Lutsen 69er - 2021
Our weekend North Shore trip for the Lutsen 99er didn’t turn out quite as planned. Our dog had some health issues that caused us to drive up to Lutsen starting at 8 pm Friday. This is a 5 ½ hour trip and many called us crazy for doing it. But did anyone expect anything less from us? We made it to the Oberg Mountain trailhead on the Superior Hiking Trail around 1:30 am where we attempted to get a few hours of sleep. Wasn’t great sleep, but it was sleep.
Headed over to Lutsen around 5:20 am to get parked and pick up our packets. The weather was going to be great for the event….mid 60’s and cloudy with virtually no chance of rain. We couldn’t have asked for better weather. We ate some good carbs for breakfast and headed to the start line. There was
a new rule for the start of the race going down the big hill to Highway 61. There was a lead car that would pace everyone out at 15mph and we all had to hold our positions the whole way down the hill. I have mixed feelings about this change. On one hand, it should be safer for everyone but on the other hand, I loved the hum of the huge group of bikes heading down that hill, weaving and dodging the
slower bikes as I let loose down the hill. I LOVE downhills and I usually make good time down the hill. And I am still not so sure about it being safer….it was tough to hold our position and we saw an ambulance head back to the start area as we came down the hill anyways. We got to Highway 61 and this is where we took our position at the back of the 69er pack. Being 2 of the 11 total fat bikes riding that distance, we knew where we would be most of the day and were totally fine with that. Soon, we took the left to head up the big climb to the top! Two and a half miles of slow steady climbing. It is relentless and never-ending….but ridable.
The ride continues on the road until the split of the 69 & 99-mile routes and the 25 & 45-mile routes. Then the “fun” begins! The terrain is brutal! We covered the snowmobile trails riddled with boulders, loose rocks, and holes at every turn. As I said, I love the downhills and I decided to let it rip during this ride. I trusted my bike to do what it was built to do and let it guide me as I attacked all the downhills I could. I stood up a lot on the bike on these downhills which is not my normal strategy but wanted to give it all I had. I am not sure if this caused my fatigue or not, but I was not in a good place mentally by the first aid station. We chugged some coke and I tried to eat an energy Waffle without a lot of success. I had been drinking Tailwind which contains 100 calories per serving so I knew I would probably be okay even without eating much solid food.
While at the aid station, we watched the lead pack of 99ers came screaming through the aid station on their way towards the finish line. These riders amaze me! We had ridden 22 miles or so and these machines were already at 60+ miles and averaging 20+ mph!!! After our break and regrouping, we were heading back on the out and back section ready for more miles. From here on out, we were passed by many, many 99 mile racers. It is fun to see them zip by us...some as single riders….some as large groups, working together as a team to perform better.
A lot of the next section was super rocky and challenging...I mean, the whole course really was. I pushed hard up the hills and tried to use the downhills as much to my advantage as possible. When we finally hit gravel roads, it really was a nice reprieve from the jarring our bodies took over all the boulders and rocks. But with gravel roads up north, comes lots of climbing…..long climbing where you could see the top but it seemed so far away. These climbs really took a toll on me mentally. I had to stop a couple of times to just reset my mindset and get back to a better place mentally. Bill was amazing and told me what a badass I was and how good I was doing. I tried to believe him, but of course, he has to say those things cause he is my husband...or at least that was where my mind went. It is hard to feel badass when you are exhausted and have to stop ½ way up a climb to regroup. But I knew I could do it since I have done it twice before...it is just hard to convince yourself that you are capable when you are struggling so much at the time.
The next aid station was a lifesaver. Of course, this is the “secret” and “unofficial” aid station that had my favorite race food….PICKLES!! I had them pour me a glass of pickle juice with a pickle spear chaser. I knew this would take care of my almost-cramping calves! I also grabbed a rice krispie bar and was able to get that all down and washed it down with a can of coke. Off we went again!
The next section was probably my favorite section. Lots of flats!!! Along with that, hardly any rocks. It was a nice break from the arm and leg jarring of the boulder-ridden trails we had been on. There were some great downhills as well, that I took full advantage of as much as possible.
The ride to the last aid station felt like time had stopped. It was supposed to be at 66 miles and 66 miles came and went and no sign of the aid station. When we finally saw it, it looked like a mirage. We were afraid it would disappear when we finally got up there! It was a slow steady climb up and when we got there, amenities were scarce. No pickles and no coke! UGH! So I opted to skip eating anything there and we hopped back on the course for the final 6 miles.
Your probably thinking, “6 miles left...no problem!” But let me tell you, those last 6 miles are no joke!! Back on the boulder-ridden trails...it felt like a cruel joke! At this point, we had been riding for over 8 hours and I was just ready to be done. But there is absolutely no coasting in the finish at Lutsen! As we approached the single-track section at the end, I let Bill pass and told him I would see him at the finish line. He is much better at the single-track and the final climb then I am and I didn’t want to hold him up. So off he went ahead and I approached the single-track section with much apprehension. You see the entrance to the single-track starts with a wooden ramp that is at about a 65-70 degree angle and it scares the s**t out of me every time I ride it. I am not sure I have ever made it all the way up but I thought I would push it and see if I could make it. Well…..I did not make it. Picture me climbing as hard as I can, with my riding shoes clipped into my pedals and just losing steam….it was not pretty. I ended up tipping over to the left off the wooden ramp right into the straw bales they luckily had placed next to the ramp. Doesn’t sound horrible, right? Well, then my bike landed right on top of me, striking me in the face. Luckily I had sunglasses on that held up to the crash and protected my eyes from any worse injury. The left eye took it hard...so much that my sunglasses coating scratched right off. I could feel the outermost layers of skin on my left shin were gone and would forever remain on the side of the wooden ramp and I could definitely feel that my face took a hit. But I was able to get back up and get back on the bike without anything broken….except my spirit of adventure. I rode through the single-track very hesitantly and pulled off to the side when I heard riders come up behind me. The crash had made me feel super nervous and I had no confidence left at all. I had been riding for over 9 hours at that point and had zero left in me to regroup. I came out of the single track, happy to be done with it, but apprehensive because I knew the climb I had ahead of me to get to the finish line. I made it to the bottom of the last big climb and started pushing my bike up...stopping several times to catch my breath. I was also feeling some chills at this point and not from excitement. Wasn’t sure what it meant, but I knew I needed to be done with this ride. The crowd cheered me to get back on my bike but there was just no fuel left in the tank. I pushed it up to the flat, right before the climb to the finish line and mounted up to ride into the finish. I made it and crossed the finish line in 9 hours and 18 minutes. I made my way to the end of the finishers chute and found the nearest curb to lay my bike and sit my body down. I was spent and shaken and feeling so many emotions. It was overwhelming. I showed Bill my leg injury and couldn’t hold the tears back. I was safe and finished and was finally able to feel all of those emotions of what had just happened to me, not only physically but mentally as well.
It was a tough day and an endlessly relentless race, but I crossed that finish line! And apparently I am the only crazy woman to ride the 69er on a fat bike. Because of that, which I didn’t find out until the
car ride home, I took 1st place in the women’s fat bike division of the 69er! After all of the days’ emotions and the physical injuries, finding this out made me feel badass! No other women had the balls to even TRY what I had just done! So after all of the self-doubt and struggling, I am calling this event a win for me!