Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Copper Peak Trails Fest 2019

Copper Peak Trails Fest 2019

There's a string of communities between the Midwest MTB triangular meccas of Cable, Duluth & Marquette/Copper Habor that have some unique trails & great community MTB races each year.  One being my hometown of Ashland WI, where every 3rd weekend July for over 20 years has hosted the Mudrutters Off Road MTB race.  A challenging, not completely typical MTB race but something for everyone & always memorable for some great stories afterwards.  

The other being more newly formed race in 2017 at the Copper Peak Ski Jump area on the western Upper Michange border near Ironwood.  The dedicated organization known as SISU Dirt Crew over the past half dozen years has created a most delightful trail from the top of Copper Peak to the base of the hill near the Black River & back up.   They have somehow magically transformed 600 feet of topographic vertical diversity into a playground of fun for riders of all ages & abilities.  The downhill of the trail is ear to ear grinning great & mind boggling long given the seemingly small area.  The climb back up while significant is laid out well, gets one to the top soon without a leg-tearing-off bad gradient.  

I certainly haven't hit all the trails of the previously mentioned Triumvirate Midwest MTB Meccas, but in near blasphemy I'd say what Copper Peak has rivals or exceeds the best stuff those well known areas have to offer.  

Saturday September 7th on what could only be described as a near perfect prescription for fall MTB race weather, SISU Dirt Crew put on their annual Copper Peak Trails Fest - a collection of MTB races (long & short) and trail running races.  Having gone to the inaugural race in 2017 I was hooked on this race like a grandma baking chocolate chip cookies.  I've found riding the trails at recreational speed is fun but racing them brings that whooping good time to a whole new level. 

I had a buzz filled day ahead of me having to split time coaching soccer that AM in Hayward, then rushing over to Ironwood for the 12:30 race.  Fortunately arriving in plenty of time for registration, I got in a quick warm up spin on the access road that makes up the starting climb of the race.  This years start area was a plethora of good time family activities & eats.  First class efforts in making it a great event.  In truth, I was eyeing up the bouncy house as a viable alternate to hitting the start line, but the inflatable slide was a biggest draw to my oversized 8yr old inner self.

Alas one must turn a blind eye & go to the start line.  As always, I'm looking for new & familiar faces at any race to see long time friends & fellow competitors.  This year it'd be once again that strong brute from Iron River Casey Lajoie,  his better half & more charming wife Ronnie (heck of a racer too by the way), Nikolai Anikin of Duluth, Jason Rouesch of Medford and a host of others that would start getting the list a bit long. 

The 16 mile expert race kicked off with host of racers jostling for the front on the pavement lead out, with Casey eventually throwing down a hard surge & making the rest of us submit to his driving force.  Once the opportunity came for a hard right turn onto the two track off-road portion of the race I did the ole slingshot around Casey & edged up the pace on the steadily increasing grade of a semi wet at times sloppy slope.  Glancing backwards there was band of merry travelers in single file, steadily holding the pace. Not what I was expecting.  So at the next turn upwards on a gravel section I amped it up just alittle more.  At which point things behind started to sputter a bit & gaps formed.   At one point, I heard an exclamation behind me, no doubt from Nikolai, it was along the lines of "Uh, Aaron, my legs are starting to hurt now, you can quit that any time".  Thanks for the tip Nikolai.

Shortly thereafter the riders behind me went into a more desirable pace while I pushed on to the first single track knowing many of them likely had a weight & skill advantage over me when it came to the next 2 1/2 miles of sweet luscious downhill corners, berms & jumps. 

Feeling like I put in a very hard effort I arrived at the top of the hill almost 10minutes into the race, albeit without the luxury to enjoy the amazing view one deserves.  The consolation wasn't bad though, it was into the downhill portion of the race.  1.5 miles to the parking lot/start area to the cheers of the spectating crowd & then another mile plus to the Black River bottom.  It was self interest & pure joy that I was doing everything in my skillset to pin it around the corners.  Dropping the outside foot, staying balanced over the bottom bracket, keeping my vision up, elbows bent.  Everything I'd learned from a Ride Better downhill riding clinic I'd taken years before.   Can't say I wasn't feeling rusty, ok alot rusty & that I almost smoked myself over a corner or two, but both bike & I made it to the bottom in one piece.  

No idea as to the gap behind me but safe to assume Casey & Nikolai weren't far behind I keep up the effort to best of my ability & reasoning.  I figured the ensuing uphill would be to my advantage so I pressed harder along the way back up from the river bottom to the top of Copper Peak again.  This was an effort that would need to be repeated 3 times.  By the 2nd time through the course though I'd gotten a better feel for the corners & speed at which to take them, I was paying a price for my overzealous starting efforts & fatigue was setting in.  However the gap back to 2nd place was fairly significant now & since I'm one of those nutso MTB-ers who actually love the quantitative side of it My power meter & cycling computer were my guide & self contest for the remainder of the race. Something to compare to previous years races.

Upon racing to the Peak the 3rd & final time there's this great sense of elation.  That though the race isn't over the hardest physical effort part is done & now its time to rip some wicked trail to the bottom & stay upright the whole time to the finish line.  I didn't entirely manage the staying upright as my giddiness & fatigue had a falling out of understanding with each other, but it resulted in no blood drawn.  So I dusted myself off, got back on & road smoothly to the finish. 

A 16 mile event might not seem like that long of race to some, but in bike racing it's about the amount of time it takes.  I came across in just under 1:30hour while behind Casey & Nikolai had a great battle going on.  Casey getting passed on the final climb but being able to hold onto Nikolai through the mile & half decent & positioning nicely for a sprint finish.  Though unfortunately those best laid plans came undone with less than 100yards to go as big man Casey dropped the hammer to go around Nikolai so did his narrow wide chainring do to his chain, so Nikolai came away with number 2 spot and Casey in 3rd.  His spouse Ronnie despite taking a bee sting to the forehead & wondering throughout the race if she was going to get choked out by an anaphylactic shock took 1st in the womens category & 9th overall.  Result can be found at 

Again thanks so much to SISU Dirt Crew and the fine job they do at the Copper Peak Trails fest and for a monstrously fun trail they've constructed over the years.  It's a great event for a great cause.  In your travels of the Midwest MTB Triumvirate, be sure to stop in & checkout the unique gems tucked in along the way.

Aaron Swanson

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