Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Crusher Ride Report

Sometimes you have to feel like you are dying to know you are alive -- Carey Lowery

This is my answer when asked why I do these ginormous adventures by bike.  For me, when I am at the point on my suffer-o-meter that I ask myself, "Can I go on? Do I want to go on?," I am at the most connected with my spirit, my soul.  This is when I am tuned in to the beat of my heart, the inhalation of each breath, the contraction of each muscle as I turn over the pedal.  It is almost as if I am having an out-of-body experience, looking down at myself and into myself.  

I had two of these moments during the Crusher, a 232 mile self-supported gravel ride from Copper Harbor to Marquette, in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  There were no course markings and a GPS was required to navigate.  I carried two devices, a Garmin Etrex 30x and a Garmin Edge 830.  What you needed for nutrition, I had to carry, purchase along the way, or scoop out of a lake or mud hole.  

When I initially heard about this race back in the winter, I thought it would be way more fun to have a riding partner. It didn't take much to get Lisa Randall to commit.  I had her, the southern Princess of Adventure, at self-navigation and a long-ass time on the bike  AND, she was able to wrangle her husband into chauffeuring us 1000 miles up to the start, as well as being on standby to rescue us from the Yooper wilderness should we have to bail.  

Fun is my second answer to the question, "Why?"  There is absolutely nothing that makes me feel like a kid again than to ride my bike. When I am on my two-wheeled self-propelled machine, all the stresses of adult life melt away.  Perhaps that is why I like the longer races and rides, as I can disconnect from the matrix for a loooong time.

Crushers in line to get their Beacon tracker .

The race began at 6 am after a 30 minute delay due to the difficulty of trying to get 130 GPS trackers on the bikes.  I had my own SPOT tracker and so waited patiently, talking with Joe's parents and wondering how the hell Tinker made it through the required gear check.

Did he "shrink to fit" all his required gear?

It was a little hectic at the start.  Lisa had to make one last run to the restroom and I ended up losing her when the gun went off.  I didn't see her up in front, so I soft pedaled through town hoping she would catch up.  Once we hit the dirt 3 miles in, I got a little anxious and started asking riders if they had seen her.  One fella said she was behind me, so I stopped and waited at the top of a grunty little climb.  After 90 seconds and seeing the tail end of the string of riders, I realized that she had gotten ahead of me.  So now, I had to make up some time and dig a little deeper than I wanted to this early in the adventure.  I caught up to David Jolin, who had taken a little detour and found his company very enjoyable as we rode those beginning miles together.

This man ... 60 going on 40!  Photo Credit:  Rob Meendering

The early gravel/dirt was in good shape and fast.  There were a few lumpy sections of embedded rock, but my Niner Air 9 RDO and the Fox SC 100mm fork smoothed the road out quite nicely.  Once we hit the asphalt of Lac La Belle Road, David took charge of our group of 10+ and pulled the next 11 miles.  Free speed!  I kept expecting him to peel off as there was a nice pace line, but later DJ stated that he was just cruisin' in his comfort zone.  In the group were old acquaintances (Pete and Tyler from MG 100) and new acquaintances (Teri, who was Joel's training partner) and Tara (who had the most impressive calves!).  

As we turned right onto the next section of gravel, our pace slowed and people began surging ahead.  I knew better than to follow.  Only 30 miles in at this point, I quickly brushed the thought of "only 200 to go," out of my mind.  I elected to hang with DJ as our pace matched each other.  There was a nice pitchy climb around mile 40.  I passed several along this stretch, as I seemed to have a wider range of gearing (32 chain ring with a 10-50 cassette).  As DJ and I were coming around one particular bend in the road, we saw a bike off to the side ... and then caught a horrendous whiff of human poo!  We both looked at each other and commented something to the effect of  "I would have gone deeper into the woods."

As I approached the intersection of Cliff Drive and Hwy 41, I stopped where Chris was parked.  It was ok to have neutral support along the route, so long as what was offered to me was made available to any rider.  He told me that Lisa was about 4 minutes ahead.  I took a pee break and filled a bottle with water.  Just after this stop was the first photo checkpoint.

DJ was here getting his selfie when Joe Urbanowicz rolled in.  I did a double take, asking him, "I thought you were ahead of us?!?"  To which he supplied, "I was the one taking a shit in the woods!"  DJ and I both got a good belly laugh on that one.  DJ was fiddling around in his pack as Joe and I slow pedaled away.  Over the next hour, Joe and I cruised together and DJ caught back up to us on a bit of technical double track.  This was a really fun section as I got to use some skills.

