For the past two years, I’ve been on the sidelines of the annual Lumberjack 100 – volunteering where I was needed, cheering on friends and strangers, and supporting my husband as he completed his first-ever century in over 20 years of competitive cycling. I was inspired by what I saw as an ‘outsider’ and wondered what it would be like to be an ‘insider.’ So I made it my goal this year to find out.
After many long and lonely hours aboard my Salsa singlespeed, I found myself lining up on a beautiful northern Michigan backroad with about 300 other racers. We were ready for what lay ahead of us – miles and miles of shaded singletrack, imminent pain, potential victories, and potential failures. I could already tell that this was going to be a much different racing experience than the shorter XC and time trial races I’d done earlier in the year. There were no egos. There were no side-eye glances from competitors trying to size each other up. We were smiling and we were excited despite the fact that most of us didn’t have even the slightest chance of winning this race. As the roll-out began, lots of “good lucks” were exchanged as we prepared to enter the woods.
The 33-mile lap begins with a long gradual ascent. It was wheel-to-wheel crowded as we climbed the hill and, as a singlespeeder at the back of the pack, I found myself fighting to keep my momentum. Luckily this didn’t last very long. After the first few steeper climbs, the pack stretched out and I was able to pick my pace and settle in. Having pre-ridden the course, I had a good idea of the average speed I needed to aim for in order to be able to conserve my energy for the bigger hills ahead. I had geared down slightly for the race, switching from a 34×16 to a 33×17. I’m still not sure if this was the best gear choice for me but I know it wasn’t the worst. I was rolling easily along the fast, flowy sections of the outer loop and dismounting to walk up some of the short, steeper climbs. All the while, I was enjoying the camaraderie of those around me.
Finishing the first lap was a relief – I was able to find out how my husband was doing (via a notepad on top of our shared cooler) as well as how my Founders teammates – Brad, Jeremy, Matt, Scott, Paul, Ralf, and Shawn – were doing. So far, so good. I didn’t feel extremely great and felt as though I may have pushed a bit too hard in certain sections of the course. I gave myself a stern talking-to as I began the second lap and vowed to take it a bit easier this time. My mantra for this lap – ‘Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.’ Halfway through the lap as I was stuffing my mouth with gummy bears at the aid station, I was passed by the race winner Jeff Schalk. It was a little demoralizing to know that he was finishing and I was merely halfway done. Then I remembered that I am not a professional mountain bike racer. I’m just a chick with a muffin top trying to ride 100 miles of bumpy singletrack on a bike with one gear and no suspension. All I needed to do was keep on moving.
The remaining second and third laps passed without incident – I saw fewer and fewer people as I rolled along. My legs were tired and my hands, arms, and shoulders were burning. I was very happy to be greeted by my teammates Shawn Crowley and Jeff Jacobi when I reached the aid station on the third lap. Their kind words stuck with me through the tough sections ahead and before I knew it, I was in the final miles of my first 100-mile mountain bike race. As I rounded the last turn and got a glimpse of the parking lot through the trees, I couldn’t stop smiling. A small cheering section of awesome friends and teammates were waiting for me as I crossed the line and was handed the prestigious finisher’s patch. Eleven hours and seven minutes after it started, it was all over. I celebrated with my teammates and some cold Founders Pale Ale, happy to have the miles behind me and looking forward to the next 100-miler. Maybe……
The Founders/Alger Racing team was out in force for this race with impressive rides all around:
Jeremy Karel – 9:11:05 (66th Men’s Open)
Scott Thenikl – 9:31:18 (88th Men’s Open)
Matt Remelts – 9:35:28 (91st Men’s Open)
Ralf Scharnowksi – 10:13:45 (111th Men’s Open)
Paul Popielarz – 10:57:12 (24th Master’s 50+)
Sue Swiger – 11:07:20 (14th Women’s Open)
Shawn Crowley – 6:37:25 (2 laps)
Brad Bacon – 7:40:45 (2 laps)
Founders/Alger Racing’s co-captain and LJ100 race promoter Rick Plite and wife Cathy along with a host of many volunteers work tirelessly to make this event great year after year. Big huge thanks to you all!