Firewood 4 Sale

Even though our vacation came at the start of summer, we saw lots of firewood for sale in the UP. Every other rural house or small-town gas station seemed to be selling camp wood for sale, always on the honor system. $4 a bundle was the normal rate, but I did see some priced to move at $3. This appears to an unexploited marketplace inefficiency. Someone should buy all the cheap wood, then sell it to desperate tourists at campgrounds for $6.

Bruce Crossing Cenex

Here and there, I also saw bigger quantities for sale – by the cord, by the pile, or even by the truckload, albeit through a raffle.
South Range

The Barkley Marathons

“The Immortal Horizon,” a gorgeous article in The Believer by Leslie Jamison about the fabled, almost impossible Barkley Marathons trail race.

That the hardship facilitates a shared solitude, an utter isolation that has been experienced before by others and will be experienced again, that these others are present in spirit even if the wilds have tamed or aged or brutalized or otherwise removed their bodies.

Tri-County Fatbike Tour and Eating Contest

With the Lutsen 99er mountain bike race just over two weeks away, I needed to get in one more big ride before the window for “training effects” closed. Home and work calendars lined up to make today the best option, and though I would have gone out even if it was 40 and raining, I lucked out and got some spectacular spring weather: about 80 degrees, sunny, a gentle breeze.

My route was designed to take all day and to hit some of my favorite hills and gravel sections as well as new roads far to the south. I needed pretty much an hour to feel fully warmed up, which confirms other recent rides and tells me to go out easy at Lutsen. My all-time favorite climb, up the Shady Lane Trail minimum-maintenance road southwest of Cannon Falls, did not disappoint, being as steep as I remembered and badly rutted with the spring rain.
Shady Lane Trail

Much of the gravel – known and unknown – was great, though I guessed wrong about the southernmost parts of the loop, and wound up riding way too much pavement (or at least the grass/gravel shoulder of paved roads). I also learned that Steele County does a bad job maintaining its gravel roads, which were uniformly as crappy as the rare bad gravel road in dear old Rice County. On the other hand, Steele County had sheep!

About halfway into the ride, as I turned back onto the completely unshaded gravel superhighways of Rice County, I started feeling pretty gassed.
Evans Trail

I had forgotten my cash, so I couldn’t pick up a cold drink or ice cream at any of the infrequent convenience stores, and the water in my backpack grew more unappetizing as it grew more tepid. I decided to stop in the sprawling metropolis of Cannon City to sit in the shade of a roadside church and down my Red Bull, about an hour earlier than I had planned. I think my expression says it all with regards to this decision:
Shelled in Cannon City

Back on the road, I rode past a beautifully dilapidated farm
Donaldson Trail Farm

and then ran out of water, meaning I had consumed 3.5 liters (about a gallon) in about seven hours. Oof. All that went in, but none came out except through sweat. Double oof.

I managed to choke down enough food to keep me going through the rest of the ride, including the “Radar Hill” climb just outside Northfield, which I saved for the end. The ascent was its usual legbreaker, but I wanted to see how hard I could go on a stiff climb after an all-day ride, since the Lutsen course finishes with a nasty ascent to the finish. Answer: not super hard, but steady enough.

All in all, I got my money’s worth: just about a full century, mostly on gravel, and 3,600 feet of climbing in just about 8 hours. I lost about 7 pounds on the day, despite taking in 1,800 calories. Again: oof. I’ll definitely need to eat and drink more at Lutsen – and take more backup liquids (more Red Bulls, Coke, electrolyte drinks).

Except for that more or less harmless error, everything went well. My aching hands tell me that I need to find a better pair of all-day gloves, and my aching feet tell me that I need to leave my shoes looser, but those are easy adjustments. My snazzy new Osprey Rev 24 backpack proved to be a comfortable way to carry my water and food, the Beast never faltered, my tires (Larry front, Nate back) worked fantastically, I put on enough sunscreen to avoid getting burned, and my pistons fired all day.
Fried Legs

Now I just need to rest up for the race. I’m stoked.

