‘Gravel organizers are beyond a community. We are family’
Heidi Myers, co-founder of the Rasputitsa Spring Classic, reflects on her time volunteering at the Mid South.
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Stillwater, Oklahoma, March 12.
It’s past midnight. Mid South 2023 is done and dusted, literally. With nothing but complete honor, I’ve given the shirt off my back to DFL finisher, Marley Blonsky. The very least I could do for a shivering woman I think of as my hero. And that sentiment alone is enough to justify our presence here.
Gravel races have been calling themselves a community for some time, but all that really indicates is commonality. As early as 2015, when gravel races started to proliferate, Rasputitsa began to volunteer for other gravel events.
Our intentions were nothing more than not wanting to dominate, control, or exploit something like riding your bike on dirt roads. We saw cycling historically in the hands of wealth and privilege and objected to those roots. Unknown to most, in our infancy, we operated three races, but that felt monopolizing. So we picked our lane in April. It’s served us well.
Read also: Dirt Church and Kingdom come: The Mid South’s Bobby Wintle reflects on Rasputitsa
Maybe it’s an unspoken code in gravel. We often get caught up in defining what gravel embodies, but what was visceral and real this weekend was that gravel organizers are beyond a community. We are family.
We felt this when Bobby and Sally of Mid South passed us champagne and said, ‘you are with us at the finish line.’
We felt this when we finally got to meet Jason Strohbehn of Gravel Worlds and we grabbed a selfie only to watch him post later: ‘get yourself to Rasputitsa.’
We felt it when Peter Vollers and Ansel Dickey of Vermont Overland introduced us to Peter Stetina and encouraged him to cash-in on Rasputitsa, a race on his bucket list.
Gallery: The Mid South
We felt it all weekend surrounded by our friends at Grounded Nebraska, Barry Roubaix, and Big Red Gravel Run. We weren’t all there necessarily to race and definitely not to promote our own individual events. We were there to support and to collectively live in the moment.
We’ve often wondered — has gravel reached its peak? Are we on a downward trajectory due to growing pains? As we travel back home, our opinion is: we are just getting started and this united, often selfless approach is how we will flourish.
Operating under this umbrella of community care sets the expectation for how we, as organizers, want to treat our riders. They aren’t customers. We aren’t trying to check diversity boxes and tokenize marginalized populations. We aren’t trying to build fan bases or claim stakes as the best of this or that. Instead, we choose to operate from a space of care.
We care that the world has a lot of hate and as sentimental as it may sound, we combat this with love. We feel the modern day challenges of mental health and see bikes as a prescription. We defend and lift up those that have historically felt sidelined. And by leaning into rural spaces, we challenge ourselves against nature instead of each other, probably one of the most ecological things we can do.
Read also: The resurrection of Rasputitsa
For me personally, seeing Marley Blonsky cross that finish line was therapeutic from all the sexual harassment, fat shaming, and glass ceilings the cycling industry assigned to me over a twenty year career. We’ve found a way forward in a world where everything else feels filibustered.
In the balance of all things community, we are in no way ignoring the level of racing that’s in our DNA. Our hearts will always pump hard to see the front pack break through the finish line. But seeing Peter Stetina stay ’til the very end to give reciprocal appreciation to the DFL finisher is, quite frankly, what we need more of.
Competition needs rules for fairness sake but when you add morality to the mix, we organically hold each other accountable to more than just what happens on course.
We are reminded of the Rob Siltanen quote.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
That’s gravel. That’s Mid South. That’s Rasputitsa. That’s countless others.
Bobby, Sally, Josh, we will be back. Over and out.