Thursday, November 12, 2015

Iceman 2015. Bad Dad hammers

Race Report!

Iceman. On my bike, 2 places feel like "home". Potowatami and Iceman. Sure, I have the great privilege of living in a place where people come to vacation -- on their mountain bikes -- but the tall maples, oaks, pines, black dirt, and crisp Midwestern air will always be home.   Iceman is where I got the bug for racing...the big events that bring together all kinds of likeminded, slightly insane people.  Iceman started the journey, has brought me my best friends, and has changed the path of my life in only positive ways.  Not bad for a short little race in crap weather.  As long as I can, I will be coming back.  2015 was looking to be a lot different than 2014...a full drivetrain and brake rebuild was unlikely to be required after this one.   

Iceman Start - like being home
Poto -- there are few better places to fall in love with knobbies

I lined up in 2015 with not much to prove, other than I can have a blast going as fast as I can for something around 2 hours. Go hard, don't crash, thank everyone I could see on the side of the trail, and finish with a smile. Easy goals.

As usual (not always) 900ft started in an earlier wave (but only 5 waves ahead this time), myself along with Dead Blow and Der Roadie were together. Fast Lady, Bike Boy and Captian Sloe were spread out over the next 10 waves.  I was hoping to ride with Der Roadie and Dead Blow a bit, but Iceman does not lend itself to riding with friends.

L to R, Der Roadie, Me, Deadblow at the start  Photo from Madame LaFrench

Start to Dockery (or thereabouts)

Iceman start is a road sprint, with a sharp left hand turn followed by a fast narrowing onto single track. This is very very jittery. Mountain bikers have no idea how to ride in a pack, and even less how to ride on a pace line. This happens at the Whiskey and at Leadville, but both those races don't really have bottlenecks early, so there's less of a mad sprint for the hole shot. They are also a little more self selecting, as 50- and 100- miles at altitude will thin the field a bit. Iceman is dead flat for about 1.5 miles. The goal here is to go out pretty hard, find the wheels and sit 4th or 5th. There are stronger people in the wave, and I planned to take advantage.

At one point Der Roadie said "this is the easy part!". I replied "yeah...just trying to find people who look like they won't crash". Harder than it sounds. As we made the big left hander, I was sitting 10th or so in a line on the right side of the road, behind a woman who kept grabbing her brakes, a guy who kept trying to move up between two pace lines that had formed, and to my left a guy who kept moving up and half-wheeling the pace line to the outside, then dropping back 1/2 a length or more.

I kept waiting for the wheels to touch and peoples race days to end before their tires saw dirt.

Through the miracle of bike racing dynamics and I think Der Roadie letting me in, a gap developed in the left, I jumped in and had a smooth cruise to the right turn hole shot.

Unfortunately, now I was up with the road bikers who heard this was a "road race on dirt" and didn't know how to navigate the sandy 2-track and quick turns. The goal here is to stay upright, keep an escape route open, and position for the 3 or 4 sand hills that are more like cyclocross obstacles than climbs.

My Shadetree setup saved me multiple times. Joey has me on the biggest volume tires that fit my rig, and a new XT 1x11 drivetrain. Pushed outside the 2-track into the grass?  No problem. Bad line in a crowd onto the sand?  No worries. Bad line onto the steepest part of the hill?  Click click with the right thumb, flawless shifting, stand up for 4 turns and leave a whole lot of people with grinding gears and washed out 2.1 tires behind to untangle themselves from each other.

I'm not sure where I lost Der Roadie, but later he told me he had mechanical issues early...fortunately did not end his day.

Pacelineing...until trouble

Popping over Nettie's hill I found 3 guys working a nice pace line. The trail made it hard to rotate in a disciplined way, but we switched off wherever possible. It was great to have this little group and we made great time through the first aid station, and into what we used to call "big ring jam".  I kind wished I had a few more teeth on the ring in this section, as I was spinning pretty fast in the top gear to keep up with the pace line, but fortunately there were enough sandy bits and turns to slow folks down to make it less of a problem.

