The Sancho 200

The Sancho 200 is a small event put on by the folks at Einstein Cycles and Bearclaw Bicycles in Traverse City, MI. As usual, the course is predominately gravel and two track. This event has all the appeal of a locals ride but out-of-towners are welcome to join. Registration is capped at 50 folks so one considering the ride shouldn’t sit on it for too long. Anyways, Traverse City, MI is a 4 hour drive from my home in Ferndale so we planned on staying in the area for the weekend. TC has a bunch of lodging options to fit almost any budget; resorts, franchise hotels, independently-owned murder lodges, park benches, and other more legal forms of camping are available. You can spend as little or as much as you want. I stayed about a half mile from the race’s start/finish line. Even better, I had a direct & car-free route from the hotel to the start via the Traverse Area Recreational Trail.
The First 50 Miles:
A total of 39 riders made their way to the doorstep of Einstein Cycles in the pre-dawn hours on Saturday with 3 opting to depart hours before the official start time of 6:00AM. A Speedway gas station across the street was open providing racers with the opportunity to sabotage and/or cleanse their digestive tracts. We got our first glimpse of the sun behind dissipating cloud cover just before 6:00 and we were off soon after. It doesn’t take long to rid oneself of signs and symptoms of civilization in this region. A few short miles had passed and we’d encountered our first dirt roads of the day and it wouldn’t be long until were struggling to hold a line through protracted sections of ankle deep sand on the course’s numerous Outdoor Recreational Vehicle (ORV) trails. A group of 36 doesn’t take long to break apart in these conditions.

I knew this was going to be a tough course.  I knew there was going to be sand and I knew I’d have to walk at points, but none of that knowledge helped keep my cool as thoughts of throwing in the towel crept in way too early. I couldn’t hold any speed or keep one tire in front of the other. We were only 20 miles in and I was already sinking into those dark places you wouldn’t normally experience in a long race until after you’ve had 3 flats and you’ve been out of water for hour.

All complaining aside, I need to emphasize that the Sancho 200 course is tough, but its brilliant in its design. There’s a lot of challenging terrain to cover and it’ll definitely get under your skin, but the tough stuff is finite in duration. There’s a strange rhythm to the varying terrain. It feels like your ability to weather the hard parts gets better as you progress through the course. You can’t always see the end of a tough section, but it’s there, and it’s worth the trouble because the scenery can’t be beat. It’s an amazing place to ride and sometimes drag your bike.
Eventually, I’d reach the first checkpoint at mile 46.  After getting my name checked off the roster, I filled up a bottle and attempted to diagnose and resolve a bit of intermittent tire rub on the seat stays. After inspection, I determined the cause was stuffing a 45mm tire into a frame that only ever claimed to fit a 42. I’ve never been great with sticking to the rules. After a minute of useless fiddling with hub placement in the horizontal dropout, I made peace with it and headed out with thoughts of throwing in the towel still swimming in my head.  Moments later I was joined by the recent Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder onespeed champ and longtime friend Jordan Caverly.  He’d run into a few issues that morning as well.  We had a few laughs at our individual plights and casually agreed to press on, possibly in search for the nearest bar.
The Middle 100:
I rambled on for a while with the intro and the first 50 miles so I’ll be brief with in describing miles 50 through 150. First and foremost, the Manistee National Forest is beautiful. Secondly, the MNF has shitload of sand. I recall a ~150-200 meter section of sand deep enough to require dismount, which isn’t all that bad, as walking is sometimes a nice break for your butt, but the air was thick with all manner of biting insect and anything other than frantic swatting at a stumbling jog was intolerable.

Around mile 120, we were treated with a break from the sand and hills as we rolled through the outskirts of Wellston but the relief was short lived.  Something punctured my tire on a short paved descent down highway 55. The telltale “tick-tick-tick-tick” indicated whatever I hit was lodged in my tire and would require remediation sooner than later.  The offending object was discovered to be a short length of ~1/8th in. cable complete with ferrule end. I pulled the cable from my tire and watched a geyser of sealant spray onto the shoulder until there was none left to plug the hole.  I would have preferred a ride without a getting a flat, but a mosquito free stop was pretty okay. The remainder of the middle 100 miles was relatively calm save for the headwind we encountered as we headed east.

The Final 50:
We arrived at the second and final check point around mile 165.  The stop was quick, we chatted with the volunteers as we filled our bottles one last time. We expressed our gratitude to the folks manning the station and headed out for the last 35 miles. The sun was on its way towards the western horizon and the cooling temps were welcome for tired bodies. Road conditions improved as we approached the outskirts of Traverse City.  The elevation picked up and our speeds slowed, but we were too close to finish to let the hills get under our skin.
Salsa’s couch was busy soaking up chamois sweat in Kansas so we had to make do with the local feral furniture. Jordan C.(left) and Grand Rapids Bicycle Company rider, Troy Otte (right)
The last 10 miles of the course were pretty enjoyable; only a few climbs until the east arm of the Grand Traverse Bay became visible in the distance. We let gravity do most of the work as we cruised down 4 Mile road towards the bay; rolling across the finish line in just under 14 hours. In total, 4 onespeeders snuck into the top 10 overall ranking.  Jesse Ramsey and Randall Reicker had an awesome day, sharing the achievement of 1st onespeeders across the line and 5th/6th overall. Jordan and I would roll across the line shortly thereafter.  The amazing folks at Einstein Cycles and Bearclaw Bicycle Company had beer and pizza at the ready for riders and volunteers and I cannot thank them enough for putting on this event on and allowing a few out-of-towners to crash the party. For anyone interested, they’ll be running the fall edition of the Sancho 200 in October and I would encourage anyone looking for a challenge in one of the most scenic areas in Lower Peninsula to sign up as soon as registration opens.
Next up for me is a return trip to the dirt roads outside of the Mohican State Park for the 2018 running of the Funk Bottoms Gravel Race.”

-Chris S.
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Jim

Cup O'Dirt Admin

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