Lakeville-Milltown-Lakeville: Just what I Needed

After last week’s mental implosion, I was afraid to toe the line again this weekend at another local gravel event, Lakeville Milltown Lakeville. I took a few days off the bike this week, indulging in all the things I’ve been severely limiting the last few weeks to months in the name of Alexander training (Beer! Copious amounts of cheese! Fried foods! More beer! Ice cream, cheesecake, chips, maybe even a little champagne….). It was a blissful, low(er) stress week. Work stress is still all consuming sometimes, but I worked damn hard to limit all of the optional stressors.

Thursday night was my first night back on the bike. I joined a friend for a meandering ride around Minneapolis which included a stop at Sea Salt for fish tacos and beer and ended at Grand Ole Creamery for a giant waffle cone. There was lots of giggling, a baby owl sighting, and some ever so slightly tipsy biking (don’t try this at home, kids).

Friday night I took the 29er single speed out to Lebanon to ride singletrack. The trails JUST opened this week and the woods were calling my name… I felt like I lost a lot of handling skill and technique over the winter, but I’m sure it will come bounding back quickly. I sure don’t do myself any favors riding a rigid single speed.  Eeek!

That night I made my final decision that I WOULD ride Lakeville-Milltown-Lakeville, NOT race. I caught myself so many times this week saying “I SHOULD … race, chase so-and-so, make a time goal, go hard, hang with the front pack” and the list goes on. I really had to work hard at stopping the mental snowball from catapulting down the hill and dragging me along with it.

I woke early and rode to the race, adding an extra 10 miles or so each way. I wanted extra hours in the saddle, like always, for Alexander training. I arrived and was greeted by so many smiling faces. People had read my previous Ragnarok race report where I said I wasn’t sure I could do Lakeville-Milltown-Lakeville at all anymore due to the demons in my head. The extra encouragement and support were amazing. Damn I love the gravel scene, it’s one of the best collections of people I know.

Larry made his usual race announcements — every year he uses the race as a fundraiser for a local person or family in need. This year it was Jason Bauer, who is battling terminal cancer. The cycling community really outdid themselves providing raffle items and Twin Six did a custom run of t-shirts. Larry also warned us that the course was different this year, so don’t bother trying to use your old GPX and Garmin files. (I tried anyway, of course. Didn’t work!)

The race was off! The front runners quickly slipped away and I smiled as I watched them go. I was surprised by how at peace I was with my decision. I talked to other riders, encouraged those struggling in the vicious headwind to draft me if they could hold on, and generally just kept looking around and smiling at everything. “Hi dog! Hi cows! Hi birds! Hi horsies!” (Yes, I said “horsies”.)

Two kids were playing by the side of the gravel road and I thought “oh, how cute!” I smiled and waved as I rode past and then one of them THREW A ROCK AT ME! Since I was on a leisurely ride, I was *thisclose* to biking up their driveway to tell their parents what the little cretins were doing. Instead I mustered my best pissed off mom voice and hollered “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING??!” as I stared back at them while pedaling on down the road.

A bit later I came upon two riders who had paused by the side of the road, and lo and behold it was one of the riders I met at Ragnarok! He was grinding away on his 29er single speed again. We rode together for a while and then I gradually began to slip away as the three of us climbed a hill. One of them turned around and said “Nope, Mel, get back up here!” so I dug a little deeper and caught back on. Somewhere around mile 20 I was again asked if I wanted a hit off of his flask. The same question came up at Ragnarok and I yelped a resounding NO! This time I asked what was in it, and the reply was Irish whiskey. I thrust my hand out immediately and took a swig. It burned a little going down, but now I can say I’ve had hard alcohol during a 100 mile ride.  Bike goals!!

We yoyo-ed over the 40 miles to the check point, keeping each other company. I saw others I knew and met other riders along the way. A whole squad of us rolled into the  checkpoint and we were greeted by bacon, fresh off the grill, and boxes of donut holes. I was in heaven. I had drained my two water bottles earlier in the day and finally had a chance to refill. The temperature was rising steadily and the sun was beginning to beat down. A random group assembled and left town. We made one wrong turn, quickly corrected, and began the big climb out of town. I had tried to forget that from last year….

One of the “features” of Larry’s race is that he includes multiple “climbs to nowhere”.  You’ll climb a steep hill, pull a u turn at the top, and sail back down as other riders behind haul themselves up the hill. I love / hate these climbs! I hate them because, well, I’m heavy and climbing sucks, and I love them for the camaraderie they add to the race. Riders say supportive things or heckle each other both up and down. Long gravel races can cause the field to spread out quite a bit, but there always seems to be SOMEONE on a “climb to nowhere” when you are too. It’s comforting to share the suffering.

On one of the last “climbs to nowhere”, a relatively strong looking group of guys all wearing the same kit had stopped near the bottom. I heckled them and said they’d better get moving because I was finally going to get my chance to pass them. Imagine my scorn when they replied that nope, they were just going to skip this climb and continue on the route. I was LIVID. This is an unsupported gravel ride and everyone is on their honor to play by the rules. I muttered a few choice words under my breath and churned up the hill. As I was coming back down I saw two other riders walking their bikes up the steep pitch. Kudos to them; they helped restore some of my faith in the generally amazing gravel crowd. They too could have turned around and skipped the hard part, but instead they persevered.
A few more miles into the race and I realized I had once again sucked my water bottles dry. Crap. This always seems to happen to me on the first “hot” ride of the year. I forget that I’m a super-sweater and way underestimate how much fluids I need. I scanned the cue sheets and it looked like we wouldn’t go near any gas stations en route. I decided to take a two mile detour into a local town, searching for a gas station. I had been in the small town before on another ride and vaguely remembered there being a Kwik Trip right off of the highway. I meandered through town, searching for this gas station with no luck. I wanted to find something that was close to the road so I wouldn’t have to waste any more time. I saw a dollar store and decided that that would have to do. I clip clopped my way into the store, grabbed a Coke from the fridge, and paid for it. I was disappointed that there wasn’t any water there and knew that the Coke would have to do. I dumped it into one of my water bottles and made my way back to the course.

By now, many of the people I had been riding with were further up the road and I was alone for a little while. I pedaled on, now frustrated because my cycling computer was off with respect to the course mileage due to my detour, making my cue sheets take a lot ore mental energy to follow. Ugh. I have to do enough math during the work week, and I don’t want to have to do math during my free time! I eventually caught up to some other riders and was able to use their path to confirm my cues.

I must have been making good time because I passed a lot of people during the latter miles of the race. I had worried I had drained myself too far with the lack of fluids (no fluids also means I mostly stop eating – choking down food without water to wash it down is the pits). I was able to catch up to and chat with friends, giving them a brief respite from the wind. Most told me to go on without them as I obviously had good legs left and plenty of spunk. I churned out the last miles and was greeted to a fanfare when I crossed the finish line! People cheered my name and I felt like a goddamn local hero. I felt bad that I couldn’t stop to talk, but the clock was ticking and I still had to ride home quickly in order to pick up my son by a particular time.

The last miles were just icing icing on the cake. I got about 107 miles in for the day, finished happy and strong, and never took myself into the red zone. My legs are fatigued tonight so I know it was a great training ride — I’m enjoying sitting on the couch with my feet up while I listen to my son happily playing outside with his friends.

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