The 2017 Barry Roubaix Story.
It's hot, it's dark, and it smells real bad. That is how I wake up in a hotel in the middle of nowhere Michigan with three other grown adults. Hotel rooms full of cyclists always have a similar smell to dorm rooms. As I walk to the window in the dark I'm dreading what I'm about to see, RAIN. Lots of rain with no signs of letting up.
As I ate my hotel breakfast after a shitty nights sleep, I noticed other cyclists starting to gather for their "continental breakfast" in the hotel lobby. I think to myself, "why do I keep signing up for this shit".
It's been a few years since my last "Barry". 2014 was the last time I was in Hastings Michigan, a cute little town just south of Grand Rapids. I always hear Barry come up when gravel races are mentioned. Lets be clear, there isn't really any gravel or mud at Barry. Rather, there is SAND, lots of sloppy sand that destroys bikes. If you've ever done any kind of hiking, cycling, or camping in Michigan, you're familiar with all the sand everywhere.
This year it was going to rain all day, and never get to 40 degrees. This ain't my 1st rodeo. I've ridden in these conditions before, too often actually. I know how to dress. Wool. Wool is your friend and should be your base. Wool is some magical fabric that man can not recreate synthetically. When wool gets wet, it stays warm. Nothing else does that. Then you need a decent shell. An actual rain coat. My weapon of choice has been the Giro Neo Rain jacket lately. Really a garbage bag would work just as well, something that is basically plastic to keep moisture out and heat in. Hands and feet are the tricky part. Shoe covers of some sort were a must. I had some crappy Specialized ones that I don't recommend, but they worked well enough. My gloves, my wonderful Bontrager gloves that I've worn all winter saved my life. I also recently invested in a Gore cycling cap. Which might be the single best piece of cycling apparel I have ever purchased. My head was warm and dry, the short bill helped keep the rain out of my face.
Sitting in the starting grid, I took a mental survey of the surrounding riders emotional vibes. Many were jovial, make jokes and talking shit. Others, have already lost. Their faces long and full of dread. This won't be a fitness test. No, rather it was going to be test of a persons will and inner strength.
Rain. Hard sleeting rain started started to pelt everyone once we hit the 1st pavement section. My only concern was my vision. I wear glasses and at some point I had to pull over and gently put them away in my jersey pocket. Which slowed me down quite a bit. I had to be more careful of my lines and try to hang with someone who could guide me. perferable with a real fender.
Despair, fear, loneliness, are how I've been seeing people describe their day at Barry-Roubaix. Mine could not be further from that. Like I said, this ain't my 1st rodeo. Mentally, I fine all day. Happy even, jamming to songs in my head leap frogging from one quitter to the next. While everyone was indoors playing on their power pads (Zwift) all winter, I was outside riding my bike. I'm accustom to shitty weather, and I think that paid off. I dropped people I had no business dropping. I also never really pushed it as hard as I could have, for whatever reason.
Eventually the rain let up and I could put my glasses back on and turn the gas back on. Half way through I started picking up others from Chicago. Eventually I'd lose them in the headwind. Yeah, headwind? I don't remember Michigan having much wind. WTF. Towards the end I would end up working with the the woman who would later win the women's Single Speed category until her rear hub started to crap out and I started recognizing more local kits in the distance. Clicking, scrapping, knocking, my poor bike pushed toward familiar roads and riders. We were on the roads back into town, and I was on a mission to catch every Chicago rider I could.
With the motivation of seeing Chainlink, Lovestar, and Tuxedo Thunder riders in the distance, it was time to be done with all this. By which point I could no longer feel my feet, at all. My hands decided to start getting warm again at the end, letting me eat a little. Slogging through those last few miles, trying to reach and pass every kit I could recognize was draining me. The last few bits of gravel/sand were REAL soft, sucking my power like a vampire in a blood bank. Pavement never felt so good beneath me as I rolled off that gritty spongy road.
With blocks to go, this one guy caught up to, and passed me. Who, I had been yo-yoing with all day and thought I had dropped for good a little bit ago. Dammit. He beat me. I was dead. I was done. I cheered a few Chicago friends at the finish before I made a B-line to the car to get that floor heater on full blast.
Only in the car do I finally become unhappy. Not cause I'm cold or didn't do the time I wanted, but the realization sets in that my bike is trashed and will probably need to be over hauled, replacing several parts. Oh, and my car is now full of sand. SIGH. Its a real Charlie Brown moment in that parking lot in Michigan, that I wouldn't trade for anything else.
Until next year Barry-Roubaix.
Thank you SnowyMountain for letting me use some photos!!