Four square: A Crazy Game

This spring, the girls got very interested in the playground game four square. I never played the game growing up, so I had no idea how to play, and in fact at first I confused four square with tetherball, another game I never played.*

Now, the girls love this game, and want to play it almost all time, which is excellent because we have a great driveway for it. In trying to play with them, though, I’ve learned that their grasp of the rules is either a little shaky or brilliantly egalitarian: there is basically no way to lose, or at least to lose badly enough to be eliminated from the game. You can “go out,” but that just means that… someone has said you have to go out. You can go right ahead and keep on playing.

This is fine, since it’s usually just three of us playing, and even a cursory glance at the rules shows that you really need five people to play a real game – one in each quadrant of the “board,” and one to come in when another player goes out. But still, it’s clear that the girls enjoy the game half because they get to call out all kinds of arcane rules and conditions at the start of each round (“King has double lives, regulars, double touches, no cherry bombs, no volleys.”) and half because they love whacking the ball as hard as possible, ideally at my face.

I find both aspects of the game amusing, so I’m okay with this.

* The most common playground or gym games in my elementary school were kickball, tackle football (at least until Mr. Belmas made us stop), and “boomerang,” which is like a full-court version of dodgeball.


Julia at Ten Years Old!

Yesterday we finished celebrating Julia’s first-double digit birthday. This sweet, smart, placid, beautiful girl turned ten on June three – a milestone birthday that I can’t believe has come already. She had a wonderful week of celebrations: a small sleepover with two good friends last week (and presents and pizza and a movie and cake), a nice family party on her actual birthday (and presents and her favorite dinner and cake [pictured]), and a small party with her Nonna and Boppa yesterday (and presents and lunch and cake).

Unlike even last year, when she asked for some toys and "kid stuff," this year she wanted lots of clothes and jewelry. Tween days are upon us! The marquee present was one of those "rainbow looms" that girls use to make endless rubber-band bracelets. (I’m wearing four of them right now.) Ten is going to be a great year for Julia. I can’t wait to see how she changes and grows over the next year!

Track and Field, Fourth Grade Style

Yesterday, Julia’s school put on its annual "track and field day" for the fourth and fifth grades. I enjoyed volunteering (the kids ego did the 4×100 relay were intense!), but I also loved seeing Julia run! She did the 100 meter dash and then -despite saying she was exhausted – also did the 400, after seeing her friends do it. I was so proud of her for gutting it out!

Field-Trip Thank Yous

I had fun a couple weeks ago chaperoning Genevieve and two of her classmates through the wonderful field trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The teachers do an amazing job of preparing their students for the trip, and the kids really enjoying seeing up close the art they’ve been learning about in class for weeks.

This year, I got thank-you cards from the three kids on the trip, which was even better than them offering me some of their lunches. Two cards showed pieces of art we saw at the MIA (Junius Brutus Stearns’ “A Fishing Party off Long Island” by one of Vivi’s friends and Georgia O’Keefe’s “Pedernal-From the Ranch #1” by Vivi). The third showed the four of us in the group, though it was clearly not scaled correctly. Proportionate to my body, my head is much, much bigger than shown.

Fishing off Long Island
Fishing off Long Island
Pedernal-From the Ranch #1
Pedernal-From the Ranch #1
Art Group
Art Group

Bipedaling, But Not Pedaling

My friend Rob Hardy is this summer attempting to walk every street in Northfield. I would say this is quixotic, but the guy is really going to do it. He has already walked 500 miles since March!

Why he only started walking seriously in March, I have no idea.

Today I decided to see what all the fuss is about by walking home from work. (I’d tuned up a friend’s bike over the weekend, and rode it over to her house this morning on my way to work.) According to my tracking app, the stroll took me 34 minutes and 23 seconds and covered 2.1 miles, putting me just 497.9 miles behind Rob (not including any mileage he racked up today).

