Race Report: Screw City CX #2 Return to the Hills

Initially, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be up for a cross race just a couple days after finishing 4 Skyway Classic crit races in a row. My partner Thomas and I had planned on playing it by ear and waiting as long as possible to pre-register for Screw City Cyclocross: Return to the Hills. We thought pre-reg was open up until the night before, but we realized too late that it had closed in the morning. We decided that we’d still go and reg day-of, regardless of the bad weather predicted. Neither of us had never done a 1 hour CX race before and it sounded fun. Why not do a CX race to take advantage of the crappy weather?

The day started out with the temperature hovering around freezing (32F) and actively precipitating. Our drive out ended up being rather treacherous. What started as rain in Chicago turned to sleet about halfway to Rockford. Moments after realizing that we were driving on ice and slush, we saw multiple cars lose control and spin out, with some ending up in the ditches on the side of the highways. Luckily, the roads got better as we got closer to Rockford, even though the snow continued for the next several hours.

We arrived later than planned, but it wasn’t an issue. With very few people there, there was plenty of close parking available and the race organizers were laid back. Registration was at a table inside a truck trailer. Riders were huddling inside to keep warm and chat. When we told the guy at registration that we were day-of registrants, he was surprised and delighted! After registering for the Men & Women 1/2/3/4 Race, we got our bibs. These turned out to be unused bibs from the Rockford Triathlon, ha!

In the parking lot, I greeted Molly – the only other female I saw besides my BFF Bikes Racing teammate Kris. I’d met Molly last week when we went head-to-head at the finish line of Skyway race #1. While chatting with her at Skyway, I discovered that she does some fat biking and even did a snowshoeing / fat biking duathlon, so I wasn’t surprised that she was doing 2 Screw City races!

I put on the same gear that I’d been wearing to every [cold] race this past month: a merino cap under my helmet, merino mid-weight long sleeve base layer with a normal jersey over that, normal bibs with thermal tights over, mid-weight socks, CX/MTN shoes with toe covers, and lobster gloves with hand warmers inside. At the last minute, another racer offered me his spare balaclava so I swapped my cap out with that for more face coverage. I felt very cold prior to the start and worried it wouldn’t be enough, but it turned out to be just fine.

Thomas and I didn’t have time to warm up or pre-ride before race start. There were maybe 12-14 people, the only two women being Kris and I. We staged two abreast, with Thomas and I at the rear (the price you pay for day-of). They gave us the 30 second warning, then blew the whistle a few seconds later. Everyone blasted ahead of me. I figured I’d probably be doing my own race, trailing behind everyone for the next hour. I didn’t mind though, it would give me a chance to work on my handling skills. It was nice being able to choose my own lines everywhere – the course was generally narrow. Plus there was a chance some people would DNF or burn themselves out while I continued at a steady pace.

The race was set at a snow park primarily used for skiing and zip-lining. This made for a really awesome cyclocross course! The course itself was actually quite short, about 5 minutes per lap, but it had everything! Grass, mud, snow, ice, gravel, puddles, pavement, and maybe even a bit of sand. There were buildings and bridges, hills and forests, twists and off-camber turns, low grades and steep climbs, and they even added a small lumber barrier.

The course was definitely more technical than fast. I found myself having more cardio energy than usual, but not being able to go faster due to my handling abilities and the constant terrain changes. There were a few times that I couldn’t stop my rear wheel from spinning while climbing slippery hills and ended up having to get off the bike, but I managed not to fall or crash. At one point, I also had to clean off my glasses to see, which they warned us about at the starting line 🙂

At the beginning of Lap 2, there was a moment when I suddenly couldn’t pedal anymore. It wasn’t just mud and gunk, something had seized up. I got off the bike and found out my cassette had eaten a good amount of felled course tape. I couldn’t take the rear wheel off – it’s thru-axle and I didn’t have tools on me. I did my best to quickly pick out the tape and get back on the bike. Immediately, my chain dropped. I popped the chain back on and tried again. Nope, the chain went off again. So I took the time to take off my gloves, dig through the spokes, and get the remaining tape out, waving to the other riders as they lapped me. Never had another issue for the rest of the race.

