Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 2014

The rain gauge at edge of the garden is getting a workout

New apple trees and blueberry bushes

Kiera's new ride thanks to the Raymond family

This year's sweet bike thanks to THE SKI HUT

It's getting tougher and tougher to blog because whenever I pull out the computer Kiera wants to watch a Charlie and Lola episode. Of course, one is never enough so she watches a couple and then wants a third. Rather than battle, we leave the computer hidden and rarely use it.

We've done three races so far this year: Cable Off-Road Classic, Mount Borah Epic and the Chain Drive. Unfortunately the Cable Classic was 100% on gravel but the other two were littered with single track. The Chain Drive continues to be one of our favorite races since it it has some rougher single track with plenty of two track and rocky ski trail sprinkled in. Furthermore, the Houghton area is super beautiful and the weather is usually like Duluth - chilly, cloudy and windy.

Sara has been riding well and managed to win all three races so far. I've been happy with my results too and we absolutely love the new S-Works hardtails. I'm a little bummed we didn't get a couple of these sooner because they are incredibly nimble and super light. It's getter harder and harder to find rocks and roots on trails nowadays so I'm not sure a full-suspension will be in the stable for us anymore. We'd have to do a stage race in BC, out East or West before tracking down a full-suspension again.

We've brought Kiera to each race so far but it gets a little stressful trying to find someone to watch her. Usually we can line someone up before we commit but we didn't find Nina Karinen (Pete's sister) until we showed up at registration for the Chain Drive (thanks Nina and Lori!!!!). I figured I'd hand out water for Sara if we couldn't find anyone. Kiera wants to go everywhere we go and we sure enjoy having her along so we do whatever we can to make it work.

I did a mountain bike camp for 6-8th graders last week and had 17 riders. Each year I am amazed at how excited kids are to ride mountain bikes on trails (even those who have never ridden off-road before). Hartley was a little wet the first day but on days two and three it was difficult to find a puddle. The rain hit again on day four so we had to stick to paved trails on the fifth day of the camp. The kids rode about 2 hours and 30 min each day with plenty of little breaks along the way. There was a gigantic puddle on the gravel portion of Hartley road that they had to keeping back and forth through... I feel for the boys in the basement at the SKI HUT!

I am now officially on summer vacation. Hopefully the 46 degree temps and pea soup fog will roll out of here soon so I can get off of the gravel roads and hit some single track. Almost every ride I go through Jay Cooke to gander at the new single track that is being constructed - 6-8 miles by the end of June. It is on both sides of 210 and east of Mud Run on the eastern edge of the park. On the south side of 210 the trail is up to the Fond du Lac power station entrance but there is plenty of flagging that continues through the park so it looks like the system will continue. COGGS reports that Duluth will have about 25 miles of NEW single track by the end of the summer.

We aren't sure what up next for us. Red Wing got cancelled and we didn't sign up for the Lutsen 99er.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


The entire SKJ family ventured to Traverse City, MI this year so Sara could give the Iceman a go. The biggest draw for Sara is the simple fact that there is a women's only start and the overall race tactics play out without the aid of men. Of course, it is always a bonus to get to toe the line with Olympians/World Cup medalists/multiple time Canadian National Champions like Emily Batty and Cathrine Pendrel - not to mention a cadre of other fast pros from around the country.

In order for us to get ready to travel 10+ hours from home we have a week-long packing extravaganza, plenty of bike maintainace, extra school prep since I have to take a personal day and general mass chaos trying to pack the old Volvo with enough supplies to get us out of any potential bike failures. Thankfully Kiera is a travel queen as long as she's got a pile of books and a few toys.

Steve Ferguson, a good buddy from Marquette, MI graciously offered us a room to sleep in on the way out and back, making this Iceman the easiest to date. THANKS STEVE! The big bonus was getting to catch up with him and hearing about all the great mountain bike trails around his area. The only drawback is we arrived at his place pretty late Thursday and Saturday evenings so we didn't get to spend as much time as we would have liked in Marquette.

