Doing it all the hard way...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

There are no rules in a knife fight; Yet more gravel riding lessons

Up there !

I am really enjoying dabbling into the world of gravelriding. Each adventure is a revelationand every time I learn something I didn’t know before. On my most recent foray I was accompanied bylegendary epic aficionado KB. He too suffers from the juxtaposition of both a tendency to over analyze a topic and the tenet of trying to keep it simple.


We combined an assortment of roads that had been recon’don earlier adventures into a near perfect off pavement smorgasbord of fun.


On the paved approach we were like a couple of Cyclocross racers sitting in the starting grid checking out each other’s bike set up. I was checking out KB’s tires and he waseyeing my crankset.

The paved road turned steep which served to take the chill off the morning. The blue skies promised warmer temperatures as the ride progressed. We hailed our two favorite road signs; first the PAVEMENT ENDS sign gives notice the fun is about to start. Then we passed the PRIMITIVE ROAD NO WARNING SIGNS (which is in fact a warning sign) and we knew we were entering the kingdom of Oz.

When the pavement ends, the fun begins !

I was riding the bike I intend to take on the Gravel Odyssey which is my Curtlo Cyclocross bike equipped with some 35mm ClementX’Plor USH tires that are 35mm wide. KB was on his adventure bike set up with Clement X’Plor MSO in 40mm. I had installed a 2x10 38/24 front crank that I have had in my garage since I don’t know when. I had been commuting with this setup for a couple, weeks and it still isn’t dialed in. I expect I will change out the big ring to something with more teeth in June.


As the dusty climb kicked up I dropped into the small ring (and I do mean small) and kept spinning. KB dropped into his lowest gear and had to get out of the saddle. We agreed that the ability to downshift and maintain an “All-Day” cadence could be a life (or at least a knee) saver on our upcoming epic. We discussed low gearing options for KB.


Having previously ridden this road on my 28mm Hutchinson Sectours I took note of how much more traction I had with the 35mm Clements. KB likewise had good traction as we climbed up the loose sandy road. One of the benefits of this improved traction is it freed my attention to focus on other things. Birds singing and seeing a deer running in a field below were my reward.


Occasionally we would get out of the saddle for a short steep hump and experienced a bit of rear wheel slip which was cured by shifting our weight back over the rear wheel. The ability to stay seated had abig advantage traction-wise and the low gearing made that possible. Lesson learned.

On our descents the fatter tires made all the difference in the world. Balky Hill road had been a nervy experience a few weeks ago on my 28mm wide tires but was nothing special on the 35’s. We still found it wise to manage our speed on curvy descents. You can’t steer when you are in the air and severe washboard means a lot of the time you are in the air and thus compromises your ability to turn or even slow down. Earlier lesson reinforced.


We found that smooth lines were often elusive and if we were descending side by side on tire tracks we would shout to each other if we found a smooth line and could see the other person oscillating, or as wecame to refer to it, “Doing the washboard shuffle.” We jumped back and forth across the road chasing good lines. Communication was good. Lesson noted.

It is all here. Steep, washboard, cliff, rocks, loose. Nirvana.

If you sliced a cross section of road into five equal pieced and numbered them one to five you would have something like this. Sections one and five are the edges of the road and can at times be the smoothest and best line and at other times be strewn with rocks or soft sand. Plus there is that whole mountain cliff over the edge thing. Sections two and four are the tire tracks but often have washboard to one degree or another. Potholes are another feature that makes these sections “interesting.” Section three is the middle of the road which can either be smooth sailing or a rocky nightmare.


At different points during the day each of these sections provided refuge and at other times the whole road was strewn with rocks and we found ourselves weaving through what felt like a mine field. Adapt your speed and technique to the terrain. Lesson noted.


Once again one of the truths of combined adventure riding emerged loud and clear. Tire choice is about accepting compromise. At sometimes the tires didn’t matter. At other times the wider the tire the better and at other times the reverse was true. No tire works well all the time. Deal with it. Lesson accepted with minimal angst.


If our group eventually managed to agree on a single winning tire for a particular portion of gravel (universal agreement is highly unlikely) and we all rode that tire then we would all experience the same strengths and weaknesses on our trip. What a boring experience that would be. I think part of the attraction of this trip will be the texture of constant dialogue along the lines of, “what is working for YOU?” that has the potential to entertain us geeks all day long.

