Mississippi Gravel Cup Series: Featured Event- by Guitar Ted
The deep South is not an area most of us have singled out as a hotbed of gravel riding activity, but that has changed. This is due in large part to Wendi and Jason Shearer, along with several other dedicated gravel enthusiasts in Mississippi, who have grown and developed a community of gravel road riders. This has spawned a series, which first took place in the earlier part of 2018. I caught up with Wendi and Jason in a recent phone inteview to learn more about the Mississippi Gravel Cup 2019, which they help direct. I learned more than a few things myself about not only the series, but about Mississippi in general.
The Beginnings: Wendi and Jason don’t have a long history of cycling, and in fact, they only took to two wheels with enthusiasm from about 2012 or so. They both were participating initially in mountain bike races in the area. However; Wendi told of how it became a bit tedious and uninteresting when one has more drive time than ride time to participate in events. Jason also spoke to how the trails would often be closed due to rain or poor weather, which then forced them to consider some alternatives.
Initially this was an event Jason heard about called Trans North Georgia. It fit all the criteria- a longer race than it took time to get there and back, it had interesting and challenging terrain, and the chance to see new country. This spawned entires into other events, like the gravel oriented Southern Cross, and eventually, an entry into the 2015 Dirty Kanza. Events which were intially seen by Wendi and Jason as training events for the Trans North Georgia attempt.
A Passion For Gravel Riding: However; something happened at the Dirty Kanza that year which sparked a new direction for Wendi and Jason’s goals for cycling, and more. Jason did the 200 mile distance and Wendi did the 25 mile fun ride. Both noted the sense of community amongst the gravel riders, the welcoming atmosphere, and the excitement that the community of Emporia exhibited for the event and the riders. Wendi said it was “infectious” and both she and Jason decided that they wanted to bring this all back to Mississippi and get something going there.
The experiences they had at the Dirty Kanza “legitimized” gravel for them, making those roads back in Mississippi seem like the glue that could hold a community of people together like the ones in Kansas had. They weren’t “just training roads” anymore. Almost immediately, Wendi and Jason’s cycling path veered totally into gravel. They both went to Rebecca’s Private Idaho event later that year, and once back home they started hosting weekly “beginner gravel rides”.
When I asked Wendi and Jason what it was that caused such a dramatic turnaround in their cycling pursuits and enthusiasm, Wendi stated, “Gravel is the perfect in between of road and mountain biking. Riding gravel seemed more laid back and there just was a lot more opportunities to do it. I just really liked the sound of the crunch of gravel under my tires and the scenery.” Jason explained that many times they just couldn’t use the mountain bike trails anyway, so whenever that happened the gravel was always available to ride on.
The weekly rides started out slow, attracting few riders, but word of mouth spread via social media. Road cyclists, tired of dealing with traffic started showing up, and between that and brand new to cycling folks, now 20-30 riders every weekend is not uncommon. Other friends were starting gravel rides in other areas of Mississippi, and before long, talk of their own, Mississippi gravel event started up. This grew quickly into 2018’s three race series.
The Mississippi Gravel Cup 2019: I asked about how a couple of enthusiastic gravel riders and a few of their friends got involved in putting on a series of events. I got a surprise answer from Wendi who liked that many women were coming out to the rides. Wendi said she was enjoying seeing more women join the laid back culture of gravel riding. Wendi is encouraged by these women because,”They are discovering their bad-ass selves.” Jason was encouraged by the additional opportunities the events gave to grow the riding community in Mississippi.
The inaugural series of three events drew riders from a five state area. Attendance at all three events encouraged Wendi, Jason, and the other event directors to add an additional event for 2019. The series kicks off with the “OMG” in Oxford, Mississippi on January 12th, 2019. Here is the entire series:
- OMG, Oxford, MS January 12th, 2019
- Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg, MS January 26th, 2019
- Rockcrusher, Ackerman, MS February 9th, 2019
- The Burner, Bentonia, MS February 23rd, 2019
What To Expect: My personal view of what Mississippi is like was nothing like reality, and I would be willing to bet that unless you’ve been there, yours is skewed as well. Jason told me about five national Forests in Mississippi, three of which have their races in them. Expect lots of trees, and by the way, Mississippi isn’t all that flat. Jason explained that the topography varies from quite hilly in the Northern part of the state to flattish, but punctuated by steep climbs, in the Southern part where their courses are. You will get a good overview of this if you attend all four events as the races stretch across the state from North to South.
The Camp Shelby event may see riders experience encounters with tanks and military equipment as there is a military installation there while the Hattiesburg event might surprise some folks with its steep, punchy bluff climbs. Weather can be variable. Temperatures can be 40°F one week and 70°F the next with possibilities for wet weather not out of the question. It’s more like Spring there that time of year than what we think of as Winter in the Northern latitudes. In fact, Jason says a lot of riders come there to Mississippi to escape Winter where they come from. These events are a great way to get a kick start on your season.
The series does award points with two distances for each event at 100 miles and 50 miles. Each event will also feature a beginner friendly 25 mile ride this year. In an unusual twist, all courses are marked, so you don’t need cue sheets or GPS files, although gpx files will be available to download by competitors. Each event is also fully supported with aid stations, but Jason cautions that you really need to know how to take care of mechanicals. “There won’t be any wheel cars out on course“, he added. Typical gravel tires in the 38mm-42mm range with fast tread are recommended, but any bike is okay if you want to join in the fun.
For more on the Mississippi Gravel Cup 2019 go to www.msgravelcup.com Registration for all events is open now.
NOTE: Images and information for this post was provided by Wendi and Jason Shearer. Guitar Ted would like to personally thank Wendi and Jason for their time and efforts made to help produce this post.