The 2:30 pm race start on Saturday made for a long wait for Sara but it allowed me to explore the endless singletrack with my running shoes. I couldn't believe how much there is and I didn't realize the North Country Trail made its way through this part of Michigan (one bonus of not racing). We ventured over to the start venue and Sara layered up and got in a good warm-up while Kiera and I read stories in the car trying to stay warm. I ventured out to the start once the men were off and they called up plenty of women but not Sara. Even though she's done the race three times prior, getting second twice, that's not enough to get a front row start. Nonetheless, she worked her way up to the front group where she stayed until almost the halfway point before losing Cathrine and Chloe Woodruff(who had a fantastic race, by the way) when she found herself behind a gal that struggled in a singletrack section allowing a gap to open that ended up being too wide to bridge back up to a group of three. She wasn't all that worried though since Emily Batty was with her and Sara figured the two of them could work their way back up to the gal in third. It would be for not however, and Emily and Sara ended up working together the remainder of the race with Sara getting the upper hand in the finishing sprint, nabbing 4th overall.

I can't say that it surprises me that Sara is able to mix it up with the top pro women in the sport. She has always been extremely strong on the bike and she has a ton of race experience from her years as an Elite Nordic skier. Sara continues to be motivated to race her bike with races like the Iceman around.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Big Check

The pull of 35 miles of single track coerced us to get serious about repairing the Eurovan. Immediately following yet another disappointing Chequamegon (for me of course, NOT Sara)I got busy spending money on the copious amount of parts needed to get the old boy rolling down the road. It has been on blocks since last August so it was daunting to think about spending an entire day working on the vehicle, yet not knowing for certain if it would make it to Ishpeming, MI after such a long furlough. After replacing the water pump, timing belt, timing belt tensioner,the serpentine belt, a/c compressor, and rebuilding the alternator and starter, we figured it should be ready for a 250 mile trip.

Thankful the van worked better than I did. I sputtered about and seemed to be missing at least a couple of gears throughout the race. Furthermore, the course had very little single track so my motivation was snuffed out completely and by the end I was barely moving and content simply be upright.

Sara, on the other hand, rode a very smart race and ended up winning the $1000 for first place. She too was disappointed in the actual race course as opposed to the advertised fare but was quite happy to suffer away and collect the big bucks. I am still amazed that she can ride as fast as she does considering she was bedridden for about a week at the end of July.

Sara is still contemplating the Iceman in November. If she is feeling good we will travel to Traverse. I won't do the race since it is a point-to-point and it's difficult to get back to the car with the bikes. Instead, we'd pack up Kiera and make a family trip out of it.

Saturday, September 07, 2013


Jeff Hall leading the pack during the short track

Sara pulling a pack of comp men in the short track

Why is Maplelag our favorite race of the year?
1) Family atmosphere (and we don't have to cook)
2) Three races in two days on old school mountain bike trails (they still have rocks, roots, fall line climbs, etc.)
3) There is a lake, sauna, hot tub, huge lodge
4) Bottomless cookie and coffee jars/pots (if one stays in the cabins or lodge)
5) The Richards family

Every race we do after Maplelag is a let down. I think it would be great if this was the final race of the series since it is such a huge event. I'd like to see the series awards happen on Monday if the series could pull off the quick turn around in points tallying for the year.

Racing was super fun for us and we were both pleased with our results. Sara said she could have done another lap (her second lap was faster than her first)which hopefully bodes well for Chequamegon.

Thanks to the Maplelag crew for another fantastic weekend!

Race one this weekend for the Minnesota High School Cycling League. We have a great group of kids from Duluth and I have a feeling they will do a great job in Inver Grove Heights on Sunday. If you know of any mountain bikers (grades 7-12) in the Duluth area that wants to practice with the team or race, send them to the Duluth Mountain Bike Team Facebook page and have them sign up to the wiggio account.