The worst part of the course was this short section of packed down snow and ice. It was painfully and erratically bumpy and got worse as the race went on. The best part of the course was this winding downhill after the lumber barrier. With each new lap, I felt more confident in my handling and zipped down that hill, taking all the twists without braking. I grinned widely as I sprayed mud everywhere and dodged the overhanging tree branches.

The few spectators that were out there shouted encouragement from the sidelines as well as the zip-line overlooks. At one point, the race organizer said to me, “You’re doing great, I’m glad you’re here!” and I shouted back, “Me too!” The ChiCrossCup announcer Kenny Labbé was there, as son was racing in the next race. Kenny couldn’t help but call out encouragement to everyone as they passed.

After the race ended, Patrick, the race organizer, gave Thomas and I a couple of pre-registrant goodie bags. There were a number of no-shows and I think he wanted to reward us for showing up in such difficult conditions. Since Kris and I were the only two women in the 1/2/3/4 race, Team BFF dominated the podium! Kris in 1st place and myself in 2nd. Second place also happened to be last place, so it was pretty cool to get a payout for last place, ha! The 1/2/3/4 men had a full podium of 5 racers, which is the amount of places they did payouts for.

Here is a photo of Kris and I repping BFF on the 1/2/3/4 podium:

And my partner Thomas showing off his muddy bike post-race:

Thomas and I bailed fairly quickly after our race. One of Thomas’ Half Acre teammates had recommended that we grab post-race lunch at Beef-a-Roo, only a few minutes away. We parked and before we headed in, I wanted to see what was in our pre-reg goodie bags. Water bottles and Beef-a-Roo coupons, how perfect!!! We walked in and asked the cashier what we should order since it was our first visit. She looked stunned, as if she could not fathom how we’d never eaten their delicious food before, haha! The food was good, though I think we missed out on their best item: shakes. Each of their shakes comes with a tower of delights on top, like wafers and a small cupcake!

Beef-a-Roo beef sandwich and cheese fries.

The drive back was happily uneventful.

To conclude, I highly recommend this race series by Rock River Multisport! There is still one race left in the series on Saturday May 12, so go get registered! Also, a special thank you to my BFF teammate Leah for constantly hounding me to sign up 🙂

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1 Lake, 4 States, and 300 Miles of Cycling

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If you want to see charming landscapes in every state that touches Lake Michigan while riding a bike with thousands of other people, then here is your itinerary for next year:

  • Door County Century: Door County, Wisconsin
  • North Shore Century: Northern suburbs of Chicago and Kenosha, Wisconsin
  • Apple Cider Century: Southwest Michigan and northeast Indiana

I was lucky enough to be able to do all three of these 100 mile bike rides this year, and put together a little comparison of them below. But first, a little backstory…

After enjoying my first century ride at Apple Cider Century last year, I was hungry for more. I searched for additional supported century rides near Chicago and discovered that they were almost done for the year; century season is basically just the month of September. I would have to wait another year.

Over this past winter and spring, I commuted to work via bike daily and got into better bike shape. As each century registration opened, I signed up. At that time, I didn’t have full confidence that I could do 3 centuries 3 weeks in a row, but I knew I had to try.

I was ready to do all of these rides on my own, but did not have to. My significant other – the person who got me really interested in cycling in the first place – was excited to join me for all three centuries! We also had friends and ad-hoc riders join us while riding (or we joined them), so we were always in a group of three or more riders. Even having a couple more people to ride with makes a big difference; rotating out the leader of the pack helps everyone to conserve energy, and having friends to chat with is much more fun!


Door County Century

Sunday, September 10th

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Typical view during the Door County Century ride.

The Door County Century (DCC) registration is limited to 3000 riders. Parking was plentiful, though we didn’t need to park for DCC, as we stayed at a nearby Airbnb and only had to ride a short distance to the start/finish.

The weather started out a bit chilly in the morning, but warmed up to being perfectly comfortable in the 70s during most of the day. There was also plenty of shade along the route to keep us comfortable.

