…So there I was sitting at the side of the road, in the dark with no cell service a basically non-functioning right arm with nothing around for miles and no way to know if Laurie knew where to get me.
Wait a second, that comes much later in the story. Let’s jump back to the beginning. In fact, let’s jump back to July 2019 first.
My first Crusher experience in 2019 was probably about at ideal as a ride comes. The course conditions were stellar, my prep for the event was right on and we had a solid group riding together for a very long time. At least until I clipped a rock on an otherwise nice gravel road and took a slide over the cheese grater. Shortly there after I had to back my effort down a bit and lost contact with the other four people who were still in the group. I got myself back together and was able to really push the last few hours to (unknowingly) passing one person and closing the gap from 20 minutes to just over two minutes by the finish line. I came in 4th on the day and could not have been happier with my performance.
Then there was Crusher 2020. The point to point was canceled, but a loop version called the Crusher EX was born and those of us that went on the originally scheduled weekend were met with two of the most impressive storms I have ever seen. Needless to say, the course was as sloppy, muddy, peanut buttery and wet as they come. Brett, Trevor, Sebastian, Joe and I still had an amazing adventure, and some great stories were born. But those are not the ones you are here for.
Before I start in earnest, let’s take another step back to answer a few questions:
What is The Crusher?
The website say it is “The ultimate enhanced gravel experience”, but what that means is it is a crazy ride from Copper Harbor, MI to somewhere near Marquette, MI. This year the finish was in Ishpeming, about 10 miles west of Marquette. It is rugged, remote and requires those crazy enough to attempt the ride to stop at designated points to get check-point selfies. No course markings, no number plates, no real support other than what you line up for yourself. The headline says it is 225 miles, but somehow the course this year was actually 257 miles. Oh, and it says it is an “enhanced gravel” ride, what that means is it is a mountain bike ride but the trails happen to be a bit wider than typical single track.
Why? Because I want to
And people pay for this? Yup. Some even attempt it more than once if they don’t finish the first time.
You people are outside your minds.
What’s your point?
On to the main event (almost)
My wife Laurie and I arrived in Copper Harbor mid-afternoon Friday, allowing plenty of time for a fun trail ride to stretch the legs. The trails in the Copper area are utterly amazing. We set up our camp at Trails End Campground, got changed and re-loaded up the bikes. A quick two-mile drive, all up hill, and we were at the trailhead.
I took Laurie’s bike off the rack then noticed my rear tire was flat. Not soft, not slowly leaking, completely flat. My first thought was that when I checked the tire pressure, I must not have tighten the value all the way, but as soon as I put the pump on I notice the valve stem moved a bit. That was weird. I tightened the nut a bit, which was really strange because I checked it before we headed north, so I know it was tight. I pumped up the tire and all the air instantly came back out around the valve stem. Now I was confused and concerned. There was nothing to do but take the tire off the rim and see what was happening. Sure enough the rubber boot around the inside of the stem was torn and ripping off.
|This is what came out|
|This is how it should have looked|
Guess what I did not have with me?
That’s right, a spare valve stem.
Crap. Now what?
I thought about throwing a tube in, but I did not really want to do that. That meant taking out the inserts and loosing all the advantages that come with the insert/tubeless set up, and with 257 miles of torture in my future I wanted every advantage I could get. That is when Laurie said, “why don’t you go see if the bike shop in town is open and has one”. My first reaction was: there is no way I can drive to Houghton before the shop closes, it was already after 5:00pm. Laurie again had the save, reminding me there was a shop in Copper.
So Laurie went out for a ride and I drove back in to town. Thank goodness they had some in stock and 10 minutes later everything was fixed and ready to go. I drove back to the trailhead, rode about 5 miles of singletrack and met Laurie back at the campground in time for some food truck borritos. Everything was good to go.
Now it is race time.
The official start time was 5:00am Saturday, which meant getting up at 4:00. No big deal, that is when I get up to ride the trainer. I woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off, had a quick breakfast and made sure everything was ready. Hydration pack, bottles/fuel, tools, GPS, the list goes on but suffice it to say I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
I rolled over to the start area and chatted with Todd and Dan Curry for a few minutes, then it was time to go.
We lined up behind Todd’s truck, in true Todd fashion he had some Metallica blasting to pump us up. He then told us not to pass the truck until after the first turn. That was not a concern, he took off at the speed of sound, well, maybe 35mph.