I guess it was fine, walking like some sort of caveman. I got really sweaty, but I also got to see Carleton’s ultimate teams practicing. I found 3.7mph to be quite a boring pace (pedestrian, in a word), but I did get to enjoy the juxtaposition of the golf course and the graveyard on the way home. (Same thing, amirite?) At one point, I walked in the road, but at another, I appreciated the ease of taking pictures while walking – at least as compared to the dangerous thrill of taking them while riding.
Arb Sky

So in the end, I guess I’ll walk again if I have to, like if my bikes are stolen or if Big Oil mandates that everyone drive a Tahoe all the time. Till then, though, I’ll stay on two wheels as much as I can.

A Morning with the Girls

Pretty much a classic morning chez Tassava, in the best sense. The girls played a long, innocent, adorable game of "village" for more than an hour after breakfast:

Mostly, the game entailed pretending that the zookeepers from their Little People zoo needed to rescue some zoo animals that had been kidnapped by Curious George.

Later, we went for a bike ride, only it wasn’t a bike ride.

Instead, they were on a spy mission to find out how many of the people we saw were actually Viking vampires. They found that quite a few people are in fact Viking vampires. The telltale sign? A green or pink t-shirt. When I pointed out that both of them were wearing pink shirts, they denied being Viking vampires.


What a week:

Recovering from Saturday’s race. Dealing with more bizarro situations at work than usual. Eating everything in sight but losing weight. Accidentally returning an LL Bean shirt to Eddie Bauer. Hanging out with the guys (and a gal) at the pub, talking about the races. Troubleshooting the home computer network. Setting PRs at the gym. Trying to figure out exchange rates. Watching the girls at tae kwon do. Installing a new router. Buying a new computer. Hiring a student worker. Having a bird shit on me. Hanging out with different guys at the pub, talking about kids. Disposing of a dead shrew. Getting through an evening with an overtired, crying kid.

Royal Ride

Saturday’s Royal 162 gravel race was exactly the race I needed to have. In the weeks leading up to the event – my longest-ever, at least in terms of distance – I felt that I hadn’t done nearly enough riding to prepare but that I needed to do well to rebuild my sense of confidence in my riding.

My last race, the Fat Pursuit in March, had not been a failure, but I had not, in the end, crossed the finish line, which has rankled ever since. And in the month before the Royal, two separate illnesses (birthday strep and then a nagging cough last week) ruined my plans for several big rides and several other hard workouts – efforts that would have had good physical and mental payoffs, readying the legs and the mind.

So when I rolled up to the start line in downtown Spring Valley, Minnesota, just before 7 on Saturday morning, I had decided to just take the race as it came to me, aiming for a twelve-hour finish but ready to dial back my effort to whatever level would assure a finish, and maximize the chance of having some fun. I was confident of my kit, my nutrition, and my bike.*All I really had to worry about was pedaling. A lot of pedaling.

Almost two-thirds longer than the Almanzo, the Royal attracts a smaller field of racers. And since the start is at seven, we get a lower-key sendoff from Chris Skogen – the genius behind the Almanzo. The smaller, calmer start was a big help to keeping myself under control. Still, half an hour after we rolled out, I could tell I wasn’t at full strength. The first serious climb, a V-shaped brute on 135th Avenue, shook loose a spasm of coughing, and I just couldn’t hold the wheels I wanted to hold – namely, my Northfield pals Scott and Joe, who are usually close to me in fitness and speed.

As they started escaping up the road, I cruised along with a different Scott, an acquaintance from other events and the co-creator of the great Inspiration 100 gravel race. I rolled away from him and came up on my friend Derek, the other guy behind the Inspiration. I knew Derek was aiming for a 12-hour finish but that he was willing to go slower if needed to finish. We fell into a good groove – an all-day speed, like-minded approaches to the climbs (the long drag up Nature Road, the kicker on Keeper Road) and descents, a nice sense of camaraderie. Over the next hour or so, my legs warmed up, my lungs calmed down, and finishing began to seem more like an eventuality than possibility.

