Race Report: Otter-Worldly Gravel Grind
This race popped up about a month ago, billed as 66 miles in the lakes area around Vergas, MN just NE of Fergus Falls. It fit into my schedule perfectly and pretty close to home so I signed up. It was originally scheduled for November 3rd, but that day is the MN firearms deer opener so it was changed to last weekend, Oct. 6. I was happy about that because usually the weather would be better……..yeah right.
The week leading up to the race saw no sun whatsoever, cool to cold temps, and a good amount of rain the 3 days prior. Gravel conditions were soft and sloppy. The gravel up in this region is mostly clay/sand so it got slimy. Check in was at the Vergas Coffee and Ice Cream shop. That was nice being able to sit and have a coffee in a warm spot before the race. Weather at the start was about 33 degrees with a light mist that even changed to flurries for a few minutes, cloudy and a pretty stiff NW wind. Thermal overshoes, leg warmers, thermal jersey and wind vest were donned, a picture of the 10 of us were taken and we were off.
The first 5 miles were on pavement and then the gravel. It wasn’t long before legs, faces, and bikes were covered in gravel slime and grit. Around mile 10 we entered a loop in the woods that was pretty much an atv trail, it was really technical with rocks, sand, big mud puddles and even small logs to ride over. It was about a mile of this. It was a fun but slightly nerve racking section, but I got through it unscathed. Back onto regular gravel. The course profile looked like a saw blade, up and down, up and down. Short steep punchy climbs. The soft roads limited how high up the next hill you could coast up. Needless to say my average speed was about a mph slower than normal.
I spent most of the first half race shadowing a group of guys from Fargo, they eventually pulled away around mile 35. I was able to keep them in sight, but that was about it. More up down up down, trying not to slide out on the downhills. I made a quick stop around mile 40 to take off the wind vest. I pulled into the aid station at mile 49 and had a banana and some apple cider. The Fargo guys were still there. They left and I finished my banana and took off. I had taken off my glasses and forgot to put them back on. It only took a few yards to realize my mistake with all the grit flying up into my eyes. More up down up down. Towards the end there was about a 3 mile stretch of pavement. “Ahhhh” except it was straight into a head wind. Also once on the pavement the grinding, groaning sound from all the grit build up in my drivetrain became very evident. The last few miles I was praying nothing broke. Back onto the gravel for a few relatively quick miles, last turn off the gravel back into town and back to the coffee shop and finished. Everyone was gathered around taking hero pictures of the mud and bikes. We all changed clothes and one of the Fargo guys bought everyone ice cream, Thank you! Then most of us stopped at the bar next door for a few beers. Having an ice cream store and a bar at the finish. Every race should be like that.
The course was punchy, the state of the roads made it tough. It was one of those rides where you felt like you really accomplished something when you were done. The scenery was awesome. The leaves were in peak color. It was a beautiful course. Thank you to Isaac Novak for putting this together. It was a very well run event on a great course.