As the time grew closer I knew I was going to be racing on my cyclocross bike. I had swapped tires around (went to the larger Ritchey Speedmax 700x42's) and a saddle change. When I first got the bike it just seemed to fight me every step of the way. It seemed nearly every ride I took it on I ended up with a flat. A week before the Gravel Grovel I managed to be out two separate times and ran out of tubes and CO2 cartridges fixing flats. I was starting to freak out. I started double checking everything on the bike. I took it for a quick 6 mile spin 2 days before we had to leave and no flats, checked the tires the next morning they both were holding air fine. So as a safety measure I packed the biggest saddle bag I could find... put everything I could think of it in (tire boots, 2 tubes, patch kit, 3 air carts, chain links and a length of chain, tools for everything, zip ties, duct tape, etc) - it was ridiculous. Then in my jersey pocket with food, my camera, and my phone - I packed 3 more tubes and 4 more air cartridges (I forgot to mention I put a pump on the bike too). I felt like I was going across the world went I left in the morning.
We made it there on time - actually our timing on arriving was perfect. We walked in to pick up our numbers and goodie bags - there was no line. Actually I lie, we were behind 2 people. Sweet! We got our number, goodie bag, and map. Walked over picked up our event shirts... boom we still have an hour to relax and hang out before we leave. We went in the general store and grabbed a cherry coke (I know this breaks my no soda rule - but I needed caffeine). Then back out and people watched.
Yeah the line to register is now getting huge, as we sat there it doubled over the view above. We did good. Oh yeah, look carefully, the Sram rep was there... sporting Zipp 202 and 303 wheels (pardon my drool), but he totally did me in. He had the New Sram XX1 mountain bike groupo there. I was asking questions about it fitting my Niner and he was like oh yeah, no sweat at all.. easy, peasy. Oh and it just about falls on your bike out of the box, makes it crazy light and you will ride faster than ever before..... I want it. I don't need it, but for goodness sakes it is lighter and faster. Who wouldn't want that?
Some shots from the parking lot - looking both ways.
After a bit it was time to start. 10AM we lined up with all the other 62 mile racers. We got our instructions via the megaphone and we took off. We road for about 20 feet, then we all got bottle necked at the first bridge. Did the one foot boot scooting boogie across it and now we are off.
The first miles were not bad at all. Smooth paved roads with little gravel. All the bikers jockeyed for position as everyone was warming up. Garry and I were mid pack at this point and working up. Up ahead you could see the paved road disappear into a gravelly climb. I saw quite a few people there stopped... working on their bikes or already pushing them. I quickly shifted to the small ring in the front, better safe than sorry. We both made it up the hill (Garry of course in front of me) but we passed quite a few people. Moving along it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.... so far it was either paved or very hard pack with some loose gravel. Up and down all the hills. Normally on a bike you can carry your speed down a hill to make the next climb easier. Not on this ride... the gravel totally steals any momentum. You work for every mile here.
Here is where the disappointment sets in... you think you are in good shape on the bike.... and 30 minutes into a 62 mile race you see the leaders ahead on the course (on a out an back section) and you realize that you are 2 miles behind. Two miles in 30 minutes... They are CRUSHING this ride. To add insult to injury they were in a pace line hammering. It looked so cool! I just told myself "Head down and keep pedaling". The leaders are on the left side of the picture below.
There was so many different types of terrain on the race...
Muddy Double Track
After the last turn around we climbed on last major hill. It was mainly a dirt road that just climbed and climbed. It was about 3/4 mile long and was steep. I remembered it from the ride down (I was thankful to have disc brakes). Garry and I joked about the climb coming up to it - then we had the brilliant idea of clicking through our Garmin screens to see the % of climb. It was neat to watch the climb go from 2% to 4%, then jump straight to 8% and then 12%... but it kept going.... 16%.... 18% and finally stopping at 20%. I was like this must be a hump in the road. I looked back up and there was a ton more to climb and it looked all the same. I had never been on a hill that sustained that steep of a climb and just kept going. Crazy... I was now thankful that Garry told me not to change the gearing on my bike. I loved having a 32 tooth big cog on the back (even though I secretly wished for a 36). Some of the climbs were just crazy. Here is a video of the climb.
So far the bike was doing good... no flats. I have seen tons of them. Lots of people on the side of the road fixing flats. I was trying not to look too much as I didn't want the God of Flats to smile upon my bike - it had already had it's fair share. Other than about 10 miles of riding early with a stick that broke off and got wedged in my cassette preventing me from the bottom 3 gears the bike worked very well (and that stick did end up bouncing out, imagine that with all the gravel roads we were on).
As the end neared, the last 8 miles or so, the road were graced with a ton of fresh gravel. Yeah... nothing like trying to go fast, stay upright and climb a hill in 4 inches of fresh gravel. Let me tell you.. you do not go fast. You do not even think about standing to climb the hill on your bike. You look for any dirt showing on the down hills so you have a chance to slow down. I will say I did master the gravel surf feeling on the down hills by the end... feels like you are riding a squishy flat tire at 25 mph...lol... yeah at that point you want the race over one way or another..lol.
