DAMn! Sexy Grass/Boo Bicycle is First to Cross the Wisconsin State Line!
By: Joe Kleidosty
The Day Across Minnesota (DAMn) race seemed intriguing when I registered on the winter solstice occurring on December 21, 2016, along with Don Daly and Paul Erickson. I guess I should thank Paul for putting this first-year event on our radar, as registration filled up quickly. Thanks, Paul!
It was intriguing on many levels: First, winter was just beginning, so it gave me something to look forward to. Second, it was a 240-mile race, which made me smile – that’s just about the same distance as the Katy Trail! Third, it started at midnight, which meant I’d be not riding, but racing, for about 6 hours in the dark on unfamiliar roads. It would also give me some quality time to spend with my new teammates from Dirty Dog Race Pack!
The DAMn started in Gary, SD, at midnight on August 5 and went across the state of Minnesota, ending in Hager City, WI. The route was never released prior to the race. And, actually, we did not learn until closer to the race that there would be no GPX file provided for the course – navigation would be by cue sheet only! What?! I’ve never really used cue sheets before and did not even want to think about what that would entail while doing this at 20 mph or faster, riding in the dark, on unfamiliar roads!
We received our first set of cue sheets at check-in on the eve before the race. We obtained our subsequent set of cue sheets at each of the three checkpoints on the course. Greg Vaught graciously volunteered to support us at the race and then drive us back home from the finish area – he received his own set of cue sheets to navigate to each of the checkpoints.
We arrived in Gary, SD, in the late afternoon on August 4 (opting to drive up the same day as the race start), checked in, and started prepping bikes. We unfortunately experienced some poor service and delays at dinner, which ate into (no pun intended) our precious sleep time, if you want to call it that. Don took his sleeping bag outside and tried to catch some sleep outside with a lot of activity happening around him. Greg, Paul and I shut our eyes in Greg’s truck. I wear contact lenses, so I took them out to let them soak a while before racing. All said, we were only able to relax (can’t really say we slept) for about 90 minutes or so, before we attended a mandatory rider’s meeting.
We attended the rider’s meeting, and then it was just a few minutes before the race start. It was actually on the cooler side at the start, so I opted to wear a base layer under my jersey (with some embro on my legs!), with the starting temperature in the 40s.
It’s amazing to think that when I registered for this race in December, I had not even provided Boo Bicycles with my measurements yet for Booyakasha (the name given to my Boo SL-G custom gravel bike). Leading up to the race, after Dan Hughes won the Trans Iowa Gravel Race, I messaged him to find out what lighting he used. He advised he used the Solite 250EX headlight on his helmet, along with a headlamp on his bars – he further stated he had to rely on the Solite when his primary lamp ran out of battery. Based on that information, I purchased the Solite 250EX and can’t thank him enough for that suggestion – it got the job done!
It took some planning to get prepared for this race, but I can honestly say that I did not think much about it (let alone even thinking that it was 240 miles long!) until the couple of weeks leading up to the race and then, before I knew it, I’m rolling up to the starting line with Don and Paul. Crazy how quickly time is flying by.
Prior to the race start, I advised Don and Paul that we should keep the pace high to start (but manageable, knowing we had 240 miles to go), to separate from some slower riders or less experienced riders to keep the race a little safer. At midnight, fireworks were shot off in the distance to mark the start of the race, and we followed a neutral car to the gravel, less than a mile from the start. Once we hit the gravel, dust was flying, and we did not have to do much to keep the pace high. Several eager racers were ahead of us, pushing the pace, so we just sat in and enjoyed the ride. I don’t recall getting on the front until we were 30 miles or so into the race.
Don, Paul and I agreed we would stay together and work together to the finish. It was somewhat challenging to keep track of each other in the dark, dusty mayhem that was occurring. About 42 miles into the race, Paul was on the front and hit some loose dirt/gravel wrong and slid out in front of everybody. Surprisingly, no one else went down. I slowed down and hesitated on whether I should stop or just slow roll until Paul got back up to me. With it being dark, I decided to stop to wait on him, not knowing how badly he was injured. Don stopped with Paul to help him out.
All of a sudden, I see Paul coming forward, so I jumped on the pedals and told him to get in behind me, so I could pull him back up to the lead group, thinking Don was right behind him. We reached the lead group, and that’s when I noticed Don was not with us any longer. Paul did not know what happened to him – I looked back and did not see any headlights behind us in the pitch dark. We decided to keep rolling, in hopes that Don would bridge back up to us. That never materialized, and Don ended up calling it a day at the first checkpoint, 65 miles into the race.