KB says you can do it all with Wool and Titanium

What if someone shows up with 23mm road tires and someone else has 45mm monster cross tires? It could happen. I can envision me being slow on the paved descents (not much of a top end gear) and someone else being slow on the gravel climbs (I’m hoping that isn’t also me). I can picture KB flying on the loose down hills and McWoodie sailing up the loose climbs. I imagine everyone will need to exercise some patience at one time or another.


I am beginning to think that the biggest challenge we will face will be accepting the mix of strengths and weaknesses during the day’s ride. Those with tires on the narrow side will be faster on the road and slower on the rough. Those with fat tires will be sure footed thus faster on descents and loose climbs but will lag on the pavement. In addition some riders are just stronger than others. How do we keep that mess together?


The answer would seem to be to adopt a team philosophy and just solider on as a group. This will be a challenge as our band of merry men is composed of about a dozen racers who all live to get to the top of the hill first. We pin on numbers and race. Even our weekly “friendly” rides are in fact throwdowns that only fuel our competitive nature.


For almost all of us, these epic adventures are the focus of the previous six months of training. The idea of “Ready, set, wait for the slow guy” isn’t what fueled the fire during those long wet base mile slogs in March. It was the thought of getting to the top first and riding strong. This could be a challenge.


My approach has been to treat the challenge of riding as a group as a problem to be solved. We are problem solvers by nature and that is part of the attraction of Cyclocross. Cyclocross racing is a complex problem with numerous and ever changing variables that makes for an almost never ending learning experience. When you get it all dialed in it is very rewarding.

Let the good times roll

The challenge will be to get a gaggle of alpha males to function as a team and get everyone across the finish line. We could approach our ride as if it was one of the Rapha Gentlemen’s races. In those events your whole team has to finish together.


As I learn this and that about gravel I guess it gets back to the same place as the rules for knife fighting. There are no rules, just make it up as you go. Unlike a knife fight though, you can have multiple winners.


When the road ends, keep riding.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Legs o’ Noodles

Faster Times..
Perhaps the reason you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is because the old dog is struggling just to remember the old tricks.

Over the past few years my training has followed a familiar pattern.  I ramp up volume and/or intensity and feel strong like bull one day and then a couple days later my legs turn to jello.  After the cycle repeated itself several dozen times I finally recognized the pattern.  This recognition coincided with my occasional revisiting of Joe Friel’s book, “The Cyclists Training Bible.”  Following Joe’s advice I began scheduling easy weeks every three or four weeks.

Now before I pull a muscle by reaching around to pat myself on the back to acknowledge my wisdom I must confess my body doesn’t seem to care much what I write down as far as training plans.  Despite channeling the German portion of my mutt-like ancestry and trying to plan my training to an OCD level of detail, my body has no qualms overruling the written plan and telling me I need to take some easy days RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW.
I actually had socks like these once a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

Such was the case this week. My written plan was to have next week be an easy week.  After a nice block of training that included seven rides last week I took a day off and then enjoyed a spin class with Smilin’ Geoff.  Wednesday I hopped on the bike and felt like a fat kid riding on fly paper. On my morning bike commute I felt like I was riding two gears too high the whole time.  Granted the bike is festooned with a rack and pannier, handlebar bag, five pound bike lock and bulbous tires, but even so, it felt slower than usual.

My HR wasn’t out of line for my speed and I wondered it was my legs or motivation that was lacking.  I pushed a bit and my body pushed back.  I declined further argument and declared it a recovery ride and dropped a gear.   

On the way home that evening I opted to take it easy unless my legs showed themselves to be exceptionally spry.  Consistent with my morning ride I had the infamous “Legs o’ Noodles,” which mandated a slower pace.  Not unlike drivers of old VW’s I just sat back and waited to get to my destination.  “Recovery ride,” I said to myself.
The infamous Sleeping Gnome of Cyclocross !

We have had an exceptional run of nice weather and my homeward commutes have been in short sleeve jerseys.  It seems that only a month ago I was marveling that I could ride without a headlight and now the evenings are long enough I contemplate longer routes home just for fun.
Remember when it was cold ?
Everything gets easier as summer approaches.  My commute laundry is half the size it is in winter.  My time from desk to street is shorter without having to put on jackets, beanies and shoe covers.  In a few weeks school will be out for the summer and the morning streets will be safer without the frenzied and distracted soccer moms driving their offspring to school in weaving minivans.
Right.  On so many levels..