Then I noticed my brakes and gears were not where I left them. Dammit!  My handle bars were slightly loose and rotating!  I pushed them back into place, and felt a "click" as the stem settled into the grooves on protective material. I was hoping it was a one-timer but I was 99% certain I was going to need to stop. Sure enough, at the next sharp climb my pulling on the bars rotated them back. I was about 1/2 way at this stage.  Some moron must have built the bike up while talking on the phone and drinking a beer Friday.  Oh, that was me?  never mind then.

I resolved to stop at the next intersection with a course volunteer and tighten the bars. I knew I could go for a bit, but no way I could go another hour like this. To my extraordinary luck, the place I pulled over had a guy with a full toolset. Official neutral support!!  Super lucky for me, as it saved me getting the bag open, finding the tool, etc. unfortunately, I was not carrying any "volunteer tips" like I usually do, and I forgot to get his name. But I'll say mr neutral support at about 22K -- you are the MAN!

Yeah Neutral Support past where Williamsburg party used to be...

For the next 2-3 miles I passed people. I had lost my group, and there was lot of traffic. Not enough to bottleneck, but enough that I needed to focus on when to pass and when to wait. I misjudged the skills of one guy in front of me, and hit him pretty hard as he missed his line on one of the "cross obstacle" hills. No damage, but a bit of a bummer to have to put my foot down and run for a bit.

By the time I got to Williamsburg road, I was clear, and riding pretty much alone. Completely strange. 4000 people in this race 1000 had started before me. The race is infamous for its traffic and bottlenecks...and I was pretty much alone.

I kept it pegged and started glancing at the garmin. Hmmm...2:00 ain't happening but 2:15 is a real possibility....maybe even 2:10. I did know this. I was going to get to Mt Gary right on schedule.

Riding through the 2nd aid there was a bit of traffic, which quickly dissipated. I played leap frog with a guy in an Audi kit. He seemed to have more power on the long flats, I would catch and pass him on the punchy climbs or in the space immediately following as he puffed over them a bit.

I cleaned Anita's -- 2nd time ever! -- and glanced at the Garmin. I was starting to feel the effort of pushing hard (zone 4 mostly for you data geeks) for the past hour and 45 minutes. I set my finish goal at 2:10. I might just pull that off.  Passing though the 3rd aid I downed the last of my first bottle (really didn't need that 2nd one) and a bit of GU. Traffic was thick again. I was spending a good amount of energy not hitting people.  The way the course works there would be traffic all the way to the line.

Mt Gary and the Finish

I crossed Lands End road and got a smile on my face. 3 turns and about 90 seconds away was the top of Mt Gary!  Of course none of them saw me, despite my identifying sticker. No worries though, by subtly steering my bike right at them, the gang figured out I was there.

Up the woodchips and into the barriers through the single track. Then one more hard effort up the Icebreaker. I crossed the final timing mat at 2:08. 3 minutes. Time for a finish kick!  Stand up, and gears...and no kick. Nothing. I was moving, but a finish sprint this was not.  I tried cramps...not a lot of pain, just no more power to be had.  I made the big right hand turn to see the finish banner and made the line in 2:13. That's a PR, and that felt good.

Just a little confused at the finish
900Ft was hanging out at the finish line and called out as I crossed.  Somewhat thankfully, he had not had time to change yet.  I found some Drunkcyclists (always nice to have friends anywhere you go...just look for the colors!) and shared a few shots of Fireball provided for just such a purpose by Der Roadie.  

I even got to hug Steve Brown, which I think he found disturbing.  This is serious business after all.

Another great day on the bike, courtesy of Steve Brown (who takes way too much crap for the amazing race he puts on every year), great friends, (even a new one named Carl courtesy of DC and Dirty) and the beauty that is Northern Michigan.  The only sadness is that it takes another whole year for Iceman to roll around again.  

I can't wait.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Iceman 2015. Mt Gary comes of age.

