When I was a kid my older brother and I used to reenact the great battles on All-Star Wrestling in the living room of our house. Before Hulk Hogan and the WWF, All-Star Wrestling reigned supreme in the 1970s and early 80s. The back of the sofa would served as the top rope as my brother would fly through the air to bring me down with a forearm smash to the bean.
There was The Baron, Mad Dog Vaschon, Dick the Bruiser. These guys were legends. But we grew up about 25 minutes from downtown Milwaukee where there was no greater wrestling hero than The Crusher. Immortalized in bronze earlier this month, The Crusher was a blue-collar hero from south Milwaukee taking on the greats of the ring. My brother, several years older and always eager to kick my ass, got to be The Crusher leaving me with lesser choices. The Crusher was a cigar chomping, beer keg toting beast pummeling his opponents into submission. Like his foes, I may have permanent rug burns from my brother grinding my head into the carpet.
I mention this only because in a few short weeks I plan to try to take down a massive and unruly gravel race by the same name, The Crusher. Well, actually The Crusher Adventure race is its full name, and by the looks of things, adventure is exactly what I’ve signed up for. The Crusher is an unsupported gravel race starting at the tip of the Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula in Copper Harbor traversing the wilds of the U.P. ending in Marquette. There are multiple categories to suffer through for bike racers and ultra-runners. On the bike you can take on the preposterous 225-mile solo event. If you feel that’s a bit too much there is a 100-mile solo, a 30-mile solo, and a 50-mile team event. For those of you that prefer to do this stuff on foot, there’s a 50-mile run. What am I doing you may ask? Well I’m taking on the 225 solo due largely to self-loathing and overall lack of good decision making. Racers will have 36 hours to complete the 225-mile course. Now I’ve done plenty of gravel races, but according to race director, Todd Poquette, we will be riding “enhanced gravel”. What the hell is that, you ask?
Well for starters you can forget about those nicely manicured crushed limestone trails, or even the Minimum Maintenance Roads made famous by such local Spring classics like the Almanzo 100. According to those that have pre-ridden some of the course sections, and pre-race hype on their social media, I should expect sand pits, fields of sharp baby-head rocks, double-track swamp lanes, barely cleared logging roads, a river crossing or two, and about 13,000 feet of climbing. Should be a hoot.
Todd Poquette is the evil genius behind this iteration of The Crusher and another soul sucking mountain bike race known as the Marji Gesick. Claimed by many as “the hardest single day mountain bike race in the country”, the Marji is no joke. Having completed the Marji twice, I know Todd and his twisted crew know how to design a course that will challenge you physically and mentally. I decided to give Todd a call to ask him about the background of The Crusher and why he does what he does.
What is the history or story behind The Crusher? It started out as the HAMR. Why the name change?
The Huron Mountain Crusher started in 2014 as a grassroots event. Matt Beardsley was the originator of the event. I was not involved with it, but I did ride the Huron Mountain Crusher in 2016 and 2017. I enjoyed it and wanted to expand it. It was about the same time we started the Marji Gesick. After seeing the Marji grow, and those holding a belt buckle being a very elite club, I appreciated that this event was something anyone can do. The Crusher is for the everyday person. The Marji has a 60+% plus drop-out rate. It’s hard. Really, really hard. I wanted to do another hard event, but something anyone that puts their mind to can finish and be proud. It’s not super technical. There is no worry about careening off a rock pile and smashing your head open. The Crusher is something that is more accessible. It was first called the Huron Mountain Crusher. Name changed to HAMR, Huron Adventure Mountain Race, but people kept calling it The Crusher. Why fight it? And it’s easy to remember. This was originally a free event. I had no idea how to take a free event to a pay event, so the name change helped with that, too. I also didn’t want to lose participants because it was now a paid event. And I definitely didn’t want people complaining about it thinking we were just trying to make a bunch of money off it. All of the proceeds go to trail support to local trail organizations, operations related to the event, and most importantly, funding youth mountain biking through the 906 Adventure Team.
