Chris’s Coast to Coast

“The Michigan Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder starts on Lake Huron in the middle part of the state’s Lower Peninsula and finishes 212 miles later on the coast Lake Michigan.  With very few exceptions, the course is predominantly gravel with a good mix of two-track trails thrown in to keep the chance of dumping it in the loose stuff slightly less than inevitable. This was the first running of the event since the concept morphed from its beginnings as adventure race into our most beloved and profitable format, the gravel road bicycle race. I was on the fence about attending given the logistical complexity of getting one’s self to the starting point at one end of the state and back home from the other. I prefer to keep my planning to the absolute minimum. Doing this race wouldn’t be impossible, but it probably wouldn’t be cheap either. I sat on the idea for about a month before quietly / recklessly executing the finger taps on my phone required to waive liability and secure a spot amongst the titans of bike sport in the venerable onespeeder’s division. I didn’t have a plan but I had loads of time to get it figures out. In reality, it wasn’t until the week prior that things really came together for me. A feasible, affordable plan was laid out with an offer to tag along and I’d done nothing to contribute. Nothing at all.  I lucked out hard and I owe a great deal of thanks to the Caverly family; Mary, Ed and Jordan.  If there’s only one take-away from this write up, it’s that I am awfully thankful for these people.

​Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron
We headed to the east coast on Friday for the pre-race meeting, last minute bike prep, and short evening of fretful sleep with one eye on the weather app. Rain was expected in the early AM but was mostly cleared out by the time we arrived at the start. The race got underway at sunrise. Temps were just below 40 and the skies were overcast. The elevation profile on the state’s east side had little to offer so the group was mostly content to stick together. The gravel was fairly tame but the paved roads were still wet. I’d later hear of a couple crashes, but nothing as far as I’m aware that put anyone out of the race.

Before long we had knocked out the first 50 miles as we approached the first of three checkpoints. I’d guess the majority of racers spent little to no time there as temps were still cool and most carried an abundance of water and food. I stopped to fill a bottle and was on my way to join a growing group that reformed a few miles out.  Riders shifted their positions in the group in an attempt to hide from the mild, but present wind. Pulls at the front of the group got a little less generous and conversations died down as we settled into our paces.  Moments later there was a collision of incompatible physics during a brief but impactful navigational dispute that left one ride sprawled on the road and my rear brake rotor in a condition ill-suited for the job of passing between the narrow margins of its brake caliper. The group stopped and attended to the situation; bikes and bodies were assessed, thumbs up received on both accounts and they were back at it. I took off a few moments later, now heavy with the guilt that I’d clipped a wheel and caused a crash. It’s the kind of event that wipes your brain of good feelings and takes you out of the race mentally. If there are two take-aways from this write-up, it’s that screwing up someone else’s race is far worse than doing it to yourself.

Not long after, the course entered a lengthy section of rain-softened gravel; the kind that makes it feel like your brakes are rubbing like mad.  Mine of course were, but the road was so sticky that it would have sucked regardless.  I wasn’t making any progress on time lost after the crash. Small groups and individuals were passing me left and right and I was working pretty hard to hold a miserably slow average. I’d stopped earlier to bend my rotor back into a shape, slacked the cable, and backed out the pads; but that wasn’t cutting it so I set forth on unbolting my rotor from the hub. My speed picked up after that but my chance of rejoining the group was gone at that point. I found the second checkpoint a few miles beyond the 100 mile mark. I stopped to top off water and to haphazardly obstruct my airway with a giant wad of peanut butter in a wheat tortilla. A risky snack for those short on chewing patience, but totally worth it if you manage to not die.

I’d spend the time between here and the final checkpoint riding in small groups or riding solo. The course has the bulk of its elevation here and we’d also get our first taste of riding through the Manistee National Forest. The sun was out and the temps were above 70 so the forest shade was a welcome change from the mostly agricultural regions we’d been through earlier.  Without a doubt, Manistee is amazing place to ride; equally scenic as it is challenging, but I was getting tired. The hills, the sand, and the sun were taking it out of me. There were so many places to stop, rest, and take a photo. I did none of those, but I thought about it frequently. Making it to the third checkpoint was proving difficult. The sun was making its way into the western half of the sky and it felt like I couldn’t get any closer than 30 miles away for hours. Only after I’d given up thinking about the reward of the checkpoint that it came into view. Even with all the pining I’d done before hand, the stop was relatively short. I filled my bottles, once again, grabbed a few gels, and accepted the odd and miraculous gift of two corn dogs. I don’t know where they came from or how long they’d been there. I was glad to have them and I will continue to not care about the details long after they’ve passed.  After thanking Mary for her help all day, I was back on the road for the last 46 miles.

I had no intention of doing anything besides turning the cranks for the requisite 2.5 to 3 hours it takes to onespeed your way through the western part of the Manistee to the shore of Lake Michigan. The elevation was all but behind us.  The small hills that remained were traversed with the wildly inefficient mashing style of those whose legs died hours, perhaps days ago.  The folks from Salsa Cycles set up shop somewhere around mile 177 with their couch. I took a seat and they took my picture. I would later give Salsa a fake email address so that I could view, download, and post here to break up this ceaseless stream of word vomit.

Salsa’s couch. ​Photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles
The final 35 miles were a blur of darkening skies and decreasing temps but the miles kept piling on. My pace picked up by about 0.5 mph as we approached Ludington as I could now envision a finish within a timeline my brain was capable of comprehending. Lake Michigan suddenly came into view as we approached Stearns Park.  A short trip down an appropriately sandy finish chute and I was done; crossing the line at just under 14 hours; 4th onespeeder to finish. Hours later at the hotel, I would learn that one of the (singlespeeding) titans of bike sport, Mike Bernhard, had done so well that he’d placed 2nd in the overall rankings and was thusly ejected from the onespeed category and recognized for his efforts with the top finishers which pulled Jordan into the top spot for onespeeders, followed by Randal Reicker in 2nd, and myself into the 3rd.

Onespeeder awards: Jordan Caverly (center) in 1st / Randall Reicker (left) in 2nd / Myself 3rd, looking reliably ill-composed ​at picture time.
Photo by: Jordan Caverly

I won’t pretend to understand why race officials won’t let a person win in multiple categories, but at the same time I was cautiously / questionably / childishly stoked to get pulled up into the podium spot for an inaugural gravel race across Michigan. I’ve got nothing in terms of thoughts in conclusion to a pretty unique gravel event. The logistics can be difficult if you’re planning a solo trip, but having friends makes it infinitely easier. The race will still be hard though and I’m grateful and humbled to find myself among those that are better prepared and better trained for these events. Also, maybe listen to Matt Acker when he gives his opinion on course-appropriate tire choices.”
-Chris S.
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Jim

Cup O'Dirt Admin

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