Organized gravel cycling began as recently as the late 2000s. This unique cycling experience has exploded in popularity, becoming the fastest-growing segment of cycling in the U.S. Like most things, COVID-19 put the brakes on many cycling events in 2020. But in 2021, gravel cycling came back strong.
Level Be Adventures LLC was founded in 2021 after months of research, formal meetings (and not-so-formal meetings) with established industry experts. It was out of these meetings that Gray Duck Grit hatched and Level Be Adventures set a course to launch a world-class challenge in October 2022.
Our mission is to enrich lives by providing well-organized, enjoyable, challenging, and unique athletic events that improve the physical and mental well-being of our communities. Ducks have symbolized family, adaptation, balance, and strength throughout history. These same values form the foundation of Gray Duck Grit.
Meet the Flock
Mark Jessee – Co-Owner/Race Director – After more than a decade of marathoning followed by ultra-distance cycling, Mark was craving more than simply participating in endurance events. During the Covid-19 year of 2020, he saw a need and means to bring people together using this segment of alt-cycling as the necessary bridge. Growing up riding BMX and road bikes all over the dirt roads of rural south-central Iowa, he realized his first true love at an early age. Today, he explores nature on foot and by bike as an exercise in meditation. He views it as a lesson on how to overcome the physical and mental adversities of traversing routes and discovering new ways to reach far beyond what he previously thought imaginable. Mark uses this mindset in making the day to day better in order to focus on the long game and the role Gray Duck Grit will play in the gravel cycling community.
Kris Jessee – Co-Owner/Race Director – From the invaluable experience and knowledge she has amassed by working 100+ endurance race events from the eastern seaboard to Alaska and Hawaii, Kris was an enthusiastic “YES” with her husband, Mark, and Gray Duck Grit. She also happens to humbly bring to the GDG table 25 years of ultra-distance competition. Considering all her achievements, she has always felt the biggest satisfaction in helping and supporting others to achieve their own goals with training tips, nutritional advice, leading group fitness classes, or genuine support and encouragement of any motivated soul, even if she met them only seconds before. Minnesota born and raised, Kris shares a certain level of pride with so many other locals and is looking forward to using her background to help continue building the already growing gravel cycling community in her home state.
Tony Toigo – Director of Operations – Loving competition and adrenaline inducing activities from an early age, Tony found excitement through activities like motocross, downhill mtn biking, and downhill skiing as well as traditional organized sports. He still competes in a number of local rec sports leagues from ice hockey, baseball, basketball, tennis, or pickleball. In the past decade, biking has played a larger role in his life and something he enjoys doing with his dad, Tony Sr., and friends. After hearing about childhood friend Mark Jessee’s enthusiasm for the Day Across Minnesota in 2019, he also committed to doing the race and began riding gravel roads to prep for the event. In doing so, he found the freedom and ability to explore the countryside to be infectious. Tony has two adult-aged kids that share his love of the outdoors. In addition, he has worked professionally on trail development in Colorado and Iowa and has experience leading volunteers and non-profit organizations. With Grey Duck Grit, he hopes participants will find it to be a mental and physical challenge as well as potentially life altering.
Kris Drew – Staffing & Volunteer Director -Kris and her husband, Tim, have three grown children and one beautiful granddaughter. They love to spend time at their cabin in central MN. Anytime she can get out on the water paddle boarding or in the woods hiking with her dog, she’s incredibly happy! While not a gravel rider, she has been part of the racing community for years (biking and marathons) on the support side, working at expos, and cheering from the sidelines for those she loves. As a Process Analyst for a local healthcare organization, she gets to put her organizational and communication skills to use. She keeps her eye out for improvement opportunities everywhere. She enjoys bringing people together to achieve a goal while having as much fun as possible. “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.” ~Helen Keller
Nate Matson – Marketing/Visual Media – Nate’s a professional health and wellbeing content creator who’s meditated with monks in Thailand and crashed a drone in India. He routinely works with some of the world’s leading scientists and subject matter experts to bring their content to the masses to make the world a happier, healthier place. Nate’s fascinated by the mind and body and is always looking for ways to push himself physically and mentally — especially if it involves getting on his bike. You can catch him exploring city pavement and rural roads on his bike, strength training in his basement, or trying a new crazy workout regimen he read about in an obscure book.
Greg Somogyi – Registrations/Results – After a career ending knee injury as a professional basketball player, cycling filled a huge void in Greg’s life. He always loved getting out on his bike, but it wasn’t until he incorporated cycling into his injury-rehab routine that he realized the physical, and more importantly, mental health benefits of pedaling throughout mother nature. With this passion for gravel cycling and contribution to GDG, Greg hopes he can pass along what he’s learned by providing an experience for others to also discover what cycling has to offer.