Gravel Grovel 2012

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.

Three of us from the RCCS decided to do it this year: Timothy, Asher, and myself.  I was to get a ride with Timothy to and from the race.  Asher was riding with Denis, his spouse.

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.

Bikes and Blue Sky

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.

Timothy’s retreat

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.

As ready as I’m going to be

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.

Asher is ready to go

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.

Run-of-the-mill gravel

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.

Fargo in it’s element

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.

The scenery was worth it

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.

One of the easier stretches of the “not-road”

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.

Download file: 2012-11-24.gpx

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.

Warm shower for a friend

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.

Thanksgiving 2012

The last couple of years I’ve done a Thanksgiving post with a list of things I’m thankful for.  I’m not going to do that today.  I am thankful for a number of things, but that’s not today’s post.

I’m spending the day alone, other than a brief bike ride with Tim.  I’m cooking my own meal to eat by myself.  I’m using the time to reflect, listen to music, and get some work done around the house.  I think that’s a pretty good use of my time.

I’ve talked to ex-wife #1 today on the phone.  She’s home alone – her boyfriend left for the day and didn’t invite her.  She lives in Michigan, and it’s probably best that I not visit her.

I’m still nervous about Saturday’s race.  I woke up with my neck worse than it’s been in a while.  Once the race is over, I’ll probably only ride the recumbent for a while.

I hope you enjoy the holiday, however you’re celebrating it.

From a Plan to a Bike

I mentioned a few weeks ago, that I had an idea for another bike.  I took a big step and bought most of a bike.

A guy who’s blog I follow, and I interact with him on Google+, had an appropriate bike for sale.  I mailed a check, he shipped a large box.

I had it shipped to my local bike shop so I wouldn’t have to be home when it arrived.  That left the problem of getting it home.  Well, the Big Dummy came through again.

Bike on a bike?

After a slow, careful ride home, I was itching to open the box.  It was well packed and took a while with a knife and cutters to get everything free.

The goods

It’s not a complete bike.  It’s frame, fork, crank, derailleurs, wheelset (dyno front wheel), seatpost, seatpost clamp, and tires.  Also included, but not in the picture are fenders, tail light, misc hardware, bar tape, spare tubes, brake levers, and a few other bits and pieces.

It does not have a full drivetrain.  It doesn’t have brakes, stem, handlebars, saddle, or headlight.

My first planned ride for this bike won’t be until Spring, so I have the time to do it right.

So what is it?

It’s a Rawland rSogn.  It’s a low-trail, 650b wheel-sized, road bike with clearance for fat tires.  I’ll set it up like a brevet bike.  Dyno-powered lights, fenders, handlebar bag, and maybe a saddlebag.

It’ll be for long rides without carrying much.  I’ll stick with lightweight tires and minimal luggage.

I intend to really ramp up my mileage in 2013.  I hope this bike can be a large percentage of my riding.


I’m racing the Gravel Grovel this Saturday.  I know I’ll suffer, but I’ll hate myself and sink into depression if I don’t do it.  I’ll be joined by Asher and Timothy because misery loves company.

I did spend good money to buy an appropriate bike, the Fargo, for this race.  I paid the registration fee.  I bought shoe covers to keep my feet warm.  I have to race.

I’ve been without beer or junk food since Friday.  My mood is improved, but I don’t know how long-lasting that will be.

I’ve had muscle aches in my legs for months now.  They disappeared today.  I have no idea what’s going on there.  I hope they stay gone.  I still have the normal neck/shoulder mess going on, but that’s not going to go away.

I reserved a hotel room in Bedford Indiana.  I’m riding with Timothy, and he wants to drive up the night before.  This should hopefully allow me to arrive at the race well-rested.

I need to take the Fargo out for a last-minute ride on Thanksgiving to make sure everything is ready.

I consider this race as the kick-off to focusing on my health and fitness again.  I did well in 2007 and 2008.  I did a ton of riding in 2009 and 2010.  2011 saw my first neck issues, but the riding was still good.  2012 has been poor.  I’ve drank too much, ate too much, rode less, had physical and mental issues to deal with.  I put too many things at a higher priority than my fitness, yet being healthy should be my primary goal.

I’m not waiting for the new year.  January first is just another arbitrary date.  I’m starting now.

No More Beer

If one thing has to be to blame for my recent weight gain, it’s beer.  It’s not just the calories from beer, but it’s the fact I generally eat more while consuming beer.  I also tend to go out to eat and drink rather than cook a healthier meal at home.

