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.

9 thoughts on “Gravel Grovel 2012”

  1. Great story. I am inspired by your stubbornness.

    DNF? No way, dude. It never was about the “race”. It was about getting out there and doing it. You started it, my friend, and you finished it. And you rock.

  2. I wish I could +1 Pondero’s comment. You did better than I did. My bike was a disaster from the word go because I was too disorganized to fix it properly in time for the race; you had your crap together. I’m proud of you for finishing this thing.

  3. Glad you got out there and did it! Time shmime…. You are correct about getting in bigger miles to prep for next year, as that will always help get you where you want to go! :-}

  4. You’re crazy … and yes, very stubborn. Way to go on finishing the race! I wouldn’t consider it a DNF, even though you finished after the time limit. I’m impressed with your willingness to suffer through it, apparently in fairly good spirits as well. I am in bad shape myself but I wouldn’t even attempt it. Too much of a sufferfest for me!

    I’m guessing the “not road” you’re talking about is Combs Road. I have ridden it quite a few times … but usually as a part of a much shorter ride that also includes singletrack. The horse trails in HNF can be nasty, but they’re also a blast.

  5. I’m perfectly content with the result. I knew I was in bad shape.

    Yes, it was a sufferfest, but it’s supposed to be. The important thing is feeling good afterward, and I do.

    Asher, my bike had was ready because I bought it specifically for this race and other gravel rides. It’s almost new. I’ve ridden it just enough to know it was right. I also didn’t change a thing, other than throwing on the rear rack, to avoid causing last-minute issues.

    I am crazy and stubborn. It’s part of what makes me who I am. 🙂

    Yes, the “not-road” is Combs Rd. That’s confusing, because another stretch of actual gravel road is called Combs Rd also.

  6. I was one of the two guys behind you. I, too, was determined to finish. I didn’t care about the DNF designation. I wore a blue jacket – the other guy (behind me) a green one. His rear drailiuer broke (he had taken it off of his bike) so he was stuck in one gear in the back with just the two rings in front – poor bastard! I’m not sure what happened to him. I finished the “race” as the tandem couple was leaving in their vehicle with the bike up on the roof. I win for being the last one to finish and leave!
    If you look in the background of the picture of you above, that’s me – number 280. You can’t see my face but you can see my number and blue jacket. I enjoyed reading your blogs – this year’s and last year’s.

  7. Mike,
    Are you sure you were behind me? I don’t remember you, but the tandem couple were ahead of me (I had passed them on Combs, but they passed me later).

    I didn’t see them when I arrived back at the camp. Maybe I just overlooked them.

    Either way, it was good to be out. I hope you come again next year!

  8. David,

    I’m fairly certain I was behind you. There was also a girl in front of me wearing a green jacket, riding a 26 inch mountain bike. Did you see her? I finished up in the dark and like I said, mine was the last car after the tandem couple left.

    I saw you during the first 10 miles – on the first hill, then on the out and back a few times. After that, i didn’t see you again.

    I haven’t decided about next year yet. I thought I’d be fine on this ride and was thinking i could do it in 6 hours or so. I ride every Sat and Sun, both road and mountain, so I thought I’d be ready for the grovel. I’m a year out from cancer, so I guess I don’t have my stamina back yet. Been riding for years.


  9. Good on ya for finishing the ride. Screw the time limit!

    Glad you feel good about doing so.

    I’ve been out of town, as you may already know. We’ll have to ride together soon.

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