Five bikes with bobble heads hanging off the front of our handlebars slowly made their way up the Seeley Fire Tower climb. With our chests pressed against our stems we turned our easiest gears each following the other up what appeared to be the one smooth line while to our right numerous cyclists walked -- some seemed to be breathing harder than us. At the top we were greeted by spectators with cheers, praise and even a heckle. Is this a cross race I thought when one yelled out, "did that aero-helmet help you on the climb?" I replied, "it works for me!" And with that I was once again having an absolute gas.
The Chequamegon 40 is iconic. According to the promoters, Chequamegon (she-wa-me-gon) means "fat tire racing and fat tire fun." There's certainly plenty of both which is probably why people travel from all over to do this race. After a mass start of just under 2,000 the forty mile race takes to roads and ski trails for one fast non-technical race.
The start for me was like a road race. The supposed neutral roll-out on paved road started to heat up the second we left main street which is also when the crashes began. My starting position allowed me to see the pace car and the leaders stretching things out but everyone was digging in and gaps were short lived. At the very first acceleration I heard a tangle of bikes just behind and not long after hitting highway 77 there was a huge pileup in the center of road. I grabbed brake and braced for the predictable collision from behind but it didn't happen. Fortunately, we were spared by disc brakes and we were just as quickly rolling past the entanglement of bicycles. There would be one more crash which could have threatened my day. This occurred just as we left the pavement. I must have been just one bike ahead of two cyclists which collided raising a chorus of shouts as those following at 20+ mph encountered these fallen cyclists.
Overall I had a very fast start despite the unwelcome excitement of the crashes. Not surprisingly I was already loosing places and by the time we crossed Rosie's field I could no longer see the front of the race. That I could at all was due to my placement near the start of the race -- no doubt the result of a clerical error. This was my first Cheq40 so when I entered the lottery I supplied my racing resume as requested. Seeing some recent good results they clearly expected more than I could deliver. I tried to make the best of it by following these fast wheels as best I could.
After about 45 minutes of what felt like fast cross race, I was done. Thoroughly trashed and wasted. Perhaps if I set down my bike and curled up in a ball on the ground some one would take pity on me and take me home -- it was that sort of done. Needless to say, at that point my speed dropped a bit. Not long after I had the pleasure of seeing a few friends go by. Jesse Darley looked great and Don Carr did his best to lift my spirits while maintaining his place in a sweet looking pace line.
Life did return and fun set in for the remaining of the race once we hit the Seeley Fire Tower climb. It was on that climb I rediscovered lower gears and the joy of cleaning a climb so steep that you have to press your chest to your bars to keep the front wheel on the ground. But the pace and gearing was not hard and I topped the climb feeling like a new rider. I rode that feeling to finish line which was crossed with more joy than any in recent memory.
Results? While not stellar I have no regrets. The plan to stay with the fast wheels as long as possible was clearly flawed but it gave me a chance to see the front, near-front and middle of the race. A chance I won't have again by all indications. My finishing time was 2:44:58 which was good enough for 30th out of 156 in my age class. That put me 642nd out of 1,858 overall. Pretty amazing numbers if you think about. There were 156 people in just the 55-59 age class! That, I think, is what makes this event so special -- the overwhelming numbers of people who participate year after year. I feel privileged and happy to have finally joined those ranks.
Angry Monkeys Racing