The first half mile was nice and easy, then we made a sharp right turn onto Brockway Mtn Drive. If you’ve never experienced it, don’t. It is a paved road, but it is probably the hardest road climb I’ve ridden. I had ridden it before, so I knew what to expect, but riding it with a bike loaded for The Crusher was another experience. Exactly what I was expecting happened at this point: everyone spread out all over the place and my day of riding by myself began. I settled into a good pace and cat and moused with another rider. It was a mean climb that just kept going, and when I thought it was just about done, I came upon a “Steep Road” sign and of course it meant more climbing. Four miles later I rolled though the overlook parking lot, the first climb of the day complete.
Now for some excitement, a nice two-mile blast downhill, in the dark, followed by a 170 degree turn onto the first dirt of the day. I made it a whole mile and a half down this fun two track before I had to get off and push my bike for the first of many times. The climb itself would have been manageable under most circumstances, but it had been so dry for so long that every time I tried to pedal my back wheel just spun in the loose rocks and gravel.
More rough, rocky two track all the way to Loc La Belle. Then I found something new: Sand. I tried riding on the edges of the trail for a bit but after a short while I realized I was wasting time and energy so I hopped off my bike yet again and walked. At this point I was less than 30 miles into the course and I had already walked my bike more than I did during the entire 2019 P2P race and nearly as much as I did during the 2020 225EX ride, and we got hit by two monsoons during that one.
After a short bit the sand was replaced by what was hardly more than a slightly packed grass track. I think my Garmin was a bit confused because all it said was “Follow Course”. Basically, it had no idea what I was riding on. Oh well, I was about to hit a section we rode in 2019 and I remember it being a nice smooth two-track through the woods out to Lake Gratiot. It turns out a lot can change in two years because only small bits of the trail were recognizable, and the rest was nearly unidentifiable. No big deal. I was able to keep my speed around 13-14 mph without pushing too hard.
|The view from the overlook|
I turned out of the woods and on to a paved road and I instantly remembered what loomed ahead. The climb up and away from Lake Gratiot. 1.5 miles with an average grade of about 7%, but a max of nearly 14%. Time to be smart. I allowed myself to push my heart rate up a bit, but I kept it in check so as not to burn too many matches too early in the day. When I hit the top of the climb, I was just over three hours into the day, I had covered 42 miles and I was feeling really good. My legs were strong, my pacing was sufficient and I was keeping up with nutrition and hydration. I should mention I have historically not been the best about hydration when using a hydration pack instead of just bottles, but I was making a concerted effort to stay on top of it.
More two-track into Phoenix, where I met Laurie for the first time for a bottle swap. Stop time: No more than 10 seconds, and I was heading toward another mean climb. This one was a two track with lots of loose stone and some bigger, chunky stuff to avoid. It was all rideable, but it was slow going all the way to the first check point at Cliff Drive Overlook. I did manage to make one wrong turn on the way up. I came to a fork in the road, the right side (and slightly more in line with road I was on) was basically a scree slope. I made it about two pedal strokes before I had to start walking, and ten yards later my Garmin beeped that I was off course. I slid back down and headed the other way. I laughed at the thought that Todd would send us on the easier of two options and I instinctively assumed we would have to tackle the harder way.
Check Point 1 reached. 51.6 Miles and 4 hours of my day were complete.
|CP1 - Cliff Drive Overlook|
After leaving CP 1 there was some nice fun downhill sections where I happened to see Rob Meendering out taking photos (thanks Rob), followed by a mix of gravel roads and two track all the way to Calumet, Here the course hopped on the Snowmobile/ORV trail. In 2019 this was hardpacked and fast. Our group managed an average speed of well over 18 mph all the way to Houghton. This year it was soft, dusty and apparently rush hour for the side by sides who were out for a blast through the north country. I struggled to keep 14 mph and breathed in more dust than anyone should in a year, let alone 20 minutes. Along that stretch I stopped at CP2 – Old Potato Barn for the obligatory selfie and a quick nature break.
I rolled into a park after crossing the bridge in Houghton and snapping another selfie for CP3 (the bridge) where I met Laurie for a hydration pack refill, a new bottle of Perpetuem and a quick chain lube. I also took a few moments to tighten my headset. It was creaking something awful and driving me crazy enough to forget to do something very important; apply more chamois cream, and by this point I was very much in need of it. I grabbed a quick snack and was back underway in about five minutes.
