Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Dream of Iceman, Part 2

When we last left our story, I had given up mountain biking. After a humiliating experience at Island Lake, during which I crashed hard (or at least it seemed hard at the time) and left the trail sobbing, I decided I just "couldn't" mountain bike. My bike saw nothing but pavement for the next several years. (I should also confess that the reason I bought a mountain bike to begin with is that I wanted a bike, but didn't want to ride "all hunched over.")

Fast forward a couple of years. The guy at the bike shop and I were friends, and he tried to save me from the cesspool of self-pity I was wallowing in by getting me out on the trail. I was having a hard time recovering from a major breakup and he thought it would do me good to come to the Wednesday night mountain bike rides organized by his shop. Here's the only problem—they often went to Island Lake, which I swore I would never ride again.

He was very persuasive, though, and I needed something to get me out of the dark place I had fallen into. I went to Island Lake with the group one summer evening, and I finished the whole trail. I was tired when I finished, and it wasn't without incident. I didn't conquer the trail in a literal sense, but in my mind I had. Standing around in the parking lot after finishing that trail, I felt inexplicably great. (I still feel that every time I finish riding a trail. I guess that's why I still do it despite all the slings and arrows.) I started to dream about Iceman again.

The bike shop guy had raced Iceman and so had many of his friends. I built it up in my head like some mythical, out-of-reach fantasy. About a month after I started dating my husband, we went to Traverse City on Iceman weekend just to observe, watch friends finish and socialize. That year, it was unseasonably warm for November—I recall it being sunny and about 60 degrees.

Now that I've been on a bunch of trails, many of them harder than Island Lake, it's still hard to get the dream of Iceman out of my head. Everyone I know who's ridden it tells me it's not technical at all, but it still seemed out of reach, even after I spent the season racing.

A few days ago, my husband (who has raced Iceman multiple times, by the way, and even stopped to take a nap during the race one year) was trying to figure out why I thought the race was such a big deal. We were discussing a certain endurance racer, and he said something about it not being an endurance race. "What do you mean, it's not an endurance race," I asked, not believing him for a second.

That's when he explained to me that the race is "only" 26 miles. "Only 26 miles? That's more than I could ride!" I was emphatic.

Then he reminded me that I rode about 40 miles at 6 Hours of Ithaca. Oh yeah. So what's the big deal about Iceman? Apparently, it's just a race at the end of the season that's fun because of all the people, hoopla and events surrounding it. Mileage wise, it's not any longer than Sport and Expert classes ride for a cross country race. Supposedly, the only thing really challenging about it are the sandy uphills.

I feel a little disillusioned. Iceman's been in my head as this unattainable goal for so long, it's hard to shake it loose. The race hasn't gotten any easier, it's just that my perspective on what's difficult has changed. I still have to race it one of these days, though. I just do.

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