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Sep 12, 2023

Looking for a unique and challenging gravel cycling experience? Look no further! In this episode of the podcast, host Craig Dalton introduces the founders of Gray Duck Grit, an exciting grass roots gravel cycling event in Southern Minnesota. Joining Craig are Kris Jesse, Nate Matson, and Mark Jesse, who share their passion for gravel cycling and the origin story behind Gray Duck Grit.

Kris Jesse discusses her journey into gravel cycling, inspired by a friend's social media post, and her background in distance running. Mark Jesse, having participated in the Day Across Minnesota event and other ultra-endurance events, shares his love for gravel cycling's magical moments in solitude. They also delve into the details of the challenging 240-mile Day Across Minnesota event, which takes riders on a scenic route from Gary, South Dakota, to Hager City, Wisconsin.

The founders highlight the unique aspects of Gray Duck Grit, including atypical distances and the creation of an ultra-endurance event. They discuss the beautiful terrain of the Driftless region near Northfield, Minnesota, where the event takes place, and the challenges riders may face, such as unpredictable weather and relentless winds. The episode wraps up with a discussion about the event's inclusive atmosphere, its charitable aspect in supporting Fraser of Minnesota, and a warm invitation to join the Gray Duck Grit experience.

Topics discussed:

  • Introduction of Gray Duck Grit founders
  • The inspiration behind Gray Duck Grit 
  • The Day Across Minnesota event 
  • The challenging terrain of the Driftless region 
  • Weather conditions and preparation 
  • Inclusivity and the event's charitable aspect 

If you're a gravel cyclist seeking an unforgettable adventure and an opportunity to push your limits, Gray Duck Grit is the event for you. With its scenic routes, challenging terrain, and an inclusive atmosphere, this event promises an experience like no other. So, buckle up, find some dirt under your wheels, and join the Gray Duck Grit community.

Episode Sponsor: Dynamic Cyclist (code: THEGRAVELRIDE for 15% off all plans)

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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:

[00:00:00]Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport

I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.

[00:00:28]Craig Dalton (host): This week on the podcast. I welcome the founders of a grassroots cycling event in Southern Minnesota called gray duck grit. It's happening this upcoming October 6th and seventh. Yes. I said two dates in there because there's multiple distances. They're offering a 333 mile race, a 222 mile race. Uh, 111 mile race. And a 69 mile race. Each of these distances has a significance. That we'll learn about during the conversation with this trio. This is the first time I've had three guests on at one time. There's a lot of fun. I wanted to push the podcast out as early as possible. To give anybody in the Southern Minnesota and surrounding area, an opportunity to jump on this event. It looks like a lot of fun. It's presented by the angry catfish bicycle shop and has a lot of great local sponsors and supports a great cause. Before we jump in i do need to thank this week sponsor dynamic cyclist

The team at dynamic cyclists offers video based stretching and strengthening and mobility routines focused on cyclists. As you can imagine from their name. They just recently dropped an updated injury prevention program. The one I like to follow, which is the six week low back injury prevention program. It's always timely. Getting an update from my friends at dynamic cyclists. Because it reminds me that I have absolutely no excuse. To not fit these 10 to 15 minute routines into my day. I waste 10 or 15 minutes doing something not productive for my body. So it's a constant reminder that I should be stretching. I've dedicated myself this year to try to strengthen my lower back. In particular to improve my longevity as a cyclist for these long gravel cycling events. And I've found the stretching routines, particularly the injury prevention routines of dynamic cyclists to be super helpful.

It's very focused on what we need as gravel, cyclists for me. It's tight hip flexors. It bands everything around my low back seems to draw everything in a tight bundle if I'm not careful.

So having access to a content catalog of different stretching routines has been super important to me and motivating to just kind of frankly, get off my ass. And do the stretching I need to do. If you're interested in giving it a shot, dynamic cyclist always offers free access to, I think, a week's worth of content. For you to check out what they're doing. I'm on an annual plan. If you're interested, just use the code, the gravel ride, and you'll get 15% off. You can do month by month. If you're just someone who wants to do it in the winter. Or they've got a pretty affordable annual plan. That's just kind of the easiest thing to do. To make sure it's always there. When you need it. So head on over to dynamic and remember the code, the gravel ride for 15% off.

So with that business behind us, I want to welcome mark Jesse, Chris, Jesse, and Nate Mattson to the show.

Hey guys, welcome to the show

[00:03:44]Kris Jesse: Thank you. It's great being here.


[00:03:47]craig_dalton-q2xxdhaa3__raw-audio_gray-duck-grit-ii_2023-sep-06-1110pm_the_gravel ride pod: So let's get started by just, let's go around the room, maybe starting with Chris and just talk about, um, a little bit about your backstory and then we can get into, I'm going to blub it, flub it every time. Gray duck grit.

[00:04:03]Kris Jesse: Great at grit. You got it. Um, I would love to start. Uh, it's kind of funny. Um, I fell into gravel cycling from, um, just seeing a post on Facebook. A friend of mine, he was going to ride this crazy ride across Minnesota. 20 some miles, um, called, um, the dam day across Minnesota. And, um, my background really is, uh, distance running.

And so that is where I came from. Um, that's my passion. Um, I'm reaching Saturday. I'm heading to Utah tomorrow now, where it'll be my almost 40th marathon. And so I'm really, uh. runner at heart. And I thought, Ooh, I can do this, this gravel, uh, cycling. And so, um, after seeing his post, signed up quickly and then did my first 50 mile gravel ride and sold my race registration for that long one.

