Iceman Update: A Crisp Start To The Finish (Venue)

Know what makes it really feel like the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge is just around the corner? 40 degrees and rain. 

I always smile the first time we see this kind of weather because of something my friend Sean Kickbush said while lining up at Peak2Peak a couple of years ago. We were doing that awkward dance before the Elite start; pedaling around in small circles just a few yards from the start line because we didn’t want to be the first to line up, but didn’t not want to be first, either. It was cold and, as if often the case, windy at the base of the ski hill. Nerves, as you’d expect, were frayed. Just then, ten minutes before the start, a few sprinkles fell, followed by something more steady. Sean, tense but smiling looked over and voiced his opinion on conditions. “You know what’s better than racing in 40 degrees? Racing in 40 degrees in the rain. Yeah, that’s a fun idea.” 

Of course, we all clamor to do it when it’s Iceman. Some of you nutcases even do your snow dances or hope for freezing weather. Once the gun goes off, the weather doesn’t matter. This is Michigan, and this is Iceman; we all know what we signed up for, and we’re going to give it hell no matter what. 

This past Sunday, a few of the crew made the short trip up to Timber Ridge to start preparing for 10,000 of our friends to party. It was the perfect Iceman morning; grey, cold, and just damp enough to control the sand. As I pulled in, a solid group of riders from all over the state were pumping up tires and sliding snacks into their pockets. I’ll admit, this weekend was the first time I had a fuzz of jealousy of the folks racing. Those guys and gals looked excited, eager, and ready for what is always an adventure. 

Instead, I joined Mark Frick and Dave Heim on breaking out the stuff that makes the Iceman Iceman; the banners. Well, they may not be the most important or exciting part of the event, but this infrastructure is precious. We popped open the massive shipping container and started organizing by the sponsor; a massive pile of Bell’s signs, Trek banners neatly stacked next to Bontrager, a bunch of BISSELL close-by, and the Subaru VIP signs next to the golden VIP Parking banners. Seeing the container slowly empty was a great feeling, but the real treat was when Mark rolled out the barrels. Literally. The Bell’s Brewery barrels, for me, immediately send a jolt of electricity through me; this thing is SO CLOSE!

Throughout the morning, we also got a few updates from Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association and their trails crews. They’ve been working every night well past dark to get some of the course’s re-routes finished up and packed in. Much of these re-routes will be flagged and started by the weekend, but there’s plenty more to do to get them up to NMMBA’s exacting standards. When you see a few guys in the woods over the next few weeks, make sure you give them a shout and say thank you! 

Last week, transfers officially closed, which means we’ll be polishing up wave assignments over the next few days. We’ll be doing what we can to get people where they should be, if not exactly where they want to be. Our registration crew has been getting 60-80 emails a day for the past two weeks with questions and requests, and they’ve given me two tips to pass along to those looking to skip up a few starting positions. First, just remember that we can only do so much shuffling. Second, Jessica and Denine like Two-Hearted Ale in a bottle. 

Finally, the weather. I’ll admit, I caught myself checking the long, long-range forecast the other day, and finally smacked my own hand away from the weather app. It’s northern Michigan; the weather is going to change a dozen times between now and November 2, and another dozen times during the race. Don’t sweat it. Just like the course, we’re all in the same rain, snow, wind, or heatwave, and we know it’s not going to stop you from finishing…or hanging around to party.

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!