Tell me more about the 906 Adventure Team
People that know about the Marji Gesick and other events are surprised when they find out we work with kids. But at the end of the day that’s really what this is all about. When we started it (906 Adventure Team) it was just to develop a NICA race team. Now we operate a NICA team and Adventure Bike Club. NICA is a national high school mountain bike racing program (National Interscholastic Cycling Association). Both programs are locally sponsored by the 906 Adventure Team. The first fall season there was only a NICA racing team and we were excited to do it. We also learned that we had an 80/20 situation where 80% of the kids wanted to ride and only 20% really want to race. We didn’t want to lose those kids, so we started our adventure program to meet the needs of the other 20%. Now we just ask kids what they want to do. Adventure side or race side? We can separate the groups, so kids are getting what they need. Oh, and NICA is only a few months in the fall. We can do Adventure Bike Club year-round and most of the NICA racers do both.
Adventure Bike Club has been a game changer for our organization. In 2016 the 906 Adventure Team had 31 NICA kids racing. Now there are over 350 kids in the program because we offer both the Adventure Bike Club, and a race team. Some kids just don’t want to race, they just want to ride their bikes with their friends and feel like they’re part of something. If you zoom out part of why this is such a success is because we place equal value on non-racing versus racing. There’s an equal effort and commitment to each program with their own marketed brand. The NICA racers have their brand, and Adventure Bike Club has theirs, too. One of the program elements we stress with Foundations and other funding sources is how important it is for adolescence to feel connected to something. A place where they belong. Some of these kids aren’t into team sports. It is a huge developmental need of adolescence to feel included and to have an identity with something, and connection to people. In this digital age we’ve created an isolated environment for kids. Think about how digital communication tools have marginalized adults. Now think about how hard it is for kids and young adults to navigate that same world. Adventure Bike Club gives them something away from all that. It’s their tribe. Its where they feel connected, where they belong. Instead of getting lost in XBOX, they’re finding something else. They are interacting with other kids and adults. They feel connected and accepted.
How do the Marji and Crusher events support your work with the 906 Adventure Club?
There is a correlation between the adults that do our events and kids in the Adventure Club. There’s a link there. I mentioned part of the success of the 906 Adventure Team is the sense of belonging we’ve created for kids. When I say kids want that identity…I think adults want the same thing. It looks different, but the need for a group is the same. These events (Marji Gesick, Polar Roll and The Crusher) sell out…not because of the prize money. Obviously, no one is doing it for the money. First place for winning the Marji is a one-dollar bill. However, if you finish the Marji under 12 hours you win a belt buckle. The belt buckle goes to those top-level athletes and it’s a pretty small, elite club. That’s on purpose. Most people don’t do these events because they think they are going to get a belt buckle. They do it because it’s hard and they want to say they finished it. That’s winning…finishing. The community that comes together around that experience is what brings people back, not the buckle. The Crusher Adventure Race is another event where winning is simply finishing. It is not as technical as the Marji and that is also by design. You won’t find yourself worrying about smashing yourself falling off a rock ledge. I wanted to do another challenging event that, while really hard, is accessible to anyone. The Crusher is for anyone ready for a challenge.
These events are Self-Supported…What does that mean to you?
These are self-supported events and that means something different to different people. Hard liners think it means you cannot take any kind of aid or support from anyone at any time. I think our “self- supported” ethos is somewhat different. What we’re saying is…we are very honest about what you are going to experience. Some call it “the hype machine”, but we are simply saying “we’re not going to wipe your ass”. One of our mottos is “Do hard things”. If you’re seeking comfort, call your mom or buy a blanket. Now If you don’t know me, I might sound like an epic dick, but I’m only saying you need to be self-sufficient here (at our events), and in life generally. We think these events are helping you become self-supportive and more durable. So yes, you can take support from someone if its reasonable.
