed instead of all spread out.

As you might expect, things started out pretty hot downhill for the majority of the first kilometer.  My start seemed pretty good as I only did a little bit of passing/being passed through that point.  Up the climb to the practice field that first lap I was near the back of the lead bunch of 20 or so.  We were stringing out some, but there was definitely some jockeying going on.

Nearing the end of the first lap there was a few gaps forming.  I could see there was a lead pack of 6, a chase pack of 7 and then myself and three others.  I contemplated trying to catch up to the chase pack but was concerned that I would blow up.  My race strategies have been a little more conservative in general lately.  If I go out too hot and push it over the edge things get very tired, sore, and I start skiing tight, which throws off my technique which then just continues a viscous cycle and things don't go well.  I felt as though I was on the edge so opted to not push.

I ended up leading our second chase back for the remainder of the first lap and most of the second lap.  I pulled over at the end of the second lap to let someone else pull for a while.  Post race I met my fellow racers John Hopkins and Blaze Fugina.  Blaze pulled through and led for the second lap.  I took a few short pulls over the next lap or so, but nothing significant.  John stayed safely tucked at the back.  Without saying as much, I offered to lead more by pulling along side Blaze.  Essentially saying, I'll pull if you want to let up a second and pull in behind.  He seemed happy to lead so I was happy to follow.

I decided I was going to race with these guys instead of going for a finish time.  My skis were definitely the best of the three.  I felt pretty good in the middle of the race.  I did my best to conserve energy without stepping on poles.  I was only moderately successful at the latter.  Sorry guys.

Lap 5 or 6 I started to formulate my strategy.  I was a little concerned that John was conserving even more hanging out at the back.  I tried to keep an eye on him.  I could see that Blaze was starting to feel the efforts.  There was more V1 than on previous laps and a little more body language at the tops of the climbs.

I debated between surging at the start of the last lap on the slight decline, or saving it for diving into the donut and pushing the last 800 m or so.  My concern with the former was if I pushed too hard and didn't get a gap I might blow up and limp in the rest of the lap.  So much for go big or go home.

I opted for the latter and as we went under the bridge heading for the donut I pushed hard up the little hill, across the flat, and into the downhill.  I wanted to get that gap and use my faster skis to make it stick.  I never looked back and just hammered the hill as hard as I could.  I could taste my efforts towards the top.  I managed to keep it together and continue my push all the way back down under the bridge and to the finish line.

I clearly had saved something in the tank.  I managed to put 13 seconds into Blaze and 32 into John over that last 800 m.  In post race discussions it was my push up the donut that sealed the deal for Blaze.  He said when he saw me doing V2 up the hill he said no way and gave up the chase.



Post Race

I feel good about racing yesterday.  It was fun and my fellow competitors were good racers and it was fun to chat afterwards.

As for the overall results, I wonder if I couldn't have done better.  Blaze talked about trying to pull us up to the first chase group.  Had we worked together more, I wonder if we couldn't have done that.  I don't think that group made any progress in gapping us over the last 4 or 5 laps.  1:17 would have been a lot to pull out though. It would have been over 8 seconds/km faster.  What if I had pushed to hang onto the back of that pack and hung there?  Would I have blown up?  Would I have been able to conserve at the back of a group of 8?  I guess I won't know for sure.

As far as the magic spreadsheet goes, there weren't all that many racers in common with the other races this year.  It topped out at 6 co-racers at the Holiday Tune-up back in December.  It appears to generally be on par with that race at -1.2% faster.  There was a decent comparison against the 2014 Birkie and results continue to stack-up as an improvement over last year.

Only time will tell.  Just under 27 days to be more specific about the amount of time.

EPIC: 2015 Cyclova XC Adventure & Education Trip - UPDATE # 1

What better way to get revved up about the sport than to ski the most epic Nordic trails on the planet!?!  Above are Frank & Chad celebrating the view of Mount Timpanogas on the Sundance Nordic Center trail.


Each Winter, Cyclova XC does what we call our "Cyclova XC Adventure & Education Trip".  Each year on this trip, we take with a dedicated Cyclova XC employee and a top client (who is a great customer, advocate for Cyclova XC, and ambassador for our trails & community).  The premise behind the Cyclova XC Adventure & Education Trip is to travel to an industry event (tradeshow, etc), and enjoy a bunch of biking or skiing adventures in a truly epic place.  These trips were spawned from the following objectives: 
  • We at Cyclova XC pride ourselves in being among the foremost experts in our field - bicycling, xc skiing, and adventure.  In order to deliver this expertise to our customers every day, it's critical that our staff be continually educated on the latest technologies, gear, and best practices.  Part of this is rubbing elbows with the movers & shakers in the bike and ski industries - the foremost experts on the planet in their field.  
  • The lifestyles that we endorse (cycling, xc skiing, and adventure) are fun - so we want our staff to have the opportunity to enjoy the very best venues for our sports around.  
  • It's a really big & cool world out there, and we want to bring some of the cool ideas from across the globe back to St. Croix Falls.  
  • Cyclova XC wouldn't exist, were it not for our amazing clients & ambassadors / team members.  We want to show appreciation to the top clients & ambassadors for Cyclova XC, our local trails, and the St. Croix Falls area.  
Last Winter, Duane Lee, Steve McCormack, and I went to the West Yellowstone Ski Festival.  There, Duane and I attended a few days of training on ski tuning and waxing by the foremost experts on the planet - the Toko Tech Team.  And we skied on the World Class Trails in West Yellowstone - A LOT!  It's safe to say that last year's trip was packed full of fun & epic adventures!