By 5:20 am, we had already raced 100 miles of the course. The second checkpoint was at mile 120, which we reached around 6:24 am. It was at this checkpoint where Paul and I followed a couple of the other leaders down the wrong road, taking us about .8 miles roundtrip off the course. We recognized the mistake quickly and were able to catch back on with the others in the lead group.
After the second checkpoint, the lead group was whittled down to Ted Loosen, Ben Doom, Brian Delaney, Robert Hest, Ian Hoogendam, Dennis Dresler (on a mountain bike!), Paul, and I. Ian ended up flatting just prior to a big climb around 153 miles into the race. It was after this climb that Paul started experiencing stomach issues, or possibly bowel issues, as he had to take a Dumoulin, as he put it. I asked if he wanted me to wait, and he told me to keep going. Paul ended his race at the third checkpoint, about 186 miles into the race.
At the second and third checkpoints, I was out quickly – Don started helping Greg with getting us out of the checkpoints FAST – Don’s race had ended, but he was still in it to help Paul and I win it! At the third and final checkpoint, I was hoping to take off my base layer, as it was now in the 70s, but I did not have time to do so. Two riders got out just before me, and I was chasing them down quickly. When I reached them, they were confused by the cue sheets and were stopped in the road. I yelled at them that I was going the right way (not sure why I did that – maybe to have someone to help us stay away from the other riders) and to keep going. In that moment, I made a decision to attack and see if I could get out of sight.
My attack came around 184 miles into the race. The section had some roller hills on it, with some steep grades on a couple of hills. In this time, Trenton, the race promoter, drove by me and yelled something like, “Good job!”, but I don’t know. I had snot and slobber flying, I’m sure. I eventually got ‘out of sight’, hoping I’d then get ‘out of mind’! This occurred over a stretch of 4-6 miles, where I had a gap of 30 to 60 seconds. Unfortunately, I had to stop for traffic after going over an overpass over I-35. This cut into my lead, and when I realized I still had more than 50 miles to go, I backed off when I saw them back in sight.
When I was caught, the lead pack was whittled down to five – Ted Loosen, Ben Doom, Brian Delaney, Dennis Dresler and myself. Ted and Ben are teammates. After putting in my breakaway effort, they both attacked me on a climb. I had to bury myself pretty deep to catch back up to them. After that occurred, I decided to mark Ted and Ben, since I figured they would be the ones who had the advantage, being teammates. I looked down at 11 am, and my Garmin read 200.3 miles – just 11 hours into the race!
Eventually, Brian rode strong up a long hill, and I did not cover it, thinking I had to stay with Ted and Ben and somewhat hoping they would cover that attack for me. They did not, and Brian was on a solo breakaway. I felt no urgency to chase him down, as I felt that was Ted and Ben’s duty. Once Brian got out front a good half mile or so, Ted put in an attack and was able to bridge up to Brian, with a very strong effort. I was unable to cover it at that time.
About 232 miles into the race, we had a long descent towards the first finish line, about 4 miles from the actual finish line in Hager City, WI (set there for anyone racing The DAMn in an effort to avoid any racing through the city or across the bridge). I backed off on the descent, and Booyakasha and I crossed that finish line in fifth. Booyakasha and I travelled to race The DAMn to be the first to cross into Wisconsin, so as the other racers were stopped around the first finish line, we continued towards the official finish line in Hager City! As I crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin, I could see no one was behind me.
It took 13 hours, 15 minutes, 52 seconds to travel 241. 4 miles across Minnesota, which included the roughly .8 roundtrip mile of going off course. I could see Greg at the finish line, recording with his phone. I smiled and stretched my arms out as I crossed the finish line, the first into Wisconsin! DAMn, that was fun! I gave a colorful interview after the race, showing how well Booyakasha rides over loose stuff, washboard, heavy gravel, etc. ~ such a beautiful, comfortable bike.
I can’t thank Greg and Don enough for their great support at the checkpoints and thanks again to Paul for being there for 155 miles or so during the race! Special thanks to Springfield Brewing Company keeping us hydrated, to Infinit Nutrition for keeping us hydrated in a different way, and to Boo Bicycles for building such solid, comfortable bikes!