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Category Archives: Racing
With this past winter being more harsh compared to the mild winter of ’12, and my diminished motivation for bundling up and riding in bad weather this year, I haven’t had much to report on since my last post after the Iceman race last November. So, here’s a quick re-cap of the riding (or lack thereof) that I’ve done this season.
On a snowy Dec. 30, I met up with my friends Dave and Pam for a snowy ride on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Dave rode his Carver Ti O’Beast snow bike, Pam rode his Surly Pugsley, and I rode my Raleigh XXIX singlespeed. We started at the Canal Visitor Center and rode south for about 45 minutes (probably just a handful of miles) and turned around.
A couple of days later, for a New Year’s Day ride, I met Dave and Brent in Peninsula for another snowy Towpath ride. I rode Dave’s Pugsley and Brent rode his Salsa Mukluk. We rode up to Brecksville Station and back.
A couple of days later, I met Brent and Sean for a night ride at the Royalview Trail in the Cleveland Metroparks Mill Stream Run Reservation near Strongsville. Didn’t get any photos; the trail had been ridden by others on fat bikes already, but it was still tough going on my XXIX, and hard to follow the trail even with our headlights. We ended up off-trail a few times, as well as on some of the hiking trails. We finished up by racing up and down the road on Royalview Lane. It was fun, but the exertion in the sub-freezing air took its toll on me, and I caught a nasty head cold that put me out of commission for over a week.
I got back into the swing of things on Jan. 12 with a few laps around my “neighborhood loop,” a 5-mile loop consisting of the Twinsburg Center Valley Park multi-purpose trail, the Old Hickory Trail, and a few of the streets that connect the two. The next day, I rode to and from work for my first and only time so far this year.
On Jan. 16, it was still pretty cold, but the roads dried off, so I took the Xtracycle out for a day of exploring to Peninsula and back, using the Metroparks, Serving Summit County Bike and Hike Trail.
More snowfall came later in January, and I got two days of cross-country skiing in. The first was at the Horseshoe Pond are in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The second was on Feb. 1 at Punderson State Park.
On Feb. 2 I borrowed Dave’s Surly Pugsley again, and we met our new friend Jack (on his new 9:ZERO:7 fat bike) for a ride on the Bike and Hike Trail. We started at the Alexander Road trailhead and rode down to Brandywine Falls and back.
I met Dave again the next day for another snow bike ride (on his Pugsley) on the Towpath Trail, from Peninsula down to the Botzum Trailhead and back.
I did a few laps on the Neighborhood Loop on Feb. 16. Finally, in early March, we had a brief period of spring-like weather. I had just finished putting together my new Surly Cross-Check, so on Mar. 10 I took it for a shakedown ride on the Twinsburg-Garrettsville Loop.
More snow, rain, and cold followed. On Mar. 21, the first day of Spring, the temperatures still hovered around freezing, but I decided to grab the Salsa Fargo and head out to the singletrack at Mohican State Park. I just did the first eight miles out and back (with the shortcut at the 4-mile point on the way back). The upside was that the frozen trail made it nice and solid and ride-able. The exception was the final mile along the ridge above the campground, which gets the most sun of any part of the trail, so it was wet and sloppy.
On April 3, I took the Xtracycle for another cruise to Peninsula, just as a warm-up for the race on April 6, the inaugural Amish Country Roubaix. This was a gravel road race, or “gravel grinder,” as these increasingly popular events have come to be known. I was way too out of shape to be competitive in such an event, with over 4,000 feet of climbing in 45 miles over the back roads of Holmes County. It turned out to be a nice day, though. I finished in about 3 hours and 40 minutes, it was a fun ride, and a well-run event that I’ll probably return for next year.
The next morning, I felt surprisingly fresh during a ride of the Valley Loop with a group from Peninsula. More rain came during the week, but I managed to get a somewhat wet ride in on April 11 with a short 24-mile loop on the Salsa Fargo through Aurora, Bainbridge, Chagrin Falls, and Solon. Here I am on Geauga Lake Road over the swelling banks of the Chagrin River:
Spring weather finally broke last weekend, and I did a 31-mile Sunny Lake Loop on April 14, and then 40 miles yesterday with an extended loop taking in the Bike and Hike Trail, Peninsula, and Hudson (both on the Surly Cross-Check). The winds were pretty stiff yesterday, but with temperatures in the upper 70’s, it looks like Spring is finally here, with more great riding to come!
The fall cycling season is typically capped off with my traditional trip up to Northern Michigan for the Iceman Cometh Challenge mountain bike race. Brent and I headed out early Friday morning for what was to be a re-run of the first day of our Michigan trip back in August–drive to Fort Custer Recreation Area outside of Battle Creek to ride the buff singletrack there, head over the Kalamazoo for lunch at Bell’s Brewery, head up to Grand Rapids for a quick refreshment at Founder’s Brewing, then continue north to join the main festivities.
