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PAINTER: Local bikers ‘grind it out’ in 210-mile coast-to-coast race

• Jun 25, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Who would dare to ride a bicycle 210 miles in one day on a mixture of gravel, sandy and muddy roads?

Some members of the Rock ‘n’ Road Bike Team did just that last month, and they thought it was fun.

The local bicyclists participated in the first Michigan Coast-to-Coast Gravel Grinder — a bicycle race that began at the shores of Lake Huron and ended at the shores of Lake Michigan.

Among the participants was my brother-in-law, Brian Land. Rock ‘n’ Road team members are avid bikers and are used to riding long distances, but this is the first time they attempted something this adventurous.

“The idea of doing this race came up in a casual conversation Matt Meyer and I had,” Brian recalled.

That conversation soon sparked interest from other bikers, so other team members decided to enter this grueling race.

Brian and Matt were joined by Amy Miller, Christina Peek, Rick Mikkelson, Gary Church and Greg Bouwman. Two other team members, Michael Wear and Mike Troccko, opted to participate in the 100-mile portion of the race. Matt and Christina rode a tandem bike, just of three in the race.

Training for such a difficult race wasn’t easy, Brian admitted.

“The spring made it tough to get training in,” he said. “We had many cold and windy days riding the gravel roads east of Grand Haven.”

The team trained on gravel road bikes, which look similar to road bikes with drop bars.

Amy Miller said she was talked into participating in the race by other team members.

“This team is like family, and it is really difficult to say no,” she said. “I do give them credit for selectively omitting details of the route that they thought might scare me away…”

While race organizers labeled the race as the “Gravel Grinder,” the course included a mixture of two-tracks and snowmobile tracks and some “roller coaster”-like Forest Service roads, according to race organizers. They estimated that the trails climbed to 6,300 feet.

The Grand Haven team, along with several hundred other brave bicyclists, started the race in Aus Gres at 6:12 a.m. at the shores of Lake Huron. Organizers gave the participants 21 hours to complete their trek to Stearns Park in Ludington.

“This was the inaugural race and no one had any idea of what torture lay ahead of us,” Brian recalled.

Amy agreed.

“This was the most difficult event I have ever done,” said Amy, who has participated in marathons, Olympic triathlon, as well as 12-hour and 24-hour bicycle races.

None of the local riders were injured in the race, but Brian and Amy were involved in a crash. Brian fell but he and his bike were OK, and he continued on with the race. While Amy didn’t fall, she ended up calling 911 for another rider who hit her head and cracked her helmet.

As the bikers pushed through the route, the gravel road turned to a mixture of two tracks and snowmobile tracks, and it became obvious that the team was not going to reach Ludington before sunset, the team’s initial goal.

“Large sections of loose sand slowed our progress way down,” Brian said.

It took the team 16 hours to complete the race. For more than an hour, the bikers rode in darkness with bike lights guiding them through the final stretch to Ludington. Race organizers said 198 bikers completed the race.

Despite the rigorous journey, Brian said the team enjoyed the race.

“It was a very scenic route with great back road beauty that you rarely see when driving on paved roads,” Brian said. “What a sight to look down upon this wild river valley.”

Amy also said she truly enjoyed the ride.

“The scenery was beautiful, and the course, while challenging, taught me a lot,” she said.

The key for the team, Amy and Brian agreed, were the support teams. Crews in three vehicles followed the bikers and met up with them at three designated points. The support teams had to travel on main roads in close proximity to the race route.

Members of the support team were Pam Land, Hillary Land, Irene Church and Shawn Miller. They supplied the bikers with water, food and clothing.

“Yes, we had to eat on our bikes,” Brian said.

The 2019 Michigan Coast-to-Coast Gravel Grinder will take place in June. Amy and Brian said they are interested in participating again. This time they’ll be going into the race with a better idea of what to expect.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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