Well, I've spent nearly an entire week thinking, decompressing, processing, re-processing all that happened in my mind and I still do not even know where to begin putting this racing experience into words. It really was an amazing race in all aspects. Not just based on my own performance, but also the whole atmosphere surrounding this event was enjoyable. Even more important than the race itself was the new friends I finally had a chance to meet and spend time with.
The drive to Marquette from Minneapolis is about 7.5 hrs long. Unfortunately for me I was stuck with myself for this entire time and to be honest with you I was quite tired of my own company by the end of the ride. Upon my arrival in Marquette I checked into my room and immediately went to a local pizza place just so I could have someone else besides myself to converse with. The Amigos should have definitely made this trip.
My day Friday was spent just riding my old clunker around town and checking out some of the local scenery. Those of you who know me well enough know of my passion and love for Lake Superior. This was another thing that attracted to me to this race.
I had originally planned on pre-riding parts of the course the day before just to familiarize myself with some it's features and to get a feel for what I could expect on race day. To my dismay, I learned from reading the race literature that not much of the course is open for pre-riding because it winds its way through mostly private land and race day is the one day of the year the entire course is open for riding. This is a unique feature not found in many other races. I guess it's another aspect of the race that makes it interesting and unique. Especially if you are an Ore to Shore virgin.
I made the best of my pre-race day and did manage to get my legs turning for a couple of hours on the bike. As you can see from the photos above I wasn't alone all of the time. I did have some company along the way.
The rest of my day was filled with thoughts of what lay ahead, preparing hydration and nutrition, last minute adjustments to my bike, worrying about whether or not I had selected the right gear ratio. You see, I did the race on a single speed rigid 29r. The gearing you select is the gearing you have for the entire race, so you better make sure you have it right. There can be a very fine line when it comes to gear selection. At 48 miles in length I didn't want to use up all my energy in the early portions and have nothing left to finish it off. So, I leaned towards the conservative side and stayed with my 32 x 20. I knew I would spin out on the flats and downhills, thus losing time, but I would be able to handle most of the hills without having to hammer and expend huge amounts of energy and strength. My abilities on a bike are pretty good, but I don't consider myself to be a really powerful rider. Plus, I also want to save wear and tear on my knees. After all...I'm no spring chicken anymore.
The best part of the day was going to the race packet pick-up and finally getting to meet my internet/cycling/teaching friend, Ali, her fiancee Glenn, and their group of friends. I was a bit nervous and quiet, but managed quite well. We all met up at a local pizza place called Aubree's
for an enjoyable pre-race meal, some cold beer, and good conversation.
It had rained Friday night before the race which for this course is a good thing. The extra moisture tends to firm things up and actually makes the course faster. I adjusted my tire pressure at the last possible minute and headed to the starting line in a very nervous condition. The feeling was like that of a kid in a candy store. Giddy with excitement! The course was everything I had anticipated and more. It offered up everything a cross country mountain bike racer could ask for. Fast open flats and downhill runs, some open paved sections, forest roads, single track, double track, water crossings, rocks and exposed roots, some technical descents, nice rolling hills and then of course some steep difficult climbs, and also a lot of sand. I've come to the conclusion that I really hate sand.
As you can well imagine, mile markers and particular features and landmarks along the course rapidly became a blur. I was so caught up in the race and what was going on around me that I didn't try to remember where along the course certain things were. One odd thing I did notice was how friendly and well mannered many of the racers were. I mean, these folks were really out there enjoying themselves. At one point a much younger rider than myself pulled up to my rear tire and politely announced himself with a..."Excuse me sir, I'm passing on your right." Did I hear that correctly? Excuse me sir! That made me smile and love this race even more.Then at one point, again the mile markers are a blur, came "Misery Hill". I crested a rise on a portion of the power line and off in the distance could see a hill that appeared to rise straight up into the air. Strung out on the trail ascending this hill was a multi-colored line of riders. They were literally lined up from the very top of this climb to the very bottom and they were not riding their bikes, they were pushing and carrying their bikes! The sight of this gave me an excited lump in my throat. I love the challenge of a good climb. After my first view of the hill the trail makes a short descent then winds its way into the woods for brief period before emptying back out onto the power line closer the base of the climb. Again, it's all kind of a blur.
Upon seeing the climb from a closer perspective, the first image that came to my mind was this photo of prospectors climbing the famed Chilkoot Pass during the Alaska Goldrush. It was long, it was steep, and it was basically made up of loose gravel along with fist size and larger rocks. To me it was unclimbable on any bike. The name "Misery Hill" is very appropriate. Riders were laughing, swearing, and joking about what type of medical attention would be available on top. As I crested the top of the climb, to my surprise, there was a first aid team sitting there on an ATV. All I could do was laugh, hop on my bike, and continue the push to the finish, which was still some distance away.
With about fifteen miles left to go I pulled up to the back end of a group of about 8-9 riders all of whom were riding geared bikes. Throughout the entire race I talked to myself about just relaxing and finding a comfortable rhythm and cadence that I could go with the entire way. I would pass them on almost all of the climbs only to have them catch me and pass me on the flats and the descents. After several miles of this it continued on a paved section of road and then again on a gravel forest road. Finally on one of the climbs as I worked my up, passing them one at a time, one of them said out loud, "WTF? It's you again?" Then, with a smile he said, "We may as well introduce ourselves because it is looking like this is going to go on until the finish of the race." He was almost right. His name was Bob and this would continue for the next several miles of forest road, single-track and double-track. Bob and I would exchange words of encouragement until around the four miles to go mark where I dropped my chain once and then a second time shortly after that.
Coming into the finish line there was a pretty stiff head wind which I think caught a lot of riders by surprise. After forty-eight miles of rough riding your legs are tired, your body feels somewhat battered, and for many riders they were spent. I was still feeling strong and was able to actually pass several riders coming into the finish line.
This is where, to my amazement, I ran into Bob once again. He was waiting there with his wife and some other friends. I walked up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder, and when he turned he gave me a big congratulations, asked what the hell had happened to me. Then, with a huge grin on his face he called me a crazy ass &^%$#@! for doing the race on a single-speed. I wish now that I would have taken the time for a picture with him because it was definitely one of the highlights.My knees were stiff, but other than that I felt great. I finished, no flats, a couple minor mechanicals that slowed me down. Along with my chain dropping twice, my seat came out of adjustment after going through a really rough stretch. The nose was up and not in a very boy friendly position. I rode it that way as long as I could, but eventually pulled off with a couple of miles to go to quickly readjust it. My time for the 48 mile course was 3 hrs. 42 min. Not blistering by any means, but satisfying. I came with the expectation of under four hours and hopefully around 3:30...next year!
Ali on the other hand, kicked butt and rode a 3:21:41 to take second place in her age group. Awesome ride Ali! Maybe I need to get some training tips.
Some other highlights of the race were the "Pink Flamingo Ladies" and trumpeters who were sounding "The Charge". Also, the people who worked the aid stations were wonderful and very encouraging.
This was one of the best cycling experiences I've had thus far. Hopefully next year the Amigos will be able to join me on this Epic ride in northern Michigan. I am definitely planning on being back again. Next time with a definite plan and a concrete goal in mind.