Currently, Chad Olson, Micah Bruns, and I are in the midst of our 2015 trip.  We began by going to Utah for 2 days of epic xc skiing, attending the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market trade show in Salt Lake City, and then attending the World Fat Bike Summit in Jackson, WY.  Below is the chronicle of our trip thus far...



On Sunday, we loaded up the Jeep with fat bikes & gear, xc ski gear, and trade show gear.  It's a good thing we packed light!
On Sunday at 11AM, Chad, Micah, and I met to pack up my Jeep for our epic road trip.  We brought with both Fat Biking & xc ski gear (lots of stuff), so it required we pack as light as possible.  "Less is more" was our mantra.  We chose to pack the bikes inside of the Jeep, as 2800 miles of driving with bikes on an exterior rack would have trashed them with road salt & grime.  We stashed as much stuff as possible in the roof top ski box along with our skis, and everything else fit into the back of the Jeep quite nicely.  

We were on the road by 11:40, and with a stop for lunch & dinner (along with a bunch of fuel stops), we arrived in Heber City, UT ~20 hours later - at 8AM mountain time.  Thankfully, the roads were in great condition, until the last 3 hours of driving on the mountainous section of I-80 across western Wyoming, and into Utah.  


Micah takes a break while skiing the 2002 Winter Olympic Nordic Venue, Soldier Hollow.  Note the Olympic Stadium and Biathlon Range in the background.
After a 20 hour drive, you tend to feel off, so we had a big breakfast and took a 3 hour nap at our hotel in Heber.  After our nap, we ambitiously sprung out of bed and went to go ski Soldier Hollow - the 2002 Olympic Venue for Cross Country Skiing & Biathlon.  We had a fabulous ski there, and I was quickly reminded on how there is no such thing as an easy ski at this venue - it's a race venue.  Being flat-landers from Wisconsin, we also were feeling the altitude of just under 6000 feet.  Click HERE  for the trail profile I did on Soldier Hollow several years back - and click HERE to check out the Strava file for our Monday ski at Soldier Hollow. 


After our ski, we went and had dinner and saw checked out the night life in downtown Park City.  Park City is one of the most fun mountain towns I've ever checked out - spend some time there when you're in the area!


Sundance Nordic Center, on one of the most beautiful mountains anywhere known as "Timpanogas", boasts perfect corduroy and scenery second to none.
Tuesday was to be an action packed day - and it ended up being just that!  We started off by skiing what I consider to easily be the most scenic xc ski trail I've ever skied - and I've skied a lot of cool places - Sundance Nordic Centre.  Sundance Nordic Centre is part of the Sundance Ski Resort complex - founded by Robert Redford.  It's literally built up on the side of the sheer rock face of Mount Timpongas - the iconic mountain of the Wasatch Mountain range.  Similar to Soldier Hollow, THIS IS A TRAIL THAT EVER SERIOUS NORDIC SKIER NEEDS TO SKI IN THEIR LIFETIME!  The Pisten Bully groomed trail, amazing/challenging trail layout, the climbing/descending, and the views are simply second to none and leave you in awe.  HERE is our Strava file from the epic ski at Sundance. 


Daniels Summit is a snowmobile trail / lodge system, that welcomes xc skiers with open arms - at 8000+ feet of elevation!

The views from high on Daniel's Summit of the high Wasatch Mountains are incredible.  Remember to stop to enjoy the view!
Sundance was just the start of Tuesday...  After some amazing tacos for lunch at an excellent Mexican restaurant in Heber City, we headed south of Heber to a little known place to ski - Daniels Summit.  Daniels Summit is a snowmobile trail that mainly caters to people from Salt Lake City who come to rent one of their shiny new Polaris machines.  Generally snowmobile traffic at Daniels is very courteous and out for the sight seeing - making this a great shared use trail with xc skiers.  When I worked for Toko and lived in Heber, we used to ski Daniels Summit frequently after work in the dark.  With 50+ miles of well groomed/tilled trail (using their big Bombardier snow cat & tiller), their 50+ mile network of trails are usually in very good condition for skating.  With an elevation starting at 8000 feet, and going well above 9000 feet, you're sure to test yourself and get in a killer workout!  We skied up the mountain for about 6.5k, and then turned around to enjoy the ride back down.  About half of the way down, we were thrilled to find virgin cordoroy at and that point, we let it rip - with Strava showing speeds between 20 - 35 mph for over 2.5 miles.  While Daniels Summit isn't a tradiional xc ski venue, it's still a bucket list place due to the vast wilderness & scenery you'll ski through.  It's real mountain skiing, with the climbs going on for tens of kilometers at a time!  Click HERE to view the Strava file from our ski at Daniels Summit. 

