Race Report – The Crusher Race Report – Chris Spurrier
What do you get when you mix single track, boulders, sandy-clay roads, and a few creek crossings for good measure? Upper Peninsula (U.P.) Michigan gravel. Take this over 250ish miles and you get The Crusher “enhanced” gravel race, the brainchild of Todd Poquette, and his team at 906 Adventures. *disclaimer* You might want to pour a cup of coffee, this report may be even more long-winded than those in the past.
What seems like way back, in 2019, my buddy Jeff suggested we check out this event in U.P. Michigan called The Crusher. A 225 point to point race across beautiful backcountry gravel roads, in July. After working some logistics I figured why not and we signed up. Fast forward a few months and like everyone else, we find ourselves in the middle of canceled races and travel restrictions. We really had no idea if this would go on, but we continued to train. We coordinated on gear and training, going back and forth on what we felt was working and not working. Todd had published a pretty thorough list of required gear so we had to make sure we could carry it all, unsupported. While more and more races were canceling, Todd and his team developed the EX version of the event. It was what they coined as extra enhanced. The route increased to 250 miles and became a loop so riders could complete the event on their own, no mass start. We were given three months to tackle the course, upload our rides, and post pictures of various checkpoints. The only hurdle left was getting approval to travel for the event. Six days out from when we wanted to tackle it, I was given permission to travel and the realization hit. The race was on!
I loaded up the truck and headed out to pick Jeff up on the way to Marquette Michigan. A big storm moved in on the day we had planned to take off so we slid our start 24hrs. We got into town and after some dinner and pre-gaming we prepped the bikes and headed off to bed. Neither one of us slept well, but that didn’t stop the alarm from going off at 0400 the next day. Jeff knew the first 10 miles were slow so there was no impact to starting before daylight, he had read more reports than me and had a better grasp on what we were in for. We knew however it was going to take teamwork to get us through the next 24hrs. We had some support from a local teammate who took us to the start and at 0500 we took off for the trail. Almost immediately we found ourselves on single track and soon after pushing our bikes up Hogback Mountain.
The trip up wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t easy. Basically it boiled down to a rock scramble, carrying/pushing 30-pound bikes up the mountain. Honestly going up was easier than coming down, but the view was well worth it. Coming down was where we hit our first snag, about 2.5 miles in. Unfortunately, as we neared the bottom Jeff slipped on a root and as his bike landed on its side, he caught himself on the bike, pressing a large rock into the fork with a loud cracking sound. He gets up and has this look of disbelief, reminding me of Monty Pythons “tis a flesh wound”. All I remember saying was the fork was done. We continue to walk out of the section and hop on for a little bit of gravel. Stopping at the next intersection Jeff looks things over again and is confident the fork will hold. We tape it up to be sure and move on. Soon we find ourselves on an overgrown railway, seriously overgrown and seriously a railway. The rails may have been removed, but the timbers and many nails were still there, buried beneath the brush. With fresh dew on the grasses it was like riding through a car wash, we made it to the end of the trail, drenched head to toe.
Much of the next 100 miles were a blur as we rode through logging roads, a little pavement, and a ton of water holes. Along the route, we had several checkpoints, many of which were very easy to find, but a couple not so much. The first of which was a natural spring that we found ourselves slowing to nearly a crawl to make sure we didn’t miss it. We got some water and took our picture and we were on our way. As soon as we were comfortable on one section we would miss a small turn to take us on some singletrack, we would backtrack and tackle it in stride. As I mentioned we had a local teammate (Ken) lending support along the way, he would preposition with food and water to help make our journey a bit more manageable. Many of the unpaved roads were recently graded so there were a lot of sections that the only thing we could do was follow the tire tracks to have a semi-smooth ride. Over time we were getting beat up and struggled to maintain any good power. We found the next couple stops as well as some of the lovely trails Todd had chosen for us. Many of the trails were unrideable and we would find ourselves pushing the bikes frequently.