I decided to ride on my Salsa Fargo this year. I’ve given it a good workout on lots of singletrack the past two seasons, but this was its first race experience.
We woke up to some rain and wet snow in Traverse City on Saturday morning, but when we drove to the start in Kalkaska, it remained somewhat cold but sunny and dry. Brent took off in Wave 12 at 9:33am, and I followed soon after at 9:36am.
After a tough race here in 2010, I felt I had to redeem myself and turn in a good performance in 2011. This year, I didn’t feel I had anything to prove. I just wanted to have a good ride and a good time and race my own race. I felt I prepared well for the day’s conditions, with my SmartWool Cuff Beanie under my helmet, DeFeet DuraWool liner gloves under regular short-finder cycling gloves, SmartWool liner shirt, long-sleeve Century Cycles wool jersey, Ibex wool bib knickers, my new Surly Chainsaw tall wool socks, and Lake MX-100 cycling boots. I had on my Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Convertible Jacket for the start, but I ended up pulling over about 5 miles into the race and stuffing it into my jersey pocket. I was completely comfortable for the rest of the race.
The Fargo performed well on the course. The rigid fork didn’t feel like it beat me up as much as my rigid setup did back in 2010, and being able to ride in the drops to power through the dirt and gravel road sections was a huge benefit. As I’ve mentioned before, the bike climbs like a billy goat; among the many short, steep climbs on the course, I only had to dismount on one of them, and that was due to a flubbed shift.
About halfway through the race as we approached Traverse City, we got into the snow zone, which made some of the course a little more soft and squishy than usual, but the firm Michigan mud was nothing compared to the sloppy Ohio mud.
I did the usual leap-frogging against the same handful of recognizable riders throughout the race.
The course ended up as the longest ever, about 30.5 miles, so times were a little longer than usual. I ended up at 2 hours, 31 minutes, and 7 seconds, about a third of the way down from the leader within my age group, so I was satisfied with that.
On our way home on Sunday, we stopped to ride the Potowatomi Trail at Pinckney State Recreation Area, followed by post-ride dinner at the new Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in nearby Ann Arbor; about as perfect a combination of biking and beer that you’ll find anywhere in the world.
The night before the race, my friend Brent was cool enough to pick me up after work to head straight down to Mohican. We decided to just grab some quick dinner at Subway on the way. We arrived and checked in at Mohican Adventures campground, and found our friend Brandon, who had already checked in and got set up at our site.
The packet pick-up was supposed to close at 7pm, but luckily, a couple of volunteers were still hanging around later at the race check-in desk, so we were able to get that out of the way and not have to worry about it in the morning. I got my number plate attached to my Mongoose Teocali Super, and gave the bike a quick once-over to make sure it was ready to ride.
The weather was predicted to be pleasant and cool for race day. That evening before, it got even cooler than expected, and I was worried that I didn’t bring enough clothes both for a night of sleeping in a tent, as well as for the race itself. We spent a little while sitting around the campfire trying to stay warm until we turned into our tents. I did shiver a bit in my sleeping bag, but still managed to get a decent amount of sleep.
In the morning, I ate of couple of bacon pancakes that I had packed up frozen the day before. Fortunately, they were just thawed out enough to eat, and wash down with some orange juice. Brent shared some of his camp coffee as well.
I put on the only cycling clothes that I had brought, which I planned based on the weather forecast: bib shorts, sleeveless liner shirt, short-sleeve jersey, SmartWool socks, Buff bandana, Sidi shoes, and full-finger gloves. I also wore my Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves and Sun Knees, aka “arm coolers” and “knee coolers.” These have been working great for riding in warm weather to keep the sun off. Now, I hoped they were sufficient to keep the morning chill off. I also put on my jacket, figuring I could stash it in my hydration pack during the race. I stood there shivering while waiting to leave for the starting line, wishing that I had brought real arm warmers and legs warmers, and maybe even a wool jersey.
The starting line was in downtown Loudonville, and it was a short 10-minute ride there mostly along a paved bike path. Once I finally got moving, I warmed up much more than I expected, and was quite comfortable. It was a good thing that I hadn’t brought more warm clothing, because then I would have ended up over-dressed. I realized even before starting that I wouldn’t need my jacket at all. Luckily, I noticed a woman from a neighboring campsite helping her husband get ready to race, and she graciously agreed to drop my jacket off back at the campground so I wouldn’t have to carry it needlessly through the whole race.
We timed our arrival at the starting line pretty well, and only had to wait a few minutes before the starting horn. My goal for the race was just to finish in less than 8 hours, and hope to stay out of trouble and avoid mechanical issues. So, I settled into a spot about three-quarters of the way to the back of the mass starting group.