Let the climbing commence. Again. I am not sure how I missed this when looking over the course profile, but once we left Houghton the course spent the next eight miles, yes you read the correctly – 8 Miles – at an average 3% grade that ended in South Range on a 17.5% sand dune of a hike-a-bike. Followed immediately by a hike-a-bike back down the other side, also basically a sand dune.
After the hiking session ended I found myself with other people. Two guys (I have no idea who they were) had caught up so I jumped on the train and rode with them for the next 45 minutes. This was a nice change of pace. I was able to keep a slightly higher speed with slightly less effort. I liked this. Except my headset was even louder and I was kind of afraid something was wrong with it. Oh, and my butt hurt, but that annoyance was completely overshadowed by the horrible noise coming from my bike.
|Halfway through a snack at Houghton|
I met up with Laurie again in the small burg of Toivola. I made the choice to stop here and fix my bike. I figured it was either an easy trailside fix or the end of my day. Turns out it was the former. I did a thorough check of the frame to make where there were no glaring issues, then I loosened the headset enough to slather a ton of grease inside. I put it back together and my bike was once again happy. I was once again distracted to the point of forgetting more chamois cream and just concerned with getting back underway.
The ride from Toivola to my next stop in L’Anse it was just over three hours (45ish miles) and I noticed two things: first, my right shoulder was really starting to bother me and two, I really wished I had remembered to apply more chamois cream. Otherwise, not much happened in here other than a couple more sandy hike-a-bike hills, some headwind, and I got passed and dropped by an old guy on an ebike.
When I pulled into the parking lot of the Hilltop restaurant in L’Anse, where I was meeting Laurie and I had to take another check point selfie, the first thing I said was “give me all the chamois cream, in fact just dump the whole thing down my bibs”. Laurie thought I was joking. I was not. I refilled my hydration pack, grabbed two new bottles and had another snack. With all the chamois cream now applied I was ready to take on my longest leg of the day.
I was planning on it taking me about 6-7 hours to cover the 85 miles from L’Anse to Martins Landing, where Laurie was meeting me next. Along the way I had to climb Mt. Arvon and deal with Dishno Rd. To this point my pacing had been good, my legs were still feeling strong, my hydration was good (not great but good enough to not be an issue) and I was happily sitting in 4th or 5th overall (I think). The day was going well, and I was looking forward to keeping it up.
After a quick backtrack to where I had left the course to reach the check point (a rule was you had to go back on course where you left it and the CP was off course) and I was back underway. For the next hour and a half I settled into a relaxed pace to make sure I would be good to climb Mt. Arvon, but as I got closer to the base of the climb the pain in my shoulder starting shooting down into my right arm. I tried to ignore it for a while. Then I tried shaking it out, chalking it up to a long day on the bike. I was well over 13 hours into the day and had covered around 170 miles.
As I climbed Mt. Arvon my grip strength in my right hand kept getting weaker and weaker and trying to hold on to the bars became more of a chore. I picked my way to the top of the climb being sure not to do anything that would agitate my shoulder any further. At the top it was time for another checkpoint selfie with the Mt. Arvon mailbox.
I figured a short rest would do my shoulder a world of good, so I sat on a bench and chatted with the crew who was manning the “Outpost” provided by the race. After about 20 minutes I decided it was time to get moving again.
I slowly mounted my bike and a jolt of pain short straight down my arm and into my pinky and ring fingers. It wasn’t better, but there was not much to be done. I also notice my saddle was a lot less comfortable than it had been. Riding back down Mt. Arvon should have been fun, but I was really struggling to keep my right hand on the bars and when it was on the bars, I could not really do anything with it. Turning sent pains down my arm and when I hit bumps my hand would pop right off the grip, I had no strength in my hand.
|This is the trail on the way down from Mt. Arvon|
About an hour after leaving Mt. Arvon I made the decision that continuing to ride was not a good or safe idea. I stopped, got out my phone and called Laurie. Fortunately, I had reception, but I knew I would not for long. I told her what was going on and asked if she could pick me up at Eagle Mine on AAA road. I said I would probably be a little over an hour, but it was only a guess, and it might be longer. Laurie heard I’ll be a little over an hour. She also said, “I don’t see it on the map I’m looking at, but I will find it”. Honestly, I had no idea where I was or how long it would take to get anywhere.
