The first Saturday in November, the most epic cross country mountain bike race wraps up the season in Northern Michigan. The Iceman Cometh Moutain Bike race is a 30 mile point to point event traveling from Kalkaska to Timber Ridge Resort outside of Traverse City. It's a festive affair sponsored by Bell's Brewing, bringing out riders of all age and skill levels.
The course is challenging in and of itself with 2,000+ feet of climbing present. In Northern Michigan...you never quite know what you're going to get for weather in early November. This year...we had a special treat of a snow and rain that made for a historic race...aptly dubbed...Mudman.
Going into the race, I was completely content to simply travel from Kalkaska to Traverse on my bike. I signed up for the race as a way to peer pressure my younger brother Tyler into a slightly healthier lifestyle, while reminding him of an outdoors activity that he once loved as a child. Mountain biking. My mission was successful, in that he rode 1800+ miles this year, lost a ton of weight, raced very well at Ore to Shore and looked completely prepared to crush me at Iceman. It gave us a common ground that we chatted about throughout the summer on a nearly daily basis. Along the way, my brother in-law Jeff signed up as well making this a 3 way grudge match of first timers. My preparations were lacking...a measly 300 miles of riding, most of which was done on flat pavement.
I made peace with the fact that these two were going to beat me. A couple nights before the race Tyler offered me a $100 straight up wager on the race. I turned it down. If he'd have spotted me 15 minutes I'd have been game. But no way straight up.
This is just a friendly 30 mile ride. Keep the heart rate down in Zone 3. Enjoy it. Cheer for JWake. Post race brews with the brothers.
Race day came.
Tyler started one wave in front of Jeff and I, getting a three minute jump start.
Then it was Jeff and I out of the gate. I started slow through the first turn...and then cranked the speed up touching the 17 mph mark sailing past people while we were still in the airfield. The first two miles were beautiful with plenty of room to shuck and jive. After that, the course transitions to single track. A slight bump on the left side sent me sliding off the track through stumps and debris. The bike and I stayed upright.
After watching Jeff and the rest of our wave pass by I was able to start moving again. And immediately the noise and resistance told me something...somewhere...was not good. I locked the bike in the gear that seemed the quietest and smoothest and rode it as is.
A switch flipped.
My competitive side came out. I passed people with blind determination. Best that we can figure, I passed Tyler about 4 or 5 miles into the race. And have zero recollection of it. At Dockery I was four seconds behind Jeff. And had no idea. Shortly after the timing station at Dockery...the blockage occurred and the race came to a complete halt. When I say complete halt...I mean it. I was able to get my cell phone out, take a picture, snap a selfie (never did that in a race before), and upload it to Instagram before I moved. This gave me some time to look the bike over and assess the damage. The derailleur was sitting funky but I had zero clue how to fix it.
After a long wait, the line slowly started moving. My watched clicked off a 33 minute mile. And I snapped again. I started pushing my way through the pack, much like one of those people I hate when there's a stop on the expressway. Eventually I transitioned to the snow covered woods next to the trail to avoid the dirty looks as I moved people out of my way. After the race I found out Jeff did the same without waiting nearly as long to start doing it.
Following four miles of hike a bike, I was able to ride again. The problem though...was that if I shifted into one of the bigger gears for hill climbing, I would immediately drop the chain when I tried to shift into a smaller gear for speed. And if I didn't keep constant pressure on the driveline, it would immediately drop the chain. As a result, I spent the majority of the next couple miles throwing the chain. Another social media post. Tyler and Jeff are certainly crushing me. There's no way I'm walking all the way to Timber Ridge. As soon as I get to Williamsburg Road...I'm done. This sucks. Bad.
I came prepared to lose. But a DNF was not in the plans today.
An older rider that I had been playing leap frog with stopped and offered a suggestion. Take some snow or water and clean your chain and derailleur up. Wedge a big stick in and use it as a lever to try to get the derailleur somewhere that you won't throw the chain anymore. After a few minutes of fiddling with the bike, I was back in action. My gear selection was limited to 2 solid gears, with a 3rd gear grinding but rideable.
