I was excited for the Solstice Chase as it would be my first fat bike race. I swung by Cyclova in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin on Friday afternoon to pick up my race number and t-shirt. I had forgotten that t-shirts were included in the race fee, which was pretty impressive for a $35 race fee. I picked up my race number and Frank Lundeen mentioned that the ground was frozen if I wanted to check out the course. I had my bike with me as I planned to take a lap around Woolly, but a lap around the course at Big Rock Creek was even better.
I had only been out to Big Rock Creek one other time, almost 2 years ago to do some cross country skiing. It’s a beautiful place and if we get enough snow this year, you will find me out there skiing on occasion. I only rode through loop 1, which is the first half of the lap. I had a nice ride, but realized that there would be a lot of climbing and that it was going to be a rough ride with frozen ground and no snow to smooth things out.
Solstice Chase Race Day
I jumped in my truck to make my way over to St. Croix Falls and arrived at Big Rock Creek a little before 9:00 am with about an hour to get ready. I should mentioned that my truck read 5º F when I left my driveway around 8:00 am. I was already cold about 10 minutes after getting out of my truck to get my bike ready. I was initially set up with my Bar Mitts and was getting hand warmers ready as well. I finally got around to getting in a short warm-up ride where I decided the Bar Mitts were not going to work with my Lobster Gloves. There just wasn’t enough room. I tore the Bar Mitts off at the last minute and headed for the start line with about 5 minutes till race start to find that many people had lined up already. No big deal, this was a really open course and I found a spot in the back of the line with more people shuffling in behind me as well.
The Solstice Chase Race
Solstice Chase: Lap 1 – Loop 1
The gun went off and the race was on! It was a bit of a slow roll to get across the start line, but as we made the first left hand turn up a two track, the pace picked up. We made the next left hander and started hitting the short hills, I made a few moves through traffic, trying to stay on the wheel of my riding buddy, Mike. We picked off quite a few spots through this first section and I eventually made my way up to some less congested trail where I could ride my pace. I lost my heart rate monitor within a mile or so of the race start as it slid down to my waist. I tried to adjust it, but with a couple layers on, it wasn’t going to happen and I said the heck with it. I had not ridden without my heart rate monitor in quite some time, which maybe was good for a change. As the race went on and traffic thinned out, the hills seemed to be my friend. I felt like I was able to pick off a few spots at each hill.
The first loop has a crazy fast 30+ mph descent, which was a little shaky on the fat bike with frozen ground and no snow. Eventually you dump out on a fire road to take you back to the front of the property. I used this section to grab a gel and refuel. I need to work out a better system for this as it was a bit cumbersome. In the summer, my gels are taped to the bike, so the tear off tab just stays on the bike and then I stuff my empty gel packet in my back jersey pocket or just down the front of my jersey where it sits till the end of the race. This was a lot harder to do with gloves on and I also had to stuff the tear off tab in my jersey as well. Regardless, I was able to get some fuel and wash it down with a little bit of water as my bottles were not froze up quite yet.
Solstice Chase: Lap 1 – Loop 2
I made the right turn to head up the fire road at the start of loop 2, still on my first lap. There was a short line of 3 or 4 of us that spun up most of the fire road together. I kept pressure on the pedals for most of this as I was feeling pretty good. In hindsight, this section is a bit deceiving. You are going on a slight downhill for the first section of this fire road and you start getting confident, but it turns into a false flat about halfway out and the grade slowly increases and before you know it you are trying to hammer out a bigger gear than you should be. It doesn’t stop either, once off the fire road, the elevation keeps increasing as you wind the wide path up through the trees.
You are eventually rewarded with a well needed descent before hitting a very steep grade that takes you back up 180 feet again. I managed to make it up the climb in granny gear, but there were a few people walking it on the first lap around. The elevation profile, might suggest that it is all downhill to the finish of the lap from here, but if you look closely you’ll see that you get taken back up and down a few more times over some steep grades before making a fun descent to the finish of the lap.
My bottles were froze up at this time and I was glad to toss down the small cup of water being held out by the aid station volunteer as I went by. By the way, tossing down cold water really fast at 15º doesn’t feel nearly as good as it does in the summer. You’ll want to take a little bit more time with it to avoid icicles hanging off your face mask only a few minutes later. I finished my first lap around 1 hour and 4 minutes.
I have GoPro Video of my entire first lap in the links at the bottom of the page.
