it’s taken me almost a week to decompress enough to write this.
firstly, most importantly, i want to thank my riding partner ron for helping me get through the hardest 24 hours of my life. GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE
almost as importantly, i want to thank our sag team, dave & chelles, for being on course in the strangest, most unexpected places to fill our hearts with support, our bellies with food and coffee (and at least 3 occasional beers) and for covering our feet with dry socks. i’m confident that i can speak for ron as well when i say your value is like that of the most excellent space rock.
now on to the dirt. and the gravel. and the climbing. and the pain.
133.42 miles: this is the longest ride i have done in a single period of awakeness.
6,836 feel of elevation: less elevation than the 115 mile cherohala challenge, which i have done 3 times, but by far much harder. to give an idea, my best time at cherohala is 8:15:00. see next number for comparison.
20:22:34 moving time, 24:59:23 total time on gps, at least 36 hours with no sleep
since “crusher art” is now a thing, i have modified our strava gps output with the requisite commentary.
the day started for us at 6:30am behind some school in ishperming. i spell that “correctly” here out of deference to the local pronunciation. an uneventful pedal out to mosquito gulch followed. it was a pedal i knew was not going to be indicative of the rest of the ride. real action starts at da gulch. mosquito gulch is really some shit you don’t want to have to ride over, but you do it anyways. in this direction, it’s a climb too so that’s cute. strava tells me it took 54 minutes for me to go 2.4 miles. ron ate shit twice but from my recollection we actually rolled at least half of it.
the yellowdog river crossing is at the end of the gulch. it’s not the first river crossing on the 2021 route, but i won’t spoil by telling you where or how many. just bring your water filters so you can refill because there are long portions of this route that don’t have any place to get water. after crossing (it was low enough we probably could have ridden it but we spent a few minutes wandering the shoreline to find the “other side” of the “road” so we just waded through). we stopped after yellowdog to filter where we found dave in our possum van hanging around on the side of the road. i had a beer. fuck it. it was daylight and that’s enough for me.
this is only mile 33 and so far everything was going jim dandy. we began a longish descent down whatever passes for roads up there on our way to the huron river crossing. there’s so much sand for this section it’s hard to believe it’s actually “down” hill. some of the sand was ride condition but most was “drag your bike along behind you while sink in up to your ankles” sand. eventually, we made it through the sand and over the crossing without incident. dave and chelles were waiting for us with pasties! i had another beer.
we had hoped to get another sag stop near the top of mount arvon, but we found no friends there. later we were told that the road was so bad the possum van wouldn’t make it, had to be dug out and turned around. i will divulge here one huge tip to my fellow 2021 crushers. at the top of mount arvon you will find the mailbox and take your selfie. at this point your gps will tell you to do a u-turn and go back the way you came up. this will make you dumb, like me and ron. you will go down the access road, then back up it, then back down it and by the 3rd time you’ve had to climb it, you will say “i don’t want to climb this again,” but you will. you will lose time in the dark and get frustrated before you get the bright idea to go back to the mailbox and look for a different way to get back down. here’s the tip: there’s a singletrack directly behind the mailbox. it will take you off the top of the mountain. you can thank me later.
10pm. hour 16ish. wheeeeeeeee.
also, don’t get excited because counter to what your passport tells you, it is NOT mostly downhill from here. after descending the single track, which was pretty awesomely fun in the dark (seriously, maybe my favourite part of the ride) and full of stuff that looks like it belongs at west branch state park in ohio, we started going uphill again. ron switched over his gps to a topography map and we chattered back and forth about where our elevation was and how much more climbing could there possibly be. certainly not more than the 1,975 feet of the “highest peak in michigan.” the topo circles kept getting smaller. 1,700? nope. about 1,950… the second highest peak is only 20 feet shorter than mount arvon. we laughed at our stupidity. of course it was a horror show. it’s crusher. we pay for this.
it’s uneventful for a while after the climbs. we get on the right road and aim ourselves toward the mccormick wilderness area. we’re up high and it’s getting toward midnight and cold. on the horizon: road flares! it’s dave, waving lights in the middle of the road for sag support! dry socks, hot coffee and cuddles from our trail dogs. it’s amazing because right before mile 100 i was starting to fall asleep on my bike. ron and i were getting quiet and things were feeling more like a grind than an adventure. after that coffee i was a new woman!
and then the hallucinations started.
yep. you were waiting all this time to find out when shit really got weird. lights are funny in the middle of the night on no sleep. i use a helmet light and a bar light. ron has a bar light. as we ride along shadows are deep and shift quickly depending on how close we are together and where i turn my head. i started seeing stuff in the shrubbery on the side of the road and maybe it was rats or muskrats or bunnies or maybe just shadows and my crazy sleep deprived brain was filling in the gaps. i didn’t say anything to ron, but i kept looking side to side in my periphery wondering if i was seeing moving things or not. we definitely had a fox running alongside us for a little while because i could hear it barking, but the final straw came when i ran over what i completely believed to be a hand sized black salamander that got stuck to my front tyre and flew back up toward me. i grabbed the brakes and winced for impact. of course, it wasn’t there.
ron: where’d you go?
me: i uh ran off the road a bit. no problems. i’m cool.
wanna guess what was there?
west ishpeming heritage trail is FULL. OF. FROGS. i gave up trying not to run them over and quit count of how many i had killed at 13. i figured stopping the count at a bakers dozen was at least slightly funny and prayed to the amphibian goddess for forgiveness. i reminded myself that dave always says their survival strategy is to make too many babies. it’s okay to run them over. there are a lot. they crunch.
daylight started emerging for us around 4:15am. i checked my gps and realised we were going to beat our clock. i was about to have finished business! for those not hip to the story, i made an attempt at this ride last year with a broken arm. things did not end as well as i would have liked but sitting my appointment out was more than i could bear.
with the burgeoning daylight we gained some speed and chucked along on the trail for a while before getting to the last bluff singletrack.
i’m not going to talk much about last bluff. if you’re crushing take my advise and leave yourself ample time. twice as much time as you think you need at least. and may goddess have mercy upon your soul. and your feet because you’re going to walk a lot of it.
after orienting ourselves to where we were at in ishpeming, ron and i headed back to where we had started, 24 hours earlier. the first thing i heard was chelles shouting. i said, “mum’s yelling.” then we saw dave, who was also yelling and yipping at us. we remarked about what aloud family we have and tried to make a good finish. there were other dudes there too. our sag team brought a posse. some guys who said they were from troy had been watching our dots on the trackeladers site and met up with our team at the finish.
and we got off our bikes and we were done.