Wilderness 101 report


I left Grand Rapids for Pennsylania Thursday night and stopped in mid-Ohio at Motel6 for the evening. Saturday I completed my drive to Coburn and Millheim. Coburn is where the race started and is about 2-1/2 miles south of Millheim, where I’d rented a hotel room.

The Millheim Inn was a classic “rooms upstairs, pub&restaurant downstairs” and all the rooms on the second floor shared a communal bathroom. Inexpensive and decent. I checked in (at the bar) and then drove to Coburn to get my race packet which included a nice shirt, hammergel-filled flask and number plate.

Back in Millheim I had dinner at the Elk Creek Cafe where I ate a black bean burrito (really more of a wrap) and a Hairy Johns Ale- for you Founders fans, think Curmudgeon.
Up Saturday, off to the race.

The race started at 7am on the street and rolled out for a mile or so and then began a long long long – yes LONG climb- the first of many. I was concerned because their website indicated cut-off times for each segment and the first checkpoint at Mile 19 was 9am. I made it
there at 836am and felt pretty good. Checkpoint/aid station #2 was at the 40 mile mark which I made at 1130am. Then the REALLY hard stuff began.

Two severe climbs of what seemed like MILES of up and up and up and up- on fire roads, separated by bumpy, dusty downhills that were about 45 degrees or more in slope. You could literally bounce off the course and crash if you didn’t ride the breaks often.

Another feature of this course was the rocks- one could scarcely call them “rock gardens.” Here in Michigan we may have a rock garden feature for 20-30 yards? No, on Wilderness, it was literally a rock ride for hundreds of yards. If you lost momentum bumping and hoping and pedalling over the rocks, you had no choice but to dismount and walk the remainder of the section even if it was another quarter or half mile. There was NO place to get remounted and pedal again. This type of terrain feature occurred repeatedly over the rest of the race.

There was a few spots where you got on pavement or tight packed gravel/dirt and could rocket at 25 mph or more. These were a welcomed respite. I crashed between aid stations 3 and 4 a couple times, really more of slide-outs while breaking on the fast downhills and loose gravel trail. I also had to stop on some of these to let riders by mostly because my hands were so sore from gripping the handlebars and feathering the brakes. During all the jarring riding, my seatbag tore loose, I lost one much needed water bottle and the hammerjel flask fell out of the frame-mounted holster I had it in. I had to stuff the seatback in under my jersey to carry it until checkpoint 4.

By the time I reached checkpoint #4 at about 430pm,for some reason I thought we needed to be at the last checkpoint (#5) by 530 or we’d be pulled from the race. (The actual time is 730, but I didn’t remember that). So I filled bottles, got another bottle to replace the lost one. I also used the seatbags velcro strap to reattach it jimmyrig fashion to my seat so I didn’t have to ride with it under my jersey which impeded my pedalling. The only problem was that it swung wildly because it wasn’t fastened to the seatpost and counterswung to pedal strokes. But I had only 26 miles to go (and 13 to Aid Station 5). So I got on and pedaled.

I must have gotten a second wind because I really started hammering and as I flew through the first relatively smooth singletrack I overtook two other racers and blew by them as we dismounted for obstacles. I had the 530 cut-off in my mind. The lead in to the last aid station was about a mile of two track and I was barrelling down the road at 20-22 mph and flew through the checkpoint. My secondary goal, besides finishing, was to finish in less than 12 hours. It would not happen. First, there was one last monster climb- a steep grade of about 600 feet of elevation. Not much but quite a bit at that point for my poor climbing ability. Then, after another fast downhill, there was another rocky mostly unrideable section along the river which I walked about 90% of. Once this was over the rest of the course – approx five miles, was smooth riding. But I’d lost too much time over too many hills and rocks and arrived at the finish at the 12:04:45 mark, missing my secondary goal by just under 5 minutes.

Lessons learned? I need a computer on my bikes. I HATE riding blind. My mindset for such rides is I need to know where I am and what the time is relative to the course. This lets me know if I need to ride a bit harder or can (or should) still pace myself. Not knowing where I was in the mileage a few times I am sure I held back from riding a bit harder.

All in all, except losing the one water bottle and riding about 40 minutes with all bottles empty was a minor issue. I am able to do the race just relying on my own bottles and the aid stations and don’t need to do any drop bags, which some racers utilize. My hydration/nutrition regimen is mostly dialed in with my Hammer Perpetuem, Heed, Hammerjel and Endurolytes. (Actually, for this event, I mixed in four scoops of Heed to each of my Perpetuem bottles as added electrolytes).

Ultimately, all in all I am glad to have challenged myself, but I don’t think I would do Wilderness again. Not counting the fire-roads and two tracks and road sections (all necessary to string a 100 mile event together), there was SO much of this course in the woods I would NOT consider mountainbiking. As I noted above, it’s one thing to have rock garden features throughout a course. But hundreds of hundreds of yards in section after section……? It’s almost like the course was designed for excess. Want a rock feature- we’ll give you rock features! Want a fast downhill section- here ya’go… a couple miles of jarring downhill! GRR!


After the race, I cleaned up, at dinner onsite (what I could eat-my stomach never really handles much food after an event) and then hit the road. I wanted to get to Interstate 80 and a few miles west before grabbing a cheap motel. It never happened. I drove and drove, stopped at three major exits and checked motels and all were FULL! What? Finally, desparation led me to go to Hampton Inn. I figured they’d be more expensive and more likely to have a room. No such luck- FULL. The desk clerk informed me that they didn’t know of any vacancies until Akron, Ohio which was two hours west. The next exit had a small independent motel and I thought they might be off the beaten path and have a room- but the neon No Vacancy dispelled that. I ended up using the truck stop restroom to brush my teeth and remove contact lenses. I then parked in a far away spot in the truckstop lot where there was less light, crawled into the back seat and slept fitfully for six hours before my drive home

Ultimately, though, a successful weekend.

Dennis B Murphy