Last year, Steve Brown approached NMMBA to become the official trail crew of the biggest one-day mountain bike race in the country. The Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge is an event that doesn’t just bring our cycling community together, but the whole sport together for one gritty, muddy, cold day of fun. We’ve been racing and loving this race for each of the past thirty editions; some of our board members also help put on the race, and all of us attend or even suit up to shred.
As the region’s trail association, we take a lot of pride in being a vital part of the event, and this year’s edition is extra special. 2019 marks three decades of racing from Kalkaska to Traverse City, and we wanted the course to reflect what has made this race so big. We believe that’s finding a balance between sections we know and love (and hate, too) and finding new twists to keep riders on their toes. We’ve spent months working with the race organization, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and our fellow riders to shake things up.
Our first big project is to get riders from the new start at the Kalkaska Airport and onto the ‘old’ course. After leaving the runway, riders will fly down a sandy two-track for about a half a mile. Here, normal sandy turns into a beach. So, we’re building a short trail to bypass the six-inch deep sand pits and throw riders onto the original singletrack with a bit of speed. In all, it’s roughly 150 yards of much-needed diversion.
Second, the annual Water Bottle Hill Bypass. The original hill was so washed out and rooty that, today, it’s downright dangerous. We’ve chipped away for the past three seasons to get riders around that hill with a mix of old two-tracks and new singletrack. With approval from the DNR, we’ve got an even better way around the rough descent that may even offer riders a chance to take a deep breath and enjoy a twisting, sinuous switchback descent to the valley floor before the next climb to the section known as Make It Stick. This is still a work in progress, but it’ll be in prime shape by race day!
Finally, we’ve worked with Traverse Area Recreational Trails to fix up the race’s newest addition, the Headwaters 5K. While new to the race, it’s an old favorite for runners, walkers, skiers, and mountain bikers, and thanks to its close proximity to the Bartlett Road Trailhead, it gets plenty of traffic. That has led to a few sandpits and overgrown corners. Tim Jenema, Chris Kushman, and a host of volunteers have pitched in to patch things up. We see this is a great investment to a popular section of the Vasa Pathway, especially with the construction of the new two-mile skill building trail known as the Acme Bike Park. It’s going to serve as the ‘next thing’ riders tack on as they learn new skills and build fitness, so we want to make sure it’s dialed, safe, and fun to ride.
We’ve got plenty of work to do before race day, but we’re already feeling that Iceman Fever! Want to help out? Become a NMMBA member, and watch our social channels for more information on how you can build, maintain, and protect non-motorized trails across northern Michigan.