There was a large variety of riders which ranged from the unprepared to the over-prepared. We were surprised by how many tandem riders were there too!

The DCC route takes riders on a tour around the perimeter of the Door County peninsula, primarily through low traffic residential areas and quaint downtowns. Even though we rode alongside Lake Michigan (including Green Bay) for most of the ride, we couldn’t always see the lake due to shorefront housing. However, most of the rest stops made up for that with gorgeous lakeshore views.

The route was pretty well marked with signs, and we could almost always see other riders along the way. The landscape was generally flat, but included a handful of small hills, which kept things a bit more interesting. The elevation totaled ~2600 feet, which was more than North Shore Century, but less than Apple Cider Century.

There were 6 rest stops, which was 1 more rest stop than the other two centuries. This resulted in reduced distances between all the stops, with the last stop only being 7 miles away from the finish line. Each stop had similar, but slightly different foods to enjoy. The best snack was the cheese curds at the very last stop! #wisconsin. Some riders even named their team after DCC’s cheese curds!

Route

The following link shows a map of the route, as recorded through Strava:
https://www.strava.com/activities/1178323408/embed/a6f55b58f5fad50e20aeeba49c6363d25330a6a2

Time-Lapse Video

2017 Door County Century from Laura Shields on Vimeo.

Photos


North Shore Century

Sunday, September 17th

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We occasionally got glimpses of Lake Michigan during North Shore Century, but our typical view was a bit less scenic.

I read somewhere that the registration limit for North Shore Century (NSC) is 2000 riders. If that is true, then NSC had the least amount of riders of all three centuries. Parking was a little scattered, but there were plenty of side street options in addition to the main parking lot.

The weather ended up being pretty nice in the 70s/80s, though we did feel a little drained while riding through sunny sections during the hottest part of the day. Compared to the other centuries, NSC had the least amount of shade along the route, though still a decent amount of shade.

In general, the riders at NSC seemed to be more serious cyclists. It was not uncommon to see teams and large groups speeding along while drafting each other. There were more high-end road bikes and aero bars, and less casual bike geometry. We didn’t see too many families and kids, though perhaps the 100 mile route didn’t overlap much with the shorter routes they might have taken.

It was nice that NSC had a digital route available via the Ride with GPS app. There were paper cue sheets available at the registration area and rest stops. The roads didn’t have as many markers as the other centuries, and sometimes the markers were a bit abrupt or confusing, but we still used them as our primary way to navigate.

We couldn’t always follow the pack because not everyone was doing the 100 mile route, and there were some stretches of road where we didn’t see anyone for a while. During those stretches, we often wondered if we were still going the right way. One time, we stopped to check and discovered we actually had gone the wrong way! We may not have been the only ones to do so either; we had followed another cyclist. Luckily, we were only a couple miles out of the way.

The route navigated us through residential suburbs, on the shoulders of faster-moving roads, and on access roads next to highways. Some road sections had dedicated bike lanes and others did not. Most of the route was flat; NSC had the least elevation of the three centuries at only ~2000 feet total. It also had the longest stretches of straight road, which meant that people generally went pretty fast. There were more stopping points compared to the other centuries: stop signs, stop lights, and even an unexpected extended stop for a unmoving freight train. However, even with all the stops, we averaged faster speeds and finished this ride the quickest!

There were 5 rest stops. We were very impressed the the massive amounts of homemade baked goods at every stop, including zucchini breads, banana breads, brownies, and blondies! There were also some unique and delicious food items, such as grilled hot dogs, pizza, Egg McMuffins, and ice cream! Instead of Gatorade for electrolyte drinks, they had Nuun. Everything was delicious.

Route

The following link shows a map of the route, as recorded through Strava:
https://www.strava.com/activities/1189084596/embed/75f42344b811706c06cf3bddb62d0d17066db42f

Time-Lapse Video

2017 North Shore Century from Laura Shields on Vimeo.

Photos


Apple Cider Century

Sunday, September 24th

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Typical view during Apple Cider Century: small country roads with rolling hills in rural Michigan and Indiana.