Up next: Chequamegon

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Summer is Going Fast

This is the setup...

Nice and sparkly!

Multiple chains ready for action

Like always, summer in Duluth goes past in a flash. I am back to work this week and start with students next Wednesday. I am excited to start up again and get back into the teaching groove. The posted picture depicts our clean drivetrain. Thanks to Scott's hard work and ability to try new things, this has been one of the best things he has done to make sure our bikes work perfectly! We have had perfect shifting and no grease marks all year.

The SKJ household has had a rough summer health-wise. Sara somehow picked up Lymes and the flu at the same time. She was on antibiotics for a couple of weeks but her stomach is still giving her fits. Thankfully she can ride her bike and race shorter races. Her eyes were affected by the Lymes and that was one reason she didn't do Ore2shore. The other obvious reason was that she was bed-ridden for almost a week and she didn't eat a thing only two weeks before... Thankfully she opted not to race, but that meant I had to. Sara was able to win the River Falls race while still on antibiotics, but she cramped badly/couldn't see very well because her eyes watered so badly, and in hindsight, it is an event she shouldn't have done. She felt much better at Mount du Lac and she's hopeful that she will be able to do Chequamegon but it is still to early to know. She didn't feel normal yet (she was ready to be done after two laps and she usually finishes feeling like she could do another lap). Diana McFadden ended up second and Rachel Byrnes was third so the Duluthians had a good showing.

Kiera managed to get the flu a handful of days before Sara, followed by a crazy bad stomach ache which found us traveling to the hospital for x-rays and then a CT scan. We hate exposing her to that kind of radiation but she was in so much pain we didn't feel like we had an option. No answers but her stomach ache is much better. Our gut instinct from the start was constipation but we don't know for sure...

I was able to break a couple of ribs at the Lester race but it only kept me off the bike for a week. Plus, my injury was pretty minor based on Kiera and Sara's troubles. I was able to race without tightly wrapped ribs for the first time at Mont du Lac this past weekend! I was willing to risk it since it was so blasted hot. I ended up in 3rd behind Jesse Rients and Eric Thompson. I would catch Jesse at the bottom of the singletrack loop and he would put 30 sec or more into me on the climb each lap. This seems to happen every year between the two of us... I also set a new trend (?) using a ridged fork on my Specialized Epic since I broke my suspension fork. It worked just fine at River Falls and I was able to nab sixth place in a sprint. Broken ribs and a ridged fork aren't the best combination but I was able to make it work. Ore2Shore was a pretty fun course and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the race. I had a rough start and was off the bike behind a big crash early on but I the legs finally came around by the 8 mile mark or so. I was comfortable pulling the group for a solid 10 - 12 miles before catching a large group where I could sit in. Finished somewhere around 30 but still plenty content considering I wasn't planning on doing the race until Sara decided last minute to pull the plug.

Paul, Kelly and Leo Hanson drove the motor home up north and stayed in our driveway for a few night this past week. Kiera and Leo had a terrific time playing together and Sara and I enjoyed showing Paul and Kelly some of our trails. There is nothing like watching young people giggle non-stop while playing in the yard.

Sara and I will be doing some coaching for the newly formed Duluth Mountain Bike Team. We have some super fast riders in Duluth and they are chomping at the bit to race against other kids instead of a variety citizen racers. Thanks so much to the Minnesota State High School League for helping get us organized and off the ground. We are excited to hopefully host our first race in Duluth next year.

First "official" high school team practice.

No racing for us this weekend but we are excitedly gearing up for Maplelag.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It's Been Awhile...

WEll, since the last post, we've raced at Red Wing, Buck Hill, Lester Park, went on vacation in Cable, WI for a handful of days with the Raymond family, swapped out our 170mm cranks for 175mm and I've managed to crash HARD twice in just under a two week span.

