By: Christina Vipond
The first time I raced Uncle John’s Gravel Race, I was tooling along by myself about 16 miles per hour thinking I was going really fast. I climbed the hill to the finish line expecting champagne to be sprayed all over me and saw what looked like 1000 racers who had already finished.
Lesson:1 I wasn’t “really fast”. Lesson 2: I had a lot to learn about racing.
The Michigan Gravel Race Series provides a great opportunity to experience different courses. Melting Mann kicked off the season with an overnight rain and drop in temperature which made for a chilly and leg zapping peanut butter road ride. A very nice volunteer was excited to tell me I only had 10 miles left. I tried to hide my true emotions with a smile and a thank you.
Barry welcomed us with a snowy start and a new, uphill finish. Lowell-it’s always nice to get to the bridge. I had to miss Hart Hills this year due to mechanical issues with both bikes at the same time. A racer can never have too many backup bikes. Waterloo was memorable with lots of water bottle sucking potholes. The Cow Pie Classic added a 2nd farm, those trails always add adventure. Arcadia Grit and Gravel and Lord of the Springs are short but both pack a powerful punch. This year’s MGRS season ended with Uncle John’s and a new, straight up the grassy hill climb for the finish. The MGRS awards were held at the Moran 166. Although this wasn’t part of the long or short course, it was the final ultra race. The 66 mile course was beautiful with leaves just beginning to turn and racers talked non stop about the infamous snowmobile trail. The weather was perfect, it was a great way to end the series.
It doesn’t take long to recognize the same faces at the races. The men are always helpful with “hop on my wheel” and “hey, we raced together at ___”. Rob Meendering is always in the middle of the road, shouting encouragement as he captures the action. As nice as all that is, there seems to be a special bond with the women. As competitive as the women are, they are also very encouraging. There is chit chat during warm up rides, wishing each other good luck and a safe ride. Some of my biggest competitors are some of my greatest friends. We stay at each other’s houses during race weekends, ride together for fun and share stories about our families. I was talking with another female racer about the relationships we build, she said her husband, who also races, just doesn’t understand it. For many of us, it goes beyond the gravel.