Saturday morning a blanket of fog settled over the ground as 600 cyclists took to the back country of Morris and west onto Seneca and Marseilles.
The riders looked focused on the rough roads ahead with a mixture of dirt, gravel and asphalt terrain to surely offer a muddy finish.
“The roads are gravel, it’s nice, we will get a little dirty and it’s a more technical ride,” said Raquel Yanez, of Chicago. “It’s nice that you can do this ride with the bike you have, I haven’t really gotten into mountain biking; this is a balance between road and mountain biking. I hope to finish.”
Five years ago, Morris native Craig Patnode, with a background in the sports timing industry, and a friend wanted to put on an event. He grew up in Morris and had ridden the roads in the area. Combined with a booming community of gravel cyclists who seek places that are not normal ride surfaces, but mud, gravel and dirt, he embarked on an adventure to host the RoughRoad 100, the Midwest Spring Classic gravel ride.
“That market started to grow 10 years ago in small terms, but now it’s starting to get out of control where the bike industry is playing catch up to a certain degree and designing bikes specifically for it,” Patnode said. “It’s a pretty big deal. There are $800 to $15,000 bikes here, it’s crazy.”
Riders came from all over the area; some even rode into Morris the night before, rode the ride on Saturday and then rode home to Chicago the following Sunday. Cyclists took over the parking lots and side roads around Canal Port Park near the I & M Canal for the April 6 ride. Patnode also knew that this event would attract a large number of participants from other areas and would showcase his quaint hometown.
“This is a great town,” Patnode said.
Bicycles of all shapes, sizes and tire tread were found at the ride and after the registration, groups took time for photo ops, caught up with old friends and warmed up on the canal trail or streets downtown.
Two distances were available to the riders, a 100 kilometer, or 62.1 miles, and a 64 kilometer, or 39.7 mile trip. The group started at Canal Port Park with the professional USAC (USA Cycling) CAT PRO 1/2/3/4 licensed participants, followed by the 100k open group and then the riders in the 64k open.
The top finisher in the USAC division for men was Spencer Seggebruch and top female was Kaitlyn Agnew. In the 100k open, Jason Kors took first place in the men’s division and Laurel Rathbun took first for the women. Jim Groenhof took first for the men in the 64k open while Lindsay Freeborn was first in the women’s division.
Although Patnode left Morris for college, lived in Chicago and then took a job in Salt Lake City, his parents still reside in Morris and this event has become a way for him to enjoy coming home to his roots and supporting his community.
At its inception, Patnode knew he did not want to launch this ride without giving back. After he received approval from Morris Mayor Richard Kopczick, next was to plan the logistics which involved law enforcement as well as first responders in all of the communities in which the participants passed and find a beneficiary of funds.
Patnode’s mother Lois Patnode said, “When he started, it’s like we have lived in the community for a long time so he wanted to involve a local charity. So I said for him to look at We Care because that’s right here in town and we know the people. We called the people at We Care and now it’s huge.”
Most events take a portion of the registration fees and use that to donate to the beneficiary. Patnode took a different approach in order to make the riders a part of the fundraiser and allowed them to make a donation, and then Patnode donated a portion of the funds as well. He said We Care of Grundy County took home $2,500.
Fisher said he and volunteers manned the waiver and bib number table and arranged volunteers to guide the riders along the trail. Funds received will go to a general fund to be used as needed for its programs.
“We can’t do this without the community, we are community funded, that’s how we operate. This is another great thing that gives — neighbor giving to neighbor — and this does it, it generates a lot of funds,” Fisher said.
We Care of Grundy County acts as a resource for people in need within the county. The non-profit offers assistance with food, clothing, one-time rent/mortgage payment, utilities and holidays.
A newer program, Salvation Army Pathway of Hope offers guidance on how to break the cycle of crisis such as unemployment, unstable housing and lack of education in order to become self sufficient.
More information on the RoughRoad 100, the Midwest Spring Classic can be found at roughroad100.com and We Care of Grundy County can be found at 530 Bedford Road in Morris or reached at 815-942-6389.