Start to Checkpoint 1: Overall, good start to the race. We had a nice mellow pace up Brockway and heartily laughed at all the dummies hauling ass off the start. We figured we would pass them all again later, and some of them we did. Morning was beautiful and the sun peaked up to a glorious day. Temperatures started nice and cool and we felt great off the start. Got connected with Josh and the three of us rode for a while. Did a lot of leapfrogging of a nice group of us including Kenny and Luke, the two couples on tandems with their posse and others. Got to ride some nice beach sand near Lac La Belle and climbed our legs off at Gratiot Lake rd. My compatriots started dragging a bit at this point as we rolled into Phoenix and Josh needed to stop for provisions at the literal general store at the corner. Eric and I continued on and followed the trio including Sean up the mini gulch climb towards checkpoint 1. We got all turned around looking for the checkpoint and luckily, Josh caught us and directed us to the correct spot where we got our pics. Probably added 30 minutes and a few miles, but not horrible. Nice overlook and then a rip downhill to meet up with the wife.
Toward Checkpoint 2: Katie had a ton of Gatorade for all of us with a bunch of delicious wraps which Josh was happy to partake in. Eric worked on stuffing in a bagel, which was all I had seen him eat since the previous day and it didn’t go down well. We learned at this point that our beacons weren’t working, and it showed that most of us were still in Copper Harbor and this made it particularly difficult for Katie to keep tabs on us. While hanging out here, the tandems and others passed on and headed out on Cliff dr. We jumped back on the bikes and rolled out. It was about now that the temperatures really started to climb and the exposed areas on this section started to hit us pretty good. Just outside of Bumbletown, we climbed a gravel, sandy slog in the hot sun and I dove under an apple tree at the top waiting for the rest of my crew. While there, a couple other folks took shelter with me from the heat. Josh and Eric joined me, and they were really feeling the heat at this point. Eric still wasn’t eating much. We carried on and got through Calumet and eventually made it to the next checkpoint. While we took some selfies of the old potato barn, Eric rested his head on his bars. It was not looking super great at this point. But 2/2 so far…
To the Bridge: Even before we hit Calumet, Josh started whining about ice cream. He became a man possessed once we left the second checkpoint, but at least it was something to keep him moving. Had a couple nice views as we rolled into Hancock and then got to fly down toward the bridge. I was less excited on the descent as I should have been since I was dreading the climb back up. Made a quick pit stop at the Krist in Hancock just barely avoiding being squarshed into pancakes so Josh could get his ice cream. I’ll admit, it was refreshing as the day was about as hot as it was going to get at this point. We carried on to the bridge and got some selfies and then headed onward to the aid at chutes and ladders park.
Interlude-Grilled cheese and pickles: First thing I did after exiting my bike was walk to the water and dunk my head in the canal. It felt good and I encouraged my posse to do the same. We all got some amazing grilled cheese sammies and some pickles, coke and chips. They hit the spot much more than I expected them to. I glanced over at Eric and saw his sandwich completely untouched after about 20 minutes and saw the writing on the wall. Despite my attempts at encouragement, it wasn’t going to happen for Eric, and we made the decision to call Katie to come up and pick him up. In the meantime, I did my best to get Josh to get moving, but he was struggling to get his things together as well. He spent a lot of his time eating, chatting and generally not focusing on the task at hand. Overriding all of this was the intense need for him to take a dump and there was a perpetual line to the bathroom it seemed. Anyway, we finally got him all settled and headed out on the long and arduous climb out of Houghton.
Troubles in Toivola: Climb, climb, climb. Finally got out of Houghton on what appeared to be the Iron Ore Heritage Trail. There were multiple times I thought I was in Negaunee. Anyway, got out to South Range and had some more snacks from Katie, then we pressed on. Did a stupid climb up to the top of a bluff just west of town and then had to hammer down some absurd sandy descents. It was here that we ran into some difficulties. Josh launched a stick up into his derailleur and that was that. I was in front of him and got to hear a cacophony of howling “why oh why’s” and screeching “no no no’s!!” We were able to bend it out just enough to get it rideable in the lowest gear and hobbled the 4 miles out to M26. The one lucky thing was we had enough service to reach Katie to get her to turn around and pick up Josh. After that point, I was on my own until L’Anse.
