If you missed any of the previous Spotlights here at IMBCS.org, it was a feature series highlighting some of the many IMBCS participants throughout the state of Iowa. One was able to get to know some of the folks involved in racing and see how they do it, why they do it, what got them started, and read some of their thoughts. The Spotlight feature series ran throughout the season and is wrapping up with the end of our 2015 season.
Today’s Spotlight promises to be a rather odd one considering I will be interviewing myself. Strange, I know. However, in case some people out there do not know who I am combined with requests by fellow IMBCS Race Directors who said they would agree to be interviewed earlier in the season by me if I would succumb to the same standard myself – here it is.
Today features one of our returning race directors, Bruce Brown. Before taking his current job, which meant moving to Iowa in 2003, he had a two decade career as a professional opera singer and lived in Vienna, Austria with his wife and children. He signed on with Simpson College as a faculty member to pass on the legacy of opera singing and acting to future generations of young singers. When not on the bike, he can be found singing, teaching singing, teaching opera workshop, and stage directing operas at Simpson during the academic school year. He decided to try out some IMBCS racing back in 2004 and eventually began racing every season as a way to stay in shape and have some fun on the mountain bike. Simpson College emphasizes community service for the students, and the faculty take great pride in championing service work as well. Volunteering to do local trail work, hosting mountain bike events, and serving as the current IMBCS Director are just some of the forms of community service that he has chosen to take part in during the past decade. He took advantage of the opportunity to try MTB XC events in the Nebraska Psycowpath series, the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series, and the Wisconsin Off Road Series as well as IMBCS events to get ideas for both hosting an event, as well as serving as current Director for the IMBCS.
Family time this Summer back where he grew up in the Black Hills
Let’s get to the interview so we can get his perspective on hosting The Mullet Fall Classic.
Name: Bruce Brown
Current Home: Indianola, IA
Employer: Simpson College
Racing Category for 2015: COMP
Race Bike(s): Niner Jet 9; Salsa Dos Niner
Bike Team: Bike Iowa
Trail Organization Associated with Race: None officially associated with the trails outside of the Iowa DNR and local volunteers. The CITA trailer and some members often volunteer and help out with one work day in preparation for The Mullet Fall Classic to get trails ready.
Visiting Slickrock in Moab this past June
BB: When is your upcoming race?
BB: What can we expect for the type of trail features a racer will encounter on the race course?
Me: One of the cool and interesting facts that Iowa has to its credit with regard to mountain bike racing is that one of the original founders of NORBA in the 80’s actually championed building many of the trails at Lake Ahquabi and held some of the first mountain bike races in Iowa way back in the day in the 80’s and early 90’s. That’s interesting history with regard to mountain biking on the trails in this Iowa State Park. NORBA eventually became the mountain bike racing division of USA Cycling many years later and the name NORBA (National Off Road Bicycle Association) was dropped.
Most of the trails at Lake Ahquabi are multi-use trails used by hikers, runners, cyclists, fishermen, campers, nature lovers, cross country skiers, and snowmobiles in Winter (great FAT Biking in Winter once the snowmobiles pack the snow down). For this reason, they have grown over the years to be double track width so that the Iowa DNR equipment can be used to maintain and service them. The DNR no longer maintains all of the trails in the park, but enough of the main trail system is maintained and allows for users to enjoy over 9 miles of trail. Volunteers such as myself maintain some of the more backwood trails. Racers will encounter very fast conditions on this course with some climbing, but very little – if any – technical sections to worry about.
