Part of the fun of Iceman is that course is never the same. Even if 80% of the traditional 30 miles remains unchanged, we’ve always found a way to keep the remaining 20% exciting, fresh, and tough. This is is my first year designing the route that will bring over five thousand riders from Kalkaska to Traverse City, and it’s the new section that really embodies everything about our goals for 2019.
Skiers know it, and so do plenty of trail runners and hikers. But mention ‘Headwaters’ or ‘the 5k’ to a mountain biker, and you get about a 50/50 split on them knowing what you’re talking about. I’ve been obsessed with this section of trail for a few years now. In our weekly Speed of Light ‘fake’ race in Traverse City, I’ve never been able to figure out a good, safe way to include it because there just wasn’t a starting spot that made sense. All winter, we ski Headwaters when we need a tough workout, and I try to ride it as often as I can.
One of my goals for the 30th edition of the race was to make the race exactly 30 miles, but no matter how I routed it, I couldn’t get my perfect “30 For 30” to match up. Finally, it hit me! I need about three miles and, since my limited metric conversion skills could handle it, I had my 5k!
It made more than sense when I thought about it beyond the arithmetic, too. This summer, Traverse Area Recreational Trails and Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association got to work on a two-mile Skill Building Trail at the Bartlett Trailhead. This two mile section is designed for kids and beginners to have a safe, accessible way to rip laps right from the trailhead. The trail reaches almost to Headwaters, and there’s singletrack that lets riders hop from the Skills Trail to Headwaters. It’s a natural progression that beginner riders will incorporate Headwaters into their riding as a bridge to longer, more challenging rides.
Headwaters is really a series of hills, with two distinct peaks. Some of these trails are sandy, and we’re going to direct more of our trailwork to improving trails we have and can easily access, rather than cutting short trails that will only be used a few weeks per year for racers pre-riding the course. We want to make Headwaters a part of where we ride all year long!
The final motivation was to make even more space in the final 5 miles to pass. For 90% of the field, the last twenty minutes of Iceman is a wild mix of passing and being passed, and even on wide trail, that can be tough, especially if you're in a group of riders in a similar speed. Elevation is the ultimate selection; by the time you hit the finish line, Headwaters and the hills that follow are going to have you ahead of who you should be ahead of, and behind who you should be behind. There's no hiding, but there's plenty of space and time to get around people on these hills.
And it’s going to make for one incredible finale, too. The entire section is six feet ride or more, with a number of short and steep climbs. It’s not just an ideal launching pad, it’s a series of ideal launching pads that will see the race leaders throw attack after attack at each other, albeit it with about 26 miles of tough racing in their legs already! Because it’s so close to the Bartlett Trailhead, it’s going to be a great place to spectate, and if I had a choice, that’s exactly where I’d be to watch the first waves and the Pro race come through. My bold prediction? This year, even the fastest riders will hit Timber Ridge in ones and twos.
That’s because the climbing doesn’t stop with Headwaters. Riders then hit the Vasa CC Climb plus a few little top-secret wrinkles near the finish. The numbers tell the story; over 25% of the races total elevation gain comes in the final four miles! Don’t let that intimidate you, though; it just means the first twenty-six miles are easy, right?
You can check out Headwaters on Strava here.