The roots of Rasputitsa
All Photos by @Noleysnap
Rasputitsa is a classic 1-day Gruelling gravel bike race in Vermont held in April. We sat down with Heidi Myers (half of the team, along with friend Anthony Moccia) to talk about the events roots and future. Since 2013, they have been involved in the effort of uniting cyclists, bringing economic opportunity to remote areas of Vermont, and giving back to the rapidly growing sport of cycling.
MK: Tell us a little bit about yourself and Rasputitsa.
Heidi: My cycling background started sixteen years ago in the Garneau Cycling marketing department. I’ve done many century rides and half marathons, but gravel riding is not something that I personally partook in a lot (although some of the centuries I've done were on gravel roads, and I think that, living in the Vermont area, most don't think of gravel as gravel – to us, they are just roads). My participation has really slowed down now, because three years ago, I was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson's. So, I’m not much of a rider myself anymore, but we started the gravel events in 2013, and our first one was “The Dirty 40,” and that existed for three years. But we really liked the uniqueness of the Rasputitsa, and it being the inaugural event of the season along with the grit that comes with that.
MK: What was the spark for creating your events?
Heidi: My friend and Rasputitsa partner Anthony and I wanted to do an event together. A triathlon had been talked about at the time, but insurance is pretty exhausting with that type of event. We had heard of an event called the Almanzo 100, where to get in, you just send the organizer a postcard. There was literally not even a registration site. It's basically a one-hundred-mile gravel ride. At the time, that was kind of new to the cycling industry, and we kind of saw the cool factor in that. So, because of the plethora of gravel roads around us, we just worked with what we had. We knew absolutely nothing about organizing, but just grew it from that initial idea.
MK: Looking back over the years, what have you learned most from organizing events like Rasputitsa?
Heidi: I think the key to our success is just being honest with what you do and don't know, and having open conversations. We have no problem saying, “oops, we messed up, we have no idea what we're doing!” There’s really no authoritative role that either of us plays. We don't even call ourselves race organizers or directors; we are just two friends that put on this crazy event every year [laughs]. Our job on race day can be anything: including everything from helping riders to changing the toilet paper rolls in the port-a-potties. I think that authenticity has been what's really pushed us along. I think everybody is trying to be professional on any level they can, and I think we're really clear that we're not professionals, but we care a whole lot!
MK: That really comes across. With that authenticity, how have the local communities around the Northeast Kingdom reacted to the events that you've been putting on, and what's been the impact?
Heidi: We’re the largest event at Burke Mountain that the actual ski resort puts on. We sell out the hotel and I think most Airbnbs are sold out at this point as well, which is great. The community is really conditioned to it because of the Kingdom Trails, so they've been an exceptional community in embracing us. Of course, we try to do our homework and start the planning as early as possible with notifying towns, getting permission on using roads, notifying emergency services, and even notifying the post offices – just really covering all of our bases. Communication has been key, and we always try and capitalize on the good and just communicate to the whole community as best we can.
MK: You have Vermont, cycling, food, community, and culture all wrapped up in one event. It sounds like you have really tapped into something special. What have you found that happens when all these things come together.
Heidi: I made the comment to Anthony a few years ago that at some point, people are going to catch on that if they have a bike, they can ride these roads anytime they like! They don’t even have to pick the crappiest day of spring [laughs]. We really pride ourselves in creating the experience and putting on an event that's more than that. Each year, we invest our profits in two avenues. First, we donate Little Bellas: a bicycle organization that get kids and young people on bikes. Last year, we also donated to the Jeremy Powers organization to some extent as well. So that's one thing we do with our profits. The other thing is really just investing back into the race. We've grown it this year to include things like a Prince concert, a farmers’ market, and there's also a women's breakfast, called Bittersweet, on the Sunday. We’re trying to always add value, so it's more than just riding your bike. One of my favorite stories is when Ted King and his wife moved back east. They were living in California and he brought her to Vermont to look for a home in April. She was a bit hesitant to move here, but then they came to Rasputitsa and she made the comment that she can just feel the vibrancy of the cycling community. Then she said, “yeah, I want to move here.” We’re really creating an experience and creating a community and building a family. For example, this year we’ve partnered with a guy who sculpts marble, and he's doing a totem for the course. There's another guy that is a manufacturer of apple cider vinegar from Brooklyn, and he’ll be at the farmers’ market. It’s really about combining as many locals with the riders as possible, and getting to know the things that they pride themselves on.
MK: Tell us more about some of the local food producers you are associating with for all your events like Rasputitsa and Bittersweet?
Heidi: As we’ve been working on creating this experience, we've been having a lot of conversations of building on the community. We started reaching out to companies like Jasper Hill Farms and Caledonia Spirits and many more. They’ve been amazingly receptive. So, then we thought why not have a farmers’ market, and that just worked out really well. Once we started looking around us instead of beyond us, all these dots started connecting themselves. Then, Specialized thought of bringing in Lentine Alexis, and Cyclist Menu was super interested in helping support us too, so now we have these great chefs and they just totally compliment our great local food producers.
MK: Bittersweet is having its 3rd installment. Why did you feel the need for a woman-specific event?
Heidi: We’ve been trying to grow the female audience for a while. For me, creating a program that was exclusive to women to build camaraderie and have a support network was important. Starting from the first Bittersweet last February, we could see how that solution clearly worked: because we created this whole network of women that were encouraging and supporting each other. Bittersweet really became a key event for us.
MK: How did your relationship with Cyclist Menu come about?
Heidi: We just kind of felt that our philosophies were aligned in so many ways. And then Colavita came into that conversation as well. We all feel that we're just good people trying to do good things. We don't have lofty budgets, but we have a lot of great ideas. I think in 2020 we'll see a lot more collaborations with them.
MK: Do you see yourselves establishing more events around Vermont or in other locations?
Hiedi: Anthony has three children under the age of eight, and I have two children under the age of thirteen. This is a part-time gig for us, as we both have full-time jobs – our plates are pretty full. Until our children are a little older, I’m not sure how much more capacity we will have between the two of us. But there is a conversation right now with Colavita about growing the Bittersweet events throughout the country with Rasputitsa helping with the concept.
MK: That leads us to our next question: you have families who are active in the events. Your son is an amazing photographer at these events. What are you hoping to impart to them?
Heidi: It’s just been a really fun process with them. A lot of people misconceive that we are together as one family. But we’re actually just friends with two different families with young children. Even on our website we have our children as staff. Anthony’s oldest daughter likes to give directions, so we’ve called her the CEO, and Anthony’s older son is very hands-on and likes building things, so we've made him the COO. My son Nolan has done all of our photography and pretty much all of our Instagram feed, so he’s our CMO. Then my youngest son likes money, so he’s our CFO [laughs]. I think it just goes back to having humility and empathy. As people, you have to listen to all people, no matter their size or age or whatnot. Their input is crucial to our growth.
MK: What’s the future of gravel or adventure riding?
Heidi: I'm not sure. I think gravel will always be around, but I think what we'll see next is that road events will be evolving more into the model that gravel has, in the sense that they create an experience. I also think that road and gravel will reunite in some way, because it really is one of the same. I think there's synergy to be had with gravel and road, and I think that’s going to be the next stepping stone. We're invested for cycling to grow in general, not just in our event, and we are really excited about cycling’s future. We hope to see everyone at the event in April!
Learn more about Little Bellas: littlebellas.com