Thigh Redemption in Nelson
This was either my second or third time to do this ride. For some background, the Nelson's Folly 200k is known for being the hilliest, most difficult permanent in the area. It was originally the brain child of Mike Aeling, who wanted to put together a 200k with 10,000 ft of climbing; an out-and-back from Nelson, Wisconsin through Arcadia to Fountain City and back. Though the various sites clock it somewhere a tiny bit less, it's a monstrous ride. Though you can find more elevation out west, the Nelson is in coulee country and consists of 12 major climbs. At least 2 are 1/2-1mile of double digit grades - sustained double digits. These come midway through, after you have already partially wasted yourself. The first, Platt Valley Road, has the additional problem that the pavement is falling apart and you have to pay attention to where you are. The second, Glodowski Road is one of the most difficult climbs in the area with about 1/2 to 1 mile at between 15% and 20%. The first time I did this ride, I had to walk up both along with Cty T on the return.
The second time I attempted the ride, my bike flew off the rack of my car and was destroyed on the way to the start. It was followed by my car hitting a tree as I retrieved the bike from the road. $3000 of damage to the car and $5000 to the bike: at least insurance covered the car.
The route is now owned by my friend, Dan. We arrange to meet on a Sunday morning forecasted to be on a hot day with a favorable morning and not so favorable afternoon wind. After substantial improvement, my foot was still swollen so I yanked the insoles out to get more room. Not the most comfortable, but at least it got the job done, more room, more ventilation! So at 7:00AM we started out from Nelson with the wind at our backs. This summer has been particularly wet and the area is still bathed in kind of green I usually associate with early summer. Though I haven't been there, I imagine Ireland must be similar.
The first 43 miles to Arcadia are the easiest, mainly because legs are fresh, it's early and the grades are a bit more gradual going east. Dan and I had some nice chats about climbing and various adventures. He won't be doing PBP this year, but is preparing for the Taste of North Carolina. I view the Nelson as the single most scenic hill ride around and it's a heck of a workout. The miles to Arcadia were not bad and though Dan was faster, I suspect it was also related to the differences in gearing. I have a compact crank with a large cog of 36 in the back. - a gear ratio of less than 1 I can spin up the side of a tree, but am a bit slower than someone who has no choice but to grate up on a 28 (the standard climbing cassette). The day was so nice and we had a lovely tailwind for the flatter sections.
For those that are not familiar with coulees, they are very challenging. You can get more elevation in the west but those roads are engineered and tend to go on for miles at 6-8%. Coulee riding has rollers and flats in the valleys with sometimes VERY STEEP ascents over ridges. Though only a mile or two, they can be in the double digit grades for extended periods. Real thigh busters!
We arrived in Arcadia at a bit past 10 AM and a bit over 3 hours. To me this was a great start and I was quite excited to have been able to be consistent for that distance. Sure it was the easy part, but it was still probably 3,000 ft of climbing. I felt really good, had a few things to eat and some V8 since I'd managed to forget my electrolytes. I was doing this ride on the princess with the same setup I intend to use over Labor Day weekend in North Carolina. Very light with few frills and only necessities. The big climbs start here too...
The next 14 miles to Dodge include a monster climb on Meyer's Valley Road. This is about 3 miles at 6-9%; not the biggest grade, but long as you ascend to the ridge overlooking the Mississippi. At the top, we moved along quickly. Dan hadn't been on the route yet this year and we made a safety call and did the descent on CTY G instead of down the Catfish. Pea gravel on the Catfish was a possibility and a double digit descent before PBP was not feeling like a good move. Besides, the trip UP Catfish was what I really wanted. At the bottom, a quick double digit up and down on Leo Couliss and we rolled into Dodge to find out the Safehouse had changed hands.
Dan had been noticing that his rear brake was dysfunctional and we had intended to check it here but forgot in the rush to get to the turnaround, a mere 10 miles away. So we pulled out to tackle Platt Valley Road, and what wound up being the toughest climb of the day. It was just past 11 and it was heating up.
Platt Valley Road has several false summits and the combination with crumbling pavement is mentally tough. Last time I did it, I got to the top and about collapsed from an asthma attack. This time, I didn't have issues and I was ready for the false summits so they didn't surprise me so much. Dan was ahead, but they did manage to phase him a little and he was more winded at the top than perhaps usual. The rollers on top of the bluff were an additional challenge for recovery but we soon found ourselves whizzing down CTY Y to Fountain City and the turnaround.