Once we were off, we headed straight through the main street of town, which as it left the downtown area, became a steep uphill, which helped to break up the pack. I passed a pretty good number of lesser climbers, plus one poor guy who was already sitting on the side of the road trying to look at some bike issue; I wonder if that was a bad sign of how the rest of his day went?
A mile or two outside of town, we turned onto a gravel road, which led to the first turn-off onto singletrack through the woods. There was were a ton of racers backed up at the entrance, and it was like a signaled freeway on-ramp. A handful of riders made their way onto the trail, the rest of us would take a few steps forward and wait some more. I finally got onto the trail after what may have been about 5 minutes or more.
Although the weather was dry this day, the trails were kind of slick from the rain of the previous couple of days. In a few spots, it was thick like peanut butter. I picked my way through a couple of sketchy downhills pretty slowly and managed to keep both wheels on the ground and my feet on the pedals.
There were more sections of paved roads and gravel roads, and then more trail as we climbed a long, steep series of dirt switchbacks. At around the 5-mile mark, we joined the trail near the beginning of the Mohican State Park mountain bike trail loop. Finally familiar territory! I tried to settle into a rhythm and make some good time, but it was a challenge passing numerous other riders. There were a few rough sections that I normally clear with no problem when I ride this trail, but I got hung up now just from being caught behind other who weren’t clearing them. When I’d flail, people that I had managed to pass before passed me up again, and the whole process would start over. All part of racing; that will teach me to be more aggressive and try to keep to the front of the pack more from the start.
At the covered bridge on the road over the Mohican River, I passed a large group of riders, probably for the third time for many of them, but flailed again at the re-entry to the singletrack. Once I passed a handful more riders around the steep switchbacks climbs in this area, the pack seemed to spread out quite a bit more, and I was able to get more into my normal groove for the rest of the long climb to the top of the hill above the covered bridge.
The first aid station was located in the parking lot at the top of the hill, at the 20-mile mark, or what is normally the 15-mile mark of the state park loop. I scarfed a couple of snacks, chugged a cup of Heed drink, and topped off the water in my hydration pack. I thought I had been drinking a fair amount along the way, but was surprised when it only took about a large cupful of water to refill the pack. Mental note: drink more. I was going to use the porta-potty, but there were a couple of other guys waiting in line, so I decided it wasn’t an emergency for me.
Continuing on the state park trail, there was more passing to be done, but I found myself having to do less flailing and wasn’t getting passed by very many others. I didn’t clear the infamous steep climb at the 21-mile marker of the state park trail, so I took advantage of that opportunity to duck behind a tree for an impromptu porta-potty break. Luckily, the pale color of the result indicated that I’d been taking in sufficient fluids while riding.
I was looking forward to one of my favorite sections of the trail, around the 22-mile marker where you descend a series of fast, swoopy curves. Just after the beginning of this section, a volunteer was posted at the apex of the second of one of those curves, directing us to make a hard left off the trail. As I made this turn, I saw the horror that awaited us–The Wall–a trail of loose dirt that went straight up so steeply that, I promise you, NOBODY was pedaling it. My feet felt like bricks as I trudged up, pushing my bike at nearly a crawl. The toe spikes in my shoes came in handy to avoid slipping, and even potentially rolling back down the hill.
When I finally reached the top, the course opened up onto a gravel road. Then it led back onto a wide dirt trail that’s normally a hiking-only trail. Along a downhill section, there were wooden planks installed across the trail as water bars. With the mud and my wet tires, I knew it could mean a treacherous ride. I saw one rider walking his way down, but I determined that my mountain biking skills were up to. I took each water bar as head-on as I could, rather than at an angle, and managed to clear all but one, which was placed at a nearly impossible angle. It grabbed my rear tire and yanked it out from under me, forcing me to put a foot down almost into an unintentional split, but I managed to keep it all together otherwise, re-mount, and keep going.
The course alternated between more some paved roads, gravel roads, and dirt trails with a couple more hike-a-bike sections. The roads weren’t much relief, as they usually involved climbs that were steep enough to be just barely ride-able. At around the 28-mile mark, it started to feel like work instead of fun. I had to force the thought out of my brain that I was not even halfway done yet.
The second aid station came at the 35-mile mark, and was located at the Buckhaven Learning Center, a hunting camp. I downed some snacks, topped off the water again, and used the (thankfully) inside restroom.
