The Illinois River to River Relay

(Ed. Note:  The following is written by my friend Shon Hargis who I hired to produce a piece about his experience in the River to River Relay, Southern Illinois’ Premier Endurance Event.  He will be paid with a lifetime subscription to our premium content area.)

index_07When Matt asked me to consider doing a guest blog on the River to River Relay, I knew that I wanted to do it. My thoughts then went to what I should write about. Based on the questions that I get about the relay from coworkers and friends, I felt like I should begin by describing what the relay is and giving a little of its history. Then, I’ll move on to some of my personal experiences.

10157296_865145596845176_2872104455994858212_nThe River to River Relay is an 80 mile relay that starts on McGee Hill in LaRue Pine Hills, which overlooks the Mississippi River, and ends at the Ohio River in Golconda, IL. Each team has eight runners. Each runner runs 3 legs that vary in distance from 2.5-4 miles. While one runner is running, the rest of the team piles into one vehicle (preferably a 15 passenger van) and heads to the next exchange. This means that a runner will get a roughly 1.5-2 hour break after each of their legs.

Teams from across the United States try to get one of the 250 available spots in the relay. In fact, the entry process is a bit like a race – last year over 350 teams applied for entry in the first 5 minutes that entries were open. Even long established teams may have a difficult time making the cut.

mapThe course begins in the LaRue Pine Hills. Then it goes through Trail of Tears State Park and North on Illinois 127. After that, it turns onto Mountain Glen Road and continues through Cobden. Once runners cross US 51, the course follows a large portion of the Southern Illinois Wine Trail. That segment ends near Blue Sky Vineyards, where it heads east to Goreville. From Goreville, it heads to Tunnel Hill – in fact one of the exchanges is right next to the Tunnel Hill trailhead of the Tunnel Hill State trail. From there, the route follows Illinois route 147 for some time until it turns onto some very hilly backroads until Eddyville. At that point, runners basically follow the Eddyville blacktop until it meets Illinois 146 and enters Golconda.

10177512_865150660178003_40619280387242066_nOf course, these details tell little about the actual course or the race itself. Those who follow Matt’s blog are probably familiar with parts of the relay course – he’s written about much of it, although from a cycling perspective. For example, the Bay City Rolller ride follows the relay route from Eddyville to Golconda. Those who have explored these parts of Southern Illinois know that the terrain can be challenging. Most people from outside of Southern Illinois have no idea just how hilly parts of Southern Illinois can be. First time runners and teams often comment on how difficult the course is – they have trained for the mileage, but not the hills. Also, because the race is usually the second or third Saturday of April, the weather can be quite unpredictable.

522702_10150971275144746_1154437203_nEven though I grew up in Southern Illinois, I had no idea what I was getting myself into the first time I ran the River to River Relay. I’ve been a part of two different teams over the last five relays. Some teams micro-manage every detail and place runners in specific legs based on their strength and ability. I’ve always been on teams that allow the runners to choose the leg they would like to run. Sometimes there’s a little fighting over certain legs, but I’ve always had at least some say in the matter. Back to my first relay… without knowing much about the various legs, I took the advice of others and chose what was supposed to be a relatively easy leg (runner 2, if you’re interested). The first two sections were relatively flat to rolling hills and weren’t too difficult, but the final section was very hilly. In fact, after the first mile, I just wanted to stop and quit. I ended up walking about half of it, and I didn’t think it would ever end.

1901886_865149046844831_3197854924033169113_nHaving learned my lesson, I used a different strategy the following year. I decided that I wanted to start with the hardest section and let my last section be relatively easy. That worked out a little better for me. Plus, that was the first year that I actually trained for running hills. Surprisingly, just like cycling, to run hills well, you have to run hills. Go figure! I’ve trained more and more for hills each year, and the last two years decided to challenge myself with some of the more hilly segments. I still haven’t tackled what I consider the most difficult segments. Since I hope to run each of the legs once before repeating one, the next three relays should be a big challenge for me! (If you’re interested, the 3 legs I feel are most difficult are 1, 6, and 8 – although all of the legs are difficult and challenging.)

