Reflections on the CRUSHER
Dan and Leslie Phillips
As we rode my wife stated that she felt that the Crusher was a metaphor for our marriage. It was a team effort, yet neither of us could do our part for the other, nor do it without our teammate. We relied on one another for emotional support, mental endurance, physical encouragement , and spiritual unity. Looking back at the event, it’s interesting to see the parallels of the metaphoric ways our adventure mirrors our life together. The initial 10-20miles seemed to just fly by with the sheer excitement that we were “doing it”. Additionally, due to the route we had decided to navigate (100mile race in reverse) we hit 2 mandatory checkpoints fairly easily.
However, amidst this “honeymoon phase” we received a desperate phone call from our babysitter stating that she and the kids were locked out of the camper in their PJs She explained that they had gone out to walk the dog quickly, and our youngest had incidentally closed the door that was still locked from when we had left at 5am that morning. A quick wave of panic broke into a surf of problem solving and we identified a safe and easy way for them to “break into” the camper, which was successfully navigated. The rest of the day back at camp with the kids went more smoothly. However this was just beginning for us—as we settled into a
steady pace along the infamous Red Road.
About 3-4hrs into our expedition we found ourselves joining about 4 other teams at the furthest mandatory checkpoint, “Mulligan’s Stump” in the middle of what felt like a UP version of a desert. It was sandy plain—a waste land of stumps and mostly dead, fallen trees in a basin that was obviously the watershed of the surrounding area. This was a pivotal point. We now had 3 of 4 mandatory checkpoints—we needed to travel no further if we did not want. In fact we could have hedged our adventure, pedaled the 30 or so miles back to the Forestville area, double backed to the “Top of the World” and likely have crossed the finish just after
lunch—event done, all the right boxes checked, and we likely would have come away from it all in a very safe, comfortable, calculated manner. Yet, this was not what our hearts and minds were set on because we would have felt discontented; having risked very little, challenged ourselves mildly and thus finished, but left with a desire to want more—to have grown together in pushing towards what unforeseen difficulties we would overcome and highlights we were to celebrate—fostering a strength in unity, the pressures of which would create a smokey diamond. A stone that would be unlike any other and that would be forged by an experience
unlike any other. So we decided to press on.
We jumped on our bikes leaving most of the other teams still deliberating over navigation, pedaling towards the obvious wilderness and rugged terrain that was only
emphasized by the topo maps as an extreme ridge. Our next goal was to find Pinnacle Falls. This name was a foreshadowing of what we were about to endure. As we followed the pre-loaded route my wife noted: “We are going to run out of road …we’re sure this is the way?!” I responded “well…our navigational route hasn’t let us down yet (and by the way, it seemed that most of the other teams were really struggling with navigation), so let’s stay the course…”. And we did.
The sandy two track “road” gave way to lesser traveled double track path that entered the forest. As it meandered and gained some elevation, we noticed the sharp increase in biting black flies and relentless mosquitoes. Both were mostly kept at bay due to our speed. Then we hit a point where we weren’t sure if we needed to keep going as the forest thickened and the double track became more overgrown. Together we decided to cast off our increasing concerns about where this path was leading us and continued to pressed on. Just as we were reaching a ravine filled with boulders the size of car tires another team of two middle aged men caught up
to us. We conferred with them about “where we are”, and concluded much to our dismay that the treacherous route before us was in fact “the narrow way” up the rugged ridge before us. Not only was this ravine riddled with rocks, slippery roots, and mudholes the size of backyard swimming pools, but it was our deduction that it also serves as Todd’s secret breeding ground for all of 906’s veracious black flies and vampire-like mosquitos. We trudged, hike-a-biked, stumbled, and labour upwards for the better part of an hour. All while trying not become crazed at the incessant onslaught of bloodthirsty insects.
I would liken this past section of the race to the hardest parts of marriage, when the demands of parenting young kids, both working full time jobs, and just managing daily life seems to be an ever-present uphill battle which threatens to put you in an arm-bar hoping you’ll tap out. It is a time that also forces you to evaluate yourself and what your able to give to your helpmate when your struggling and barely feel like your making it through each step you need to take. Yet with intentionality, hope for what can and will be, a willingness to persevere—to accept the momentary pain and trial to be the crucible that refines you—it gives way to refreshing waters.
As we crested the ridge we found ourselves confronted with the crux of the work we had done; a clear quickly flowing river (Yellow Dog) of refreshment that was only emphasized by Todd’s drop trailer stashed full of refueling goods and fellow crusher participants’ adventure indulgences. We crossed the cool river waters which felt relieving to our hot blistered feet and now burning muscles. As much as our stop felt like a much needed oasis, our desired destination was actually slightly further away than it had been when we were at the bottom of the ridge because in our meanderings of following the dreaded “Mosquito Gulich” it had veered us off to the west of where the falls were.