The Apple Cider Century (ACC) is limited to 6000 riders, which is double the limit for DCC and triple the limit for NSC. I’m not sure if registration filled up, but we never felt crowded at any point along the ride. Parking took a little longer than expected, but seemed fairly well organized.

The weather was very hot this year – around 90 degrees and humid. However, the burden of heat was lessened because the majority of the route was shaded by trees.

The route was very different than last year’s and this seemed to be an improvement. This year, the route was almost exclusively made of rural roads. These small rural roads weren’t always super smooth and sometimes had quite a bit of debris from trees: walnuts, apples, etc. The route was more hilly than the previous year route, as well as the DCC and NSC, but this actually made it more fun for us Chicagoans. We discovered that this year’s route, with ~3500 feet of elevation, resulted in about 1000 more feet of elevation compared to last year’s. Overall, this year’s route seemed safer and even more beautiful than last year’s.

There were 5 rest stops. Some stops were as little as 13 miles apart, while others were as much as 22. All the stops had almost the exact same food and drink options, which included plenty of PB&J sandwiches, potato chips, bananas, cookies, mini Clif bars, Clif Bloks, gatorade, and water.

Route

The following link shows a map of the route, as recorded through Strava:
https://www.strava.com/activities/1211346090/embed/3b70a44f428ab48e02eca0ca72d95f865e0d46c3

Time-Lapse Video

2017 Apple Cider Century from Laura Shields on Vimeo.

Photos


Summary

To summarize these centuries, here is a quick list of distinctions we came up with:

  • Most Friendly Car Traffic: Door County
  • Best Ride Accommodations: Door County
  • Most Elevation: Apple Cider
  • Best Ride Directions Signage: Apple Cider
  • Best Food: North Shore
  • Most Competitive: North Shore
  • Our Overall Favorite: Apple Cider

Although I’ve made it a point to find the differences between these three midwestern centuries, they were actually quite similar. These rides were full of friendly volunteers and a varied range of riders: young and old, casual and serious. There was always a pleasant array of bikes, from road to mountain and cyclocross to cruiser, even steel tandem to carbon tandem 😀 We always saw jerseys from other midwestern rides/races – Ragbrai jerseys seemed to be an especially popular choice. All the rides had similar food and drinks, including Clif as a sponsor. All had plenty of SAG vehicles and a phone number to call in the event of an emergency. Our rumps hurt at the end of every ride. There was no shortage of beautiful landscapes. And at the end of every ride was a crowd full of tired, happy cyclists.

Needless to say, all of these Lake Michigan centuries were great fun. If you like riding bikes, I recommend giving them a try, even if you don’t think you can do the full 100 miles. You might just find out that you’re capable of more than you thought.

2016 Travel Highlights

Photo highlights from 2016 travels.

Michigan

  • Shanty Creek
  • Kalamazoo
  • South Haven
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Lake snow and ice, South Haven

Oregon

  • Portland
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Cascade Locks hiking trail
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Waterfall, Cascade Locks

 

Illinois

  • Chicago
  • Skokie Lagoons
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Cormorants at Skokie Lagoons

 

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Humboldt Park
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Chicago Pride Parade

Canada

  • Muskoka
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Diving off cliffs in Lake Joseph

 

 

South Dakota

  • Badlands National Park
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Big-horned sheep, Badlands National Park

Montana

  • Carthage Dinosaur Expedition 2016
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Dino digging in Montana

Wisconsin

  • Three Lakes – saw Northern Lights for the first time (no photos though)
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Hiking at Chequamegan-Nicolet National Forest

 

 

2015 Travel Highlights

Photo highlights from 2015 travels.

Japan

  • Tokyo
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka
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Gardens next to Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan.
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Ferris wheel at Palette Town in Tokyo, Japan.
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My brother Matt taking a photo with a willing stranger in front of Tokyo International Exhibition Center.

South Korea

  • Seoul

China

  • Shanghai
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Large scale model of urban Shanghai at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center.
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Looking up at the atrium of Jin Mao tower, from the 56th floor to the 88th floor.

