Friday, March 3, 2017

Crushing Gravel 13: Frostbite 40! I may be getting crazier...for gravel that is

The start of Frostbite 40
photo by Patrick McDonough

Stu and Monica signing people up
photo by Patrick McDonough
I'm driving straight south to Illinois. The sun is rising with a peach colored glow to my left. Barns, all of them now it appears, proudly display their barn quilts. Lone oaks stand in the middle of farm fields with rolling hills all around them and my co-pilot turns to look at me and says something like this, "You know, you are a crazy woman for choosing to drive an hour and a half early on a Sunday morning just to ride forty miles of gravel." I laugh it off. I have to because I'm low on sleep, a little too hungover from beverage consumption the night before, and it's effing cold out with winds picking up from the west, making the flags, even at 7:30am, taunt me. The only reply I could give him is "I wouldn't do this for just anyone...but Stu is putting it on and some of my favorite IL people will be there!"

I met Stu Garwick a few years ago at Almanzo. I felt like I already knew him when I walked up to him, shook his hand (the one free from crutches) and said "You must be Stu!" You see, I was supposed to meet and be able to ride some gravel with this guy a month prior to Almanzo, but a nasty spill on the gravel earlier that spring left him with a broken pelvis. The crazy thing is, he still showed up with his wife, Monica, to act as support for Almanzo. That's right, he drove hours, with a healing fracture, just to cheer his friends on, and hand us beer and peanut butter/pickle sandwiches. I knew I'd like him right away.

Over the past few years, I've gotten to ride with him very little since his hands are always busy on the organizing and planning side of Axletree events. He, along with my other IL gravel friends, are some of the most kind and generous folks I know. They all carry extra gear if someone breaks down, they all stop for someone if they need help and they all do a ton of behind the scenes work at each of the Axletree events. Sadly, Axletree came to an end earlier this year. With that there was a big sucking hole left in its place. Although I mourned a bit for the loss, I knew people like Stu would fill that hole with new advocacy projects and gravel events.

Last year, just around this time, Stu purchased Freeport Bicycle Company in Freeport, IL. It was previously owned by one of the founding members of Axletree, and although it meant a huge life change, switching from being a career electrician, Stu decided this was the path we wanted to go down. He wanted to take his passion for bikes one step further. Very rarely would I suggest someone purchasing or starting a bike shop. It takes so much more energy and love than most could ever manage, but Stu, along with his wife Monica, are just those folks who would make it work. Their commitment to the community, to cyclists and to families ooze out of every pore they have...and that's why I drove my cold ass down to IL to take part in this ride.

Finally, back to Frostbite 40. Anyone who knows me, understands my hatred for cold and wind. Yeah, sure, I help run and ride in winter bike rides every week in Madison, but I do really hate winter weather. What do I love? Gravel, hills, steel bridges, riding with friends and beer. Frostbite had a mix off all this goodness so although the wind was carrying my curses east, I was pretty stoked to be in downtown Pecatonica to partake in my earliest gravel event ever.

Stepping out of the car and walking down to sign the waivers (they really should have read something like "If you lose fingers or toes, tough shit, you should have prepared more" or "If you end up on the east coast due to the wind, we won't pick your sorry ass up...harden up and ride back") was like a mini homecoming. My smile grew bigger and bigger seeing all my friends I haven't seen in what felt like ages. I was so impressed by the turnout, I'm guessing 100 strong, that I was doing a little happy dance inside for Stu and his family.

Thirty minutes later, we rolled out to his warning, "This is not a supported event, you are on your own, there is no sag wagon out there, but there "might" be a rest stop!" And that was it, we all rolled out, into the wind. The groups split up fairly quickly since many choose to race these events. I, along with my co-pilot, Tim, chose to take it more as a Sunday ride. Giddy about being able to ride gravel in late February, delirious (at least I was) about the wind we'd be facing on the way back, and in awe with the surrounding beauty. The gravel was almost pristine, the farm dogs were friendly, we got to go over a beautiful steel bridge and follow it immediately with PBR and even after the temps rose above freezing, the gravel stayed rideable vs. turning into complete peanut butter. Yes, this was a marvelous day (even if I had to go through the hangover tunnel a couple times on the ride).

We finished off, covered in gravel grime, at the Railway bar where bartenders served us with the same smiles they would serve anyone with even though we looked like Pigpen from Charlie Brown cartoons. There, we got to thank Stu and Monica again and ponder if we wanted to take on Ten Thousand over Memorial Day weekend. After getting home, I consumed what felt like a gallon of water and about ten thousand calories. Forty miles has never kicked my butt this much before, and I was still smiling because of it! Thank you to Stu, Monica, their kids and everyone who had a hand in putting this great event on!

I'm pretty damn happy to be on gravel!
photo by Tim Reinhardt

Half way point!


  1. Great write up! I'm Stu's aunt and pretty proud of him doing what he loves!❤️

    ~Vanessa W

    1. Thank you Vanessa! The cycling community is lucky to have him!