The loop we will use this year is between 6.2 and 6.4 miles long, but is a very fast lap for that amount of distance as we have whipped the trail into super fast racing shape for The Mullet Fall Classic. When one combines the double track and the lack of technical sections – it is a perfect race course for all racers to try their hand at mountain bike racing. For that reason, many racers who fear more difficult courses love this course. On the flip side, there are some who don’t enjoy the course due to their preference and experience for more difficult terrain. And that’s okay. It’s one of the most inclusive tracks for all abilities on our season schedule to get people out on their bikes to enjoy a race here in Iowa. The route this year will take us by one of the backwoods ponds most racers haven’t ever seen, as well as a very scenic tour around Lake Ahquabi’s shores. We will route it, like last year, in the counterclockwise direction from the Beach House Shelter. This year also features a 10K Trail Run to start the day off at 9:30 a.m. for those who like to run.
One of the hills in the East backwoods section that had some racers pushing their bikes up it last year. I expect some will walk it again…
Photo Courtesy of Eric Roccasecca
Sections of singletrack at Lake Ahquabi State Park look like this
BB: How many times have you served as a race director for an IMBCS event?
Me: This will be the 8th time for The Mullet, but I also co-directed the Hin und Zurück TT in August at Center Trails this year. That makes Sunday’s race my 9th IMBCS event. My co-director for the 2nd year in a row at Lake Ahquabi is Bob Matthews.
BB: How did you become the race director for this event?
Me: 9 years ago, after enjoying so many of the IMBCS events myself, I asked then acting IMBCS Director Cam Kirkpatrick at the end of the season how I could give back to the mountain biking community. He talked to me about it and we decided that I should take a shot at directing a race the following year. Lake Ahquabi State Park is about 6 miles from my house, so I decided to take a stab at it and use the trails there as a venue to host an event to create an event that had more mileage at a faster speed to add variety to the other IMBCS venues. The first couple of years the event was in the Summer, but after one particularly bad weather Summer that caused a lot of trail damage, a postponement was made until the Fall and the race was renamed The Mullet Fall Classic which became a year end party to the mountain bike race season. It sort of stuck and has grown over the years to be a nice festive atmosphere to wrap up the season in Central Iowa.
BB: What are some of the challenges you faced in getting this event ready?
Me: Every year poses a challenge in one way or another. This year, like last, weather was the largest challenge to surmount. Last year was a tornado that downed over 70 trees that had to be removed from the trail and some pretty ugly erosion spots formed that we had to take on with shovels and Doc Finck’s Bobcat. This year, I was out of the country teaching in Germany for the Spring, gone on vacation for June, and then lost my father in July which took me away from Iowa for another two weeks of time. That, combined with the amount of rain, created tremendous growth. The muddy conditions did not allow for me to get out and start trimming the trail until August. That’s a full five months later than my normal routine of starting to do trail maintenance at Lake Ahquabi. So it’s been a mad dash to get things into shape. Once again this year, a number of downed trees and erosion spots were left to deal with and repair. The DNR ran a sickle mower to mow the overgrown trail side walls which cut things back to a respectable width. However, this left all of the debris laying next to the trail. The recent challenge in the past few weeks has been to walk the entire length of the trail system and pick up most of that debris, toss it deeper into the woods, and rake the smaller debris off of the tread.
The DNR has taken on the erosion repair work and improved many things with good technique to channel the rain water, and Bob Matthews has joined me in spending many hours removing debris to get the event ready. Currently, we are dealing with an unusual bumper crop amount of nuts and shells that have been falling on the trail. The good news is that all of this work has benefitted trail users and once again, the trail system is back in pretty decent shape considering what Ma Nature has thrown at us this year.
BB: Who are your volunteers and trail crew?
Me: Bob Matthews and I are the main trail crew this year, along with Walt from the DNR crew. There have been years when I am a one man band, but Bob is really chipping in again this year to make us a two man band volunteer trail crew. Two old guys combined, moving slowly and gingerly at our age, have somehow survived it all. We stay in constant contact with the ranger Josh Shipman and his crew at Lake Ahquabi to put in as much time as we can and help out with the trails at the State Park. We also had an organized short work day on September 13th where Kurt and Becky Needles, Ron Cooney, Rick Blackford and his two daughters, Jeff Riemenschneider, and Steve Shird showed up to assist me in getting things ready for the race. Volunteers this year will include the Varnums, Christine Cooney as the potluck organizer, my wife and a friend, some Bike Iowa Team Members and a crew of 6-7 Simpson students taking on the road crossing duties and back up timing duties (be sure to thank all of them as you ride by).
