Hundred Down In The Underdown is one of several races in the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series. This one has a new format in which riders can choose 1, 2, or 3 of the 33 mile laps. The location is between Merrill and Irma on some of the most beautiful and rugged terrain in the region. Mixed forest with some old growth, uninhabited lakes, lush ferns, moss, Raven calls and sweet views of the scenic Prairie Dells go on for miles. And miles. This notorious trail system is a lot of things, but flat ain’t one of them 😉
This year I’ve been focusing my athletic efforts on running and bodyweight strength. In the 3 weeks between Wausau 24 and this event, I had about an hour on 2 wheels. I relied on my innate endurance to carry me through. My bicycle choices were the svelte Superlfly singlespeed or the fun, fat-tired Norco with 10 gear options instead of one. With 64 hills on the course profile, I went with gears and 15 extra pounds to lug around.
The night before the event I found out I was to be on a team with 3 of my favorite dudes in the world. I had no intentions of trying to keep up with them, but only then top 3 lap times mattered anyway. Great! No pressure. 1pm rolled around and off we went. I started dead last and was glad I did the first time I shifted into my easiest gear and came to an abrupt stop with the chain tangled in the rear wheel. Got that sorted out and motored on, absorbed in the moment and the beauty of this area. Another hill, another shift to the easy gear, another tangled chain/wheel. Alright then, I’ve figured out I have actually 3 speeds that work on this bike. All the rest either chatter to no end or end up with the chain in the wheel. So I have a 36 pound bike with 3 speeds. Ok. Well, good thing it’s a gorgeous day and I have all the time I need to get this done. I did really focus on being in the moment, which is not always easy for me. Do you ever just feel your breath? Or how your legs work to push a bike up a hill? Like really *feel* it?
So I’m pedaling along, feeling great and see this at an aid station. These guys were the greatest cheerleaders. I stopped to eat a date and have a laugh. They were at 2 more road crossings and so kind. At the last one I was feeling pretty rough and took them up on an offer of bug spray. Saved me from donating pints of blood to the hungry mosquitoes!! I’ll forever be grateful for these guys and their enthusiasm.
I left the next photo larger so you could see just how beautiful this is. I would say, it’s places like this that are the main reason I ride mountain bikes. The sights and smells of the forest and the feeling of moving your body through space feed my soul. Being in nature keeps me grounded. And on a bike you can usually keep ahead of the mosquitoes 😉
I was super low-tech for this event. No heart rate monitor, no Garmin. My phone was in airplane mode, tucked into my Camelbak just in case I needed it or needed to take a picture. Once in awhile I’d ask someone who was passing me how many miles we were in. It was around mile 22 that I felt the old familiar stabbing on my outer knee. The reason I was wearing support – to stave off problems. The reason I work on mobility. The reason I couldn’t do more than 11 laps at Wausau 24 years ago. I have tried seat adjustments, training more, training less (this time). I did find through DNA testing that I have a connective tissue disorder. So, I wasn’t entirely surprised. I heard Steve’s voice telling me that if I was having pain I should stop and call him. Mmm hmmm. Yeah… a smart person would probably do that. I’ve only had him pick me up once, when I had a pretty bad ankle sprain trail running. And anyways, it only hurt going up hills.
And then…. what a sight for sore eyes! My friends Todd and Phil. I can always keep up with Phil. Todd was on a mission and took off. Phil kindly offered to ride with me. Unfortunately, my knee was getting worse with every hill. Searing pain with every push on the pedals. I remember it took months to recover the last time this happened. I appreciated his encouragement but I told Phil to keep going. The bugs were pretty horrible and I was walking most of the hills at that point. After a couple more crashes – turns out the rigid front fork on the fat bike and the rugged terrain render the upper body kind of useless – I decided to just take a minute and send a text to Steve. I let him know I was hurting but determined to finish my 33 mile lap. I have grit if nothing else. Even if I thought I was going to cry a couple of times. Haha! Talk about an emotional roller coaster. I had to remind myself I’d come up with our team name of HTFU. Plus it was getting dark out and I had no lights.
Even though it’s hard to see sometimes through the pain, if you take a pause in the forest you might notice the bird songs, berries ripe for snacking, and a large piece of chaga mushroom growing on a tree. Amazing.
Friends were waiting at the finish, and the after-party was fantastic. The people make this a unique sport. Everyone is full of encouragement and kind words.
This was probably my worst physical performance on 2 wheels. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am grateful I can do it at all, and that I live in such a beautiful area of the world.
Photo credit to Kelly O’Day of Silent Sports Mag