Doing Hard Things
At last check, about 1000 people have seen Ryan and I dump it in the Yellow Dog River.
I just rewatched it myself, if only to catch the laughter. Coming from me. Heading in to the Team HAMR, there was no way I could have anticipated what it would be like to ride stoker on a fat bike tandem with my husband for over 11 hours in what I remember now as nonstop rain as we traversed 80 miles of UP mud. We have read other accounts of the HAMR racers, and when Todd asked us to create a post for Doing Hard Things, we just laughed. We are just barely keeping everything together over here at the Brang House. The amount of prep work that went into HAMR was laughable. Ryan and I are both full time family physicians who, between the two of us, still cover inpatient work and deliver babies in addition to outpatient work and teaching. That’s a lot of night and weekend work. We also have a four year old daughter and a son who is nearly two. And there’s that marriage that we want to keep together. Enter the tandem.
We rode our first tandem in Portland, OR during our honeymoon. We figured we should try it out when we were the most in love. There we were, riding under grey skies as we worked on the communication necessary to enjoy a tandem ride. And I remember thinking, “Yup, I think this is going to work.” It took us six years to actually buy one. Six years that included finishing our training and moving from Marquette to Wisconsin. Then a few years later from Wisconsin to Marquette. Then a baby. Then another baby. We finally put in the order to Six One Six for a fat bike tandem and in the winter of 2018 it was loaded into the minivan we said we’d never own as we planned new adventures.
“Hey honey—remember we’ve always talked about doing an adventure race?” I hear the inquiry as I’m rapidly losing consciousness on the couch after another 12 hour workday followed by the flurry of kid bedtime rituals, followed by dinner, maybe a beer, and the night is done. “Sure. Sounds fun.” And then I promptly forgot about it.
It got real when I noticed that the race was expected to be about sixty miles, which was about 6 times the longest tandem ride we had ever done. After a discussion that included my proposal to sleep in and drink coffee all day instead of racing, it was decided that we would just ride as long as we felt good. Even if that meant not finishing. We agreed that no matter what, we needed to keep it fun. Let the pre-race prep begin.
Friday evening before HAMR: Ryan and I race home from work. Ryan starts slapping together PB and Js as I make coffee for the next morning. We pull the carseats out of the minivan and throw in sleeping bags and the beer cooler. We roll the tandem into the minivan (reason #47 why minivans are awesome) and wave farewell to the amazing grandparents who watched our kids and made this all possible.
4am rolls around and we start hearing music and activity. I roll over and ask Katie if she slept at all and it turns out that neither of us slept a wink. Sleeping in the back of the minivan wasn’t as great as we thought it would be (reason #23 why minivans are lame). We sit in the back of the van eating cold breakfast with headlamps on. Then I head out to get the bike ready to go as Katie frantically plots a course from the “map” provided and some pieces of gazetteer hastily ripped from its binding. As I am doing this I glance over at our friends Dan and Dave in the camper next door all warm and dry with bacon on the stove. It was enough to make us a little crazy as the aroma drifted over to our van. Finally, we got our gear together, had the pre-race meeting and headed out shortly after 5:15. Not bad.
Turns out the tandem floated pretty nicely over all the sand, especially heading out from Forestville. Got a beautiful hazy sunrise over Top of the World and then proceeded to get lost for the next 2 hours. Eventually we stumble up and over Chunky Summit and make our way north looking for a Goldmine. It is here that we first bumped into Grant and Josh. Luckily for us, and less so for them, they got lost and added about 6 miles to their day. They ride off, but it isn’t the last time we see them. It was at Goldmine that we have to make a decision. We could turn back, hit the 510 Bridge checkpoint and call it a day. I ask Katie how she is feeling, and it is still fun. So we head north again and enjoy some absolutely beautiful scenery and raspberries along the Wilson Creek Truck Trail. About 7 miles from Blind 35, the rain begins in earnest. At Blind 35, we actually speak with Grant and Josh as we all eat and put on raincoats. Somehow, they convince us to take the long way back to hit Mosquito Gulch. Grant tells us the distance is about the same and probably won’t add much time. Right. This is where we swim the Yellow Dog, despair along some enhanced muddy rock slides and really appreciate the beauty of this trail and the kindness of our new riding partners. We stop often to pick blueberries before we realize that we might actually have to get moving to finish before 12 hours. The last hour or so ended up being a bit of a sprint to the old 510 bridge and back to Forestville. Grant and Josh took the time to wait for us through all the nasty enhanced gravel and during several dropped chains. We would probably still be out there without them.
Katie and Ryan
Lots of people have spoken and blogged about the tremendous physical effort that this race requires, but what we’ll take away is the sense of camaraderie and teamwork. This to us is the true definition of adventure racing. We may not be the best prepared and we are certainly not the best conditioned, but we’ll keep doing hard things. Keep an eye out for us next year on Tandy—we’re hard to miss.
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