The 2017 Bell’s Beer Iceman Cometh Challenge is a point to point mountain bike race held traditionally on the first Saturday of November. The race starts in downtown Kalkaska, Michigan and finishes thirty miles later at Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort on the eastern edge of Traverse City, Michigan. The course consists primarily of dirt roads, two-tracks (the majority of the course), abandoned railroad beds and the world famous Vasa Nordic ski trail. It crosses only one paved road (Williamsburg Rd at mile 17) as it winds through the breathtaking terrain of the Pere Marquette State Forest in Northern Lower Michigan. In 2016, 5393 athletes participated!!
The Bell’s Iceman events attracts competitive cyclists from Mexico, Canada and 38 states. Ages range from 1.5 years to 80 years of age. Their ability levels vary from first time racers to Olympians.
The Iceman Course
Starting at the Kalkaska Civic Center, the Bell’s Beer Iceman trail consists of paved roads, dirt roads, two tracks (the majority of the course), abandoned railroad beds and the world famous Vasa Nordic ski trail. Approximately 30 miles long,the course crosses only one paved road (Williamsburg Rd. at mile 17) as it winds through the breathtaking terrain of the Pere Marquette State Forest in Northwestern Lower Michigan.
With the collapse of the Municipal Building’s roof and subsequent move to the Kalkaska County Civic Center, this year’s start promises to be fast and furious. There won’t be much time for each wave to spread out before crossing West Kalkaska Rd. and entering the woods of the Pere Marquette State Forest. A few sand pits highlight the course before a twisty double-track that rides like a single track leads riders to the western shores of Smith Lake. Nettie’s Hill provides the first real elevation gains of the course and is always a good indicator whether, or not, you have good legs for the day. Expect trains of riders working co-operatively to maximize ground speed.
Just before Dockery Rd. is a section of the Bell’s Iceman course that was severely impacted by a wind shear storm twenty years ago. “Tornado Alley” is the first single-track riders encounter on their way west. Once out of “Tornado Alley” and in the open meadow, the first feed zone seems to fly-by due to the high speeds. Immediately upon leaving the feed zone, riders may notice how straight and (mostly) level the course becomes. That’s due to the fact that course follows an old abandoned logging railroad bed as it crosses Dockery Rd. After a quick climb with an offcamber left turn riders plunge down “Water Bottle Hill” and its roots before turning north towards “Steve’s Secret”. The climb out of “Steve’s Secret” is steep and delivers riders to Bulhead Lake Rd. before climbing some more on a relatively new logging road.
Sand Lakes to Broomhead Road
Sand Lakes is a full-gas wide dirt road with one sustained climb so there’s lots of opportunities to pass. The approach to Broomhead Rd. on Sand Lakes Rd. provides a chance to recover and prepare for the quick but painful climbs just east of Williamsburg Rd.
Williamsburg Rd. is a Bell’s Iceman landmark as it is the only paved road riders cross on their journey west to Timber Ridge. It’s about 2/3 of the way in mileage but about half-way in terms of effort. Look for the bright red, black, and white “Grand Traverse Cycle” banner marking Williamsburg Rd. Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office deputies help control the auto traffic so make sure to thank them as you zip by.
The second feed zone is located just before the Vasa Trail so make sure you don’t miss it! The course jumps onto the Non-Motorized Vasa Pathway with approximately sixteen kilometers to go. Now, the real fun begins with numerous hills & high speed downhills. The course turns left off the Vasa onto the “Wall By-pass” and then rejoins the Vasa Trail at the foot of “The Wall”. More hills and Cassle’s Cliff lead to Anita Hill and a heart thumping climb. The Vasa Trail is wide enough for Nordic skate skiing so there’s plenty of room for passing. Just keep your weight back when approaching the sand under the power lines that cross the course. A grunt up the “Ice Breaker” hill before a fast descent to the Land’s End Road crossing delivers riders to the outskirts of Timber Ridge Resort and the finish line.
The exact layout of the course’s last five kilometers is always a very tightly held secret until November so be sure to scope it out before you start your race Saturday morning! Regardless, the finish line is always a welcome sight and signals that it’s time for the celebrations to begin!
GRAND TRAVERSE CYCLE FEED STATIONS
Grand Traverse Cycle is once again sponsoring the Feed Stations! Watch for their catchy signs on the course as you approach the three designated feed stations. The Ice House, Oasis, and Ice Station Zebra are located at about eleven, twenty-seven and thiry-six kilometers into the course, respectively. Volunteer crews will be serving up loads of CLIF products, cookies, fruit, and water for all!
The Oasis at Williamsburg Rd., has been moved two miles to the east in order to reduce the confusion at the Williamsburge Road crossing and to facilitate transportation to Timber Ridge resort for riders who abandon the race at Broomhead Road. Williamsburg Road will still be a real happening with its own announcer and PA so the entire crowd can hear who’s made it that far. Slush Cup riders will use the last Iceman feed station, Ice Station Zebra, located on the Vasa Trail. As always, there will be a huge recovery center at the finish line.
Meijer Slush Cup Course
The Meijer Slush Cup course jumps onto the Vasa Trail just southeast of Timber Ridge and follows the 25K ski trail east to the Vasa 10K trail. Utilizing the southern portion of the 10K, the trail turns north & east before it merges with the Bell’s Iceman course at the Ice Station Zebra feed station. At Ice Station Zebra, the course turns west and begins the trek back to Timber Ridge Resort. Climbing Icebreaker Hill is always the biggest challenge for Slush Cuppers but upon getting to the top, riders know it is not far to the finish line.
Meijer Sno-Cone Course
The Meijer Sno-Cone course(s) are fun loops within the Timber Ridge Resort trail system that are sure to bring a smile to every young rider’s face. Three different courses are offered for age graded events. There’s a 2+ kilometer course for boys & girls eight and over, a slightly shorter route for five to seven year old girls & boys, and a very short course for children 4 & under. The highlight of each course is that they all merge with the Iceman and Slush Cup courses so everybody gets to finish underneath the big finish line!