Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sometimes the Truth Hurts...

As many of you know, I was essentially born into the cycling community. My father drilled the "rules" of the road and group riding skills into me from the time I could walk. He'd bring me to races and tell me what safe and non-safe bike handling looked like and he always schooled the new racers if they got careless. His job, as he saw it, was to prevent any possible crashes on the bike.

Now, as a participant in group rides, and someone who wants to be an ambassador for cyclists, I take what my father taught me very seriously. I try my best to mark debris or issues with the road so others behind me know what's about to come, I stay the furthest to the right as I safely can, I drop into single file if traffic is around, and I try to be a predictable rider.

Up until now, I have never caused another rider to crash. I say "up until now" because I was partly to blame for another rider's crash on a group ride this past week. Essentially it was a hillier ride with fast descents and a fair amount of loose gravel at each turn. I felt pretty strong that night and was climbing smoothly. On one of the faster descents, however, I took the final turn a bit too fast, not knowing how much gravel was at the base. I remember looking behind me prior to the turn, noticing no one was on my wheel at the time (I do this to make sure I have a clear line), then marking the upcoming gravel with a hand gesture and yelling "GRAVEL". I had to feather the brakes and take the turn a bit too wide and that's all she wrote. I felt another rider's hand on my shoulder and bars rub my thigh. I went completely off the road, into the gravel shoulder and at that moment, I heard him crash behind me. There is NOTHING worse for a cyclist to hear than a bike and body hit the ground. I, along with several others, came to a quick stop. Thankfully the rider, although road rashed, bruised and a bit shaken up, was okay. His bike was ridable and he didn't seem to have a concussion. He and I, along with another rider, ended up riding back into town together slowly. We kept asking him questions to make sure he was doing alright and in between, I just kept playing the scenario over and over again in my head. How did this happen? Why didn't I do more to prevent it? How much of this was my fault? No matter what the answers were, I felt bad for him. We got back just fine, he got cleaned up thanks to another rider, and sent on his way to urgent care and the only thing that seemed truly ruined were his kit and mine. But here's the thing, now I'm spooked as all get up to go on any more group rides. I don't consider myself a reckless rider at all, but I also don't want to be tagged as one by others (probably the worst black mark I can imagine) and I certainly don't want to ever have this happen around me again.

There are no answers to this for me right now. I'll have to figure it all out over time. All I know is if I do choose to partake in larger/faster group rides in the future, I'm going to be extra cautious and will most likely get spewed off the back each time because of my concerns.

Writing this is most certainly a difficult thing. We, as cyclists, love to write and talk about the grandeur of our endeavors, not the ugly things that sometimes happen in between. I chose to write about this to not only expose my mistake and apologize for it, but also make others very aware that a split second decision can make or break a ride. Be careful out there folks--on solo or group rides. Be aware of your surroundings, be predictable and err on the side of caution. No Strava KOM, bragging rights or ego boost is worth causing or ending up in a crash...ever.

Crushing Gravel 15: Long Live Ten Thousand!

Exercise daily...walk with Jesus
-church sign coming back into Freeport, IL

The start of Ten Thousand 2017 (one hundred riders strong)

Four years ago, Ten Thousand was born. Given birth by Chad Ament, formerly of North Central Cyclery and Axletree, now a proud Colorado resident. This magical event would be the last child of Axletree...although none of us knew it at the time. Reading the route information prior to the first ride was like preparing for the apocalypse. Warnings on the severity of climbs, the remoteness and the b road most likely scared most gravel enthusiasts away. I, on the other hand, was perverse enough to run towards the event. I like hills. I like gravel, I like cool folks to ride with....check, check, check. Oh, and might I mention I had a gullible friend who didn't know any better to say "no" when I asked him to join me. It rained that day. A light steady drizzle that made the gravel "squishy", kept dust where it belonged and made me jealous of those who could sport full fenders. I finished the ride covered from head to toe in gravel grime and mosquito bites...and yet I couldn't wipe the grin off my face for anything! This, I thought, was a damn near second to my favorite gravel event, Dairy Roubaix...and I knew I'd be back riding in Joe Daviess county, IL very soon.

The following year I made the event once again, this time sporting most of my winter layers since it didn't reach freezing until several hours into the ride. One might say my smile was "frozen" on my face...but really, although it was a different month, a slightly different route, and Chad was no longer sending us off, the ride still had the same spirit and beauty. And this time I was able to con two more friends into joining me! I still remember one friend making a statement at the base of the final climb into Stockton, IL..."I'm going to stop here and eat all of my candy!"

Sadly I couldn't make last year's actual event but I was able to get a couple folks together to do the ride with me on a different weekend. I remember giggling as we came up to Morseville Road...knowing the poor souls I brought with me had no clue what was ahead of us. They just saw me give the road sign my middle finger and I'm guessing thought I had lost my marbles. They soon figured out why I had done it...about seven hills on one road with loose gravel at the crest of each (the driftless region of IL IS NOT flat folks!).
Riding this route as a planned event is amazing, but there is also something really special about doing an event route on a different day. A "gentleman's ride" is something I've always loved, and having a couple friends with me to experience the beauty, pain and glory makes a ride even more grand.

When Axletree officially decided to call it quits this past year, I automatically thought Ten Thousand would be shelved. The amazing volunteers and founders of Axletree chose to permanently retire the Gravel Metric and Night Bison, but a surprise came to me when I saw that Stu Garwick, now owner of Freeport Bicycle Company in Freeport, IL and Bailey Gene Newbrey, owner of Comrade Cycles in Chicago, were given the go ahead and the reigns to forge forward with Ten Thousand. Even the founder of Axletree, Tobie Depauw, and former Axletree rider, Michael Feller, helped out with the route and map. Essentially, since both Stu and Bailey were also Axletree riders, this was just a giant reunion event of sorts which almost brought tears to my eyes since I appreciated what non-profit had accomplished in prior years.

Look at that perfect sky and pristine gravel!

A bit before 7am, I along with two other Madisonians, made our way down to Freeport to play in the gravel. We had only planned on doing the 78 mile course since I was on a time commitment, but I was so damn giddy to see Morseville Road once again I made the assumption we were supposed to climb it this year as well (wrong...always check your cue sheets kids) and that little extra climb also rewarded us with a few extra miles of the 120 mile route. There was a brief moment when I thought "hmmmm...should we just continue on?" but lack of supplies reminded me to stay smart and find a way back onto the course.

Morseville Road, we LOVE you!

I find it difficult to find new and exciting ways to describe gravel events unless something terribly wrong occurs. I just remember a bluebird sky day (something we hadn't seen much of all spring), chatting with folks I hadn't seen all year (these events are like giant family reunions), Bailey taking a picture of me as I laughed and almost lost traction going up Krise hill, trying to get bites of food in while being swarmed by pesky gnats anytime we stopped to make sure we were on course, the most pristine gravel I have ever ridden (seriously...this was delicious gravel!), having a nice little tailwind to push us back into town, and cold beer to welcome in.

Stu, Monica, Bailey, Tobie and guys outdid yourself this year. Thank you so much for your hard work and dedication to keeping this event going. You can bet I'll be back next year as well as riding down there a couple more times before the first frost!

Several folks in this picture just finished Dirty Kanza yesterday!
Stu, owner of Freeport Bicycles is seen waving.
Tobie, founder of Axletree and co-owner of Blackriver is seated below him.
Allison, co-owner of Comrade Cycles is seated on the right.