The afternoon of Sunday, July 29
3:57 (Buddy): “Hey whatcha doing next weekend?”
3:59 (Me): “Nothing planned. Wanna go for a hike?”
4:01 – “No, I will be in Crystal Falls for Humungous Fungus.”
4:01 – “Cool man. Sounds like a blast.”
4:03 – “Yeah it’s a good time. You should come out.”
4:05 – “For sure, that’s a cool area. Why not? I will see you there.”
4:06 – “Awesome, that’s what I like to hear.”
4:18 – (Internal monologue) “Wait, where is Crystal Falls? Have I been there? Is that by Marquette? I need to google this...”
The morning of Saturday, August 4
WELCOME TO HISTORIC CRYSTAL FALLS
10:38 – (External monologue) “THIS is Crystal Falls?”
10:39 – “HAVE I ever been here?”
10:40 – “Am I in the Central Time Zone?”
10:44 – “Did I just drive through Crystal Falls?”
As of the 2010 census, Crystal Falls has a population of 1,429. That number is much, much lower than estimates thrown around by my road trip partner “Bob” and I as we were sight-seeing through town, slowly making our way to a gas station. Bob could swear he was here once before, and tentatively recalled a bait shop and memories of the greatest submarine sandwich he ever tasted as the neural pathways of his brain were being fueled by blue Gatorade and McDonald’s breakfast.
Myself, on the other hand, never tasted an epic sub in this part of the state. Sure, I had been through Iron Mountain, Iron River and Covington, but somehow I never succumbed to the siren song of Crystal Falls.
I discovered what I had been missing. Ultimately, the Humungous Fungus Festival was what brought me to town, but proximally the UP Strongman Competition was scheduled to begin at high noon (yes, Central Time) and a mutual friend to Bob and I was competing in the heavyweight division.
Being of extremely slight build relative to the competitors, Bob and I felt more than a little out of place prior to the competition as the athletes were stretching muscle masses that were clearly the result of years of training and discipline. No disrespect intended, but the female competitors could have twisted me into a pretzel that would have sold at a premium at the concession stand. It was agreed upon that the only way to salvage – or mask – our self-respect was to partake in some 12 ounce curls of ice cold beverages as the emcee announced the start of the spectacle.
The event annihilated my concept of what human beings could achieve. Imagine the most physically demanding movement you have ever made, quadruple the intensity, and you have the first of five feats of strength. I’m lucky if my back doesn’t seize while doing dishes after lunch, but these men and women were moving weights best described as large fractions of blue whales. At regular intervals over four hours, the gamut of responses ran from nervous energy before the whistle blew, exhaustion after completion of a challenge, episodes of profuse perspiration, shouting, grunting, and physical and emotional strain. I can only imagine what the competitors were going through.
If I ever happen to meet any of the people who competed (other than my buddy, the 2012 heavyweight champion, by the way), I will look directly into their eyes, shake their hand, and give them my utmost respect. Immediately afterwards I will drive to the nearest hospital for an X-ray of the pulverized bones of my useless limb, suppressing tears and thinking of whom I will ask first to sign my cast.
To be honest, I didn’t attend any of the other scheduled events of the Festival; I didn’t think it was necessary. I had a blast in Crystal Falls, and as much fun as it would have been to hang out at the Teen Dance (Thursday @ 7) or the Senior’s Cribbage Match (Friday @ 1:30), nothing could trump the time I had at the UP Strongman during the weekend I spent in Crystal Falls this past Saturday afternoon.
If you happen to make it out next year, I will be the skinny guy at the concession stand nervously asking if there is any demand for pretzels to be on the menu – say hello.