Update: Sub-9 posted the results, and I’m listed with my time at 8:02, not a DNF! Whee!
After a bad year physically I was in no shape to race the Gravel Grovel again. I’m stubborn. I did it anyway.
Timothy wanted to drive up Friday instead of getting up early Saturday. He also wanted to camp, but I wanted nothing to do with that. The forecast lows were about 20 degrees. Timothy had recently purchased a roof-rack for his car. He came by, and we loaded the bikes and had an uneventful drive to the Bedford area. We stopped at a cheap motel where I had reserved a room for myself. I checked-in, and we continued on to the horse camp where the Grovel begins.
Once there, Timothy set up his tent and we waited for Asher and Denis to arrive.
The temperature dropped during the day Friday. I froze in the gusty winds while waiting for Timothy to finish setting up his tent. I was very glad for my motel room waiting for me.
Before long, Asher and Denis arrived and drove us all into Bedford to find a suitable restaurant for dinner. I don’t remember the name of the place we found, but it was, uh, odd. The food was acceptable. Apparently they are popular, and service wasn’t great.
We dropped Timothy back at camp, and the rest of us continued to the motel. Asher and Denis had a room next to mine.
I slept poorly. I was keyed-up about the race. I could hear the highway traffic. In the morning, I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm went off. That’s extremely rare for me.
It was 24 degrees, but the wind had let up. The skies were mostly clear. This could be a good day.
Asher and Denis took off early to buy some things Asher had forgotten at home. That included his helmet. They returned, and I got a ride back to the camp where preparations were being made for the race. I signed in and got a cup of coffee.
We had some time to kill, so we hung out by the wood stove and enjoyed the heat, knowing we’d be out in the elements for hours.
Eventually, it was time to line up and listen to instructions before the pace car led us out in a mass start. I couldn’t hear most of what was said due to the constant talking from nearly everybody.
We had a mass start of 200+ bikes. I was near the back of the mass, just to avoid being passed too much early on. I lost track of Timothy pretty quickly.
After a little north-east run of about four miles, I noticed my pace was pathetic, yet I was with other riders. I assumed the GPS was just being silly due to tree cover.
We turn west for a little out-and-back. Somewhere along here I lost Asher. As I get to the turn-around, I’m beginning to doubt my ability to finish this race. I’m not even ten miles in and considering riding back to the camp.
Unlike last year, I did grab a few photos during the race.
On the return leg, I see Asher still heading on the “out” portion of the out-and-back. He yelled something unintelligible and kept going. I didn’t stop.
I end up riding mostly alone for a while. There are several well-marked turns. My speed is still abysmal. Our route loops back on itself, and eventually I come to the first SAG stop. It was listening to others here (including one guy quitting due to cold feet) that I decided to try to continue on. I know I’ll suffer, but I won’t hate myself later.
At about mile 30, I’m heading toward the long out-and-back to Story Indiana. This is road most of the way, but several miles has been described as “not-road”, “goat track”, “single-track”, and worse. It’s a hilly beast with a lot of mud, and it’s where most of the injuries occur. People tend to lose there drivetrains there too, which leads to a long walk to Story.
I know how hard this stretch can be. I have a better bike for it, but my legs are rubber. I continue on anyway, knowing I’m now committed to finishing the course.
I walk the steep bits. I splash through mud, coating me, my bike, and my water bottles with a combination of water, mud, and horse shit. Yes, this area is used for horse riding too. I pulled over and made way for the faster people returning from the out-and-back.
Eventually I’m back on gravel where I barely manage to climb a steep hill without walking. Then a swooping downhill run that ends abruptly at a sharp turn. I was paying attention, and the disc brakes on the Fargo got my speed under control in time.
Then it’s a wandering route to Story. Timothy is coming back the other way, we exchange a few words while passing.
I arrive at the Story SAG. There are extra bikes there. It turns out a rider crashed (I assume on the not-road) and broke a rib. He rode to Story to get a ride. He and his friends left the bikes there.