This is all Very Serious

Bike racing is serious business best undertaken by serious men, and seriouser women.  Cheering at a bike race must follow certain established rules and decorum, and must remind all participants of their suffering. After all this is serious business.

Before we get into too much, 900ft shot this sweet video of the course.  It's just over 2 min of your life.  Watch it:

Iceman 2015 hosted by Dead Blow and Tickleticklepuke and as always enabled by the Iceman himself was a fantastic addition to the series.

For the racers, conditions were near perfect.  The just right amount of rain kept the sand in check without creating mud bogs. Hero dirt on the climbs virtually eliminated wheel slip, translating to descents with the left hand wrapped around the bar, and just a little braking for us cowards. Skies were overcast steel grey Midwestern fall, letting loose some rain and sleet as racers dressed for a 40 degree start to feel uncomfortably warm

Serious Men
Putting the hammer down off the line and keeping it pinned as much as possible left one pretty clammy at the finish. Those November North Michigan temps quickly turned the finisher into an ice cube, looking for a recovery beverage and a trademark Iceman bonfire to warm up and dry off.

Bad Dad Recovering
Wool hats and puffy coats were probably best for spectating.
Unless the coat needed to be shed to allow some ventilation for efforts incurred while screaming for world class pros like Chloe, Georgia, Katerina, and Evelyn, plus some dudes with names like Troy, Todd, Brian...

Pretty sure this sign pushed Chloe onto the top step
I am fully confident the Mt Gary crew made the ride for some racers.  Maybe some didn't like it -- after all, this is serious business. Can't say any definitive moves were made at our little patch of awesomeness -- too far from the finish really -- but more than a few gave us a smile, a wheelie or a fist pump. We were only flipped off once, we think.

Troy, Brian, Geoff, Todd...
Cheering for the fast women and very serious men who amaze us with their feats of aerobic intensity and quads of steel is certainly a fun time.  If we've done it right, those folks will think to themselves "Iceman...shitty weather, kinda short, kinda flat course, a long way from where I am....but I'm not missing out on my icemaniac love this year!" Those fast women and serious men will drag themselves out of the mountains of Arizona and Colorado again next fall. We'll be there, on My Gary, and it will be very serious. Very. Serious. Indeed.

Of course there's the Mt Gary friends and family.  Bad Dad, 900ft, Dead Blow, Captain Sloe, Der Roadie, Fast Lady (hello...3rd in her category), and Bike Boy all made it happen this year.  Of course there is The Elder.  Who, at 13 finished...ummm.....faster than all of us, and 2nd in his age group.  Barely 90 seconds off the lead.  I heard he rides a 1x10, but only uses 7-10.  Somebody get that boy a bigger chainring.  It was probably his sister in the "Unicorn" suit that gave him those last few watts. 

Fast Lady on the Barrel!

The Elder.  He's on the right.  He'll get a few more

There's another element to Mt Gary. By 12:30 or so all of the racer boys and fit chicks have come through. They're clicking their Garmins, seeing if they got a new PR, realizing they lost to their buddy by under 3 minutes AGAIN (3 god damn minutes. 2:45 actually. Did I mention the 2:13:30 was a PR?  And that I had to stop and tighten my handlebars about mile 10, which took about 3 minutes?  Ok, back to the point). They're downing Bell's, taking selfies and checking the leader boards to see if they made the podium and calculating their wave starts for next year.

Bad Dad and 900ft Post Race

That's when the heroes show up. The people who have to work for this.

First timers at Iceman who were pretty sure they could get their mountain bike from Kalkaska to Traverse City. People who have had Iceman in their "maybe one day" list for years. People who move more mass than 2 of those racer boys (and their bikes) put together. People with grand kids. Great grand kids. People who have taken 4 shots at Iceman and dammit, they are going to finish this year. Guys racing with their dads. The guy has kids.  People who are going to F-ING KILL their friend who told them this would be fun, then dropped them on Nettie's hill, 3 miles into the race.