So really it is, uh, that's kind of my cycling, uh, background a couple of years ago, but now just fell in love with it. Like it's my peaceful time. Um, uh, as you'll hear, Minnesota has amazing gravel, uh, to ride and to be, um, had, and so I just love it. I'm falling in love with it and kind of transitioning to just cycling.

So that's my, my background. Um,

[00:05:24]Craig Dalton (host): Well, I've got lots of questions about Minnesota, I'm going to table them for a minute to allow everybody to introduce themselves. So Nate, how about you? How did you get into cycling? Do you have a running background as well?

[00:05:35]Nate Matson: Uh, wow. I do actually a little bit. Um, so I actually have a triathlon slash running background and, uh, it's kind of a curious fitness person and I, I fell into gravel cycling because I got injured and I couldn't run, so I leaned more into cycling. And through this one specific friend of mine, he, he also did the dam the day across Minnesota.

And he was like, yo man, you should come out with me and we'll start gravel cycling together. So I got in with him, we started going out almost every weekend. And that is how I met Mark was actually on a gravel ride. So there you go. And, uh, I can run now, but I run a lot less and I cycle a lot more.

[00:06:23]Craig Dalton (host): All right, Mark, your turn.

[00:06:25]Mark Jesse: Yeah, I, uh, you know, Chris, Chris is a friend of ours who, who did sign up for the dam. Um, that was sort of my introduction to gravel cycling as well. Um, and, uh, it just. I went out and participated in the dam and 2019 that was my first big ultra endurance events and gravel cycling. Prior to that, it was a 50 miler with alongside Chris, as she mentioned, and it was.

During that 2019 day across Minnesota that I realized how magical gravel cycling is and, um, you know, being in the middle of nowhere, not having any bearings as to what direction you were headed. All I knew is I was following, following this trail of blinking red lights and, um, it was, I would look up and all I could see were stars and it was one of the most magical.

Moments I've ever experienced on a bike and yeah, go ahead.

[00:07:31]Craig Dalton (host): Amazing. I'd love to just learn a little bit more about Day Across Minnesota, because that seems like it's, you know, it's the origin story of, for the three of you, and it sounds like you had friends who were drawing you into it. How long of a ride is it? And what is it? What is the experience like?

[00:07:46]Mark Jesse: It's, it's a 240 mile distance. It starts in, it started, um, it is no longer for the record. Um, but when, when it was in existence, it started in Gary, South Dakota, and you would make your way across the state of Minnesota and you would end up in Hager city, Wisconsin, um, and Trenton Ragar is the. Race director.

He is also the current race director of the filthy 50, which he was his first events. And, um, and I believe that started in 2013, um, uh, the filthy 50. So the dam was a five year event that took place and I participated in 2019 and 2020.

[00:08:28]Craig Dalton (host): Okay. And how long does an event like that take a sort of average cyclist?

[00:08:34]Mark Jesse: Well, you know, my first year, it took me 22 and a half hours. Uh, there is a cutoff, um, of 24 hours. So the expectation is that you would, to get an official finish time, right? You would need to finish, it starts at midnight on Friday and it would end on mid at midnight the, uh, the following day, Saturday. So that was the format.

Um, and it was, it was pretty, it was a pretty amazing event.

[00:09:00]craig_dalton-q2xxdhaa3__raw-audio_gray-duck-grit-ii_2023-sep-06-1110pm_the_gravel ride pod: And with those kind of early experiences that drew you into the sport, did you subsequently travel outside Minnesota to do events to kind of get an idea of what the flavor was in other territories? Or have you mostly been participating in Minnesota based events?

[00:09:15]Mark Jesse: I. Haven't done a ton of official, uh, races or events outside of Minnesota. I did the Redfield Rock, Redfield Rock and Roll down in Iowa, my hometown or my home state, um, last year, and that was a heck of a challenge. Um, but I did a lot of other, um, I did some gravel cycling in Florida. I've done some gravel cycling in California and, um, mountain biking, uh, in Arizona and Oregon and places like that.

Um, so I've done. Um, some cycling, some pretty long distances as well, um, over several days, but nothing necessarily official in other states as of yet, but I definitely plan on doing more of that because how can you not, there's just so much to be had now, right?

[00:09:59]Kris Jesse: hmm.

[00:10:04]Craig Dalton (host): to those longer Distance events right from the get go, whereas a lot of people come into the sports, you know, being conjoled to do their first 25 miler and then 50 miler, et cetera. So it's going to be interesting as we talk about your event, the distances that you offer as they're a little bit atypical from what I see out there in the world, with the exception of some of the, you know, the well known ultra endurance races.

[00:10:30]Mark Jesse: Well, I think that has a little bit to do with our running background. Um, I, I also came from the running background. I, I have 17 marathons under my belt, I guess. Um, so the, our fitness level was there, I think. And so it was a, it was a, wasn't the difficult transition to make, um, because we had motors. We just had to.

You know, adjust the legs a little bit and get those legs and those muscles used to pedaling as opposed to running. So it wasn't a difficult transition. And I grew up on bikes, typical 80s era child did, you know, so. You know, it wasn't, I was very comfortable on the dirt growing up in Iowa on a, on a giant RS 940, 12 speed on gravel was a lot more difficult than riding a high end carbon gravel bike on, on, you know, the gravel around most anywhere else.


[00:11:28]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah, yeah, for What made you guys think about coming together to put an event on? I mean, you've participated in events, you've seen the hard work, but there has to be something that really made you have this burning desire to put in the hard hours, the money, etc., to create an event.

