Often times I’m asked, “Why?” I do the things that I do. Why race FAT bikes opposed to 29ers? Why enter Dirty Kanza and Leadville 100 lotteries? And most recently, why do I want to ride my bike from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan? You can only imagine how many times I was asked “why?” when it was known that I was going to race across the state of Michigan. For me it’s a fairly easy answer, “Why not!?” Why wouldn’t someone want to ride gravel roads across the state, see small towns that if you blink, you’d never know it was even there. Why wouldn’t someone want to ride through the Manistee National Forest and take in the fresh smell of the pine trees and get some spectacular views!?
When I heard the rumor that Matt Acker was putting together a gravel race across the state of Michigan, I KNEW that if it was to come true, that I would be the first person to sign up! Low and behold, in August the rumor became a reality and it was open registration for the Inaugural Coast 2 Coast Gravel Grinder. It was the race that I had my mind and sights on since I hit the register button. Through the winter months I started training and all was going well until about February. It was then that these “sprint” races (in comparison to 200 miles) were popping up left and right. I let those distract me from my training for C2C and what made it worse was that I was in no shape to sprint for 36 miles since I had been working on endurance for 60+ miles.
So fast forward to race week and I had made up my mind that due to a serious injury I had sustained the week before Barry Roubaix and that I hadn’t pedaled my bike for longer than 78 miles, I wasn’t going to do C2C. It was Thursday afternoon (48 hours until the start) when I was grocery shopping that I found myself, convincing myself that I could do it. Why not, right? So what must’ve been an entertaining sight to see, I started packing my cart full of pop tarts, pop and other snacks that one would need for 200 miles. I made a phone call to my mom asking if she was willing to crew for me, stopped at the bike shop, and I was off to the east side of the state Friday evening!
Race morning came extra earlier Saturday, 3:45AM to be exact. I didn’t get much sleep, a couple hours at most but I was too amped on the race that the lack of sleep didn’t faze me. I checked the weather one last time and before I knew it, I was saying goodbye to my mom and rolled toward the start line. If there’s one thing I’ve tried to work on, it’s to take in the race atmosphere and enjoy it for what it has to offer. Seeing teammates and friends talk amongst one another with excitement helped me settle down and enjoy the fact that I was a part of an event that was bound to be amazing! As the sun greeted us, and the number of riders grew, I made sure to dip the back wheel in Lake Huron before lining up for good!
Matt Acker (co-founder of the C2C) said a few last words, we were counted down and Matt led us on a neutral roll out for about 2 miles. Once Matt peeled off the front, the pace stayed relatively steady. The week and even day before the race, it had poured with rain, making the gravel wet, silky and when you’re in the middle of a pack, you’re bound to get some grit in your teeth!
Being extra cautious of standing water and slick corners, it was about 12 miles in when the pace started to pick up and that’s when an accident ensued. Ahead of me riders suddenly darted into the ditch, others slamming on their brakes and some unable to avoid going down. About 4 riders ahead of me, there was a pile up of riders and at the bottom of the wreckage, a rider laid unconscious. Myself and a handful of other riders stopped to help the best we could until a safety vehicle was on the way. With the situation out of my hands I jumped back on the bike and in the distance I could see the lead group getting smaller and smaller.
It was then I thought, “I can burn a match now and coast the rest of the way or I can pace myself and suffer alone.” So I lit a match and pulled back a couple riders to the lead group. For the next 40 miles, the group stayed together, easily rolling over 20 mph through some relatively flat gravel roads and in no time we were at our first checkpoint (mile 53).
In fact, we went a little too fast because my sag vehicle was nowhere to be found. As I watched the lead group leave the checkpoint, I had to immediately tell myself not to worry. I HAD to be okay with knowing that this is where my day changed from racing to conserving. Without food and only half a bottle of water, I knew it was going to be a long 50 miles until the next checkpoint. As I neared mile 80, I could feel myself fading and conserving was now just a matter of math equations and figuring out how much longer until I was able to refuel. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of riding alone, I pulled into checkpoint 2 where Matt welcomed me in. I tried to eat extra in order to make up for the first aid station but when your 100 miles in, your body just isn’t able to take in foods like you’d think. So I topped off on fluids, packed a few snacks and I was once again on my way.
For those who did the 200 mile course, they’ll all agree that the third leg of the race was the best and the worst! Just before Cadillac and west thereafter, the hills started coming and the paved miles were kept to a minimum. But it wasn’t the climbing that took it out of most riders; it was the fire roads that were the biggest challenge! Amazing views in the Manistee forest were paired with sandy, root covered; hike-a-bike sections of seasonal roads. The third leg was taxing on the legs and mind alike. I felt like every 2 minutes I was looking at my mileage on the Garmin to only see that I had pushed or crawled .8 miles. Did I mention that the third leg was also the longest between checkpoints? From checkpoint 2 to checkpoint 3 it was 62 miles and when there’s sandy seasonal road one after another, it makes for a never-ending feeling! Have I mentioned the word SAND yet? Well there was plenty of it and it took its toll. Finally the fire roads spit me out and I was limping along when a rider that I had gone back and forth with all day pulled up next to me and gave me the proper pick me up that I needed and he drug me a few miles to the third and final checkpoint. Once again, I had topped off on fluids, took in some extra food and suddenly my mind and body had felt the best they had all day. The rider who had pulled me in couldn’t find his sag vehicle and knowing how important it is to have the nutrition, I was essentially force feeding him with water and asking him over and over if he wanted food, knowing that I was going to need him as much as he was going to need me in the final stages of the race. So topped off on nutrition, we left with one goal in mind; beat the sun!
We both left the final checkpoint feeling good. Here’s where things really turned into a math class. We were trying to figure our average with daylight and how much time we’d have should anything happen and still beat the sun. The two of us hooked up with a single speeder who was on a mission! The three of us were making some good time and did I mention, the distance from checkpoint 3 to the finish was less than 50 miles! So with all things considering from the day, I was starting to feel better and better as we closed in on 200 miles. What I could sense was the last section of forest roads; I started to get excited to roll up on the Chaise Lounge that Salsa Cycles has been putting out on endurance races this year, (Land Run, Coast 2 Coast, and Dirty Kanza). It must’ve been around mile 180, in the middle of the Manistee National Forest, there was a red velvet Chaise Lounge with a couple photographers standing by. I let out a cheer, propped my bike up against the lounge, while Eddie threw his bike and flopped down. Within seconds we were back on our way and still in good form to beat the sunset! The last leg of the race had a couple hills for good measure but mostly fast rolling gravel and some fast pavement to finish it out. Glancing up at the sun and seeing that I was about to officially be faster than the sun, gave me a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and joy. The last 4 or 5 miles were all paved and as we rested our sights on the State Park, we gave it one last push. I crossed the line just ahead of Eddie and when we stopped, we gave each other a big hug and congratulated one another. Mickie (single speeder) rolled in a few seconds later and we exchanged hugs and again congratulated one another. Matt Acker congratulated us and I thanked him for an amazing route and for the time he put into making it happen!
What an amazing day! It was my longest ride ever by well over 80 miles. Whether you’re 100% prepared or not feeling trained enough, whether you have the ideal bike set up or going out to try something for the first time, when people ask you, “Why?” always reply, “Why not!?”