But goddamn, 162 miles is a long way to ride a bike – about 50 miles further than the longest gravel race I’d ever done, and a solid 25+ miles futher than the Arrowhead in January. With the distance in mind, Derek and I decided to skip the time-sucking stop in the little town of Preston, about 40 miles into the race, and push on at least past the point where the Royal course leaves the shorter, 100-mile Almanzo course. Once we made that turn, I started feeling like we were really on our way. I’ve ridden the 100-mile Almanzo three straight times, so I know and love the course, but I was eager to see new terrain.
Rolling Countryside

Derek and I churned up the ascents and bombed the descents, occasionally catching other riders (including a small group I semi-accidentally named “the Pukes” owing to their disorganization and crazy riding habits), eating and drinking intelligently, enjoying the hard and fast roads, and taking short nature breaks as needed. The roads were dry and fast, which also meant that every passing car, truck, or tractor raised enormous plumes of dust. Before long, we reached Harmony, at mile 63 or so. We took our longest break of the day there, loitering in a Kwik Trip parking lot with a half-dozen other racers. Another customer wandered up to us and asked if we were on a charity ride. When we told her that we were just in a race, she said, “Oh, otherwise I was going to give you some money.” Note to self: always say you’re on a charity ride!

Refreshed, we headed out, now riding with the Pukes. We slowly dropped them, and were back on our own again, southing into the emptier and rougher countryside along the Iowa border. The riding in Iowa was hard as hell: all of the rollers that we get in Minnesota plus an incessant headwind for an interminable westerly section. Headwind riding is straight up gruntwork. You try to find the right gear and cadence, put your head down to get as aero as you can, and just grind it out. The legs ache, the lungs burn, and you just aren’t going very fast. And then there’s the constant whistle of the wind in your ears. Maddening. I was especially lucky here to follow Derek, who did all the wind-blocking and the navigating through the grid.

Eventually, we turned a literal corner, and the headwind’s parachute became a tailwind’s booster rocket. Blasting – or feeling like we were blasting – along on pavement and then back on gravel, I tried to recover from the headwind riding by downing food, drinking water, enjoying the quiet, and pedaling in an easy gear. My attention rarely reached further than my handlebars, or maybe Derek’s back, though we did notice several Amish men using teams of horses to plow seemingly endless fields. That right there was hard work.

The tailwind was one reward for surviving the headwind, but the tailwind also delivered us to another reward: a homey bar in a tiny little grain-elevator town called Florenceville, right on the Minnesota-Iowa state line. We stopped briefly for some soda and chips. The Pukes caught up to us there, but we left just ahead of them.

Soon after Florenceville, we made a navigational error that added about six miles to our ride – including three more tough miles into the wind. Derek was pretty ticked about the glitch, but I chalked it up to the fact that brains get tired after nearly a hundred miles. Correcting the error involved some fast tailwind pavement riding and some weaving along gravel roads that reconnected us with the Almanzo course.

This wasn’t the milestone I had expected it to be. We were way off our 12-hour finishing pace, and we still had about 50 miles to go – including the water crossing and some of the hardest climbs of the day. I half-expected to see some slower Almanzo riders right away, but the only riders we enountered were the Pukes, who had gotten ahead of us during our detour. We caught and rode through them, heading through a familiar 20-mile stretch of rollers to the last water stop, in Forestville State Park. Getting down to the park entailed a long, scary descent and then a slow grind along the valley floor.

Seemingly from the heavens, we were met there by Derek’s compadre Scott, who had cut his ride short and then spent the afternoon offering cold Coke to riders at Forestville. He had a few left, and Derek and I gladly downed one each, plus more food. A few other riders came along as we rested, but the mood was quiet and – at least for me – determined. We had thirty-five more miles to go, divided roughly into thirds: ten miles to the water crossing, ten more to the day’s hardest climb, and then ten more to the finish.

