A FRESH RACE ON THE FRESH COAST
The Coast to Coast route is a new, truly a one-of-a-kind gravel experience in the lower peninsula of Michigan. Where else in the U.S. can you ride from one freshwater coast to another freshwater coast? I think the people that have never been to Michigan or seen a Great Lake before will be pretty blown away by just how much our lake shores resemble a true ocean and how beautiful the beach and scenery is in the town of Ludington. Our goal in creating the route wasn’t to just string together whatever gravel roads we could find and call it good. We truly put a lot of time into deciding what routes to use, what the rider experience would be and what we wanted folks to see along the way.
We’ve had some Debbie Downers in the peanut gallery say things like “Anyone can make a gravel route,” and while we totally agree, we really put the time into making this into something more. Mark, my co-promoter, and I have even debated on whether or not to include sections as short as a mile in length versus another road. We’ve taken the time to pre-ride everything we’ve routed, and even when it created more work, we’ve made the changes to really dial everything in.
The Coast to Coast route is quintessential Michigan; rural country roads, farmland, dense forest, creeks, rivers, rolling hills, white pine stands, two-tracks, and of course, beautiful coastline! Riders will begin their journey at the marshy shores of Lake Huron – the race’s Sunrise Coast. The route meanders on the flat and fast country roads that mark the first portion of the course, and farmland is abundant in this area. Before too long, the route begins to roll crossing through game areas and state land before arriving at this first checkpoint in Gladwin. Immediately following Gladwin, the hills become more apparent as riders climb the backbone of the state towards the central high country. This central section of the course has fewer inhabitants and more stands of pine and hardwoods.
Near the halfway point riders will enter the small town of Marion before once again setting out into the countryside. The hills come more frequently now and become steeper in sections. A nice respite from the gravel roads comes in the form of the White Pine Trail (Rails to Trails) which will deliver riders onto the other side of one of our major highways and to the edge of the Manistee National Forest. The adventure turns up a notch here as riders are introduced to four-digit forest roads, some qualifying less as roads and more as paths. The soil becomes sandy on this side of the state and the pine needles mixing with the dry earth creates a most pleasant aroma. These forest roads are one of the trademarks of the Coast to Coast route. Other races might be known for their B-roads or Minimum Maintenance roads, but the Coast to Coast will be known by its forest roads.
Riders will have the great fortune of riding along the Pine River National Scenic River corridor on 100-plus feet bluffs above the clay and sandy bottomed waterway. A fast descent to Low Bridge and up the other side will poise riders for the third and final checkpoint in Dublin. Likely famished cyclists will be greeted by the famous Dublin General Store with its vast array of cured meats. Some snowmobile trail makes an appearance shortly thereafter before riders enter the Udell Hills and forest roads of the Big M recreation area. The crossing of the Little Manistee River will be a signal to riders that their journey is nearing an end. The terrain from here on out becomes more civilized although not too much so. Nearing the lakeshore, one will be able to smell a certain freshness in the breeze. The path ahead flattens out as riders push on towards the freshwater coast of Lake Michigan. It won’t be until the last mile that riders catch a glimpse of the mighty lake. Rolling into Stearns Park, you’ll be greeted by a beautiful sandy beach, pier, and lighthouse. We’ll be there waiting for you with high fives, hugs, and salutations!
For those of you not ready to “Commit to the Mitt” fear not, we’ve got something special in store for you too! The shorter Coast Loop event offers much of the same scenery in a pleasant but challenging 100-mile loop format. The Coast Loop will start and finish in Ludington, MI. Coast Loop riders will be treated to many wonderful and quiet forest roads and will join the Coast to Coast route at the checkpoint of Dublin. Riders will get a taste of those last 50 or so miles from Dublin to the shore and we’re sure it will leave you craving the full trip across the Mitt in the future!
The weather in Michigan is largely a question mark in the spring months. We’ve been known to be graced with 80 degrees and sunshine but also 35 degrees and freezing rain. Being surrounded by freshwater oceans means the wind can change at a moment’s notice. Riders should come prepared to tackle anything from cold rain to dry heat and headwinds.
