I think I mentioned yesterday that I intended to ride quite a few miles during my day off. The big plan was to ride my very first hilly gravel ride. I had been convinced to do this with my favorite riding partner, who has been asking me to ride gravel for some time now. There is an upcoming area organized gravel ride that he is one of the organizers for, and we had decided to ride out to the start of the route, ride the shorter route, and take notes on any big problems that might need to be rectified prior to the official ride. We also took along the person who will be the ride leader for that route, an experienced gravel rider I had not met before.
I figured I’d use the blog as a way to sum up my first ride, as it was a very exciting day for me. My friend and I left my place at 8 to head to a park and meet up with the person who will lead the ride. We then rode over to the starting point, and I found myself already getting nervous. You see, I can’t keep up with these guys no matter how hard I try, and I was so desperate to keep up in the city and not get lost, that I was pushing myself very hard.
We got to the starting point and I was given a cue sheet, something I’ve never used before. Ideally these would be used with a bike computer. But, I do not use a bike computer anymore, as it makes me a nervous rider. I constantly look to see how fast I am going, how far I’ve gone, how much farther I have to go, and so on. All of these things take away from my enjoyment of the ride, I stress instead of looking around, seeing the sights, and just enjoying being on my bike. I loved eliminating the bike computer from my life.
However, with the cue sheet, you are to reset your computer at the start of the ride, and then follow the cues, at the appropriate mileage. I was worried about this too, as my sense of direction is pretty much full of fail. But, the little indicators show what kind of turn or road crossing you are to do. Very simplistic, very easy to read, and I no longer had an overwhelming sense of dread over getting lost.
And then it was time for gravel! I was indeed a bit nervous and hesitant at first. But I had two experienced people giving me tips and instructions and looking out for me. With the confidence of the cue sheet, I was free to take my own pace on the hills, and I eventually found that when I stopped trying to keep up, I actually rode faster and was able to catch up again more quickly.
We ran into a few snags here and there. One being a farmer who was oiling the gravel road in front of his house with his truck. The oil spilled out of a tank in the back of his truck, and it smelled extremely foul. It was all over the gravel, and he was still applying it. He was clearly uninterested in taking a break from this job as we rode through. We got into the ditch at the side of the road and rode that way, even though it was very difficult. I’d gotten a bit behind again, and had a very scary moment when his large white truck was attempting to make a turn, and seemed to care not in the least I was in front of him. Perhaps he knew I was there, and perhaps he knew he would not hit me. However, the nose of a large white truck coming so close to me and my bike was very unnerving. After this, we were absolutely coated in this rancid oil, and of course then the gravel began to stick to us and our bikes. Not the most pleasant experience.
As we continued on I became more and more comfortable with the gravel. I could tell where my bike needed to be in order to be most efficient. I became more comfortable in my lower gears as the gravel provides quite a bit of resistance in the ride. Sadly, my bike, needing a tune up, would not allow me to stay in the lowest gear, it would just pop back out. I suspect after a tune up, I might do even better.
We then came upon a section of the ride where we were to ride a limestone trail. A trail that not one of us has ridden all season. We counted the poles at the entrance that would need reflective tape, and got started. Turns out that this trail is SO overgrown right now that it was tough to see where the trail was, as opposed to the surrounding fields. I am talking about thigh high weeds, completely overgrown. I remember yelling at the guys as we all suffered through that mess that I’d take gravel any day over what we were trying to ride now! I guess this was the point of riding the route, as now there is time to have something done about it.
I learned a few things yesterday. One of them being that when you are so far out in the middle of nowhere, water is a problem. There just isn’t a gas station or convenience store nearby to get to. I am going to have to make some changes for the actual ride, in an attempt to be able to complete with enough water, as it is my intention to ride the longer route.
As we finished up our recon and headed home, we were all quite tired and hungry. Thing is, due to the holiday, not much of anything was open. We’d passed a few places with no luck. As we came to the turn where my friend and I could leave the ride leader and head back, or go on with him and look for food, I was asked what I’d prefer to do. All I could think was that if we rode on, we’d end up seeing a lot more places that would be closed, and my need for a meal was getting desperate. So I could not stop thinking of the leftovers in my fridge. I emphatically said “I want to go home now!” Which earned me the response “Wow, you so rarely have a preference on a bike ride, but when you do, you let me know it!”
Unfortunately the last leg of my journey became increasingly slow. Out of curiosity, I asked how many miles we’d been. I was told 60 miles, and considering I do not ride with a computer, I was absolutely startled! To this, my friend said “Yep, once we do our evening ride, we just may have a century in.” Of course, as such things do, I immediately could not let go of that thought.
As we rode back, we began discussing the evening ride. We were both headed home to do some cooking so that we could enjoy some food on the evening ride. As our normal Thursday ride wasn’t going to work out as it normally would, we decided to meet up with some friends ahead of time and then head out. The original plan was for my place, but as I got home, got a shower, changed, and started cooking, I’d already been invited to his house for grilling and food. So, we called everyone up, gave them the plan change, and took our time with the evening ride.
I am not sure I was too eager to get back on my bike for an additional 40 or more miles. However, once headed out, I realized that having an afternoon to recover really made a huge difference. I was tired, but I didn’t have too much trouble keeping up. And with the addition of other more social, slower riders, it gave us a chance to spend time with new people. Once we arrived at our destination, on a surprisingly deserted trail, we set up food and just hung around and chatted the evening away, with fireworks going off all around. I, again, wasn’t eager to get on my bike to head home, but also had the confidence I’d get there and that my very long day was almost done.
100 miles in one beautiful day. It was just what I needed.