Since I am only a little bit of a masochist I opted for the Team HAMR race this year. My partner and dear friend Adam flew in from Colorado to suffer right along side me.
The concept of this adventure was simple: 7 checkpoints total in a cool passport; 4 mandatory, 3 optional. The more checkpoints you hit the greater the time bonus when you hit the finish line. Twelve hours to get them and get back. Random wakeup time. Ready, set: GO. Part adventure race/ orienteering and part endurance cycling. Sprinkle in a little knowledge of the area and you have yourself an adventure.
My pre-race prep involved eating a burrito, drinking a few beers, and stuffing half a watermelon down my gullet.
Spoiler alert: I was one of the first people up to use the two porta-johns. This race-prep worked out well as I discovered the lights on in the race tent and some of the volunteers scurrying about. Win for Team Dirtbag Yuppie!
You see, the start time was random and my bubbly belly served me well by forcing me out of bed early.
“Africa” softly wafted through the loudspeaker while racers rubbed the sleep from their eyes. This song was the harbinger of things to come. Those blessed rains would come soon enough.
Adam and I took off toward the old 510 Bridge checkpoint in the same direction as the SledgeHAMR racers. (Those sick puppies did 186 miles). We rolled down to the checkpoint just as the sun came up, punched our passports and headed up 510 in the general direction of the next checkpoint. The watermelon demon again raised (or rather lowered) its ugly head and I was forced to make a pitstop at the pullout just before the new 510 Bridge. (Thanks MDOT for providing that one).
We headed north of CR 510 toward the Red Road.
The next checkpoint was south of Mosquito Gooch in the Mulligan Plains and the Red Road was the only way to get there. The steady light rain tamed the otherwise sandy road and made it nearly enjoyable. However, every time I started to get into a decent cadence I would get sucked into a sandy spot and reminded of the shortcomings of my 2.3″ tires. Adam and the fatty pounded on, mostly unfazed by the loose spots. Riding in nasty sand can be quite taxing and the roadside was loaded with wild blueberries so Adam and I took full advantage of nature’s bounty whenever we felt our energy dip. You know… every 5 minutes or so.
We turned north toward Mosquito/Mulligan and were immediately delighted to find that the road grew firmer with every rotation of our tires. We arrived at the very picturesque second checkpoint, punched our passports, and took some quintessential photos:
Surely, we thought that it would be time to start piling the miles on again now that we had solid trail under our tires. Unfortunately, we were sadly mistaken. We began to notice that we were climbing, which was to be expected, as we are in the Huron Mountain Range after all. However neither of us was prepared for what we encountered partway up the hill. As the road deteriorated into rubble we started pushing more and more.
Here’s Adam; he is suffering up some rocky crap. We saw many footprints of those who came before us. I thought it’d be fun to take a cute picture of him suffering. Shortly thereafter karma struck and mother nature rewarded me for my hubris. On the first descent following this enhanced climb, I tried a stupid shortcut. ‘Why ride around solid-looking mud when I could probably ride right through it?’ Big mistake. I shoulder-checked that mud puddle after going OTB. Rich, black, backwoods mud covered my helmet, jersey and most of the integral moving parts on the front part of my bike. Adam only heard my very manly screams as the mud consumed my pride. I washed my sins away at the Yellow Dog River crossing and we motored on.
After getting on the AAA road the checkpoints seemed to tick off with greater frequency. As we headed south on CR 510 on our way to the Wilson Truck Trail the rained picked up. (It rained about 5 of the 11 hours that we were on the course) After 15 minutes of hard rain on the well-packed CR 510 I turned around to apologize to Adam for dragging him out of sunny Denver to slop around in the cold wet midwest. My spirits were lifted and I knew that I picked the right co-pilot when I saw the smile on his face. He was soaking up the rain and sucking down gels with a side of sand.
We thought that we had lost our way en route to Wilson Truck Trail but ended up righting the ship with a little help from some friends on a tandem. (Thanks, eh?) There are few activities where competitors will come to each other’s aid. That’s one of the main reasons that I love riding mountain bikes and events like this.
Heading down, or east, on the Wilson Creek Truck Trail was a blast. We thoroughly enjoyed the creek crossings and even made a few stops to snap some semi-rad shots.
Letting gravity do the work in this section provided a welcomed reprieve from pedaling and gave us some time to recharge, chat, and eat more sugary gels and bars. This was also about the time that we both became oddly infatuated with the bag of Lays that was nestled in the van back at basecamp. We totally forgot about the free pasties but more on that later.
The last 22-ish miles and checkpoints 4, 5, and 6 are sort of a blur. This is mainly due to the fact that they were quite consolidated and close together compared to the first three checkpoints. The one that sticks out the most is Top of the World. Chelsea and I have made several trips out here and it was really cool to be able to show Adam the killer view of Lake Superior from this point.
After the final checkpoint dubbed “Chunky Summit” on some strange snowmobile/atv trail we emerged onto the Noque ski trail somewhere around the 17km marker. We made our way to the basecamp along a freshly flattened trail through the overgrown grass. I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t sink mid-thigh in the “wet area” just before the bridges… At this point we were both rightly soaked and honestly I didn’t even notice the extra 3-4 pounds of mud that clung to my body and bike. (Why was I the only one that looked like an extra from Swamp Thing?)
The finish line at the basecamp came up quick and we had our passports cleared just shy of 11 hours in the saddle. Because we got 6 of 7 we received a 3 hour time reduction and ended up placing 5th of 20 teams. Not too shabby for all of the berries that we ate.
We finished up the party with a pastie, a gallon of ketchup, and a few bags of candy from our wives.
Something tells me that HAMR isn’t going anywhere. Like many endurance events, this one will probably get its own cult following and serve as jewel in many future crowns. I’d like to thank Beardsley and Todd for putting this great event on. I’d also like to thank Adam for making the trip out to ride bikes in poor weather, on an un-marked course, with this strange little man in the woods. Chelsea–thank you for supporting my childlike dreams and for putting up with my super loud trainer rides while you are trying to do yoga and achieve inner peace. Kathleen, thank you for the moral support, encouragement, and forcing Adam to pose for pictures. Michele, thanks for the Garmin and tutorial. Finally, thanks to Velodrome for allowing me to ride on Team Tamp Stamp and that dope little packet of instant coffee.
Oh yeah, that snorkel? The one from the famous #snorkdangle?
We didn’t friggin’ use it for anything substantive. We took a picture. I cannot wait to see what they make us carry next year.
HAMR: Let’s pound again in 2019.