Monday, June 21, 2010

Almost Perfect

Sometimes things go pretty well at a race. Other times plans are made, but things don’t go as expected. This past weekend at the third stop on the NUE Series, the Lumberjack 100, I had an interesting mix of the good and the bad. It all worked out in the end, though, as I was able to finally win a NUE Series Race this year after my two failed earlier attempts.

The weekend started out pretty good as I was able to take Friday off from work and start the long trip to Michigan on Thursday. On my way from PA to Michigan, I picked up my long time friend Sologoat in Ohio. Back in the mid nineties Ernesto and I used to travel to many races together, but it is a rare occasion for us to travel together now. It is always cool to catch up with an old friend and share life’s stories.

We traveled about half way to our final destination on Thursday Night and stayed at one of my infamous crusty carpet inn internet special hotel selections. I am usually happy to just have a bed and a shower for use and really do need any special hotel luxuries, so typically these hotel choices work okay for me. On this occasion, my choice seemed to be a good one for sleeping, but the “continental breakfast” was a far cry from anything worthy of eating. But, being the miser that I am, I was soon more than content to consume the offerings of the establishment. The funny thing is that Sologoat walked in about an hour later than me and had even fewer stale donuts from which to choose from on the breakfast bar.

Our travels continued on in pretty much the same uneventful manner on Friday. After about 4 hours of driving, we finally arrived at our hotel in Cadillac, MI. We decided to check in first, so that we could leave some of our stuff behind before continuing out to the race venue in Wellston, MI. When we arrived at my second crusty carpet selection of the trip, the lady behind the hotel desk was involved in a heated argument with another employee of the hotel. It didn’t seem to faze them that there were customers waiting for them to stop their argument. This should have been my first warning to move along to another hotel. But, the lady finally calmed down, gave me two keys and then warned me that if the room was not clean it was because check in time was not until 3pm. BTW, it was 2:30pm at this time. I figured the lady was just joking around with me and I exited the lobby to walk down to my room. I thought the number the lady wrote on my key envelope read 104, but after trying to enter the room 104 a few times without success, I checked the number again to see that it actually read 124. I then tried my keys at room 124, but had no luck there either. At this point, I decided to go back to the hotel lobby and ask for clarification on the room number and ask for new keys if my guesses at her writing are correct. She doesn’t believe me that the keys don’t work and sends a maintenance man with me to confirm my key usage is being done properly. The maintenance man also cannot get the key to work, so I walk back to the lobby to get some new keys. This time I am finally able to get into the room.
A "Cocktails" sign in front of to love it!

So, of course, we go to the room and it is not clean. As a matter of fact, it was a mess. And, judging from the receipt on the empty pizza box in the room it had not been cleaned since the weekend prior. Being the calm and collected person that I am, however, I walk back to the front desk to find out if it will be cleaned while we are away on our pre ride of the course. I am assured by the owner of the hotel that our room will be cleaned, so off we go for the pre-ride.

Before doing a 100 mile race, there is definitely not a need to do many miles. As a matter of fact, it is much better to rest up to prepare for the race than do a long ride. Ernie shares my thoughts on pre race rides, so we both decide to ride for about an hour and checkout the beginning of the race loop. Well, we get moving along and come to a section of the course where the race traffic will be sharing the same trail. The trail is separated with course tape at this point and we figure this will be a good point for us to stop our preview of the course on the way back through. We only had about 40 minutes of riding in and figured that we would only have a few more miles to do at most before coming back to this point on the course. As it turned out, though, I was wrong with the mileage estimate back to this section on the race loop. Of course, we didn't figure this out until after after I had already told Ernie let’s just go for a few more minutes about 5 times. Our ride time was at nearly two hours at this point and we had no clue as to where we were on the course. We finally decided to stop and read a trail map posted on the trail side. By looking at the map, we figured we would only have a few more miles to go to get back to the car if we took a fire road instead of the marked trail.

We followed a sandy fire road for awhile and then climbed up a long gravel hill quite a distance before eventually coming to a fire tower on top of the hill. There were no well used trails and no trail maps around this tower, so we had no choice but to head back down the long gravel climb. We eventually found some more course markers on the fire road and decided to follow them. From the map we viewed earlier, staying on the fire road seemed like the best option for us. But, now time and mileage was still ticking away and we did not have a clue as to where we were going. We became encourage, though, when we saw some houses in the distance. Unfortunately, as we rode by the homes most did not seem to be occupied, but finally we did find one with a few cars parked in the driveway. Just when we were about to go up the driveway to ask for directions, we saw a car coming down the fire road and decided to flag it down instead. In the car was a very old man. I asked him if he could direct us back to the Big M Ski Area. He mumbled something about going back the way we just came and taking a trail back to the area and nothing more specific. This did not seem like a very good option to me or Ernie because we knew it would take a long time to figure out if we were going the right way. So, I then asked the man about just staying on the fire road instead. He says, “Well, you will have to go about a mile or so and then will come to a paved road. Go left and then the ski area will be on the left.” It was a no brainer as far as Ernie and I were concerned and we took the second option of staying on the road. We ended up with 2.5 hours of riding and about 28 miles in our legs. Not what either of us really wanted the day before the race.

