Monday, September 10, 2012

2012 Ore To Shore Mountain Bike Epic

I imagine if you are the chief orthopedist at Marquette (Michigan) General Hospital that it might not be easy to get the second Saturday of August off.  As a matter of fact, if I were that person, I would report to work, scrub up and calmly wait at the emergency room entrance because some business will definitely be coming your way.  This past August 11th was the 13th annual Ore To Shore Mountain Bike Epic, billed as Michigan's largest point to point mass start race.  Those choosing to participate had a number of events from which they could select:
  • Hard Rock (48 miles)
  • Soft Rock (28 miles)
  • Shore Rock (10 miles)
  • Junior Rock (4 miles)
  • Little Rock (1 mile)
  • Littlest Rock (50 yards)
Last year my brother Rob, sister Anne and Pam and I all did the Soft Rock.  This year Rob and I elected to do the same event again.  Our family summer home is just west of Marquette so we don't have a problem getting to the race.

This is primarily a trail race that is run on the two-track logging roads and trails between Negaunee and Marquette.  Let me make this clear, I am not a racer, nor am I a mountain bike trail rider.  Most of the 1,300+ miles I have biked so far this year could be described as path riding.  My Trek 7200 is not suited for this type of trail riding so my brother John kindly lent me his Giant Rincon for the ride.

My brother John loaned me his Giant Rincon for the ride
The evening before the ride we reported to Lakeview Arena in Marquette to pick up our race materials.  A local service club puts on a $7 spaghetti feed for riders as a fundraiser.  Rob and I waited a short time in line and received our packets and then enjoyed the dinner before returning to our cabin for the evening.

Participants line up to receive race materials
My Bib

The weather was cool but clear as participants assembled near the shore of Teal Lake in Negaunee for the start of the race.  Organizers advised us that the temperature was already 12 degrees warmer down in Marquette and we expected sparkling conditions for the ride.  The number of riders signed up for the Soft Rock was a record 1,160.  There were signs suggesting where riders should line up based upon their projected finishing time.  Elite qualifying riders were lined up at the head of the pack since they were expected to be in the hunt for a prize money winning race time.  I wasn't in the race to try to score under a particular time so I stayed well away from those gunning for a cash prize.

Participants line up the morning of the event
Rob is ready to go!
Signs indicated where participants should line up based on their expected race times

Here is the sign I lined up behind!
The starting gun went off at 9:00 and the crowd started moving.  The first couple of miles was on a roadway and we were under police escort.  The escort then ended and we turned off into the woods.  At this point the racers are all still bunched together and conditions are ripe for a bike-to-bike crash.  After 15 minutes or so the crowd disperses over the course and there were plenty of times I found myself alone.  Rob moved ahead aggressively since he was looking to come in under 3 hours, bettering his time from last year.  There were a few tandem bikes as well as a few folks who rode single speed bikes.

On the trail
There were some limited views of Lake Superior but riders were wise to keep their eyes on the trail ahead
Much of the course looked like this

The iron ore still mined in this part of Michigan's upper peninsula makes the predominantly downhill ride to the Port of Marquette on Lake Superior, thus the name Ore To Shore.  Click here to see a map of the course.  Simply because there is a gross loss of altitude as one rides the 28-mile race, don't be fooled into thinking that it is all downhill.  There is plenty of uphill and more than a few of the downhills consist of large rocks scattered among soft sand.  Our Midwest summer has been pretty warm and dry and while the Upper Peninsula was not under drought conditions, the trail was dry and featured much more loose, soft sand than last year.  Conditions were challenging and I worked to stay back on the bike during descents and to maintain control of steering as I negotiated the dry, sandy areas.  I did not see any crashes this year but saw many more flats and bike chain problems than last year.  I did see a couple of folks walking off the course with shoulders that were clearly giving them pain.

"Caution, Fast Decent"?  Oh, no, "Clavicle Hill" is the most notable descent on the course.  Just over the horizon in this photo it drops very steeply.
I had no trouble at all until about mile 24.  I was rounding a very sharp curve in the course amid tree roots.  I turned sharply to the right to make the turn and went over a tree root but my wheel came up parallel to another root and turned even more sharply right.  I was too far forward on the bike and the bike fell over with me on the top of it.  Other than a coating of dirt from my chin to my waist, no harm was done.  I pushed on.

As I rounded the last turn into the parking lot of Lakeview arena and the finish line, the crowd let out a great cheer.  For a second I basked in their roar of approval for my accomplishment until I noticed that, rather than looking at me, they seemed to be looking over my shoulder.  I glanced back and saw the leading riders of the Hard Rock bearing down on me like the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse.  The order of finish: Cole House (age 24) of Oneida, Wisconsin, Brian Matter (34) of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Mike Phillips (35) of Chicago, Illinois and Christian Tanguy (37) of Rochester, Minnesota all finished with a second separating first and fourth place and all averaged a whopping 19.7 miles per hour over their 48-mile course.  That's right: They all started later than I did, rode 20 miles more than I did and they still beat me to the finish.

The first place finishers of the Hard Rock of each gender win a cash prize of $1,600 with additional prizes awarded to other top finishers.  The first place finishers of the Soft Rock of each gender get $250.  Rob met me at the finish having bettered his time from last year and reached his goal.  I wanted to better my time from last year and did so but it was not a race as far as I was concerned.

The Ore To Shore is a great event and for those accustomed to trail riding, I recommend it.