The course from this point followed what looked like a dirt four-wheeler trail for a couple of miles, with a few ups and downs, but nothing too steep. Then more alternating mind-numbing steep climbs and descents on gravel and pavement. Fortunately, no particular body parts nagged me with any pain; I just struggled with overall fatigue. Pedaling the long climbs while in the saddle did make me a little more sore in that area than I usually get, but nothing too extreme. I was ready to just be done, but I just had to try not to think about how much further I had to go. I knew that my entry fee included all the Great Lakes Brewing Company beer that I could drink at the finish line, but I couldn’t even imagine myself enjoying that. All I could picture was collapsing in a heap as soon as I could after I cross the line.
Eventually, the course turned back onto some singletrack, which I surmised (correctly) was the Mohican Wilderness mountain bike trail. At first I thought, “Finally!” until I realized that I was so cooked that I had neither physical nor mental wherewithal to navigate the trail, which is considerably rougher compared to the Mohican State Park trail. I flailed and dabbed a bit, and took it slow where necessary. On two occasions, in the middle of tight hairpin turns, I miscalculated, took a bad line, and failed to recover, which sent me hard into the dirt on my face and arms.
Finally, the course opened up through some grass along the edge of a large, open field, which led to aid station number 3 at mile 58. The usual routine: eat, drink, pee; this time eat and drink a little more. The 100-mile course split off at this point. I didn’t want to head off in the wrong direction, so I asked a volunteer which way the 100k course went. He pointed out the LARGE banner indicating such just across the road.
I headed on down the road, thankfully flat for the first mile or so, but then it got back to more of the same as before–up, down, up, down. The first was Valley Stream Road, which has several “humps,” which make you think you’re done when you’re not. I passed a female racer on this climb, and the two of us ended up leap-frogging each other for much of the rest of the course.
A flat road ran alongside the Mohican River and led to State Route 3 just outside of Loudonville, the usual start/end point of the Mohican State Park trail. With 4 miles to go to the finish line, the aid station number 4 that was set up here almost seem superfluous. I almost skipped it, but stopped for a quick chug of a cup of Heed.
The course here went straight back onto the state park trail, what is usually the final mile of it, but in reverse of the usual direction. Then it turn uphill and on some unfamiliar singletrack. After a while, the singletrack started to look vaguely familiar again, and I realized that I was back on the beginning section of the state park trail, also in reverse of the usual direction. A couple of fast, presumably expert-class riders passed me in this area, but the rest of the field was so spread out that I saw no other riders for the rest of the course.
Soon I was able to see the Mohican Adventures campground, where the finish line was located. Friends who had done the race in past years had warned me about one final hike-a-bike climb up a steep dirt trail that was thrown in only about a half-mile before the finish. Turns out, this hill was removed for this year’s course, and before I knew it, the finish line was right in front of me, almost anti-climatically.
I crossed the line and a volunteer handed me an empty pint glass. I did not feel as completely spent and ready to collapse as I had expected. I set my bike down in the grass, and looked around for any familiar faces. Seeing none, I walked over the Great Lakes beer trailer and filled my glass with a Dortmunder. It was refreshing, delicious, and altogether welcome, contrary to my fears during the race. I looked around a bit more, and I asked somebody what time it was to try to get an idea of my finish time. It was 10 minutes before 3:00pm, and I figured I had been wandering around for about 10 minutes. Based on the 7:00am start time, that put me at an overall time of about 7 hours and 40 minutes, safely and happily within my goal.
I ran into Brent and Brandon, and we commiserated about our respective race experiences. I got some lunch at the barbecue buffet, which included ribs, chicken, and an assortment of sides. Brent had dinner plans at home, so we didn’t waste much more time before packing up our camping gear and hitting the road.
Checking the final results at home later, I ended up with an official time of 7:39:02, placing me at 161 out of 276 finishers (322 total if you count the DNF’s) in the Men’s Open 100k division.
The Iceman Cometh Challenge is a mountain bike race traditionally held the first Saturday in November. The 27-mile course covers a combination of twisty singletrack, fast doubletrack, dirt and gravel roads, and cross-country ski trails between Kalkaska and Traverse City, Michigan.
This year’s race was my third time in the event, and usually marks the end of my racing season. This time, it was my first race since coming back from a broken collar bone.
During the drive up to Michigan the day before the race, I made a pit stop at the brewery in Frankenmuth, one of the towns we stayed in during my coast-to-coast bicycle tour, to relive a few not-so-old memories.
In Traverse City, I met my friends Stacy and Brad from Portland, Maine. Brad’s parents were kind enough to let me stay at their house in Traverse City, where we also visited with Brad’s brother Ross, his wife Lynn, and their sons Cameron and Joey.
I finished the race with a time of 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 30 seconds, about 15 minutes faster than last year’s race. I placed 64th out of 163 entrants in my class (Sport Men Age 35-39). Click here to see the complete results.
After the race, we took a drive out on the beautiful peninsula that extends out into Grand Traverse Bay, and watched the sunset. That evening, we enjoyed dinner at the North Peak Brewing Company.