Having ridden the course, I can tell you firsthand that while 32mm tires may seem like a great idea in the first 50 miles, they’ll have you walking in the Manistee National Forest. If we have a wet spring, then the forest roads should be fairly firm, but if it’s dry you’ll wish you had a fatbike. I’ve sampled the course on the Salsa Warbird with 42mm tires as well as the Salsa Cutthroat on 29x2.1” tires, and both treated me well. Keep in mind you’ll be riding your bike for 210 miles, so those extra few millimeters of tire cushion aren’t exactly a bad thing.
A good frame bag, hydration pack, or bikepacking seatbag setup should leave you with enough room for a few layering options as well as reserve snacks. There are several convenience stores along the route and at least one at each checkpoint. If you run out of food or water, it’s no one’s fault but your own!
On the fence about signing up? Don’t be. This is the perfect excuse to explore a beautiful state whether it’s where you were born and raised or a place you’ve never set foot. The coastal town of Ludington is a vacation paradise with wonderful beaches, delectable delicacies, and nice accommodations. Michigan is known for its sweet treats such as fudge, maple syrup, and ice cream. Reward yourself with a couple scoops piled into a freshly made waffle cone at House of Flavors then stroll down the pier to the lighthouse. The peaceful Northwoods are ripe with nature and solitude – the perfect place to dig deep and push your limits. Come join us for a truly unique adventure and Commit to the Mitt!
The birth of the race was fairly innocent. I got a message from Mark over a year ago and we began chatting about bike races, course designs, and gravel racing. One day, he sent a note and said he was looking at doing a bike race on gravel across Michigan and had a few ideas to bounce off me if I was interested. Naturally, I was curious, and as coincidence would have it, I had been designing a gravel route across the state for my own personal use – it just hadn’t occurred to me to make an event out of it. Even more of a coincidence, Mark had been using my mapped gravel roads on http://www.gravelmap.com to rough in a route but didn’t realize I was the one mapping them until sometime after we began chatting about it!
I suppose it was a bit of a perfect storm that brought the creation of the Coast to Coast race about. The more Mark and I chatted and sent ideas back and forth, the more excited I think we both became at the prospect of the event. Mark brings a hearty background in race promotion and directing from years of putting on adventure races, and I bring the gravel racing and endurance riding aspect to the mix. Between the two of us, all the gaps get filled in when it comes to putting on an event like Coast to Coast.
Mark’s background with gnarly adventure racing and running events took its toll on his body, and he was turning to more cycling for its lower impact. He’s been into mountain biking for a long time and has also finished the infamous Marji Gesick 100, so he’s a legit rider. With time it was only natural he’d start thinking about putting on some cycling events. My background up until a few years ago was primarily on the racing side of things as I had a full-time career. My wife and I decided a couple of years ago that we’d take some time off from work and just travel and enjoy life. In the back of my head, I couldn’t help but also use that time away from the rat race to feel out other avenues of work. I enjoy getting people together to ride bikes and don’t mind organizing and leading rides or events. The timing for both of us was perfect, and we could really focus on creating a great event.
For me, I’d have to say that my love of gravel racing began with the Barry Roubaix right here in Michigan. I loved the huge question mark of conditions and strategy for a mid-March event in Michigan. What really cemented my love of gravel, especially the long stuff, was Dirty Kanza. I had never ridden 200 miles prior and just sort of thought “What the heck” when I took an entry that Velocity USA provided me. It was a super muddy and nasty year, and I remember thinking that it was crazy when everyone was walking the fence lines and cleaning bikes at the first minimum maintenance road. At the same time, I was loving that everyone was in it together.
When Mark approached me with his idea of racing across the state, I knew it could be an event of epic proportions and in the same spirit as some of the truly awesome gravel grinders out there. Events don’t happen unless people take the initiative to create them and it just felt right.
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