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The Collective Passion for Gravel: Gray Duck Grit Rounds the Corner Into Year 2.

Gray Duck Grit took its inaugural "lap" last October and is making year 2 even better with a new distance plus gravel group rides. Learn more about Gray Duck Grit and get ready to register for early bird pricing starting this Monday, May 1.

The 2nd annual Gray Duck Grit gravel race is taking place on Oct 6-7, 2023 with registration opening this Monday, May 1. Learn more and get registered at Gray Duck Grit.

Interview with Mark Jesse, Race Director:

2022 was your first year. How did that go and what were the highlights?

We knew there would be challenges our first year, which we welcomed knowing it’s all part of the package when doing business. We knew we were the “latest new event” in the fastest growing segment of cycling. In addition, despite several years of participation, passion, and love for the sport as local gravel cycling enthusiasts, we were perceived somewhat as outsiders.

We knew we would have to prove ourselves and would need to make an impression coming out of the gate. That said, our team believed in a singular vision and mission from beginning to end. Gravel cyclists are passionate about their beloved sport. Almost all share opinions about how, where, and why we do it. Listen, I know why I do it and what I get from riding, but it would be unspeakable and foolish for me (a white, 40-something male) to suggest what this experience should be for anyone else, how they should go about it, or how much they should give to do so. How fast you ride, when you ride, what gear you use, and where you do so is up to you, and we respect that.

Inviting ALL is our approach. It’s the simplest and easiest approach of “the more, the merrier.”

At the end of the day, we were confident those who gave us a chance would be grateful they did.

Therefore, for us, the highlights came from watching these amazing cyclists give it everything they had. To see them battle the elements, the darkness, the hills of driftless Minnesota, experience “the flow” of an ultra-distance route and take on the overall challenge we laid out before them.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback and love we received from our cyclists left us speechless at times. Hearing that we’re “proof that perception can be reality” and we’re “changing gravel cycling” exceeded all expectations, but it was proof of the collective passion for gravel we shared..

Sounds like a great inaugural event; anything new for 2023?

Yes, a few things:

1. We’re moving to a tiered pricing structure for all our distances. This way early birds can take

advantage of our discounts when they register beginning on May 1st, 2023. It is also important

our final price point this year will not exceed what participants paid last year. There is no price

increase for GDG II which takes place October 6th & 7th this year.

2. As a “thank you” to the sixty-nine cyclists who believed in us by registering for GDG in 2022, we

added a sixty-nine-mile distance for Gray Duck Grit II in 2023. This will be the shortest route at

GDG II, but it won’t be a walk in the park. It is intended for those who don’t want to go ultra-

long or simply aren’t prepared for a gravel century yet. Taking place in October, GDG is a nice

end-of-the-season test and culmination of your spring and summer training miles.

3. In 2021, we started organizing casual weekly no-drop group rides on the outskirts of the Twin

Cities area. We used the group name “Level Be” as our label. The meaning behind it was a

combination of “level B – minimum maintenance roads” we found ourselves riding and “being”

present and showing up. Later that November, we started Level Be Adventures, LLC with my

wife, Kris, and this same group of gravel friends. We plan to go back to those roots of casual, fun

rides a couple times each month beginning this spring and summer.

Be on the lookout for those dates soon!

Gray Duck Grit has a pretty huge spread of distances. How did you come up with routes and distances?

I like numerology and love the game of baseball. When creating our routes, I combined the two. From the number of strikes, outs, innings, players on the field and so on, the sport of baseball uses the value of “3” in many ways. The reason behind it is the value “3” represents completion.

Therefore, the value of “9” represents completion to the 3rd degree (333). It isn’t rocket-science, but it’s still very interesting to me. Our distances of 111, 222, and 333 miles are all variations of this.

In striving to be unique and very unlike other gravel cycling events, we used this same approach with the first three GDG routes. Completing the 240-mile Day Across Minnesota twice (2019 & 2020) I learned a lot about what I could physically accomplish and mentally endure.

With GDG, I thought about the DAMn levels of determination by some of the best cyclists in Minnesota and beyond. Through all my marathoning and ultra-endurance cycling I saw first-hand countless examples of what people can accomplish if you challenge them. I figured out what was motivating all of us and why the heck I found myself in the middle of nowhere at 2:00am chasing the red blinking lights in front of me dodging chunks of gravel, dirt, and debris for another 13 plus hours.

This experience is simply like no other!

Northfield has some fun events springing out of it. What's good about the gravel and community there?

The gravel south and east of Northfield is known as the driftless region of Minnesota. Having participated in several events, we believe the driftless region is the most beautiful and most challenging in the state.

Northfield is conveniently located on the north end of the driftless and serves as a convenient gateway to the driftless for many of us coming from the Twin Cities. Northfield residents and businesses are welcoming and very bike friendly. The town of 20,000 residents still has a small town charm along with several coffee shops, eateries, and breweries for cyclists to enjoy. The city of Northfield along with law enforcement were all on board and provided excellent support from the beginning stages of GDG planning through the final seconds of the inaugural event. We really look forward to growing this relationship in years to come building on what is already a great cycling community in Northfield.

In 2022 you gave all proceeds to children's mental health, is that correct? What makes this cause so meaningful to you?

While running my 15th marathon in Anchorage, Alaska in 2018, at 43 years of age, I experienced a near fatal health condition. My condition would involve a procedure I needed to have to survive but with it my nurse read to me the risks involved and at that moment I made a promise to myself to “do more” with my life if I survive the procedure. Two weeks later I was in a hospital recovery room grateful to be alive. That “do more” promise was never about doing more for myself but doing more for others with my life if I make a full recovery.

Our mission from day one of Level Be Adventures with Gray Duck Grit has been to give all proceeds, literally every penny, to a good cause. Post COVID pandemic, mental health was and still is a cause we could get behind. The Washburn Center for Children was the charity for year one. For GDG II we are proud to be donating all proceeds to Fraser. Fraser is a nonprofit committed to working with individuals of all ages with autism, providing services for their families, treating mental health, and caring for others with disabilities. We believe in the quality of work Fraser does throughout the Twin Cities area and beyond.

We love biking in remote areas on sketchy roads, trails, and fields. It’s pretty darn cool! What we love much more is using that passion for gravel to make an impact on other people’s lives. That’s even cooler!




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