The Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival is one of my favorite events and though we moved in the opposite direction of Hayward, Dave and I absolutely couldn’t miss it. The only way we could make it work was to drive on Thursday night to register on Friday night. We made the trip in sixteen hours and though sleeping an hour at a rest stop was far from ideal, the drive went as smoothly as it could have. The first thing we did was ride the Rock Lake trail (one of my favorites ever!) of the CAMBA Namakagon cluster and it was totally surreal to be there a day after riding at Dupont.
The trails were slippery but just as much fun as always and it was nice to feel that my technical skills were improved since my last visit. Not having raced consistently since July made me a little nervous for Saturday, but enjoying the singletrack helped me relax. We headed to registration and it was really great to see some familiar faces! Dinner at the Angry Minnow and a full night of sleep at a family friend’s cabin on Lake Courtes Oreilles were exactly what I wanted and I was looking forward to the big race.
It was 40+ degrees cooler in Hayward than Asheville, but I managed to get a solid warm-up in on the trainer and roads. And then all 1800 of us were off!
There was a close call in front of me on the roll-out, but it did feel much safer than last year and I don’t think there were any crashes. I tried to ride fast but smart and absolutely hit a wall when I got to Rosie’s Field. I usually feel bad for the first quarter of any race, but never this empty so early on. I hoped I could ride through it and pushed on, sticking with groups of men more often than not. I was close to Catherine and Diana for a lot of the beginning, so I knew I had a decent position since they have consistently placed near the top. I would see them occasionally, but never any other women for a looong time.
Unfortunately I didn’t ride myself into feeling better on the bike; I was honestly in survival mode the entire race and was just determined to stick with people. I learned from last year that riding alone for a long time in a race like this is a very bad thing! The course was muddy and very wet in some sections; I enjoyed the muddy descent into Martel’s Pothole and it was like a skating rink!
Here I am, muddy and moving up to the next group…
Then I, like everyone else, got wet and cold. After that I had a hard time keeping my legs warm even though I dressed properly for the weather. I had some pretty bad leg cramps (something I’ve never experienced in a mountain bike race!) and focused on my nutrition. Approaching Firetower, Abby came past on a friend’s wheel when I was feeling my worst and just couldn’t respond.
I did not want to give up any places but I also didn’t want to blow up on the last ten miles, which I feel are the hardest and most important of the race. I kept my pace steady, kept drinking and slowly started to come back to life. I don’t know if I can ever consider Firetower to be an easy climb, but it was certainly more manageable this time after riding the mountain trails in Pisgah.
Someone called out that I was eighth, which surprised me since I felt like I was barely pedaling. I knew a lot of women would be coming up quickly so I did everything I could to hold my position through the finish. Everything (but my bike) felt bad and it was definitely a big mental struggle. I was sad to see my friend Rebecca walking one of the last few miles with a mechanical and knew to that point she must have had a stellar race. Michelle was right behind me leading to Telemark and I just barely edged her out for eighth place. We really pushed each other, which was awesome, considering the next few ladies were well within a minute of us!
I was and am very pleased with the result, but disappointed that there was never a point in the race that I felt strong or really like myself. I was a lot slower than last year, but placed much higher. Still, this past month has been a very strange transitional one so it was good to get back into racing. More importantly, Dave and I got to catch up with a lot of cycling friends! The awards ceremony was a like a big reunion and I was so happy to be a part of it all. There is definitely something special about Chequamegon that is unlike any other race and I am already looking forward to next year (when I will definitely not drive 16+ hours straight through)!
My teammate Tristan continued his amazing and consistent season on the podium with a second place finish! We waited more than two hours at awards to take a picture with the Chequamegon banner and they turned off the lights on us!
It was great to spend some time in the Northwoods and I even got to see my favorite bird, the Loon!
Until next time, Lac Courtes Oreilles…
Congrats to the racers at Chequamegon and thank you to Gary Crandall for putting on such a great festival!
Thanks so much to everyone who has supported me this season; I am so lucky to be able to race and honestly could not do this alone!