Gravel Grinded

“Two years ago you never would have even talked about doing this.”

That was a friend’s observation about me signing up for the Gravel Grinder. And he was right. A couple years back my idea of a bike ride was simple: load the bike in the truck, drive to the top, and drop in. Well, I guess you could say my riding has come full circle, er, at least most of the way there.

Last spring I rode in the 2011 Gravel Grinder. I was as excited about getting out and stretching my legs as I was for the social scene – 150 people and 300 wheels always makes for a good time. Plus they promised tacos at the end! I love tacos.

Scene one: caffeine is one hell of a drug

I should have known something was amiss from the get go. As we donned our gear in the Green Mountain Coffee Company’s parking lot my CamelBak ruptured. The pack was soaked. Luckily I had a backup, though, and I quickly stuffed my 30 pounds of camera equipment into it. Still. It was a bad omen.

I could see 150 helmeted heads on the other side of the lot gathered for the pre-ride briefing. Jumping on my borrowed Surly touring bike I rattled over to join the herd and immediately people started commenting on the bike. (It reminded me of that time I was climbing in Squamish two years ago and the locals commented on my high-top, hot-pink-and-teal La Sportiva rock shoes from the ’80s.) Maybe they were all just impressed with the Surly’s full chrome fender kit and V-brakes?

As we pulled out of the lot I felt great. My bod was running like a well-oiled machine. It seemed that my two cups of coffee, half a doughnut, and five hours of sleep were more than sufficient to pull this ride off.

Scene two: not so Gu’d

After about 10 miles we pulled to a stop at the aid station. Behind a smorgasbord of banana halves, whiskey, and gummy bears, stood George, the events organizer. He was smiling like the Cheshire Cat and it was obvious he knew something of the punishment we were about to endure.

I reached into my pack for a Powerbar or a packet of Gu but all I could find was 30 pounds of expensive Japanese plastic and glass. Nothing edible! So instead I enjoyed George’s offerings and drank a schwack of whiskey, ate a handful of gummy bears and swilled an auxiliary schwack of mescal from a flask that circulated among the group. I also grabbed some gummies and shoved them into one of my pockets.

Now I was on fire! Time to really show people what an early season dirt road ride was all about.

Scene three: runnin’ on empty

I sprinted to the front of the pack and pulled to the soft shoulder of the road. Riders slogged past and up the hill. In their wake they left snaking depressions in the soft gravel. I snapped a few shots, stuffed my camera back in my pack and sprinted to the next vantage point. We were about 18 miles into the ride and had already ascended over 1,500 feet of vertical and it showed on many faces.

The further we pedaled the bulkier and less important my camera seemed.

It wasn’t long before I realized I was no longer able to pass folks. My tires felt flat. My pack felt like it was about to drag me back down the hill. And worst of all I was out of gummy bears and water! I was gravel ground down. With waning determination I watched as two people passed me…on foot. They both smiled and nodded but I could see the look of concern in their eyes.

“That guy is screwed,” their furrowed brows screamed.

“Tacos!” I yelled, clinging with broken fingernails to the only motivational ledge that could support me to the finish.

Scene four: taco libre

I love tacos! By the time I finally limped across the finish line most of the food had long since been gorged upon but tortillas, sour cream and black been juice had never looked so good. I ditched my 840-pound pack, stepped away from the chromed Surly and launched myself at the grub. With my face full of Mexican delight, I scanned the crowd and watched everyone high five, hug and handshake. Soon cars began to exit the lot and I reflected on my 2011 Gravel Grinder experience. I definitely learned a lesson – next year I will fill both my pockets with gummy bears!

See you all at the 2012 Gravel Grinder on April 22nd!

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