10155497_865155360177533_5618922377347431311_n No amount of training, though will prepare you for the variety of weather that I’ve experienced during my five relays. I guess that’s not technically true, but the weather has thrown a few curve balls over the years. I train in all kinds of weather. In the winter I expect cold, so I get used to the cold. In the summer, it’s hot, so I get used to it. Spring, well, spring weather in Southern Illinois is all over the place. I’ve learned to pack my bag for all possibilities. I remember a few years ago when the weather was supposed to be ‘seasonal’ – upper 50s – lower 60s. I don’t think it ever got out of the 40s all day and it was rainy. Anytime I was running, I was cold and miserable. This year, on the other hand, we finally had beautiful, if slightly windy, day in the lower 70s. The problem was, I hadn’t really had any training runs in those temperatures for months. As a result, I constantly felt dehydrated, despite intaking plenty of water. Our entire team struggled with the temperature this year, and based on several team’s finishing times, I would say that temperature played a factor in many teams’ performances this year.

580822_10150971274974746_181589651_nAt this point, the reader may be wondering “Why in the world would anyone pay to do this?”. (BTW, I know this is getting long – thanks for sticking with me.) Some people are just very competitive, some like the challenge, some just want to have a good time, and some people are just crazy. Most participants are probably somewhere in between. I’m a pretty competitive person, but that’s not why I run the relay. I do like the challenge, so that’s a part of it for me. But, I what I really enjoy most about the relay, and why I keep coming back is the team dynamic. Most running is about the individual. It’s refreshing to run with a team. As you run your leg, the team van will pass and they’ll stop to cheer you on. After you finish a leg, you’re back in the team van and there’s encouragement and conversation. While the teams I’ve been a part of have never been successful in terms of taking home one of the prizes, we have always had a great time, and I’ve never regretted one minute of the times we’ve had together.

I encourage anyone, regardless of whether you are currently a runner or not, to look into participating in the River to River Relay. Even if you never run, perhaps you’d like to volunteer. It takes hundreds of volunteers to pull off this event. You will have a great time. Perhaps you will meet new people and make new friends, I know that I have – I believe that I’ve met at least one new person every year that I’ve participated. You might even run into old friends who happen to be part of another team – I’ve had this happen too. Along the way, you’ll get to enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Illinois. It truly is an amazing experience.

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Finally Spring

Wow, it’s been a fantastic week, temperatures have been decently warm in the early morning, things are turning green, grass is growing, and the rabbits are venturing out of their burrows to explore the new Spring.  Like the rabbits I’ve been crawling out of bed early and getting outside, but with wheels strapped to my feet, but more on that later.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy wife Shauna has developed a great appreciation of backyard bird watching.  A couple years ago we moved our shaded swing from the porch to the backyard so she could sit comfortably and watch the birds at their many feeders.  The unsheltered area has wrecked havoc on the old swing and Shauna decided it was time for a new one.  She let loose the cash and bought one from Wal-Mart.com with the plan being for it to be shipped to the store where we’d pick it up.  To our surprise it could delivered to our house for no extra charge.  In a few days after she ordered it a giant box weighing over 100 pounds showed up on the porch delivered by FedEx.  How the economics of free shipping for such an item work out I can’t understand but I sure do appreciate it.  We put the swing together last night in about two hours.

I’ve spent most of this week driving across the state for Postal Training.  I’m going to be a Rural Carrier Associate now.  I’ve had many hours of defensive driver training and carrier training.  Looking forward to the change of pace, and delivering mail is a fast paced occupation.  I’m also looking forward to working outside and not being cooped up in the office, though I’m sure I’ll regret that when its 100 degrees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn other domestic news Shauna celebrated her 35th birthday yesterday.  She celebrated with shopping, sushi and carrot cake.