[00:11:48]Nate Matson: I'm going to give this to Mark, but I just want to say before he gives a very official answer that we were, we were just having a lot of fun riding our bikes together, you know, and, uh, we, we knew that we were riding with some really good people and we just loved, loved that the way it made us feel. And, uh, I saw marketing sort of a glimmer in his eye.

So when, so when he started talking about this ride, uh, when he invited me to be part of it, it was not really, I mean, it was a surprise, but it also oddly made sense to,

[00:12:26]Craig Dalton (host): Got it.

[00:12:27]Mark Jesse: Yeah, that was, you know, I didn't know what was going to come of this idea I had to, um, consider doing something like this. Um, you know, it all, it all went, it all dates back to, so the, here's the official origin, uh, origin story going back to 2018, I was running the Anchorage. Anchorage mayor's marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, along with Chris here.

And I was experiencing some heartburn, um, during the first few miles and it, and it subsided, I took some Tom's because Chris would, would carry Tom's with her as, as we run marathons. And so I took some times it subsided, but, um. And, and I ended up finishing, but I was really sluggish. Um, and when I finished the, the world was spinning.

I thought I was going to kind of faint or pass out, but I just sat next to a food truck and gathered my bearings. But to make a long story short, about two weeks later, I went for a run, just a recovery run. Um, that was maybe a week later and I ran two blocks and I. Thought my heart was gonna pop outta my chest.

It was just not good. And I knew something wasn't right. So I, I went to the doctor and, um, it, it, I just ended up having, um, essentially I was diagnosed with a 90% blockage of my coronary artery. And, and here I ran that marathon with that blockage. Um, so, you know, it was a miracle that I even survived it.

And, um, had a, had a stent placement. Um, and I. Fully recovered, but it was during that when they were reading, anytime you go in for something like this, they, they read all the possible outcomes and that really freaked me out. I, I, and so I made this promise to myself that if I, if I make it through that. I want to focus more, not just on myself and to, you know, be in better health.

It was a genetic thing for me. It wasn't because of my diet. It wasn't because of my fitness, I wanted to do more for others while I had this time, um, available to me moving forward and. I didn't know what that meant, but I knew that I wanted to do something. And so then it was just a couple of years later, um, doing the dam, I wanted to prove to myself that, Hey, I'm not, I'm not be, you know, I'm not too far gone.

I can still do this. You know, I'm not, I don't, I didn't want to live my life in fear of never being able to participate in something I loved, which was that, that endurance, um, activity, because, you know, it was through running that I fell in love with endurance sports. Um, not just what it does for me physically, but it's, it's cathartic, it's therapeutic, you know, um, just like it is for people who ride bikes, you get out there and, and you forget, and you, and you solve a lot of the problems that you're, you're going through and that you're experiencing.

Um, it's just a very special thing to experience. And so, um. That was the, the, um, the start of it really. And, um, COVID came and went, I saw some events come and go. And then the day across Minnesota, the, the gravel event that really, um, caused me to fall in love with gravel cycling, um, they announced Trenton announced that it would be their last event in 2021. And, um, or their last year of doing it. And I just felt like, you know what, there was a void that could be filled. And, and we are by. No means trying to be the damn, um, that isn't our intent, nor is that our goal. But I do feel like there is a demographic of, of cyclists out there that would truly appreciate what I appreciated in, in doing an event that is an ultra endurance events.

So that's what we have created. And. Um, it started out by doing some Strava group rides with some of the friends that I, I, I followed on Strava. I announced it, um, a couple of weekly rides and lo and behold, I, I, I met some new people. Um, and I met Nate, I met a guy named Greg Simogyi, um, in the process. Sam and some other people.

And, um, it was just a great experience just meeting these people who basically we like the same band, you know, and you're not strangers when you like the same band, you know what I mean?

[00:17:00]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. Exactly. Well, thank you so much for sharing that story, Mark, and thank God you're still around to share it. It is a takeaway, I think, for all of us to think about, you know, how big of a void, if you're an endurance athletic participant, how big a void it create in your life. To not be able to do that thing, because as you stated eloquently, for so many of us, it's rolling meditation.

It's where we process a lot of things that go on in our lives. And I know as someone who's faced challenges in my life, like the idea of managing the rest of my life without endurance athletics would be a real difficult pill to swallow.

[00:17:44]Mark Jesse: Exactly. I mean, when I'm having a tough day, when I'm stressed out, the very first thing I think about as, as far as how am I going to deal with this, this stress, this anxiety, this pressure I'm feeling, I got to get on my bike. I got to go. And it's, it's the pressure relief valve. Um, you know, radiators have them.

Why can't we have them? Um, so, um, you know, it's, it's, um, you know, on, on those days I go out on my bike or when I was running, I'd go run and I finish up, you know, after 25, 30 miles on my bike, it's rainbows and butterflies after that. So, um, it feels good.

[00:18:23]Craig Dalton (host): there something specific about Northfield, Minnesota? Is that where y'all live? Or is it just where you knew of amazing terrain?

[00:18:34]Nate Matson: I'll, I'll take this one and Mark, please interject or Chris. Um, so Northfield is awesome. First of all, it's a great, it's a great little city that it's a college town with. Coffee shops and a lot of green space, and there's a great bike biking culture there. Um, but it's also close to what is known as the Driftless region, uh, of Minnesota, which basically, uh, it's not just Minnesota, by the way, it's Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, parts of Illinois.

And basically there were icebergs around this part of the world, uh, uh, during the ice age, except in the Driftless area, there weren't, so it's a very like specific little region. And that is full of caves and rivers and valleys and buttes and really, I think it has like more freshwater streams than anywhere else in the country.

