The Heck of the North is a race I've known about for a few years now but due to busy fall schedules and vacations, I've never signed up for it. This year, our fall looked fairly open so I figured I better take advantage of it and sign up for the event. I've heard great stuff about it and really looked forward to seeing 100+ miles of new gravel and forest roads north of Duluth and Two Harbors.
The weather wasn't looking good for Saturday's race so I prepared as best I could for a long day of racing in the rain. This includes the oh so stylish, shower cap over the helmet. I pulled into TH around 8 on Friday night. Ky and Scott had pulled his parents camper trailer up earlier in the day and they had camp all set up. This was a great way to "camp" before the race. Especially if it was going to be wet in the morning.
|Kyleen and Scott getting settled in and me about to carb-up on Subway and cookies.|
We woke on Saturday morning to a mostly clear sky and fairly warm weather. I was ecstatic. Starting a race in the rain is no fun. Once on the bike and rolling it doesn't really matter to me what happens but it sure was nice, to be able to get ready and visit with others in the parking lot without any precip. I chatted briefly with the rest of our usual training crew while getting ready. Bob, Larry, Brett, Scott and Jose were all dialed and ready to hit it.
|The race rig and gear, clean and ready to go.|
The race began with a great 4 mile stretch of doubletrack that was riddled with rocks, grass clumps and the odd stick for good measure. Within those first few miles there was already a handful of people lining the road with flat tires. This affirmed my choice about riding the mtn bike. The next dozen miles we were on a gorgeous gravel road and Bob and I rode together for most of it and chatted about how great we thought the course was.
By the time we hit our first section of snowmobile trail (hummocks of grass floating on a bog) the field of 200 was pretty well stretched out. We crossed a wooden trail bridge and then bushwhacked around a large open water section in the trail. After this, we started to rise up onto solid ground. The trail was still a bit rough and I started to make my way around people on skinny tired cross bikes.
In a mile or so I hit the first section of tar on the course and a few of the skinnies caught up to me. I latched onto them and we pacelined for a few miles before the group fell apart on some rollers. Strangely enough, I was up in front and feeling decent. We hit gravel and I continued on at my own pace. Then the rains hit. It started with a light drizzle but quickly came on and meant business. I reached into the side pocket of my pack and threw the old shower cap over the helmet. It's very nice to have that water dripping off the edges and brim of the helmet rather than coming through it and draining sweat salted rivers over your face and eyes.
At mile 50 I was soaked, it was raining hard, the roads were greasy and the first freight train of leaders were oncoming and blazed by on their return leg from the checkpoint. They were almost 20 miles ahead of me and flat flying.
I got to the checkpoint at the top of Seven Bridges Road in Duluth and quickly located my pack and refueled in the comfort of a garage and EZup tent. Probably spent a leisurely 20 minutes putting some real food in me and mixing new bottles of drink for the last 45 miles. I put on my rain jacket and headed out just as Jose and Larry were coming in. Also ran into Kyleen on the road north of the checkpoint. It's always a nice pick me up to have spectators around and encouraging you.
Around mile 75, I had been chatting with a veteran of the race who was riding it on a lovely old Trek steel frame that he had converted to a single speed. He was telling me that even though we had been climbing and going into the wind for the last 10 miles, soon that would all change and we were about to turn with the wind and begin a long shallow downhill on the beautiful Fox Farm Rd. With that, my rear tire went flat. Of all the crap we had ridden through, rocks, rubble, sharp gravel, my tire goes flat on the pavement. I'm blaming hooligans with bottles. Then shortly after that I guess I'll have to blame myself for not properly topping off my stans fluid. The inside of the tire was dry. Changing the tire in muddy conditions proved to be a bit more involved than usual. The wheel was so caked in grit, I had to spray off the valve stem with my water bottle just to remove the retaining nut.
Once back on the road I was feeling a little bummed and my pace turned south for a while. I was a bit chilled and also started to feel a bit empty on fuel. It seemed like I should still be full from gorging at the checkpoint but I still new I had to eat something. Tore open a granola bar munched it down over the next mile or so. At mile 80 or so, I rolled up on some parked cars and a gaggle of people around a campfire built along the side of the road. Immediately a smile came to my face and I felt energized as I rolled up. "Food, Beer, Water, Pop?" they were yelling. I had them add some water to one of my bottles and now, suddenly feeling festive, I took them up on a can of Hamms. I slugged about 2/3rds of it and thanked them immensely for being out there. The "Hospitality Stop" was exactly the surprise I needed to re-light my fire. I tore off down Fox Farm road.
Ten miles before the end of the race we turned onto another swamp and moss covered snowmobile trail. At first I was dreading it as I just wanted to roll along to the finish. Dread quickly turned to elation as I continued chugging through many sections that others were walking. This led to passing a whole lot of people in the last few miles. By the time I hit the last section of doubletrack back to the parking lot I was on a mission; catch up to and pass as many people as I could. It was a hoot. I ended up finishing with a total time of 8 hours 34 minutes. Of the 200 people that started, 156 stuck it out and finished it. All of our crew are die hards and slogged through it. I came in 93rd.
A great big thanks to Jeremy Kershaw and all the volunteers that help put on this awesome free event.
|We got a little dirty. And this is after I gave the bike a thorough dunk in the creek crossing near the end.|