BB: Why hold an organized race on your trails?
Me: Several reasons. To promote well being through exercise for all Iowans interested in riding and racing a mountain bike. That’s part of the IMBCS mission. To provide a fun environment for a season ending, Autumn mountain bike race and party combination where every one can have a good time at one of Iowa’s very scenic State Parks. I always call it Biketoberfest here in Iowa when we have the Bike Iowa back to back Night Cap Cross followed by The Mullet Fall Classic. To keep me on task with my dedication to community service. And finally, to provide a venue that is not as fearful to first time and new racers that some of Iowa’s tight, twisty singletrack can be to many of them just starting out racing a mountain bike. Having done many races in Minnesota and Wisconsin that feature large sections of double track cross country ski trail that link sections of singletrack together, Lake Ahquabi has many similar characteristics and provides just the kind of variety we need in our IMBCS season to be more inclusive for Iowans.
BB: When it is all said and done after the event is over, do you feel a great deal of satisfaction for giving back to the cycling community by hosting a race?
Me: Yes, there is a certain amount of satisfaction to it – especially when I see people enjoying themselves, having fun out on their bikes, and all the socializing that takes place at the post-race party. It’s fun to see friendships develop, the community of cyclists hang out, and the racing take place right here in Iowa. As exhausting as it is to put it all together, it’s always been fun for me to host this event.
BB: We may have a lot of new racers in Iowa this year. Is there any advice you could provide to them to get them to come out this weekend and try your event?
Me: This is really one of the events in our season that is perfect for new racers in Iowa. As mentioned above, there is not so much singletrack on this course as the majority of it is double track and not technical – so the fear factor is removed. There is room to pass safely, and the route is very scenic. And who doesn’t like a good potluck and post-race Beer Garden party on a Fall day at an Iowa State Park overlooking a lake?
BB: If any money is being raised through this event, what does it go towards?
Me: In some past years, proceeds have gone to CITA if there were proceeds to be given. Most years, because of the expense I pour into it to ensure that everyone can walk away with a prize, to make sure that we have medals for the top three in all age classes and categories, for the prize money in CAT I and the Marathon category, chip timing, portable toilet rental, permits, insurance, number plates, supplies, etc… I am lucky just to break even. Last year, I had to use the proceeds from the previous year which I rolled over to make ends meet with the race. The race this year has not been designated as any sort of a fund raiser since the budget has morphed over the years to being targeted at me breaking even while giving all participant’s the best experience I can provide for them to wrap up the mountain bike race season. If there are any proceeds over and beyond my expenses, I will gladly make a donation to IMBCS and or CITA.
BB: In the event of weather looking suspect this weekend, where should racers turn for the most up to date announcements?
Me: Luckily, the forecast is dry and sunshine for the week and weekend – so no worries. However, in the event that changes just check right here at IMBCS.org on The Mullet Fall Classic page, or on the IMBCS Facebook page for any updates.
Once again, I’ll be handing out different prizes and awards in 2015 to keep things fresh that are all new for The Mullet Fall Classic this year…
Central Iowa’s big year end MTB Race of the year invites one and all to the trails at Lake Ahquabi on Sunday, October 4th. All abilities and experience levels can handle the course. The FAT BIKE division is back again this year, the Marathon category is back again, a new 10K Trail Run has been added at 9:30 a.m. to begin the day, the Kids Race is back again, all of the usual Junior, CAT III, CAT II, COMP, CAT I head to head races are back, the beloved potluck is back, the thirst quenching beer garden is back, chip timing is back, the maze near the finish line for spectator heckling and viewing is back. Trails were marked on Sunday, September 27th so people had the full week of pre-riding to try out the course.