Course Notes: Head(waters) For The Hills

Course Notes: Head(waters) For The Hills

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.

Don’t Give Up: Transfers Are Open

Don't Give Up: Transfers Are Open

Sold out! The Bell’s Beer Iceman Cometh Challenge is full, but if you’re as determined as this little guy, don’t worry. Transfers are live and already processing. Head to the site, hit the Register tab and find Transfers. Once completed, you’ll be added to the queue of folks looking to get in. As riders transfer out, you’ll get in on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Note, the rider opting out will pay a $20 fee, which will be donated to Norte Youth Cycling and Grand Rapids Dirt Dawgs!

We work hard to make sure every single spot of the race gets into the hands of someone who wants to race. If you think you need to move your spot, the sooner you put it up for grabs, the better! 

Questions? Let us know how we can help. 

Under 200 Spots To Go!

Under 200 Spots To Go!

We’re under 200 spots to go, and we’ve got a challenge for you. 

Steve “Iceman” Brown has been trying to get in plenty of miles before we get really, really busy this fall. With registration taking off, we were talking about just how long it’ll take until the long race is sold out. So, in true Iceman Cometh Challenge fashion, we’re having a race. 

As of today, Iceman has 186 miles for the month of August, and there are now 167 spots remaining for the 28-mile race. So, will Iceman get to 200 before the race gets to zero? 

It won’t if Steve gives the new course a look! We spent the weekend putting in a big effort to take a closer look at a few changes at the start and final five miles of the race. Nothing is set in stone yet, but we’ve got a few wrinkles in place and a few favorite sections coming back in honor of the 30th edition of the race. 

All in all, the course is in great shape, although it’s at peak sand due to a very dry August. Things will firm up plenty after Labor Day, and we’re working with our pals at Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to do just a bit of trimming to keep the face-slappers at bay. The only spot to watch for is located in the Water Bottle Hill Bypass at roughly mile mark 9.7 from Kalkaska. There are two extremely big trees down that’ll need chainsaws and some very strong human to shift out of the way. 

Watch for more course updates AND to see if we can beat Steve to across the 200 mark! Let’s hope he doesn’t do his course inspection today! 

30th Annual Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge Takes Off!

30th Annual Bell's Iceman Cometh Challenge Takes Off!

July. The very height of summer in Northern Michigan. Hot days, warm nights, searing sun and plenty of time between now and November 2…or so you’d think! Today, we had our first full staff meeting to bring you the 30th Annual Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge. From logistics, security, course marketing, shoot, even where we’ll put the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, the first thing I’ve learned over the past six months is that there isn’t a detail, idea, or improvement that we leave to chance! 

One of the biggest things that makes Iceman so exciting are those little changes to the schedule or course. Starting in August, racers are putting in Out’n’Backs to scout out that new turn, climb, or descent that might give them the edge, or at least buy them a handful of seconds. Those recon rides are a part of the buzz, the excitement of the race, and a fixture for locals and a real treat for folks who make the drive to Traverse City to see the course for themselves.

Well, for the 30th ‘gala’, as Steve “Iceman” Brown has taken to calling it, we’ve cooked up something big. I was going to start this announcement with a pun, the best (worst) of which follow below:

  • I hope this new idea has wings!
  • The new start venue has taken off! 
  • 2019 will see all new heights! 

Due to the number of eye-rolls, however, I’ll just let this parachute down and land on you: we’re moving the start venue to the Kalkaska Airport! The Village of Kalkaska has been such an incredible host for years, and when we sat down about the move, they were way ahead of us. Not only was it on their radar, but it was also on their to-do list! They’ll be making some changes to allow for all of our parking, bus drop off, rider drop off, start chute and over a mile of the course to all easily fit on the airstrip! 

The move to the airport, from a racer’s perspective, achieves a lot of good. Logistically, every aspect of race morning will be easier; you’ll be able to park close to the start, warm-up on dirt roads, watch your friends take off (another pun, you’re welcome) for over a mile, and have access to vendors for your support crew. We’ve got packet pick-up and the Pancake Breakfast within site of the start banner, plus Porta Johns right where they’re handy as you line up. 

Additionally, the start has plenty of time to shake out. Since the move to the Fairgrounds, the Iceman start in every wave has felt a bit like riding in a mob of Black Friday shoppers; there’s not much of a lead-in before you slam into a narrow opening. It’s made the opening two minutes of the race more important than ever, but that can be frustrating when you’ve spent months training, just to get buried on the first bit of singletrack. 

Instead, you’ll have nearly a mile and a half of wide, fast riding on grass, gravel, and a bit of paved runway to sort yourselves out before slashing across Island Lake Road and onto a wooded two-track. You’ll have another three-quarters of a mile until you see singletrack, giving each wave roughly two miles to shake things out. The first ten minutes still matter a lot, but you’re going to slot in where you deserve to be. 

We’ve got a lot more to come about the race over the next few months, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated about some exciting stuff from Bell’s Brewery, Trek Bikes, and everything Iceman Cometh Challenge. Are you getting ready for November 2? You better be!