It's go time baby. We're back!
Shortly before Williamsburg road I've caught Jeffrey. Again. He still looks pretty froggy and takes off up the hill leading into the crossing like he's shot out of a cannon before crumpling and jumping off the bike 10' from the timing point. I cross the timing point and hop off to make sure he's okay. Legs are cramping bad. He looks toast. One goal achieved as there's no way he's getting back on this bike.
Steal a kiss from the #PaddleWife, and take off. She tells me that Tyler is somewhere behind me dealing with his own mechanical issues. No freaking way I'm somehow in front of both Tyler and Jeff at this point. Unpossible. My dad is on the left just past the crossing. I grab a bottle and work on getting some liquids in. More family just past the crossing and I ask them if Tyler has came through yet. Nope, haven't seen him.
After a quarter mile or so I hop off the bike for some chews and a breather. I'm somehow beating both of them. Jeff looks done and Tyler is fighting mechanical demons somewhere back in the suck. Even if Tyler catches me, all I have to do is stay within 3 minutes over the next 11 miles and i'll get him on time. And Jeff. He's hit. I tinker with the bike a bit more, but at this point can't even get it to shift into a climbing gear without a dropped chain.
A few miles later I'm walking up a hill, missing my climbing gears, but generally enjoying my afternoon. A rider in a white jersey goes sailing by me. Mother trucker. It's Jeffrey. That crazy fool simply refuses to go away. He's still riding the occasional hill, and stupid fast on the downhills. Guess we'll crank the hike a bike up from turtle to death march and make this a race. We go back and forth for a bit. At one point I nearly biff it and another rider gets into my back tire at 20 mph flying down a descent. It's Jeffrey.
Finally a gap opens up. I can dial things back, grab a bottle and prepare for the finish. Each hike up a hill I look back to make sure the gap is still the same. He's not closing. Victory is mine. I'm not sure what's left in the tank, but at this point I don't plan on losing bragging rights. I've had the lights go out a couple times today...carrying my heart rate into places it probably shouldn't be already.
Hiking up the Ice Breaker climb a spectator shouts "you've got all kinds of gears left dude, use them!". Oh kind sir...how I wish those gears were functional. Trust me I do. Strong finish somehow streaking past multiple people after the Ice Breaker...with an 860th place Strava segment out of 2899 people. Not a bad way to ride the last 4/10ths of a mile. There's plenty left to give. My gear selection simply restricts my ability to do so.
Overall finish time 4:50:34 about a minute in front of Jeffrey.
Hugs and high fives while we try to figure out how far out Tyler is. His timer hasn't updated since Williamsburg road where he was a fair distance behind. Suddenly he appears in front of me, street clothes and all. Mechanical failures and a nasty crash ending his race early.
Time to find some alcohol before settling in to watch the man Mr. Jorden Wakeley, professional Mountain Bike racer, Northbound Outfitters bike wizard, and canoe racer extraordinaire finish the pro race. The latest update on the video screen showed him 15 seconds out of first. Take notes major canoe races...Video screen updates are really freaking cool.
Jorden would finish a solid 9th after dropping a chain with 15km to go. Congrats to Jorden and all the other pro and cat 1 riders!
Would I race Iceman again? Absolutely. This was one of the funnest events I've ever taken part of. The spectators along the course rival the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, and the finish line environment is simply amazing. Course conditions were less than ideal, but everyone had to ride the same course. I'll definitely ride more hills (and miles in general) to prepare next time. And put my chain breaker in the bag (excellent suggestion by canoe racer Stephen Miller).
Big thanks to my wife Amy, she's my number one fan, ride-or die, and always there for me every step of the way. Also to Jorden and Bike Shop Bob at Northbound Outfitters for their excellent service and prep on my bike. And to my brother Tyler. Even though his race didn't go the way he wanted it to, I can't wait for the rematch. It was a blast knowing that both him and the brother in-law were on the course with me at the same time.
And now race fans...it's NORDIC SEASON!