Since I been racing, long endurance races have been my Achilles heal. I have toyed around with the idea of doing this race in the past, but for most of the past few years, I never really thought I would be able to complete it. But with this year being the 10th anniversary of the race, the course running backwards, 90 % of the course being single track, 9,000 ft of climbing overall, super cool t-shirts and pint glasses I just had to have, I felt there was no better time than this year to do it.
Brad Lako, Joe Sidel and I jumped in the Jeep and head up to Manistee for the long weekend of good times and memories. We got the cabin and it was pissing rain. This was a good thing, and the course would be in stellar shape the next day. We did our pre-ride, had a few beers and chilled until the next morning.
5 AM came quick! But with the pre-race jitters, we were up and at'em. The start was cool, crisp and damp. Just about perfect racing temps. We kitted up and marched to the paved start line. At the start, we rolled down the road and good clip. I soon got shelled out the back, because I could not spin fast enough to keep up. This would be my big mistake of the race. I soon found myself behind about 200 people in the single track on a 5+ mile conga line up the first big climbs. This was not good especially being on the single speed. I had to track stand my way up the hills and very slow speeds. Once the traffic started to thin, I was finally able to move along and settle into my pace.
This was the first time I had been on the outer trails of Big M and I have to say they were amazing! Some of the best trail riding I have even done in Michigan. This was a key factor of my race, and the constant awesome views of the forest, and fast flowing trail kept me stimulated for the entire race.
At the end of the first lap, I was feeling really good. I took a quick break and was off. I was not happy with my lap time, but there was not much I could do with all the beginning traffic. But now the course was wide open, and I went at the rest of the race a little harder. I was now steadily picking off riders one by one. I kept getting behind geared riders almost every climb. This would slow me a bit, but would get around when I could. I was still feeling good and keeping to my pace. The flat 2 track sections were really hard for me, as I would spin out and lose my time that I was gaining. But I was here to finish and not win, so I just managed my efforts and used it as a opportunity to rest my hands and eat solid food.
At the half way point of the 2nd lap, I was surprised to see Joe Sidel at the aid station. He said "hey John", I looked up and almost took out a tree. I stopped and asked what happened? he then told me about his brake issue taking him out of the hunt, and then about him helping his team make Mike F. fix his chain and some other guys chain as well. He said he was about to DNF, but then decided he would just finish it out with me. Joe Deserves the karma award for the weekend for sure.
Joe and I were now together and discussed everything under the sun! But we kept and good pace for the rest of the lap. At the start of the 3rd lap, we slammed a coke, took on some more bottles, and pushed ahead. Joe helped me to keep pushing the pace. We continued to pick off more riders. The entire time I was surprised at how well my legs felt especially on every climb. Soon into the last lap, we hit the 1st 2 track section. We were in a small group of riders, and were trying to sit into to draft the geared guys as much as possible. Then I saw the guy in front of me kick up a small down tree with branches and all. I came right at me like a missile, and got lodged between my chain stay and spokes. It completely locked up my wheel and I came to instant stop. It took me at least 5 mins to pull it out of my frame! Ugh! Nothing was broken thank God, and Joe came back to stick with me. We pushed together through the rest of the lap. Joe pulled away at the end to bring back one single speeder that was dangling in front of us. But I just stayed in my zone and pushed as hard as I could to the end. I came across the line at 8:31. I was a half hour off my my goal time, but I finished and I didn't cramp! In the end, I had a lot to be happy about for the day. I finished something that was way out of my comfort zone, and I got to hang out with great friends at one of the best events in the state!
Congrats on Brad on his top 10 SS class and top 30 overall result!
Thanks again to Joe for coaching me through the race.