After regrouping we reoriented discovering that if we followed a couple of roads we would find our way to the falls proper. Pedalling down the dusty roads following hand-made wooden signs we arrived at a point where we then had to dismount and hike a primitive footpath. As we rounded a ledge the path gave way to a breath-taking 30’+ cascading waterfalls. This was Pinnacle Falls, which was also one of the furthest bonus checkpoints. We spent a few minutes being in the moment and enjoying the majestic beauty that we found ourselves in—it made our recent difficulties seem distant and worthwhile. A short steep hike up (although my wife’s blisters attempted to make it seem longer) we saddled up the bikes and began churring the cranks once again. This time our way was markedly easier being that we
were following a county roadway labelled “AAA”. We made good time as we moved along the rolling hills towards “Gobbler’s Knob” aka Thomas Rock lookout. This stop too, was easily obtained but also provide perspective on how high we were now, especially as we overlooked Lake Independence with Mother Superior as the backdrop. Now we had achieved 5 checkpoints and were hopeful about the fact that we might be able to make all 8.
With a couple miles of paved backtracking we were back to dirt road “highway” 510, (It goes without saying that Todd is known for understating what the reality of his race courses contain!) that was to lead us back to Forestville. We had obtained the furthest checkpoints, addressed the most grueling terrain, so now we were on cruise control. Our focus now we was on the task of finding the Todd’s version of the “Fountain of Youth” aka the FU spigot. Racer lore from other teams was that this was the most elusive of all the checkpoints, but were unphased, even welcoming of the challenge of vigilance and navigation, versus the physically and emotionally draining punishment we endured earlier. To my wife’s credit, thanks to her gifts of 20/10 eyesight and attention to details she spotted it! We were elated and celebrated our success like we had won the Tour De France with a bottle of champagne splashing about us. With renewed vigor and some of the best water we have had, we set out for our last checkpoint, which was the last mandatory one and happened to be the closest to Forestville.
Again likened to marriage, we not only suffered together, but revelled in our successes; celebrating not just the fact that we had worked through things that were hard, but also enjoying each other’s strengths. This continues to draw us together. Celebrating together restored hope and revitalized our focus on the essence of why we’re doing this crazy race—to adventure together. In unity to persevere together, to uphold one another, and ultimately challenge ourselves to be more of us. But our journey was not over. Our zeal faded as we cranked over each mile and hill of the dirt road. Eventually we found ourselves closing in on Forestville Rd. Now our greater foe began to emerge—time. We stopped at the unexpected aid station located at the intersection of 510/Noquemanon Trail Head. We had thought to take the trail system back to Forestville but were told that we could not because it crossed some private land that was “off limits” for the race. So we worked to make as much time up on the pavement that 510 finally gave way to. Thankfully there also was a good bit of downhill to the intersection of where we picked up Forestville Rd. We pounded the pedals as much as our tired bodies would allow towards our last checkpoint: “Top of the World”. At this point navigation was easy, it was just the grueling nature of riding all day and still having another 5-6 miles to go most of which felt like it was uphill.
With the suffer meter in the red-zone as we past the finishing area in order to reach our destination we verbally debated for a brief moment if we should just “call it.” Yet neither of us slowed or veered from continuing to see if we could eek out the last checkpoint and just make the cutoff time. The next few miles were ridden in more silent solidarity than anything, with the knowledge that we were likely not going to make the 12hr cutoff. But it didn’t deter us. Our selfie was indicative of our status in that we hardly could smile as we snapped the shot as proof of our checkpoint being obtained. With less than 20 minutes to make it back, which was
primarily uphill, we mustered our strength and headed to the finish line. Try as we might we couldn’t pedal it fast enough and came in 8min late.
Although, as reflected later, we might have made it in the timeframe had we started earlier (as my wife noted), or had not made some of the stops we did for as long as we did we might have “made it.” As we entered the finishing area, Stacie remarked that she too was disappointed that due to just missing the cutoff she could not give us the commemorative mug, but emphasized that we finished! Not only had we finished, but we also had finished with 7 out of 8 checkpoints, and all mandatory checkpoints. Most importantly we had finished together. As we reflected at times during our week long vacation in the aftermath of the Crusher, we came to identify that really we were proud of ourselves. We choose together to intentionally engage in challenging ourselves. We trained together, we planned and prepared—together, utilizing each other’s strengths and gifts. We fostered grit, not just in the race, but in the months and weeks that lead up to it. In navigating real life—raising kids, working jobs, making decisions, taking on the numerous responsibilities of daily life, while addressing injuries (dislocated shoulder, and a broken elbow for my wife over the 6 months prior, 4-5 months of rehabing an ankle injury that impacted my whole right leg), dealing with uncontrollable circumstances (son getting Lyme’s disease 4 weeks prior, having our basement flood 15min before we left the house to drive up) as well as navigating some of the hardest times in our
marital relationship all in the time leading up to the race—our Crusher was, and has always been more than a 12hr adventure gravel race cooked up by a man blamed for his ability to help people willingly submit themselves to suffering.
Our Crusher has always been about doing life together; working to be forged in our marriage and through the experiences we encounter as we adventure through life to be better versions of ourselves. To be “pressed on all sides, yet not crushed…” so as to become a rare smokey diamond in a world that toutes the glimmer and glamor of clearly defined, easy to find, and calculated shiny objects.