Now back to the skating.  I’ve tackled skating this week and picked up a few new pieces of equipment.  One of the great things I’ve noticed about skating, it is so unpopular that the equipment has lost most of it’s resale value, especially older equipment.  There seems to be a much larger “gear advantage” to speed skating then cycling and not much demand for older gear.  Out of style gear that is a few tenths of a second slower can be had cheap.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI picked up some Miller frames on ebay for 13 dollars.  These frames were milled in California and I’d say they probably would have cost around 150 dollars new.  They use 4 wheels around 84mm and are just a bit longer then a recreation frame.  They are sort of a cross between a speed frame and rec skates.

 

Bont Shark 2 with 4x100 frames.

Bont Shark 2 with 4×100 frames.

I also got a complete speed setup very cheap.  These Bont “Shark 2″ boots are matched to a Liberty Avenger 4×100 frame.  New prices for this setup would have been over 500 dollars.

 

 

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs an added bonus the seller threw in some 5×80 Mogema frames, the exact same set I saw recently on ebay for 125 dollars.  These are some really nice frames and I’ve put them on my Rollerblade recreation boots.  This morning I skated 11 miles in these and they worked great.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve also squeezed in some riding as well.  I got in a mountain bike ride last Sunday on a new saddle.  I found this Specialized Milano saddle in my parts box, I’d bought it for my wife but she didn’t like it.  The saddle is super plush and cushy.  I wouldn’t normally ride something like this but on a mountain bike it was actually nice, like an extra inch of suspension.

 

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I own like 4 pumps, a super nice Bontrager Charger, a Park Tool that my brother gave me, a Joe BLow my Dad gave me, and a Performance that I bought about 10 years ago.  All of them are broke.  At any given time one of them will work, but I usually have to cycle through all 4 to find the one that feels like pumping up a tire.  I got a bit frustrated the other day and bought this 20 dollar pump from Wal-Mart.  It feels pretty cheaply made, it’s very light, but it works very well, and it was 20 bucks.

 

 

This isn’t Jim’s bike but it’s similar.

I got in a road bike ride Thursday night with my pal Jim whose riding a Surly Pacer that he built up this winter.  It’s a throwback for sure, all steel, even the fork, downtube shifters, and even a Selle Italia Turbo saddle.  It looks like a real road bike, the kind that Fausto Coppi, Jaques Anquetil, and Eddy Merckx rode.  It’s a bike that’s not afraid to go fast for sure, and Jim gets about a 100 style points for it.  Even cooler this bike could easily fit 30 mm tires and morph into a cross bike, and it has mounts for fenders and racks to morph it into a touring bike.  It’s really a swiss army knife bike.

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On the cutting Edge and Wardrobe Malfuntion

Team America gets suited up.

Team America gets suited up.

I roll with some guys who live on the edge.  I mean we’re talking about movers and shakers here, trend sitters.  They’re on the bubble.  The current thing is big tires, but we’re talking about useable big tires, not 5 inch “Moonlanders.”  I got my first look at Mark’s “Jeff Jones Spaceframe”  with it’s elaborate truss fork and monstrous front tire, and I got in a second ride with Eli’s 29+ 3 inch front tire on his Spot.  Oh did I mention there were two Rholoffs on this ride.  That’s just how we roll.

The Jeff Jone's Spaceframe

The Jeff Jone’s Spaceframe

Mark has completely bought into the wider is better philosophy.  He’s built up wide rims so even his relatively normal 2.4 rear tire looks really fat.  The wide rims allow the tires to work better and be wider.  The Jeff Jones geometry places the rider farther back over the rear wheel and the truss fork is all about keeping the front end as rigid as possible.  The H-bar is wide and has massive sweep so that arms are much closer to the body, he claims it’s really comfortable on his back.  I rode the bike for a short time, it’s super plush.

Eli's Knard.

Eli’s Knard.

Onboard the Spaceframe

Onboard the Spaceframe

The H bar looks weird but seems to be working well for Mark.

The H bar looks weird but seems to be working well for Mark.

