Sunday, April 21, 2013

Crushing Gravel? You've gotta start somewhere...and now I'm sold!

Gathering up for the 2013 Dairy Roubaix--this is only about 1/3 of the riders
I am proud to say I am no longer a gravel virgin!  Not only did I complete my first gravel road event, even though I had myself in a bit of a tizzy beforehand, but I also fell in love riding these beautiful, rustic roads.

Views from one of the gravel roads

A few months ago, when I signed up for the Dairy Roubaix, I must admit I had no clue what I was getting myself into.  I had ridden hilly roads, that had recently been chip sealed, and just about puked my brains out with fear.  Last year my husband and I crossed paths with the Dairy Roubaix crew on a ride through Boscobel and Muscoda.  All I remember is 18-21% grade hills (the ones we rode were paved) that were covered in a nice thick coating of sand.  Several times I felt my rear wheel start jackknifing and there was nothing I could do about it since the road was to steep to stop on.  Needless to say, I wasn't a happy camper.  Although many of my friends had sung the glories of gravel road riding, I wasn't buying it.  Let me ride my carbon road frame on asphalt, like I was trained to do.  What the hell is this whole 25+mm tire width thing and why in the world would I let air out of my tires?

One of the many amazing gravel roads we were on

It took my riding group, Church of the Spoken Wheel, to convince me otherwise.  I compare this adventure to the saying "If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?"  I guess the answer in this case is "yes", and I can't thank them enough for getting me into it.  You see, more than half of my riding group are gravel junkies.  Three of them are currently training for, or should I say tapering for, Trans Iowa next weekend.  This is the mother of all gravel races.  320 miles in under 35 hours, and although I've now fallen in love with gravel riding, I will never, and I mean never, enter into this race.  I am happy sitting back in Madison, cheering them on!

Wyalusing group camp
A waterfall in Wyalusing
Back to Dairy Roubaix.  This year the race/ride was held out of Wyalusing State Park.  For those who wanted, we were able to rent a bunk in the camp bunkhouse.  A few of us decided to make the event into an entire weekend and headed out Friday afternoon.  We were treated to 25mph winds the entire drive and were just a tad nervous about what the conditions would be like the following day.  Thankfully, there are other things to do there than bike--gasp--and we chose to forgo two wheels for a bit of hiking.  We were treated to beautiful views of a cave, waterfall and the flooded river.  It was an ideal way to stoke our appetite for dinner and a wonderful Rye Porter that Kevin from Red Eye brewery brought to share.  

The breakfast line

Before I go on, I have to thank the folks that put this event on--Stu and Michelle.  Without them, and the help of several volunteers, especially David and Chris, this event could never happen.  You see, most gravel events are 100% non profit.  Any money raised from donations for Dairy Roubaix goes towards a scholarship for Dream Bikes.  As someone that puts non profit bike events on, I completely understand how much time and energy goes into something like this.  They do it for the love of it--nothing else--which makes the event that much more special.  Their love for cycling also drives them to put on Dairyland Dare and the Triple Crown each year.

When my group gathered up a bit before 9am for the mass start, we had grown to quite a crowd.  Several more friends joined us by driving down just for the day from Madison.  It was glorious seeing so many kindred spirits and it put my mind at ease.  As we rolled out of the park and onto our first gravel road, I surprised myself.  This wasn't scary at all.  I wasn't out of control and my bike handled beautifully.  I knew, at that moment, I was hooked.  No, I probably won't do a ton of events each year, but I will purposely seek out gravel roads for riding versus avoiding them.  There were so many places I wanted to stop and take pictures--the ones I got can barely do the area justice.  Each bend and hill brought more spectacular scenery with hardly any traffic.  I found the hills and gravel to be an enjoyable challenge versus a struggle.  Please note I only did the 54 mile course, and not the 107 mile route.  I may also amend this thought after Almanzo in a few weeks!

A couple of my friends coming in from the 107 mile route
No bike event is complete without good food, good beer and chilling in the lawn with great people.  Because of the fantastic conditions--the only nice day of the week--we were able to lounge in the grass as the other riders pulled in.  Day rolled into night and as a chill settled into our bones, we warmed them next to a bonfire.  This, was a weekend to put into the books.  I can't wait to do it again!

Heading back home in 25mph winds and snow

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