“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.
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 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.