Gravel Grovel – Complete!

Why did I choose a gravel road and off-road race as my first bike race?  Probably because I knew I’d be better at that than a road race.

Yesterday was the Gravel Grovel, a 60-mile bicycle race over all kinds of terrain.

Tim picked me up early and we stopped at Sunergos for coffee.  Patrick was supposed to ride with us, but had come down with something the night before, and had to cancel.  That was a pity, he had just set up a new Salsa Fargo for this kind of riding.

Timothy drove separately and met us there.  Michael was supposed to drive over from Bloomington, the shortest drive of all of us, but had mechanical issues with his bike and cancelled also.

Beautiful sky on the morning drive
Beautiful sky on the morning drive

We stopped again in Seymour IN for a bathroom break, again I enjoyed the morning sky.

Departing clouds?
Departing clouds?

It was also fun to compare the very different bikes Tim and I were riding.

My Surly LHT and Tim's Cannondale 29er
My Surly LHT and Tim’s Cannondale 29er

We arrived at Maumee Boy Scout camp plenty early and found a parking spot.  We took the time to sign-in, prepare the bikes and our clothes.  Timothy met us.

Timothy and Tim
Timothy and Tim

The race began at 10:00am.  I did not bring the camera on the race as I knew it would slow me down.  This was a race, not a tour.  Tim, did take his camera and managed some good pictures, and still finished 10 minutes ahead of me.  His thoughts and pictures can be found here.

As the pack of several hundred bicyclists rolled out of the camp behind the SRAM lead car we turned on a paved road.  I noticed one of the orange turn markers pointing down a gravel road, but the lead car, and several hundred cyclists went straight, so I assumed they knew the route.

After a climb and descent, I noticed the lead car and several hundred cyclists turned around and facing back toward us.  Everyone had missed the turn.

After climbing and descending that hill again, we turned on the gravel road.  Looking at the GPS track, it seems that mistake added 5.6 miles or so.

Using a GPS for navigation is not allowed on this race.  You can use it for tracking your route as I did.  We were provided with a cue sheet and a map.  I’m not great with cue sheets, and the map was hard to read.  Luckily, there were also orange signs placed around the course for turns.  This worked well.  There were no further routing mishaps.

I knew I had to keep moving.  That’s why I left my camera in the car.  I also know I tend to not eat often enough unless I stop.  I did my best to eat while riding, often times choking on food due to breathing too hard.

There were a couple of stops to refill water bottles and have a snack.  I took advantage of these, but didn’t dawdle.  One of the stops had cans of beer.  If I had been touring, I would have enjoyed one.  I declined the beer this time.

The route was mostly as I expected.  There was a lot of gravel.  There was a closed bridge with a barrier you had to lift your bike over.  You traveled many of the roads twice, going the other direction the second time around.  Good signage made this easy to do without getting lost.

One part of the route did surprise me.  Combs Rd was mostly what I call a “not road”.  It was in no way passable by an automobile.  It was singletrack for about two miles (I’m guessing).  It was fairly technical with logs, mud pits, bricks(!?), stream crossings, etc.  It also had a large climb.  The beauty of it?  We got to do it again in the other direction.

My LHT did perfectly fine on the ride, other than Combs Rd.  I didn’t have much traction on mud.  I managed to fall once.  I walked up the steepest bit of it, and around the fallen trees and logs.

I wasn’t the only one with problems on it.  I watched one guy go over the bars.  I stopped and talked to him.  He was unhurt, just embarrassed and tired.  Another guy managed to snap his derailleur completely off.  He was working to convert his bike to a single-speed to continue the ride.  I saw him later, he had managed to do so.

We had originally planned this as five of us riding together as a group.  With two cancels, it would have been three of us, but we were unable to stay together.  Tim later described it as riding “in his own personal pain bubble”.  I think that’s accurate.  We did ride together a bit.  We regrouped at stops, but when it came down to it, each of us had to climb the next hill at our own pace.

My goal was to finish in less than 6h:30m.  I succeeded there.  Although Tim and Timothy both finished before me (by ten minutes or so), I finished in 6h:13m.  The official results haven’t been posted, but I’m sure it’ll only be a minute or two different from that.  I met my goal.

In the aftermath of it, I’m left with an extremely stiff neck, a skinned up knee, and a very dirty bike.  I did have fun and I’m tentatively planning on racing it again next year with a goal of less than six hours.

Tim managed to get a picture of me zooming past the finish line.  That brown spot on my trunk bag is mud from where I fell on Combs Rd.


Here’s my GPS track for the race.

Download file: 2011-11-26.gpx

For a feeling of what the roads and terrain were like, look at this video from last year’s event.  Although they took a different course, it was mostly the same roads, including Combs Rd.

After the race, we gathered in the hall for food (rice, meats, sauces, pie) and giving away trophies to the winners of each category (big hunks of engraved rock).  There were raffle prizes, mostly little things, but there was an expensive wheelset given away.  I won a SRAM hat, which I gave to Tim as I don’t care for hats.

Even after the meal I was hungry, and I intended to cook when I got home.  I was too tired.  I took a hot bath and massaged the kinks out of my legs.  Then I laid down and read a book.  After that I slept.  I didn’t bother to set an alarm.  Yep, a good time.

The official results were posted.  I tied Timothy for 126th place (overall) at a time of 6h:05m.  Even better than I expected.  Maybe I’ll shoot for sub-5h:30m next year.

6 thoughts on “Gravel Grovel – Complete!”

  1. Nice job! Happy to hear you had fun. I’m not sure I saw the word “fun” in Tim’s post. It is interesting to see that you are already thinking ahead to next year. Let that inner racer-boy out of his shell!

  2. Tim’s post had the word “fun” once. Although we both suffered during this, and he beat me by ten minutes, he was feeling sick. He’s had an ongoing issue with chest congestion. I think he just willed himself through it.

    I felt fine physically before and after the ride. During was a mixed bag. I still have problems eating and drinking on the bike. I tend to choke on my food and water.

  3. Congrats on coming in under your finishing goal! This looks like a formidable race — but also like the best kind of suffering that the bike world has to offer. And the morning sky pics are magnificent!

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