Getting out of the park entails climbing a long paved road, immediately after which you turn onto an endless gravel road that first drops you down into the valley again and then forces you to climb everything again. It was painful, not least because I had forgotten all about that second climb. At the top, we started the zig-zagging that took us to Orion Road, an up-and-down interrupted at the bottom by the ford of the Root River. Getting our feet wet was refreshing, and the rough, mile-long climb up Orion was much easier than I had remembered – even though we were now again with the Pukes, who had caught us at the ford.

Back on what felt like the top of Fillmore County, we quickly covered the ten miles to the hardest single moment of the Almanzo course: the Oriole Road climb, a hill that starts after a sharp right turn and goes up for a long time. A couple Almanzo stragglers were walking the hill, but I was determined to ride it. I had not walked Oriole during my other three Almanzos, and I didn’t want to start during my first Royal – even if I had 55 extra miles in my legs.

I shifted down to my lowest gear, leaned forward until my chin was almost on the stem, put my hands down low in the drops, and turned the cranks. Much of the hill’s initial, steepest ramp was covered in loose, fresh gravel, and I spun out a couple times before finding more solid footing. I crept past the walkers, took a few gulps of air on the false flat at the top of the first ramp, and crawled up the last set of rises – gentler, but still supremely challenging. I rode over the crest, breathing hard, picked a spot on the flat ahead of me, and rolled up to it. Though I still had eight or nine miles to go, I felt then like I had conquered the race.

Setting the bike down there to take a break and wait for Derek felt great. He came along a few minutes later, looking as taxed as I felt. We took a few more moments to get settled before climbing back on our bikes for the home stretch. Honestly, these last few miles flew by. The light was fading now, which might have contributed to my sense of dilated time, but I also felt surprisingly good. I had downed a Red Bull at the water crossing, and it was paying off. We flew down a sketchy descent into a small park that’s just northeast of Spring Valley and ground our way up the hill on the far side, knowing this was our last climb of the day. At the top, we could see the town’s lights in the distance, giving me some shivers of remembering the slow approach to West Yellowstone during the Fat Pursuit.

As we weaved toward town, taking a couple turns that seemed frustratingly wrong to me, the fading sunlight disappeared altogether. Riding unlit along the highway was not how I figured to be finishing the Royal, but traffic was thankfully light. The last mile of the course is taped off like a cyclocross race, but even so we found it maddeningly hard to follow in the dark. We picked our way through the tape, onto a very twisty bike path, and suddenly around a corner to the finish line. The surprisingly healthy group of people there have us a hearty cheer, and we both got the traditional handshake from Chris Skogen, who waits for every single finisher, no matter how late.

The two Scotts were both there, too. I dunno if Derek and I were happier to see them, or they us. They helped us over to the cars, where we changed out of our race kits, bullshitted for a little bit, and then said our goodbyes. Scott and I stopped for burgers in Rochester on the way home, which was a great way to shift from race mode to regular life. My beer tasted amazing.

Swapping anecdotes from our respective races (Scott finished in 11:57, just ahead of his goal), a huge sense of satisfaction welled up inside me – a fraction of the feeling I enjoyed after the Arrowhead, but real just the same. Not only did I feel like I could tackle the Royal again in 2015, and go a lot faster, but doing 160 miles without blowing up encourages me to think that I could handle a bigger, longer race, like the 200-mile Dirty Kanza in Kansas in early summer or the 350-ish mile Trans-Iowa in April. Though winter racing is a markedly different from gravel races, finishing the Royal affirmed for me that I could handle the promised 200-mile second edition of the Fat Pursuit next January – and eventually, the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska. First, though, I have a 99-mile mountain bike race in June to anticipate!

