As I mentioned in my last post, I attended the Gravel Grovel this weekend. I would like to thank Mike Sharp for thinking up this crazy event and for the Story Inn for allowing it to start and finish in their parking lot. Their bar had some great burgers and good selection of beers. I can say that I have never done anything like this race. It was a great mix of gravel road and some muddy dirt single/double track. There was a lot of different bikes riding this event, from 29er’s, mtb’s, cross bikes and some misc. bike groups like what mine fits in. The other thing I would like to say about this event is that it was by far the hardest ride I have done. There might be several reasons for that, but it was still very painful.
I’ll start with my bike choice. For some reason when I thought about this ride I kept thinking road ride but with gravel. It said very little of the route was on dirt. I have never been on a lot of the roads that we were going to be riding, but I have been in the area enough to have a good idea of what we were in for, but that didn’t seem to sink in so I was stuck with my choice. Actually it was not that far off from a lot of people’s ride, but I am not sure if it was the correct choice.
I had put in a lot of road miles earlier this year while I was trying to get in shape to ride the RAIN ride. If you don’t know what that is, it is a 162 mile road ride across Indiana. To prepare for this I would ride with a group of guys that would normally ride 70-85 miles every weekend and we put a few 100+ mile rides in. I have also recently done just over 70 miles for the Brown County Breakdown on my SS. So, with all of this swimming around in my head, I signed up thinking that it would be a hard ride, but not really crazy. I figured it would be all up to how fast I could keep the pace. I knew by looking at the signed up list that there were a lot of riders that I would not be able to keep up with, but I figured I would be able to hang with the second group for a while.
So, I woke up early on Friday morning thankful that my wife said she would make the early trip to Walmart to pick up a few needed sale items. I really didn’t want to get up at 3:30 to go shopping and then drive 2 hours to get to Story. This left me with getting up a little later and getting ready to leave by 7:00. The drive up there was uneventful, but I could tell it was cold out side. I figured as the sun started to rise the temps would too, but my car was telling me differently. I only noticed it warming up 2 degrees, but dropped again by the time I was there. The weatherman said it was to get up to 45 or so, but it was still hanging around the 34 degree mark. This was colder then I was dressed for, but not really that much to really worry about.
I got there in plenty of time and just messed around waiting for the time to head to the start line. I ended up parking next to eventual SS winner Thad Hoffman. I got a close look at his sweet Moots SS that I would love to have. It made my old school Gary Fisher look like a walmart bike. After a little bit, I suited up and headed to the start. There were 121 riders signed up. I am not sure how many actually started, but there was quite a few riders there. The start was crazy fast for the guys in the front. I let most of they guys that were really racing this thing start and I jumped in where I could. The pace I was rolling at the start was too fast. I was not really warmed up, but it didn’t feel too bad. The road was going down hill enough to help with the momentum. I could tell already that I had no chance to keep up with any of the front groups like I wanted to, but I was still rolling fairly good.
A little ways down the road we came around the corner at the Nebo ridge parking lot. I knew that hill was going to be bad. I have watched cars drive up that hill several times and thought that I would never want to ride up that hill. Well, here I am on a very cold morning getting ready to do just that. Well, I should say that I was going to try. I didn’t make it too far before I decided to hop off. It was a combination of the fast start making me a little out of breath and the gearing on the Fisher not being very small. I thought I would have done a little better, but I was not too worried about it. I knew I had a long day ahead of me and I had plenty of time to warm up. There were a lot of riders that passed me as I walked and they rode. At the top I jumped on and tried to get in to a good groove. I started to feel better and when we hit the dirt section I was riding fairly good. It was different trying to get those little tires to grab in the mud, but I kept rolling. I rode threw all of the creek crossings and actually passed some riders in this section.