Solstice Chase: Lap 2 – Loop 1
I was feeling ok about it and at this point felt like I could probably maintain my pace, especially since I wouldn’t have to fight any traffic this time around. I could feel the dehydration sneaking up on me, but figured I could make it another hour and really wasn’t too concerned at this point with it. I grabbed another gel at some point, I think as I made my way around the field a little over a mile into the loop. I could feel myself getting a little weaker on the climbs about halfway into this loop, but not enough to get me overly worried yet.
I still made good time coming up the fire road and grabbed another gel during this time, which I did by taking my glove off and could never get warmed back up again. After taking the gel, I could tell I needed some water and was looking forward to making the turn at the aid station. Without water, the gel just kind of sat there in my belly.
Solstice Chase: Lap 2 – Loop 2
I was getting real thirsty now as my bottles had been frozen for an hour. I threw down the cup of water being held out as I made the turn to head up the fire road. In hindsight, I should have stopped and drank some more water as I could really feel the dehydration setting in, but I kept going. I figured it was only another 6 miles to go and I would be done within a half hour. I had been quite warm for the last hour, but I think the dehydration was starting to impact my circulation or something and everything started to freeze up… toes, fingers and I was thirsty. My pace was starting to slow…
I ended up having to walk two of the hills in the back half of the course that I was able to ride up the first lap. I was struggling even on the down hills with bike control with my frozen hands. At this point, I kind of went into, “just get this thing finished up” mode and wasn’t really pushing myself to the max any more. I definitely lost a few places on this section of the course, but was learning some valuable lessons about hydration in the cold. My nose was feeling a bit frozen from the moisture that had froze on my face mask. My face mask had become an ice cube. I finally made it around to the finish in 2 hours, 17 minutes and 26 seconds with this second lap being about 13 minutes slower than my first lap. I finished 48th among the men and 51st overall and just over 31 minutes behind the winner Jeff Hall.
Check the links at the bottom of my post for a link to the full Solstice Chase race results.
Solstice Chase Summary And Thoughts
I was definitely off of my goals for the day, but was a good day regardless. One of the things I like about long distance endurance racing is the adventure and survival part of it and fat bike racing touches on both of those things with completely different elements to deal with. I didn’t meet my goals for the race, but I did get some things sorted out as far as gear and race prep. I will definitely be better prepared for the next one. There is a great group of people out there at these events and I enjoy being around the people and atmosphere.
To put the elevation changes of the Solstice Chase race course in perspective, there was over 2,500 foot of climbing in the 25 mile course. That would be over 10,000 foot of climbing if multiplied out to a 100 mile race, which is more climbing than the Lusten 99er and on par with many very difficult 100 milers. It was a great course to race on. There is no single track on the course, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get bounced around a bit.
Dehydration will sneak up on you real fast in the cold. I am going back to a hydration pack that I’ll wear between layers. The bottles, just were not a good idea and I expect colder racing temperatures at Cuyuna Whiteout and Frozen Forty. Without proper hydration, my gels weren’t really helping much. I definitely needed more fluids.
I need to get a good insulated set of Pogies. The Bar Mitts are good for mild cold temperatures, but are just too constrictive for heavier gloves, which is why I took them off after my warm up ride. I’d rather have a set of pogies that are too heavy and I’ll wear lighter gloves.Not to mention, I could keep my gels in a gel flask inside the pogies for easier access. I’m currently looking at either the 45 NRTH Cobrafists or the new Wolftooth Singletrack Pogie. I am leaning toward 45 NRTH as they are insulated and I know I will be spending some long training days out on the trail. I’ll keep the Bar Mitts for slightly warmer temperatures where I still need some extra protection, but can still get away with lighter gloves.
I have 4 more fat bike races in the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series that I have registered for and I am sure there will be another local race or 2 that pops up over the next couple of months. I’m starting a 12 week training program for 100 mile races this week and the planned fat bike races fit into my training schedule fairly well. I am very glad to have the fat bike as I would not want to spend my entire winter indoors on a trainer and there doesn’t seem to be a great line of site on snow for cross country skiing yet either.
Here’s to hoping we get some snow to do some true snow biking and maybe I’ll see you at the next race.
Huge thanks to everybody at Big Rock Creek and the Cyclova crew for putting on such a great race.
Solstice Chase: www.solsticechase.com
Big Rock Creek Retreat: www.bigrockcreekretreat.com
GoPro Video of My Full First Lap:
Rudy Project: www.e-rudy.com
My glasses worked great in the cold and did not fog. I may switch to my goggles for any colder temperatures though. My Rudy Project goggles have a nice nose piece cover to help with the frozen nose.
Honey Stinger: www.honeystinger.com
Love the taste of the gels. I’ll have a better hydration plan in the future to help absorb the gels.