I have said it many times and will say it again. The 400k is my favorite distance. Nearly always requires some night riding, long enough to really see the countryside, the words "250 miles" just sounds impressive... It's just about as far as most people will really go without at least some kind of sleep stop (though I have known a few to do it and it's 275 miles to Loudeac on PBP). But a good 400k is always a thing to savor and enjoy.
I hadn't done a 400k since the very far-out Titanic 400k in Arizona. That ride had almost every weather challenge possible (50 mph winds, storms, sleet, etc). I had skipped the Apple Valley 400k and done the 600k instead. So the Rochester 400k was a good place to catch up with friends. Besides, both Bob and Gary were going and the weather was supposed to be really nice.
Okay, the weather forecast slowly deteriorated to looking downright nasty, but nothing was going to beat the last one so I was committed. I headed down and spent the night before near the start and kept the room for the following night as well. Even though Rochester is a mere 2 hours from my house, getting up at 3:00 am, driving to the start, riding 250 miles and driving home is a recipe for disaster. Much better to just get a room. Besides, Bob and Melisssa, the Super Domestique, were sharing.
The day started out with a nice temperature in the 70s. Only 5 people were doing the 400k (the Rochester 600k was also going on) so many of the riders would be using different controls and a different turnaround point. The big pack of us started out down CR20 in a big rush (we always start that way). I was willing to keep up as long as I didn't break a big sweat, but the trip through Rochester is a bunch of big rollers and we finally got to one that required some tempo climbing. I just wasn't willing to go and redline myself so early on so I dropped off the end. About 30 seconds later Bob dropped back as well, "I saw you dropping off and wondered if you were really my conscience telling me to slow down," he said with a smile. The two of us took a more stable pace (15-17 mph) as we continued on.
Just outside the first control at Stewartville, we caught up with Gary who also decided not to do the Speedy Gonzales phase for too long. The three of us wound up together for the rest of the day which was really lots of fun. While not particularly sunny, it wasn't raining and the temps were down in the 70s, very comfortable, but with a bit of a headwind blowing from the southeast. But there were clouds and I was glad to have brought my standard rain arsenal including some new rain legs. As we passed through Chatfield, rain started to spit at us, but seemed to pass as soon as it showed up. The section from Chatfield to Rushford is very rolling with a steep descent (later to becomes an ascent) down into the Root River Valley. We chatted and rolled along very well and it seemed like we got into Rushford (100k) quite quickly. At this point, it was 11:30 and we grabbed a sandwich before heading on.
The next 30 miles to Harmony are probably my least favorite stretch of road. For the most part, it's nice rolling country with a big ascent out of the valley. This time, the road was in the process of being patched and we all were forced to ride across ribbons of fresh tar. Fortunately, we didn't have any flats. The climb was a good one for me, I've been working on my climbing and it shows. Then comes the bad part - a 3 mile stretch of road on CR115 with so many cracks and holes that it would probably be easier to ride gravel. This infamous stretch is made worse by the fact that the cracks are parallel to the road so hitting one could through you off the bike. There are also lots of horse patties from the many Amish buggies that pass this way (ever run your bike through a nice pile?) There is another control in Harmony followed by one only 17 miles later in Cresco. I haven't figured out why the Harmony control is really necessary, but we dutifully got our cards signed and moved on.
At Cresco, the rain still spit from the clouds. Not really enough to put anything on and somewhat refreshing. As we neared Decorah, the sun made a slight appearance and the descent down was very fun. Pole Line Road is infamous for kamakazi attack black birds but neither they, nor Tippi Heddron was in sight. We passed Rob E and another rider (the other two 400k riders) at the top of the hill and rolled into Decorah at about 3:30. At this point, we sat down and had a little longer break, the sun was out and we enjoyed the time. I called IronK and told her were were just about on schedule.
At 4:00 pm, we rolled back out, this time with a slight tail wind, though of course, it had died down. Back to Cresco we went, a short 20 mile jaunt. More food was to be eaten in Cresco. For some reason, I was always hungry on this ride.
We turned north to head back to Minnesota. The road has recently had its shoulders repaved so I was quite happy. Then....there they were directly in my path: MOTHER SKUNK AND ABOUT 8 BABIES.
I realize that there might be more fear instilled by running into a grizzly bear and 8 cubs, but there can't be much more. I frantically crossed the road, something that normally I would not do. Mama skunk glared at me like I was the distasteful one, but she didn't look interested in showing her other end - it could have been the fact that 8 babies were piled on it. The three of us quietly rode by on the opposite side of the road and breathed a big sigh of relief. How nasty would it be to walk into a control after being hit by a skunk!
We rolled back into Harmony and several people commented what an awful day for biking it must be with all the rain. Come again? We had yet to see hardly anything at all. The roads had been dry all day. We cleared out and repeated the ride down 115. I almost lost my bottles and I've never been so happy to hit a turn. We finally hit enough rain to get wet for about 5 minutes at around Highland, but by stopping to put rain gear on, we undoubtedly averted a major downpour. We got to Rushford just as it got dark (around 8:30 pm). Another sandwich and we were ready for our assault on CR30. The hill we descended previously now became a 3 mile climb. Bob spun up it on his triple while Gary and I followed about 30 seconds behind him. The moon was really nice at this point, a little crescent in the sky. The temperature started dropping at this point and the roads were wet, but it was a gorgeous night ride all the way to Chatfield.
We got to Chatfield around 11:00 pm and this time period is always a sleepy time for me. I took a caffeine pill and we started out, but I was almost dozing and Bob suggested a power nap. I agreed, but wanted to make it after the climb out of Chatfield so that it would be warmer and dryer. About halfway up the hill, a pickup truck full of goons drove up behind us yelling obscenities. The noise just about made me jump out of my skin and the combination with the caffeine put me in overdrive. I stepped on it and powered to the top of the hill, the proceeded to pull my two compatriots along for the next 10 miles at 22 mph! Yowsers, I was on fire.
We pulled into Stewartville about 12:30 and I was already coming down from the high. After a quick stop, we went a little more reasonably back to Rochester. Coming in at that hour is somewhat dangerous since it is bar close and we got several honks including a yell from a guy already in a taxi. Really, to yell at someone on a bike when you are drunk in a taxi is a little rich even for me. We attempted to avoid traffic by riding on a wet bike trail full of freshly cut grass. I decided to buy fenders afterwards - what a mess.
Amazingly, it had poured rain all day in Rochester and most of the time we were gone from Minnesota. We did nothing but ride around the rain all day long. I never even put my rain legs on.
We pulled into the Kwik Trip about 2:40. Gary was quite pleased. He said he could easily have ridden another 200k. Behold the power of good pacing.... Ironically, I got an email from one of the faster riders that passed us near Decorah, "What foods do you use, I seem to just run out of gas halfway through".
So there we go, another 400k