Once we were back on the road, I was still holding a good pace. The down hills were a little scary because I didn’t really have any brakes. They would slow me down, but if anything really happened I would not have been able to stop. I started to yoyo with some riders. I eventually hooked up with Rob and Jay. They let me tag on with them for a little while and even waited for me on some sections that I was slower. Some where in this section we hit a part that you loop back on yourself and we saw some of the riders headed the other way already. One of the guys asked if that was the lead group, but they said that the leaders were threw already. That sure was a motivation breaker. It felt like we were rolling good for most of that road section, but I could tell that I was slowing down on the hills. I just could not turn that gear over very fast, I was still climbing, but slower.
We hit a few more steep climbs and Rob and Jay were too far to catch back on. Somewhere in this area, out of what seemed like no where I rolled up on a paved hill. I am not sure why it was paved, but I guess it was of some importance to have this hill paved and the rest of the road gravel. I also ran in to Mike who was having some bad cramps at that point. My legs were starting to show signs of cramps, but I was not in too bad of shape yet. I said yet. Not too far down the road past that climb, the twinges of cramps were getting worse. I had different spots that kept threatening to cramp on me. The places would come and go and switch for several miles. I am not sure exactly what point they went from not too bad to actually starting to cramp. I never had anything completely lock up where I could not move it, but it sure made it hard to turn the pedals over. I was beginning to wonder if I could even finish.
I hit a do or die point at an intersection that left was a 6 mile out and back and right was 14 miles to the finish. I turned left and kept going, but it would not have taken much for me to turn right and not feel too bad about it, well for the moment. The 6 mile out was horrible. It was what seemed like a 6 mile grinding climb the whole way. It was great to see the other riders going the other way. I was getting encouraging words from several people that kept me going. I saw Rob and Jay pass and they said the turn around was at the top of the hill. I was not sure there was a top, but from the sound of it, I was not too far away. I stopped at the turn around hoping to grab some water. I had been rationing my G2 for quite a while at that point, but they were out. I tried to stretch a little and downed a gel. They did give me a banana that sure hit the spot.
I felt great going the other way. It was probably due to the fact that it was mostly down hill for a bit. The legs were feeling better and I was actually moving at a fair pace. I kept rolling past the intersection that let me know I had 14 miles to go. I actually climbed a few of the next really steep hills, but it was at a slow pace. Mike and Josh were walking one hill that I was riding up. They were both cramping too and were really feeling it. They could not believe I was riding, but I felt like if I would have got off the bike, I would not be able to get back on. I thought the 6 mile out and back was hard, but this last 14 mile section was even harder. The cramps were getting worse. I basically had four spots that were cramping the whole time, but some how I kept moving.
Once I hit the dirt section again, I was riding better. For some reason the dirt felt more at home and I knew what needed to be done to ride that section. Back on the road again, I knew I was homeward bound. I kept the pedals going the best I could. Sometimes I was moving better then others, but still far from easy. I actually passed a few riders and wanted to stay ahead of them, so I was really pushing it as hard as I could. I rolled in to the finish right at 5 hours and 15 min. Way slower then I figured it would have taken me and in much more pain then I would have ever imagined. I really had a hard time walking, but it felt good to get off of the bike. The unofficial results show me sitting in 66th place. That is not too bad with all that happened to me, but I was hoping for a little better.
I packed up my bike and changed into some other clothes hoping to actually be able to feel my toes as some point. I had not felt them in 5 hours. We went to the inn to see what was going on. Being so slow we missed the podium presentation, but I did end up getting a shirt and a beer as a door prize. We decided to head in to the bar to relax a little before the drive home. The Upland Wheat sure hit the spot and the burger and chips were much needed. There were several riders still hanging out enjoying a few beverages or food before they went about their way.
It has already been said that there is a plan for a 2010 Gravel Grovel. I plan on being there and doing a much better job then I did this year. I have a lot of things to think about like trying to figure out what bike would be better for me to use and what I need to do to keep from cramping so much. This was the worst that I have ever had cramps and I don’t know why. Maybe it was all of the turkey and stuffing I had the day before. Hard telling, but I hope to figure out something better for next year.