The trial of miles; miles of trials.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

2011 Iceman Cometh Challenge

"ATTACK!  ATTACK!  ATTACK THE GODD*MN COURSE!"  With less than a 1/4 mile to go and stacked six men deep on the final stretch of tight single track, I had finally reached my breaking point.  I was fed up with the pathetic standard of mountain biking that was holding up the line and as a result I lashed out at a fellow racer. 

I never sleep well the night before a race and as expected this race was no exception.  When I crawled into my hotel room (my Chevy Suburban) in the back of the Days Inn parking lot in Traverse City the lot was almost completely empty and quiet.  As the night wore on, vehicles continued to stream in and by 2 AM cars with bikes on the roof were circling the lot.  I was up by five and going through my pre-race routine.  If you know my pre-race running routine you know that I'm ridiculously OCD and rather superstitious.  My pre-race biking routine is turning out to be a real doosey.  I'll spare you the details.
The race was well organized in that they offered multiple shuttle options for both racers and spectators.  Tony, Matt and I caught a shuttle to Kalkaska at 8:00 AM.  We were delivered to a bustling downtown Kalkaska by 8:40 AM.  The temperature was around 21 F and the sun was barley breaking above the trees.  The sheer amount of competitors, spandex and carbon fiber was enough to intimidate a newb such as myself but I didn't let it.  

I had the opportunity to ride the course the day before with a couple of guys from the Rapid Wheelmen Cycling Club out of Grand Rapids.  To me it was very helpful to see the route firsthand and be able to identify problem areas and pick my lines in advance.  The course was very well marked with large red arrows and signs pointing out trail hazards.  I was initially worried about excessive sand, but didn't feel like there was much that couldn't be easily avoided.  The biggest benefit was to see the ridiculousness that was the finish area at Timber Ridge.  The route funneled into what at first appeared to be the chute but simply just routed you through the madness of spectators and spit you back out on a brutal section of tight single track.  Then back up a steep hill to the real finish chute that seemed to go on forever.  Not knowing this could have played wicked tricks on the mind of a tired and weary racer.  I did my best to fill Matt and Tony in on my recon efforts from the day prior.

Since none of us had a previous time in this race our wave assignments were based on age.  Matt was placed in wave 21 and Tony and I in wave 22.  There were 48 waves in all and two more for pro/cat 1 men and women.  The race started at 9 AM and wave 22 went out at 10:03.  They had a very systematic and efficient method of queuing the waves and kept the race on time down to the second. 

I was very nervous going into this one just because I always put too much pressure on myself and more so the reality that if you experience mechanical failure with your bike, your day is done in the blink of an eye.  I usually never disclose my goals before a race and in following that tradition I didn't tell anybody that I wanted to finish in two hours.  My goals are always unrealistic and sometimes I even lie just so people don't think I'm a total freak.  I attempted to size up my competition among the guys in my wave but couldn't.  Everybody looked fast.  Tony and I waited as the other waves went off ahead of us and the knots in my stomach became increasingly more intense.  I kept telling Tony, "nine more minutes", "now six" and "three".  Then "two minutes", "one", "thirty seconds" and I remember saying "ten seconds...good luck". 
Tony at the start

They actually blew a whistle.  That's right, a silly little whistle that sounded like something they pulled out of a Cracker Jack box.  I say the least they could have done was used a real whistle like a Fox 40 or an Acme Thunder, something that takes control and screams, "listen up mother f*cker!"  I didn't waste too much time worrying about the pathetic whistle because there were 29 miles of race course in front of me and I was bound and determined to attack hard and attack often. 

I was immediately out of the saddle and veering to the right side of the course to make a move towards the front of the wave.  There was about a half mile of pavement before the trail turned West and slipped off into the woods.  I was pretty shocked at how quickly the pack or riders in front of me thinned.  They just seemed to shatter like splinters right before my eyes.  The next thing I knew I was chasing down the final three riders.  I settled in right behind the leader and sat on his wheel until just before the trail started.  I remember feeling so cold. It was around 28 F at the start but I was dressed more appropriately for 40 F and at 20 MPH I was freezing, but that soon would fade.  Just before we hit the trail I slipped past the leader and had nothing but wide open real estate in front of me.  I attacked, and attacked and attacked until my lungs burned and my legs felt like they were going to explode.  I didn't care.  I kept telling myself, "Its only 29 miles, you've got this." 
Remus at the start

I hadn't really done the math and didn't know what to expect but it wasn't long at all before I started catching riders from wave 21.  We were only a couple of miles in and some of these people looked really defeated.  The course was mixed with single track, two track and a tiny bit of narrow dirt/sand roads (snowmobile trails).  It seemed that most of the time I could pass, but there were several miles of frustrating tight single track where passing wasn't an option.  So in turn I started my redundant dialogue:


It was incredibly redundant, but I called my pass every time and thanked every rider I passed.  I've also made a habit of thanking the race marshals, police and spectators. So I got to mix it up a bit with:


At mile seven I came around a corner and right up on Matt's tail.  There was nobody around so I took the opportunity to mess with him.  As I approached I yelled, "ON YOUR LEFT MOTHER FU*KER!"  He later told me that he wondered what kind of jacka*s would actually say that to somebody and then he realized it was me.  He said I blew by him like a cat 1 racer.  Thanks Matt, but if I was a pro I would have been decked out head to toe in my sponsor's spandex. 

