CRUSHER, a metric century mtb adventure.

now that i’m back from the u.p. it’s time for an update. but first a recap.

on june 25th, i dumped my track bike in a severe solo crash which ended with a compound fracture and torn tendon in my right forearm. i underwent corrective surgery the following week. because 2020 is a total dumpster fire, i had to wait 5 days to see a surgeon. my recovery has gone well, but the catastrophic nature of my injury led to some less than favourable outcomes.

initially i was to make my crusher attempt on july 18th, but at that time i was still restrained in a variety of orthotic devices to stabilise my tendon, wrist and incision. i went anyways and rode with friends on several parts of the crusher 100 course while providing sag support for the riders out that weekend.

crushing on gold mine road with friends in july

on august 24th i was cleared to ride without a brace, giving me just 4 weeks to regain the strength i once had in my right arm. i had been riding in my cast from 4 weeks post-surgery but was restricted to roads and flat bars. so i threw drop bars back on my track bike and started endurance riding with that, as well as easing my way back into mtb. for the locals, i did 2 weeks on “easy” trails like quail hollow and austin badger for the first 2 weeks before moving my focus to west branch’s rocks, roots and climbs. things felt like they were going okay and a strength test showed that my right had was about 90%. perhaps this is not the metric by which to measure.

i planned a new crusher attempt for september 27th. i would be one of the last to attempt, sliding in right before the october 1st deadline. in fact, i would encounter only one other crusher rider the entire time i was out, though i had 3 friends drop into the course at various points to get a few miles with me and make sure i was safe.

departure time was set for 5:30. i was instructed to turn my tracker on 15 minutes before leaving, so i turned it on at 10 past 5. at 5:30 i was still not showing on the tracking map. i finally appeared at 5:45, so off i went. did i mention it was raining? and that it poured puppies and kittens the night before? yeah. more on the effects of that later.

forestville camp start, 5:45 am

hogback mountain was removed from the course due to a dispute with hikers using the same path. not sure who the hell was out there at dawn to complain about a bunch of us dragging our mountain bikes over the rock face, but there you have it. i was pretty worried about tackling hogback alone anyways, even with what i thought was a well-healed arm. hogback’s removal would make top of the world my only rock climb and i decided to add the forestville chimney as an unofficial checkpoint, since i would be passing right by it.

i made top of the world just before sunrise, so after eating a piece of bacon on the top and taking a few photos, i decided to carry on.

top of the world sometime around 7am. time for bacon

my light system turned out to be fantastic and the first few miles were a little slow but i started to relax and ramp up my speed after the chimney & the start of daybreak.

checkpoint one: forestville chimney

the course winds through the little presque isle tract with a water crossing at bismark creek before meeting up with the pine-duff surfaced single track that runs along harlow creek. bismark was extra swollen with the previous night’s rain. i stopped to take off my socks before carrying my bike over. it was cold but not so bad and i continued to make good time to the single track (which might be my favourite part of the course).

my kid sister gave me this water pokemon to help me be less scared of the water crossings. after bismark creek, i rubber-banded it to my headlight mount for emotional support

after taking harlow lake road out to 550, i ran into alex, the only other crusher on course. he had an old map, had climbed hogback alone and was trying to get back to the updated plan. we rode together to my first meetup spot with molly (corner of 550 & loma farm) agreeing that we would part ways when his map picked back up at johnson’s road / wilson creek truck trail. alex is fast and i am party pace! molly rode with us on the “new” brown deer climb. alex would finish his ride around 8pm with a big grin on his face. he would also tell me that yellow dog was up to his thighs. you can see below how much taller alex is than i am. this becomes important later.

me & alex at loma farm rd. he’s a real nice chap so look him up next time you’re in negaunee

wilson creek truck road was FULL of what appeared to be meteorite craters filled with rain water. after a few miles, i figured out a good system for ploughing right through them. i also decided to stop carrying my bike over creek crossings because there were just too many. i would pick up time by not portaging. plus after 3 pairs of wet socks, i gave up wringing them out and decided it was okay to be wet and cold for the rest of the ride.

molly met me at the roadside spring checkpoint along with 2 other friends, tammy and angie. thank glob, too, because i was having a hard time finding the spring… my dyslexic ass reversed some numbers in the gps coordinates! doesn’t matter tho- we leveraged team work and found it and the reports are accurate- it is THE BEST water i have ever had.

checkpoint two: heyaaaaaaahhhhh! roadside spring

“t&a” (yes, that is what they call themselves. and they have jerseys to prove it) tooled along with me until the snowplow checkpoint on their fatbikes. we had lots of laughs debating which animal was scarier: bears or moose? tammy and i said moose but angie said bears. we continue to agree to disagree.

checkpoint three: a good place to eat the last of the bacon

after snowplow i was alone again, though i could see alex’s tire tread in many places. aaa road crosses a lot of streams. it has a few bridges. some were passable and some so sketchy i decided to ride through because, you know, feet already wet and who gives a shit. everything was high. high water ERRYWHERE. and then came the beaver dam. or what was left of a beaver dam.

looking at it now, i doubt the veracity of the decision to ride through this. yes this is a “road”

i pulled up here and stopped. i put my bike down and walked over to both sides of the road, peering across this fucking pond where my road was supposed to be. it looked at least waist deep most places (that’s the mid thigh on you normal sized folks) and i briefly considered portaging my bike but spotted a lower depth section right along the dam. the place where the dam had given out was about 2/3 of the way across, so i backed it up and charged the shallow spot, taking a slight left into the middle where the breech was located and shot up the exit. the water was cold, fast and up to my top tube. i almost ate it at the exit, but unclipped and put a foot down onto dry land just in time. actually, just in time to notice alex’s tire tread with the delicate toe print of his road shoe next to it. alex, you’re a champion rider but you walked that beaver dam flood, you poor bastard!!!