They were offering beer at the SAG, but not only am I not drinking beer now, I generally don’t when on a race. I didn’t on last year’s Grovel either. I filled up my water bottles and snacked a bit before heading back.
I rode with a tandem team for a while (road tandem on this mess). They eventually pulled ahead on the road, but once we hit the “goat track”, I passed them again. They were walking, so I won’t say I “dropped” them.
I really enjoyed my second trip through this stretch, even with the deer-head some hunter had recently dumped.
Back on the gravel road, I was soon passed by the tandem team again. I continued on until about mile 50, when I turned on my lights. I realized that there was no way I would make the time cut-off. I tried to think about ways to avoid riding the next 12 miles. The gravel was large and loose in this stretch. My speed stayed in the single-digits, except on descents. I was miserable. I saw no one for quite a while. I assumed I’d be dead last of those finishing.
I needed a pee break. There were no cars, no bikes, no people. It was quiet and peaceful. I leaned my bike against a tree and stood at the edge of the road watering the weeds. I had barely finished and put everything away (darn bib tights!) when I heard the crunch of gravel, and a woman rode around the bend. I talked to her briefly, and was told there were still two more behind her. This gave me hope. I would not allow another cyclist to pass me.
Eventually the nasty loose gravel was replaced with smoother gravel roads. I pushed hard. The last eight miles of the race were my fastest. I felt better, other than my toes cramping up (what’s up with that?) I pushed hard. I was done drinking water. One bottle was empty, the other had too much mud/horse-shit on it.
There was the closed bridge that required lifting the bike over the barriers. My body was so weak, I could barely lift the bike. I continued on and rode back to a nearly empty camp.
I knew I missed the time limit. So it’s a DNF. I don’t care about that. I pushed through my own personal pain to finish the race course. That was my main goal. The other goal was to have fun. I did that too. I was hoping for some of the food they serve after the race, but it was put away, and I got nothing but two piece of pecan pie that hadn’t been hauled off yet.
It wasn’t until I arrived back and checked my phone that I saw that Asher had dropped out. I assumed as much earlier in the day. This just confirmed it.
Asher and Denis had left hours before. Most of the other racers had left. Timothy and a few stragglers were still there. I changed clothes while Timothy loaded my bike. He drove me home. I made the decision almost immediately to give myself Sunday (today) to recover. No riding. I’ll be back on the bike for the morning commute tomorrow though.
The Fargo was a mess. It had mud everywhere. There was only one good way to get it clean.
Even being two hours slower than last year, It felt great to complete the course. If I had bailed on the race I wouldn’t have forgiven myself. I was very close to not going. Only my stubbornness kept me in the race.
I’m viewing this race my new beginning with getting in big miles. Many of those miles will be on the recumbent to avoid hurting my neck (it’s rather stiff today). Others will be on the new bike, once it’s complete. I’ll continue to use the Fargo for gravel rides, but I’ll switch a few things around.
Things that worked:
I bought shoe covers for my clipless shoes. My feet remained warm enough. They got cold once before the first SAG stop, but I warmed them by the fire, and they never got cold again. Overall my clothing choices were fine. I had my bib tights, another pair of tights over those, top base layer, wool sweater, wool socks, jacket, balaclava, hat, helmet with cover, sunglasses, old Shimano mountain bike shoes, and cheap Nashbar shoe covers.
The Fargo did fine. I had zero mechanical issues other than some rough shifting due to mud. The Fargo handles beautifully on the terrain. Only the motor (me) had issues.
Things to change:
I really want a different seatpost and saddle on the Fargo. What’s there isn’t terrible, but it’s not my favorite. On the other hand, I rode 62 miles on it, with only minor discomfort on my backside.
The handlebars, while great for control on the rough stuff, hurt my wrists when down in the drops. I’m not sure if simply rotating the bars to another angle will fix it, or if I’ll have to buy some different bars. It’ll require some experimentation to figure it out.
I need to train if I expect to race. I’ll never finish near the front, and that’s fine. Getting a DNF due to time sucks. Even last year’s 6:05, while not DNF, meant I was one of the last few to arrive.