Sunday was the 2014 Iron Cross p/b Foundry Cycles/No Tubes in Michaux State Forest, PA. Iron Cross is the original and the “Grand Daddy of Them All” North American UltraCross races. (Photo by A.E. Landes Photography)
The course covers approximately 68 miles of Michaux State Forest with over 7,200 feet of climbing and highlights a little bit of everything in Northern Michaux including Big Flat, Caledonia, Laurel Lake, and Pine Grove Furnace with a great mixture of pavement, gravel State Forest roads, double track, and single track.
Michaux State Forest is beautiful and rugged. It is a mature forest with beautiful mountain laurel and breathtaking vistas. It is rocky and its elevations changes are severe. The Appalachian Trail cuts straight through the heart of Michaux State Forest and has some of the rockiest and steepest ascents/descents in the State.
The race starts and ends at Big Flat. Viewed from above, the course makes an infinity sign. The first half of the course takes the riders on a loop down to Caledonia State Park and back to Big Flat. The second half of the course take the riders on a loop out to Buzzards Rock, down to Pine Grove Furnance, and then back to Big Flat.
The start of the race is a quick prologue around the Start/Finish. Riders queue up in waves of their expected finishing times before being unleashed to complete the prologue.
Following the prologue, the riders exit Big Flat and proceed South on Shippensburg Road hurtling down the first paved descent in excess of 50+ MPH towards Route 233. After crossing Route 233, the riders continue on the pavement before turning onto some State Forest Roads as they head towards Lippincote.
For the CX riders, Lippincote is all about survival as the rocky single track will eat the unsuspecting CX rider alive and spit out their bikes and wheels. The mountain bikers on the other hand, can’t get enough of the fun, flowing, and semi-technical rocky single track and embrace it with a Cheshire Cat like grin. Like their mountain bike brethren though, the top CX riders float and flow over and through the rocks with the greatest of ease.
After exiting the Lippincote single track. The riders hit the pavement again as they ride on towards Caledonia State Park down Route 234 to Route 30 and then turn back onto Route 233 to head towards Long Pine Run reservoir.
Exiting the pavement of Route 233, the riders start the State Forest road climb to Long Pine Run reservoir towards Check Point 1. After leaving Check Point 1, it is time for the power lines and “Wig Wam”.
“Wig Wam” rises a few hundred feet almost straight up in front of the approaching riders with a 48% gradient. The path is more of a mountain goat trail than a hiking trail. All that is missing are the fixed anchor points for your climbing ropes. The riders must shoulder their bikes and climb precariously up the face of the wall only to be rewarded with a brief respite as they ride a brief descent to the next wall replete with a boulder field traverse to walk their bikes up alongside.
Next up is a mixture of more undulating State Forest roads and pavement with a fair amount of climbing and descending as the riders make their way back towards and finally climbing up to the Start/Finish and arriving at Check Point 2.
After departing Check Point 2, the riders start the second half of the course heading North on Shippensburg Road before turning onto another State Forest road as the riders begin descending down off the mountain on Forest Road.
Once off the mountain, the riders link up a couple of paved roads that provide a nice stretch of pavement until they reach the next State Forest road where they begin the long, long climb up Hogshead Road to the top of the mountain and on to the intersection with Ridge Road
Once reaching Ridge Road the riders continue on more undulating State Forest roads eventually connecting up to and descending down Michaux Road and then turning on to Bunkerhill Road
Bunkerhill Road takes the riders to the start of the next single track section. The single track parallels Ridge Road and begins the long traverse back up to Ridge Road with a steep final pitch and climb to the highlight of the second half of the course, “Larry’s Tavern”.
“Larry’s Tavern”, which is open from 11a until 5pm, is perfectly placed around the 50 mile mark. There is nothing like having a beer (or two) towards the end of a long hard ride and is well worth the wait. Remember, handups are not are crime!
Upon leaving “Larry’s Tavern”, the riders continue on Ridge Road headings toward Check Point 3. Check Point 3 is located right before the descent down Cold Springs Road towards Route 233 and Laurel Lake.
The riders skirt Laurel Lake and then hop on the Hiker Biker trail as they head towards Pine Grove Furnace climbing more State Forest roads, old railroad beds, and ATV trails as they climb up to Piney Mountain Ridge Road.
Turning on to the undulating Piney Mountain Ridge Road eventually leads the riders to the “Huckleberry” ATV trail. “Huckleberry” is a super fast, fun, and flowy double track descent down to Route 233 before the final climb back up to Big Flat. There are plenty of places to catch air for the mountain bikers as the descent with its berms and bumps can be ridden wide open.
And speaking of that final climb up to Big Flat, it seems like it goes on forever as you round every bend wondering if this is the last one…? And then finally, mercifully, you are done as you arrive back at the Start/Finish.
Results: Iron Cross Results
Iron Cross is an amazing race that I’ve been looking forward to doing for the past several years and the timing finally worked out for me this year. I love Michaux State Forest and spent a lot of my formative years camping, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling, and hunting there. I am glad that Chris Lane and Tom Neumann talked me in to racing this year. Thanks to Jan Feuchtner and the Bikenetic Crew for letting me pit with them. It was great to hang out with Chris Lane, Tom Neumann, Brad Hawk, Simona Vincenciova, and Ralph Pisle pre and post race. During the race, it was a pleasure to ride with Ethan Johnson of Campus WheelWorks from Buffalo as well as Michaux local, Brett Weiser as he rocked a 34×19 on his SS mountain bike. And finally, a huge shout out to Mike Kuhn and all of the wonderful volunteers and sponsors as they know how to put on and stage a wonderful event. Hopefully my first Iron Cross will not be the last Iron Cross ever to be held in Michaux.
– Tom Howe