So I am less than a mile from the end on a old abandoned road (now looks like just single track from people walking on it) and I see a guy on a cross bike slowly catching me. I came across a abandoned bridge (the kind with a barrier totally blocking it's path). I lifted my bike over casually and coasted the bike over the bridge. I hear the guy behind me panting like a freight train... he is really trying to catch me. I get to the other side and as I am setting my bike on the other side of that barrier he is right there... I made a joke about the bridges condition... he just did the quick yeah, yeah, yeah laugh and was all business. Crap. I didn't come this far to get skunked for one spot here at the end. I jumped on my bike and pushed. No matter how much I pushed I couldn't build any speed. The overgrowth on the road was so bad I couldn't look down to see my tire to see if if had started going flat... so I just kept pushing. I saw the road closure sign ahead and open road... just need to get there and see. I pass the sign and look down. Tires are fine.. what the? Gears shift check. Legs are just toast. No gas. Dang. Here comes that guy again. Maybe I can sit on his wheel and survive, to fight again. He would have none of that. I heard him shift behind me and he pounded past me. I looked up past him and I could see the finish. Double crap. I now pushed with all I had... my only chance was the big creek crossing at the end... it was big and wide maybe 40 feet across with only inches of water in it but you had to ride through maybe a 10 foot stretch of water to cross it, the rest was mud and rocks. I figure if I can get close enough I will just blast the crossing and hope for the best. I watched him carefully. He approached the crossing looking all around, was there a problem I didn't see? He must have gotten confused (or didn't want to do the creek crossing) as he tried to go the wrong way (the correct way was clearly taped on both sides for easy navigation) and he slowed and then entered the creek crossing. I lost sight of him for a second, maybe the crossing was too rough for a cross bike and I would just have to hike-a-bike it as fast as I can. I get there and it smoothly rolls into the creek.... I am still moving fast. I see the guy ahead trying to ride up the creek instead of the other side... again he is going off course. This is my shot. I pedal with all my might and I look like I will get him. Then he cuts back in on me on the climb up the other side. I change my line to the most right (which is definitely not the preferred route) and he unclips to walk to block the smoother left path. Luckily before I entered the crossing I went to the small ring in the front so I had enough power to climb the other side.. it was just going to be a balancing act with wet, muddy cross tires on my bike and the wet creek side. I made it. Passed the dude and road to the finish.
That felt good but now my body, knowing it was done, was letting me know that it did not appreciate the 5 hours of pounding it just took. Aches and stiffness were attacking my body like no one's business. Garry and I rolled over to the car, dropped the bikes off and a lady asked if we were staying for awards and door prizes. I asked when are they doing it. She said 3:30 - it was just after 3PM now - so we decided yeah no brainer. By the time we changed, ate dinner the awards would be moving along nicely. She handed us some beaded necklaces and told us to keep them for the raffle. So we quickly got all the muddy stuff off - changed and got cleaned up. Reloaded the car, and headed back in to get our Yat's catered meal. Cajun food.... and it was good. They even had pie for dessert. Funny thing was there were no drinks. When I looked around it seemed that everyone knew it and they all had their own micro brews. Beer bottles everywhere. Garry went back in to the general store and grabbed me another cherry coke. We brought no beer, and my water bottles were disgusting now.
We ate and it passed 3:30 with no awards. We looked around and it always seemed there was the promise that they would start in just a few minutes. 4PM passed. 4:30PM passed, we couldn't leave now, we were to invested in the time. Yeah I had a 4 hour ride home, but last year one of the door prizes was a set of Zipp 303's. Around 5PM the show finally got going. First the beaded necklaces - they gave out 3 colors red, orange and black. If you had red, enjoy your necklace (Sorry Garry). If you had Orange (which I did) you won a free helmet. 4 of us were up there and the first guy was trying them all on blocking anyone from taking one until he finished picking. Really - we all had the same orange necklace he just beat everyone up there. I announced from the back I would take the black and white one. The guy behind him grabbed it and handed it back to me. I thanked him and looked back up to see the front guy panicked and just picking the one he had.... really. The helmets were all the same size and he was buying time as his friend was looking at them from his seat trying to tell him which one to get because it was the most expensive. Dude - it is a free helmet. Pick one and move on. They weren't made of gold. The one guy who got black beads got a set of Avid XO Hydro Disc brakes. Pretty cool! Next were the awards. Some of these guys were FAST! My official time was 4:57 (yes 4 hours and 57 minutes). The overall winner was 3:35 (with second place only 2 seconds behind him). That is crazy fast!
With 182 racers registered for the 62 mile race - I came in 84th over all (Garry was 80th - would have totally been way better if he hadn't waited on me so much). Of the 182 racers only 155 finished the race, the rest were DNF's. In my Masters class - there was 85 racers I was 41st (Garry was 39th). Not too bad for my first adventure into a race like this....
Three days later my legs are back to normal. I sit here with a scrape on my right knee, and my right ankle is still very sore (I popped out of my pedal in a muddy section doing my best cross dismount and the bike bounced funny and the pedal whacked me above my heel in the Achilles. It is sore in the morning (I look like Frankenstein walking) but after I am up moving around a bit it loosens up. Every day it is getting better so I'm sure it is just a bruise getting better.
I think I have said enough and rambled a bit to much here and there but that is all I got about this....