A Winona man spent his 26th birthday riding from the Iowa/Minnesota border to the Minnesota/Canada border. The trek of 473 miles took Chase Wark 26 hours, with only three of those hours stopping for rest and refueling.
Besides Wark’s ambitions to push himself to do something that “scares the crap out of you and pushes your mental and physical limits” every year, the trip also had the intentions of securing a sponsorship from Wark’s favorite gas station, Kwik Trip, along the way.
Wark is a professional gravel racer, a type of bicycle racing that takes place along unpaved courses. With the plan to leave his job at a bank in Winona at the start of 2023 and pursue racing full time, Wark said he would need a sponsor to help make that possible.
“I’ve wanted to pursue this goal of racing full time for over a year now. And then you need sponsors to do that. I’ve always wanted Kwik Trip as a sponsor,” said Wark. “I didn’t know how to get their attention though— my events are pretty new and I’m just starting to get results. So I was like ‘OK, I’ll go from the southern Minnesota border to the Canadian border, and knowing there are Kwik Trips throughout Minnesota, I should only stop at Kwik Trips along the way.’”
People are also reading…
After having a first attempt at the ride a week earlier, where Wark only made it 60 miles after cold, rainy conditions and tired legs from just getting back from a 10-day block of racing, he considered it a failure. He regrouped with the intention of completing his goal on his birthday, Nov. 2, and set out from his starting location of New Albin, Iowa, at 3 in the morning with the support of his fiancé, Abigail, and his friend, Zack, who also is his mechanic following along in a van.
“We started right at the Welcome to Iowa sign. (Abigail and Zack) followed me for the first 20 miles. Then they drove up to Winona and got some sleep. And I continued up Highway 61,” Wark said. “I would say, starting out from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., I felt like my body was still waking up the whole time. Then once the sun started to rise my body kind of woke up with it. Once I saw the sunrise I was awake and super energetic. That was around mile 80 to about mile 200; I was feeling amazing.”
But that boost from the sun didn’t translate exactly to the confidence that the 473-mile ride was obtainable, said Wark.
“After reaching North Branch (north of the Twin Cities), I started getting tired and I was close to my parents’ house. So I started getting these thoughts in my head like ‘I’ve already done 200 miles that’s good enough, I’m close to my parents I could just call it quits here and head over to their place, or there’s no guarantee of a Kwik Trip sponsor anyways,’” said Wark.
“I’ve had negative thoughts before and decided I just needed to sit down and chill out. Right before reaching the Kwik Trip in Hinckley was my most negative spot. But I sat at the gas station, had a sandwich and a pop, responded to some text messages, and started going again. I felt like a new person; it was awesome.”
Taking the Willard Munger State Trail to Duluth, then Highway 61 to the Canadian border and finishing north of Grand Portage, Wark said he took his time with the rest of his ride — taking 10-minute naps when he was tired, having a friend bike with him every once in a while, and getting used to the dark and vacant Highway 61 he was traveling on throughout the night.
“We crossed into Canada at 6 a.m. and, actually, the sun was starting to rise so I had that awake feeling again,” said Wark. “I felt pretty accomplished. I actually did something I planned for so long and put a lot of thought into. I, also, just wanted to hop in the van and take a nap. It was actually my first time to Canada; I was talking to Border Patrol, asking what do I even do?”
Wark said his gravel racing training doesn’t come close to the 473 miles he put in on his birthday; training normally consists of 50-60 miles during the week and around 100 miles on the weekend. This ride also had to take into consideration the fuel for his body during the long trek.
“I had to keep reminding myself to keep a positive mindset but I also had to make sure I was eating. Staying fueled is such a huge component to these rides,” said Wark. “And, for my professional races, I’m used to certain, athletic-intended fuel but since I was only stopping at Kwik Trips I had to adapt and see what my body could handle — having Kwik Trip sandwiches, and Kwik Trip brand sports drinks, and muffins.”
Wark said the 26-hour-long bike ride went surprisingly smooth — no flat tires, no dropped bike chains, perfect weather, and either no wind or a tailwind for the whole ride.
“I think it just shows if I set my mind toward something I know it’s achievable. I just need a good, solid plan,” Wark said. “It reminded me that you do need support too, I bet if my fiancé and my friend weren’t there I wouldn’t have finished.”
The ride was a great way to start his 26th trip around the sun, Wark said.
“I’m a person who believes at least once a year you should do something that scares the crap out of you and pushes your mental and physical limits,” said Wark. “I thought this ride would be a great way to do just that. It got me out of my comfort zone.”
Kwik Trip did not respond to an inquiry as to whether they were aware of Wark’s ride and sponsorship ambitions.