Ahhh the sandy shores of upper Michigan. I should have remembered from an Iceman past that the terra not so firma that makes up the last knuckle of the mitten state is comprised completely of sand. Good news if you are about to receive 11 inches of rain in one night. Not so good if you are a fan of free rolling tires. The lumberjack 100 seems, in retrospect, to be an xc event masquerading as a hundie. Sure, its 100 miles, but the draw for most of us ultra endurance fringe freaks is the joy of a single 100 mile loop without retreading trail simply to make mileage. Its why a road plagued event like Cohutta (barely) makes the grade, and even the road friendly Mohican is a favorite among a lot of the riders. Exploration. Treading new ground. Even if you do these events year after year, you can't possibly remember every mile of a hundie course.
I remember every pain staking, sandy, sleep inducing, vanilla flavored inch of the Big M mountain bike loop. Four 25 mile laps, and a slim 9,000 or so feet of climbing means that this is more of a mental event than anything else. If you can stay awake, and push yourself through sand and pine monotony, the race is yours. I wasn't up to the task.
The race started with a 1.5 mile dead flat road start. I hung with a large group of 20 or so mostly geared riders for about a mile of it, and then slowly drifted backwards through the pack as my RPMs dropped below 120. The funnel jam started right into the trail, and I made an aggressive 20 person jump up the rough, and hit the bottom of the first sandy jog, using my one speed jogging skills to pass a few more people. Through the first lap I rode with Chip, holding the wheel of this geared pack or that, slowly leapfrogging to faster and faster cohorts. Chip and I made it through camp, running 6th and 7th.
Lap two started, and on the sandy run up I stopped to confirm that I had broken a spoke somewhere in the first lap. A quick twist solved the rattling, not the wobbling, but beggars shan't be choosers and I saddled up again and took off after Chip. Suddenly all my brain could think of was that my camelbak was open and I was dropping tools (which happened at Mohican). Determined not to lose another set of steel cores, I stopped to confirm this second problem, which turned out to be my imagination...or the first sign that I was bored enough to look for an excuse to stop spinning. After all this nonsense I worked really hard to chase Chip down, passing a carbon Fisher onespeeder in the process. I came up on Chip pretty quickly, sat in for a bit on a geared wheel, and tried to rest to make a move. Chip pulled over to let me pass and I took off, on a really slow section. I think the fact that I saw him on my wheel 2 minutes later, after i just worked 35 to track him down, took its toll. We rolled through lap 2, Chip in 6th and I in 5th.
IMMEDIATELY into Lap 3 I was sick of it. Chip was gone by the top of the run up, and I was the comatose star of my own soap opera; hanging in there just enough in case they needed me for another season. By some miracle no onespeeders passed me during my extended third trip around the course, but I had certainly set my self up for failure. I think the third lap was the toughest mentally. I thought going into the event that seeing the car at mile 75 would break me. Nope. Riding the uneventful trail, forgetting at times which blah part I was in, but knowing that I had to ride this section or that AGAIN in 2 hours was really tough. I continued because I had spent money to enter the race, because I spent money to get to the race, because I may skip Wilderness in favor of ORAMM, but not because I was enjoying a day on my bike. Far from it.
I started lap 4 with a resupply of water, and a little more positivity, saying goodbye to every boring section of speed sapping sand that passed beneath my tires. Michigan local Joe Kucharski passed me while I ate some delicious beef jerky at the Aid, and Salt Lake resident John Schott made an impressive (honestly) post puke attack late in the 4th lap and passed me like I was standing still. I felt a lot better on this lap, but I guess as is typical with any ultra endurance event, the last 25 miles were my slowest, and the lap snuck in just 12 minutes shy of 3 hours.
I was really just happy that I finished. I was the 8th one speed to cross the line, actually 9th, but Dan Jansen rode his 38 x 18 fixed machine in the open category, shunning the opportunity to place amongst his kind and earning him an impressive 21st overall. I was 31st in a line of 128 male finishers, a fairly impressive stat considering the day I had. Here's a fun number, 220 men started the race. That's 92 DNFs. I guess my mental struggle vs. the demons wasn't the only one fought out there that day. This course, with essentially no real discernible climbs, obstacles, technical sections, or fun proves that the ultra endurance games is as much a mental struggle as a physical one.
I'm glad its behind me this season, and with the promoter's hardcore shun of the of single speed category (no prize money for the winners, after bringing in 56 x $125 from the large class, with the bonus audacity to lure more SS riders to the event by calling it the "Michigan Ultra Single Speed Championship"), it'll surely be the last time I race the event. The previous parenthetical rant shall be the inspiration for an upcoming writing, but as I plan to actually get back to updating this blog, the next few weeks will be filled with BC fun, and who knows, a couple pictures might actually grace these wordy pages.