I had left Trails End Campground over 16 hours and 180 miles ago and I knew my day was all but done. What I didn’t know what how long it would really take before my day would officially end. On I rode because I had no other choice.
I was now to the point where I could no longer stand up on descents because I could not keep my right hand on the bars so my rear end was taking an absolute beating. The longer I went the worse my shoulder got. The worse my shoulder got the more I had to favor it and the worse everything else got because I was not in a good riding position. When things would smooth out a bit I would sit up and rest my right arm on my upper thigh/hip area, then a sand pit would jump out of nowhere and I would somehow save it with must my left, but the sudden jerk though my back made everything worse. I could not win.
For a few of the rougher downhill sections I was able to almost wedge myself between my pedals, bars and squeezing my saddle with my thighs so I could basically bomb the section. It hurt like no other, but only for a moment instead of it hurting the entire time of me trying to slowly pick lines and having my weight pushed forward by hitting the brakes.
Safe and smart? You be the judge, but I made it through.
My legs were still feeling good, and I had enough in me to finish the course, so I was pretty bummed that I was not going to make it. As I was starting to wallow in self-pity, I came around a turn and standing in the middle of the road about 30 yards ahead of me was a moose. I stopped and looked at it for a minute, then I remember all the stories from last year of the moose on Trail 19 that would not let anyone pass and I thought, great, all I need is to get stuck here with no way around and nowhere to go. Then I realized how cool it was to see a moose in the wild.
I turned my headlight on and set it to blink and shined it at the moose. It stood there, unamused. So I slowly starting riding toward the moose saying very loudly “Out of the way mooser”. Again, she was not amused, but she turned away from me and slowly started walking. I don’t really recommend this approach, but thank goodness it worked and I did not get charged. I was ready to jump into the trees on the side of the road though. I kept riding slowly and as the moose would round a bend in the road I would lose sight of it for a moment. When the road straightened, sure enough, there she was just walking along. After about a half mile of this a trail forked off the main road and Miss Mooser decided to take the fork and I was able to get back underway.
Now it was dark. Not just kind of dark, crazy dark. And I still had no idea how far I had to go to get to Laurie, but I knew it had already been a good hour and a half since I had talked with her. Occasionally, I would stop and check the map on my Garmin to try and figure out how much further I had to go, but at that point I just did not have the mental capacity for it, so I would take back off. It’s not like it made a difference anyway.
More riding, more almost falling in sand pits and through bumps, more beating my body up, but finally more than two and a half hours after calling Laurie I made it to AAA Rd and some pavement. Oh, glorious pavement. Except when I made it to the parking lot across from Eagle Mine there was no Laurie.
Then I had this conversation with myself, possibly out loud:
Oh no, maybe she did not find where it is or she went somewhere else. No, I’m sure she figured it out, but maybe she is where the route turns off AAA Rd on to Dishno Rd. I did tell her something about it being by AAA and Dishno, that’s only a half mile up the road I’ll Ride there
I rode on and sure enough, no Laurie and no cell service.
So there I was sitting at the side of the road, in the dark with no cell service a basically non-functioning right arm with nothing around for miles and no way to know if Laurie knew where to get me. (I told you this part came later in the story).
No big deal. She probably just drove somewhere she could get cell service to find my beacon on Trackleaders. That is what she did. She drove about 10 miles down the road, found my dot, realized I got there mere minutes after she left and turned around to come pick me up.
End Of Day. 204 miles. 18 hours. One useless arm and one throbbing undercarrige that I thought was probably the worse saddle sore of all time. But I was still alive to ride another day.
|Just a little dirty|
On the drive back to the hotel I was a bit full of mixed emotions. I was really bummed I didn’t finish, but at the same time I knew I had ridden well. I had done a solid job with nutrition, hydration, and pacing. I absolutely knew I had enough in my legs to make the last 50 miles.
I realize the last bit of this write up has been more on the negative side than most, and I blame that on the DNF. I’ve had DNF’s before, but they have almost all been mechanical issues. In fact, that last time I remember having a non-mechanical DNF was in 2015 when I made the mistake of trying a new fueling plan on race day. Side note: that race was my last before switching back to Hammer Nutrition, even though I was sponsored by a different nutrition company at the time. I’ve used Hammer ever since. I really did have an amazing day and I would do it again in an instant.
