If you read my recap of Kentucky’s Horsey Hundred, you’ll know I did pretty well on it. In the end, I was tuckered out, but I did have a lot of fun, when it comes to the hills, I likes ’em. There aren’t near as many on Michigan Mountain Mayhem (this is the “Beat the Heat Edition”, the original MM goes off in June)…but we climbed about 600 more feet over the century. This means one thing: There aren’t as many hills, but they’re steeper and longer. In fact, a lot of that stuff that I write about momentum and carrying the speed from the downhill into the uphill seems like gibberish by the time you reach the 60 mile marker.
If you want a rewarding ride, if you want to climb some beautiful hills, see some absolutely stunning scenery, and ask yourself at mile 85 why you didn’t take turn for the metric century, this is the ride for you. It’s tough, challenging, rewarding and it will make you use your granny gear. A lot. It will test your fitness and resolve, and it is a very excellently stocked ride when it comes to cyclists’ nutrition (it’s sponsored by Hammer, at least this year appeared to be, they had Hammer Heed and Hammer Gels at every stop). I cannot possibly give this ride a glowing enough review. It was awesome.
Now, with that out of the way… On to the ride. Settle in with a cup of joe, ’cause this is going to take a minute… and at least stick around for the first 1,000 words or so – this one gets interesting.
We set off early, to miss the log-jam of 15 mph cyclists out for the shorter routes as all of the routes start at the same place, the same time and follow the same route. I always like starting out with a big group, but only if I can be out front so I don’t have to wade through the slower cyclists – that gets a little dangerous. The first mile was rather leisurely and caught me off guard. This was my first time at MMM, but Mike rode it last year and Chuck’s been doing it for years. They were taking it easy because they knew what was coming… I, on the other hand, had been to Georgia and North Carolina, to real mountains. I figured this should be a walk in the park, comparatively. Those scenarios never go well, do they? Cue the background mood music. I think Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” works, in a Miami Vice kinda way.
The first climb out of Boyne City started a mile and a half into the 104 mile ride. I don’t remember it as anything terrible, it certainly wasn’t noteworthy, and I was in a playful mood and we rose up out of town. It was going to be just like I thought, a few leg burners, sure, but I was going to come out the other side of this with a smile on my face, thinking, “now that wasn’t so bad”. The next fifteen miles fed that mental narrative and at mile 17, I couldn’t believe we were almost a fifth of the way done. I was feeling stellar and enjoying the hills immensely. At mile seventeen, we were coming down a fairly steep hill that led into a decent little climb so I was tucked to get maximum speed down the hill to carry that into the climb. As I slowed, coming up the hill, I shifted down into the little ring…. And ‘ping’, I looked down and stopped pedaling at the same time – and it’s a good thing I had, as my chain wrapped around my bottom bracket and crank arm. I’d broken my chain. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road to assess the situation. As I tried to fish my chain out from between the frame, front derailleur, crank and chain rings, one side of the chain’s Powerlink dropped to the ground. I knew what had happened. When I downshifted, I hit that Powerlink with the derailleur at just the right point and it popped – it was a one in a billion shift. The problem was first getting the chain out and it was wrapped around itself, but good. After accepting that I was going to get dirty, I just started pulling the thing away, taking care of the paint job. The metal band that is glued to the chain stay to protect the frame was hanging and fell to the ground. Once I got the chain off, I knew I was screwed. I only had one side of my Powerlink. My friends had waited for me but I knew I was getting a ride back to camp. My chain tool was in my tool bag, back at the car – not in my tool pouch that I carry with me every ride. My day was done. At seventeen-and-a-quarter frickin’ miles, my day was done. I called in the SAG wagon and the race director said they’d be there to get me in fifteen minutes.
I watched my friends crest the hill and they were gone. I walked my bike and carried the chain over to the proper side of the road and a two-track driveway. Draped the chain over a rusted metal pole in the ground and figured I’d look for that link. After all, I had fifteen minutes, why waste it? I looked, and looked, eyes peeled, trying to do the geometry in my head… “It broke, and I pulled over pretty fast, so it should be, lets see”… I said a prayer. “C’mon God, I really wanted this one. I’ve travelled a long way and I want to see if I have what it takes. Please help me with this one.”
I looked down, and there was the other side of my Powerlink. I kid you not.
I put my chain back together as quickly as I could, called off the chuck wagon, called my boys and left ’em a message to wait at the next rest stop, and rolled out. About seven minutes went by between the time they left and I stepped back on my bike. I knew how fast I’d have to go to catch up but was worried about what that would mean for later in the day. Well, better to struggle later with my friends than alone. I put the hammer down… One mile down, two… And I turned a corner and looked up. And Up. “Oh, no.”
I shifted to the baby ring immediately and started spinning. I looked straight ahead, rather than to the top of the hill. Out of the saddle, grinding. “Watch the breathing, not too fast or you’ll cook yourself… Okay, we’re doing it… Damn, when does this thing crest? [hazard a look] Crap, just keep grinding. Stay in the granny gear, you’ll get there”… And I did. Later I found out it was 17% and was easily a quarter-mile long. No curves, no switchbacks, just straight up.
I pedaled as hard as I could manage, trying to catch my breath at the same time and just as I was wondering if I’d have what it took to catch my friends, I turned a corner and started down a decent a hill, and I could see them up ahead, getting their snacks in order. I’d done it! I started hollering at them on the way down and it took them a minute for everything to register – I could see the looks on their faces when it clicked. I cleaned up with hand sanitizer as quickly as possible, grabbed a cup of Gatorade, slammed down a banana, hit the head and told my friends about finding the missing link… It was high-fives and we mounted up. I knew this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. This was going to be interesting…
Stay tuned for Part Two…