Sara has won the last five races she's done and she is starting to feel quite comfortable on the Specialized Epic. Sara's the State Cross-Country Champ after winning the Red Wing race. She followed up with wins at Buck and Lester Park. The 175mm crank arms make a huge difference and it is still a head scratcher as to why a measly 5mm can cause such a pronounced power outage... I am also loving the 29er even though it doesn't have an affinity for me yet.

I've broken my helmet twice thanks to big crashes. I tried bunny hoping a tree going uphill on an easy ride with Sara and ended up quite bloody from head to back on my right side. I followed this crash up with a catastrophic mistake at the Lester Race on Sunday when my giant antler bars (I love the extra leverage of wide bars but now will be cutting them down...) caught a tree in a tight open section (crossing the old tubing hill) and almost ended my day 10 minutes in. I was able to work my way back into second place but then came completely unhinged at the start of the last lap and wobbled my in, losing too many places to count. Bruised ribs, cut up left forearm, sore back and shoulder along with my fancy Specialized helmet smashed up in three places thanks to my error in judgement. There is nothing worse than feeling like the legs are good enough to give a push in a hometown race and end up having nothing to show for it except a bunch of bumps and bruises. My crash has forced me to take some time off the bike. Probably a good thing since I'm prone to ugly crashes lately...

Sara's looking forward to Ore to Shore and possibly the Afton Race. She is intrigued to see how the 29er rides at Ore2Shore since she's never had the pleasure of racing the big wheels in the sand yet. I'm looking forward to handing her water bottles and playing with Kiera since the O2S isn't my thing.

This weekend I'm going to get certified to become a NICA mtb coach so a Duluth High School League MTB team can hopefully get established. There are plenty of young riders itching to race but nobody is certified to coach from around here yet.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Chain Drive Update

Thanks so much to the Chain Drive Organizers and host site hotel, Franklin Inn Square - Best Western. If you are looking for a fantastic point-to-point race course, look no further than this one (in the midwest anyway). The only reason we are willing to drive 4+ hours is because this is one of our favorite courses. Plus, how many races can you finish and coast back to your hotel room for a quick shower (hanks Best Western for the late, late check out!)?

My race went okay. I have zero ability to go hard and recover. I guess I might have to do some intervals again... I went up the climb and felt great, hit the single track and couldn't ramp it up until the last few miles of the the 30 mile course. Thanks to Todd McFadden, I had a wheel to follow the entire race and moral support when I almost fell into the creek (since I cannot swim, Todd made sure I got through it and didn't leave me for dead). Bushey also rode most of the race with us along with a gentleman from Houghton so at least I had people to talk to which assuaged my suffering. Funny that I rode more with Todd and Bushey in Houghton that I have in Duluth for a long time...

Sara is feeling better and better as she races. She's feels like she's still missing a gear and she's certain it is because she has 170 cranks instead of 175. We both are going to go back to 175 and hopefully this is the last change we'll have to make on the bikes, which by the way are worth every penny. The Epics are made for the bumpy, fast descents that the Houghton/Hancock offers. Sara enjoyed riding with a young gal, Cooper D., for a good chunk of the race before turning the throttle and getting away the last few miles. She rarely gets to race with other women so it was nice to have someone on her wheel.

Luckily, Bart Rodberg and his wife Jean were also at the race and their daughter Madeline agreed to entertain Kiera. It makes for the perfect weekend when Kiera can travel to the races with us. On Sunday we headed up to the Copper Harbor and rode as much trail as we could find in the Brockway Mountain Drive area.

Up next, volunteering at Grandma's Marathon at 4:30 AM on Saturday and then off to Red Wing on Sunday.

This week I have a mountain bike camp with 20 kids for 3 hours a day in the morning. We have been riding in Hartley and these youngsters are going to be rockstars at some point. I've got a kid going into fifth grade that can shred downhills and scamper up technical ascents. It is always a blast showing these kids trails because they never complain about a thing and they are game to ride up or down anything.