North Dakota #16
June 8, 2008
A purpose of the Tri 50 States and World Continent Journey was to reach the numbers, 50 states plus one capitol and six continents. For right brained triathletes it’s all about the numbers. Why three? Because one more than two. Why not four? Too balanced, too square. Three was a simplistic prime number. Three can be the equal sides of a triangle. The three sided figure can be obtuse or acute depending on positioning. Three may be an unfinished eight yet still rounded. It’s more complicated than one, more offset than bi, and definitively less confusing than to, too, two, or for, fore, four, and even 2x4 or 4x4 style trucks. It’s a tri. Schoolhouse Rock summed it up to perfection, “3 is the magic number”.
Humans like variety but in an unscientific finding, what we can optimally handle is three. We learned our ABC’s. We learned where to look for XYZ. Races started with “Ready, Set, Go!” The three primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. The three colors of red, yellow, and green give traffic lights their authority. And red, white, and blue make up the colors of the American flag. Triathletes compete in races that combine swim, bike, and run segments. Anything else is too simply, too expensive, too stressful, too complicated or too many.
Flew out to Bismarck on Friday night connecting through the Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) Airport. Woke up early Saturday morning and went for my pre-race day ritual of a 30 minute easy run. The morning offered sunny skies and low 50 temperatures. Showered, ate and checked in for the race at a bike store near the hotel.
At this point North Dakota was the pits. Going to Memphis alone was fine because the excitement of racing again after an 18 month break. MIM was a big race of over 1,200 competitors, with an 18 year-old reputation, and held in significant size city. Memphis was the zenith at 1,200+ entrants while Bismarck was the nadir with only 17 race entries. Traveled without family, friends, or acquaintances and race day was damn lonely without knowing anyone there. When I traveled alone my IOU’s to family time built up again after a two year time out period.
I reminded myself to taste different foods, hear different American accents, and experience different sceneries. Bismarck was 20th century American generic. Good thing there was a national park nearby to make the trip worthwhile. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit was an easy two hour drive west on Interstate 94 at Medora. A park ranger provided info about the better pullout spots along the Scenic Loop Drive. Hiked at a half dozen of the pullouts and took a selfie with the Park sign. The weather stayed sunny and temps warmed up to the low 70’s with low humidity. Wonderful weather for hiking.
The North Dakota landscape seemed more enjoyable during a late afternoon drive back to Bismarck. The heartland of the nation remained rough, wide and hardy with a strong spiritual pulse.
The race did have a lot going for it. A nice setting ten miles outside of town. The triathlon was North Dakota’s state qualifier race for the Best of the US championship. In the qualifier races the best of the U.S. amateurs from each state earn the opportunity to meet head-to-head with like qualifiers from other states for bragging rights of the Best of the US. The top three residents of each sex from each state get invited to compete. As an alien-Illinoisan-carpetbagger racing in North Dakota, I wasn’t eligible to qualify.
We swam in the Marina area on the Missouri River. The water was cold at 60°F and that was generous. The water felt much colder because we sat around on the ramp at the race start going though final discussions. Unfortunately the discussion didn’t start until 30 minutes after the 10:00am scheduled race start. There was minimal communication except to hear, “Don’t wander off as the race will start soon after the briefing”. As to when the briefing would start was not well communicated. Whatever warm up we had before the race was offset by a cooling down period we had waiting for and listening to instructions. The group of racers displayed their patience. They understood first time races take longer to learn and get things going the time. Similar to initial business start-ups and special needs’ kids. I could relate on multiple levels at this race. Finally the instructions were completed and the 17 Olympic distance competitors jumped in the cool yet clear waters of the Missouri River under partly sunny skies with air temperature in the mid 60’s. The swim course was clear of boats but there was a welcomed smell of boat engine exhaust as we swam out and back across the marina.
We exited the water up the boat ramp and into the transition area. We jumped on our bikes and headed north up the Missouri River Valley with a mix of challenging climbs and fast descents. After the turnaround the challenge became a strong head wind we faced when pedaling back to the transition area.
The run course was flat and laid out in a lollypop shape. For variety we ran along a county road then into a subdivision with an abundance of new houses, some under construction, and empty lots plastered with for sale signs, early signs of the Great Recession most of us were not yet able to foresee in all these signs’ hidden messages.
During the awards the RD awarded me a race logo’d aluminum insulated coffee mug for the competitor who traveled the furthest to the event. Talked with a Bismarck resident who finished in fourth place to learn about learn how he got started in the sport. His motivation for next season was to compete in his first full Ironman distance race next year. He shared his training plans to be race distance ready when the day arrived. He would need to travel much further than I did to get to his next planned destination at Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Doubtful he would earn a long distance travel a mug there nor would he be the triathlete who traveled the furthest to race.
Packed up the bike in the parking lot of the marina under light rain showers. The bad weather came after we took off from the Bismarck airport as the connecting flight to O’Hare was cancelled prior to arriving in Twin Cities. Didn’t get past the wait list there until after spending the night on a padded mat in the corridors of the MSP airport. Caught a flight out mid-day to O’Hare but had already missed my ticketed flight bound for Oakland earlier that morning. With a higher priority on a different airline, jumped off the new wait list and into a seat deadheading to Oakland. Sarcastically, it reminded me how glamorous and much fun flying was for travelers.
North Dakota was the quintessential “check-off box” state for racing though the countryside offered up some out of the way treasures. North Dakota was not a magical place, though my number three finisher place overall in the race was Schoolhouse Rocks’ magical number.
Results: 3rd Overall. 1st in age group