We left from Gossage and road towards Bethesda Church then took a secret piece of singletrack known as the green carpet.  We set a record slow pace up the 2 mile climb which was wet and nasty, because we stopped and played on a steep rocky section to see if we could climb it.  Mark got it on the the first try with the Jones, it took me 3 tries.    The warm weather has brought out the traffic to the forest, saw a big group of ATVers and a few horseback riders out enjoying the super nice day.

Bluebells are out.

Bluebells are out.

This climb may not look tough in this picture, but it comes after 1.5 miles of sold uphill, and it's a rocky mess.

This climb may not look tough in this picture, but it comes after 1.5 miles of sold uphill, and it’s a rocky mess.

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I'm really focusing on this.

I’m really focusing on this.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe crossed the road and as we continued on the long fast downhill.  I heard some strange sounds coming from my front tire then tire sealant was fired at my face from the tire.  My glasses became covered in spots, the tire continued to spray out gobs of sealant for several more rotations, which was freaking me out, but it eventually sealed up.

It was a wildcat attack, I barely survived.

It was a wildcat attack, I barely survived.

As I continued I couldn’t help but feel horrible.  My rear end was killing me.  At the bottom of the first downhill section I got off the bike and checked out the saddle, it was fine, so I reached back and checked my shorts and found that they had pretty much disintegrated back there.  Not a good situation.  I rode back to the truck carefully, my day was over.

Posted in Barn Door Cycling, Bikes and components, Mountain BIking, Rides | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Harrisburg Cycling Drum-Up

Riders on single speeds earn bonus points.

Riders on single speeds earn bonus points.

Ladies are of course welcome

Ladies are of course welcome

Muppets-Group-Bicycle-RideBack in Scotland cycling clubs would hold drum-ups, essentially a try out for the club.  The club had a well known spot where everyone met up for a group ride and anyone was welcome to join in.  The ride would start nice and slow everyone getting warmed up and plenty of talk.  At some point on the ride the pace would pick up and it was every man for themselves.  Only the strong could hold the lead, but new riders were never left behind, someone would always fall back and guide them back.

We would call these simply, group rides.  I may have mentioned in the past that Harrisburg had such a ride when I was younger and I really enjoyed it and learned alot about riding.  I’d like to have something like that again, the simplicity of an automatic meeting place and a weekly ride.  So everyone is invited to come out this Thursday for the Drum-Up.

We’ll be meeting at 5PM near at Paker Plaza near the Dollar General Store.  The route will most likely go South out of town on backroads.  The goal is to ride for around 2 hours which should make it around a 30 mile ride, there will be some rolling hills.  The goal will be to get a good workout but not to kill each other.   Riders are welcome to meet up with us and ride a shorter version if the idea of 30 miles seems a bit much.

We’ve got 3 confirmed riders at this point, but I’m hoping for more.  Hope you can make it out.

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Beautiful Southern Ride

leaving out on the BSR

leaving out on the BSR

Lets compare a couple of area bike rides.  There’s the Beautiful Southern Ride (BSR), which I did yesterday and the Tour de Corn (TdC), which is held in June every year.  The Beautiful Southern Ride has been run for around the same amount of years, but they are both pretty much the same thing.  Family fun charity rides with 30/60/100 mile routes.  The big difference between the two rides is that the Tour de Corn has become one of the most popular rides in the Midwest drawing crowds of riders and over a thousand official sign ups, while the Beautiful Southern Ride barely has around a hundred rides and you’re likely to see 5 of them on the ride.

Terrain

Our group for the 100K.

Our group for the 100K.

So lets start with the terrain.  The BSR is held in Carbondale IL and quickly heads north in the Shawnee National Forest and begins following the wine trail as it snakes around scenic backroads.  It goes through some small towns, forests, orchards, vineyards, and eventually makes its way to Makanda and Giant City State Park which are really beautiful areas and some of my favorite riding anywhere.  There was around 5000 feet of climbing on the ride, and almost zero straight or flat roads.  It’s rolling hills, broken up by the occasional 300 feet climb.  A very fun and awesome course.

