Day Across Minnesota just announced that DAMn is back for 2024 after announcing the very last DAMn in 2021. The event will take place on Aug 10th with registration opening on Jan 6. Here Chris Stindt shares reflections on racing two DAMn's and what went through his mind when his wife told him yesterday morning that DAMn was back for 2024.
Words by Chris Stindt.
Learn more about The Day Across Minnesota.
Sometime in 2011 I did my first triathlon, on a hybrid bike. I convinced my sister-in-law to join me, and her husband signed up on a borrowed old road bike. The rest, as they say, is history. My brother-in-law, Chris Stevens, is one of the most prolific endurance cyclists in the midwest, and really the entire country. He recently set the American record for miles ridden in 24 hours (510, for the record).
Anyway, it's safe to say we really like riding bikes. Stevens got a bit more 'in' than I did, and in 2018(?) joined a relatively new event called the Day Across Minnesota. I thought he was nuts. The basics: riders start in a podunk town just across the border into South Dakota and leave at midnight, under fireworks, riding gravel roads all the way to Wisconsin, for a total of 240 miles. Riders have 24 hours to complete the event, although I think Chris was much closer to 12 hours. Did I mention I thought he was nuts?
But then I started thinking about it, and getting inspired, and what the heck, on a cold January morning in early 2019 I sat at my parent's kitchen table during a visit, consumed one too many cups of coffee, and signed myself up for the 2019 edition of DAMn. It seemed like a good idea, at the time.
I spent the summer training, trying to log some DAMn miles. I sold my aero road bike, and basically quit road racing. I mounted TT bars to my Trek Boone cyclocross bike, and tried bike bags, and backpacks, and nutrition and also worked to develop some mental fortitude. Side note: spend more time developing mental fortitude. Everything else is just ...schematics, except maybe tires.The longest training ride I did was 107 miles, but who was really counting? (Oh wait, me, I was. Oops.)
Ok, so I go to South Dakota and prepare to ride my bike back to Wisconsin. I tried to nap before the start, but really, who can fall easily into a restful sleep 3 hours before attempting the craziest thing they've ever done. I won't go into all the details, but it was a hot day. The early DAMn's (pre-Covid) had 3 required rest stops. At mile 180 it was like, I don't know, 85 degrees, which felt like 105, and I was [redacted]. Let's say, I was in bad shape. I'm pretty sure I didn't hallucinate this, but I think my wife made me get a selfie with a giant inflatable unicorn because she thought my friend Erik would like it. Mind you, I'd been awake for 30 hours and ridden 180 miles and was sufficiently overheated. She then sent the picture to Erik, and he called to pep talk me. I'm not sure it worked, but it didn't hurt either. I sat in our minivan with the AC blasting, drinking cold drinks, until I no longer felt like dying (like I sat for 45 minutes, during a race). And then I got back on and kept riding. About 10 miles down the road I again felt like dying again, but who goes 190 miles and quits with 50 miles to go? Not me, that's who. I did stop in the shade and take a nap. I somehow rode a series of never ending gravel rollers in full afternoon sun. I cursed, a lot. I couldn't pedal in the aero bars, so I basically laid down on them when coasting, and then sat up to pedal. Ok, enough whining, I eventually made it to the finish line and promptly said I was never doing that again.
But WOW it's fair to say it changed my life. I was a DAMn Champion! (That's what they call finishers. And hooey to you if you think participation medals are garbage, because everyone who rides 240 miles of gravel...is a DAMn Champion.) The sheer grit you develop...it's hard to compare. My dad asked me, after, if it was worth it and I said I don't know, ask me again after I eat and sleep some more. When he died in 2020 prior to the pandemic, setting off one of the hardest periods of my life, I often thought back to DAMn and what I knew I was capable of enduring. I thanked Trent, and tried to carry on with my life.
In 2020 I signed up, but couldn't mentally commit. I knew you had to be ready, and I was far from ready.
In 2021 I signed up and trained for it again. Another set of midnight fireworks, and ... a cold night. I don't believe I've ever been as cold as I was just before the sunrise. I debated knocking on a farmhouse door for a cup of hot coffee. I mentally quit, and decided to just ride to the next checkpoint and pack it in. Instead, I kept going. There were a lot of ups and down, much more cursing (sorry Anna!), and another finish. It was supposed to be the Last DAMn, and regretfully, I thanked Trent for quitting hosting the event because at the finish line I told him I would never do it again, it just wrecked me so bad. I say regretfully because crap, this event changed my life.
Trent Raygor is a special human. You might recognize the name from his other event, Filthy 50. He needed a break from running two major events, and understandably stopped the DAMn. I am an event organizer, and I know what a major commitment it is. Sort of like riding DAMn, you can't be half-hearted. You have to mentally commit and he needed the time for his family. He didn't give the event name away though, and said, never say never. Despite teasing my wife that I was going to force her to ride the route with me someday, I didn't really consider riding it again anytime soon.
And then this morning I walked in the door and she looked and me and said, DAMn's back, with a big smile. See the thing about DAMn is, you need a crew. Ultra runners get this, but cyclists don't often appreciate how important a crew can be to overnight, long distance events. And Anna is my crew chief. She swore she'd never do it again! But just like me, she's fully in.
My facebook memories told me today that Trent and I have been friends for 4 years. Trent isn't someone I'm regularly texting with or even calling up to chat, but the bond you forge, when you understand something on a different level, is really strong. I don't know that I'd say we are 'typical' friends, but I'm honored to know Trent and to experience what he gives to the cycling community.
So...DAMn 2024. It's happening. Do you want to change your life? Sign up. You probably need a gravel bike, and some other equipment isn't going to hurt, but realistically you need some motivation. This isn't a joke. You will want to quit more than almost anything else in the world, at some point during this event. Figure out what that thing is that will get you to the finish line. Is it your kids waiting at the finish line? Beating cancer? Doing it for a friend who didn't beat cancer? This year I'm hopeful to ride with and get my wife to the finish line on a bike. We'll see! If anyone has questions or wants to talk, please reach out to me, firstname.lastname@example.org