Decorah, IA bud, Ben Shockey AKA The Shockstar rode the Dakota 50 on his singlespeed Pugsley this year and sent in this report. Enjoy! Thanks to karoldesign.com and PahaSapaTrails.com for permission to use the accompanying photos. BTW, folks, Ben wrote this entire story on his mobile phone!
This year’s Dakota 5-0 marked the third time in the last four years that I’d headed west to Spearfish with good friend and long time training partner Scott Marx. There are very few highlights driving 10 hours from Decorah to Spearfish, but the most notable moments were merging onto I-90 just east of Austin and having the GPS inform us that our next turn was roughly 585 miles away and the temperature reading on the dash stating it was probably about as hot as the sun outside. Good thing we were going to be tent camping.
Standard operating procedure when reaching our destination. Set up camp at the entrance to the campground to save ourselves the effort of trying to find out who all was there this year, we simply sit with a cooler of beer and watch them come and go. Camp established, register for the race, find dinner. This year it was as much to get calories in as it was to get out of that ridiculous heat. Being a full blooded ginger with 2 heat strokes on my resume, an air conditioned bar with greasy food and cold beer seemed a good decision.
Otherwise uneventful night/morning other than quick greetings and conversation with some of the Rasmussen group out of Des Moines, Dennis Grelk, Decorah native and single speed winner Trevor Rockwell and fellow fatbikers Matt Gersib and CVO. Line up at the start near the back of the first wave knowing my fitness and fatness will not aid my chances at the holeshot over a few miles of pavement and gravel climbing. With the headphone jack crapping out on my phone I opted for blue tooth speakers in a Jandd frame bag and my phone providing a playlist from the other side of the bag. People didn’t seem to mind and a few asked to ride with me as we began our ascent. I was surprised with the number of people I was passing headed up to the singletrack and concerned I wasn’t approaching this with the ride-not-race mentality I knew I needed to be able to enjoy the ride and the trails. I settled into a comfortable pace knowing more or less what was to come.
Hit the singletrack and feel the flow, fat tires and warm legs made quick work of the small rocks. For about 12 seconds. Then came the clusterfuck as expected. Short, punchy climbs littered with rocks and poor technical riders leads to stacking up a dozen or two riders walking while everyone’s heart rates and frustrations are both redlining. Slowly things get worked out and we make it to the first aid station around mile 10 after what seems like all climbing punctuated with short bouts of flowy singletrack which the Pugsley made ride like pavement. After aid Station 1 you reach a couple of fast double track downhills through green valleys. At this point of the morning the sun is high enough to get into the valley but low enough to produce sharp, bright, blinding angles that coupled with the dryness created amazing scenes as racers raised massive clouds of dust that enveloped them until it simply appeared that giant balls of dust were racing through the valleys. Somewhere along here I had my first instance of well timed music as Busta Rhymes “Break Ya Neck” came over the speakers while flying downhill at great speed and realizing I hadn’t taken enough air out of my tires to handle the long, choppy descents without taking a good beating. Also in here began the walking. Long descents were punished with equally long climbs that were too much for me, especially knowing what was to come later and not wanting to battle leg cramps that would become inevitable if I forced myself to try to clean these earlier ones.
Aid Station 2 to 3 I don’t remember much of the actual trail, I only remember that this was when the mental roller coaster began. Feel good, ride well would give way to hunger, fatigue and a mean case of the fuck-its. Food and a deep breath kept my head wrapped around the idea that I was riding this year for fun and to actually enjoy the amazing trails they have out there. Head back on track I came to a couple more hike-a-bikes paired with appropriate music. Shortly into one of my uphill hikes “Steady As She Goes” by the Raconteurs gave me something perspective and later the timing “Push It” by Static-X while pushing this year’s weapon of choice through the Black Hills made me laugh.
Aid Station 3 brought a necessary break and the memory of the big climb that awaited once we got back on the bikes. By now I’d had the pleasure of meeting/talking/riding with a lot of different people and was reminded that this is one of the best things about longer rides and races. Collective suffering. However, we were about to gain a significant reprieve from the suffering. After climbing a substantial hill out of Station 3 you begin a descent that literally feels like its never going to end. You’re confident aid Station 4 must be somewhere near the center of the earth as you continue to rage at speeds that blur your vision and wreak havoc on your forearms should you decide to race a rigid fatbike with over-inflated tires. My biggest concern was that heading down this never ending, vision blurring ride was that I was stuck behind another rider who was kicking up so much dust I couldn’t pick a line. With about 8 different truck size tire tracks snaking and braiding their way down the hill you rarely had time to choose a different line anyway. Score 1 for the Pugsley. Despite the abuse brought on by my own poor decision making regarding psi, I was able to trust that beast to get me through anything. So…point it and let go. If you’re not smiling when you roll into Aid Station 4 then you’re doing something horribly wrong.
At this point I was starting to feel the end was near. By near, apparently I meant I was nearer the end than the start, but there was still plenty of suffering to be done. I guess I must have blocked the trip from Station 4 to the Bacon Station from my memory because I have absolutely no recollection of how awful it was. Or…again it may have something to do with my fitness this year. I believe Aid Station 4 to the Bacon Station is approximately 5 miles. I believe I walked approximately 4.95 miles of that leg. I was in a bad place, a very bad place. The one highlight of this portion of the trip was pushing my bike back up from what was seemingly the depths of hell when the Beastie Boys “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” came blaring out of the speakers. I was pretty ravaged and fairly delusional at this point which I’m pretty sure is why I thought myself the most intelligent and clever person in the world as I rewrote the lyrics in my head and began singing “No Sleep Till……..BACON!!!!” By the time I reached mile 40 and acquired said bacon (along with some PBR) I was doing a bit better. The bacon, beer, live band and the knowledge that it really was mostly downhill from here vastly improved my mood to the point that I realized my interpretation of the Beastie Boys classic wasn’t nearly as witty as I had originally given myself credit for.
Aid Station 4 to the end was relatively uneventful. Fun, technical singletrack. Rough, rutted downhill. Long gravel climb. Flowy singletrack headed toward the gravel downhill and paved finish interrupted by a power robbing bonk within spitting distance of the gravel. Food, water, pride squarely in check and packed away for a while, I headed for the finish. 5 hours and 50 minutes. I honestly had no idea what to expect. Having raced it a couple times provided me with no insight as to how a single speed fatbike would go over especially when combined with an acute lack of training. However…I did manage to truly enjoy the ride and was able to fill my stomach with tacos and beer much sooner after this year’s finish than any previous year. Which certainly constitutes success in my book. A good dinner with good people at a local steakhouse, a couple more beers at the tent, quick to sleep then back on the road for another 10 hours home.
As for how the fatbike handled the race, I have a few thoughts. First off, the bike handled the race better than I did. My fitness was far more of a limiting factor than the bike was in terms of actually “racing”. Second, if I was to do it again I would give more thought to both my gearing (34×20 this year) and my tire pressure (approximately 9psi front and back at the start). Finally, a bike’s a bike. You could tell the people lacking exposure to them by their amazement that someone was riding one in the race. It’s a bike. You pedal it and it goes. Yes, its heavier, yes the tires roll a little slower. But it’s a bike. And it’s fat. And sometimes fatbikes are just a little more fun to ride.
And if you’re looking for a better race story, look up Matt Gersib. He had one hell of a race and went sub-5 hours on a fatbike.