This marked the 16th time I’ve partaken in the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, missing it just once since joining the Chequamegon family back in 1997. Each year the race seems to take on a little more significance as I realize just how awesome it is to come back to it.
Of all of the editions, 2013 will go down as the most chaotic to date. Things went largely as normal early on, but quickly changed shortly after crossing highway OO. The front group had been whittled down by this point and I was riding second wheel behind Olheiser when we watched the quad drift onto its left wheels while going down the fast sweeping right-hand turn. At 27 mph I immediately knew that the driver wasn’t going to be able to save it this time. Mike veered off to the left and I went to the right as we both attempted to avert disaster, unsuccessfully. While Mike hit the tumbling quad, I crashed over the top of the tumbling driver. Otherwise from our front group went down too, but fortunately we all came out largely okay. Having a race vehicle crash and take down riders is bad, but it could have been much worse. The next two minutes were a full-on chase to catch back on. No one was really pushing the pace at the front, but chasing back on to a group that is out of sight is always stressful and a big effort. As soon as I reconnected to the tail end of the front group, the two riders in front of me turned to one another, conversing, and managed to tangle bars. This was a serious amateur hour moment and I had to laugh at my luck to be right behind it. Again, I was off the back and chasing hard, but this time I was already feeling pretty taxed from the chase that had just ended. Finally on Janet road Olheiser (who was just returning to the front from the first crash) and I were able to reconnect with the leaders.
Martel’s pothole isn’t the ideal section to collect yourself, but I was able to do so just enough to resume racing. I led into Fire Tower knowing that good position can be critical there and the group became smaller was we ripped down the backside and headed towards the Birkie trail. Our group was seven riders strong and I was relieved simply to be in contention.
On the second half of the Birkie section the big rollers took their toll on some bruised muscles and I was cramping up. Unable to stand and power over the climbs out of the saddle I was dropped. The front group of six was out of sight, but I wasn’t about to throw in the towel at this point. Finally on Camp 38 road I was able to reconnect as we cruised closer to the finish.
Not content simply to follow wheels, I went for it as we took the right turn off of Timber Trail. Those last two and a half miles can be brutal and I knew that the steep grassy climbs would take everything so that’s what I put down. I was in the moment and just going for it. Every climb was a max effort and I kept the speed rolling through the corners. I wasn’t attempting to drop the group, instead I was just willing myself towards the finish as fast as possible and that happened to create some silence behind me.
On the last significant climb Brian came around on my left side and carried a little more speed over the crest of the hill. He had a small gap and we both flew into finish venue. That final minute of racing is a blur now, but I remember feeling only the noise of the crowd and relishing the fact that I could safely roll in for second without having to put down a sprint.
This was the first time that I’ve ever seen the winner cross the finish line. It was also the first time that I fully went for the win in those closing miles or even had the option to do so. After all of the chaos of the quad crashing, crashing a second time, getting dropped, etc I was stoked to score second on the day. It’s certainly not a win, but I fully experienced that a win at this race is a very real possibility.
Watching Chloe cross the line for her first Chequamegon win was pretty amazing too and having my family there for the celebration seals the deal. This race gets better every year and I can’t wait for next year’s edition. Thanks to everyone who makes Chequamegon all that it is!