Several hundred riders staged together on a very cold morning waiting for the race to start. As the promoter sent us on our way, racers almost immediately started flatting. Glenn and I avoided the bad luck others were having and made good progress hitting our first power line together only to be separated after hitting the gravel. After 8 miles in on a single track section, I started removing the layers that had shielded me from the 33 degree weather at the start. By luck, Glenn came through at that point and we again teamed up to ride and work together. As we worked our way through single track on foot and on sections we could ride, a loud pop announced that one of us had flatted. Glenn’s front tire was completely flat, so we immediately worked to change it and get back on the trails. Upon exiting the single track it opened up to pavement and the Fargo with it’s drop bars allowed us to hammer the section and catch many riders who had passed us in the single track. Riding and chatting with others, we made good progress, pacing ourselves for a long day in the saddle` until we were confronted by Wigwam. Wigwam is a 260 foot climb with a 48% grade that riders must wrestle, carry and/or push their bikes up and over rocks and logs to get onto a power line. Manhandling a 30 pound bike up this climb is no small feat! Once we got our bikes up and over the climb, we rode on. As we exited the power line, I was again on my favorite surface, gravel, and put in a big effort to make up time that had been lost on Wigwam. Looking back I did not see Glenn, but rode on thinking that Glenn would meet me at the second checkpoint. This was not to be and only later did I learn that Glenn had flatted again and had to pull out because of the time he had lost.
At checkpoint two, I ate and drank thinking the worst had to be behind me. After swapping bottles and heading back out onto the route I immediately caught another rider, passing him on a sweet gravel descent that seemed to go on forever. Feeling good, I started tapping out a steady tempo, even standing to climb some of the smaller hills, until I turned onto a steep gravel climb. The climb had all the telltale signs of being a soul sucking effort and did not disappoint. I started to grind it out and was now fully aware that the race organizer had mapped out a challenging route from start to finish. After this point I rarely saw another rider. I depended on my Garmin to ensure I was on pace to make the time cut and the route markings to make sure I was on course. The single track, gravel roads, ATV trails, and forest roads blended together and it was now a mental game to stay motivated. Like a bloodhound, I followed the trail of empty gel packets and tire tracks if I was in doubt as to the correct route. Riding across checkpoint three with time to spare I was in high spirits and continued on. As the Garmin told me I was close to the end, the road seemed to pitch up in an effort to deny me the finish my body so desperately wanted. As I reached the top of the final climb my wife and son greeted me and I became aware the finish was literally across the road, back to the starting tent. A look at the parking lot as I rode in told me what I already knew I would be one of the last riders in that day.
Having ridden and completed Monster Cross, The Devil’s Backbone Mountain Cross, and Iron Cross this year on my Salsa Fargo I can say that Iron Cross was the most physically demanding of these events. Epic is the most overused term in cycling and I try to refrain from using it, but in this case, Iron Cross is truly an epic cycling adventure and is worthy of adding to your cycling bucket list.