200 start, 157 finish grueling Northland bike race

The Heck of the North bike race is named in honor of a famous French race, the Paris-Roubaix (aka the Hell of the North) that is known for tough roads and often tougher weather. For the first four years of the Northland's version of this event, the weather has not been a factor. That changed this year with a cold front and wind-driven rain that turned the 104-mile course into a mud-strewn mixture of gravel roads, snowmobile trails across bogs and at least one river crossing.

The event's creator, Duluth endurance athlete and photographer Jeremy Kershaw, could not have been happier. But, as Statesman reporter Aloysia Power noted, the foul weather meant that only 200 of the 300 who registered showed up on race day and of that group, only 157 completed the race. There were reports of cracked bike frames but, thankfully, no injuries.

The Heck of the North is part of a growing number of free, DIY-inspired gravel road races that have become very popular, especially in the Midwest following the success of the Almanzo 100 in southern Minnesota. Adding to their mystique are the stories that go along with these rides -- told in blogs, photos, and videos that cyclists produce as they chronicle their adventure. Below you can peruse some of these dispatches.

If you want to share your own story, simply Tweet us a link at #heckofthenorth and your story will be added to the collective story of this year's race.

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