While it was 90+ degrees at home some buddies and I were enjoying the cool (cold) start of Le Grand du Nord right on Lake Superior. At the start we were discussing how we might have been under dressed. We started in the parking lot at the Coast Guard Station in Grand Marais. We had a nice cool 4 mile roll-out right along the lake shore with a nice cool breeze blowing off the lake. Once we turned onto County Road 60 we were going uphill and got warm really quick!
This is a Category 3 hill that climbed 766ft in 2.3 miles. This really separated out the climbers from the rest of us! It only took me 24 minutes to go those 2 miles, but this would be the only major climb for awhile. At the top of the hill the 20 mile route people went left and we went right. There was a group of us that went back and forth on the up and downhills for awhile here.
At some point I decided not to stop and re-fuel according to my typical schedule. I think I under-estimated the distance and thought I’d be okay. I did my water plan – water every 5 miles and electrolytes every 10. Somewhere between 15-20 miles I bonked and finally stopped to get some fuel in my body. Up until then I had been feeling pretty good maintaining a steady pace on the uphills and flats. At one point I thought I would just bail. It didn’t help that my knee started hurting around mile 15 as well. Ugh.
Once I got some food I started feeling a little better. We hit some pavement for the 5 miles leading up to the checkpoint and I hit 32 miles per hour on one of the downhills! The checkpoint/aid station was supported by HED Cycling and they had a crepe station so I had a PBJ and Nutella crepe and a few of my bars. Walking around also helped loosen up my knee too. I decided that I needed to add some stretching to my 10 mile snack break.
Leaving the aid station was another long uphill climb. This was only 346 feet over 2.75 miles. At the top we were treated to a lounge on the Chaise provided by Salsa Cycling (see the picture). This was a comfy break for a second and an excellent marketing idea! Up until this point the roads had been great and beautiful! Even the paved sections seemed great!
I think the sun came out for awhile as we hit Devil Track Road and then the first part of Bally Creek Road both of which were pretty exposed and it got pretty warm for awhile. This was a section that felt like it just kept going and when you stopped the bugs got you pretty good. Turning onto The Grade seemed a little daunting especially as there were signs for Eagle Mountain that we kept riding to. I was glad when we got to the Eagle Mountain parking lot and turned away from it!
After turning off The Grade back onto Bally Creek Road the roads got better. Around mile 50 it started getting cloudy and we heard some thunder in the distance. At that point it became a race to beat the storm to the finish. It sprinkled for a minute, but that actually felt good. I thought that we had beat the storm, but would be proven wrong. I thought I made a wrong turn at one point because there was a sign that said Grand Marais 12 miles and we went the other direction. This was right next to a beautiful looking Superior National Forest campground.
At mile 57 the storm finally pounded us and we got soaked. At the time it felt great and it didn’t last very long. One guy in front of me stopped to put his jacket on, but I kept going. Around mile 60 there was some confusion as the cue cards said to keep going straight, but there was someone down a side road waving an orange flag. A group of us waited around for like 5 minutes while someone rode down to check it out. Once he started back up, we all took off!
At mile 61 we hit the pavement again and it was all downhill to the finish! The rain and the cooler temps from the Lake created some awesome steam/fog off the road. I tried at 23mph to take a picture and it didn’t really come out. I also wasn’t trying too hard as I didn’t want to slip on the wet pavement at those speeds and so close to the finish line! The route takes a right turn with 1/4 mile to go and then is a steep downhill. We were told to take it easy down that part and the last mile was well monitored by volunteers to help with car traffic. After crossing the finish line I shook hands with the race director and thanked him for a great event. Even with the rain it was a lot of fun!
I don’t know when I’ll learn my lesson about keep fueled throughout the longer rides, but that was the only hiccup. Well and not really having a bike setup for so much climbing!
According to my watch here are the final stats:
64.5 miles in 5:52 with 3,250ft of climbing! This put me in 159th place and my official time was 5:58:24.
The location and weather for this race makes it an excellent gravel grinder!