These folks make the downhill left hander after the short sharp uphill from the road, drift into the uphill left-right S turn that starts the 1/3 mile climb, and stop. They are finished. This hill, which you cannot see the top of from the base (the only one I can think of at iceman) is a freakin' wall at Mile 28. They pull their feet off the pedals, look up, drop their head, and start pushing. Some sit down. Some eat something. Most get the zombie-look of someone who just wants it to end. Those who do stay on their bikes are spinning a 1:3 gear as hard as they can, and they just keep moving.

This is where we come in.

These people get cheers. They get encouragement. They get vuvuzuela-ed.  They are told there is beer and water at the top (there is, really) and they get a push if they can mount up. Sometimes we help them find an inhaler. We help them get a GU or a sandwich out of their packs. We also let them know they need to keep moving. Because we know, you can't give up. They made the cut off at Williamsburg road...maybe just barely. But they need to keep racing. Even 3 miles from the finish at the bottom of the hill, the sweep is coming. The quad sweeper and the Motos that clear the way for those who take this hill in 45 seconds or less while talking to their neighbor or pulling a wheelie are coming fast behind...and these folks want and need to finish.

Most of the gang has DNFd iceman one year or another. Some of us more than once. We cheer for these people so that today it won't be DNF for them.  After all, these folks had the guts to start, they need to finish. No DNF. Not once you get to Mt Gary.  Feel the love.  See you 11/5/16

Showing the Love

900ft.  moving his small mass

Captain Sloe worked traffic all day pulled a PR

Dead Blow.  Hammer wrapped in a sandbag

Bike Boy and his Baggies

Sweep Marhall gets Love too!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Iceman is here

This is it.

It's Iceman week.

I love this week.

I love this week because I am so excited.  Yes, I get pretty damn excited for The Whiskey.  I take the entire week off to go to Leadville.  both of those races the week before is more like "HOLY CRAP I HAVE TO RIDE THAT THING ON SATURDAY!"  I seriously want to crap my pants the entire week before The Whiskey and Leadville.   

There is no fear of Iceman.  There is no dread.  No concern of "do I have it in me?"  Iceman is an old friend.  I know her turns and hills, though they change every year.  She has stopped trying to kill me, and just likes to remind me who's really stronger these days.  Truth is, I'm just getting this 45 year old body over the abuse I put it through starting in February and going until mid August 15 in Leadville.  I stretched that peak another 2 weeks, and was so ready for Barnburner on August 29 that when it was canceled, I cried a bit.  Then I danced.  

But now, now I am going home.  Back to Michigan.  Back to where it's cold in November.  Where your tires roll on black dirt, and I recognize friends old, older, new and newer at every turn on the course.  Back to the race that kept me turning pedals for many years.  Back to the first place where I felt the kinship of the 2 wheel dirtbags.  

I can say this race has brought me much closer to a few of my friends, and has introduced me to people I plan to call my friends for a very long time.  And for that, I go back every year.  Yeah, it's a pain.  Yeah, it's a short race.  Yeah, the weather stinks.  Yeah, I need to drive, fly, sleep, drive just to get to where I shipped my bike.  Then build, get packet, eat, drink, sleep, wake, drive, RACE, finish, party, sleep, wake, drive, fly... 

And I'm not trading it for anything.

Life has changed over the past 20 years since I first did this thing.  I've lost family and friends to age and accidents.  Gained friends and family in the usual ways.  I've changed myself quite a bit, and so has the gang I roll with.

Iceman used to be the longest event on all our calendars.  "EPIC" 30 miles through the woods in Northern Michigan.  Yeah...that's a nice warm up these days.  I don't mind admitting it.  It's true for all of the guys I ride with.  Perhaps we're older, wiser, more stubborn...everyone is coming into this year's race with multiple 100 milers under their belt this season. Everyone is fast as they have ever been....and the energy put into the post-party seems to inexplicably go up and up and up.  And that is a great thing.

So here's to Iceman.  Here's to Steve Brown.  To Northern Michigan.  To friends.  To family.

See you all in 2 days.

There's at least this many more in the house somewhere.  And one in Dave's Garage