Short lived, the route soon felt like a Rails to Trails.  DJ took the front again and the Rescue Racing train was steaming towards Houghton.  We picked stragglers up on the way, including Lisa.  I was so happy to finally be with her again.  She had been in "no man's land" for a while.  She urged me to go on with the train, as she struggled a bit to stay on track.  Oh ... hell ... no!  WE are in this together.  I dropped off the train, told her what I thought, and then together, we hooked back on.  Free speed, I told her, free speed.

Photo Cred:  Nathan Burks

Thirty minutes later we were dropping down the highway, crossing the Portal Canal Bridge, and heading to our next stop in Chutes N Ladders Park.  The city of Houghton had come out (on their own) in force to support us bike "crack-heads."  They had a cornucopia of food including pasties and fresh water.  Lisa and I stopped at Chris' truck.  The first third done in 6 hours.

While I shoved eggs and rice into my pie hole, Lisa chowed down on pizza and a bacon scone.  We made quick work, went to the rest room, where this time I reapplied with a heavy dose of Chamois Butt'r, signed in, and then beat it out of town.

Coming down off a steep hillside in loose gravel, I was looking ahead at the climb ... a jumble of bouldery rocks.  I made it up about 20 yards when I was forced off my bike.  As I was saying aloud to Lisa, "I was hoping you would tell me I was going the wrong way,"  she said, "You are going the wrong way."  Whew, as what lay before me was at least another 1/8 mile of HAB.  We turned around, leading a small group of lemmings, back down to smooth pavement.

Leaving Houghton on Coles Creek Road, our small group, including Lisa and Joe, hit a nice little 300 foot climb. This was a nice test of the legs and they still felt great.  Taking it easy during the first 1/3 was paying off.  It was no effort at all to ascend this little kicker.  After a brief discussion between Lisa's GPX track and mine, we found the turn off to Freda Mine.  I do believe my track was accurate, only because Lisa's had us going into the lake to get to the smokestack.

The Wonder Boy Joe himself ... was stoked to have gotten to ride with him.

At the 100 mile mark, I began the Subway countdown, trying to keep Lisa upbeat.  She had been dreaming of a meatball sub in L'Anse since we first arrived in Copper Harbor two days ago.  "57 miles to go!"  I yelled.  Her reply was a very weak, "Yea."  I was feeling good, so just kept the pace up and tried to provide as much drafting as I could.  I knew at some point I would be hitting a low spot and would need Lisa to keep me going.  Misery Bay Road led us into Toivola (mile 105), where Chris was waiting.

There were quite a number of crushers and support vehicles here.  I wandered off into the woods to pee again (a good sign I was hydrating well).  I reapplied Chamois Butt'r to my "treasure," which was beginning to get a little angry. Now dudes call it their "junk," but the definition of junk is rubbish, trash, or items of little to no value. Hmmm ... Yeah, I will stick with treasure.

I refilled a bottle while Lisa was working on a McDonald's cheeseburger.  My fueling was going as planned.  I was drinking about 16-18 ounces of Infinit per hour and along with gels, shot blocks, baby food style applesauce/banana, and Stinger Waffles, I was taking in 200-225 kcal per hour.

Upon leaving, we reconnected with Dan, Marvin , and Tyler.  We had been leapfrogging with them from the beginning.  Unfortunately the train was moving faster than I wanted to, even being in the draft.  Once again, Lisa said I could go on if I wanted to.  And once again, I did not travel 1000 miles to do this adventure solo.  It was nice of her to give me the reins, and I might have been able to stick with the bunch, but there was still 125 miles to go.  I knew I was going to need all my matches for the last 3-4 hours.  Besides, Lisa has been my go to adventure partner for years.  I thoroughly enjoy riding with her.  We are not super chit-chatty, but feed off of one another's energy and can embrace the suck together like "nobody's business."

We popped off the back and watched Joe roll away with the bunch.  Man, I was gonna miss that kid!  Maybe our paths would cross again ... if he had another poop break. 😂😂😂

"47 miles to Subway!"  Another weak little "yea."  I continued to pull. "37 miles to Subway!"  The "yea" became a little louder.  "27 miles to Subway!" "I am tasting those meatballs!" Lisa said. Around the 123 mile mark, we turned left from Hazel Swamp Road onto Laird Road.  In 0.4 mile we turned right onto Hazel Road (which in my mind was the same road as the previous Hazel because I did not remember the Swamp portion) and then in another 0.4 mile the road took another hard right.  Now if you know anything about geometry, we had just ridden 3 sides of a square.  I was thinking to myself, "Damnit, Todd, if you make us turn right again, I ... will ... hunt ... you ... down!"  Because at this point, I was thinking we may have just entered The Twilight Zone and would be riding this square forever.