Now Tour de Corn couldn’t more opposite.  It starts in East Prairie Missouri, which is akin to the middle of nowhere and it rides through a bunch of corn fields for 60 miles.  There is not a hill in sight, there’s really nothing in sight other than cornfields.  You go through one nice small town and then BOOM, more cornfields.  The only hill is the interstate overpass.  You can ride for long stretches at a time without even looking at the road.  It’s not a real exciting course unless you like cornfields.

Weather

At the Von Jakob sag stop.
At the Von Jakob sag stop.

The BSR takes place in early April, its often, some combination of cold, wet and windy.  This year the weather was nice,  cool, but not cold, light wind, and dry.

The TdC takes place in June, the weather is almost always perfect, though the flat terrain can lead to some killer headwinds.

 

 

Start

Next lets talk about the start.  The Beautiful Southern Ride doesn’t have a mass start, you can begin anytime between 7 and 9 AM, they only ask you to plan to be finish by 4PM.  You could very easily do this ride and never see another rider, with a two hour window, and 100 riders on the course, you might as well just go ride by yourself.

Thirteen years ago a friend named Mike who used to come over from East Prairie MO. and ride with Snake and me in the Shawnee Hills decided to put together a charity ride for his tiny town.  He asked Snake, who was really into doing these Charity tours, “what makes a good charity tour,” and Snake replied, “A mass start, like a parade for the first mile, make it seem like a big deal.”  And so Mike did just that.  The Tour de Corn starts with a mass start on the street, the national anthem, local guest stars, and then a grand marshall who leads out the ride for the first half mile.  It makes it seem like a real big deal.

Sag Stops

At the Giant CIty Stop

At the Giant CIty Stop

The BSR had two sag stops and they were pretty weak stops, The first year that I had done the ride there was practically nothing at the stops, this year they had some bags of snack mix, granola bars, bananas and water, so a big improvement.  But at one stop 4 of us arrived to see one single banana on a table, it was a tense situation!  Seriously you could buy like 200 bananas for the price of a single entry.  A lady did some excellent cookies and some bananas were brought in right about when we left so you can’t say there weren’t trying.  And they were very friendly.

The Tour de Corn, has legendary sag stops, and far more then most rides have.  They have all kinds of snacks, food, and so much you don’t have to worry about taking food from another riders mouth.  They have music at some of the stops, and of course the legendary corn on the cob.

Cost

After ride pose.

After ride pose.

The BSR only charges 15 dollars per entry, that’s pretty much the lowest price for a bike tour you’re going to find anywhere.

Tour de Corn charges 20 dollars for an early entry and 25 on the day of the ride.  That’s a great deal for all they offer.

Swag

The BSR offers absolutely nothing other then a course map.  No T-shirt, no stickers, no nothing.  Not really a big deal to me since I don’t need anymore ride shirts.

The TdC offers a swag bag with all manner of little gifts.  Stickers, booklets, maybe even a letter opener.  They have both a jersey and T-shirt you can buy.  The T-shirt features the work of a local artist and is always very nice looking.

Conclusions

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The start of the 2011 Tour De Corn.

So what kind of conclusions can we draw from this.  There are many reasons why Tour de Corn has grown ten times larger and the Beautiful Southern has not grown at all.  When people go to rides they want to feel as if they are really doing something.  The first TdC had about a 100 riders, the next year it was closer to 200.  It just keeps getting bigger.  Lets face it, many of the people that do these rides don’t want to go out and struggle up hills all day, they prefer the flat and deserted cornfields of the Missouri Bootheel, but there are people out there who are looking for a challenge.

There were a group of three guys who had drove all day Friday from Northern Indiana because they wanted to ride in challenging hills.  There are people who want a challenge.  My advice for the Beautiful Southern Ride is to change the format to something like a Grand Fondo.  Have an official start time and have all riders record their finishing time then publish the results.  Quit skimping on the food, buy some more cookies, sit the stuff out.  if you buy to much take it home.  Make up some stupid names for some of the hills and talk all year about them.  Who can handle the Hickory Ridge Hammering, the Makanda Meltdown!  Hell, change the name to the Hickory Ridge Massacre.

