…is that it’s whatever you want it to be. Don’t forget that.
Today, I swung through Brockmiller Elite Endurance for a quick tutorial on how to make the bikes do things. I picked up a class telling fellow cyclists to go fast, go slow (repeat) two nights a week, partially because I needed to block off that time to exercise as things get busy, and partly because, I admit, I got a little lonely pedaling by myself (and a few thousands eerily similar avatars on Zwift) from November into March. We’ve also got a wedding coming up, and splitting a foot-long combo meal from Subway isn’t going to cut it, apparently.
But what really got me thinking, and actually motivated to write something this year, were the three signs hanging on the walls at the Hive with 60 names written on them. That’s right, 60. That’s how many BEE riders are racing this Saturday. With those names were wave assignments and ages. They ranged from a half-dozen Wave One or Pro riders to an equal amount of riders starting outside the first fifteen waves, and just a couple first timers (good luck, Julie Boss and Sara “Nestorfarian” Nestor!). They ranged from their early thirties to early seventies. Men, women. Old. Less old.
Of those 60 riders, you can expect times ranging from around the 1:40 mark to over three hours. On years with bad weather, like 2014, you could expect that range to be even wider, pushing four and half, even five hours for newer riders.
Now, extrapolate that width of skill, experience, talent, work ethic, genetic ability, stubborn dedication, and passion for the sport and the race, and you get why an event scheduled for the ass-end of autumn in northern Michigan can grow into something a lot bigger than a 28-mile bike race. The race has worked because it’s accessible enough that a first-timer can try it, or a guy with four kids and a 65 hour work weekend can sneak out of the garage three times a month to prepare for it. Guys like Bryan Ellenbaas who living legends of the sport, who just go out and give it hell, passing riders half their age; that’s really something to see.
And honestly, those are the people I’m most excited to see this weekend. I’ll admit to being star-struck and chattering like a school girl when, huddled with Sean at Brew, Geoff Kabush or Howard Grotts strolls in. (Yes, we did look up the transactions to see exactly what they ate, but I’m sorry, I forget now, a year later). Having Stephen Ettinger and Spencer Paxson sleepover with me two years ago was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, and it’s not for my cooking, but for Iceman that they showed up. I still have no idea how Spencer, who is my size, put away a rather large jar of peanut butter in two days.
Having the pros is a treat, but I can’t wait to see how Brad Hochstetler and Carl Copenhaver, the unofficial Statler and Waldorf of Zwift, fare when they have a day away from kid-duty, freed from the shackles of fatherhood (no, Sara, really, I have a positive outlook about the next few years) and the restraints of stationary cycling. Jaden Drews, who flies three days a week, squeezes in maybe two rides while he’s home, and doesn’t mind riding with his offspring and wife, because he knows those miles matter, too. I want to see Bryan Warner, who has spent the last year driving back and forth from the UP, squeezing in rides when he could and hopping on the trainer at odd hours to get the work in. I want to see some of the fastest guys in town, Tim Pulliam and Dan Ellis, crush Slush Cup with their kids, then haul ass out to Kalkaska for the Pro race.
And after helping Bill Unger, Heath Day, Kyler Bradley, Kickbush, and everyone who coached with Norte this fall, seeing the swarms of orange is going to be a blast. We’ve got an incredible thing in getting these kids on bikes. Forget a future Tour winner (though we may have that), think of what sort of adults these young teens and kids are going to grow into. Confident, healthy, active, tough, and ready to take on life. These are the kids that I want legislating this country and shaping our cities and towns in the next 60 years!
For some of us, Iceman is a race; it’s something that goes well or goes poorly, and we might look at different years as a success or a failure. You have bad ones, you have good ones, and such a big part of that has nothing to do with race day. It’s because you worked more, rode less, had a kid, lost a parent. Cycling went from being fun to something that needed to be fit in, forced, and it lost its sheen and shine. I think we’ve all been there at some point; of all the things to be doing and all the things to get done, is this really what I love?
The beauty of cycling, and the beauty of the Iceman Cometh Challenge, is that it’s always waiting for you. No matter what takes you away or what brings you back, there’s a tangible community, a sport, a feeling that is there, and while the faces change slightly, it’s oddly the same. Take a week off or a decade, it’s still going to be around. You can always try again, because that 28 miles isn’t going anywhere, and just finishing still matters. Even if it means something different each season, it never means any less.
Ride whatever you want. Go as fast as you want, or as slow. Wear baggies, wear spandex, wear a puffy coat. If you can still see straight, grab bacon or bourbon (or both) from Eli, Steve, and Ted Shaw when you hit #MakeItStick and hear the Keen drum pounding. Sprint for 98th place in your age group because the crowd heckled you and another exhausted rider to do it. Save just a little for the final climb into Timber Ridge, because you know everyone is watching.
This is Iceman. It’s a damn big deal. For a lot of reasons, for a lot of people.