I will gladly concede that indeed I am an old dog.  While the subject of new tricks is worth a discussion, it won’t happen today.  The message today is that for an old dog, I sure seem to struggle just remembering the lessons I should know by heart based on the number of repetitions I have lived through.  Such is my life. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Logging Roads

I was young once......  Don't let this happen to you !

My Gravel Odyssey is just over two months away and my training has been lacking.  In 2012 when our gang headed to France my training started in December and carried me to the top of The Galibier and Alp d’Huez.  Last year my training for our Volcanoes adventure had a similar focus and result.  In 2014 Injury and illness killed my road racing season and left me about a thousand kilometers behind my training of the previous years. 

Now is NOT the time to ramp it up; it is way past that time.  It is time to open up a big ol’ can of mileage and dive in with both feet.  Sadly it doesn’t come in a can.  I simply gotta go and ride and ride and ride.

I told a friend of mine at work that my goal for the weekend was to ride a hundred miles.  Dry weather and an understanding and supportive Hottie meant it was all up to me.  Late Saturday morning I rolled out on dusty roads with jersey pockets full of food. After a dozen miles of off road I was on pavement and heading toward Washington Pass.  There was a threat of thunderstorms which I chose to deny.

I had ridden this pass last year in June when I was fit and ready to fly.  This time I was neither and a merciless headwind only added to my suffering.  I was healthy now, so the only pain I felt was the combination of how hard I wanted to push and my lack of fitness.

When I rode this last year I did the whole climb without having to go into my lowest gear.  This time I found myself going there often. The headwind seemed to add a thousand feet to the more than three thousand foot climb.   I kept looking up the road; my eyes straining to see the next mile marker telling me that for all of my grinding I was at least getting closer.

This was only the second weekend the pass had been open to car traffic and the last thousand feet I was riding between two walls of snow.  The cloudy skies gave the chill a little extra “bite.” My legs and low back were aching from the effort and getting out of the saddle provided only a moment of relief before my quads let me know they were at their limit.

I was trying to stay out of zone five but when the grade spiked now and then I found myself logging time in the deepest caverns of the pain cave.  The last miles before “the hairpin” were relentless and when I finally made the right hand turn for the final portion I was glad the top was near.   The snow bank to my right blocked my view down canyon.  Soon the sign marking the pass was in sight and it was time to eat and put on my vest and sleeves for the descent.  An icy wind was whipping and there was no need to stay a minute longer than necessary.

 Makes you want to bust out the Hawaiian shirt and flip flops eh ?

I ate, bundled up, snapped a photo and then turned my bike west and smiled at the prospect of a fifteen mile downhill.  I was grateful for the vest and sleeves and I convinced myself I wasn’t cold as I rocketed down the road with snowbanks on both sides of the road.   My heavy tires were solid on the one technical corner and then I was spinning as fast as I dared.

The mile markers flew past as my speed hovered between fifty and sixty-five kilometers per hour.  Soon the chill was gone and then I was downright hot. I sat up and pulled off and stashed my vest and then did the same with my arm warmers.

After dropping three thousand feet I was on the warm valley floor and now the wind was at my back. I stayed in the drops and cranked.  The tendon over my right kneecap felt tender as it always does when I start doing my longer training rides.  It was a familiar ache and it meant I was on the path.  I took it as a good sign.

I rode through two spots where the pavement was soaked from thunderstorms.  I was still dry. Four and a half hours after leaving I was back at the cabin and heading for the shower. 

Sunday I was sore but wanted to log some miles so I promised myself they would be easy miles.  Like the fool that I am I believed myself. I chose a route that was mostly off paved roads.  After a few easy miles my legs felt better and then I started climbing on a loose gravel road.  Every now and then I found my pedal stroke smoothing out and the climbing just got easier than when I was mashing the pedals.

Near the top of the climb I seemed to pass though an imaginary wall and found my long distance mojo. My pedal stroke rounded out and I could get out of the saddle and despite feeling soreness in my legs I had some power. It may just have been endorphins but I felt stronger.

The descent on the backside was looser than I wanted and I dropped a thousand feet feathering the brakes the whole way.  Finally the forest opened up and I was greeted by this view.

From here the road dropped 500 feet in less than a mile and I was grateful I didn’t do this route in reverse as this grade would be fatal approached from the south.

After a few paved miles I was back on familiar dirt and then back at the cabin.

