The Chequamegon 100: a 100-kilometer mountain bike race on the trails of Northern Wisconsin. I made a late, gut decision to participate in this race, sending an email and inviting myself along with my boss Ryan Baker, owner at World of Bikes in Iowa City (Thanks Ryan!). It was almost too easy to get registered and get to Wisconsin; just what was I getting myself into?! I kind of knew – I had been to Chequamegon once before, where I was the most-stoked stoker on Dennis Grelk’s mountain tandem. You may be asking yourself, “Do tandems even fit on single track?!” No! No they don’t. However, we made it the full 62 miles/100km, after which I made a vow to stay away from mountain bikes for awhile!
Fast forward two years and here I am, trying out the metric Chequamegon again, this time on my own terms! My precious single speed, fully rigid, purple Kona Unit, the only mountain bike I have ever owned, would be my trusty steed for the Cheq 100. Yep, single speed – my terms might have been just as challenging as Dennis’s tandem terms!
Ryan and I made the drive to Cable, WI the Friday night before, where we stayed in the lodge that hosts the race. We checked in, and ran into some Iowa City racers: D.G, Scott Sumpter, Sedore, Rob V., and a handful of others. We dropped our bags off in the room, then I drank approximately three beers and instantly needed food. It was great that the pre-race meeting and dinner were in lodge so we didn’t have to move around too much. Entry donations were paid, plates of pasta were eaten, and I learned that the course would be marked and there would be checkpoint at mile 42.
The best thing about this meeting was seeing familiar faces. I was so surprised to see so many people I knew – just goes to show how small the cycling world really is: people like Beth, who I rode with at Heck of the North; Victoria, whose team I was on for a fat bike enduro; and Chad Ament, a TransIowa buddy. I have really only met these people through bikes, but I consider them the best of friends.
After the meeting, Ryan and I walked back upstairs to our room and started readying our bikes. My bike’s lack of breakable parts made me really happy – no gears, no suspension, no fancy anything; just a simple steel single-speed, ready to roll on purple rims. The only things I did were lube my chain and check tire pressure. All good! The bike was ready, but physically I had no idea what to expect.I had never ridden my mountain bike farther than, say, 12-miles of single-track, and had to plan accordingly. I was set for water: I had two bottles and a Camelbak. For food I put everything in my jersey pockets. I didn’t want anything near the handlebars for this ride – I even took my bell off. Satisfied with my setup and nutrition, I killed the last couple of mosquitoes buzzing around the room and went to bed.
It was time.
After a great breakfast of eggs, sausage, potatoes, and granola (everything I needed!), Ryan and I gathered with our group of metric riders and headed straight to a gravel road for a 3 mile spin to the trailhead, and started our race. I let most of the group ahead of me. I was worried about the first trail, still thinking about the year on the tandem where I had to duct tape my shoe on within the first ten miles due to rock-smash against my ankles. Not so sure of my rock climbing skills, I didn’t want to hold anyone back. Thankfully, I found my past fat-bike team-mate, Victoria, along this first road and decided to ride with her. I really like sticking with at least one other person during the first half of my rides, and I always make a point to ask them if that’s OK. It seems to be an old throw-back to my rowing days – I like following people. So, I followed Victoria onto the trail, where I surprised myself by navigating nearly all of the rocks! I was feeling pretty awesome and kept it up with Victoria. The trails were fun and flowy, and I didn’t have to walk much…yet.
Around mile 12 we stopped and met some more ladies. Although I can’t recall their names, my inner bike geek remembered their bikes: a Salsa El Mariachi 2 and a full-squish Specialized. The ladies (and their bikes) were awesome. Both of them seemed to know the trails, so Victoria and I fell in line with them for a little while. I think we rode about 15 more miles with them until we hit a fire road and the group started to fall apart. I cruised a little faster out of necessity due to my single-speed setup and told the ladies I would meet them later on the trail.
As I continued I was amazed by how much of the trail I remembered from two years ago. Most of the trail I remember was the sections I knew I didn’t like. Drop offs to my left and sketchy rocks crossed my mind, but when I got to those sections I rode them! Confidence boost for sure. I cruised through a couple more miles of trails and then hopped onto another fire road that I knew would take me to the checkpoint at mile 42. I needed that checkpoint – I am not skilled in the art of eating while mountain biking, and was starving. However, I am talented enough to use my Camelbak while riding, so dehydration wasn’t an issue. Rolling into the checkpoint I was greeted by Odia Krueger, one of the race organizers who graciously let me ride. She also had all the food! Glorious foods! Nutella and pretzels. Icee pops. More water. It was wonderful. I ran into Michelle at this checkpoint, another Heck of the North friend, and was again reminded that I made the right decision coming to Chequamegon. I kept jokingly thinking, “I don’t always make the right choices, but when I do I get to ride awesome bikes with awesome people.”
Victoria met me again at this point on the trail and we decided to ride out from the checkpoint together. I was informed what the next three trails would be like: first was fun and flowy, then a backwards portion of berms, and rocks and roots. I was apparently excited to be more than half way and took off a little faster than I thought – before I knew it, I was alone again. Victoria and I had probably ridden at least a good 30 miles together, but it just felt right to push my pace a little faster – I wanted to see just what I could manage. The first round of fun, flowy trails ended and I was faced with a struggle up the backwards berms section. At this point I started to catch up with people, some people even let me go in front of them, so encouraging! The single speed only goes one speed, and as the miles added up that one speed was getting harder and harder to maintain. The berms weren’t technically hard to ride up, just physically and mentally. Eventually I reached the highest elevation point in the race, which if I remember correctly was somewhere near 1,700 feet. All downhill from here!
I had around 13 miles left when the trails started to get rocky and rooty, just like I had been told they would at the checkpoint. I didn’t want to ride this trail – I wanted off of the trails. All of them. My legs were fried and so was my brain. The rocks and roots were tossing me around, my hands were killing me, and I started having to walk up some hills. I could still ride some hills, but was walking up hills I’d been able to ride up a few hours earlier, that was upsetting. I knew in the back of my mind that a small ski hut signified the end of the race, and I began to wonder how much longer I had to ride to get there.
Somewhere around seven miles to go, the signs for the ski hut showed up, and they seemed to taunt me. With renewed motivation, I stopped walking hills and starting pushing a little harder. I knew what seven miles on single track felt like, and knew I could do it. Even still, those last seven miles sucked. I wanted off my bicycle, but I wanted the finish line more. Just keep going, going, pedaling, pushing. Suddenly, without warning, I was off the trail. A ski hut, THE ski hut, appeared. Two men at the hut gave me a thumbs up, signaling the end of the race was in sight, and then I felt it, that instant relief brought only by the finish line; that deep, real love. I laughed, and pedaled the last two miles of smooth roads in to the finish.