After our ski at Daniels Summit, we went to the most unique hot spring I've ever seen, known as The Crater at Homestead.  The Crater is an underground hot spring with a mineral dome over the top of it.  The water is 65 feet deep in the main cavern, with underwater tunnels and caves going hundreds of feet down.  I'm told this is the most popular scuba diving venue in Utah.  It's a great place to go for a relaxing soak after a big day of skiing, and definitely fit the bill for us!


The Outdoor Retailer Winter Market tradeshow floor is a busy place - with literally every Winter outdoor product & ski brand represented!
Wednesday was to be our busiest day of the trip - game day if you will.  We awoke early in the morning and did the ~1 hour drive over the mountain pass to Salt Lake City, for the huge Outdoor Retailer Winter Market trade show.  "OR" as it's called is the biggest Winter outdoor industry trade show in the western hemisphere.  Literally every outdoor industry and ski brand is at the show.  Here, I had appointments set up with all of Cyclova XC's major ski vendors including Rossignol, Toko/Swix, Atomic, Salomon, Madshus, and One Way.  This is where we get information on any new products coming out for next year, learn the technical nuance of the high tech products we stock at Cyclova XC, and order the products we'll have in the store for next Winter (yes, we have to order about 8 months in advance.  We also wandered around the show floor and checked out cool products from all kinds of other vendors.   In short, we were at the show from 9-6, and didn't have a minute to spare. 


On top of Teton Pass (above Jackson, WY), we found more snow than we'd seen anywhere in our journey through 8 states.  Simply amazing!
On Thursday, we shifted gears in a variety of ways - phase 1 of trip to phase 2, from a xc ski focus to fat biking focus.  We started by packing up the Jeep and doing the beautiful 5 hour drive from Salt Lake City to Jackson, WY.  While there wasn't much or any snow in the flat lands west of the Wasatch mountain range, as we climbed up toward the top of Teton Pass, the temperatures plummeted and the amount of snow sky-rocketed!  Thankfully, the snow stuck as we drove down the east side of Teton Pass, with a good amount of snow (albeit it crunchy) in the town of Jackson.

Once in Jackson, WY - we built up our Fat Bikes and settled in to our hotel. 
After checking into a great hotel for our 3 days in Jackson, we pulled our Salsa Beargrease Fat Bikes and 45NRTH Winter riding gear from the Jeep - and prepped everything for riding - and for 3 days of the World Fat Bike Summit

Yesterday, we were in an all day conference at the World Fat Bike Summit - at Snow King Lodge in Jackson, WY. 
On Friday morning - we rose bright and early for a full day of presentations at Snow King Resort.  It was a full agenda - with a lot of great speakers.  The day proved to be an incredible networking opportunity, and I found myself mingling with folks from several bike industry companies, the owner of Yellowstone Track Systems, IMBA, National Park Service, National Forestry Service, and many State Park Directors from across the country.  

We also picked up a few great "nuggets" to bring back to Cyclova XC and the Woolly Bike Club - which was a big objective of the trip!  One very assuring thing that came in very clearly from day one of the summit, was that the Woolly Bike Club - and other Midwest Fat Biking venues, are FAR AHEAD of the rest of the world when it comes to Fat Biking trails, grooming, and riding.  Way to go Woolly!  This just illustrates the importance of joining the Woolly Bike Club through IMBA & becoming involved! 

One surprising thing to me was the almost complete lack of Midwest Fat Bike Retailers or IMBA Chapters present at this year's World Fat Bike Summit.  Other than Cyclova XC, the only other Midwest retailer present was Evan Simula (as seen at the Solstice Chase) of Sports Rack in Marquette, MI.  To my knowledge, other than the Woolly Bike Club, no other Midwest IMBA Chapters were represented.  Again, this just drove home the point of how St. Croix Falls is literally leading the world and defining the sport of Fat Biking!  Bold claim, but absolutely true!  St. Croix Falls is a truly special place!

After a full day of presentations, we got out for a ride on the local single track trails, known as Cache Creek.  We had a fun ride, with a lot of climbing and descending - all with a view of the majestic Grand Tetons in the distance.  Click HERE to check out the Strava file of our Friday ride at Cache Creek. 

While the trails are amazing here in Jackson, the "grooming" is done by snowshoers packing the snow down, and again drove home the point of how good we have it on the Woolly Trails in St. Croix Falls.  Jason K & his grooming system known as "Bjorn" are truly beyond World Class - huge kudos to Jason and his amazing work on grooming the Woolly Fat Bike Trails - known internationally as one of the best Fat Bike trails on the planet!

