“101.5 WJNR, it is 6:45am and the today’s weather forecast is pretty nasty. Scattered rain and snow showers, high of 38, Northwest winds at 20, gusts up to 35 miles per hour.”
Oh no. When I sent in my postcard for The Bear 100 I knew it would be hard, but didn’t expect this. As we drove over to the start line at T-Bobs in Laona, WI I couldn’t help but wish that I’d accidentally slept in. The brave riders that were preparing in T-Bob’s Sports Bar and Grill parking lot looked like a sad crew. Some were rummaging through duffel bags for extra layers, some were hunkered in their cars, trying to stay dry and warm for a few extra moments. As I dressed I noticed all sorts of bikes, many cross bikes, a few 26″ mountain bikes, plenty of 29ers, one old road bike, and a fat bike. I felt pretty prepared for the 100k given I brought my Seven Mudhoney.
We lined up on the gravel ATV path at 7am and Brent, our host, gave us a few words of encouragement and one of warning. Along our route, a woman had gone missing the night before. Under dark sky we clipped in and rolled north through town. The rain turned into snowflakes as the pace started to pick up a mile out of Laona.
Within minutes I was soaking wet, not from the rain but from the sand, mud, and water kicked up from under our wheels. The dirt roads in northern Wisconsin were still pretty rutted up and potholed from our long winter. The rain was collecting in the low spots, but if you chose the right line, the high spots in the road were still solid. I was with the lead group, but was getting pretty nervous after panic braking, a few crashes, and more than a few close calls. I decided that the group of about 8 that I was riding with wasn’t worth a wreck. I sat up to wait for the next wave.
Almost as soon as the leaders rode out of view I came across an unmarked intersection. Uh oh. I spend a few minutes rolling around in a circle, waiting for the next group to point the way. 5 minutes later with still no sign of riders. I wiped the sand off my Garmin, searched through my pockets with frozen fingers for my map, and tried to figure out the route. As I struggled to see through my glasses, my mind wandered back to the drive up from Mequon. My girlfriend, Erica and I drove up with the windows open enjoying the spring weather, sunshine, and fresh air. We stopped at the Mountain Fire Lookout Tower. We hiked up the hill only to find it was closed, no matter, we enjoyed stretching our legs. It was only a short drive to Laona, where registration at T-Bob’s and an excellent northern fish fry awaited.
“Hey! Which way?” Six guys, half on CX bikes and half on 29ers snapped me out of my daydream.
“Straight, I think.” We headed out, covered in sand and muck as the snowflakes kept coming. It was soon apparent that this group was broken. Guys would fall off, only to chase back on. They were riding all over the road, no sort of organization could be found. They complained about the cold, talked about abandoning, and their pace varied erratically. Screw it. I’m going to get this over with. I headed to the front and just kept tempo until they were gone.
My hands and toes were frozen, but my legs and bike were eating up the miles. The roads deteriorated and I was glad I had changed my tires from Challenge Eroicas to Clement LAS. After riding solo for what seemed like an eternity I caught the lead group just before the rest stop. The rest stop was billed as a “water only”, but someone had brought some fruit and nuts to help out. I didn’t indulge, my hands were just too muddy to reach into the pile.
We rolled out after a few minutes stopped and headed back on the “roads”. Some of them looked completely impassible in anything without 4 Wheel Drive. Suddenly the sun popped out! That boosted my morale when I sorely needed it. HSSSSssss. Crap, flat tire. Because of a mysterious hotel-room flat, I only had 1 extra tube with me, my patch kit would be all but useless in the wet. Inspecting the tube made me think it was a thorn. I search and searched that tire, but nothing. I reluctantly installed my only spare and carefully inflated the tire. It had to hold out for another 30 miles.
Back on the roads, the wind started picking up. Then the water started soaking into the roads. The mix of unbelievably slow rolling dirt roads and 25 mph+ headwinds for the last 20 miles of the ride made it a slog. Every minute I looked at my GPS, hoping it would have ticked off another mile. I was beat. The only reason I kept at it was knowing that it would end.
The last section was on the Nicolet National Forest ATV trail. Only 3 more miles. I just kept my head down, cranked out the last few miles and finally finished back at T-Bob’s. Erica was waiting for me with a big smile, warm clothes, and lunch was inside. What a day. After cleaning up we headed inside for to a fried chicken lunch and I ate what must account for a future world-wide poultry shortage.
I remembered to sign in before we left. Lots Of DNFs on the sign in sheet. I think I finished about 12th or so, given my flats, and total bonk, I felt pretty good about my ride. I made it. The Bear never got me.