Finally...my Heck of the North recap and finally, I got to ride the Heck!
Saturday morning was overcast and more mild than I anticipated. I thought I'd be in a rain jacket or a vest at a minimum but just a jersey and short were all I needed, but that would change.
At 8:30 we rolled out for our adventure. At the start of any race the pace is usually pretty high with excitement and fresh legs. This was no different. We were barrelling down a rough, narrow gravel road strewn with sizable rocks. Almost immediately I saw riders pulling over with pinch flats. Confirming for me that the Salsa Fargo with 1.9" tires was the right call.
We hit a section of "hero" gravel and a tail wind and the pace was "hot". I stated here before that I was just going to ride for fun and not push it too hard. I too got caught up in the excitement but more than that I hate large groups on the bike and wanted to be with the main group till mile 17, where we were told we would get wet. Here I figured the group would really split. Had I turned around I would have saw there was already a split.
Well mile 17 didn't disappoint...we got wet. Riding, on what I assume was a snowmobile trail, was awesome. The trail narrowed, the trees hung low, and the bog gave way to our weight! At one point I misstepped and was knee deep in bog mud...almost lost a shoe! This was about a 2 mile section of walk, run, bike, run, walk, repeat. The field really fell apart here. On the other side we came on some reprieve in the form of asphalt. I was solo but decided to bridge up to the next small group for protection from the wind. This group would later grow to about 15+.
At mile 32.9 our cue cards told of a turn on to a trail. I was riding in the back and the group went on. I was trying to figure my cards and mileage out when I skimmed a stopped rider at about 20+ mph. His spare tire fell and locked him up. That shock/scare had me focusing on what was ahead and not a turn. Besides the group went straight. Oops, mistake. Follow the cards not the group. Yep, we missed the turn. With stops and out of the way riding we added another 5 miles and time. Honestly I didn't care. Just riding out there was all I needed. OK I was a bit bummed. The group I was with was flying and I wasn't working. We had to be gaining on the lead group, well maybe not as they too were stupid fast!
Back on course we met up with other riders since we added a few extra miles. So the group grew and I could tell I was getting out of my comfort zone. Yeah I'm weird. As we neared Duluth, the midpoint, a couple Ski Hut riders got up front and absolutely drilled it. Again I would have let them go but I wanted a smaller group. Those guys pretty much pulled us 12 miles into Duluth. About 5 miles or so from the checkpoint it started to rain pretty hard and wouldn't let up the rest of the day.
The checkpoint came at 58 miles. I mingled while others refueled. I carried everything I needed. I left with the first group. We were about 8 or so. A perfect group. Once we reached gravel drafting came all but impossible. The amount of slop getting tossed up from the other riders was ridiculous. Here I slowed up. I figured I would just linger 50 yards off the back. But as that 50 yards grew I didn't push to close it. Eventually they were out of sight. Jared waited up for me which was helpful as the rain, gravel in the shorts, and slow riding continued on.
Again the cue cards had us going on a snowmobile trail. With the rain the trail had become pretty soft. The going on this section was slow but fun. This whole course was like none of the other gravel rides I've done. After this section we came onto a smallish gravel road. This eventually narrowed to a two track and later a one track with river crossings and all! So damn cool.
I finished somewhere around 6 hours and 30 minutes. The race was 103 miles but I had 108 with the missed turn. I ended getting 18th, but believe I was 19th out of 157 finishers and 201 starters. With the rain still coming down and the temps falling there wasn't much mingling. I changed and sat in my car with the heat on high. I'd get out to chat a bit only to jump back in when the shivering started up again. Eventually I made my way for home. I had Metal Cross on Sunday, to watch...not race!
The Heck of the North goes down as one of the most fun rides I've done. It had everything I want in an "epic" ride: gravel, sand, river crossings, trails, bush crashing almost, rocks, bogs, rain, great people, etc. Thanks to Jermey Kershaw and his volunteers for a great ride...I'll be back.