Monday, November 21, 2011

grovelling for the Grovel

A group of us all decided a while ago to do the Gravel Grovel the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The GG is a 60m gravel race south of Bloomington, IN, terrain I've ridden in a couple times. Our usual gravel sojourns include *plenty* of time to smell the flowers, look at pretty trees and rest at the end of every challenge. I would call it 'gravel touring' instead of 'racing'. As such, there has been an impetus of late to up the ante a bit, increase the pace and fitness, limit the stops,and mentally prepare for a "race".

 Yesterday four of us- Timothy, Patrick, Dave and I- hit the roads north of New Washington, IN for 60+m of road and gravel, dare I say Training, in preparation for the GG. It further provided a shakedown ride for numerous new and reconfigured bike choices for the GG and the future. Oh, and it rained, not as much as Tuesday's Hundy, but it was another somewhat warm, very wet day on the bike. Because of the precip I don't have pics to share; you'll have to hit up Dave's entry for that. His bike pics, which I don't think he posted, are much better too; mine are shite. And his gps track is more functional, as mine ended up spliced into 3 sections. TechnoFailure all round. Suffice to say, though, that at the end of the day we were all good and knackered after a day of healthy pacing, challenging gravel and plenty of rollers to keep us honest.

Our exit from New Washington was uneventful and we quickly had to shed some layers around mile 6. Our first gravel arrived at Arbuckle Rd., a path Dave and I did in the past. Last night I remember it being a highlight as a series of field and trees tucked in tight along a creek. This time it had me strongly considering my bike choice- Foreshadowing- for GG. I again was riding my Crosscheck with its 35s, which I did to some success a few weeks ago in Henry Co. This section with its chunkier, softer surface pummeled my skinny skins. Patrick pulled on ahead a bit and we convened at the next turn to wait for the other two. What transpired was a 30min game of cat-and-mouse with us separated from Dave and Timothy. Apparently Dave had a different turn listed on his gps, one which passed a chained gate I had seen on Arbuckle. Text messages decided for us to move up on the course a bit to S. Hutchinson/Hutch Rd. They never showed. More text messages decided to meet and the end of Hutch. They never showed. A neighbor first and foremost warned that we "would be shot by hunters if we returned to the woods, oh, and  two cyclist had passed that way a while ago". Thanks. S.Hutchinson, as last time with Dave, was a highlight as one of the most non-road paths you can find in modernity. Great stuff.

So the cat-n-mouse continued until we caught Dave and Timothy after a 3m chase. The group then settled in to a group rhythm after which we found one of the next highlights of the day, a northern loop along what Dave said was a branch of the Muscutatuck (again, pic on Dave's site). This was a nice 3-4m stretch of more worked-in gravel with obvious tire tracks, and more hunters. The Crosscheck was much happier in this area and I found myself rethinking again. At some point we turned south into the wind and rain and headed on paved roads towards Hanover, stopping at some point to refit rain jackets for the increasing precipitation. The run into Hanover was uneventful albeit wet and foggy. After more technofumbling we found a pizza place to eat lunch where I ordered a small spaghetti, although Patrick's large looked much better. Warm food girded out bellies for the last 25m on the day. Little did we know the last 25 would be more challenging than the first 45.

We left Hanover diving down to the river on a white-knuckle descent on Hanover Beach Hill Rd. and hit the bottom land S. River Bottom Rd. along the Ohio. What began as a nice gravelly mundane section turned interesting after seeing a "Road Closed- Travel at your own Risk" sign. The road surface changed from rideable to boulderiffic. Patrick and Timothy with their 2.1s rode up the road while Dave and I on our 42s and 35s respectively really struggled for purchase and a straight line. In hindsight this stretch only lasted perhaps three miles, but it erased any chance of me riding the Crosscheck for GG. I need big rubber for similar potential sections. No, the 29er ride won't be as nimble, comfortable or even fun, but that three miles was a near-low point.

We climbed out of the river valley on W.Prospect Rd., again, a road Dave and I had previously ridden. I remember it being easier last time, but perhaps that was the mileage speaking. I recently had a 'pie-plate' cassette put on the CC, and the gearing change worked to excellent effect on most of the route. On this climb, though, I would have preferred a nice granny ring to save the legs. I outclimbed the others not due to inherent strength, but that I had to push a larger gear because I had no bail. Whew!

At the top we faced a headwind and tiring legs. I took a little runner through Saluda, IN at what could have been a school and pushed the pace a bit across Big Saluda Creek and turned left onto Taylor- another Dave and I road- and was prepared to up the ante. My legs were tired but I still felt relatively good. Taylor changed that. Last time through I really enjoyed Taylor for its sweep and farm vistas. This time, again, the surfaced had been recently graded and proved chunky, soft, and mostly miserable on the 35s. Again, the 29er was stuck in my mind. We turned left towards a short section of gravel on which I refused. I would meet the others at the end but none for me, thanks. They easily obliged and we turned south into the wind where we met more gravel before finally turning west, finding more slog, er, gravel along Little Egypt Rd. and then *finally* meeting our southwesterly roads that took us back to New Washington. For some reason I took a runner the last four miles or so and barreled head down into the wind and finished "first". Today I feel more beat up- much more beat up- than I did on Tuesday's century, so I'm not quite sure that was a good idea.

Dave put together an outstanding course with a significant amount of gravel, which was perfect for GG practice. Also, while the 60F and raining weather wasn't optimal for sunshine cyclists, I think it made for a more memorable and productive day of "training"; it certainly felt more like training than usual, with some big efforts here and there to make things interesting. I enjoyed it thoroughly and will probably find it more fun than the actual Grovel this upcoming Sunday.

And now, new bike list (with terrible flash pictures):
Patrick's new Fargo3, running Woodchippers, Kenda Smallblock 8s and an Old Mountain rack. He wanted more hauling practice, so he asked to carry my rain jacket for part of the ride. I obliged.


Timothy's new Origin 8 dedicated gravel monstercross machine. I don't know as many of the specs, but it seems like a great set-up with compact double gearing, Kenda tires and a couple different bags for carrying all the shit needed for rainy gravel grinders.



Dave's LHT with 42 Schwalbes and fenders. He rode his standard machine and complained less than the rest of us. Lesson to be learned?

**I just erased by Crosscheck pic. I'll have to do a separate entry.

4 comments:

David Crowell said...

It's not that I didn't complain... It's just that nobody heard me way at the back of the pack. :)

The LHT did fine, but I'm taking off the fenders and switching to the 47s for Gravel Grovel. I could have really used wider tires on River Bottom Rd.

Strangely, I felt much better today than I did after last Tuesday's century. I'm guessing it was the pizza I ate mid-ride yesterday.

Tex69 said...

Opposite for me. I've been wiped out all day, although during the ride I didn't feel terrible save a couple of the gravel sections.

Pondero said...

The gravel around here must be generally pretty good. My 42s seem good most of the time. There are some deeper areas that are a challenge at times. I'm curious to see the final equipment choices.

Tex69 said...

@Pondero, I do think there is a reasonable difference between Dave's 42s and my 35s. Mine sort of knifed in to the gravel. And, as stated, I think much of it was freshly graded, which softened things up.

My GG rig will be posted later today. Gotta make some tweaks.

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