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For Cold Weather Riding, Friends are the Perfect Medicine

With nightfall pressing, the barren Wisconsin woods grow quiet as a lone rider emerges. As he pushes further, darkness envelopes all but the narrow beam of light, shining outward to create a brilliant disc on the floor ahead. As snow blows through, it looks like some sort of warp tunnel. The light fissures along the trail as he steadily breaks new ground – two robust tires churning lightly across the top layer of snowpack. His cadence is smooth and synchronized with his breath. The series of motion is hard wired: Pedal stroke, intake – cold clean air stings his lungs while they balloon within his ribs. Combustion drives power through his legs like connecting rods to the crankset. Pedal stroke, exhaust – he exhales warm air back into the elements, and plume of condensation shows this machine is working well, for now. There are many moving parts to this system, and a myriad of variables could bring it to a halt at any moment.

Meet Chris Davison, General Manager to the three locations of Grand Rapids Bicycle Co. The scene seems fictional, like the winter wonderland of Narnia from the set of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” But it isn’t fiction, it’s just as real as the frigid temperatures threatening every rider in the field during this past December’s Tuscobia Winter Ultra.

Tuscobia, as it’s known, is an annual race between Rice Lake and Park Falls Wisconsin. Contestants run, ski, or bike lengths of either 80 or 160 out-and-back miles in semi supported fashion. This race will test the mettle of any experienced athlete. It has earned a reputation for putting contestants through the frozen grips of hell. The 160-miler serves as a qualifier for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a huge draw for folks who want to embrace a challenge. Frostbite and exposure are common, and with temperatures dipping to negative 30 degrees, these were two of Chris’ main concerns.

His Camelbak (water supply), even though worn underneath his jacket, had begun freezing. He’d planned liquid nutrition for this race with mixed supplements added to his water. By mile 50, it had completely frozen solid, leaving him with only the reserves in his body. The dexterity in his hands and toes were long gone too, so jumping off the bike to fix the Camelbak would likely result in falling over. Without the use of fingers, how would he put his jacket back on? Translation: check-mate. The 80-mile course had won, and this stretch of woods is where it all unraveled. It’s for scenarios like his, Tuscobia requires everyone carry enough rations and gear to spend an uncomfortable night in the elements. Chris was fortunate enough to intersect with a passerby in a pickup truck just after the wooded section who was happy to give him a lift. “Athleticism and endurance are only part of the equation. A lot of things must line up correctly to finish at Tuscobia. This just wasn’t my year,” he says.