That’s changing.  I’m cutting out 100% of the beer for an undetermined amount of time.

I went grocery shopping earlier today.  I did not buy beer, ice cream, or snack foods.  I bought the things I need to cook at home, and a few “quick and easy” meals that aren’t too high in calories.

I just ate my dinner, a black-eyed pea soup with onion and celery.  I’ve made better before, but it was warm and satisfying.


Pain and Stupidity

I’ve had recent flare-up of neck, shoulder, and back pain.  Just for added giggles my wrists have been very painful too.  I don’t know why this is happening, but it’s really poor timing as I’m about a week and a half away from racing Gravel Grovel, and I really haven’t done any training.

Today I remembered that my doctor told me to take naproxen daily to help with this.  I did for a while, then basically forgot about it.  Even with the pain returning, it didn’t jog my memory until today.

So, I took the pills again a little bit ago.  I wonder how much training time I missed due to my forgetfulness.  I hope they work well enough.

Last Weekend’s S24O

Tim, Patrick, and I headed out to Jefferson Forest for another overnight bike trip last Saturday night.

It being winter with forecast lows around 30, I knew my sleeping bag wouldn’t be enough.  I have a nice winter bag in my wishlist, but haven’t been able to purchase it yet.  In the meantime, Timothy loaned me and old, heavy, but warm bag.  It was bulky enough, that the Big Dummy was the only bike I would be able to use for this trip.

Loaded Dummy

It had rained earlier in the day, but by the time I left home, to meet Tim and Patrick, the roads were beginning to dry.

I arrived at the coffee shop about 30 minutes early.  Tim was already there.  Patrick was running late.  That saved us from getting drenched.  Shortly after Patrick arrived, the skies opened up and it rained hard for about 20 minutes.  If he had been on time, we would have been out in that rain.

Once the rain passed, we rolled out… where Patrick immediately had a roofing nail in his rear tire.  We quickly fixed it and moved on.

We rode 20ish miles to Jefferson Forest – where I was able to make it up the hill without walking the time – and set up camp.  Patrick had fire duty, well, because he can actually get a fire started.

I brought hot dogs to cook on the fire, which worked reasonably well.  Patrick and Tim both brought dehydrated “camp food” that they complained about.  I shared the hot dogs.

I’ve had too many camping trips where I was uncomfortable and cold.  I have trouble sleeping on the ground.  That wasn’t an issue this time.  The borrowed sleeping bag, while old and tattered, was warm.  I also used my existing sleeping bag for extra padding.  I slept well and wasn’t cold.

Still, getting up in the cold morning makes me a little grumpy.  At least I had my #zombieraccoon hat for warmth.

Zombie raccoon hat

I made coffee with a pour-over.  The water was heated on my Esbit stove.

My breakfast consisted of cookies.  It was enough to hold me to real breakfast.

We packed and headed back to town for breakfast at Twig and Leaf, which is a pancake and eggs kind of place.

Another S24O complete.  I enjoyed it.  I still need to buy better winter camping gear, but I did okay with the borrowed bag.


Car-Free – The First Year

One year ago today, I sold my truck back to the dealer and rode my bike home.  Since then most of my travels have been by bike.  I rented a car once, in January, for a trip to Bowling Green.  After a neck flare-up made riding the bike difficult, I spent some time taking the bus or a cab to work.  Luckily, the neck issue has improved.

There was some trepidation about living without a car.  There are still some things that are less than ideal (getting the dogs to the vet).  I’ve managed and I don’t regret the decision at all.

2012 has not been a good year for bike riding due to a number of health and mental issues.  I’m hoping my second car-free year is easier and happier.

This message was actually “pre-recorded” on 11/3, but won’t post until 11/4 at 9:00am.  I’ll be on a camping trip (by bike!) and won’t be able to post.

Winter Camping… Again

Although I did a four-day tour back in June, I’ve really enjoyed the quick overnight trips, that I’ve done in February and September.  Tim, Patrick, and I are leaving tomorrow for another quickie to Jefferson Forest again.  Asher may join us.

I still don’t have good cold-weather camping gear, but Timothy was kind enough to loan me his bulky, but warm, sleeping bag.

Due to the size of the sleeping bag, and the extra clothes I’ll be carrying for this trip, I’ll once again be riding the Big Dummy for it’s cargo capacity.  I’ll also put on the wideloaders to better help support the load.

As an aside, I’ve really grown to dislike the Xtracycle Freeloader bags.  I’ll probably replace them with something else when money allows.