Photo cred:  Nathan Burks

But no, we soon turned left on Clavco Road and back to some sense of normalcy again.  "17 miles to Subway!" to which she replied, "Hell, yeah!" By this time, I had the first bit of pain begin to show up in my sit bones.  And my treasure was angry ... again. For some reason, mincemeat kept coming to my mind. It was probably a combination of wearing a 6 pound pack and riding 95% seated for the last 9 1/2 hours.  This butt pain would come and go for the remainder of the adventure.  I made sure to drink out of my hydration pack first, lightening the load, so that I could stand a pedal every now and then and give my tush a break.

More free miles were to be found on a 6 mile stretch of Hwy 38.  But instead of just continuing on this road for a short 8 mile stretch on into L'Anse, we had to complete a 20 mile circuitious section deep into the Baraga Plains Wildlife Area, with some more climbing, just for good measure.  Lisa and I grumbled a bit about this "excursion," but it was truly a beautiful section of the course.  But first, we had to pass the "special test."  At about mile 136, our Garmins had us turn right.  I thought it looked oddly like a driveway.  Five seconds later we realized we were on a driveway.  The owner of the driveway was out gardening and kindly told us how to get where we needed to go.  I asked her how many times she had given out these same directions.  "Several times and then some," was her reply.

Southern Fried (mind, that is) Shred Sistas!  Photo Credit:  Rob Meendering

We managed to reroute ourselves back onto the course with her help and our superior map reading skills.  We got 1 1/2 bonus miles on that one. Then we were treated to some great dirt roads that wound their way through the forest. With a 5 mile rewarding descent at mile 150, I hollered "7 miles to Subway!", and we boogety boogety boogetied it down to L'Anse!

After negotiating the roundabout construction zone, we pulled into a parking lot adjacent to Subway, 6 1/2 hours after leaving Houghton.  Chris helped us to refill bottles and relube chains.  I sat down and made a longer effort to enjoy my bowl of rice and eggs.  Todd P. came by and asked us how we were doing.  I joked to him about his "special test."  I made a trip into the Subway to pee, reapply Chamois Butt'r, to which my treasure cried out in joy, and then thought about just sitting there for a few minutes, basking in the cool A/C fortified restroom.  No, no, no ... do not get comfortable, must ... keep ... moving.

A lady in a vehicle parked next to where Lisa and I were picnic'ing NASCAR style asked if there was any "free trail."  I laughed as I couldn't believe she connected me to that quote from the 2016 MG100.  I replied while there was no free trail, there was some free speed on the paved sections that I was taking advantage of.

20 minutes later with full bellies, lubed chains, and Lisa with one pedal only functional on one side (the other side the bolt had sheared off), we slowly pedaled out of town.  Taking it easy for the first 30 minutes, we gave our stomachs the necessary blood flow for proper digestion.  At mile 174, the climb up Mount Arvon began.  It looked ominous, as I could not see the end of the climb, as with all the other previous climbs of the day.  Fortunately, the legs were properly fueled, and it felt like I made quick work of the climb.  I did get a little nervous as I thought I should have seen the mailbox checkpoint by now.   Lisa assured me that we hadn't reached the peak yet.  Sure enough, a little more climbing and there it was.

I think I was in a slightly more positve mood here ... than Lisa.

Miss Mountain Goat Adventure was not too fond of this climb at mile 175.

The descent off the mountain was short lived as we hit a pitchy 2 mile climb.  From there it was a gradual descent down to Triple A Road.  I don't remember much, but what I do remember is the constant sections of deep sand where all my momentum would stall, my front wheel would wash to the left, sometimes causing me to have to put a foot down. I was not in my happy place anymore and I voiced my frustrations with 1-4 word expletives, most of which I had learned in the Army.  But then I would duct tape the monkey, laugh at myself, and motor on.

Photo Credit:  Nathan Burks

Around 10 pm we stopped just across from Eagle Mine to hook up our lights.  Holy hell!  I was immediately swarmed. Think of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds, but with blood sucking mosquitos instead.  I could feel my hematocrit drop as I got my lights going and took a final pee.  The gravel here was mellow.  I saw some lights just up ahead.  Was I hallucinating or was I seeing a small oasis and smelling something really delicious?  OMG!  A couple folks from RAMBA had set up a small SAG.  They asked if I wanted a twice baked potato.  Heck yeah!  It warm, savory, and gooey with cheese, bacon, and maybe sour cream.  I had died and gone to heaven.  The gentleman who handed me one had it breaking apart in his hands, but I woulda licked his fingers had he let me!  While another volunteer filled by water bottle, I enjoyed this unexpected pleasure.  Then he asked if I wanted another.  My first thought was that I didn't want to be a glutton, but he read my mind and said there was plenty.  So I enjoyed another scrumptious bite.

