So just when you think you've had enough racing for one year there is a new event that takes place 3 weeks after Iceman. Racing in November is pretty brutal no matter the event, but the Gravel Grovel in southern Indiana brings to meaning to pain. All I knew going in was that the race was 100km, rolling hills, and gravel roads. Couldn't be that hard right?
Well a few weeks ago I put my cross bike together thinking I was going to do the Icecross (the day after Iceman) but I never did. I hung it on a hook in my room and hadn't touched since putting it back in the car to head to the race.
I got to the race site nice and early to get registered, figure out what I was going to need to wear as the coldest air of the season had arrived, and also get some info on the course. The first thing I noticed was the number of mountain bikes rolling around. Hmmm, maybe most don't have cross bikes, which was partly true, but I would soon realize that wouldn't be a horrible option. Finally Greg Strock showed up and I started discussing the course with him as he pre rode the two previous weeks.
Some of the highlights from that conversation that really stuck out where, 4-5hrs to preride the 100km, the deep gravel, single track, dead cows, and creek crossings. Maybe this was going to be a little more then just riding some gravel roads.
So with well over a 100 riders at the start, and not many really knowing what to expect, this day would turn out to be brutal, epic, unprecedented, and rewarding to finish. Who started off the fastest, no one other then Birdman, but as fast as he took off is about as fast as he went back to the draft.
The first hill of the day started only a few miles down the road which had soon turned to gravel. I would encounter my first mishap of the day, the kind that would not be a problem if I did that whole riding the bike before you race it thing. Also known as a shake down cruise. But anyways before I knew it I was shifting the rear cog and ended up in my big, big and apparently my chain was not long enough and it locked up. After getting it unjammed I sprung back up to get to the front of the group which was quickly shattering. I managed to tag on the back of the front group which was pulling away.
Soon enough the real fun of the day began when we hit the 8km section of single track. It was muddy, tons of leaves, creek crossings, log crossings, rocks, and gravel. It would be rough on a mountain bike, and most where on cross bikes. Personally I felt like I was bouncing off trees and rocks and falling into lines that didn't exist, but at least I wasn't the only one. Only one rider looked good going through it, and he was pulling away. I just happened to catch on the back of him going up a good climb, but then there was a giant log that we had to throw our bikes and body's over. It was straight down the other side and again he was pulling away. Off a few more trees and my rear wheel skewer had come open. So a quick stop to fix and I was back on my way only loosing a place or two. We were getting to the end of the single track and my bike felt weird and something was off. I looked down and my stem was cocked off to the right. As soon as the road opened up I stopped and twisted it back into place.
There was a bit of regrouping at this point and I went straight to the front to bring it all back. We started a bit of rotating, but most of the group was hesitant. Eventually we got to a long uphill drag and I put some pressure on the pedals and pulled away with Greg. We had a good gap and worked together. Unfortunately though my stem had swung to the right again and at this point I knew I was going to have to tighten with an allen key. As I stopped to straighten it out again Birdman had caught up with one other rider, and I handed him my glove so I could get my tool out of my pocket and tighten on the fly. I got the top bolt tightened and went to tighten the bottom and I dropped the wrench. Crap. I stopped, flipped it, picked up my wrench and tightened everything down, and had been passed by two riders.
I got back on and started to chase. My main motivation to get back to the front group was to get my glove as it was barely 40 degrees and my hand wouldn't last another 40 miles. Luckily I was able to get back up to them after 5 miles of pain. Of course as soon as I get back up we're about to start a nice little climb and Chad looks back goes to give me my glove, but drops its. Ughh. I stop to get it and start the climb with no speed, as Chad decided he had enough fun riding hard. Luckily the chase back on this time wasn't as long and only took a couple of miles.
The three of us continued to work together for a long while. Heading down roads, dirt/gravel roads, closed roads, over barriers closing off bridges, and so on. At one point we were going down a gravel road, which was no different then any other and started to pitch up on smooth black top that was oddly out of place. More pressure was put on the pedals and Greg and I were gone again. We immediately picked up the pace and headed for a turn around. Coming close to it with 20 miles to go we hit yet another gradual climb and I ended up pulling away just before the turn around. I make the turn around and notice the 3rd place rider not that far off of Greg, so there would be no waiting and I would go at it alone.
This may have been some of the most painful 20 miles of riding I have every done. I just grounded away only thinking about getting to the same single track section we started with. I figured if I got there I knew it would be a touch easier. After what seemed like an eternity I had arrived. Unfortunately it didn't go as smoothly as I had hoped. Being more tired it felt like I was crawling through it. Then I hit the climb with the log at the top. As soon as I got off my bike to get over I could really feel my legs. I popped on leg over and ended up just sitting there for sec and thinking how I could stay here for ever. But I pressed on, had my legs completely burn up on the last climb, and rode to the finish alone with time to spare. It's been a while since I felt that completely worn down.
The awesome Trophy. It looks good next to my toasters. I really enjoy getting the exotic trophy.
The better part of the day came when more riders finished and we headed to the bar which was in the basement of the store on the start/finish line. Riders would trickle in with that worn down look, getting food, beer, and telling war stories of the day. It was turning into a full days event as the 100km took myself 3hrs and 15min full on and so others were still trickling in 5 hours after the start. This had to turned out for everyone to be just that little bit harder, but more rewarding challenge then ever imagined. I would recommend anyone doing this, either to race, for fun, or just a sense of accomplishment. What a fun way to get out the day after Thanksgiving and enjoy some beautiful riding and great company.