Trans Wisconsin or Travels with Charlie

First of all, this trip is especially hard to write up. Don’t know if it’s the intensity, or distance or compression of events. Even a few days out now, I have only bits and pieces to retell to my family. I try to form some sequential story, but it quickly dissolves into a random hodgepodge of suffering vignettes. So it goes. Anyone who has ever done a major expedition knows just how tough it is to relay the experience to others.

First off…a few photos. Try as I might, I wanted to capture some feel of the trip via images. Here are a couple of that stand out:

This is Charlie at his finest. He will now be known to me as “Poncho”. At one of his weakest moments, he turned to me and asked if someone was following him. He laughed when he realized it was just the rustle of his fine, red plastic cape. I secretly hoped the end was near. He started to freak me out after that incident.

Charlie and I found the perfect place to take five. Knowing how Farrow has a fondness for cemetaries, I thought he might never leave.

Sleeping beauty and I actively sought out the finest in lodging. This 4H booth at the Viroqua fairgrounds worked perfectly. I let the senior member of our expedition have the bed.

We actually had a hard time out-running this paver. The road crew was so surly that we almost went back and left our tire signatures. But we pedaled on.

After making a mad push to the end of the route in Point Detour, we were greeted by Rich and Lynn and a couple of beers. We were both stupid with fatigue. Farrow nearly hypothermic, me wanting another hundred miles of sand. Just kidding.

Before the trip, co workers and family were asking how the race was going to go. I answered over and over that I had really no idea. I had succeeded is my other endurance endeavours but this one was different. As much as I wanted to follow Charlie’s plan of attack, I knew that I might end up a full two days behind him. I simply had no past experience to fall back on for reference. How would my body handle multiple days of long distance gravel abuse?

As I learn the endurance cycling game, the ability to stay strong willed and flexible become almost more important attributes than pure cycling strength. The Trans Wisconsin was a testament to this fact. Through some act of fate (and I don’t really believe in fate) Farrow and I ended up riding together for all but three hours of the event. I have had some strong mentors before in my outdoor career (famous arctic explorers, Boundary Waters guides and other tough men of the woods). By day four, Farrow was showing flashes of expedition brilliance. I know this will probably stunt Charlie’s emotional and social growth to some degree, but I would be remiss in stating the way we were. Charlie showed the resolution of all the hardest of guides I have known. He has the ability to take it to the nth degree. He suffers better than almost any that I have known. And he generally has a smile on his mug. Good stuff in a travel partner.

Soaked from riding for hours in the heaviest down pour either of us had ever ridden in, we rolled into the small crossroads of Drummond. We stood outside the general store because the air conditioning inside would have killed us. We were cold, wet and feeling like we might not make our goal of finishing that night. We quietly ate our Pop Tarts, beef jerky, and anything else we had handy from our food bags. I was quietly worried that I could not handle another cold, wet bivvy. Charlie was feeling his chance of finishing slipping away, too. Did the rain annihilate the upcoming forest service roads? Is there anyway we could pull this off?

Many riders were seeing this race as a long tour. Not so much about speed as simply finishing. I, too had a bit of that, but I really wanted to finish fast. As the days wore on, I started comparing this to climbing stories I had recently read. And to arctic runs of glory. Could we reach the summit? Could we reach the pole?

Standing on the porch of the Drummond General Store, Charlie said, “…let’s just go. Let’s go. Let’s finish it!” I said, “OK.” We saddled up and headed out of town. We were going to go for it. Nothing held back. No feelings of what if. This was really the first time I had had that feeling of putting it all out there. It was unlike anything I have ever felt. We were going for the summit. But man…we had 70 miles of the toughest trail left to go…

Part 2: The final push and living in a fog.

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