Saturday, July 12, 2014

Crushing Gravel part 7--Getting Down and Dirty

Somehow, someone--ahem Dan and Mike--talked me into doing a gravel event in July.  Mike first told me about Ten Thousand this spring.  Ten thousand feet of elevation gain in 125 driftless Northern Illinois miles (yes, Illinois does have hills).  Dan somehow saw it and twisted my arm into doing it.  The whole idea of riding that far, with that much climbing, unsupported, didn't sound like a whole lotta fun to me in hot humid weather.  I love hills, I love riding driftless, I love riding unsupported, I don't like having to worry about water--and when I have to worry about having enough water, I go into a bit of a tizzy.

Meeting up in Krape park in Freeport, IL for the Ten Thousand

A few weeks back, my husband and I did a bike tour west of Madison during the hottest few days yet this summer.  He picked the hilliest route he could find, and we ended up following both the Horribly Hilly course and the Dairyland Dare course.  I had two water bottles on my bike and one in a bag, and although we had convenience store stops, I rarely felt I had enough water to get me through.  It was at that moment I dropped my idea of completing the full ten thousand and instead opted for the abridged 73 mile version.  I knew my body could do the miles but I just didn't want to carry 160 ounces of water to get me to the only convenience store on the route at mile 86.  Dan, thankfully, was nice enough to fold to the shorter miles with me.

I have to say I was quite excited to see a new part of the driftless area, and ride with Dan on his second gravel event since he'll be doing Almanzo with me next year.  He rolled into my driveway at 4:30am to make the trek down to Freeport and questions started flying about how big I thought the hills would be.  You see Dan and I have tackled just about every 16-20% grade hill together within riding distance of Madison.  I honestly had no clue how big the hills would be down in Illinois, but I had heard rumors about a 25% grader.

Getting ready to roll out
The ride was full of scenes like this one

As we, along with about 100 others, rolled out of Krape Park in Freeport, the skies began to piss.  A drizzle helping to cool us turned into a steady light rain within a few miles.  No worries.  We expected this.  Sometimes, I have found, riding gravel in light rain is better than dry conditions since it keeps the dust down.  The only issue was I didn't have fenders--my bike doesn't have clearance for them with 33mm tires.  What was a clean and dry ride for Dan turned into a complete shit show for me.  Within minutes I had gravel grime where one doesn't want it--covering my water bottles, covering my face, in between my saddle and shorts and I'll never know how some made its way down my shorts.

When I had moments to wipe my glasses clean, I was treated to some of the most beautiful scenery.  Hills, valleys and farms, all in technicolor green.  The gravel was in great condition which made it easy to take in my surroundings.  Why yes, I think I love riding in Northern Illinois!  And then, we hit the B road.  Now as many of you know, my mountain biking skills, or lack thereof, are very very sad.  The only thing I dread on gravel rides are B roads.  This one took us a ridiculous amount of time to find since we kept going down farm roads instead.  When we finally got back on course, I got to experience mud oozing through my shoes while my limbs were covered in mosquitoes.  You know what though, we could only laugh at the situation.  We felt so silly walking our bikes on this "road" and it was made even better when a farmer in a truck stopped us at the end and asked us "Whose GPS broke for you to ride down that?"

The section of B road we didn't ride

And this was about where we started riding once again

Both of us at this point were feeling great.  We knew we only had about 20 more miles and we both felt strong.  And that's when it happened.  For some unknown reason, my knee started hurting and my quad and IT band froze.  I had to stop and stretch, but I couldn't get the right angle and couldn't figure out why I felt fine standing, pulling my leg back, but couldn't put any pressure down on my pedal.  The last 13 miles consisted of me pedaling with my right leg while my left leg rode along unclipped.  Every time I tried to push with my left leg, my quad, hip flexor and IT band rejected me.  I wondered if I would make it since I brought our pace down to 10mph and the situation was worsening.  Happily, we did make it, and the moment I got off the bike I felt fine, a bit stiff in that thigh, but full of energy.

First place 125 mile finisher coming in strong

After a brief parking lot shower, we joined the others at the amphitheater to eat and watch the first 125 mile finishers roll in.  The guys who can pull a steady 20mph pace on gravel amaze me.  I will never be that fast, but damn if I won't have a blast trying.

Thanks to the entire Axletree crew from North Central Cyclery for putting this on, but an extra thanks goes out to Chad for designing the route.  Thanks also to my partner in crime, Dan.  We WILL do the entire Ten Thousand next year!

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