The March 1986 issue of Bicycling Magazine featured an article by Stuart Stevens titled "Don't it make you want to shout 'Mama!" That was my first taste of the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival in Telemark Wisconsin. 23 years ago I was a small town kid bombing around gravel farm roads with my brother Stephen, dreaming of being anywhere but there. Each climb brought us dreams of Alpe d'Huez, each rutted muddy Spring road took us to Flanders or the cobbles of Northern France. Our bikes were our dreams, our freedom, and all these later, we still ride and race together, the gravel dust our bond. I still have that issue of Bicycling. I still have all of those old issues from my youth and a Bike Nashbar catalog from when it was mostly newsprint with sketches of the parts.
I received my postcard in the mail letting me know I was in for the 2009 edition of the Fat Tire Festival. As I began packing my gear, I pulled out that issue of Bicycling and fondly re-read it. I'll try and write about many of the other things in that 1986 issue that foreshadow our present bike racing world today (Lemond had not yet won his first Tour!), but for now one thing stands out. Stuart desribes rolling up to the line to see the jerseys of a team in front of him that proclaimed "I Ride With Death." As a 15 year old newly in love with the sport of cycling, I too, wanted to ride with death.
Cycling has given me many things. After 15 years of holding a USCF license I'm still a Cat IV rider, by all accounts a bit of a failure, but I still race as often as I can, and still love that feeling of hitting a turn in a crit 3-wide and the silent prayer to exit unscathed. I have seen a world of carnage on the roads of Illinois and Wisconsin, but have been fortunate to have only hit the deck on a few occasions. I have taken my bike across Iowa on RAGBRAI. I have ridden the fabled switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez at the Tour de France on a day that Lance took the stage win. I have raced Superweek and the Tour of Illinois and Wisconsin. But after 23 years, I've yet to ride with death, and this weekend, I will finally have that opportunity. Stay tuned!