And it's just like this little pocket, this little area and Northfield sits right on the edge of that. So it's kind of like the gateway to this really beautiful sort of bucolic scene. And uh, it's a, it's a gravel cycling haven for sure. It's wonderful.

[00:19:45]craig_dalton-q2xxdhaa3__raw-audio_gray-duck-grit-ii_2023-sep-06-1110pm_the_gravel ride pod: gotcha. So if you're a gravel cyclist in Minnesota, in sorry, Minneapolis, you might on occasion go down there as a starting point for a

[00:19:52]Kris Jesse: Right.

[00:19:52]Nate Matson: Totally. So Northfield, uh, is about 45 minutes.

[00:19:55]Mark Jesse: from Minneapolis. So it's, it's

[00:19:57]Nate Matson: So it's, it's a really, it doesn't take all day to get there. You just, you know, put your bike in the back of your car. You drive down, you can have a great ride. Mark and I were down there last weekend. So it's, it's an awesome place to be. And they have the infrastructure for cyclists there.

[00:20:13]Mark Jesse: infrastructure and

[00:20:14]Craig Dalton (host): all those geological attributes you described sound wonderful for gravel cycling. How does it actually translate to What the terrain feels like when you're riding, what kind of gravel, how would you describe it to people coming from out of state or out of the area in terms of how they would equip their bike and what they should expect?

[00:20:33]Mark Jesse: it was really

[00:20:34]Nate Matson: Well, it was really fast last weekend in parts, you know, uh, we were cruising. Uh, and at the, so when you're, there's also lots of farm roads and fields. So you can be. You know, being passed by combines and tractors, uh, one minute, then you can go down in these valleys. And you might experience something completely different.

Uh, and, uh, Minnesota is known as a pretty flat state, but in the Driftless region, it's constant hills. Um, I think the, the, the 333 mile route that we have that, which Mark will talk about, I think that has almost 20, 000 feet of climbing. So, cause it's just constant up and down and up and down. And in those hills, like it can get pretty.

Pretty chunky, pretty chunky. But what's really cool about the water runoff is the, the, a lot of the roads never really, uh, flood or wash out. You might get wet, but you won't have to carry your bike.

[00:21:25]Mark Jesse: you won't have

[00:21:26]Craig Dalton (host): Okay. So Mark was sort of describing how, you know, his passion for the sport, you guys started to get together. You find other members of the community. You have this interest in maybe putting on an event. What happens next? You form an entity. Do you set a budget? How do you get the original, the first version of the event off the ground?

[00:21:50]Mark Jesse: Well, I, you know, we, we get, you get together at a bar over some drinks is how you do it. Right. That's, that's the right way to do

[00:21:57]Nate Matson: That's what happened.

[00:21:59]Mark Jesse: but before I did that, I, I reached out to Trenton, the filthy, filthy 50 and Dan race director. And I asked to get together with them and just go over my idea. And, and I figured if he liked it, then it gave me, it was going to get, and he may not know this and, and I apologize Trenton, but if, if he liked it, um, it was my green light to, to move forward.


[00:22:24]Craig Dalton (host): can can I interject and ask a question about Trenton and the dam? Was it, he was just sort of tired of doing it or was there some logistical problem with doing the event? I'm just sort of curious what, since it was such a important event in your lives to see it end, if you understood what the end story of that event was.

[00:22:45]Mark Jesse: I, I would, I hesitate to really comment. I just know that the, he had, you know, he's, he's, you know, uh, middle aged. He has a lot going on. Uh, he has, you know, a wife and kids, um, and he's, he's, he's a dad. And so, you know, he, he probably wanted. Maybe part of that back and, and already, you know, really 50. That's a very successful event.

That's that sell, they sold out, I think, in, in less than 24 hours, a thousand registrations this year. So it's very popular. Um, and, and he's. Killing it with that event and um, you know, maybe he thought that it was something that you know, it isn't done done I don't think he he did announce that it was gonna be the you know, the last year But I get the impression he isn't done done with it.

I have a feeling it could be resurrected at some point and the website still exists so and he does Encourage people to do it on their own, um, and, and he will record, uh, you know, um, any times in, in the record books or, you know, official times. So, you know, it is still a thing, um, it isn't gone forever, but, um, you know, I have a feeling it might come back.

I don't want to suggest that it will, but, um, but yeah, that's, that's sort of, um, what I do know about, you know, it not being around. I, I don't want to. Speak for Trenton, but

[00:24:12]Craig Dalton (host): got it. No, thanks for that with what I've seen about gray dot grit and the number of distances you do that first night at the bar. Maybe you had more than enough drinks because instead of just saying we're going to do 100 kilometer race. You actually offered a bunch of different distances and they're not short distances.

[00:24:32]Mark Jesse: I'm a bit obsessed with the number three. I don't know if you could tell, um, you know, three ones, three twos, three threes, three is, you know, and numerology represents completion, uh, three strikes in a baseball game, three outs, um, nine, nine players, three outfielders. You know, nine innings, it's, it's, it represents completion.

And, and I kind of being a baseball geek growing up, um, I, I, uh, it just made sense to me that, why not, you know, uh, 111, that's, that's no walk in the park. The 69 or that Nate and I rode last Saturday is no walk in the park. It's going to challenge you.

[00:25:17]Nate Matson: We thought it was going to, you know, we thought it was going to be 70 miles. And we were both like, this is so much harder than we thought it was going to be. It was a reality check for sure.

[00:25:29]Craig Dalton (host): So for the listener, just to put a pin in it, you've got a 69 mile race, 111 mile race, 222 mile race, 333 mile

[00:25:39]Kris Jesse: Yes.

