Speed Up and Smell the Roses

Sep 20, 2010

The annual Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival took place this past weekend, with the Chequamegon (“Sha-wa-ma-gon”) 40 race happening on Saturday. Reading about it made me think back 20 years to 1990, when Nancy and I traveled to northern Wisconsin for the 40-mile race — which was shortened to 36 miles that year, due to vast mud holes and flows created by the 11 inches of September rain the area had endured the previous week.

I wrote about the race experience in my “Trail Boss” column, which ran in Adventure Cycling’s magazine from 1989 through 1997. Following are some passages from that story:

My wife Nancy and I were in the bike repair shop at the Telemark Lodge when I spotted a beautifully painted mountain bike with Greg LeMond’s signature airbrushed across the top tube.

“Who makes that Greg LeMond model?” I asked the mechanic on duty. “I’ve never seen one.”

“That’s not a Greg LeMond model,” he answered. “That’s Greg’s bike.”

“Oh.”

Nancy and I each touched the bike for good luck before slinking out the door. Any thoughts I had of winning the next day’s race quickly dissipated into the humid Wisconsin air.

At our cabin on the shore of Lake Namekagon, Nancy, myself, and my mom (who was along to serve as our support “crew”) rendezvoused with friends and Bikecentennial members Jerry and Marty Yeast, from Davenport, Iowa. Just as Greg LeMond undoubtedly takes pride in being one of the world’s fastest cyclists, Jerry Yeast is proud of being among the slowest. Emblazoned in bold red letters across his old Bell helmet is the slogan, “SMELL THE FLOWERS.”

No, I certainly wouldn’t win with LeMond present. (I wound up finishing five-hundredth-and-something.) However, Greg LeMond and Jerry Yeast, two cyclists I greatly admire — for very different reasons — were both entered in tomorrow’s event, the first mountain-bike race for each of them. And that, I figured, was something special.

Indeed, everyone, all 2,000-plus riders, finished behind Greg LeMond. How many trailed Jerry Yeast? You could count them on two hands and have fingers to spare. He took a lot of photos, and stopped often to smell the flowers.

I’d like to predict that next year I’ll be like Jerry and slow down, pausing now and again to study ripples on the surface of ponds the route skirts. In reality, though, I’ll probably ride as fast as I can again, and even vie for better starting position so I don’t have to pass several hundred slower riders during the first 15 miles of the Birkebeiner Trail.

But as I ride, attempting to echo LeMond in form, I’ll think of Jerry, and try to concentrate more on my surroundings. If I can, to some degree, simultaneously emulate Greg LeMond and Jerry Yeast, I’ll consider myself a truly successful cyclist.

There’s not enough room here to reprint the entire piece. If you’d like to read it, it ran in the December/January 1991 BikeReport magazine, the forerunner of Adventure Cyclist.

Photo of Colorado columbine by Mac McCoy (sorry, I couldn't find any rose pictures!)

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BIKING WITHOUT BORDERS was posted by Michael McCoy, Adventure Cycling’s field editor, highlighting a little bit of this or a little bit of that — just about anything, as long as it related to traveling by bicycle. Mac also compiles the organization's twice-monthly e-newsletter Bike Bits, which goes free-of-charge to more than 50,000 readers worldwide.

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