Every year I pick a race to be my “big one” for the year – a race that stretches and pushes my limits in cycling. I usually sign up for the race at least six months in advance and then orient my training around it. This year that big one was the Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder (C2C) that took place on June 22nd. It’s a 210 mile race across the great state of Michigan from the Lake Huron coast in Au Gres to the Lake Michigan coast in Ludington.
My wife, Beth, and I headed over to the east side of the state on the Friday before the race to attend the required racers’ meeting at a local campground. Matt Acker gave a preview of the course, conditions, and rules of the race. From there we headed into Au Gres to grab some dinner and set up for the night at the campground in town. First time sleeping in the bed of my truck!
The C2C race started bright and early at 6am. All the racers and supporters were treated to a spectacular sunrise. I dipped my back tire in Lake Huron and it was off to the races. It began with a neutral rollout for the first six miles led by Acker. There was a section of the course about six miles in that was basically a gigantic mud pit. All racers had to dismount and try and find a line where they wouldn’t get muddied up. I had the unfortunate luck of having my right foot get completely submerged in mud. I started to have bad thoughts of riding the rest of the race with a nasty, muddy foot, but I pushed those thoughts out of my head knowing that I had an extra pair of bike shoes in the truck with Beth.
The first two legs of the race (approx. 105 miles) flew by pretty easy. The first 55 miles were relatively flat and I was able to tuck into a nice paceline. The second 50 had a bit more elevation, but was still very enjoyable.
The third leg of the race (and longest at 61 miles) is where the real tough parts began. In the pre-race meeting, Acker had said this would be the most challenging part of the race…”challenging” was an understatement! The elevation really kicked up in this leg and the terrain was much rougher. There was a lot of talk about sand on the race’s Facebook page, which I had kind of dismissed. The sand was no joke. I probably had to get off my bike and walk at least 15 times. There were lots of seasonal roads, snowmobile trails, and two-tracks that really made it hard to get any momentum. The last 8 miles or so of this leg were brutal. I was definitely in a dark place mentally. But I eventually made it to the Dublin General Store, the third checkpoint, and took a little extra time to pull myself back together.
The last leg started out where the third one left off…tough. I started to have some negative thoughts creep in again, but thankfully the course got a little more “normal,” which meant the roads were more like the gravel roads I’m used to riding around Grand Rapids.
As I started to get within 40 miles of the finish in Ludington, I looked at my Garmin and saw that I had a shot at beating the sunset. If you do that, you get a special engraved wooden plaque. I dug deep and put the hammer down as best I could.
I ended up crossing the finish line just a hair over 15 hours (9:01pm) and well ahead of the sunset. I was extremely pleased with my time. My original goal was to finish somewhere around 16 to 16.5 hours. I was cheered at the finish line by Beth, Brad O’Brien and several family friends, which was awesome! I walked my bike to the beach and dipped my front tire in Lake Michigan with a gorgeous sunset as the backdrop.
C2C was definitely the toughest mental challenge I’ve undertaken to date. At the end of the race, I was absolutely spent. 15+ hours is a heck of a long time to spend on a bike. I pushed my limits for sure.
“Gravel Grinder” is not an accurate description of the race either. With sand, two-tracks, and trails I have no idea how Acker found, this was one hell of a course!
This isn’t a race I will do year after year, but I could be talked into it again if some fellow Remaxers joined me. Riding this race solo unquestionably added another mental challenge. But a huge shout out to my wife Beth, who was my sag/support vehicle for the race. She met me at the checkpoints and had all my nutrition and fluids dialed in and ready to go. I couldn’t have done it without her.
And I’ll certainly be enjoying my beers with a bit more satisfaction ????.