Way back in 2013, James talked me into doing a gravel road race in the official middle of nowhere, Kenton. I wasn't in the worst cycling shape of my life, and thanks to mostly slow people showing up, I managed to place 5th out of 14 in the metric (100 kilometers) race. Fun times were had by all.
In 2014, I promised to be there, and had handcrafted my registration postcard from a Leinie's box. I think I even mailed it in the actual US Mail. But some dumb work thing came up, and I missed the apparently-huge second edition.
Determined to make it this year, I raised the stakes by buying a 99¢ greeting card and modifying it for the purposes of registration. In my fervor I must have signed it Snuggle Bear.
As I rounded up my gear the night before and attempted to find the cue sheet holder I had made the first year (out of a coat hanger, heat shrink tubing, freezer bag, and packing tape), Nancy cooked a batch of approximately 500 chocolate chip cookies. Fortunately only 100 were duds, and quickly dispatched by me in the name of carb loading.
It had been raining all week, but was relatively clear and cool when we hit the road for Kenton. I was hoping gravel forest highways were solid, and knew dust wouldn't be a problem.
After arriving at the Forest Highway 16 wayside and milling around for a while, we lined up for a roll-out behind an unmarked white pickup. A couple of miles of asphalt led us to the gravel, which was saturated and soft. At least one rider bailed out right away.
Race Organzier James pointed us in the right direction as we left the road for two-track, which was helpful because I probably would have missed the turn as I did several times later in the race. The two-track was fun, and about the roughest stuff I want to do on a cyclocross bike with aluminum fork.
Hills were climbed and descended. I chatted with a few racers, and was feeling pretty good rolling into the Silver Mountain checkpoint at around 35 miles in. Nancy, Zoe, and the remaining 400 cookies were waiting for me, as was the lead pack and a cooler of Old Milwaukee. I had planned to ditch my jacket at that point, but was still nearly freezing. I stood around a non-heat-generating fire built by James for a bit, and then took off a few minutes after the lead pack. Then I came back and retrieved my sunglasses. Then I left again.
The second leg had a bit more climbing in and out of the river gorge, and about 50 miles in I started to get some cramping. I hadn't done any longer rides than commuting to work, and my running legs weren't quite ready for this. Some on-bike stretching got me through it, but I was happy to see the last few miles of gravel before asphalt jog back to the wayside. By this point, the clouds were finally parting, and it was starting to warm up.
I hammered toward the wayside, hoping to pull in the rider I saw off in the distance. Some level of sense prevailed and I preserved my legs enough to dismount and consume
1 pulled pork sandwich,
3 Old Milwaukees,
more pulled pork,
a lot of potato chips, and
I stretched and bullshitted with other riders for a while, and then started getting ready for the last leg as the lead group began doing the same. I rolled out a few minutes behind, not really expecting to see anyone after that point.
The roads on the south side of the highway were amazing. Narrower, twistier, and smoother, they somehow felt faster than the rest. My legs cramped again a few miles in, but I powered through and was fine for the rest of the distance.
I caught up and rode with Carp and one other for a while, and decided I could peel away after a bit. I felt like I was pushing it for a comfortable finish, but stuck with my pace.
When I made the final curve of the descent to another small river and saw the two leaders taking a beer break, I was a little surprised. Maybe they had taken a nap as well. I'd forgotten to grab a road beer at the wayside, so waved and rolled on by.
Then I realized. I was now in the lead and at risk of winning a prize, a bottle of Imperial American Whiskey. I'd never heard of it, but was fairly confident it wasn't because I never look that far up the shelf in the liquor aisle. I had a couple of minutes to ponder this before the lead pair caught me and dropped me handily. Thank god.
I was on my own again, have a good ol' time watching the miles tick away when my GPS suddenly went flat. Just a full-screen flashing battery symbol (which it managed to power for several hours). Fortunately, checking my cue sheet all I had to do was not turn before the finish, and I did just that.
My finishing time was good enough for 3rd place in the imperial (100 mile) race. The dog was pretty impressed with my performance, and she and Nancy and I hung out with James and the other finishers to watch a couple more roll in.
So there it is. I rode more than 100 miles on gravel and had a blast. James, Heather, Nancy, and everybody else: SNUGGLE BEAR HUG.