25 May, 2018
This point to point gravel race across Michigan clocked in at 212.7 miles featuring over 7500 ft of vertical gain. The race is approximately 90% dirt and forest service roads with the remainder being pavement. There are three checkpoints spaced out so there is one about every 55 miles. The race is crew-supported, but you are only to meet with your crew at the checkpoints or if there is an emergency. The first two sections of the race cover the farm land of eastern Michigan. The second and third sections are predominately forest roads with the exception being the last 12 miles on the way to Stearns park in Ludington, MI.
I chose the 509 Jabit III rolling on Velocity Blunt SS skinned with Maxxis Rekon 29x2.6. I used a Revelate Designs ranger frame bag. I kept a hydration bladder in the frame bag and routed an extension house. I then packed what ever food I needed into the remaining space in the bag. I used a top tube bag for quick access items. I also used a Revelate Designs feedbag to house a water bottle, a few rice cakes and a couple packages of shot bloks. My strategy here was to keep as much weight as I could on my bike versus on my back.
It started with a dip of my rear wheel in Lake Huron at a small marina in Au Gres, MI. Next thing we were all led out for 1.5 miles by Matt Acker. The race began with a large fast group after the lead out. This group stayed together until a crash left a few people on the ground. After the crash, everyone spread out, and I was able to find my own pace. The rolling farmland was rather uneventful and passed quickly. I rolled into checkpoint 1 at about 9:30 am (time on course 3:10, 56 miles).
From checkpoint 1 to checkpoint 2 the course continued through mostly farmland. The climbing began in this section. It was one main climb to arrive at a plateau. This section had some two tracks that took you through remote areas. I found my bike set up to shine in sections that were softer or rough because of the extra cushion of the 2.6” tire. I rolled into checkpoint 2 after 7 hours on course and 104.8 miles.
After checkpoint 2 my legs felt quite refreshed with the few minutes I stepped off to mix some more bottles with Osmo and refill the bladder in my frame bag. This section led out through some more remote farmland and began to incorporate more two track riding, offering me a slight advantage over those running 36C tire. This part of the course introduced the Manistee national forest(MNF), displaying the best views of northern Michigan. The two tracks became more and more rustic as the race went on.
Rain leading up to the race left the course very firm and fast in these parts. I encountered almost no other riders once entering the MNF, but if you made it this far you are in good enough shape to make it to the end. Mental fortitude became essential once you found yourself in the middle of the woods without any one to talk to. Riders were funneled out of the forest to the third checkpoint at mile 165, 11:20 on course.
After grabbing supplies, the last leg began with some more dirt, then forest roads. The last two sections would make good frame work for a bike packing adventure. There are plenty of forest roads that could be followed to no end. The speed seemed to increase a few notches as the two tracks faded. With 30 miles to go I was greeted by Salsa’s Chase the Chaise. I would encourage you to look at the photos (on Salsa’s website) as some are quite comical. One chaise, a professional photography set, a patch, and some charisma made for a cool experience that racers will never forget.
The forest roads continued until the 20 to go marker, where I found myself on pavement. The paved roads allowed me to lay on the bars to give the palms a rest while ditching some of the head wind off Lake Michigan. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was cruising up to Stearns park following the final signs of the course. Matt Acker was there to greet racers with a congratulation and some goodies.
The race was a great experience, and I would 100% recommend it to anyone considering. A few take away points would be to practice all nutrition techniques and timing before race day. I don’t think you need to do particularly long-distance rides before the race. I would recommend consistent and structured training along with a few longer rides on your race rig.
I would say bike selection isn’t too important if it isn’t to completely to one side of the mountain-road continuum. When I do it again, I will use a gravel specific bike on a 40C tire, with aero bars; however, I believe the frame bag set up is the way to go for these longer endurance races.