Our goal was to make it to L’Anse by dinner time. This was the unofficial halfway point, at least in our head. Through the day we had gone back and forth calculating what we needed to do. After crossing the Huron River we knew we wouldn’t make it. We did however feel confident enough to make it by dark, after all we were at mile 111 about 5 and only needed to get to 134. Or so we thought. It was mostly road ahead and we started on our way feeling pretty good after a quick stop with Ken for a little food. We picked the pace up but still felt a little sluggish, the thought of a fresh Subway sub was in our minds. As we neared mile 133 we felt it was right around the corner. The sun was still up even at 8:30 and we finally felt we were turning around. Mile 134, mile 135, mile 136, surely we can’t be off that much? Finally, at 144 we rolled into L’Anse. Apparently we had both misread the point and didn’t realize it until obviously we passed the distances. This didn’t matter, our subs were awaiting us. We started breaking down the remainder of the race. The next stop was a checkpoint at mile 172 for the outhouse, then meet Ken at 200 and we would be home free. I felt we had a chance to still make 26 hours. This diminished quickly after we took off to climb out of L’Anse. This climb was long, and we knew it, but it would have been the last real climb to deal with. By this point though we had learned to be cautiously optimistic about any pre-conceived notions as we rolled along. Not knowing the terrain, many times we felt great on a stretch of road that would quickly disappear into a single track, barely. Regardless we pressed on and found ourselves headed south along the Peshekee River.
Now things started digressing quickly. We had expected temps to be in the mid-’60s through the night and we were starting to dip into the upper 50’s. I could not warm up for anything. We stopped to put layers on, but neither of us had anything for our legs. We started looking for the outhouse and felt we had a pretty clear idea where it would be. Jeff and I rolled at 5mph looking left with our headlamps, and then ahead to make sure we weren’t veering off, it felt like an eternity. We both thought we would see things in the woods like buildings and animals. The lights reflecting had us seeing things and our minds were starting to drift. Jeff had actually started to doze off a couple of times, he would catch himself and veer back on the road. I stopped at a parking lot and looked for the outhouse but didn’t see it. I put the remaining clothes I had with me on and ate a handful of gummy bears and we were off to look more. Now we had lost an hour just looking for the waypoint. I put the lat/long into the Garmin again and knew it had to be back where we pulled off, so we backtracked to the lot. Looking back I couldn’t see Jeff’s light anymore, it was pitch black out, then I would see his light and I would move forward. Back at the lot I look a little harder and there, behind the sign, a brown outhouse in the middle of the woods. Finally, we can move on and we did. We rode on and soon I was starting to fall asleep. We were cold, tired, and had no idea what was ahead. We decided to take a short detour to get a cell signal and call Ken so we could get a little sleep and re-asses.
Keep in mind that even for as long as this report is, I cut it down for time’s sake. I’m guessing you are done with the coffee and moved onto the whiskey. Back on track, you can probably guess our decision after a 20-minute nap. Todd and his team did an amazing job setting expectations for the event. We have no gripes about that fact or the event at all. We still did not go in as prepared as either one of us would have liked. Experiencing such a diverse terrain over 24 hrs took its toll on us. We had no idea what to expect for the last 70 miles. It could have been a flat road or Armageddon. At best we anticipated another 7 hrs of riding. We were both still shaking from 47-degree weather, exhausted, and beyond our limits. While we were confident we could have forged on and finished, we did not know what the cost would have been. The risk was significantly increasing for injury (Jeffs fork was cracked after all), so we decided to call it. There are a lot of things that went right during this event, and a lot of things that went wrong. The biggest take away was that small decisions early on make huge impacts later. Jeff will attempt the event again in the upcoming weeks, I cannot get the time off, unfortunately. I cannot thank Ken enough for his support and speak well enough to how the staff adapted to put this event on. Jeff is a great friend and mentor and while we were not successful it was a great trip with him.
So if I could do this again what would I have done differently? I think my gear was good overall, I would have however preferred to be on a full-suspension bike (I was on a Salsa Beargrease with 3.0 tires). Ken was amazing out there helping us, we could have planned our stops better to reduce the stopped time at each stop. Better planning to be able to locate the checkpoints faster would have helped significantly. If you think you should take a jacket, do it. The roads were rough and we had significant stop/slow time. Had we been less fatigued from the road surface and been past the 200-mile mark at 24 hrs I feel we would have been in better spirits and more willing to take the risk. I really appreciate all of the support during this event, it meant a lot to Jeff and me, and again thank you so much to Ken who dropped everything to come to support us on course. I hope you enjoyed the read.