[00:25:40]Nate Matson: Yeah. And as he's telling us these numbers over a beer, again, I could see his eye glistening. Like you could just kind of tell, like it's, it's happening, you

[00:25:49]Mark Jesse: It's the mad scientist look.

[00:25:52]Nate Matson: like, we can make this

[00:25:53]Kris Jesse: And Craig, that doesn't mean I'm always like, what about a 50 miler? What do we think? And I'm not giving up that yet, that request.

[00:26:03]Craig Dalton (host): I'm just imagining the kind of orchestration required, and I've seen the start times on your website from, I think it was 10 a. m. Friday for the 333, 9 p. m. for the 222, and then you start the next day for the 111 and the 69 Is the idea that theoretically everybody should be finishing around the same time?

[00:26:25]Mark Jesse: Yeah, that was sort of the, the idea, right? Is that no matter when you started, you could be riding next to someone who just is a, is like they, they, they don't even know where they are because they're riding in the three 33 and, and you're, you're in the last 10 miles of your, your one 11 or your 69 mile route.

Um, so to have that, you know, there is something special when. You know, by by the time you're coming around through the road to Burma, which is a section of the route just north of Northfield, um, When you, when you're coming back home, um, in the last 10 miles, um, there's something pretty cool anytime you come across someone on a bike and you know that they're doing it too, right?

And so there's that instant bond that you have with that person and you've never met them before. You don't know their name and you may forget their name, but you're a brother now, or you're a sister of theirs because it's when you're out there, your family.

[00:27:27]Craig Dalton (host): When you're starting at the, at the 333 mile distance. Are you offering aid stations? What type of infrastructure exists for those riders who are going to be doing it 24 plus hours?

[00:27:43]Nate Matson: we, we definitely had aid stations and I would say last year was also a learning experience for what we need to offer writers and when in the sort of level of support that we should give them. Uh, I don't know, Chris, if you want to talk

[00:27:56]Kris Jesse: I can,

[00:27:57]Nate Matson: we learned a lot last year.

[00:27:59]Kris Jesse: did. We did. I do the nutrition for the aid stations and I think what's unique about Great Oak Grit is that we do actually have, and we are thoughtful about our nutrition. I know, you know, and that's kind of what some gravel races are about is you're on your own and you know, we may supply a water stop.

Or, you know, throw out some pizza or donuts or whatever. But, um, you know, so we are, uh, thoughtful about our aid stations and, um, have like, um, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pickles and things like that, that we had last year. Um, this

[00:28:34]Craig Dalton (host): so even if I'm out in the middle of the night somewhere,

[00:28:37]Kris Jesse: Yeah. So you will, you'll find us. Yep. Yeah, we'll have an aid station for you.

And this year, um, we are, we were sponsored, we're sponsored by Kodiak and so we'll have like protein balls and then NOM nutrition and they're right out of Utah, um, Salt Lake City, kind of a new hydration. And so we'll have that, um, we're going to be really purposeful about the, and thoughtful about that long distance.

Distance, yeah, nutrition, and so we'll have these aid stations set up for all the distances and, um, yeah, we'll have things like that and the finish and start. So we're really excited that we're able to do that,

[00:29:15]Craig Dalton (host): that's great. Yeah, it's interesting as you sort of think about the spectrum of like bikepacking,

[00:29:19]Mark Jesse: packing

[00:29:20]Craig Dalton (host): Grand Depart, just start and fend for yourself. To something like this, where maybe somebody who may be a little bit intimidated to go off by themselves and forage and worried about, you know, if they're going to get the nutrition and hydration they need to be able to do an event like yours and have that infrastructure around, maybe a good starting point for people who want to.

Attempt their first ultra distance event.

[00:29:43]Mark Jesse: their first

[00:29:44]Nate Matson: definitely,

[00:29:44]Mark Jesse: Right. Definitely. Yeah.

[00:29:46]Nate Matson: we also have fire pits. So

[00:29:48]Mark Jesse: Minnesota in

[00:29:50]Nate Matson: in October is cold and you never know, uh, what the weather's going to be. It could be, it could be 60 degrees. It could be 30 degrees. So it, it, we really don't know yet. So we're prepared. Um, but we had, we started a couple of fires last year and that was one of the things that riders, especially the 333 riders, where they were.

By the fire just sitting there, you know, uh, heating up and we could tell that why not let's keep doing

[00:30:18]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. Yeah.

[00:30:19]Nate Matson: a vibe.

[00:30:20]Mark Jesse: the year before our first event, um, so this would be 2021, yeah, 2021, uh, that very weekend, it was 70 degrees and sunny the weekend of, uh, you know, a year prior. So in Northfield and, um, you know, it ended up being a little bit colder than that. Um, but, um, and it, it does definitely impact at what. You as, as a cyclist and what you should prepare for.

Um, but we're going to assume that we're going to have 70 degrees and sun this year. Um, and, but if we don't be ready, you know,

[00:30:58]Craig Dalton (host): Was there, um, was there a reason for choosing an October event date?

[00:31:02]Mark Jesse: it's beautiful. It's peak autumn foliage in Minnesota. So if you geek out on autumn foliage, if you appreciate, if you like Thomas Kincaid paintings or Bob Ross paintings come to Northfield in October, because you're going to see it. And you're going to see it like every other turn. It's absolutely beautiful.

