4 March 2017
A Gravel Grinder. Never done anything like this before. The pre-ride info had me a little more on edge than usual. According to the description a gravel grinder is [“an organized but self-supported ride on a set route on mixed terrain roads.”] So let’s break that down. I have only participated in three organized rides like this before today. All of them were supported. All of them on paved roads. Some of the support I have used like the rest stop. (Granted on one ride I didn’t but the other two yes.) I could pick up some food if I needed it or refill my water bottles if I was running low. A restroom. Yes. A bike mechanic if I need any adjustments or issues on the ride. Marshalls protecting riders from traffic. Signs or even people on the route to direct riders along the correct path. Vehicles as part of the ride to offer assistance to participants that may have issues in between the rest stops. The Holey Roller offered none of this. You were told when and where to start, handed turn-by-turn instructions, provided a list of mandatory items and off you go. And for a special bonus, rattlesnakes could be out there. So I had to make sure I had everything I could possibly need. I researched and came up with a list. Despite my wife’s concern, I did not get snake bite aid. The night before I packed up my bike and bags. I used the [Mountain Feedbag] in the cockpit and the [Tangle frame bag] below the top tube. Each of those are made by [Revelate Designs].
Up early and out the door by 7 am, my wife and I set out for [Rocky Hills Ranch] in Smithville, TX. Just to be clear, my wife does not ride. She thinks looking at a 12% grade hill that goes up and up or riding where there is a rattlesnake advisory is on the crazy side of life. But she gives me her full support. For her driving out of the city and spending a few hours away from it all is refreshing from time to time. It took about an hour to get to the ranch. I checked in and prepared for the ride. Equipment check. Bike shoes on. Garmin charged and ready with the course. Two hundred cyclist lined up to start the ride. It turned out to be a cold and wet fifty mile ride. I thought it might take me about four hour. It turned out I was almost right on with that estimate. I figured with the mixed terrain I would go slower overall than on all paved roads. The various roads of rocks, dirt and gravel did affect my ride. My bike handled unexpectedly well. I was nervous. But as soon as I began the first stretch of gravel I could feel my tires grip the road with a traction I have never felt on a paved surface. It was easy to find the worn parts for safer riding, but every once in a while I traversed a section that my rear wheel would begin to spin out. Those were unsettling moments, especially on turns. The rain and wind began to wear on me towards the end of the ride. There is nothing like a semi-truck hauling down the road carrying the extra wind and dousing one with water to put an unpleaseant chill in you. I also had to take the last seven miles easy. My left leg was hurting. I realized after finishing the ride the conditions affected my body differently than non-gravel grinders. I felt sore in completely different places. My left leg felt discomfort in the ankle, knee, hamstring and hip. I realized my forearms were taxed when I lifted my bike to put it on the car. But even with all of that, it was a ton of fun. I’d definetly do it again.