Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"No Regrets"

The Superbowl of XC Mtbing has come and gone. This event is always a good time. 1,000’s of people gather to celebrate a fun, fast, 30 mile journey through Northern Michigan’s woods. Steve Brown, Ice Man Promotions, the staff, and 100’s of volunteers along with GREAT sponsors have done a stellar job once again. I don’t believe Ice Mania will slow down in the future either – Look out! The entire weekend is an awesome gathering of mtbing in Michigan and beyond.

This was my eight year racing. The first 2 years I raced A.G. Sport Classes, the next 4 years I raced A.G. Expert Classes and the past couple of years I tightened up the belt and pedaled with the Pro / Cat 1 speed demons (well at least the first few miles). I had some personal goals of racing and glad I chose to race this category.

For many this event becomes a challenge of just crossing the finish line. The crowds are 8-10 deep for the last ½ mile or so of the course and the cheers, the emotions, and the grit are powerful enough to move anyone. Others want to capture that top spot and climb on the podium. But, for most it’s about racing the clock and bettering themselves against previous times they have set or heckling their pack of buddies with a faster time - all in good fun. I have always chosen the later. I have never gone into this event with the mindset of racing to step up on the podium and offer a triumphant fist pump and raise one of those cool ice sculpture trophies.

Renee and I left early Friday AM after we dropped our daughters off at school and made sure Grandma had all she needed to take care of them for the weekend. This trip over the past years has been a good get-a-way for us as well. We stop along the way do some shopping, eat some good food and embrace our relationship with smiles and MTB’s. Renee likes all of the above, except for the MTB’s ;)

We arrived in Traverse City about 2:30pm and went right to the Grand Traverse Resort. The Expo is a great way for many vendors to showcase new and upcoming product, sell a few remaining stocked items, and just interact with the people who all share the same passion. As soon as we walked in I got the ol’ nervous bug in my stomach… I love that feeling!  We made our way around a few booths, said hello to many familiar faces, got my race packet, and Renee bought me a nice Fall/Winter Ice Man pullover. “All these years and you never even bought a souvenir t-shirt she said… so here Happy Birthday I guess.”

Later that night we had plans to get caught up with the gang (Team Sandbag) for our annual Team dinner. The past few years we have met at North Peak Brewery and it seemed to be the hot spot to hang for the night. Cold beers flowed nice and big time bull shit stories started to come out about the race in the morning. It was an early night for us and back to the hotel to rest.

I woke up early Saturday to whistling wind and snow flying outside. The temps were stuck at about 30 degrees or so and were only suppose to reach a high of 39 later that afternoon. The snow had settled on the grass just enough to give it a white tint of color. The cold sleet and rain is what I was worried about. It did not let up all morning and I knew the trail was going to be a mess at 2:30pm (start time) after 4,500+ riders already ventured through the woods.

We went to breakfast at the local Omelet Shop restaurant enjoyed a warm coffee and another great meal together. We made our plans for the day of the regular Ice Man logistics; including drop off, pick up, parking, gear bags, bike gear, beer, and so on.

Early afternoon we headed to downtown Kalkaska, MI. This is where the starting line is. Per usual I was early… I hate to be rushed especially when the competitive butterflies are already buzzing around. We parked the Jeep and I started to fumble with my gear and MTB a bit. I gave a few Dude nods to those that passed. It didn’t take long for the parking area to fill up. The industry rigs starting pulling in the parking lot. I noticed license plates from across the Country and beyond. Yes, even a few Olympians, National Champions, World Cup Racers and more. Kind of cool to see their pro prep routine prior to a race like this… between you and me they do the same thing we do. Scope the parking lot to see who’s there to battle today, adjust their bikes, piss seven times, shit twice, get dressed in their lycra pajama’s and high five their pals.

The top seeded “Rider Call-Ups” started and I just finished my short warm-up. Off to the back of the pack for me. I lined up, took a quick look around and just smiled. I was a skinny old guy from a small town about to pedal with the World’s Greatest XC MTB Athletes in a grueling 30mile off-road race. I saw Renee standing along the startling line fence she smiled and wished me well. The gun went off and down the road we boogied.

I did the same Pro / Cat 1 start last year so I knew the pace was going to be wicked fast from the get-go. I looked down at my Garmin and was going about 30mph and I was barely pedaling. The draft pulled me to the trail. I rode the first few miles in the back of the pack and it took all I had just to do that. I have a HUGE amount of respect for those athletes who can push themselves at that mad pace for hours on end…AWESOME. 

I settled in a small group of about 6 or so. I’m pretty sure we all knew we were there just to help each other and get in the fastest race time we could muster that day. I teamed up with a guy from Chicago riding a Fat Bike, another XC racer from Janesville, WI and a guy from Grand Rapids, MI. I knew where they were from by looking at their kits. The Janesville racer was a good single track rider. He dropped a chain, the Fat Bike guy just got dropped leaving myself and the guy from Grand Rapids. I knew his team - Free Wheeler Bike Shop, but did not recognize him. We made small race conversation and took turns pulling. We were making decent time and both appeared to be in about the same physical shape. 

A mile prior to Williamsburg Rd (17miles in) he said he lost his water bottle. I had already finished one and gave him a swig of my full bottle, then gave him one of my empties and told him to fill it quickly at the top of Williamsburg Rd. The remaining 12-13 miles are the hardest in my opinion. They consist of rolling two-track hills, Anita’s Hill, The Ice Breaker Hill and the finish line single track. We rolled upon all this very quickly. I found myself just in front of the Freewheeler Racer and a few others climbing up Ice Breaker Hill. I knew going into the climb all my TSB pals had set up a hot spot – to hang out and cheer on the last racers of the day. I figured by now most of them had 5 maybe 8 beers each… it was about to get ugly when they knew it was me climbing. They did not disappoint me or the others around at all. They sprayed beer, laughed, heckled, pushed, and cheered for the entire climb. They are some of the best pals a person could ask for!  After wiping the beer from my face I made a hard push to get into the last single track before the few riders behind me approached. I knew it was going to be a muddy mess with no set ride lines. I usually excel at this type of riding and found myself through it pretty easy and to the open two-track I went. With about a ½ mile to go I pedaled has hard as I could and was relieved to see the large FINISH line banner.

I came across the line in 2:07. Not my fastest time at this event, but a decent time given the course conditions and my physical condition or lack of ;) Many people stated an average 10+ minutes or so slower than last years course. I was happy and felt great. I looked through the crowd and Renee was waiting for me with the biggest smile. We spoke earlier that day and I remember telling her I was not going to have any regrets. I’m confident I left it all on the trail for the day. My results… oh, I finished at the bottom of the barrel placing 88th in the Pro / Cat 1 division and 444th out of 3,881 Male Finishers. Thank you Team Sandbag and all the Team sponsors, Macomb Bike & Fitness, and my wife Renee along with my family for all the support in 2012!

I’ll be back to Celebrate MTBing and give the ol’ 30 mile challenge a whirl in 2013, that you can bet your ass on. – No Regrets!


chunky dunker said...

You will always be my hero and someone I look up to! Great race, and thanks for being my pal!

Aryn said...

That may have been the best blog post about a mtb race I have ever read. You are a stand up guy TP and an example all of us should follow.