[00:31:23]Kris Jesse: that's another, in this region, this area, Craig, it's so beautiful. It's, it's just that fall crisp and you see, you know, you just look out in the leaves and the trees and it's really nice,

[00:31:37]Nate Matson: It definitely has like Sunday morning PBS specials. You know, vibes when you're riding around, it's just really beautiful, you know, and there's tons of farmland and you'll be cycling past cows and

[00:31:51]Craig Dalton (host): Is it a lot of, a lot of farm roads or are you getting onto narrower trails?

[00:31:57]Mark Jesse: There's some pretty narrow roads. Um, there's some roads that you're going to go down and it's like, how, how do, how do cars pass each other on this road? You know, um, they're pretty, we have some MMRs, um, and, uh, yeah, some, that's the thing about it is despite how, um, remote it can be and how narrow some of the roads are, um, when it, it isn't a course that's going to punish you as far as the surface.

Um, and, and we love unbound, um, but we're not going to, you know, if there's a storm the night before, you're not going to have to hike your bike three miles. Um, it drains very well. So, um, there's, there's the course, the distances are going to punish you more than anything. Um, the surface will not

[00:32:42]Nate Matson: And the wind potentially, the wind can definitely be brutal. Um, and relentless until you get into a valley, then you get some, uh, some peace, but if it's a, if it's a windy day, that can be.

[00:32:56]Mark Jesse: like any, like anywhere.

[00:32:57]Nate Matson: any ride, but there's not a lot of tree cover in parts of the ride, so you're really open.

[00:33:03]Kris Jesse: I always say if you're not cursing the race director halfway through your ride, they didn't do something right.

[00:33:10]Craig Dalton (host): yeah, that's for sure. I haven't done an endurance event that I haven't wanted to curse the event organizer. Uh, man. So as you guys were thinking about creating this event, and maybe this goes to kind of Minnesotan cycling culture, were you thinking about, we're building a race and we want a competitive front end.

We want lycra clad athletes to come all over this. Or did you have a different orientation? And maybe if it's differs from year one to year two, let me know. But I'm just curious because there's kind of, there's no right or wrong answer here. It's just curious, like what the intention was.

[00:33:47]Mark Jesse: The intention was to get people to push themselves beyond what they think they're capable of. Because that's what my experience was. When I did the dam the first year in 2019, I had no idea if I could do it. And when I finished, I realized that was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. And then like, two days later, I'm, and I was thinking to myself, I got to do that again. And I did it. And I improved by five hours on my time the following year. And I realized I can't be the only one who feels this way. I'm also not the fastest, you know, out there. I'm a middle of the pack type of rider. Um, there are people I know who are far faster than I am. I ride with them pretty regularly.

Um, Our motto and, and our, our mindset is you should ride your ride, ride your ride. That's literally everywhere on our social media, on our website, because it isn't up to me to tell you, Craig, how you should ride. Um, coming from a different background, a different experience, life experience.

Some people are overcoming cancer. I'm coming from my own health issues, as I've talked about. Um, people ride for, uh, uh, for every person out there is a different reason that that person's on a bike and we want them to take away from our event, whatever it means to them, if you want to race it, race it, take first, make a name for yourself, do something that, you know, is going to the event.

Thank you. You know, make you happy. If you just want to finish, do that. If you don't know if you're going to finish, do it anyways. Challenge yourself, push yourself. Exactly. Even more reason to do it than the person who might podium.

[00:35:40]Nate Matson: And Mark will be there to cheer on every one of them too, by the way. It's kind of a magical thing to see Mark at a finish line. It's its own meme waiting to happen because he's there cheering. Literally every person on who crosses the finish line. It's, it's so great.

[00:35:58]Mark Jesse: I can't, I want to see every person finish. Like every single person. I truly, I truly give a damn about every single person that's out there. Um, I'm thinking about what they're experiencing. I'm hoping that they're experiencing what I experienced. I'm hoping they don't experience what I've experienced in the dark moments because you do go to dark places literally and, and, and mentally as well, but it's how we come out of those dark places that changes who we are and, and, um, and we're, we become better for that.

[00:36:29]Craig Dalton (host): What's the rough breakdown between the different distances, if you guys had to guess, in terms of the number of participants?

[00:36:37]Mark Jesse: it dropped significantly as, as we go, you know, you know, we're, we're like right now about half our participation, just over half our participation or registrations thus far this year with our new 69 mile route. We didn't have that last year. This isn't, this is a thank you and ode to those who did participate last year because we only had.

69 official registrations last year. So that's why we have a 69 miler. Um, it isn't for what maybe other people might think it is. It is because we had 69 participants for the record. Um, but when you go past and when you get past that, yeah, it starts to drop off. We have about half of that for the one 11 right now.

So, um. And, and then, you know, the 222 I think is our crown jewel, quite honestly, because you get pretty deep into that driftless region and you're going to be riding overnight. Riding overnight is, is something I think anyone who's, who's thinking about, um, you know, going beyond that 100 mile distance.

It's, it's just surreal. I can't even describe it. I can't find the words to describe it. It's so special to me.

[00:37:48]Craig Dalton (host): I to say, that's the slippery mental slope I've been going down lately. I've done plenty of night riding. But I've never asked my body to ride completely overnight, short of a 24 hour kind of team mountain bike event. And there's a curiosity there from talking to other people I know about like, what will happen when I have to ride all night?

[00:38:11]Kris Jesse: Right.

[00:38:12]Nate Matson: and there's something just so spooky and beautiful about rolling out in the middle, uh, of the prairie, basically, or the farmland with crystal clear skies. It's the moon, the stars, and you're, you're just kind of like, to Mark's point, you just take it in and you never forget it. And then just seeing them kind of roll out into the darkness.