I talked about hurting my shoulder, so what was up with it. Basically, it was a pinched and irritated nerve somewhere in the C-6/7/8 area of my spine. Because of all the agitation to the nerve the muscles in my arm and hand would not function correctly. Since race day I’ve been to the chiropractor several times and had some X-rays, and I my shoulder and arm are almost back to normal. What turned out to be a more long-term issue and bigger pain in the butt (but not one I would have stopped riding for) requires a little back story.
This may be a little TMI, but welcome to the wonderful work of ultra-endurance cycling.
In early June I finally manage to complete the Border toBorder ride. I was very excited to put this one to bed, but in doing so I ended up with a real nasty saddle sore. Me being the person I am, I popped it, which hurt, but it got mostly better. Throughout June it would flair up on occasion, but it didn’t present an obstacle to riding. Then I did a couple of longer training rides for Crusher and it came back with a vengeance.
Let’s be real. It was uncomfortable at times, but I mostly ignored it.
Until The Crusher got a hold of it.
Things started going down hill when I forgot to put on more chamois cream in Houghton, then again in Toivola. It continued to get worse as the day wore on. Especially once my shoulder prevented me from doing much standing.If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a saddle sore gets into a 16-hour fight with what might as well have been a heavy weight boxer, the answer is it turns into an abscess. In a very unfortunate location, most appropriately described as in front of my sit bone area (less appropriately described as all up in there). I’m sure there is a technical term for it but let’s leave it there. I’m not exactly sure if abscesses grow or swell or something different all together, but it ended up being over and inch and a half long and about as big around as a nickel, it was basically the shape of a mini football. I named it Trés. After a few rather painful days I went to the doctor, got some antibiotics, and things are looking and feeling better. With any luck it will go away with just the medicine, and I won’t have to have it lanced.
The Crusher really is the gift that keeps on giving.
Now that you are utterly mortified of riding a bike we can get back to normal musings.
Riding in the U.P. never disappoints. Climbs, descents, rocks, roots, sand. I think the only thing I did not have to ride through was snow. It was hot enough out I think a few rocky sections may have been turning to lava. It’s also amazing how remote much of the U.P. is. You should go and ride one of the Crusher EX courses as soon as you can.
I consumed ~180 calories of Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem every hour, and I did a very good job of keeping intake on track. Hydration was helped with 5-6 Fizz tabs in my 2.5l hydration pack. I also had a little Cherry Bomb HEED after Houghton. My supplements for the day where Anti-Fatigue caps, BCAA+ caps, and Race Caps. I had pre-made little Ziplock bags that I took every two hours. I also had two small PB & honey sandwiches and mini cans of Coke for snacks and a pick me up.
I rode my Scott Spark with 2.25 Maxxis Aspens and TannusArmour tubeless inserts and ESI chunky grips (sponsor plug). Other than the noisy headset this was the perfect setup for the day. You could run a gravel bike, but I think tires less than 2.2 would not be much fun for much of the course.
What would I do different next time:
First and foremost, I would find someone to ride with. I enjoy an amazing solo adventure probably more than I should, but this is one that is best tackled with another person. The main reason is a safety thing. There were points on course where the next person back was well over two hours behind. If I’d have taken a hard spill there would have been nothing I could have done but wait and wait and wait. Having a riding partner also would have alleviated some serious stress for Laurie while she was waiting for me at Eagle Mine. That way if something would have happened she would know they could at least keep riding and get help if needed.
Second, the bibs I wore for Border to Border have been relegated to rides less than 3-4 hours. The shape of the chamois causes it to bunch up on longer rides, this causes a hot spot which leads to a saddle sore which leads to crotch fire which leads to Trés. Not good.
Will I do the Crusher again?
Without hesitation. This year’s course was significantly harder than the 2019 and I would date say it was tougher than the 2020 EX course, but it was a great course. I’m even planning to ride one of the shorter courses Labor Day weekend after Laurie gets after the 100EX.
Will I do the P2P or EX next year?
Good question and it will depend on who I can find to ride with and how the schedule works out, but I’ll be back.Strava File