In 2011 I had Ore to Shore on my calender for quite some time and had been looking forward to it more and more by the day. The thought of doing the Hard Rock in the Upper Peninsula had been eating at me for years but the long drive up and the usual conflicts always got in the way in the past. This year everything fell into place. My schedule at work could not even get in the way. Then when I weaseled my way into Camp Erickson it was full speed a head. Andy helped us immensely by arranging a great house for us to stay in for the 5 days(4 nights) we would need to make this trip worth the drive. That situation was perfect in all kinds of ways.
Race day and we were gearing up in downtown Nagaunee. Everyone was awake in this town for the beginning of the probably the biggest event of the year for them. Really cool atmosphere compared to some other races. Stress levels seem low and everyone was just excited to be there. After riding through the streets of Nagaunee and into the woods we came out about 8 miles later in Ishpeming. This is a city I have always been curious about and it did not disappoint. Not as big as Marquette but bigger then Nagaunee. I cheered the fans of this little town in passing and they were very receptive. I could be heard saying stuff like, "YOU ROCK ISHPEMING!" while riding past the fans. Then about 3 miles down some dirt roads later we found ourselves riding through someones private commercial property and in passing I asked the landowner sarcastically, "What town is this?". To which he replied, "Ishpatucky!" That guy gets a star for the quick wit!
The Hard Rock 48 miler was filled with every type of terrain possible. Luckily it was dry enough in the previous week so the mud was mostly minimal. Most of the singletrack was hard pack with the occasional loose rocky downhills. Plenty of sand on the snowmobile trails. Jeep type two tracks and finally tons of road riding. I never thought I would look forward to the roads but it gave me a chance to eat, drink and get my head back together. The aid stations through the course are probably the best I have witnessed. Great support from the community. These parts of the UP you can never see on your own do to all the private property being volunteered. I had to laugh when we made a left hand turn from the road and into someones driveway. That later led to a road for a utility company. Some property had damns and reservoirs that were spectacular.
Yes I was in awe. I enjoyed the sites and the friends I made during the race. Next year I will try and remain more focused but for the first time I was really enjoying the area(evident in my time) while still trying to finish the race in one piece. Next year I should be able to knock off a good 20 minutes.
Finally towards the end we climbed Kirbys Hill and that is where I was hallucinating and saw a bunch of "Nymphos" on the trail who enjoyed shoving watermelon in my mouth. I am not yet sure what all that meant but it was just what I needed at the time. They also told me that it was all down hill from there and I believed them. Never doubt a "Nympho". The last 2 miles were mostly road heading through the campus of NMU then towards the finish shoot. I could see the crowds of people growing so I kicked it into the highest gear and started really pumping. When I saw the last arrow for a left hand turn to finish, I also saw a large group of familiar faces screaming my name and jumping around like I just scored the winning touchdown for the Lions in Super Bowl 2012. I could only recognize a few of their faces without falling. Most of them were from the Novi Tree Farm and I know I saw my team mate and friend Tom Payn, so I swept my bike right to gather a few high fives before making the left to the finish. I was so happy at that moment I wanted to burst. It grounded me and made me consider my fortune among humanity that I had seen along the trail. I was happy to finish, glad I made the trip and consider myself blessed with friends.
The best part was taking the extra days to relax, ride and eat with friends and we did a lot of all three.
Really looking forward to next year and kicking myself for not doing this event sooner. It was an honor to be with my teammates representing PrecisionMTB.com. My Kenda Karma on the front ran great as a tubeless and the new Slant Six on the back is exactly what I needed for the diversity in the terrain of the course. My bike held out great! Even after smacking a tree on our last trail ride of the weekend my Niner EMD 9 performed like a champ. If you know how graceful I am at falling you would have really been impressed with that display. Unfortunately I was all alone at the time so no witnesses. This time. ;)