Wisconsin

  • Door County
  • Green Bay
  • Baraboo
  • New Glarus
  • Kenosha
  • Three Lakes
  • West Bend
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Sunset in Sister Bay Door County, Wisconsin.
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Dash enjoying a chilly April day at Newport State Park in Door County, Wisconsin.
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Kildeer with a nest of three chicks born just minutes before!

Indiana

  • Munster
  • Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Michigan

  • Holly
  • Detroit
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Fourth of July moon over Holly, Michigan.

Wyoming

  • Devils Tower National Monument
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Devils Tower columnar basalt

Montana

  • Missoula
  • Glacier National Park
  • Carthage Dinosaur Expedition 2015
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Hiking along Grinnell Glacier Trail at Glacier National Park.
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Overlook from the top of Grinnell Glacier at Glacier National Park.
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The dino dig crew monitors an approaching storm.

Illinois

  • Wilmette
  • Lake Bluff
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Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois.

California

  • San Francisco
  • Muir Woods
  • Alcatraz Island
  • Golden Gate Bridge
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The inside of a building on Alcatraz Island.
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View from the highway near Muir Woods.

2014 Travel Highlights

Links and photo highlights from my 2014 travels!

Illinois

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Jane: the most complete and best preserved juvenile T. rex on display at Burpee Museum.
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Sweetgum tree leaves at Cahokia Mounds.

 

Missouri

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Snake gate entrance at the City Museum.

 

Wyoming

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Nick Wiersum and Katie Kirby standing next to the crystal clear hot spring in Thermopolis.
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A pterosaur called Rhamphorynchus at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.
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A view from Artist’s Lookout in Yellowstone National Park.
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Katie Kirby making the trek up to Inspiration Point at Grand Teton National Park.

 

Montana

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Beautifully detailed (and feathered!) Deinonychus models are posed dynamically with other dinosaur models at Museum of the Rockies.
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A troupe of young dino diggers survey expansive stretches of Montana land.

 

Wisconsin

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Festive EggBot printing at the Milwaukee Maker Faire.

 

Minnesota

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A critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle at SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium.

 

Alabama

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On the way to Random Acts of Intelligence at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in the Rocket City (Huntsville, Alabama).
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Cathedral Caverns has an enormous naturally-formed entrance that spans 126 feet wide and 25 feet high. In addition, it contains some of the largest stalagmites in the world!

 

Kentucky

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Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave system, more than doubling the second longest cave system at over 400 miles of surveyed passageways!

 

Along the Way

  • South Dakota: Rapid City, Wall Drug
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Tennessee: Nashville

Dino Dig 2014: Days 13-14

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Some of our crew members celebrate after the successful flip of a 600 lb. jacket containing the skull of Maddie the triceratops. We were able to trim the jacket down to half that size for transport later. From left to right: Dr. Thomas Carr, Marilyn Laframboise, Kevin Aulenback, Leila Boujnane, Dr. Megan Seitz, Eric Olvera, Isaac Krone, and Katie Kirby.

After two amazing weeks in Montana, the 2014 dino excavation field season has now come to a close! We successfully collected fossils ranging from triceratops and hadrosaurs to tyrannosaurids and turtles. Although we are done collecting for the year, there is much work left to do in the fossil prep lab. Dr. Megan Seitz will be busy preparing our specimens at the Carthage Institute of Paleontology on the lower level of the Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Kenosha, WI. Come check out the museum to see what we brought back (no excuses – it’s free admission)!

Dino Dig 2014: Days 5-12

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On Wednesday morning, Nick, Katie, and I visited the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. Highly recommend going out of your way to see this museum!

Katie and I arrived at the Carthage dino camp in southeastern Montana on Wednesday evening, and Nick joined us on Thursday. Our Paleo crew has been making good headway in our “Maddie” triceratops quarry, including successfully transporting a 300 lb. jacket (protective plaster casing) containing parts of Maddie’s skull. We also had the pleasure of attending Carter County Museum’s Annual Dino Shindig events over the weekend – a crazy fun time!

I only have a brief and limited internet connection at present, but will post more later as soon as I can!