Monday, May 7, 2018

Rhode Island is NOT flat

Contrary to what you may assume Rhode Island is not Flat. In fact, as I learned this past Saturday it is in fact very hilly. I heard great things about Greasy Joe's Gravel Grinder. My good friend Roger went and did it last year. I am pretty sure he used the words "easy" and "flat" when describing it. He also used the words fun and awesome. Being a mid-distance gravel specialist the first and only time I have ever ridden at Big River (which happens to be where GJGG was held) I couldn't help think how awesome it would be to ride a CX bike on these trails. It was very reminiscent of Cape Cod which I love. Flowy, sandy, pine loam trails. Relatively flat which is perfect for a flatlander like myself. So when I saw the date for GJGG I put a big red star on my calendar. I got a great crew of HUP together and it was on!

Now as this was a special ride and I wanted to be at my best I decided it was time to put new tires on. Tan walls are my jam. I was very excited to put a brand new set of WTB Riddlers on for this ride. Again I assumed the course would be a gravel grinder aka roadie-ish course. I didn't want to be held back by my 40 CX knobbies. Hahaha. Are you noticing a trend here? Lots of assumptions. When I got the pre-ride email the night before I realized this was not a roadie dirt road ride at all. And knowing the NECT crew I should have never assumed this one wasn't going to be rowdy. The week before I had set up Guthrie with a pair of these tires right before the Ronde. They set up in like 20 minutes. Now past performance does not insure the outcome of future endeavors. Both tires went on super easy. I did all the usual things I do. Soapy water, violent shaking of the wheel, ride around the neighborhood. My neighbors must think I am crazy.

Then air started shooting out of the front tire. And the rear wasn't holding. I won't lie I kind of panicked. I texted Pirro. And pleaded to the internet for tips. More sealant. More shaking. More beer. I went to bed thinking about how screwed I was going to be the next day. My confidence was about zero that these tires would hold air overnight let alone on 50 miles of rowdy trails in Big River and Arcadia. But some CX god smiled on me and the tires held fast. Thank you to what ever spirit or Fae saved me from certain doom. Guthrie and Joanna show up to HUP HQ south and we pack everything into the van. Things are going surprisingly smooth.

We get down and are a little "late." One of the things I love about how Greasy Joe's did this was it was a staggered start or choose your own start time. Kind of like D2R2 in a way. They had sent out a GPS file the prior evening so everyone had a GPS track to follow but they also were diligent about signs and arrows at all turns, obstacles and rest stops. I know there has been some discussion of late about signage and GPS files. I like both. I know its a lot of work to do signs. But it ensures riders stay on course and alerts them to hazards. These rides are not supposed to be races. Frankly a race mindset is the worst for rides like this. The whole point of gravel adventure rides is to have an adventure. Stick together. Help each other out. Navigate the course. A course like GJGG has everything. Some riders will be strong on the climbs. Some super fast on the descents and technical bits. Someone is always going to get dropped or separated from the group. The first rule is everyone waits. No one gets left behind.

The first part of the ride reminded me of the mtb ride we did down at Big River about a month prior. Super fun dirt roads, flowy. And then we hit what I can only describe as a dry creek bed. It reminded me of the chute at Lemurian. Now maybe one person will get that reference but the Lemurian was this epic mtb ride in Norcal. You climbed forever. Then took a ripping descent down the mtn. We all were on rigid bikes back then. It got rowdy to say the least. This descent pushed the bounds of what you can do on a CX bike. I loved every second of it.

We somehow got through the ride with only two flats. I did almost rip my front fork off at one point and dropped my chain on a bumpy decent. But it was the perfect day. NECT crushed it. It is probably my favorite gravel ride I have done. The course was very similar to VT Overland. Punchy steep climbs, rowdy technical sections, super fun flowy loam tracks. True confession time. One of my kids plays a ton of video games. She loves them. And she constantly talks about the storylines and how her characters are doing. We talk about the villains and the protagonist. It is great. Half way through the ride I kept asking myself "what does this remind me of?" NH? Sort of. VT? Kind of. Far Cry 5? Definitely. So much of the course was nice pine loam forest. Then you would punch out into an area that was like it was out of a dystopian novel or movie. I kept expecting Joe Seed to come out and ask me about my sins. Pretty sure Sloth would be carved on my chest....

We had a group of about 9 riders. A nice mash up of HUP, Seven and others. Got to ride with some friends who I hadn't seen in a long time. And once again HUP lives up to being the raddest crew to ride with ever. I just love the bizarre conversations we have and the crazy shit that goes down. HUGE props to the whole NECT crew! Major shout outs to Tamara Wong for the amazing rest stop. That rest stop was a life saver. And Tammy stayed out there the whole day. It was probably one of the most dialed rest stops I have seen at a ride. Definitely took notes for next year's Ronde!
Matt from NECT did a great job on the course and checking in on all the riders. The whole ride we were thinking of cold beer. I know, I know. But it was hot. And the course was super hard. We had resigned ourselves to no beer but happy we had finished together and had such a great ride. As we rolled back into the staging area we went to let Matt know we had finished so he could sign us in. AS we signed in he handed each of us an ice cold Cinco de Mayo appropriate beer. That ice cold Corona Light was better than any artisanal hand crafted beer I have ever consumed.

Long story short I will be back next year. That is now a must do on my gravel calendar. I won't lie I joke about being a "gravel specialist" but those are the rides I am interested in. Racing is kind of meh for me at this point in my riding career. I just like to ride with friends in some crazy area on CX bikes or what ever you call the bikes we are riding. I look forward to a great Spring and Summer (and gasp even Fall!) checking out all the cool gravel in New England.

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