Belly happy, smile-o-meter pegged, and morale lifted, Lisa and I pedaled on into the night.  Turning right off of Triple A, we once again encountered deep swaths of sand.  It was more manageable as this section was slightly downhill.  Throughout the day, I had intermittently thought of having to use my snorkel.  Now, as the miles were ticking down, it weighed heavily on my mind.  Was this piece of required gear for real, or just part of Todd's evil plan to freak us out?

We saw this at night.

So we came up to the trailer that had been left out in the woods for us to resupply if necessary.  That was a nice gesture ... just before the Yellow Dog river crossing and Mosquito Gulch.  Fortunately we did not need to partake due to the awesomeness of the RAMBA oasis.  So we coasted down to the river.  No snorkel needed, as it was only calf deep.

From there we entered the 3 mile "single track" section. The first 1 1/2 miles were semi-rideable but equally fast if you just HAB'd it.  Having had such a great hike-a-bike mentor (thank you Lisa), this part was easy and did not faze me in the least bit.  I was thinking of the poor souls, however, with 45 pound bikes.  From there however, the shit then hit the fan.  Ahead of us lay 1 1/2 miles of either a mine field of mud holes or descents of rocky cavernous ravines. 

A solid test of my night riding skills.

Photo Credit:  Gary Durian

Being 200 miles in with 30 to go and not wanting to do anything disastrous, forcing me to DNF, I walked more than normal.  Sometimes you just gotta leave the ego at home.  I came away unscathed, but I almost had to fish Lisa out of quicksand as she tried riding through one of the mud holes and quickly became mired up to mid-fork.

Our bikes quickly shed the extra weight of mud as we hit Red Road.  I was feeling heavy fatigue set in and my knees felt like the Tin Man's, after 75,000+ revolutions of the pedals.  It was here that I had to embrace the suck and stick to Lisa's wheel as she pulled me to the final checkpoint at the intersection of Red Road and 510. We stopped for a moment and took our final selfie.  Chris had graciously met us, more for moral support and to tell us he had gotten us a hotel in Marquette.  I was good on nutrition.  Why I ate that bag of crunched up potato chips, I don't know.  I shouldn't have, as my stomach had gone to sleep about an hour ago and it became a total gut bomb! I tasted those chips several times in the remaining 15 miles.

Those last 80 minutes were hard fought.  I was a shell of the person who left Copper Harbor 18 hours ago.  By this point I was too tired to be grumpy.  My botttom bracket had developed a tick and I used this like a metronome to maintain focus on just pushing the pedals over.  Lisa was still at the helm guiding me in the final stretch. 

With about 5 to go, we caught up to a small group who appeared to be having GPX hiccups.  Seeing them awoke the competitor in me, not that this was a race, but anytime you get me around a group, I get fired up!  We took the lead, showed them the way, and then they blew by us on a descent.  We played this game a couple more times at tricky intersections. We had a bridge to negotiate our wide bars through, lifting our bikes up and over a middle barrier.  That was interesting!  Thank God for my 21 pound bike, which was now devoid of 2 L of water and 200 kcal of nutrition.

Seeing Forestville Road brought a beaming smile to my face.  Together we rode finished our 234 mile journey, our wheels rolling across the line together at 1:49 am Sunday. (7 hours 19 minutes on the stretch for L'Anse to the finish)

19 hours 49 minutes of adventure, soul searching, and self exploration (sprinkled with little bit of dying)

Thank you, Thank you Todd for giving me this opportunity to enhance my life.  It is easy to die, but hard to live.  Easy is nice, but hard teaches you things about your soul you would never know otherwise. This adventure had some lows that I knew I could push through, if I set my mind to it.  But mostly highs, as I pushed my body and my mind to new limits.

Todd and Stacie Poquette  Photo Credit:  Rob Meendering

Thank you, Thank you Volunteers, for whom this journey would have been so much more difficult without your devotion to assisting us "poor bastards."  And to the person who handed me that ice cold Dr. Pepper!  I hadn't had one of those in well over 5 years.  That was like COCAINE! 

Thank you, Thank you Chris, for being the Southern Shred Sisters mule.  For getting us 100 miles to Copper Harbor and 100 miles back home.  Your job was just as hard as ours.  Yet you were always upbeat and smiling.

Thank you DJ for riding alongside as well as in front for those first 70 miles.  Good times, my friend, good times.

Last but not least, thank you Lisa, for another notch on my belt of endurance slogs across states.  You are the bestest team mate, and I cannot wait for our next adventure, and fall asleep at night dreaming of what that might be.

The UP's glorious gravel goodness!  Photo Cred:  Nathan Burks

What I started with on my journey.

My naked 19.7 pound bike.  Fully loaded ... 26 pounds.

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