Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Riding on Gravel is just like every other kind of riding


 Oh Yeah !
Despite a decade of Cyclocross racing and even more years of mountain bike riding I thought this gravel riding thing would be a different kettle of fish.  It turns out it is just like everything else.

It has taken me a while, but I am getting comfortable riding on unpaved roads for hours.  If we decided to measure the quality of a gravel road ride by the ratio of people you see per hours ridden then this weekend’s ride was a winner.  I felt like the only nut in the forest. 

With minimal prodding I have signed up for the Winthrop Gran Fondo later this month. This will fulfill a long held dream of riding a bike to Conconully.  With this event on the horizon I returned my beloved Curtlo to a racing configuration.  It likes being fast. The Curtlo has been my loyal companion for most of my gravel rides and all of the more adventurous ones, but it was configured for our pending summer odyssey and not racing. I removed the lights and rack and handlebar bag mount.  Now the Curtlo is once again all about speed and was begging me to abuse some forest service roads.

U2 sings about where the streets have no name but thanks to our government the roads in National Forests at least have numbers.  

Because getting lost and dying would be awkward I used MapMyRide to map my intended ride (BTW, I still have no idea why it is called MapMyRide).   I then downloaded it to my handy little Garmin just in case the road and my recollection of where I should go couldn’t find common ground. I tested the process during the week (on a local route) so when I flipped the switch as I departed Cabin dans la Foret I wasn’t surprised it worked just fine.

Low gearing and 35mm wide tires let me dispatch the first dusty climb with relative ease.  A sprinkling of shade kept me from overheating early on.  I was licking my chops at the prospect of an unhurried long ride. 

This section of road appears flat.  It is NOT!
Soon I was on a steep descent where I had to pick my way between sharp rocks.  The light colored gravel and the lack of tree cover made the eastward descent hot like I was on aluminum foil.   At the bottom I turned left and shortly thereafter I was headed east again on the day’s long climb.

4225 Lets you know you're alive...
Usually you can get in a rhythm on a longer climb, but this was not the case this day. The steepness of the grade was most often between four and nine percent but had extremes of zero to twenty percent.  The road surface required near-constant attention.  Avoiding big rocks and big holes and scanning the path ahead for the line with the least washboard kept my eyes busy.  In hindsight I am not sure if this distraction kept my focus away from my tired legs or if it prevented me from really pushing hard.

When you are riding up a twisty road in the mountains the trees and curves limit your view so you don’t know you are at the top until you are almost there which only adds to the confusion.  The sense of wonder of coming around a corner and seeing something new was very energizing.   The constantly changing topography, varying road conditions and going in and out of forest made it hard to read the grade.  I’ve taken pictures on my rides to convey the steepness of the grade only to have the road appear flat in the photo.  The only way to pace yourself is to settle into a level of effort/discomfort and just wait until you reach the top.

What is around the bend ?
I was drinking scratch labs and eating my world famous Total Energy Replacement Device bars (a.k.a. TERD bars).  The combo was working very well and I was feeling surprisingly strong.  I was wearing my Pactimo Raptor bibs which are fairly compressive and I am sure that helped with the vibration induced muscle fatigue.  The bibs are the best I have worn and I will share a review shortly. .  I had on my Specialized BG gloves that I bought at the foot of L’Alp d”Huez in France two years ago.  Those gloves proved to be workhorses that were wonderful for six to eight hour days in the saddle in the land of cheese.  When everything is working it is an awesome feeling.

In the past I have ridden my road bike all the way up to Loup Loup pass. That was a ride that dictated a certain level of swagger. This day I descended to Loup Loup pass from my gravel highpoint.  There was more climbing to come.  Bring it.
Fresh chip seal
It seems that only a few weeks ago I was whining about feeling weak.  This ride was over four hours and I could easily have gone longer.  When the road turned up I didn’t flinch, I just downshifted.  When I hit a downhill I was able to get some speed without fearing for my life. I found myself on some pavement and without the gravel crunching under my tires I was able to savor the silence and up my tempo. The bike was working well and so was my body. 

Tan lines have formed. My knee injury from last fall has settled into a final answer that is acceptable.   My stretching is paying off.  The hills have become my friends.

It turns out that gravel riding is just like everything else.  If you work at it and do it over and over sooner or later you get good at it.  I’ve logged some serious miles on these roads. I’ve dialed in this bike and I’ve got some good miles in these legs.  I guess it is like a lot of things. Repetitive hard work eventually pays off.   

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