Welcome to Ohio! The best way to adapt to a new environment is to get out and race, I say. The Funk Bottoms Gravel Grinder (Ohio’s Toughest Gravel Grinder) takes place south of Cleveland in the Mohican Wilderness out of a little town called Lakeville, OH. I must say that Ohio has some legit climbing. I thought I would be finding myself struggling to find some climbing here but all is in good order as the Funk gave me plenty. I signed up for the 200k but that was relegated to a 100k before the start after the area received a torrential downpour and flooding was a real threat. I had to get up early around 4:20 and make my way north for almost 3 hours. The interstate was flooded…a little fish tailing here and a little fish tailing there if you know what I mean. I made it none the less with about a half hour to prep in the rain. Not much talking at the pre-race meeting as everyone was huddled under the roof of a park picnic area. Im sure they were like me wondering what in the world am I doing here…this is going to be a bit insane. In other words it wasn’t the most ideal day to be out racing. We started off in a controlled lead out for the first 2 miles and made a right turn onto gravel that went UP. The race was on and I got in the lead group and pushed the pace on the first of many steep climbs. After about 3 or 4 miles, a guy from Indiana was with me on his cross bike. I chose to ride the Niner Air Carbon mountain bike that I recently finished building up. We chatted off and on…nice guy. Not long into the race as we were descending the pitchy course, I noticed that my handlebars were loose. I was like…what…for real!!! I continued on by applying pressure to the bars in order to stabilize them in the stem mounting cup as I went speeding down the bumpy, washed out and slippery gravel roads at high speeds. Once I realized that my wishing them to retighten on their own wasn’t going to happen and that I would have to tighten them or risk a nasty crash. At mile 20 we came through the little town of Killbuck. As I continued to race, I proceeded to unfasten my GPS and place it in my mouth. I then removed my tool kit and tightened the stem cap bolts. Once all was back snug and my tool kit was put away, I replaced my GPS back to its mount and continued on as if nothing had ever happened. That takes skill people. My fellow racer from Indiana and I continued to go up and down for the first 30 miles together as the rain continued to be unrelentless. The gravel roads were soft and plowing the muck we were. We made a turn and the gravel went up up up. As I made my way along and pedaled steady, I looked back and he was gone. At that moment a dog came out to greet me with a snarling attitude. Now that I was on my own, I continued to move along the course as I knew there was a checkpoint coming up that was put in place to make sure that no one cut the course. I arrived at the checkpoint and signed in. I refilled my water and dropped off my rain jacket…it was useless by this point as I was soaked through and covered in grit and mud. I spent a few minutes there chatting with the race support guy and then off I went with about 2o miles or so to the finish. The climbs just kept coming and coming. I thought the course had 3500 feet of climbing but as it turns out it had over 7000 feet. Thats a lot of climbing over a 63 mile course, especially in the rain and mud. I looked back here and there and never saw anyone in the distance, so I kept the same tempo. After a few downed tree crossings from the early morning storms, I made my final turn that would lead me to the finish. I started backing off and just coasted in to the finish. My legs were slammed. Two minutes later, Chris Karpowicz came flying in to the finish for 2nd place. Chris is the race director and a super nice guy. He is really into the gravel scene. I was presented a case of Yuengling Beer and the winners plaque. I must say it was a tough race, especially with the conditions that were present and the climbing that caught me off guard. Chris put on a great and challenging event. The course was marked very well and the volunteers were all smiles. I would put this one on your calendar for next year if you dig gravel racing but be ready as it is no cakewalk. The course is absolutely beautiful as you climb and descend through some beautiful forest and farmlands. I do believe I will have plenty of solid racing and riding here in Ohio. All smiles!