Hmm… Maybe that’s not the vibe they are going for, either way the mass start and the stops would go a long way to improving the ride.

Posted in Barn Door Cycling, Reviews, Rides | 8 Comments

Slomo Documentary

I pulled my skating stuff out of the plastic tub I’d stored it in over winter and got in a 5 mile skate yesterday.  I wore my slow skates with the soft 80mm wheels so I could work on my form and fall down more slowly.  Fortunately I didn’t fall down, I had a pretty uneventful skate session, and I found I didn’t loose much  skill over the winter.  My feet were a bit sore and I could tell my ankles were getting a bit more workout then they are used too, but it was easy to remember why I enjoy it so much.

I ran across this 16 minute documentary today and really connected with it.  Slomo is a local celebrity in the Pacific Beach area of that strange land known as California.  From here in Southern Illinois Oz seems closer then this bizarre SoCal world.  Slomo is a doctor who retired and now spends his days skating in slow motion while listening to classical music.  His skating technique emphasizes a maximum of economy.  He uses a fluid and smooth push then will glide for as long as possible on a single skate, he can often glide for minutes at a time on one skate.

He’s skating on K2 Radicals which have 100 or 110 mm wheels.  I was a bit confused about this because the big wheels are meant to go fast, but as a person who has now skated on a few different setups, including a 4×110 I can tell you that they really, really, resist slowing down.  Once you get these things rolling its a challenge to get them stopped.  They are an obvious choice for someone wanting to glide.

While Slomo does this he has a huge, almost frightening grin on his face, like he’s in the middle of some kind of drug high.  Slomo goes on to explain in the documentary that when he exited the rat race and begin “doing what he wanted” he found so much pleasure in skating in very slow motion that he was sure he was losing his mind, but he seems to think that society may actually be the crazy one and he’s just gone sane.  He also claims to regress his mind to that of an 11 year old while skating, which might explain the crazy grins.  It’s fine for a kid to walk around and be happy all the time, but an adult, especially an old man, isn’t suppose to be happy, unless he just told a dirty joke.

In the video you can tell that in many cases the sidewalks are so crowded that he has little choice but to skate slow, yet he still gracefully glides through traffic.  In many respects Slowmo is the exact opposite skater from me.  I lack any kind of form or grace, I just thrash about with my legs pushing, pushing, pushing.  I rarely ever glide, and if I tried to glide on one foot I’d most certainly fall down.  When I skate I’m not smiling but grimacing in concentration, trying to stay focused on the surface and traffic.

Skating has left me with blisters so painful I can barely walk, and worse road rash from falls then I ever got cycling, yet I kept doing it.  Skating combines the speed and grace of cycling with the direct feel of running, and it is a very fun activity.  I can’t understand why no one does it anymore.  When I was a kid I really liked going to the skating rink, just going around and around and around with no real purpose other then to flow.

I suppose I’m far from the level of zen that Slowmo has achieved.  I can’t simply enjoy the sensation of gliding slowly on skates.  I want to improve my speed and figure out how to go faster.  Ironically I’d probably become much faster if I worked on the skills that he so effortlessly displays.

Posted in Barn Door Cycling, skating, Stories | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Eagle Watching and Road Riding

eagle1 eagle2 eagle3 eagle4It was a beautiful day, the kind that makes you think that maybe Spring has finally come.  Shauna and I went to a spot that Eli had told me I’d find an eagle nest.  His directions were rather simple, turn on this road and you’ll see it he said.  He was right, you couldn’t miss this nest, it’s huge.  We walked all around and took some pictures of the bald eagle in the nest then were greeted by her mate who flew in to challenge us with an assortment of angry calls and territorial behavior.  When we retreated back he flew off.

I never realized how big these birds are and how big their nests could be.

This afternoon Tom and I got in a 40 mile road ride including Williams Hill, it was a lung busting effort as we gave it 100%   I was toast at the top.  Looks like a week of fantastic weather coming up and lots of opportunities to ride.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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