after the beaver dam is a gnarly section of enhanced gravel that honestly looks more like a long string of rock gardens with mud puddles between them. i didn’t take a picture because i was too busy panic choosing lines and trying not to die. but i ran those rock gardens without putting a foot down. i’m normally rather cautious about long stretches of rock but i don’t think that’s going to be a problem any more. i steady-pedaled through all of it. i’m immensely proud of that section. it might be my favourite part of the course.

ford road is a long sandy climb. it was pretty miserable as the sand was very deep. i put my gears as low as they will go and just cranked up the stupid thing. seriously. only 4 miles in 42 minutes. to be fair, i did stop to pee next to the road, but one of the 10 total cars of the day passed by. i stood there waiting for them to go past and as they slowed, the lady in the passenger seat leaned out her window and said, “are you okay?” i said, yeah, i’m good, i just stopped here to pee but you’re driving by and i don’t wanna show you my butt. she laughed and said, “been there, done that!” cheers to you, other lady who unashamedly pees on the side of the road!

post climb is where the trouble started. well, maybe before there and i just didn’t notice it. my pain receptors are shot. since the crash i’ve noticed that pain doesn’t really become apparent to me until it’s so severe i have to stop doing something. somewhere around mile 54 i started feeling pain in my right arm.

the road at this point is pretty much nothing but those short evenly spaced lumps that seem to happen on all sand roads. no matter where i steered my line i couldn’t avoid them. i could see alex’s lines and that he had done the same thing. i took both my gloves off and squeezed them between my right hand and my grip trying to get some padding and reduce the vibration. my forearm was burning all around my incision area and i had sporadic numbness / tingling in my right fingers and palm.

no big deal. i knew i was close to my next meet spot with molly. and a beer. mile 64. just make it to mile 64. at mile 64 i was going to unload some things out of my tail bag, change my socks (for the 4th time if you’re counting) and have a snack. and maybe a poop because the pound of bacon i’d been working on all day had run out and i switched to squeezy applesauce. possibly a bad choice, according to my colon.

i finally made it to molly, the possum van and a roll of t.p. if you’ve ever asked “does a mountainbiker shit in the woods” the answer is yes.

i took off my socks and dried my feet. unsurprisingly they were purple. several layers of skin came off in my wool socks. luckily both of the blisters i had on my right foot had already burst and peeled off too. i sat down with my beer and 2 pb&j sammies to assess my situation. i was over half way and 45 minutes ahead of schedule. molly told me alex was only about 30 minutes ahead of me. yellow dog river crossing was 5 miles out and it was going to be flooded as hell. we flipped my bike over to check my gears and wheels. i had blown both wheels pretty badly out of true (most likely with my haphazard rock garden smashing). i had noticed this while coming up the sandpit road. my rear wheel was catching on the heel of my right sandal every now and again. my forearm was full of knots and my wrist and hand were swollen and bruised.

i told molly, “i have to make a serious decision right now.” i cried a little while we talked through it. if you don’t know molly you really should. she’s an amazing guidance counselor and a stout adventuring companion. everyone should have a molly in their life. i’m grateful for her beyond words.

my legs and brain were in it 100%. my lower back and tailbone were sore, but that’s to be expected after 11 hours in the saddle. my arm was a problem.

i knew i could make it to yellow dog, but would i be able to cross it? with no one else on the trail, assuming i managed to get across yellow dog, i would be on a 30 miles span with no other riders, no cell connectivity and no car access. if i got in trouble with the arm i would have to either carry on to ishpeming township or turn around, cross yellow dog again and try to find a cell signal to call for help.

giving up my time goal and sleeping on the trail was no problem. i had things to keep me warm, plenty of food and a water filtration system. but if my arm got worse, none of that would matter. i would be trapped.

worse than just sleeping in the wilderness alone, was i risking re-injury by continuing?

i made the decision to call it. and i cried a little more. i still can’t say if i cried because i won’t be able to re-attempt this year or if i cried because i was proud of what i did manage to accomplish, despite all the strange circumstances this season. also, this was the very first time i was completely solo on a course like this. molly hugged me and told me i was a hero. this may have been my favourite part of the course.

so what did i do?

i did a metric century & almost 3,500 feet of climbing elevation on the hardest course i’ve ever ridden a mtb. i rode through almost every stream and a beaver lake. i didn’t walk a single hill. i didn’t walk a single rock garden. i climbed up the side of a mountain rockface, dragging my bike behind me. i did not crash. i did not cry when i was frustrated. i kept the faith.

maybe i didn’t finish the crusher, but i finished my race. i was alone and sometimes lost and i found my way. i made 3 friends. i stood on summits and said good morning to bald eagles. i overcame the last couple of fears i have had on my mountain bike. I RODE THROUGH THAT FUCKING BEAVER DAM. on a 26″ hardtail. alone and unafraid.

and it was good.

from alden canvas, with love…

molly & i continued to be plagued by rain so after packing up camp at forestville we headed out to alden canvas to see our sponsors and get in their hot tub! that felt pretty awesome. and i learned how to make kale taste good in a salad. molly and i played with dogs and cooked breakfast on a real stove. we stopped at penny smashing machines at tourist traps along the road. we laughed until we fell asleep on a fold out couch.

the crusher was the biggest adventure i’ve ever had and i loved every second of it. thank you so much to all of you who helped make this happen. i’ll be back next year, for sure.

remember crusher visitors, todd will ALWAYS be there for you. he’s just that kind of dude