Including my run with Tux I was just short of a hundred miles for the two days with 7,500+ feet of climbing much of it on gravel roads.  I noticed I had some tan lines forming on my legs and arms.  Nice.   

This was a similar experience to the previous two springs.  Those tan lines are visible evidence of the miles I have been logging. The smoother pedal stroke is the result of riding farther and farther.  It was clear to me that for all of the talk about intensity versus volume, the volume still counts. 

I can focus on pedal stroke and I can eat salads for lunch every day but the coin of the realm is mileage and there is no substitute for that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

More Gravel Lessons

I have been exploring Washington’s back roads and gaining more experience than I expected.  I took a long ride Sunday morning and I observed on my Evo graph that as the ride progressed, the quality of the road declined along with my speed.  However, there was an absolute inverse correlation in which the adventure and cool factor went up proportionally as the road quality declined.

While not essential to the story, I did have a unique experience on the first part of the ride.  As I was riding along marveling at the peace and quiet I heard something unusual and looked overhead as an F-18 buzzed the canyon I was in.  He was going the same direct as I was just five hundred miles per hour faster and a thousand feet higher.  Some might complain about disturbing the tranquility of nature, but the disruption was less than twenty seconds and if that is the price we pay for freedom, I don’t dare complain.   Besides, it was cool.

Not my photo, but this is an F-18
After a dozen miles of road I turned onto Forest Service Road 37.  
At first the pavement was little changed from the county road that brought me there.  However, potholes quickly appeared as well as rows of long cracks in the pavement.  Being under snow for three or four months a year is hard on the pave’.  The road snaked back and forth and up and less up as I went deeper and deeper into the forest.
As the pavement deteriorated and gravel and rocks became more and more prevalent I found myself weaving all over the road trying to take the best lines through the rocks and dirt.  This wasn’t an issue as I wasn’t going very fast. The grade kicked up every now and then to remind me that rhythm can be elusive on these less traveled roads.  

The constantly changing terrain may have made it hard to find my pedaling groove, the scenery was awesome, the air was crisp and clean and I found myself in tune with the forest.
Going up the deep canyon the road was at times right next to the river while other times it was above or away from the water.  The roar of the river was faint at times and thundering when the road was close and the grade steep. After climbing through thick forest I emerged to find bright yellow Arrow Leaf Balsam Root flowers adorning the more open slopes.

After crossing a bridge there was no further hint of pavement and the grade ticked up as well.  This was the E-Ticket adventure that I had hoped for. The surface had a bit of sand on it which provided some extra spinning when you got out of the saddle.  You could maintain traction if you kept your weight back but the grade inspired you to stand and shift your weight as far forward as possible to increase your pedaling leverage.  My CX experience comes into play more often than I might have thought.

Amazing what an idiot and a flame can do 
The surprise this day was the washboard surface.  My 28’s are pretty cushy yet the washboard was slowing me down as I couldn’t float and found myself rocking as I made my way up the double digit grade.  I was Jonesing for some fatter tires to soak up the bumps.
I was using all of my cassette but on this part of the ride my smaller cogs weren’t getting any action. I was trying to avoid pedaling squares as I fought my way up a never ending left hand bend wrapped around the side of the mountain.   Every dozen seconds I would scan up ahead to see if the road flattened out.  The road kept curving into the mountain and out of view at a constant 10-12% grade.  There was no relief in sight.  I was getting warm.  

My Garmin device beeps at me if my cadence drops below sixty rpm and it was beeping a lot. Although it is a pretty impressive bit of technology, it does not respond to my verbal instructions to “shut the hell up.”

The sandy washboard made standing tricky. The grade made it hard to stay seated.  The length of the climb exceeded anything you could just muscle through.  This was some good riding.

I checked my time and I was fast approaching my turn around time.  The climb was hard and while I was looking forward to turning around I wasn’t in a hurry to do so. I felt good and needed the miles. To complicate the dilemma I am a “what’s around the next corner?” kind of guy on a road I had never ridden before.  The grade dropped back to 6-8% which allowed some recovery and an increase in speed. 

The road appeared to flatten out a few hundred yards ahead next to a small stand of pines so I kept going.  I reached the pines and the road was still going uphill. It still looked like the road topped out a couple hundred yards further and I kept going a bit more.

