If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you might remember one of my very earliest posts: a race report from the Almanzo Gentlemen’s Ride. Almost 3 years ago, I toed the fairly informal starting line of this race, which would be the first time I did a century. Given the comments that I made in that post, it would be fair to never expect me to do another one. Ever. I mean, really:
Around the 4 hour mark, I was grumpy. I wanted to go faster. I wanted to be done. Things got better after the 6 hour mark, but by hour 8 I was pretty sick and tired of the whole thing. By hour 9, I wanted nothing more than to see mile 103 on my Garmin and to roll back into the parking lot. In every race I’ve ever done, there’s always a point where you hurt from the effort and think to yourself, “Why am I doing this? Why can’t I just be done now?” Usually, there’s something that causes that feeling to go away — usually a sweet descent. But I’ve never had the feelings like I had at hour 4 where I completely stopped having fun for a while. I did not want to ride my bike one meter farther.
So when my teammate from that Gentlemen’s Ride announced he was going to put on his own gravel race around the Ottawa National Forest , why did I even send in my postcard? Seemed kind of stupid. However, it sounded great this year, and I registered.
I prepared maniacally. I downloaded the GPX file and made a course on my Edge 500. I printed out the cue sheets and mapped out the route on paper maps. I tried to get my Continental Cyclocross Speed tires setup tubeless. I made Feed Zone rice cakes and tried to determine exactly how many bottles of Skratch Labs Hydration mix I would need. I mounted a cage on my third set of mounts on the underside of the downtube (I’ve had the bike for 5 or 6 years and have never even unscrewed the bolts!). I bought extra tubes and a patch kit and tire boots…
Doing the prep so far ahead of time, I found that the Contis do not set up well tubeless. I went out for a shakedown ride and had the front tire completely blow off the rim at 20 mph, with only 40 psi in them. I was feeling pretty confident in everything else.
As with the Chain Drive, I obsessively checked the weather and saw projected temps range from 70 to 87 degrees. It turned out it was around 60 degrees when we pulled out. I put on the knee warmers but took them back off quickly. I thought I had left my Garmin at home, but my wife found it under my bag of stuff. I loaded up my pockets full of food, tools, arm warmers and a light jacket. Following the leadout vehicle, I was tapping out an easy rhythm while a few people pushed the pace just a bit. At this point a guy in a Blackrocks Brewery jersey asked me if I would be writing this race up for my Twin Six blog, as he actually reads it. Crazy. Shout-out to the Blackrocks Brewery guy!
We worked our way through some two-track and back onto some wider gravel roads. Two riders pulled away, but I let them go. We had 80 miles to go. That wasn’t the time to dig too deep. Instead, I chatted with a couple of guys who had come all the way up from Chicago. Gravel grinders are great for getting to know people. We did eventually catch that group of riders just at the Silver Mountain checkpoint (33.8 miles in) and then began a long, hard climb out of the Sturgeon River Gorge. At that point, the group was whittled down to me, a guy on a Trek Top Fuel and one of the guys from Chicago. That was the status for the next 65 miles. We plugged along, chatting occasionally, drinking, eating and just absorbing the enormity of what we were doing. There were some stellar views from the top of the Gorge and a general sense that everything was alive. The trees were bright green, the forest floor was covered in ferns and other leafy brush. The roads were a little muddy and slow, but nothing horrible. And so we just kept ticking off the miles until we returned to the start area after completing about 66 miles.
The organizer had some pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw at the checkpoint, which all three of us hungrily wolfed down. All told, we spent about 10 minutes there eating, refilling water bottles and ditching extra clothing. Here is where I made a fatal mistake: I forgot to grab any more food. I had three new bottles, but after bringing 10 rice bars, I left them all in the cooler. This was a big deal.
When we got started again, I knew that stopping as long as we had was a big mistake. My legs were just not responding the way they had been earlier. I was struggling to keep the wheel of my riding mates. I pressed on as best as I could until there was about 10 miles to go. That’s when the wheels fell off. I was down in my smallest gear to climb up hills that didn’t seem that big. My right knee was starting to hurt with a sharp pain whenever I really pedaled hard. My companions easily rode away from me. I learned later that our 100-mile race came down to a final sprint! I rolled in 6 minutes later, having lost almost a minute per mile in the last 50 minutes of riding. But I finished.
My Garmin recorded 114.7 miles in total. 7:21 total time on the bike. And you know what? I definitely enjoyed it. The last 10 miles were so hard, but I was proud of what I accomplished. There was still a point where all three of us in my group were ready to be done, even with 20 miles left to go. I never stopped having fun this time.
The variety of events I’ve done so far this year makes me happy. 70 miles on a mixture of pavement and gravel. 16 miles of mountain biking. 104 miles (or so) of gravel. Looking forward to the two-tracks and pavement of the Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic and the singletrack of Copper Harbor.
When the 2014 Sturgeon 100 rolls around, I’ll be there again. Next time I plan to eat enough!