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The Red Granite Grinder is a perfect way to close out your fall gravel riding season. This year's event gives you access to private property segments and trails that aren't open to the public. In this interview, we talk with Shane Hitz about how he dreams up such unique courses.

The 2022 Red Granite Grinder takes place on October 15 and includes 12, 50, 85, and 144 mile races. New for this year's event are free group rides on Thursday and Friday and a special Red Granite Grinder beer release party on Friday. Head to Red Granite Grinder to learn more.

Interview with Shane Hitz, Race Director of the Red Granite Grinder

This event goes beyond drawing a line on a map. How do you come up with your route and getting exclusive access to private property?

Coming up with a route as long as the 144 and 85 is very labor intensive. The current route for the 144 and 85 took me over 1600 miles of biking in the year leading up to the 2020 race.

First thing I do is get a general idea of where most of the gravel roads are located. I then break up a larger picture of that area into small chunks in the general area of where I want the route to go. For example, on the 144 mile route, I wanted to go up to Lincoln County in the New Wood area. I drew up a 50 mile loop and rode that. Of course the first time out on a small loop like this it is not going to result in a perfect loop every time. But I do gain knowledge of what exactly is out there to work with. In the example of that 50 mile loop I did in the New Wood area, I actually went out there fatbiking the area for the first time on a cold January day and ran into multiple dead ends, even getting yelled at from a land owner for only just looking at his forest property.

Luckily I ran into some local bobcat hunters who told me about a property that I may be able to get permission to use and they also knew that the two track in that property connected to another public road! I then went back home and looked on satellite, saw the two track they were talking about, called the landowners, and then rode it in the spring. The result netted us with a continuous 2.5 mile section that is on the current route. This was the process I use for just this small section.

Now that my routes have been around for a couple years I look at satellite imagery or take mental notes of two track I see while riding the routes and then look at land atlases to find out who owns it and then I just take the chance at asking the landowner. Sometimes they say no but sometimes they say yes and are actually just excited to be part of the race. This year I got access to a section that is new for 2022 just by stopping on my bike and talking to a farmer who was out by his machine shed!

What's your favorite part of the course?

I always love the Averill Creek Fire Lane and love the creek crossing on that fire lane. Red Granite Grinder racers do not know this but in June that creek crossing is one of the most mosquito infested areas I have ever been through. Knowing you do not need to deal with those suckers is positive thoughts to think about when crossing on a crisp mid October day.

Another fun thing about this section is that someone created a Strava segment titled "Self Mutilation". I love when people create fun names like this!

Another section that I am super excited about is bringing an extremely fun section to the 50 mile course. Willow Springs in the town of Maine gave me permission to use their corn maze before it is open to the public. While I was out scouting this corn maze on my single speed last fall I saw a perfect two track that ran east into the neighboring farmer's land. I asked him if he would be interested in letting me use his property, again by just going up to him in person.

He told me to jump in his UTV with him and he took me on the tour of his property and then he told me to ride my bike around and find a good line. The result of this little tour with him turned into one of my most exciting sections for the 2022 year. And I already put a Strava segment on it!

You're definitely playing with dice by having an Oct 15 Northern Wisconsin gravel race. What do you want people to get out of the race?

I don't feel like I am playing with dice with the time of the year. This is the time of the year when the singletrack starts to close down with the freeze/thaw cycles yet we have some of the best fall colors hanging around. The weather can be a challenge but most racers embrace that part of it.

Looking back two years ago, we had snow coming down on the morning of the race. With the race starting in downtown we had a magical scene in the glow of the city lights. Nine mile forest was a winter wonderland. By the afternoon the snow had melted and according to racer feedback, most racers came away with one of their best riding memories. This is also a great time for some as it is possibly the last big ride of the year.

To answer the second part of that question, I hope that most racers come away with the pride of completing this challenge whether they are a seasoned rider or someone who is brand new to gravel or gravel racing. I also hope that they come away with an appreciation for the hills that we have around Wausau as well as the fascination and wonder that comes with exploring new trails that are never open to the public.

Didn't you break some bones this year? Are you back in the game now and will you be riding?

I did break some bones this year. I had a mountain biking accident and broke five ribs. I was lucky enough to get back in the saddle pretty quickly and started doing gravel centuries two or three weeks out from the breaks.

It took me a little longer to get back onto the single speed and even more time to get back on singletrack but I feel pretty lucky to have gravel in my back yard to rehab on.

Race weekend: What are the best places to stay, eat, drink, and take in Wausau?

For people who are coming into town for the race weekend, the best place to stay is right at the start and finish line at the Jefferson Street Inn. You just cannot beat the location of being right at the start line. Another great hotel that we have in the racer guide is the Hilton Garden Inn in Rib Mountain. As far as eating and drinking, Wausau is very lucky to have some great locally owned restaurants. There are a number of them downtown including Red Eye and Malarkey's where you can pick up dinner and a beer, Politos Pizza, and The Mint Cafe.

Just a short distance from downtown is the super popular La Taqueria, as well as The Great Dane, and the unique atmosphere and great pizza at Wausau Mine Company.

For people that want to do more riding along with their gravel adventure they can get on to some of our great singletrack trails in Ringle, Nine Mile, or the Underdown trail systems. Or if you want to check out the fall colors by way of water, bring the kayaks and paddle up the slow moving Rib River and launch in places like Oak Island or Gulliver's Landing. In addition to all of that we have some great hiking opportunities whether it is on the trails on Rib Mountain or the Ice Age Trail just outside of town.

Also, I don't know if you heard this but this year we are adding some gravel group rides to the race weekend. On Thursday we have a 60 mile ride in the most northern section of the 144 and on Friday we have an easy 25 mile gravel ride with very little elevation change. Also, Friday evening on the square downtown we are having a special Red Granite Grinder beer release from Red Eye followed by a local rock band along with early bib pick up.

So as you can see we have a big weekend of gravel coming up and we are super stoked to see everyone again this year!


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