On our way back to the hotel, we started betting on whether the room would be cleaned or not. We both thought that it would still be dirty, so we did not place any wages on the bet. Surprisingly, we were please to find that the room was cleaned while we were away. Unfortunately, though, nothing else that night would go right except for the all-you-can eat fish dinner we had a little later at a restaurant near our hotel.

After our delightful dinner, I had the “smart” idea of changing my gearing to something just a bit harder, so that I would not be spun out on the flat sections of the course. At the time I made this decision, around 9pm or so, it seemed like a good idea. At around 10pm when I was cleaning up the mess I had made, it did not seem like a very good idea. In hind sight, it all worked out fine, but I would have probably been fine with my initial gear selection.

Things only became worse when two over sized vehicle escort drivers (male and female) arrived in separate vehicles and were given the room right next to ours. It seemed to me that this was there first night off the road in a while and they were ready to have some fun. And, to make matters worse, they had a dog with them that would not stop barking. Ernie and I discussed about asking for another room before climbing into bed, but the barking had stopped briefly and I was not too excited about facing the hotel management again. About 45 minutes into this decision, the barking started again. It was around 11:30pm at this time and we had our alarms set for 4:15am, so things were not looking good. Needless to say, the barking continued most of the night as did constant door slamming, loud music and other unspeakable noises. If I slept for an hour that night, I would have felt lucky. The best part about this hotel story is that when we got up in the morning the only two rooms occupied on our side of the hotel was the one we stayed in and the one occupied by our neighbors.

Even after a having a horrible night of sleep, I amazingly still felt good to go in the morning. The race started fast like I expected and I was happy with my bigger gear selection. I was able to enter the initial single track in the first lead group. Perfect, I thought to myself. We started climbing the first long section of rolling climbs at the beginning of the course and I worked my way up in to third place briefly. Not so much because I wanted to be there, but more because I had to keep my big gear rolling. I saw Schalk and Tanguy riding next to me and then had the feeling like my heart was about to explode. I decided my best option at this point was to wave the other riders around me, so that I could settle back into a more manageable pace. A lead group of about 8 riders (all the race favorites) then got a gap on me and a few others. But, I was not too concerned because from what I could tell, I was the leading single speed rider. Soon after things in the chase group calmed down a bit, fellow Pro Bikes Rider J-POK came spinning by our group. I decided to join him and soon we were all alone.

Justin and I then came upon Mike Simonson on the trail side fixing a flat. I screamed “Get it fixed fast Mike” and continued riding with J-POK. Shortly thereafter, Simonster caught us on a fire road and I decided to jump on his wheel for a bit. J-POK had some trouble at this point and missed this key draft. I rode with Mike for a few miles until we went up and over a few steep rolling hills. His pace was way too much for me to match on my SS, so I settled back into a more reasonable pace. I then rode alone for a long, long time, about 40 miles, I would estimate. But, I was cool with this situation because my riding seemed to be going very well and I was enjoying my ride on the fun single track.

Then, for unknown reasons, at around mile 60 or so, I veered slightly off the trail on a fast downhill into the grass on the trail side. Suddenly, I had my life flash in front of my eyes, when I hit a tree stump with my front wheel, which was hidden in the grass. The stump sent me air born and I landed hard into a dirt embankment at a trail crossing. It was one of those crashes where you need to take a quick inventory of your body parts when you get up because you’re not sure if something might be left behind if you rush off too quickly. I was in pain, but everything seemed to still be attached. I jumped on my bike and started riding again. My bike seemed fine, but my elbow was very tender and was already swelling. Of course, making the decision to do the race with a rigid fork was not making my elbow feel much better after my crash.

Trying to fight off the pain in my elbow, I attempted to find a more comfortable riding position on my bike. Nothing was working too well, but I found that descending without holding the right grip very securely made my descents much less painful. I decided to ride the last 1.5 laps pretty conservatively because of the discomfort in my elbow. I managed to endure my discomfort for the rest of race and hold on to lead even with my pain, however, for a very satisfying SS victory and my fastest time at the LJ 100. So, overall I would have to rate my race as an almost perfect experience except for my crash and my lack of sleep the night before the race.

On a side note, Ernie and I decided to cough up an extra 10 bucks each on our trip home and stay at a hotel where we could actually sleep. Not that it would have been too hard to sleep that night anyway considering what I had just endured over the past 24 hours. And, oh did I sleep well that night.

The Lumberjack is a super fun 100 mile race and Rick Plite, the race organizer, does a great job at putting on the event. It is certainly another race that I would recommend for you to put on a list of must do races.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Thanks to Jack Kunnen for the first photo and Sologoat for the second shot.


  1. congrats on your win. I'll make a mental note to never stay at that hotel....

  2. Nice win dude. Stop staying in those dive hotels and move to something high class like a Days Inn.

  3. Gerry-Stay here next time, Northwoods Cabins, in the heart of downtown Wellston. No cocktails served there though....