Fountain City is the classic Mississippi River town on Lake Pepin. Lake Pepin is a widening of the Mississippi caused by the convergence of the Chippewa River; it's also supposedly where water skiing was invented. At the Kwik Trip, I found a tub of guacamole and chips for lunch and Dan had the Angus Burger. We then had a pleasant conversation with some motorcycles who where also having the Angus Burger. The eventual conclusion: don't eat the Angus Burger at Kwik Trip. The day was now hot with the sun high in the sky.
We pulled out of Kwik Trip for the return very glad we were heading back on the backroads instead of WI35. Though only 30 miles back to Nelson, the motorcycle traffic is a bear. Who can blame them for wanting to be there on such a nice day. But it was hot and we resolved stopping longer in Dodge to gear up for the Catfish was a good idea. The climb on CTY Y is about 3 miles at 6-9% and I was still full from lunch so I took it easy. No one wants to revisit chocolate milk and guacamole together.
The descent down Platt Valley on the bad pavement wasn't as bad as I remember, there is some crumbling patch that helps a little. But we realized that we really needed to fix Dan's rear brake. We pulled into Dodge in the heat and dashed for the bar.
Post caffeination, we emerged to consider the brakes. Perhaps a bit off center but they seemed okay. We finally spotted the real problem: a big dent in the rim right at the brake line. Clearly, the wheel was shot. We considered that the real issue wasn't as much the brakes but the possibility that the tire could blow off the rim. So taking it easy on descents was the new rule for Dan.
We finally pulled out of Dodge and got going up Leo Couliss which wasn't too bad. Then the turn onto Glodowski Road.;.. Dan recalled the first time he had come to ride up it. He had sat in a bar waiting for friends and discussed it with a farmer, "Glodowski Road? I can't get my tractor up that!". There is a false start which didn't fool me in the least. The Catfish is a demoralizing start. If you are behind someone, they literally look like they are stopping as they hit the bottom. It's nearly impossible to carry any momentum into a grade that starts suddenly in the teens. Dan was faster and I grated my way up doing a seated climb in the drops. I've found I have the best power in this position and I was about 3/4 up when there was a sickening crunch followed by the sound of metal hitting the pavement. Unsure about what just broke, I stopped. My saddle nose was flopping around, the attachment to the rails had somehow come unattached. I picked up the bolts and parts and pondered what to do. I really needed to catch Dan. Should I walk? Nah, I RESTARTED in the middle of the steepest part and did the rest of the climb out of the saddle. The thighs really redeemed themselves right there.
After a sprint at the top, I rejoined Dan and we checked out the saddle. it had no tension and I was now sitting directly on the rails, not real pleasant. But we got a great view.....
We decided to make to the control only 5 miles away and figure out something there. A long descent down Meyer's Valley Road and we came to the control. 43 miles left with at least one very steep climb and maybe 3,000 total feet. Not something to do sitting on the rails. Clearly, some padding was needed. The temporary solution: BEER COOLERS!
So I bought two and stuffed them between the leather and the rails taping them in place with duct tape. This, we reasoned, would have enough padding to get me back the 43 miles. And it worked, okay, sort of....
Outside town, we passed a stray beer cooler. "Look, you could have saved a dollar fifty!". Back along CTY C the wind had really picked up in our faces as we went now more difficult that before and finally arrived at the next major climb up E. This was a long one and I was afraid that without a connection to the front, I could possible snap a rail if I wasn't careful. So I took it easy and avoided climbing seated for too long. That made the hill substantially more difficult.
At the top, I breathed a sigh of relief only the one step climb up T to go. I sprinted up to catch Dan again. More headwind and we passed Cream for a welcome, but brief tailwind up to CTY T. At that point, I reasoned it was better to be prudent so I did the 1/4 mile climb in two-tooted gear while RUNNING as fast as I could in speed play cleats. I was more winded at the top than I had been at the top of the Catfish. The wind finally seemed to calm somewhat and the final miles on II were full of rollers that seemed considerably worse now than they were on the way out. I also realized that my saddle was a few millimeters lower as a result of less tension and my knees were killing me.
We got the the turn onto CTY D for the final 5 miles downhill to the finish. Overall time 11:39, which considering the wind and the mechanicals was pretty awesome. The drive home would be in the light! I did manage to get chewed up by mosquitoes putting the bike in the car though. That did not make for a fun drive.
Better that the saddle broke now than on PBP I suppose. It was warrantied out and this weekend, I'm breaking a new one in.
Thanks much to Dan for being a stellar riding partner. Hope to see you soon!