Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gold Rush Gravel Grinder or more appropriately Peanut Butter Pounder

There is a tidal wave of gravel washing over the heartland of this vast country and the gravel grinder phenomenon is the tidal wave.  From races that have helped launch the wave, like the Dirty Kanza to the Trans-Iowa to the newest races like the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder , gravel racing is the thing right now.  The ability to see a lot of "unseen" scenery, to get off the road and the beaten path without having a lot of trails at your disposal, making it epic (although that word is way over used, it is apt in this case) and challenging are all part of the reasons why gravel grinders are on the rise.

This last weekend the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder went down.  Ever since Perry and Kristi Jewett (masterminds of the Dakota Five-O) announced they were putting on the GRGG on June 8th, it was on my mind.  As most, well all 10 of you that read this blog know I am giving the Tatanka 100 another shot, especially after having "guest blogger" duties on the website for a while.  Having the GRGG going down three weeks prior to the Tatanka made for a potentially good warm up.  BUT, with the previously mentioned moist weather, I have not been getting the kind of riding in that I wanted, so up until the last minute I was waffling on whether to do the GRGG or not.  Literally until the last minute, as I registered about 5 minutes before the registration closed.  That being said, there were two race options, a 70 miler and a 110 miler.  I was initially planning on the 110 miler and after not riding the way I wanted, I weighed the pros and cons and decided on the 70 miler instead.  Could I have finished the 110?  Sure.  Would I have been happy?  Not a chance.

We (the NSS family) loaded up the Pequod (our name for our long, white truck) for a weekend of camping in the Spearfish City Campground with a gravel grinder thrown in the middle.  Should be a perfect weekend.  Just outside of Spearfish we drove through a rainstorm that was more akin to dumping buckets of water from the sky than rain, which should have been a warning sign.

We got into the campground, got NSS mobile HQ set up, grilled a bit of nosh, chatted with friends and as the sun went down, we crawled into our tent and slipped off to sleep.

Sleep was interrupted at 2:30 am as I woke up to the sound of rain pelting the tent.  As I was lying there I was trying to comprehend what I was hearing, being a touch disoriented for a few moments.  Once I realized what I was hearing I thought to myself, "If it quits raining soon, it (riding bikes on gravel roads) will be OK."  I slipped back off to sleep.

At 3:30 I woke up to the sound of rain pelting the tent.  I thought to myself, "If it quits soon, it will be OK." Once again I was checking out the back side of my eyelids.
Kristi pointing out the water we'd be riding through later.

At 4:30 I woke up to the sound of rain pelting the tent.  "WHAT THE HELL?" I thought to myself.  "This is complete bullshit.  If this doesn't stop, like, right now I'm not gonna ride 70 miles on gravel/mud roads."  I tried to go back to sleep but now my mind was racing with details like I signed up for the race, I need to just do it...I didn't wanna slog around in muddy crap for that distance.  My mind was jumping back and forth, giving all the reasons I shouldn't do it with the counterpoint of why I should.

Finally about 5:15, I received a text from JT telling me to get my ass over to his camper as coffee was on.  I stumbled over for a cup of the black attitude adjuster.  As my mood lifted, so did the clouds and the rain stopped.  We checked the satellite on our phones and decided it was time to get ready to race!

While I won't give a lot of details of the actual race as I think that stuff is kinda boring, I will give an overview.  To start, we didn't have a set route until the morning of the race, getting cue sheets about an hour before the start.  And, these cue sheets said things like "4.7 miles, Turn Left onto FS Road 874" No maps, no markings on the course, no people telling you where to go.  A self-sufficient ride, having to find your own way.  Very cool.

Perry leading out the race.
The ride started on time and for the first 4+ miles we had a police escort and everyone rode as a group.  Once we hit the gravel roads, the racing started and we were off!  We rode west on rolling gravel roads and into Wyoming, where a large chunk of the actual riding took place.  We rode through the Ranch A area, an area that I hadn't been in since I was a kid.  I forgot how beautiful this area was, so it was nice to see it again.

At the 32 mile mark, the "short course" and the "long course" split, sending us short coursers up a two-track called Williams Gulch.  As we climbed, the ground got more and more muddy eventually getting to the point of not really being rideable.  The mud was not unlike peanut butter, causing us to have to push our bikes for a while.  Once out of this quagmire, we got onto a gravel road which was soft as well, although not that sticky muck like we just came through.  From here we continued to climb and climb and climb and then when we thought we were almost done, we had to climb some more to the summit of Cement
Potato Station on Cement Ridge, brought to you by the same
fine folks that bring you the infamous Bacon Station!
Ridge where we picked up our final cue sheet that would take us home.  Getting home meant a LOT of descending, down through the Roughlock Falls area then down through Spearfish Canyon, back into the campground to the finish line where post race food and drinks were waiting for us.

As some friends (who did the long course) finished we found ourselves gathering at another friend's campsite.  We sat around drinking some adult beverages, having an impromptu pot luck/BBQ and the kids running amok and finally settling down for a campfire and s'mores (smart...sugar the kids up just before bedtime).   

As I looked around at the great group of people we're friends with, some life long, some new, some in-between, kids of varying ages, but all having fun together, I thought about how lucky we all are to have great friends like these, that we have kids that have fun together, and how our love of the bike is a common thread that continues to bring us together at functions like this.  Some douche-bag said, "It's not about the bike," well I beg to differ.  The bike is what brings us together.  So it might not be about a bike, but it is about the bike and as long as it is, I'll continue to pound peanut butter, grind gravel or ride through hell to continue to have experiences like this.

(All photos taken from the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder FB page.)

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