Friday, November 7, 2014

May Your Misfortunes Serve as a Warning to Others; or, Iceman Tips

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t the teensiest bummed out that I’m not en route to Iceman. The Iceman Cometh Challenge is the largest point-to-point mountain bike race (so does that mean it’s the largest mountain bike race? Not sure) in America, and is a really big deal in this neck of the Northern bikewoods. Thousands of people. I’d say a majority of my friends are going to be there. It’s always a party and it’s always a spectacle. Then I remember that I don’t spectacles, I don’t like crowds, and I especially don’t like Strava (this year wave seed was partially determined by one’s Strava Points, of which I have none.) I remember that I’ve already raced Iceman before and it was probably the worst day of my life, competition-wise.

I always take Iceman 2012 as one of those formative learning experiences that taught me how to race (or more appropriately, how not to race.) I had been mountain biking for all of four months, still carried most of my postpartum tire, and was smoking about a half-pack of American Spirits a day (*cough*cough*cough*.) My friend (and later sometimes duo race partner) Joe came up from Kalamazoo, and getting up at 4 am on Saturday to drive up to Kalkaska after 10 hours on Friday of drinking whiskey and Founders Dirty Bastards seems, in retrospect, like a terrible idea. Like many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was about 34 degrees and there was some sort of precipitation that could have been rain or it could have been snow, I’m not sure. Between the bottlenecks, the gung-ho lady who lost control of her line and smashed my derailleur trying to get to the trailhead (rendering shifting nigh impossible,) my Herculean hangover, my overabundance of clothing, my poor nutrition/hydration choices, and my general lack of skill, I’m actually still pretty surprised I finished. I somehow did manage to finish in spite of having done absolutely everything wrong, though, so I feel pretty OK about that.

Anyway, lots of people from the home turf and beyond are blogging their Iceman tips, and they’re probably all a lot more useful than mine, but here are my big three takeaways from My Worst Race Ever:

  • ·         A first race in any cycling discipline should probably be a smaller one. I think I was as irritated by me as the other racers were, many of whom had spent the last several months avoiding their families in balls-to-the-wall training sessions and soul-crushing spin classes.  
  • ·         Clif Bars are a bad choice of on-the-bike nutrition. When it gets cold, not only is the item difficult to open from the package, to separate and to chew, but it forms a frozen bolus in the mouth that’s very difficult to swallow.
  • ·         Ladies: don’t wear bib shorts if you’re going to be on the bike for awhile. There were so many people (racers in front and back, spectators) that I couldn’t find somewhere to get off the trail to pee, and even if I had I don’t know how I would have navigated the bib straps, so I just pissed my chamois. To add insult to injury, I had forgotten a change of pants in the car and had to sit in my soggy knickers all the way back to Grand Rapids (about a three hour drive.)

(so pro.)

I did come back a few months later to ride the course on my Pugs, and I do love those trails. The Vasa Pathways in the Grand Traverse sport some of the most beautiful scenery in the Lower Peninsula, and I feel really lucky that it’s a hop/skip/jump away should I ever feel like riding it, summer or winter. I’m very glad that every year we get to host such an economic boon for the bicycle and hospitality industries here in Michigan, a land commonly known to be facing a few macroeconomic hardships. And in some perverse way I am kind of delighted with how abjectly awful I found my first big mountain bike race experience to be… every subsequent loss, missed goal, or forgone opportunity in (or out) of the saddle have all paled in comparison and I think I’m a better rider for it. I’ve learned to seek out challenges and, if everything goes horribly wrong (which it usually does,) at least it’ll be something to laugh and/or brag about, after I’ve stopped crying.  

I am hoping to ride a few laps at Yankee tomorrow morning with a few of my teammates; seizing the rainy frigid day and whatnot, but I’ll be thinking of all my friends Up North and sending some posi+ asskicking singletrack juju. Good luck, everyone! You all inspire me on the daily. 

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