On tap for today is some more riding in epic places, a tech clinic by Rock Shox on the fat bike suspension fork known as Bluto, a short track race that I'll be competing in at 3PM, and a number of "happy hours" and swag drawing this afternoon.  Here is the agenda for today and tomorrow at the Summit. 

That's all for now - stay tuned for more updates on the conclusion of the World Fat Bike Summit!  We look forward to seeing you all in St. Croix Falls soon - and to bringing the knowledge & experiences gained back!

Signing off - Frank Lundeen
Partner, Cyclova XC




Marine O'Brien Race Report


Eeks, with plans to race the 20km Baker Shaker at Elm Creek tomorrow, I better get this report out before I'm another race behind.

Marine O'Brien Race 20km Skate

Pre-Race

With the crummy snow conditions and the race the day before, I was having trouble getting my head in the game for this one.  I had my now A/B skis waxed up (used to be my A/race skis until I messed them up and Frank and Duane did their best with them, but that is a post for a different day) and my rock skis with.

After bib pick-up and saying hi to Jeff Wolf and Ben Jonjak, I headed out for a warm-up around the swamp on my rock skis.  I wanted to see the trail conditions for my self.  They were sketchy.  Mostly covered, but you could see a root or two and the trail was very rough without enough snow cover to smooth it out.

I missed one of the team pictures while I was out on my warm-up.
Really not wanting to race on my rock skis which ski about as well as a 2x4, I decided it was good enough for my A/B skis and stopped at the car to grab them, drop my warm-ups at the trail center, and make one last rest stop before heading to the start area.

Race

Still without my head in the game, instead of lining up behind Tommy, I picked a spot in about the third row.  I know this is a terrible idea as this race immediately necks down to one skater wide.

Off the start I quickly found myself behind Ben when we narrowed down.  No offense to Ben, but that probably isn't where I should be at that point.  I proceeded to double pole through about 750m.  I succesfully avoided when Mike Phrenetten went down.

Somewhere around 1km I actually started to skate occasionally.  I managed to get in behind a guy in a Fast Wax suit and let him pull us through the field.  Without killing it, we were making decent progress moving up one to two people at a time.

Somewhere around the Rolling Hills Savanna trail I was getting good glide and was making a pass through the bottom of a hill.  The Fast Wax guy said I had fast skis and I was replying that I did when I mashed a root with my right ski.  Whoops.  Sorry Frank and Duane, but these are definitely my B skis now.

I took my turn pulling at that point.  Traffic was getting pretty light now so I just focused on skiing as smooth and efficiently as I could over the rough terrain and going hard, but not too hard.

Taking my turn at the front on the Wedge Hill Savanna trail near the end of the first lap.  Photo Credit Skinny Ski

I'm not a huge fan of two lap races.  I usually hit the first lap and think oh god, why did I sign up to do the long race.

Why oh why did I decide to race the long race?
My head was actually starting to get into race mode though so I kept chugging.  I felt pretty good about my level of effort for most of the race.  Good and solid, but without nearing the blow-up point.  This let me keep my technique together and I was able to hit the finish strong.  I also made a good point of keeping my eyes forward and not worrying about who was behind.  Keep the mindset positive about who you might catch, not in the negative head space of who is going to catch you.

Driving for the line.
Analysis

Originally I wasn't going to even crunch these numbers since my head wasn't in it.  I did anyway though and the results weren't nearly as "bad" as I thought.  They actually still show year over year improvement.  So I'll call that a definite win for a double race weekend and not having my head in the game.

Having a laugh at Mike's expense reliving his high traffic crash.
This race was definitely made more significant by hanging with teammates and friends though.  Anyone showing up in green at a race is alright in my books.

I'm not sure who decided this was our gang sign... we look pretty BA though.

The Beast! Fat Bike Group Ride

Chris Locke discusses his inaugural Fat Bike ride in Bruce...which could be the start of something grand!

The Beast
by

What started as an exploratory ride to gauge interest in a fat bike race located in the Blue Hills turned into a great social event. Eleven adventurous riders all from the Saint Croix Valley came to Rusk county for the ride. The Beast was held on January 17th, 2015 and set off at about 10:05 from Christie Mountain northwest of Bruce.

Setting off from the parking lot on fat bikes we rode down highway O then started climbing right out of the gate. We peddled our bikes up the Fire Lane which is a Rustic Road designated by the state of Wisconsin. This has to be one of my favorite places to ride in any season. The roads are pretty much all gravel and the hills are challenging enough for anyone to get a good workout.