We're all wondering, I hope this all goes okay for everybody because, because they literally disappear. It's amazing.

[00:38:45]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah.

[00:38:45]Mark Jesse: And, and that's why, you know, uh, where was I recently? I had on a damn jersey. Um, and I can't remember where it was. It was at an event and Oh, a young, a young guy came up to me. He's like, I want one of those pointing at my Jersey. And I'm like, Oh, I can't do it anymore. They don't, they don't sell them anymore.

You can't get it. You know? And so, but he knew what having that Jersey meant. Um, and, and every, every time I see someone with that Jersey on, and this, this, the dam can't be the only event like this. Right. Right. But. Anytime you see someone with that kit on, there's a respect level. You know, it's kind of like You know, something that it's like you've been through, you've been through something together.

It's a bond.

[00:39:33]Craig Dalton (host): I think that's one of the interesting things in digging into your event. You guys starting out with these four distances, I think it creates sort of this aspirational journey for athletes attending to say, Oh, I'm going to do the 69. Oh, that went well. I think I can do the 111. I think I can do the 220 and just sort of inspiring people to go up.

So not surprised at all to hear that kind of percentage breakdown between the different ones, but it's going to be curious to see how it changes over time. And from return participants, do they come back and do the same thing or are they changing their distances?

[00:40:11]Mark Jesse: We found that there are, uh, a good number of people who, who didn't, uh, the one 11 last year and they're, they're trying for the two 22 this year. Um, or maybe they're doing the one 11 last year and they dropping down to the 69. Um, you know, it goes both ways, but I guess the, the, the idea behind it for me was.

To especially this year with a 69 miler is to send a message that, Hey, we know we're not the 30 mile distance. We know we're not the 50 mile distance. There are plenty of other events and group rides that do offer that throughout the spring and summer months. We're towards the end of the season. Um, and we're hoping that people can maybe work up to that.

And, and if the 69 miler seems like a lot, maybe we can be the final hurrah for you this year. Um, and, um, but you know, we're at the end of the season and, and people who are looking to do something beyond what they did last year, or maybe they haven't done a 200 miler this year or ever, maybe the 222 is what they're, they're, um, hungry for.

[00:41:17]Craig Dalton (host): exactly. As the athletes complete the event, what kind of experience do they arrive to in Northfield when they hit the finish line? Are you building a kind of festival type atmosphere?

[00:41:30]Mark Jesse: It is, it's definitely fest, it's definitely festive. Um, you

[00:41:35]Craig Dalton (host): know we get Mark's hug first,

[00:41:37]Nate Matson: It's Mark with a

[00:41:38]Craig Dalton (host): then,

[00:41:39]Nate Matson: bullhorn. It's Mark with a bullhorn. First of all.

[00:41:42]Mark Jesse: yeah, uh, if, yeah, we should hand out earplugs as they're crossing the finish line, cause I feel like I am, they're kind of almost turning away from me, their heads to maybe,

[00:41:52]Nate Matson: No, it's great.

[00:41:53]Mark Jesse: I get excited about it, you know, I'm passionate about it, which is why we're here, but, um, because I've been there, I know what that feeling is and it's just like.

Such a relief. I'm so glad this is over. And then it's just, we just want to be, we're all happy. One of the, one of the, um, one of the, my favorite moments is, is a gentleman who crossed from last year is, he crossed, he was one of the last people to finish. Um, maybe the last, within the last dozen or so people who finished and He finished, I, I ran up to him as I did with all the other, uh, finishers and I put my arm around him and his head was hanging.

And I'm like, Oh, this, he's not in a good place right now. And maybe he's even upset. What's he going to say to me? How dare I, you know, kind of like I was expecting, expecting something negative. And he looks up at me and he says to me, you, you are proof that perception can become reality. And I had no idea.

I like tears. I just had tears because I, I felt that from him, you know what that meant. And then he reaches in his wallet, who I've never carried my wallet with me, but this gentleman had his wallet on him and he reached in and pulled out a hundred dollar bill and handed it to me. He's like, I love what you're doing and I want to do more.

And he said, you're changing gravel cycling. And obviously more tears. So that was very, it was very unexpected. Um, but it was, it was very special. And that's one of the moments I remember the most.

[00:43:31]Craig Dalton (host): Amazing. If a listener was attending this year's ride in October. Is there anything else you'd want to share with them about how to prepare to be successful at the event?

[00:43:46]Mark Jesse: That's a tough one. Be prepared to do something that you've never done before. Um, it's, it's as, as. Difficult as it can be physically, it's just as much mentally, but at the end, when you finish, you're gonna, it's gonna be one of the most rewarding experiences, I think, that a lot of people ever experience in their life.

Um, you know, we do have big aspirations, um. We, um, we just want it to be, we, we're, we're sharing our, our, you know, our labor of love with the world we're, we're creating something, our own flavor of gravel. Um, this is our version of what a gravel, what, if we were to, you know, if we wanted to do an ideal event or create one, this is our version of it.

Um, you know, we want to, we want to be all inclusive. We want to, um, you know, we give women 20 percent off their entry automatically just because you're a woman, because we want to create that diverse space. We want it to be an all inclusive event, as inclusive as we can be, despite the challenge, right? We realize that the challenge itself is not necessarily inclusive.

It isn't all welcoming. Right. But we're hoping that people can understand and they get our message that, Hey, it's okay to challenge yourself and to push yourself. There's nothing wrong with that. Um, that's a healthy thing to do. And, um, That's, you know, that's what we want people to, I guess, maybe get out of it is, is that, that experience.

