Earlier in the year, Ben Shockey put together plans for a weekend of long hard rides in the Decorah area. Since I wasn't going to Tuscon this year, I thought that this would be a good way to kick up my training for this year's endurance calendar. I sent an email off to Ben and reserved a space for the weekend. Out of the eight or ten takers, only three ended up making the trip: Drew Wilson, Kent Carlson, and me. Kent and I drove up on Thursday morning and arrived at Ben's early in the afternoon. After a quick trip to Decorah bikes to pick up a replacement head and taillights, we headed off to T-Bocks for some pre-ride food. We saw Drew cruise by the bar around 5 PM so we rode the two blocks back to Ben's to meet him.
Local rider Gunner showed up on his Fargo and we headed out from Ben's at 6PM for what turned out to be a 30-35 mile ride. There were a couple of decent sized hills along the way, but for the most part, it was a mellow affair with total of about 2.5 hours of ride time. We got back, headed out to get some stuff for Friday's breakfast, spent some time just BS-ing, and then headed to bed.
Friday morning came and I awoke to the sounds of Ben banging pans full of bacon, hash browns and sausage on the stove. A good way to start the morning. After a breakfast we loaded up and met Gunner downstairs and headed out for a gravel metric to Harmony, MN. The first few miles were an easy pavement warm up and then we hit the first of many miles of wet, but still somewhat firm gravel. Ben threw in some beautiful scenery and gently rolling hills along the Upper Iowa river as well as a couple of brutal climbs to make sure that we remembered where we were at. The final few miles going out were spent cruising through Minnesota Amish country, including a couple of passing buggys, and plenty of wheel tracks along the side of the road. After a quick food stop, we headed back along the same route. The east wind had shifted to the south during our ride and was now our companion for remainder of the day. Big downhills became slow grinds on the way back, with one hill in particular possessing a dreadful combination of steepness and fresh loose gravel. Kent, Ben and Drew were machines on their single speeds and trying to match their pace was causing me to burn a lot of matches both physically and mentally. It didn't take me long to let them ride off and settle into a more comfortable pace and "ride my ride". My mood improved dramatically after that. The rest of my ride included some stops for photos and a lot of taking in the sights more so than having my nose to the grindstone. I finished the ride alone, but maybe only 30 minutes after everyone else. After a shower and a quick bite to eat, we hung out for a bit and then went out for more food and a couple of beers. A huge plate of pasta hit the spot and soon we were back at Ben's and prepping for Saturday's 100 mile suffer fest.
We got up early on Saturday morning for breakfast so we could leave at 7 AM sharp. We headed north from Ben's place, across the river and right up the wall known as Quarry Hill road. I let the fast guys ride off ahead and settled into a comfortable pace up the hill. At the top, we were greeted with a stiff north wind and blowing rain. I could tell this was gonna be a long day as my back had already had a couple of small spasms on the way up Quarry hill. About 15 miles in I decided to pull the plug. The route was only going to get steeper and it was obvious that my back wasn't going to handle the workout for the day. I ended up following some random roads back into town (some of them I'm sure were on TI v4) and spending the rest of the day hanging out in the bike and coffee shops around town. I went out with Ben's wife to meet the guys around mile 85 at a convenience store and waited for them to finish the ride up. After they returned we hit up the local bars and restaurants for food and drinks to celebrate the weekend of fun.
The decision to go up for the weekend of riding was a good one. The Decorah area is beautiful and challenging to ride in. Having like minded folks that are also strong riders made for a challenging weekend too. We're hoping we can get back for another shot at the century course on a nicer day later this year. Have to see how the schedule works out.