Farmville: The next section was probably my favorite of the entire ride. The temperatures finally started cooling off a bit and the terrain was nice. I had no idea there was so much farmland outside of L’Anse. I also absolutely hammered the pace as I was really trying to catch up to some folks so I wouldn’t be forced to ride into the night by myself. More foreshadowing: I didn’t end up catching anybody until L’Anse, so it was 50 miles solo. It was nice though. Sun was setting over these nice farm fields and it was just me and my thoughts. I did run into a nice guy standing in the middle of N Laird Rd. Just standing there holding his bike not moving right on the center line. I pulled over and asked, “need anything?” His reply: “nope.” After a moment of silence I asked, “you ok?” He replied, “I’m fine, I’m just done.” Apparently, he had decided that he was no longer riding, but was also no longer moving his legs at all. The story was that he gave up a few miles back and was walking and once he got to a slightly larger road, he refused to move any further because he found a spot with no bugs and wasn’t interested in moving past it. So then I asked, “did you call somebody?” The reply came: “got nobody to call.” I did my best to provide assistance, but eventually decided that this guy was a grown adult and was going to figure something out on his own and decided to pedal on. Turns out he did survive. More about this later on…
Finally hit the trail along the Menge Creek as blackness engulfed me. This bit was brutal as it was dark and constant up and down through deep sand. I kept thinking that I would see L’Anse right around the corner, but this section just kept going on and on. But finally, I dumped out onto the metropolis of L’Anse and climbed toward the hilltop. It was a surreal experience not seeing another human being for the last 4 hours and then suddenly seeing people and bikes everywhere. There were crowds of riders, bikes and their crews all over under the lights of the highway in what I would imagine being normally a quiet section of road. I rolled into Hilltop and was happy to see Bill and Katie with food.
The Hilltop: As usual, my support crew was amazing. I had a nice comfy chair set out and I collapsed into it with a nice plate of turkey wrap with guac, some chips and a big cookie. It felt great. It was at this point that I was really starting to feel some fatigue. I think this was right around midnight. There was a man next to me sitting in his truck making some difficult life decisions. Katie mentioned that he had been there for quite a while agonizing over what to do next. I felt for him, but it never really affected me. There was never a point when I thought about giving up. So, after sitting around for a good 20 minutes or so, Kenny Peterson came over and asked if I was heading back out. After answering in the affirmative, we decided that since we were both orphans from our previous riding crews, it might make sense to attempt the remaining 100+ miles together. So, with minor scrambling to get things together, we packed up and started our trip up to Arvon, which would be my first experience climbing this peak. And to be honest, here’s hoping it is my last as well.Ascending Arvon: This was tough. Pretty constant climb over relatively technical terrain. The first bit was through a swamp with such significant overgrowth it was not rideable. The actual climb was doable, but hard. Saw a handful of folks getting all turned around and walking up to the peak, but once we finally got to the top, it was a pretty nice atmosphere. The grill was fired up and the music was pumping. I think this was about 4am by the time we reached the summit. Had a hot dog and a coke and we got ready to head back out. Saw a group of three guys rolling out some sleeping bags, which I was surprised by, but I guess I’m weird. I grabbed a coke for the road and off we went. The descent that I was hoping for never came as it seemed like we just kept climbing and climbing even after leaving the “highest point in Michigan.” Maybe I was hallucinating…
Breakfast: Slowly morning started to creep in as we entered the triple A. This was mostly smooth, but some chunky bits were had by all. To be honest, I really don’t remember a whole lot from this part of the ride. Not infrequently did I catch myself dozing off. I don’t know how I could come so close to sleeping while still pedaling and being in so much pain, but it was a weird time. I do remember enjoying the hazy sunrise over the open dirt and appreciating the view despite how much my ass hurt. Passed a couple of ladies packing up their tent on a rocky flat area in their hot pink race kits as the sun rose. They would eventually catch us and leapfrog a bit for most of the morning. After a couple of rocky bouncy descents, we came across a man and woman whom we hadn’t seen since the long climb near Calumet. She was walking and had cashed in her chips. The enhanced gravel was too much for her back I guess unfortunately. The man she was riding with went off for help and was gone in a flash. Eventually we caught back up to him as we came up to the mine where he was able to get some service and appeared to be working on setting up a ride. We grabbed a little water quick and pressed on. Eventually I ran into my in-laws who had a nice setup at somewhere around the intersection of AAA and IAA. They had some awesome breakfast sandwiches with eggs, cheese and bacon which were divine. Kenny opted for just a cup of coffee. I was really needing some caffeine, but I just couldn’t stomach the coffee so I had to hold out for some coke hopefully soon. Ran into a woman who had apparently been waiting for 6 hours for her crew to come out of the AAA. Through some conversation and deduction regarding appearance and race kit colors, we figured out that the lady she was waiting for was the same one we had passed about 10 miles back. Interestingly, the dude I ran into out on Laird rd. was with her and looking much better. Apparently, he hitched a ride with a random into Baraga and snagged a motel room to sleep for a bit. They both loaded up to head off for the rest of their crew and we continued into the heat of the day.