And, um, as far as the prep, just, you know, put it in as many miles as you can. And, you know, quite honestly, we had, I had a cyclist email me the other day saying, Hey, you know, I signed up for this, this distance this year. And they, and they did participate last year. Right. But he's like, I signed up for this distance this year and I just don't have the training.

I didn't, I'm not where I thought I would be. When I signed up, is there any way I could drop down to the, to the, you know, shorter, shorter of the next shorter distance and I gladly obliged him and, and made that accommodation for him. Um, you know, that's, that's what this is about is being able to, to, um, you know, do, do what you can do and, um, Yeah, let's ride your ride.

[00:46:11]Kris Jesse: And watch the weather.

[00:46:14]Nate Matson: I would say prepare for the weather too. Pragmatically be ready for anything almost, you know. Especially if you're flying in from another state.

[00:46:24]Kris Jesse: Yeah.

[00:46:25]Nate Matson: Be prepared for 72 or 32.

[00:46:30]Kris Jesse: Or both.

[00:46:31]Nate Matson: Or both! Yeah!

[00:46:33]Mark Jesse: You could, there is a possibility of, of, yeah, maybe one day there, you know, we had a 20 degrees swing from yesterday's weather to the, to today. Yesterday it was in the 90s and, and today it was, I think it may have hit 70, maybe not.

[00:46:50]craig_dalton-q2xxdhaa3__raw-audio_gray-duck-grit-ii_2023-sep-06-1110pm_the_gravel ride pod: Yeah. Well, guys, I love the energy of the three you are putting out there in the world. Um, if the event translates through your love of what you've intended to put on and what you're putting out there to the Minnesota cycling community and anybody who comes in to sample it, I'm sure it's going to be an amazing event this year and I can't wait to hear about it after the fact.

[00:47:12]Kris Jesse: Thank you, Craig.

[00:47:13]Mark Jesse: Yeah, thank you. We, we just. Yeah, we're just trying to build on, on everything that people here in Minnesota have already, you know, the foundation it's, it's rich, rich history of cycling with, with all the companies that have come out of here. Um, the, the cyclists, uh, you know, current pro cyclists as such as chase work, who's out there.

He took second at gravel worlds just recently. Um, he's a great ambassador of the sports and he's a great, you know, home hometown talents.

[00:47:42]Kris Jesse: my coach

[00:47:43]Nate Matson: And her coach,

[00:47:45]Kris Jesse: think he's a great guy.

[00:47:48]Mark Jesse: but, you know, instead of just, you know, solely focusing on ourselves. Um, as athletes and endurance athletes and gravel cyclists, you know, we want people to know that, you know, this is a fundraiser. This is, you know, we are giving a portion of the proceeds to Frazier of Minnesota, which is a mental health nonprofit, and they, um, help families, um, who have, um, You know, children with autism, um, they have a school for those individuals as well.

Um, they also help other people with mental illness and other disabilities. So, you know, when going back to, if I could just say just briefly, going back to why and, and that promise I made, that's the doing things for others.

[00:48:28]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah,

[00:48:29]Mark Jesse: Um, so yeah, you're gonna, you know, we, we do charge a fee. But know that every person involved with this event is a volunteer.

I didn't pocket a dime from last year. In fact, I paid a little bit, you know, out of my own, out of my own pocket at the end of the day. But the point was, was we wanted to do something good for the community and give back in, in meaningful ways that, you know, in ways that are going to leave, you know, positive ripples throughout our communities.

[00:48:56]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. Thanks so much for making sure that you mentioned that because I was remiss and not asking you about the Frazier charitable donation and just another, another reason to flock to this event. Everyone.

[00:49:10]Mark Jesse: Oh, well done.

[00:49:13]Nate Matson: Uh, man!

[00:49:15]Mark Jesse: We have a spot Open

[00:49:16]Nate Matson: Perfect! Yeah! Thank

[00:49:20]Mark Jesse: so, yeah, and, and people can find out more these, if they just go to That's our website. You can find us on Facebook at GR Grit, Instagram on at gr grit. Um, and just check us out, you know, um, we just, we, we want people to, uh, It's just, we're just trying to share what Minnesota has to offer and, and continue that, that amazing community that is already here and share that with the rest of the world.

[00:49:46]Craig Dalton (host): Thanks you guys. Have a great evening.

[00:49:48]Kris Jesse: Greg.

[00:49:48]Mark Jesse: Craig. Thanks for having us.

[00:49:52]Craig Dalton (host): That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. Big, thanks to Nate, mark and Chris for coming on and telling us all about. Gray duck grit. It sounds like an amazing grassroots event out there in Minnesota. I love the challenge of those various distances. I wish there was something like that in my neck of the woods. Just something that year after year I could go back to and kind of up the distance and challenge myself in different ways. You'll hear from another upcoming podcast. I'm super curious about riding overnight. As I mentioned briefly, I've done it in some 24 hour. Mountain bike races, but I've never fully written the night. I've always sort of been part of a team and jumped in and done a lap or two while it's dark out.

Anyway, go check out gray dot grit on the website. You can learn everything you need to know. And if you do it, make sure to ping me. I'd love to hear about it. Big, thanks to this week. Sponsored dynamic cyclist. Remember use the code, the gravel ride. You get 15% off any of their plans and they've got a free one week trial. So no excuse other than like me laziness for not stretching, but give it a try. I think you'll enjoy it. If you're interested in supporting the show, ratings and reviews are hugely appreciated and go a long way in the podcast game. Also, if you have a moment share this podcast with a gravel cyclist, you know, that's another great way to help out as well. Until next time. Here's to finding some dirt under your wheels