Three years ago, the Gravel Metric Century made it’s debut with an epic leap both for the challenge and event class. It was akin to the mighty leap of bicycle racing that was brought to us by the founder of the Barry Roubaix – epic rides with plenty of challenge and open to anyone who dared. When the Gravel Metric debuted, I was training for the Lumberjack 100 and was thirsting for miles upon miles of challenging riding to get into form. That first year gave everyone a glimpse into the future of bicycle racing, tough as nails, challenging more than most all of the summer racing season combined, and with a set distance that seems plausible if not for the epic conditions that could come – a mere 100KM. The first year had a laborious heat that struck everyone with near heatstroke and almost quitting attitude that bore through our minds with every revolution of our cranks in the last desperate miles to relief at the finish. The second year I was in decent shape again and ready to re-kindle another top 10 place if I could help it, completely unfazed by the rapture skies that surrounded us at mile fifteen. The skies won, and the gods smashed my derailleur into my wheel and left me walking for ten miles to give up under a tree – still fearful that I would be eaten by lightening. This third year was Satan’s turn to remind us of how much the ground was merely the cover of his lair and we were but the bacon on his pan. This was not a year to come into the challenge, weak.

Nevada Dave and I had not ridden on a regular schedule for at least eight weeks. We had barely hit 200 miles between the two of us since March and were adamant of still participating in the Gravel Metric because we knew it was the right thing to do, we don’t turn our backs on a practically free ride that presents a challenge, even for the wayfarer. We arrived with a friend who that same day, was celebrating his 52nd birthday and had him convinced this was a ride to behold and enjoy the countryside on a sunny day. We didn’t quite elaborate the feeling of riding 60 some odd miles in 100 degree heat. We figured that would manifest itself, naturally. We started off well enough enjoying the pull from the crowd of riders ahead of us aptly determined to beat the heat by way of velocity – to which we admired to hang on and allow the pull to not have us beat ourselves up. Nevada Dave is not one to pedal idly or waste a heartbeat in any ride and was dangerously close to wanting to take off and challenge the field. I was prepared to ride solo knowing that I could easily lose my friend, even if he was ladened by his commuter bike, with full fenders, and a rack that had a lizard strapped to it.

Mile sixteen came – and we did a quick assessment of ourselves and the field and from experience, knew that the day was going to victimize every single last rider regardless of fitness level. We started the rationing plans of our water, sodium tablets, food, and even the breaks – we knew solidly that hell hath no fury than those who think they can battle the scorching sun with no shade for very long. We rode mostly in silence taking pulls every 10-15 minutes avoiding any unnecessary movements to commit to a solid pace for the next 20 miles. Dave’s natural ability began to fall prey to the sun and his 30 pound commuter, I started taking longer pulls and thankfully was able to stay to a solid rhythm. Years of riding together made us commit to an efficiency of keeping each other on task to stay the course and keep hydrated. We rolled into the second official pit stop and we did an assessment again. We were quick to refuel, rehydrate, and refocus and we would take off to chase down the next group. It was about this point at mile 33 when as every cyclist finds in the duress of heat and the scrutiny of the fireball above your brow which is the feeling of your face melting – that we began to feel the doubt.

Why on earth did we subject ourselves to riding such a challenge in less than ideal condition to face it? Nevada Dave powered his commuter through, realizing he had some dragging brake pads every time we hit the rough stuff. I, in my non-chalant attitude, decided on wearing a loose freestyle jersey with baggy shorts to keep me in the ‘loose’, might as well have felt like jeans and a solid black t-shirt. We rarely ever feel doubt, but we spoke out loud of that doubt we had as we pushed through the gravel crunch. Our friendship elevated our spirits and the positivity came to the forefront as we kicked the doubt aside and knew that despite being ill prepared for the challenge, we know where we came from and how we’ve done in worse circumstances and immediately, our legs responded to the call – Nevada Dave and El Maya found the rhythm immediately after the final checkpoint as if a rally from the heavens above called us to grind the gravel down into fine powder – but really it was the gummy bears and the coke talking as we were stupidly delirious and were probably going 14MPH at this point.

We pressed on and at mile 50, I had to pull off to relieve my feet from what felt like they had been set on fire. In that stop, we had met up with none other than Rick Plite – founder of the many off-road greatness in Western Michigan such as the Barry Roubaix, Lumberjack 100, and the KissCross series. He was waiting for his Michigan teammates, and since we were leaving, decided to bear on with us to finish the last twelve miles. It was a beautiful cadence we kept with a tailwind behind us and a solid 21MPH paceline between the three of us on the gravel – we felt the heat dissipate with every mile we left behind. That is, until we somehow missed a turn and ended up on a two track in a corn field that led us directly to the interstate. All our hard work meant tracking back into a headwind, with a feeling of defeat, a delirium that has quieted our conversation to one word answers and grunts, and doubt again – this time if any of us knew where we were. A group ran into us and they too were in the same predicament and we looked at our bandanas for the road names to be aware of and started calling out the GPS phones and eek out a signal to see where we were. We managed to recalibrate ourselves and this time were less than 8 miles from the end and started yet another paceline for the final effort. Our small group fractured more and people dropped off and Nevada Dave and I felt our egos increasing the cadence and powering down harder gears as we both had the one final gear left in us still that we saved for the final mile. We pulled in and didn’t say a word for a long while.

We waited for our friend – concerned that we turned him off to bicycling altogether and started formulating the ‘mea culpa’ speeches for the ride home and wondered why would we convince someone to do this. After almost thirty minutes of silence and sitting under a tree and a gallon of water later – we called our friend to check in on him. We were elated and astounded to hear him pick up his phone and shout – “I’m almost there!” He was indeed, he rolled in almost 45 minutes behind us with a smile on his face. He was initiated into the insane. He said he was cramping and that he had forgotten to take the electrolyte pills we gave him but he remembered on the final stretches and kept focus. Our biggest advice was to find a group and stick with them. He said he couldn’t find a group to stick with, either they were too slow or too fast and ended up solo for almost the entirety of the race. He enjoyed every solo mile and realized he accomplished something far greater than most athletes could ever conquer, 66 miles in 95+ degree heat rolling on white gravel that might as well have been a frying pan. Nevada Dave and I were enthused for his birthday victory. We were concerned for him and even for ourselves, but we knew that this race is exemplary of bringing out one important facet from inside all of us. The will to overcome. If that isn’t a great birthday gift, I don’t know what is. Giving the gift of confidence and strength is not a easily wrapped present, but the Gravel Metric made it so.

I am afraid of what next year will bring weather wise – but I know that I will still do it again, and I will finish again. I cannot stress enough how important this type of riding/racing is. Our mettle is not determined by the wispy scenic brochures of epic rides in the lands beyond – it is right here in our backyard, by dirt, gravel, wind, and a little sun.

Special thanks to all the Half Acre Cycling team, the North Central Cyclery shop, and Robots Powered by Love for an incredibly event and gift to our friend.

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