The first stop was at the intersection of the Fire Lane and Perch Lake Road where we paused to take a group photo. Again this was set up as a social ride not to see how fast it could be done. Then we turned right onto Perch Lake Road where the real climbing began. Rolling hills and winding turns were prevalent and the downhills were fast and slick. A few riders almost went down and had their bikes almost sideways. Later we happened to come along a Subaru that was in the ditch on a sharp corner with a lady inside. A man in a Suburban with a tow strap was attempting to dig her out. We all stopped and helped get the car out of the sticks. The lady was very appreciative so I feel like we made a good impression and were good ambassadors for fat biking in the Blue Hills.

Back on our ride we came to another social stop at Buck Lake Road. We stopped and talked a bit and I offered up a swig of Southern Comfort out of a flask with only one taker. Oh well, at least there was one. When we headed out there were some great downhills punctuated by sharp uphills as we descended into and then back out of a pretty substantial valley around the Murphy Flowage aria. It wasn't long before we came to another stop where I was offered a shot of Fireball and 2 shot blocks

by Jason my drinking buddy on the ride. I found that fireball was the perfect snow biking drink because it warms you up in 2 ways. Also the flavor combo with cherry shot blocks was quite pleasing. Back on the ride we hit Breakneck Road and then Dejung Road. I decided against riding up to Wagner Road because it is a snowmobile trail in the winter and I didn't want to mess up a trail because it was too warm for Fatbikes. Dejung is a reasonably straight shot with long, tall hills. The road was not plowed as well as the others to that point so it made it a little more challenging. Just before the Wagner Road intersection we stopped again and heard a few snowmobiles in the woods. This was just about the only traffic we had seen other than the car in the ditch. It's a great place to get away from everything and just get next to nature.

Next up was the Fire Lane witch was also not plowed down as well as the first section. The road has been worked on the last few years so it is much wider than the others which means you can see the landscape better from the hilltops. We saw a few more cars in this section but still nothing too serious. A few more stops and we were back to the southern section of the Fire Lane. All down hill back to county O and Christie Mountain.

We were all pretty hungry at that point so we went into the Chalet for lunch. The line was long to order but everyone seemed to be fine with it. The place was packed with skiers and snowboarders. It was good to see all the people up there; they really have a great local business. I'd like to thank the folks at Christie Mountain for letting us use their place as our base camp. They are always so inviting and I'm glad we could bring them some business in return. After eating and socializing a bit more we all headed back to the cars to pack up the bikes. We said goodbye and headed home after a great day with great people who all share an awesome common interest. Snow biking is a great way to explore the outdoors in the winter. You don't need to go fast to enjoy it. In fact, sometimes the slower you go the more enjoyable it is and the more cool things you experience. See you all again soon and if anyone is interested in exploring the Blue Hills on bike, ski, or snowshoe, contact me and I can point you in the right direction or show you around myself.


Seeley Hills Classic Race Report


OK folks, it was a busy weekend.  Grab a beer and settle in for the first of two race reports and associated analysis... or just skim for the pictures.  I was going to put them both here... but as usual, my report got a little wordy.

Seeley Hills Classic

Pre-Race

First on tap this past weekend was the Seeley Hills Classic race.  This was my first year doing this race billed as the "Unofficial Classic Championships of the Midwest".  Being the same weekend as the Marine O'Brien race which I also wanted to do, I opted to ski the 22 km race instead of the 42 km.

I skied the course from OO to Gravel Pit back on New Years Eve.  It was that evening I took a spill standing at the OO trailhead and sprained my wrist pretty badly.  This past week I was working my way into using that arm again skiing.  It isn't 100% yet, but I can generally ski with minimal discomfort now.  This was good because I can skate with one pole, classic not so much.

Ready for my MMA fight, or a ski race.  One of those.
CyclovaXC had a good crew heading up.  I counted no less than 14 people either wearing CyclovaXC kit or with strong team affiliations.  It is so much fun being part of a team like that and mingling before and after a race.

The other nice thing was getting help waxing.  I am NOT an expert in kick waxing.  Given the warmish temps approaching freezing and the potential for some precipitation I was potentially going to be in trouble.  Tony Lushanko called the waxing for me.  Rode Violet with a cover of Ski Go Red.  It kicked perfectly for me and my glide was not compromised.  Thank you Tony!

I happened to have Violet, and Tony let me use his SkiGo Red as I only had Purple.  It is still a little black magic to me.
Race

This was a fun race for me.  I lined up much closer to the front than I normally do.  Starting south of OO on the classic trail we were only 4 or 5 lanes wide and I picked a spot in the 4th row next to Tommy and Eddy.  Looking at last years results I was optimistic of a top 20 finish so this seemed right.

Off the gun we set a good pace.  Over the first 2 km or so there was a lead pack of about 6 that broke away and then a chase pack of around 12.  We were supposed to ski on the left side of the trail, but as the leading group with no returning skiers we were switching back and forth at will.  This would come to be a problem once we turned around and everyone else was doing that too.  I got yelled at a few times that I was on the wrong side.  Sorry, but I was avoiding the 100 people ahead of you who were also on the wrong side.  Better group discipline next time.

