An annual Labor Day non-vacation is the Copper Harbor Trails Festival (formerly known as Fat Tire). I do some work for the event, and tried to capture a small bit of the flavour on film between obligations.
I used to do this race. Badly. Being a mountain biker primarily in Illinois, there isn’t much rock or elevation you have to deal with. I’m used to riding around, checking out wildlife, looking where I’m going, and resting near the remains of the world’s first nuclear reactor (no, really… the remains of Enrico Fermi’s Pile #1 are buried in the Palos Forest Preserves in Cook County, Illinois). This rock stuff is intense.
I found other things I could do, though. I usually work for the gang at the Keweenaw Adventure Company on that weekend, using my ninja-like customer service skills to keep people entertained, even when there are long lines. I haven’t kept up with bicycle technology in the last five or so years, and mountain bikes have completely changed. I really can’t work on them anymore. I miss you, rim brakes.
This year was a bit different, though. Copper Harbor’s trails are top five in the world, you see, so we’ve seen more and more serious riders coming to the race. That’s actually meant some of the recreational riders have dropped away, which makes me sad. They were the better partiers.
Most of what I captured this weekend was in the evenings, away from the action. But that’s just it: this is the night before the race, when there’s usually drunken shenanigans all over this town of 65 residents. There are bikes being repaired in the middle of the street, laughter, the occasional firework. Stuff like that.
This year it was silent.
These are more serious riders. They had an early dinner, then headed off to bed. I was kind of in shock. It fit what happened with the weather, too. The shot at the top of this article is from late afternoon, about 6 PM. The other shots are from about 9 PM. A cold front moved through, and it became sweatshirt weather with drizzle. It was cool in an epic, Lake Superior kind of way.
The day of the race started with rain. I didn’t think it was supposed to rain quite so much, and I rode my scooter up from town (about a 45 minute ride). I love my new scooter. Traded in some stuff to get it straight up, and it suits me much better than a motorcycle or something. I’ll get some pictures up here soon.
Anyhow, a bit of rain the morning of the race is usually a good thing. It keeps the dust down and the race is usually a bit faster, so long as the wooden bridges don’t get wet and slippery. This rain kept coming, though.
By the time the race was ready to start (and I’m the one who starts the race), it was raining rather hard with some lightning. Fun. None of us really knew who would postpone the start or whatever. The start vehicle showed up 30 seconds before the start time. We counted it down and off they went. * shrug *
An hour later, the long race went off (the short race is 17 miles, the long 27). Same deal, really. Though the temperature really started to drop at this point. It was about 70 earlier in the day, but by the time I got back to the finish line and started my announcing duties, it was in the mid 50s and falling. Whee.
There is a good sense of camaraderie, though, and there were a few people who brought me heavier clothes to wear. This, suffice it to say, was not in the forecast for the weekend.
After announcing all of the finishers as they came across the line and then doing the awards show, it was time for me to make my exit. The party in the park gets going after the awards, with live music, food, (yet more) beer, etc. I get a little bit overwhelmed when there are that many people, so I bug out. You can probably guess that by how few people are ever in my photos.
Hopped on the scooter, froze on the way home, but got here. Sat in front of my space heater and ordered a pizza. Quiet.
I do get paid for my work for the Adventure Company on the weekend (though I just spend it on a hotel room, dinner, and maybe a disc golf disc or two), but the rest is volunteer. I keep doing the announcing because people say I do a good job, but it is stressful. Any fellow introverts will know what it’s like to have to play a role in public to get through, and that’s kind of what I did here. But six hours of that can wipe you out.
Words and photos by Kevin Hodur. Previously calling suburban Chicago and Portland home, Kevin now lives and works as a writer on Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Catch regular editions of The Road Rarely Traveled with “See You in September” coming soon.