“About a year ago I was added to a facebook group for a potential 200 mile gravel/ two track/ seasonal road race that would start on the east side of Michigan and end on the west side. This would take advantage of the ability to start at one great lake and end at another. After talking to a few friends I decided I had to do this! I’m pretty big on doing as little preparation as possible for races so I don’t overthink things, this was complicated by the need to have a crew to cart your belongings across the state, and meet you at the three checkpoints to give you encouragement and replenish your bike snacks. I figured a way to limit the planning would be to convince my dad to sign up for his first 200 mile race figuring that my mom would automatically be his crew, and I could latch onto that. It took some convincing but eventually my dad pressed the necessary buttons on the computer and joined my friend Chris and I in registering for the adventure.
True to form Chris and I did little to plan for the race other than obtaining somewhere to sleep the night before and night after the race. We headed up to the start town Friday afternoon keeping a watchful eye on our weather apps that were calling for rain all night and into the morning. After a short night of sleeping we awoke to shove some oatmeal down and find that the weather for the day was as perfect as one can get in Michigan in May!
After dipping our tires in Lake Huron and a few words from local legend and race director Matt Acker we were on our way West!
The first 50
This section is largely flat with a couple sandy sections to remind you of what you have been warned about coming up later in the day. We had about a 40 person group containing all the pre-race favorites and half a dozen of the strongest single speeders in the area when we hit the first checkpoint. My mom was a rockstar and had Chris and I in and out in less than 30 seconds so we could be back on the road with all the competition.
Second 50ish (things get hilly!)
Shortly after rolling out of the first checkpoint we had a majority of our group back together and were motoring West with the help of a gentle cross tailwind. As soon as the group got comfortable again a couple folks made poor moves in the group thinking a turn was closer than it was and caused a few riders to hit the deck. Everyone stopped to check on the downed riders and take a look at their bikes to make sure they were working properly. The riders who went down decided they could press on, but my friend Chris noticed that his rear brake rotor was bent by someone running into him. He attempted to straighten it and jumped back with the group when we rolled away. Shortly after the crash we entered a long section of muddy road that was rideable if you had skills and luck on your side. A group of 6 pulled away in this mud, as soon as we hit firmer ground I began to look around to see if any of the one speeders I was eyeing made the gap. In fact Mike Bernhard had made the split, everyone knew he was running well going into the race so I figured if I didn’t put an effort in to bridge up to them now I’d never see him again. Unfortunately all my effort did was keep the distance the same for a few miles, and whittle down the chasers to about 10 of us who would stay together until the second checkpoint arrived at about mile 105.
Third section (so much two track!)
I made quick work through the second checkpoint aided by my mom stuffing bananas in my pockets, and replenishing my top tube bag with snacks while I refilled my camelbak. After a couple encouraging words I was back on the road and chasing down the only two people who made it out before me. It took me about 5 miles to catch these two (Amanda Nauman, and Tom Scott), but when I did I knew I’d love the company. After a few more miles we had a half dozen riders in our group, and hit the first memorable section of sandy two track. As soon as we made a right turn I realized I had the completely wrong line and proceeded to go over my bars and right into some soft sand. I grabbed my bike and ran uphill to firmer group before jumping back on and chasing the group who I’m sure was laughing at my expense. After a few miles of firmer two track with the occasional soft stretch to test your handling skills we were back on gravel roads. Our group lost a couple guys going through some hills, but Amanda, my friend Allen, and another rider Troy stuck together for most of this leg. Amanda is a crusher having won Dirty Kanza twice and finishing on podiums in basically every large gravel race so I was determined to stick with her until my legs blew up. Unfortunately her di2 started running low on battery and she was left with one gear, for me this isn’t an issue since I pick it before the race, but she was stuck with quite a low gear so she couldn’t hold pace with Troy and I on the flatter sections. She told us to press on and that her crew would work up some external battery to charge her shifty bits when she got to the checkpoint.
Just after we left her Troy and I hit some two track that seemed like it would never end. We were both out of liquid and low on morale, when we rounded a corner and saw race director and bringer of pain Matt Acker sitting on a log in the middle of the Manistee National Forrest to take some photos and cheer us on. Shortly after this we popped out of the woods and rolled into the checkpoint.
I couldn’t find my mom at the entrance to the checkpoint because she had gone to a convenience store to grab corndogs and pizza for us to scarf down. After rolling around the checkpoint parking lot for a few minutes I found her car and proceeded to replenish my bottles and stuff a bunch of beef jerky into my top tube bag since I couldn’t stand the thought of another bar at this point in the day. I chugged a jar of pickle juice and shoved a few spears in my mouth then thought it was a good idea to apply some chamois cream. Without thinking I used the pickle juice covered hand to do this and let out a loud shriek as the vinegar mingled with my taint. I turned around to see if anyone noticed, and my mom came up holding some gas station goodies and a grin on her face. She gave me some words of encouragement and updates on my dad and Chris, then told me to finish the damn thing.
I sailed out of the checkpoint and quickly caught up with Troy before entering another section of two track. For the next 20 or so miles we bounced in and out of two track until we were mentally done with it and ready for a nice flat gravel downhill to the finish. Just as our mental batteries were drained we saw the nice folks from Salsa Cycles hanging out in the woods with a lovely chaise lounge. Troy and I plopped our tired bodies on it, grabbed a patch and handshake from Kid and his crew then motored on toward the finish.
With about 20 miles to go Troy was hitting a wall, I told him we’d cross the line together and I’d wait at the top of every hill for him then pull him on the flats. We did this all the way into the finish. Somehow we managed to land in the top 10 overall, and thanks to a technicality of Mike being the second overall finisher I was bumped up to the one speed winner.
I stuck around at the finish cheering in my friends and my Dad for a couple hours then looked at the results. Two of my best buds had finished second and third in the SS category, this called for a party on the podium!!”