This was a great start and I was hanging with some big dogs.  Tommy, John Munger, and Jay Wenner to name a few I recognized.  This was a big deal to me.  These guys are studs.  I was at the trailing end of the chase pack.  There was a bit of an accordian/whiplash effect going on at the back skiing onto the tails of guys skis in front of you at the bottom of the hills and then having them accelerate away from you as they began striding.  I knew I was going fairly hard, but I thought I was in control.

Then we hit the major climb at about 5.5 km.  Up until then we'd lost 150+ feet net and definitely had far more descending than ascending.  Up the hill I realized that while it was cool to be running with the big dogs, I was a bit out of my league yet.  Tommy was making a move for the front and the chase pack was moving away from me.  My breathing was ragged and my HR was within about 8 bpm of max.  I knew it was time to let them go and race my own race before I blew up completely.

Yeah, ouch.  Where the big dogs took off without me.
There were a few of us that got spit out the back of that chase pack.  It is a little fuzzy now where we all ended up, but I was nearly alone at the turn around at Gravel Pit.  I grabbed a quick drink and started back.  I was caught shortly by Bob Peterson in an Out There kit.  He was moving good and I could only hang for a little bit.  I kept my head down and kept trucking as best I could.

Somewhere around 11 km Allen Limberg came up behind me.  I could hear him coming and made sure that he had to earn his pass.  He jumped over to the other side of the trail to make the pass and get a gap.  Once he came back to my side I made sure to close the gap and then stuck to him.  I was striding better than him (thanks again Tony) so I kept it relaxed as best I could to let him pull me along.

The last major climb at around 15.5 km was brutal.  I stayed with Allen and was prepping my head for a last effort to make a break for it.  The next short climb I went for it.  I pushed hard over the top and tried to get some separation.  Unfortunately it didn't work.  He was able to stick close enough that he could pull me back in on the downhill and then slingshot around me.  The final short climb with about 100 m to go wasn't long enough and he had enough sprint speed to hold me off to the line.

Driving hard with about 100 m to go.  Awesome photography by Kelly Randolph (many more photos here)

Super fun racing.  ChronoTrack has some cool finish video.  The camera angle wasn't great for this race, but you can still see me beat out in the sprint finish here.  Finish Video

Analysis

Great finish for me.  18th overall and first in the severely underrepresented M35-39 age group.  Seriously, where are all my peers?  Whatever, I guess I'll take it.  I couldn't stick around for the awards so I don't know if I'll get my plate, but it looks pretty sweet and I hope I can.

From a general impression stand point I thought the race was really good for me.  Hanging with the studs for 1/3 of the race and then not completely blowing up after that.  Someday I'll hang with them for the whole race.

But what really matters is my spreadsheet.  OK, it isn't everything, but it is one of the few data driven means of comparing and predicting I have.  In addition to its usual shortcomings, comparing a classic race against mostly skating races is questionable.  There are people who are definitely better at one technique than the other.  Or maybe they missed the wax for the day.  The end result is that it can really skew the results.  But I'm looking at it anyway.

Comparing against the past three Birkies (of which I only did the last two), this is by far a very favorable race.  With 35, 31 and 32 common racers, there is a good field to correlate.  My predicted times for the races would have put me in 271st, 276th and 271st place in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively.  Not too shabby and incredibly consistent which gives some credibility to the comparison.


Numbers, beautiful numbers.  (I spy 3 elite wave Birkie skiers after my name, just sayin'.)

Maybe I'm just a stronger classic skier relative to my skating than the other people in the comparison.  Maybe I'm better at 17 km than 50 km.  Maybe I'm actually in some of the best shape of my life.  Maybe there is some of all of that.

Birkie in T-32 days...

Why Every Woman Should Try a Night Ride

Many women find mountain biking to be a bit intimidating.  Maybe it's the spandex?  Maybe all the rocks and roots?  The blood, the bruises, the climbs and the crashes?


Maybe the sport seems intimidating because our male brethren keep their leg hair shorter than we do.  (By we, I of course mean me.)  


Regardless of reasoning, finding down to earth women riders is hard to do.  


Even more elusive is the female night rider. 


Lights are easy to come by - hello!  Just give Cyclova a call!  I know the staff is super helpful and eager to help make your life easier with a great recommendation! 

But what you'll really need is not available in any store - not even at Cyclova.

What you'll need is intrepidity, fearlessness, and nerves.  Not many people possess these qualities off the bat.  You'll run into people who will claim to be the best thing on a bike since Sonya Looney but have yet to even touch a headlamp.  We all know those girls.  

If you're on the fence about giving night riding a shot, I'll explain why I love it.  Maybe you will too!  


1) Sometimes, it's the only time I can find to ride:

Maybe you're like me - maybe you have kids at home or a husband/significant other who loves riding as much as you do.  When you're in love with a fellow biker, being fair about ride time is nearly as important a conversation as finances and religion.  (At least in our home!)  Sometimes, the only time left for biking is well into the darkness of the evening.  With night riding, you're never confined by the rays of the sun.  You're free!

