An Amusement & Diversion for The Genteel Cyclist. Daily.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Fat Man Speaks: A conversation with Gary Crandall (Part 1)

Gary Crandall is a fixture of Midwest mountain biking -- every September for 24 years he has staged the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival in northwestern Wisconsin. Four years ago, he was inducted into the US Mountain Biking Hall of Fame in Colorado--not bad for a flatlander race chief!

As the "Fat Man," he oversees one of the world's largest mass-start citizen races--one of the benchmark races that hairy legs and shavers alike start training for each Spring from Minneapolis to Chicago, Winnipeg to Kansas City. (And, by the way: He's not fat at all, he's quite svelte. Let's just say he's built like a race boss.)

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. How does that feel?

Actually if it was 1983 and I was looking forward 25 years I'd think man that's a long time away - but in 2007 looking back it's more the feeling that the time just flew by.

As I understand it, you rode in the first race, 25 years ago-- and that was the only one... Because you became the race chief the following year. Do I have the history right?

Indeed I did ride in the first Chequamegon 40 in 1983 on an old early 1980's blue Stumpjumper. There certainly wasn't the electric excitement of the mass start as we see today since only 27 riders traversed that first 40 miles - but we were definitely off on an adventure. After that, as a self-employed person with low season down time on my hands I offered to help out with the organization of the event. What started out as a volunteer offer turned into my full time profession as the event grew.

What do you do with yourself the other 364 days of the year? Do you get much of a chance to ride trails yourself?

Well the event may be only a couple of days in September but the planning of it is a year around job. Not full time all the time in the winter months but there aren't many days I don't work on Chequamegon business whether it relates to sponsorships, staff, operations, purchasing,accounting, marketing and the like. Yes I do get time to ride - not as much as I want to but I'm on the road and the trails whenever I can get on my bike - I also enjoy snowshoeing and cross country skiing or just hiking in our beautiful woods. The all season trails in the Cable area are a true paradise for anyone who enjoys getting out in the woods. I also spend a great deal of time as an assistant to my wife Sara's artistic pursuits working in her studio at our home. So all in all I stay pretty busy in the northwoods.

The Fat Tire 40 is famous for being accessible to anyone who wants to try a MTB marathon event. Has anyone ever died riding the race?

With over 50,000 passes in 25 years on our event courses we have been fortunate to not have had a fatality. Mountain biking like any active endeavor has its risks and certainly injury is one of those risks. We have had our share of physical trauma over the years but it has been well handled by our extensive emergency medical response system we set up. The logistics of covering 56 miles of linear trail in two point to point cross country events is somewhat mind boggling - but we do cover it with stationary and roaming medical personnel at aid stations, the finish line, on ATVs and of course with the members of the National Mtn Bike Patrol. We couldn't hold the event without the extensive system we put together each year.

At one time, the race was considered the largest mass-start MTB race in the country. But you instituted a field limit in about 1994 or so, and then a lottery system. Why?

Our limit of 2500 really came out of our experience in our two wettest years, 1990 and 1991 (which Greg LeMond won by the way both times). Both years were different types of deluges but suffice to say it was a wet muddy mess out there. We realized that in a worst case weather scenario our ability to handle the health and safety of the participants and our responsibility to insure the integrity of the trail in a sustainable manner were greatly taxed. Our event philosophy dictates that safety of the riders and sustainability of the trails is foremost in our operational procedures. The limit was set to help maintain those goals - and the goal of organizational sanity - I want my staff and volunteers to have as much fun as the participants - with a limit they are charged with making it better not making it bigger.

COMING IN PART 2: Public urination! The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame! Romance at the Finish Line! And Much More!


Anonymous said...

The Fat Man rules! Here's to a another well-run, successful race this September - we couldn't do it without you!!

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