Snowmobile 5: I’ve ridden this stretch a few times so was familiar with this bit for the next big chunk. Nonetheless, I was still a little surprised how long it seemed. It seems longer and longer every time I do it. Lots of ups and downs. Mostly ups it seemed like. The nice cool morning was just starting to warm up as it was about climb over 90 again for the second day in a row. The butt pain was so bad by this point that it was just forced torture. My wrists were pretty shot by this point as well. Especially the left. While I was whining, I had to remind myself that at least I had some nice tires. Kenny was on these tiny little things and this section of chunky fast descents were tough on him. However, he’s a lot younger than me, so maybe that made us more even. Crossed the creek and Kenny took over the navigating. We were basically in his backyard for the rest of the ride and that was helpful. I don’t know where we were really, but at some point we passed Kenny’s folks place I guess. Later, we passed the last aid station where we bad mouthed Todd for awhile which was refreshing, and I finally got my coke. Kenny’s wife found us at this point and decided to join us for the rest of the ride. It was nice to have another person to chat with. It’s amazing how much you can bond with people when you are put in such extreme situations. I felt really close to Kenny and Mary after the ride and we had a lot of great conversations. They really seemed to be some of the greatest people I’ll ever meet. But I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. Life is weird that way.
Clowry: Dumped out onto the Peshekee Grade, which I am ashamed to admit was my first time on it. What a glorious bit of trail. This was absolutely a beautiful bit of riding and I’m excited to explore this again when I get the chance. Sadly, we were only on it briefly and I was too sore to really appreciate how inspiring it was. It might be that in retrospect, it was severely negatively overshadowed by the next bit of garbage that we rode which was awful railroad grade and swamp. So many stupid little bumps that just sent horrible shocking pain right through my ass with every pedal. Really just horrible torture now. At least it was also hot as balls and humid as hell. It was definitely the worst part of the day to hit this bit. Luckily, we came out and bumped into my wife with the kids and some friends with food and water. Kenny had a friend there who had soaking wet towels in his freezer which he draped over us. This was absolutely heaven. I’ll have to remember this trick. We left my family for the last time before the finish. After this, we climbed around for a while on some more chunky stuff, I guess. I honestly don’t even remember this, but I sure as shit remember the horrible railroad grade again, which was just as bad as the last bit. Flat, hot and sandy.
The End: Of course, we finally came out in Ishpeming and headed over for last bluff. I realize Todd had to deal with a lot of shit for this, but I really liked it. Obviously it sucked, but I think that’s kind of the point. Also, it was actually about 95% rideable, even on a fully rigid loaded bike. Again, not enjoyable, and I really was missing my dropper post, but challenging. Finally had to plow through some weeds which were over my head and itchy and rolled the rest of the way to the finish. We laid around Al Quaal with a few folks and enjoyed the time out of saddles, but it didn’t last. We couldn’t stay too long or I would end up being unarousable, so we loaded up and headed to the beach. I had a nice rinse in the lake and then it was off to home.
Final thoughts: Why? I have had a lot of people ask me this. Looking back on it, I guess I have a hard time figuring it out as well. After a full month, I still have neuropathy of my left palm, though I’m hopeful that this will get better. I was always one to scoff at marathoners pooping their pants and tour racers and their ridiculous spandex. I never would have imagined doing something so epic. Really even up until a year or so ago. As Wesley said, I guess it comes down to the pain. I have had the great fortune to have had a wonderful life with minimal stress and strife. I’ve never had the misfortune of knowing true pain. How much can I truly empathize with others if I haven’t experienced this? Isn’t life that much sweeter after having had to sacrifice and endure such an overwhelming experience. I know for sure that I won’t experience childbirth. Does this endeavor equate these things? Certainly not, and I wouldn’t slight any of these things by trying. However, it’s about as hard as I can push myself to get through something truly difficult. Maybe in the future when I am dealing with something horrible, I can look back and read through this and help put my life back in perspective. For now, I’m going to enjoy telling the story and being appreciative of the fact that I am lucky to be have so many great things in my life that have afforded me the opportunity to live through such a rewarding experience.