2) It challenges my inner weakling:

Ever watched The Walking Dead?  I watch it like a soap opera.  Whenever I do, I find myself thinking - what would you do if the worst happened?  If you truly had to survive?  Would you be able to?  Or would you lie down and take it?  A few years ago, my answer was easy.  I was weak, and everything about me wavered.  Self esteem, trust, happiness.  I still struggle with those feelings some days.  But riding at night makes me a braver soul. Mountain biking in and of itself aids in my esteem - but riding at night completely changes you.  Especially when you're miles away from the trailhead with just your heartbeat and your bike for company.  Your senses awaken and every rustling of a branch is heard.  Every tree trunk looks like a bear.  

Fall, I find, is the worst for me.  Eerie winds pick up and howl throughout the trail.  Pair that with the section of the Woolly that skirts the cemetery? I swear I ride faster in that stretch at night than during the day.  But when I'm all finished and packing up my gear - I feel incredibly accomplished. I pushed myself past my comfort zone, and came out all the better for it.  I'm not a weakling anymore.  And I'm definitely not afraid.  I'm the beast out in the woods - so don't mess with me!

3) Everything is toned down and focused:

A huge perk to night riding is the lack of distraction.  I'm one of those riders (and racers, even) who looks around constantly on the trail.  Flowers!  Pretty views from the top of climbs!  WHOA! That spider web has dew drops suspended in it!  (To be fair, that last one looks even more neat at night).  When you're on the trail past dark, all those distractions fade away.  You don't see them.  They aren't in your field of light so they do not exist.  Those rocks that normally freak you out?  Not there.  At least not right now.   So get your fun, fearless female self out there and enjoy the peace.  Declutter your mind, girlfriend.

4) You see the coolest things!

One time I saw a litter of baby kittens just beeboppin' through the singletrack. It was like a scene in Fantasia.  I've chased white tail deer through....well White Tail Ridge, ironically.  One time an owl tried dive-bombing my helmet light.  I've seen dozens of eerie eyes stare back at me from the back lot at Elk River.  My light has caught jewelry, gel packs, and reflectors in all sorts of weird places - nearly never in the trail where you'd think they'd be.  Point is - you have a blast seeing things you normally wouldn't. I found a couple pennies and quarters once, too.  So, night riding can also increase your finances.  Just saying...

I've won night races, done night relays, and a few 24 hour races.  Whether competing or just headed out for a recreational ride - I urge you to consider doing it at night.  It can be phenomenal!

 #fastandfemale #womeninsport

"The Beast" Free Fatbike Ride this Saturday, January 17th

Our friend Chris Locke of the Skull-n-Bones Gravel challenge is putting together a casual, free Fatbike ride this weekend appropriately called: THE BEAST!  It will be a 46.4km ride through the beautiful/challenging trails around Bruce, WI.  For more information check out the Facebook Event here. Or the Rusk County Cyclist group here.  Event starts at 9:30 AM at Christie Mountain on Saturday morning.  Should be a nice warm day for a fun ride.  Enjoy and tell us how it went!

Cross-Country Skiing Workshops In Frederic

This is not a CyclovaXC sponsored event, but we love that there are ski clinics nearby.  Ian Karl is a great cross-country skiier and this event sounds like fun.  If you attend, let us know how it goes!

Sand Barrens Credit Card Fat Bike Tour


Joshua Stamper of the Gravel Conspiracy just sent us this great write-up of a spontaneous fat bike camping adventure he took out in the Sand Barrens. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

by Joshua Stamper

This trip really arose out of my desire to explore things that are close to me, that resemble an adventure in the wilderness. Because, let's be honest, you have too much going on in your life to take a month off and go jaunting off to places like Alaska. The trip was also facilitated by two good friends that were willing to lend my wife Alison and I the use of their fat bikes when they were out of town for the holidays. My mom also made a surprise Christmas visit from China, so we had the childcare lined up.

I told you that story to tell you this: sometimes adventures just happen. The stars line up, and you get to break out of the daily grind and go have an experience that you will always carry with you.
Go forth. Ride bikes. Be awesome.

The Sand Barrens are a loosely termed “bulge” in western Wisconsin that separates St. Croix Falls from Grantsburg. It is composed of several state and local natural resource features, but is also generally known as Governor Knowles State Forest. Frank Lundeen of Cyclova XC introduced me to this area several years ago during the inaugural Mammoth Gravel Classic.

The Barrens are composed of horse and snowmobile trails, sand roads and sections of double track that rarely see people. I love this area.

When my mom announced that she was coming to stay with us for a few days, my mind started whirling about the chances to go on a quick credit card tour with my bonny lass, sans progeny. About a hour on google maps and past .gpx files yielded a plan. Park at one of the river access points just south of Wolf Creek, WI. Ride from the there up to Grantsburg to stay the night, and then ride back the following day.