I had decided the day before to keep my front suspension locked out because the course wasn't terribly demanding and I felt like it could have been safely ridden with no suspension at all.  As it turned out there were plenty sections where I wished I had reached down and unlocked it, but instead I held on for dear life and took the punishment.  When your taking hits like that it makes it hard to see.  All you can do is look out about ten to fifteen feet in front of you and aim for the middle of the trail.  I took risks that could have ended very badly, but I did what I had to do.  The best example I can remember was passing a line of riders in a straight, flat section of trail that narrowed and swept into a steep downhill.  There was one guy left in the line and he wouldn't give me an inch on the trail as it narrowed.  I had called several times, "ON YOUR LEFT" to no avail.  As we swept left I was next to him just out of his line of vision. I screamed, "STILL ON YOUR LEFT!"  My shoulder in the brush mowing down saplings and spectators had they been in the way.  A full shot of adrenaline surged through my veins and as I made the seat-of-my-pants pass I let out a yelp of excitement and mashed the pedals never to see him again.  As I sped along I said to myself, "now this is racing!"

the edge of Williamsburg
 Williamsburg Road was the only paved road crossing on the course (Tony, sorry if I jinxed you) and a short steep hill lead to the road crossing.  There were hundreds of spectators lining the hill and roadside.  It was a sureal experience passing through the tunnel of people.  I remember hearing a lot of cowbells as I sped through the intersection.  At that point I felt like I was on the homestretch with only 12 miles to go.  However, once you cross Williamsburg the course starts to gain some elevation and the riding gets more difficult.  There were a lot of people walking hills.  I did lose traction and had to partially walk/run was pretty steep and I couldn't clean it on my pre-ride so I expected to walk it again.  By this time people started to look like zombies and they didn't seem to be having fun. 

It was in the last few miles that I finally caught some MSU and UofM club riders that had gone off in wave 21.  I slapped the UofM guy on the back and told him good race and he told me to "go get 'em." 

Before long I could hear the roar of the crowd at Timber Ridge...but I knew better. There were still a couple of long brutal hills to go.  I had managed to choke down four or five shot blocks on the course but was still feeling my energy fading.  I was starting to feel foggy and my vision was blurry.  At one point I thought I was going to vomit and I told myself, "save it for the finish line."  In addition to it all, my legs were starting to cramp.  I knew I could deal with the physical discomfort but I scanned over my bike and though to myself, don't fail me know.   I started watching the clock and trying to estimate my finish time...the two hour mark wasn't looking good as I knew there were still two sections of tight trail and the final brutal hill which I would likely have to walk. 

As I came in to the "fake finish" I started to feel the energy of the crowd and knew the only thing that stood between me and the real finish was a steep descending section of off camber single track with a log crossing at the bottom and one more big hill.  We were stacked six riders deep, tire to tire as the trail tightened up.  I was in the fifth position.  The guy leading the pack refused to let his bike run; subsequently he was standing on the brakes.  The guy behind me was getting antsy and he shouted, "COME ON GUYS, PICK IT UP!"  I glanced at my Garmin and saw that I wasn't going to make my time goal and lost it.

Insert my "attack" line from the first paragraph here:

At that moment I had hoped that he would just ride off the course and let us all pass, but he continued to plod along.  Just as the trail widened the line exploded to life and we all made our move. I dipped my shoulder and went right then left.  As I passed slowpoke our handle bars and elbows made incidental contact.  I looked over my shoulder and was happy to see that he was still upright, I didn't want to take him out, just remind him that this was a race for over $50,000 in prize money.  Clearly none of us were going to win money, but come on we weren't joy riding at the local park.  

As expected, I only made it about half way up the big hill at the finish before I hit a mob of walkers and traffic.  I jumped off my bike and pushed it to the top of the hill, remounted and sprinted towards the chute.  I wish I would have taken it all in as I sped by hundreds if not thousands of spectators cheering, but I honestly don't remember much of it.  I didn't want to leave any more time on the course than I already had.  Physically I had nothing left.  As I was filing out of the shoot, I was dizzy, foggy and seeing double.  It really was a wonderful feeling.
the corral with an estimated value of contents at $1,000,000

After attempting to catch my breath I made my way to the bike corral and checked my rig, grabbed some orange slices and a cookie and then found Sarah and Patti.  It was then that Patti told me Tony was at Williamsburg Road with a catastrophic mechanical failure that had taken him out of the race.  His day was done.  I felt sick to my stomach and angry.  Tony had worked hard leading into this race and not being able to finish was a load of sh*t.  Tony, you deserved better, but don't let it get you down.  You'll be back to race another day!

Shortly after I finished Matt came screaming past in a blaze of blue for a strong finish.  I met him at the chute exit and handed him a Bells Two Hearted brew. He seemed pretty appreciative.  I have two finish line dreams that have never been fulfilled.  1.) To be handed a beer.  2.) To vomit.

the Matts
Matt, Sarah and I spent the better part of the afternoon enjoying the incredible weather, chugging beer and watching the race unfold.  It was impressive and very humbling to see the pros come in.  They were fast, crushing my modest time by almost 30 minutes.  

My official time was 2:01:51 which was good enough for 12 of 71 for 35 year old men and 522 of 3757 overall.  Of the finishers, 3299 were men and 458 were women.  Next year I will have a much better seed and hope to go off in one of the top ten waves.  This should almost completely eliminate the need for me to call out, "ON YOUR LEFT."

official results

A nice example of the course and the pros.

Watch more video of ICEMAN Cometh Challenge 2011 on

The real chute and finish went on forever.

I'm with you dude!


  1. I love the report. You went to war. The race sounds incredible. Way to crush dreams!!

  2. Does this mean you're back? Damn fine ride, but I know you could do it faster without the governors in front.

  3. Nice write up buddy. I've been online for days waiting for your g-d report! You're a fierce competitor, I don't know how you do it. It's funny some of the things you talk about were happening all around me further back.

  4. I too was waiting for the full report after looking up the results online the day of the race. Sounds like you had a blast and did really well! Seems like there is a level of madness on a bike that you don't really get running.