Two years ago, when I raced in my first Barry-Roubaix, I thought Michigan was trying to kill me. Wearing nearly every scrap of winter riding clothing I had, the cold was like water: it found its way in. The stale, dead, clammy air hung over the half-thawed, re-frozen gravel B roads of Barry County as the ground below drained all my body’s heat from the bottom of my feet.
Ghat’damn, there are fewer things more demoralizing than a 62-mile gravel grinder – any ride, really – that freezes your bottles and Clif bars. Except having to do it again in the same conditions the following year. Barry-Roubaix, which has been drawing almost 3,000 hapless, stubborn Midwesterners in recent years, isn’t a joyride through the forests between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. But there’s nothing alarming or insurmountable about any of the parts of the course that anyone reading this can’t handle.
There’s just something about Barry County that makes the course feel sullen. Morbid, even. As though Michigan itself, when it was younger, trudged out to the shed on a snowy February night and grudgingly carved out a road map of scars in itself with a rusted knife, revealing fresh mud that coagulated into the gritty mess the race promoters now call Barry-Roubaix. And each year, when we pedal through the state’s back roads, it’s like Michigan got a little too drunk and started showing its scars to everyone at the party. But this year, the course was a good sport. When we got through it, though, the host town of Hastings, Mich., became a good time – at least when the beer line wasn’t long. Not.
The 2015 Barry-Roubaix, I must report, did not suck. I’ll tell you that the temperature at the start was 18 degrees at 10 a.m., when the waves of riders were deployed. Conversations, everywhere, all morning revolved around whether you should wear this, not under that but over it, so then you can take it off and stuff it in your jersey pocket when you get too warm. (Spoiler alert: You wore it the whole damn time.) Porta-Pottys were the warm places to be. Many people* missed starting with their designated wave due to the seducing warmth emanating from a tub of Midwestern excrement. The sun, deceitfully bright, scrambled the typical Midwestern Cyclist’s gauge of how warm it would get.
After two years of riding the 62 mile course, the longest option, after which I felt like a pile of shit in 2013 and wounded soldier in 2014, I decided to ride my single speed CX on the 36 mile course. Much, much better, especially when I became so stunpissed at how long that beer line was that, unable to react, I ended up waiting anyway. Because I am a sheep.
By far, the best section was the newly-added doubletrack delight of Sager Road. Hilly, rocky, rutted and firm, Sager Road woke everyone up. An interesting departure from the graded gravel and pavement. If there’s a way to incorporate more of these types of roads, or throw them into the existing course at the last minute, then I’ll keep writing about Barry-Roubaix. West-central Michigan is mudboggin’ country, from what I hear. There’s gotta be more.
While bumbling around the after party, I met Carl. I tried to convince Carl to go out to Arizona and ride the Whiskey Off-Road. I’m pretty sure it worked. Nice hat, Carl. I learned from Carl that a flask of whiskey will get you through the 24-mile course, no sweat.
Oh, and do you guys remember Mary, who we met two years ago in the same very beer line? We ran into her again. Mary does a good thing, here. Mary at Barry! Here’s this year’s shot, followed by the original.
So what’d you guys all do for the rest of the night? If it was better than Buffalo Trace and shuffleboard with your homies, tell me about it. Because at Barry-Roubaix, when you suffer together, you’ve earned your recovery beverages together.