One off pogies.
Google confirmed my suspicions that there were not many lodging options in Grantsburg. We settled on the Wood River Motel due to its proximity to our route. It is also sandwiched between a tavern, a coffee shop, and a gas station. With the knowledge that we would have Busch Light, gas station hotdogs, and an Americano readily at hand, I called in reservations.

A note on the Wood River Motel: The rate to stay is about 60 bucks a night, and while the place was clean and warm, it is still an old roadside hotel. Don’t expect a soft, cushy mattresses if you stay in the low end rooms. Its better than sleeping on a thermarest, but not as nice as your bed at home. The WIFI signal is pretty weak if you stay in the outer rooms, so ask for accommodations near the lobby if you need internet connectivity.

Since we were going fast and light, I told Alison to pack a change of long underwear, socks, mittens and a down jacket  in her small back pack, in addition to her normal winter riding clothes. I carried a similar kit, but also took a small stove to boil water and reconstitute some freeze dried food, instant mashed potatoes, or oatmeal. I also carried some Starbucks Via and airplane bottles of Makers Mark (cuz ya never know!).


Me not having Cell service.
I packed all of our shared heavy gear in a Relevate Designs Visacha saddle bag, and carried my clean, dry clothes plus a first aid kit in my Wingnut Enduro.  We each carried about a liter of water in a bottle parka, plus carried a small thermos that fit in a bottle cage.

Another thing that I carried in my pack (that should be in everyone's winter kit) was a reflective windshield shade. It weighs nothing, only costs a few bucks and gives you a warm, dry place to sit down in the snow. Couple that with a mylar space blanket, and you practically have shelter in an emergency.

We also both use pogies on all our winter bikes. I have some circulation issues arising from a finger amputation and subsequent cases of mild frost bite, and I can say that pogies are infinitely warmer than any glove. I usually toss my phone or GPS down inside the pogie with a chemical hand warmer if its really cold out.  I really like Bar Mitts, but there are some more luxurious (read:expensive) options out there. I usually just wear some light wool liner gloves inside the pogies.






The sick pogies that Alison was rocking were homemade by one of her friends.

So we loaded the bikes in the van, and after a stop at Cyclova XC to get Cliff Bars and  talk to Chad and Kristen, we rolled along River road until we found the boat launch just down river from Wolf Creek.

Here is the north bound route and here is the route that we took back south. Not a lot of deviation but it lets you see some of the wilder parts of the area.

It was not surprising, but there was more snow around St. Croix Falls than there was in the cities. Our ride up was pretty challenging as we were bucking a north wind. We chose to skirt the edge of the open areas, saving the sweeping vista for when we had a tailwind. I did not create GPS track for our route prior to riding. Instead I “dropped a pin” in google maps on my phone for the Wood River Motel, and then zoomed out to save this section of map for off-line viewing. This enable you to use your phone GPS in google maps without having any phone service. I ran my android phone in airplane mode the whole trip. Which brings me to my next point. You are not  going to have cell service. Providers like Verizon may have coverage once you get close to Grantsburg, but Sprint had nothing for me. Be Advised.


Fire lane Rambling
Once we got to the dogleg on Skog Rd, we veered onto a overgrown double track that Alison thought quite dubious, but it dumped us out right behind the Wood River Motel a mile later. We checked in, and started hanging up some gear to dry. Our next prerogative was victuals. Since were were right next to a tavern and it was Friday night, we would have been remiss to pursue more haute cuisine. Fried Cheese curds and Lienies got us started, and then we both got the fried walleye supper washed down with a recent vintage of Spotted Cow. 


Sated, we waddled back to the motel for some shut eye.

By the next morning, we had gotten another 3 inches of snow, but we also had a stiff wind at our backs, so I was not too worried about our prospects for the day. I walked up the hill to the gas Station to get some road food, but also found that they had pretty decent breakfast stuff. Fruit, greek yogurt, Biscuits, in addition to the oatmeal that I always carry in my pack, made for some fine breakfast table fare. I stopped at the coffee shop next door and got some hot drinks to go.





After eating, we packed up our gear and headed south. It was surprising to me that we almost never had to break trail, even on the fire roads. We followed the same truck tracks for miles, and even saw a lone snowmobiler.  


By the time we had got back toward the Trade River, stomachs were growling. We had hamburgers and fries at the Wolf Creek Tavern before rolling the last mile back to where we had left our car by the St. Croix. At less than 50 miles roundtrip, this route is really manageable by most fit people, and makes for a fun little stay-cation within an hour of the twin cities.


About the Author:

Joshua and Alison Stamper co-manage a wild pack of man-children, and usually take turns going on adventures by bicycle, boat and afoot. Alison is an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker, and works part time as a Massage Therapist. Joshua is an assistant extension professor at the University of Minnesota, and is the founder of The Gravel Conspiracy.