It was late summer 2014 when I reconnected with Ryan. We met at MeritCare/Sanford hospital in Fargo,ND. When we initially met both of us were into running. Ryan was chasing marathon dreams while I was running on gravel and trails focusing on ultras. Meeting during Streets Alive! on Broadway in downtown Fargo was coincidence. My employment with Sanford Health ended early in 2013. After that I hadn’t seen Ryan, as we were connected only by work site. Both of us were riding bikes that day enjoying the pleasant weather. We caught up on the past months of our lives. Ryan’s running dreams had ended due to back issues. We exchanged phone numbers and made a commitment to do some riding together. My request was not to do much riding on pavement. Ryan’s sleek, carbon fiber road bike and my steel framed gravel rig wouldn’t be compatible. Plus, I wasn’t interested in speed. Add to that a couple road rash events and near miss vehicle incidents, so I was no longer interested in hard surfaces.
Ryan had a couple bikes at his disposal, so when we rode his “go to” wheels were attached to a Salsa Fargo. We had many gravel adventures. Soon Ryan was flying along the rural roads like it was pavement. He still would sneak away and streak along the paved roads with his carbon fiber bike barely touching the ground. “I need to mix in some speed work.” he would respond.
After riding the Fargo in the winter with studded tires, Ryan decided that a fatbike might be a good idea. Early in 2015, he added an orange 9 zero 7 into his stable. Winter biking now became an obsession. With carbon fiber and narrow tires put away, Ryan took on other dreams. Ryan is the sort of person (a natural, but unassuming athlete) who trains with a purpose. Many miles were covered and discussions about equipment, clothing, etc. were numerous. At times I felt a bit guilty as Ryan spent his retirement dollars on gear and clothing. At one point I stated, “Ryan, if you keep this up you’ll be in such good shape that you’ll outlive your retirement funds.” Hopefully we all spend our money on that which provides lasting pleasure!
February 2016, 100 miles of Manitoba prairie was on Ryan’s list. Not only did he want the experience, but it would be helpful for the application for Arrowhead 135. Ryan wanted to explore winter biking (ya know, if you got the equipment….why not?) and Arrowhead is one of the premier events in the nation. Ryan’s determination had him coming into The Forks in downtown Winnipeg with a big smile and more dreams.
With that checked off his list it was time for more gravel with milder temperatures. Numerous rides of at least 100 miles were completed. His application was accepted for Arrowhead 135. He began pondering the best equipment, as tweaking the ride is always on his mind. Good thing Ryan is young as the retirement funds continue to dwindle!
We both signed up for the Tuscobia Winter Ultra, 160 mile division. I would travel on foot while Ryan rode the 9Zero7. He saw this adventure as a training ride for upcoming events. Negative temperatures were a part of this adventure in Wisconsin. 160 miles completed. He fine tuned his fatbike, his gear, and his determination and was anxious and nervous for Arrowhead.
I had promised to be Ryan’s support person at Arrowhead in case he needed to be rescued. I also wanted to see the mystique of Arrowhead first hand. I really wasn’t needed for search and rescue. However, I gave as much encouragement to Ryan as possible along the way. Every time I saw him at a checkpoint he was smiling.
At the end of Arrowhead, 3 of us squeezed into the front of my two person van. The long ride back to International Falls, MN was probably the most difficult thing Ryan had to endure, as he was on the center drink holder and emergency brake. However, he had a few celebratory barley drinks at the finish, so it may have eased the discomfort!
Now it was onto Winnipeg, Manitoba in February for the last of his organized winter rides, Actif Epica. The temperatures were in the mid 30sF and their significant snow base was beginning to melt. The roads were grit and mush and portions of the Red River Trail soft and moist. Ryan commented, “I don’t think this will be anything like the other rides. I don’t deserve getting into the Order of the Hrimthurs in conditions like this.”
Many hours into Actif Epica, (Ryan started on bike 25 miles behind me) he caught up to me. We both stopped our forward motion to talk. Ryan had changed his mind about deserving to get into the Order if he finished. He looked tired, dirty, and the typical smile wasn’t on his face. He also mentioned that one of the characteristics of the Norse Frost Giants (Hrimthurs) is “cunning”. “I was tricked into believing this would be easy.” he stated garnishing a little smile. As he continued along the mushy, gritty road, I knew that he would finish. Ryan is too determined, too stubborn, and too well trained not to make it to the end even if he had to carry his bike.
Ryan’s second finish at Actif Epica was one for the books. It took him much longer than he expected. With this being the shortest mileage of the 3 events necessary to become a Hrimthur, he had the most challenges. Yet at the finish the traditional Ryan Haug smile covered his face.
I’m not certain what brought the two of us together that day in downtown Fargo, but our relationship is something for which I continue to be grateful. We jokingly call ourselves the “Gravel Grunts”. It’s my plan to take this into more than a joke. If we can have so much fun, so many meaningful conversations and adventures, why keep it to ourselves? (More to come on this project.) Ryan is a fine human being, a determined competitor, and someone with whom I have benefitted in many ways physically, spiritually, and communally. In less than three years he has come off a carbon fiber road riding rig and elevated himself to the ORDER of the HRIMTHURS! Congratulations, Ryan…Grunt 2.