These events (Marji and Crusher) are growing, and so we are continuing to grow our programs. In turn, we need adults that know about our races and organization. There is definitely a crossover from our adult events to Adventure Team Leaders. Some do the races and then come out and support our Adventure Bike Club. We need adults that understand our culture and ethos. Yet some people are here because they heard about the message about “Doing Hard Things” and the program and they want to help. Some people simply believe in what we are doing so they come out and volunteer even though they haven’t raced or want to do one of our race events.
In 2016 we had 30 kids and might have had 12-14 coaches. Which is pretty good, but that’s all we could get. Our leadership pool exploded when we put equal footing between adventure and racing. Now I’m coaching 110 Adventure Team Leaders because of our focus on adventure, not racing. When people see us help kids forget about their digital devices for four hours, they’re totally on-board. Adventure Bike Club is critical today because we’ve created this culture around digital communication. Technology is rapidly dividing us and creating isolation. Adventure Bike Club is focused on bringing back some balance.
Interesting fact is that 40% of our coaches are woman. We got to 40% by not creating an inclusion program. Not saying those programs aren’t good, we just believe don’t grow inclusiveness through exclusivity. The gender should not register. That philosophy is attractive because it focuses on access for all from the start. This emphasis gives feminine influence equal footing with male influence. They complement each other and bring a unique experience for our youth development program. We nurture this by having a vigilant culture focused on respecting the need for that balance. And that’s not just about bikes, but life in general. Our organizational culture does not support that gender-power bullshit. We know both gender perspectives are important, and it makes us better when we have respect for each other. Another core value that resonates for with a lot of people is that we are not focused on creating a safe space and comfort. Safety is important, but the world is not a safe place and it certainly isn’t always comfortable. One of our goals is prepare young people to make safe choices and work through their discomfort.
These events are growing. Who do rely on the most to get it all done?
Countless others make it happen, a few of which I’d like to acknowledge, while qualifying this is by no means a comprehensive list. Most importantly, my wife and kids. No one sacrifices more than they do in order for all of this (906 Adventure Team) to happen, reach more communities, and inspire more people. I don’t think it would work any other way. I love them, as weird as this might sound, I do most of it for them. Danny Hill, the ultimate co-pilot. I’ll tell ya right now, no disrespect meant to anyone, but Danny is the best and most consciousness trail builder I have met in my life. I know with Danny (and RAMBA) working on events with us, 906 can focus entirely on the execution of all aspects of the event minus trails. We have benefitted from an amazingly cooperative relationship for many years, a relationship that epitomizes how two community organizations should work together. Chris and Julie Andersen, who continue to return to Michigan to help run the events, all the way from San Antonio, Texas. Chris works the event as the Assistant Race Director and Registration guru, he also receives all of the #quitter texts, and the creative things people have to say when they quit. Julie is side-by-side with Stacie beginning to end, through every event. Additionally, we have hundreds of Adventure Team Leaders working with kids in the U.P., and hundreds of volunteers covering our events, making sure they are a success.
What advice do you have for someone sitting on the fence about signing up for The Crusher?
#DOIT4MATT Crusher co-director, Matt Beardsley, battled cancer in 2018 while planning to open a new business and helping me run the event. Chemo took its toll, but Matt pressed on. Things seemed to be headed in the right direction, until the cancer came back this spring. Tonight he’s at the Mayo Clinic, receiving treatment, but doing what he can through email, text, and phone calls. What excuse can you possibly have? Didn’t train enough? Snore. Boss is a jerk? Snore. Have a cold? Snore. Do it to do it, F*ck what other people think about how long it took or a DNF. Bastards are casting judgements from the couch? For real… F-that. There is no right time, you either do it or you don’t. But in the end… #DOIT4MATT
Todd and his crew put on incredibly well-run events. If you’re thinking about testing your limits, I strongly recommend The Polar Roll fat bike race, The Marji Gesick, or The Crusher. If you want to support “Doing hard things” and getting kids off the couch, sign up for The Crusher. There’s still time to register here. Registration closes July 7. Or if you just want to support Adventure Bike Club and the 906 Adventure Team, donations are welcome at 906adventureteam.com.