After another hundred yards I realized I was being teased with some kind of cruel optical illusion and the road would never flatten out. The next day I checked a map and found that the road actually climbed another two thousand feet before topping out. I think it was CX racer Tim Johnson who once said that “False flat is the new downhill.”  I was eight minutes past my turn around time and I stopped and drank from my bottle.  I looked up and down the canyon and was glad to be here. 
And back down..

I pointed my bike downhill, shoved off and clipped in.  Instantly the washboard was tossing me around like a bull riding cowboy.  My lines kept changing as I was trying to find the least lumpy line.  Center looks okay, no time to try the left, okay let’s try the right side; I kept hunting.  I thought it prudent to stay away from the cliff side of the road.

On the descent the cool air chilled my sweat and I wasn’t hot anymore.  I had my vest in my pocket but I didn’t need it yet. 

At times the washboard was synced with my wheelbase and the whole bike would go up and down and other times the wheels would go up then down at opposite times. I can’t say I developed a favorite between the two.   

After what felt like a long time the grade finally lessened and after a sandy section there was some better hard pack and finally the patchy pavement that I thought was so rough a little more than an hour earlier now felt like glass. 

Even on the better road the descent was still steep.  Braking on a descent is depressing.  Debris on the road, the steepness of the grade, tight turns and the quality of the pavement forced me to keep my speed in check.  I saw the second car of the day going in the opposite direction.  I pulled off and waved it past.

Down, down, down I went. The beauty had distracted me on the climb and only now did I realize how much I had climbed. By now I had dropped over two thousand feet and was hitting thirty miles an hour on decent pavement.  Another ten minutes brought me to the end of the FS road and back on county maintained pavement.

All too soon the road turned up and my legs felt stiff after the long descent so I dropped down into the small chainring and began climbing again.  I looked down the canyon and could see dark clouds over my destination. The rain had held off all morning and I was convinced I was doomed. 

A minute later I felt the first heavy drop glance off my nose.  I sat up and pulled my trusty and awesome Pactimo Breckenridge vest out of my jersey pocket and put it on and grit my teeth preparing for the deluge.  This vest is my security blanket when the weather is iffy.

As always happens on a long ride that includes off road, I marveled at the ease I could build speed when back on the pave’ and couldn’t help but accelerate.  I could see the dark clouds dropping their rain ahead and to my left.  I felt some more drops.  “Here it comes” I thought to myself.  

The storm was on the east side of the canyon going north and I was on the west side going south.  The edge of the rain was between us and I pushed my pace and wondered aloud if I might just get lucky.  I dropped into town and zipped though and was still dry.  It would be close……

On the climb to our Cabane dons la Foret I felt more drops and thought, “I’m only ten minutes away, hang on!”  Once off the paved road I still had a mile to get to the cabin and the precipitation could still be categorized as drops and not rain. 
After the rolling approach I was on familiar gravel and then on our porch.  I was dry, the rain was just starting.  I am one lucky bum.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Diamond and the Rough: Gravel riding tips and a wedding

Apparently this is how they roll (or not) on San Juan Island..
First the musings…

Hottie and I attended a wedding this past weekend.  In speaking with the mother of the bride she commented that weddings are often a place where you can look across the room at your ex-spouse and ask yourself what the hell you were thinking those many years ago.  For me it was a time to give thanks and realize that I am so lucky I found Hottie and tricked her into marrying me.  She is awesome.

Incidentally; Hottie went to the wedding locked and loaded and was able to capture her targets.
Hottie knows a thing or two about wedding photography..

The weekend had enough free time that I was able to sneak off and ride around San Juan Island.  I went from end to end and back again accumulating over 3,000 feet of climbing.  Here is the journey in photos:
 Lots of rolling farmland
 Awesome views
If I had a better Camera you would recognize that this is Canada.  
Can't you just smell the Tim Horton's ?
 Son of a Beach
 These reminded me of the Dutch buildings around Cape Town South Africa
 Nearing the end of the world
Evo Selfie
 Lighthouse at the end of the world
 Roche Harbour (getting my British on !)
 Hottie !
 I knew I was close to paradise..
 Someone found a way to mitigate the high gas prices on San Juan Island..

After returning home Sunday I met with McWoodie and KB and we hashed over some of the logistics for our summer odyssey.  Like recovering addicts we held out as long as we could before the conversation turned to bike equipment and our hands were dirty from the tires and wheels we were examining as we passionately exchanged opinions on tire selection.

Time constraints provided a timely end to our potentially perpetual prognostication. Only afterwards was I able to organize my random thoughts on tire choice for our road/gravel/dirt epic.

