In 2010, Cody and I stood on the infamous Icebreaker climb to watch the Pro men and women finish up a particularly frigid and muddy edition of the Iceman Cometh. The crowd went wild when a Brian Matter stormed up the short, steep climb completely covered in mud and barely recognizable. The cream of the American mountain bike racing crop followed shortly behind, including my childhood heroes Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Jeremiah Bishop. The atmosphere on that little hill in the middle of the woods was electric; old and young, men and women, drunk and sober, we all soaked up the excitement and fed off the race’s energy. Frozen feet and numb hands be damned; this Iceman thing was something special.
Once Cody and I were back in the car and warming up while driving home, we agreed that we wanted a piece of that experience while in spandex. Training for Iceman 2011 started the next day.
The Build Up to Iceman 2011
We’d been getting back into bike racing the year before, after the first two years of college added $25K in student loan debt and about 25lbs. After Cody ballooned to 196lbs. (he’s now 145) we sort of said to each other, “Shit, man. We gotta do something about this.” We got back into it at Barry-Roubaix, then upgraded our bikes to be somewhat competitive during the summer of 2011. I went with a 2010 Cannondale Trail SL, sporting triple front chainrings, plus a rigid Niner fork that was all the rage at the time. I think I paid $1,800, but that was before the student loan people got their 8% interest. It probably turned out to be the most expensive bike I’ll ever have bought.
Cody and I were young, pretty fit, and having a blast working, going to school, and training, with Iceman being the main motivator for the fall. When we registered, we signed up for our age group, then went about figuring out how to get into the Pro/Cat 1 race. Turns out, it’s pretty simple. Win something. At Peak to Peak, I won the Expert 29 and Under group by 6 minutes, then won my age group at an exceptionally muddy and miserable Lowell 50. Cody was hot on my heels, and we were stoked when our upgrades requests were approved. We’d made the big show, but we really didn’t have any idea what we were getting into.
Racing Pro at Iceman
Racing pro at Iceman is a really unique experience. In the morning races, Kalkaska is a hive of activity, with over 4,500 riders and innumerable supporters buzzing around in eager anticipation. Not the case in the pro race. The town is empty, except for the 200 or so pro men and women. We have these massive parking lots to ourselves and time to kill, so it’s cool to spin around and just take it all in with no stress or hurry. Or, just play catch with your dad while you wait for the start, which I did one year when the weather was 70 and sunny. Years with that kind of weather are very few and far between.
2011 was particularly surreal experience at the start in Kalkaska. Our race transport that year was my Dad’s 1988 Chevy Celebrity with over 200K miles. It’s the pinnacle of American luxury cars, if you ask me, but it had nothing on the rig that parked right next to us. The Trek-Subaru team and Trek World Racing teams pulled in, and out climbed all of our heroes of the day; Jeremy Horgen-Kobelski, Heather Irmigr, Sam Shultz, Lukas Flukinger, Matthias Flukinger, and a host of mechanics and support crew. My dad couldn’t help but snap a picture of their super-pro set up right next to our Chevy.
The race itself was a blur. I’ll never let anyone forget that I beat Jeremy Horgen-Kobelski that year. It mostly had to do with him being taken out less than 300 yards into the race and completely destroying his bike. But I’m still going to count it. The speed of the race was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I was completely pegged, even while in a draft, and I could barely hang on to the guy in front of me. For reference, this battle for life and death was taking place in like 80th place. I was completely empty, ready to vomit and cry at the same time when we took a familiar right turn onto Smith Lake Road. I felt like I had been waterboarded and my legs were swimming in lactic acid, and I was only 3.5 miles into the race. It was just unreal.
It might be hard to imagine being proud to finish in 90th, but I was pretty pumped about my ride that year. I got to line up with actual professional bike riders, plus the fastest dudes and dudettes in Michigan. I was especially geeked to have my name in the results on Cyclingnews.com, even though you had to do a lot of scrolling to get to it.
Pro or age group, class winner or DFL, Iceman really is something to be experienced. When I tell people I have a race in November, sometimes in the snow, and it’s from Kalkaska to Timber Ridge, they sort of just stare at me like I’m a fool. Then I have to explain to them it’s not just me. 4,500 of my best buds are going to join me for a day of fitness, outdoors, and celebrating life in Northern Michigan. Sometimes, they come out to watch me race. The next step is predictable. The following year, they’re out there on the start line, wanting to get in on the fun.
See you all in Kalkaska very soon.