Cook County News Herald

Le Grand Du Nord gravel grinding racers muddied, tired, but happy finishers

Jay DeCoux

Jay DeCoux

“Me and the Shoe Lake Road have to take a break from each other,” said weary finisher Jay Decoux who was slumped over the handle bars of his mountain bike as he talked last Saturday.

Normally cheerful, the Grand Marais Mayor had just finished the 110-mile Le Grand Du Nord bicycle race, which started and ended at the bottom of 3rd Avenue West next to Voyageur Brewery. A former high school wrestler, Jay looked like he had wrestled with a very large muddy pig and lost.

And lost badly.

“Was there a lot of washouts on the Shoe Lake Road?” I asked.

“No. It’s uphill both ways, and I just don’t need to ride on it for a while,” said a tired, disconsolate Decoux, who then asked if I would take his picture with his cell phone.

Sure, I will take the picture, I replied.

But when he got his phone from his shirt pocket, it was covered in mud. He briefly tried to clean it with muddy clothing, but the effort just pushed more goop on the front and back of his phone, creating mucky mosaics. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders and put the phone away. I took his picture with my camera and promised to send him a photo.



“I’m going home to take a shower,” he said, not moving for a while longer as he recuperated.

Rain, fog, mud, potholes, washouts, and more greeted the participants in the Le Grand Du Nord gravel grinding bike races this year.

“It was certainly a learning year for all of us. Learning what our bodies could do, what our gear can do and cannot do,” said Race Director Jeremy Kershaw. “It’s okay to have a tough year now and then. We all learn from years like this.”

Although there were 700 entrants, only 540 took to the starting lines, and of those, 90 dropped, leaving 454 finishers. In all, mountain bikers rode in either the 110-mile, 54-mile, or 26-mile race.

Out on the course taking pictures, I encountered one lady pushing her mountain bike on the Pike Lake Road. “Do you have a flat tire?” I asked.



“No,” she smiled. “My breaks are out. So, I will ride uphill and push my bike the rest of the way to the finish.”

She said her name was Shanie, and she had about nine miles ahead of her. She had entered the 54-mile gravel grinding race, and although muddied like everyone else, she had a great attitude.

Stories like Shanie and Jay abounded at Le Grand Du Nord this year. One gentleman, John, said his gears had clogged with mud and stopped working until he peddled through a large puddle, and then he could magically shift again. “I think the water cleaned them (gears) up a bit,” he mused.

Another finisher, Zach, was all smiles as he posed for a picture. He looked like a reincarnated five-year-old who had splashed for hours in a vast muddy mud puddle and couldn’t have been happier.

There were more bumps and bruises than normal this year, Kershaw said. But overall, the riders were complimentary of the volunteers and the race.

“The quality of our volunteers is outstanding,” noted Kershaw. “They donate their time and energy to this event and we couldn’t do it without them. We are also very grateful to our hosts in Grand Marais. Every business is very thinly staffed, but they met us with smiles and good cheer.”

The gravel grinding event almost didn’t happen. Kershaw said the Forest Service District Ranger gave permission for the Bally Creek Road to be used one week before the race. “We would have understood if we couldn’t have used the road because of the washouts, but we would have had to cancel the race because it was too late to set up a new course.”

In October, Kershaw will be back with the Heck of the North gravel grinding race. He said the field would be limited to 700 riders. “We really enjoy the North Shore, and we love the town,” he said.

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