|Me and Steve on the gravel. Photo courtesy of Chris Locke|
I think it was mid winter when Chris Locke put Skull-N-Bones Gravel Challenge on Facebook. I was instantly intrigued for many reasons. First, I have this stupid obsession with skulls--from t-shirts to Jim Dine artwork. Second, this ride would be in a part of Wisconsin I've done very little riding aside from a bike tour my husband and I did several years ago. Third, the Cyclova crew endorsed it heavily. And finally, right from the get go, Chris seemed to have a passion regarding this event I rarely see and I wanted to support him. The only partial downside were my edgy nerves after reading what type of gravel to expect from the ride recon done by Chris and Ben earlier in the summer. Big, chunky, loose stuff with plenty of washout was waiting for me...not my forte by a long shot, especially on 33mm tires.
|Our welcome in Bruce, WI|
|Chris Locke and Todd who was doing his first century|
So here's my version of the ride in a nutshell. Steve Wasmund, a cycling friend from Utah who is currently residing in Madison, joined me and my husband up to Eau Claire Friday after work. We were lucky enough to have a place to crash with a long time friend who welcomed us and our bikes. While my husband and our friend slumbered peacefully, Steve and I headed North a bit over an hour to Bruce, WI. Most of our drive was in the dark, and sadly it also included scenes from the killing field since thousands of frogs decided to congregate on the roads from Bloomer to Bruce. That Buddhist in me was cringing each time my headlights flashed on them. Thankfully as we were getting our bikes ready in a parking lot in town, the kindness of a complete stranger and non-cyclist just about floored me. He pulled up next to us in his truck and we instantly thought we were about to get a lecture. Instead, he pulled out a frame pump and said he had found it on the highway a few weeks ago, hadn't found the owner, and would rather it go to another cyclist. It was one of those moments I wish I could freeze in time and watch over and over again. What a great start to the ride!
Steve and I wound our way through the tiny town and found the fire station where we were to start and finish. The threat of rain all week had scared many away and only a few of us were lingering around after filling out waivers and our starting times. Around 7:45 we chose to roll out. The skies were still overcast but partial clearing was called for so all of us were in pretty good spirits.
Thankfully, I found my groove or at least became numb enough to not notice the jostling as much. During this time, in my head I compared this type of riding to getting a tattoo. In the beginning, the pain, discomfort and annoyance is high but after awhile, you stop noticing or caring and all goes numb. It was at that point I started to become acutely aware we were riding through an acid trip type landscape. Technicolor trees were all around us and all I could manage were ooooos and ahhhhs in between climbing hills and fishtailing. We had essentially gotten damn lucky and hit the jackpot since the trees were turning about a week or two early due to the recent cold snap. This, we would later remark on, only got better throughout the ride. It was as if the trees were changing color right before our eyes.
|one of the many beautiful bodies of water we passed|
After the hundredth time or so of telling Steve he could go ahead if he wanted (okay, I didn't say it a hundred times but he'll most likely tell you I did), I settled into a long day in the saddle. Gravel road led into gravel road with the paved roads interjecting from time to time. I didn't think of anything really, just enjoyed where I was...until the Tuscobia trail. Prior to the ride I knew this was going to be the biggest challenge for me but my hopes were raised when Steve told me it wasn't going to be that bad since he had ridden a section further East the weekend before--this of course wasn't the section we would be on. We turned left onto the trail and all I could see was deep sand churned up by the ATVs. Yeah. This was going to be "interesting". It was of course since it kept me on high alert for the entire 13 mile stretch we had into Birchwood. Now remember, I'm not a mountain biker and most of my cycling has been on smooth road, so when you throw washout, deep sand and millions of embedded rocks in front of me I'm not the happiest camper. I didn't have time to bitch about it though since Steve was already some distance ahead and I just decided I'd have to keep up. What this led to is exactly what happened in my first experience at Almanzo. I became a more confident rider. Sure I was rattled so hard my glasses and parts of my bike came loose and I got blisters on my hands since they were moving around on the bars so much, but I did it and at the end, pavement never felt so good. We joked that I probably wouldn't have felt a thing if I'd been on my Fargo but then again, I wouldn't have improved my skills either.
|No words needed for those who rode with us that day|
After our hose bath at the Bruce firehouse, we hung out in the parking lot for a bit talking with other riders. Our drive back to Eau Claire was uneventful and really only consisted of finding a food source.
I will end this with a huge thanks to Chris Locke and all the volunteers who made this happen. It was a perfect day and a perfect ride! Also an enormous thanks to Steve Wasmund, my partner in crime as well as cheerleader for this event, and our host Steve Spina who kindly not only housed us the first night but didn't lock us out when we came back dirty and quite possibly smelly. Next year's ride will be even better!
|Always a sign of a great ride--that's no tan line!|