I remember my high school chemistry teacher showing our class his race video. That year, the course was blanketed in fresh snow. As they passed the video camera, racers interrupted the white canvas with their colorful jerseys and faces distorted in a painful concentrated stare.
People pay to do this? Someone asked.
I could tell my teacher got his moneys worth. Every 15 minutes he would point to the screen and say, There! No, wait. Hold on. There I am! And then he would smile.
I didnt under-stand how big the Iceman was until I went to the race five years later to support my boyfriend, a first-time rider. There were, literally, hundreds of people on bikes.
During the race, spectators drive to the limited number of accessible points where they can see competitors. With patience, you will see the rider youre supporting as thousands of racers pound the trail like blood through an artery.
At the finish line, swarms of people cling to the metal gate that loops riders through the last few hundred yards into Timber Ridge Resort. There isnt a lull in the deafening sound of screaming and cowbells. It was in that moment when I was standing at the finish line that I decided to race in the 19th Annual Iceman Cometh Challenge.
READY TO ROCK
Now, one year later, Im faced with the reality that I will actually be riding my bike 27 miles over uneven terrain. After my college graduation, a summer of job hunting and one appendectomy later, Im pretty out of shape.
In preparation, I have ridden the VASA single track just a handful of times throughout the summer. I have managed to run just about every other day and play basketball and volleyball here and there.
But, none of that will prepare me for the race.
In an effort to salvage my training, I hit the rolling trails behind the State Hospital in Traverse City three weeks ago. 20 minutes into my ride, the derailleur on my bike caught a spoke on the back tire. Luckily, I wasnt speeding downhill when it happened. Unfortunately, it meant I had a busted ride.
The following week, I borrowed a bike and rode in the Peak2Peak Mountain Bike Race at Crystal Mountain. By the end of the race, I wasnt necessarily worried that I felt like I had left my legs somewhere on the back hill, but that it was within the 11 miles of trail more than half the distance of the Iceman.
Some Expert Advice
Im signed up for the Beginner Women ages 19-34 category, one among 13 divisions for women. When youre a hard core, badass babe, you can race in the Pro Category. These racers come from all over the country.
I happen to know one living right here in Northern Michigan. Susan Vigland races for Team Hagerty. Whenever I think about mountain biking, I think about her. Last year, Susan won the Expert Women 35-44 division.
This year Im going to ride pro, which means Ill get my tail kicked, Susan said recently in a phone interview. I just wanted to challenge myself with those women. Itll be a whole different race because Ill be chasing them.
Unlike myself, Susan is well prepared to race the Iceman. She and husband/fellow racer, Todd, do what are called Out-Backs several times in the preceding weeks. From Timber Ridge, they ride to Kalkaska and then take the Iceman trail back a 45-mile loop.
Because the weather turns foul this time of year, Susan also integrates a Spinning class into her routine once or twice a week.
As far as nutrition goes, she tells me to eat a good meal two to three hours before the race and to make sure I have sustenance during it, such as a sports bar and lots of Gatorade or water.
Not giving yourself the necessary calories will cost you.
I made that mistake the first year I rode. All I had was water and I completely bonked at the end. Susan said. Youre expending so much energy. Youve got to re supply and replenish yourself.
GIVE ME MORE COWBELL
When I ask her what the best advice is for a beginner like me, Susans answer isnt speckled with expert facts. It doesnt include a secret bike maneuver or a brand name of racing gear that will make me faster. Her answer is simple:
Just have fun with it.
Its a blast because there are just so many people out there, all shapes and sizes, she continues. Youll be coming around a corner and therell be people with cowbells cheering you on. It goes by quickly.
That advice keeps me going. Despite my lack of preparedness, my apprehension and moments of bike misfortune, Im excited about the Iceman. I am riding a stationary bike to keep my legs moving and by press time, my bike should be out of the shop. Now, when I think about the 27 miles of frozen trail, I think about the winding metal gate that will lead me to the finish line and the swarms of people with cowbells.