I have found that almost anything will work when climbing on dirt, gravel or pavement.  I’ve ridden everything from 23mm road tires to 3.8” fat bike tires on dirt and have a few observations. Realistically, loss of traction on a climb is pretty rare.  Even when it happens the correction is usually body positioning rather than tread choice. Riding on rolling or level surfaces isn’t too difficult and in those situations, tire selection is seldom a life or death matter.

The spectrum that has low rolling resistance on one end and comfort on the other is pretty predictable. Wide is comfy and narrower rolls faster. I realize this statement has a relevant range and for our discussion you can assume that the spectrum is bounded by 25mm on one side and 45mm on the other.  

Riding downhill is where the rubber meets the road, or lack thereof.  This is the situation where bad tire choices don’t just impact your level of effort, but can be the difference between a secure descent and unwanted excitement and scar accumulation.

The challenge is to find an optimal tire for the mixed conditions you encounter on your holistic ride.  You must first admit there will be compromises. Fat tires run at low pressure means comfort- but if you go too low you will get pinch flats and they will be slow on hard surfaces.  If the pressure is too high or the tires get too narrow then you get beaten to a pulp from vibration when you ride as well as losing traction thus sacrificing control.   

In the interest of brevity I’ll skip the whole tubeless topic for today. 

For most road/off road combination applications the ideal tire width is somewhere between 30-40mm.  The rest depends on the conditions that you expect to encounter.  If the route has more paved or hard packed sections then some high center tread is preferable to open knobs and a narrower tire will serve you best.  If your route is mostly off road the wider tires aren’t just softer and more comfortable, they get better traction and are therefore safer.

Bicycle touring tires can range from slicks to knobbies or crosshatched and even patterns that look like automobile tires.  Many tires include combinations of these options such as auto-like tread down the middle with knobs on the sides.  What is a boy to do?

A gravel tire is supposed to be a do-it-all tire. That sounds so simple.  It makes me crazy that the do-it-all tires are all so vastly different.  If tire makers can’t agree on what a do-it-all tire should look like, how am I supposed to choose?

One more variable to further your confusion is tire pressure.  The simple take is higher on the pavement and lower on the dirt.  I doubt I’ll see anyone stop and adjust pressure during the trip, but we’ll see.

Among the few upsides to the gravel grinder tire conundrum is that touring tires are typically pretty inexpensive and usually last a good while.  One of our happy throng was lamenting that he had three sets of slightly used Cyclocross racing tires and was reluctant to buy a fourth set for this trip. CX racing tires are expensive and would likely be bald after this trip so buying an inexpensive set and loading them with miles ultimately sounded more palatable to him. 

With the expanding popularity of gravel riding I expect it is only a matter of time before we see crazy high prices as they convince us that the do-it-all classification is actually so specialized (note the irony of the statement) that it justifies a higher price tag.  Sadly, there is little doubt I will drink the propaganda kool-aid and end up with a set in the years to come.
I rode this on road tires (28's) and lived to tell the tale !
On my ride a bit ago I was reminded of a fact that we all too often ignore.  The only labels that are on bikes (and tires) are the ones we place on them. We are the ones who label a bike as a road or mountain bike or call something a Cyclocross or cruiser bike. Then we stop at the edge of the grass like Moonlight Graham to avoid using a bike beyond our self imposed notion of its anointed purpose and limitations.

A bike wants to be ridden and generally it knows what to do when in motion.  When we were kids we rode stingray bikes on the roads for hours in blue jeans without a second thought.  Then in high school we took short cuts across dirt fields riding our ten speeds.  Those bikes didn’t balk at changes in terrain because they were meant to be ridden. 

A few years ago I was riding on remote back roads in central Washington with a group and we came to a section of road where the pavement had been torn up and there was gravel for an unknown distance.  Several of the group flat out refused to ride their road bikes on the gravel and ultimately we all turned around and backtracked.  To this day I feel that we made the wrong decision and that we imposed an unnecessary label and corresponding restriction on our bikes.  I have no doubt we could have ridden that road and our bodies and bikes would have been better for it.

That is part of what our trip this summer is all about.  Cyclocross is all about getting through a course with varied terrain and obstacles as fast as possible. The trip this summer is about travelling remote and beautiful roads on our bikes without flinching when the terrain and topography changes.  

After all this rambling what is my gravel riding tip? 
It is simply this:
Go ride.