The numbers (from Derek’s computer):

  • 163 miles total (157 on course, 6 off)
  • 14:23 time (gun to tape, including an hour or so of rests)
  • 12.3 mph average speed
  • 39.6 mph maximum (nerve-wracking)
  • 8,250 feet of climbing

kit: knickers and arm warmers to fight the expected breezy 60-degree temperatures, plus good wool socks and the usual other garb

nutrition: water, a Red Bull, gels and bars, trail mix, some “breakfast biscuits,” and a dozen thick slices of summer sausage

bike: a Salsa Vaya that is as close to my perfect rig as I can imagine, freshly equipped with new Kenda Small Block 8s

Tae Kwon Doing It

Shannon had to attend a work-related training session tonight, so I went home early to get the girls through the homework-and-dinner routine before tae kwon do. Since she needed the car to get to her training, she had arranged for some friends to pick the girls up and take them to class. After they scarfed down their dinners, though, the girls decided that they wanted me to come to TKD too. I said, sure, and why not bike the mile and a half to class, too?

To my surprise, they both went for this idea, so I called our friends to cancel the ride while the girls got themselves ready. When we went out to the garage, though, we discovered that Vivi’s front bike tire was flat. The ancient tube and valve wouldn’t accept any air, so she rode the flat tire all the way to class, which she did – with just a couple stops to catch her breath and one to cry a little. I was very proud of her, and of Julia, who cruised along without any cares at all. Both girls had no problem navigating a truly shitty stretch of no-sidewalk road. And Julia even shrugged off an accidental collision with a wheelbarrow that some dolt had left in the middle of the sidewalk.

We made it to class with plenty of time to spare. While the girls went through the day’s lesson, I tried to reinflate the tire with a different pump, but again had no luck. Having heard from our friends that we’d biked to class, Shannon texted me with her worries about Vivi being able to get home afterwards, when she’d already be very tired. When class ended, I told Vivi that I had not been able to fix her bike, but that I just knew she was tough enough to get home on the flat tire. She literally gritted her teeth and headed home on that flapping flat tire – even making enough speed to actually pass Julia.

They cruised into the garage with no troubles and grabbed a quick snack before getting right into their bedtime routine. The girls are typically not great with changes to their routines, so I was very pleased at how they handled this one. Next stop: riding on gravel!

Yellow-Belted Kick Punchers

Julia and Genevieve have been taking tae kwon do lessons through our community education program for a while now. They’ve enjoyed it, and they have worked increasingly hard at honing their skills as white belts. We’ve enjoyed seeing their progress on the physical side of tae kwon do, and we’ve been impressed too by its psychological or social side, emphasizing discipline and respect.

Saturday, we headed up to the Cities for their first test, to see if they were ready to move up to the yellow belt level. The test was quite intimidating: crowded with other kids (and adults!), run by a big and tough-seeming "master," and of course designed so that everyone had to display their skills in front of everyone else.

I was more than a little worried, but the girls did very well – not just trying their hardest (which was our only real criterion for success), but listening well, staying patient, and generally being good students.

At tonight’s lesson, they found out that everything had gone just as planned, and that they had been promoted to yellow belt! They were elated, Shannon and I were really proud, and they looked awesome with their new belts.

Kwik Trip Cover Bands

I took a break during Wednesday’s ride to stuff my face at a Kwik Trip convenience store near downtown Red Wing, Minnesota. I kinda like mid-ride breaks at gas stations, which are functional, cheap, and usually peaceful. I sat at the short counter near the door, listening to a toothless but cheerful associate offer samples of pizza to incoming customers, eating a decent quantity of just-purchased calories, and watching the activity at the gas pumps. Pretty much nobody there looked happy or even okay: annoyance, hurriedness, tiredness prevailed in the faces of other customers.

Gradually, I realized that the music playing over the speakers was somehow off. Listening harder, I realized that all of the songs were familiar, but that each one was being sung by someone who wasn’t the regular artist. The Beyonce tune was performed by a woman with slightly less range and dynamism. The Hall & Oates song was delivered by someone who didn’t quite believe that private eyes were indeed watching you watching you. The Dave Matthews soundalike wasn’t quite as whiny as the real guy. And quasi-Toto just plain didn’t convince me that it would in fact take a lot to drag me away from you. All in all, it was a slightly creepy, slightly annoying, slightly entertaining interlude before I climbed back on the bike.