For me, this year’s Big Scrub Gravel Buzz, situated in the middle of the Ocala National Forest, was truly a delight from start to finish.
Admittedly, the BSGB kicked my arse exquisitely towards the end of its 95 miles. Yes, the hills were astonishingly tough for Florida. Yes, my teammates were surprisingly fit even after riding 150+ miles of dirt and gravel the week before. And yes, the Belgian Diesel (a friend of the Gravel Cyclist crew) kept the pain train stoked for 10 additional miles as he hustled us back to town in order to make a family function.
Perhaps the Diesel was inspired by an earlier involuntary time trial by he and Dr. Pain during the escort out of town at the start of the ride – check out Dr. Pain’s version of events. Apparently Dr. Pain’s “fancy electric Di2 things” temporarily failed miserably, as he put it. Don’t be fooled by his homilies… he and JOM live to tinker with shiny new gizmos for their bikes. I barely got a bachelor’s degree yet even I know things cannot work if they ain’t plugged in. Which is what the Diesel succeeded in doing; with his strong, metric Belgian fingers, he plugged in the errant Di2 cable and kicked off a delightful two man team time trial back to the gruppetto.
But my race delight was more related to how casual and friendly the riders were… even more relaxed than what I’m used to.
Barring the pace of a mysteriously raging – then vanishing – co-ed tandem, the pace was easy enough during the paved escort out of town. Then it got harder as we rode along dirt, dams and locks of the Withlacoochee river. Drafting was useless during the long grassy sections. Who knew grass took so much effort? Riders were quickly mowed down off the back of the group. It wasn’t long before we came to a gate and a long steep climb. This caught Mrs K-Dogg and several others by surprise and on the wrong side of a big gap.
Mrs K-Dogg remembers chasing hard and almost caught back on, just as “somebody at the front went hard.” Speaking exclusively in third person, Mr. K-Dogg should’ve been a better spouse and swiveled his eyes backwards occasionally. But then the important part of a race is at the pointy end right?
Pauline, a Gainesville local who loves racing MTB’s and dabbles in gravel fun on her CX / gravel bike, confessed she suffered a GPS error, got separated, then chased hard the wrong way for a very long time. By the time Pauline U-turned, it was solo city all the way home.
The pace stayed relatively civilized for quite a while but inevitably the hills and grabby ground reduced the herd to a handful of pooped peleton-ers.
At the 50 mile point, a shady rest stop manned by Rusty the organizer and volunteers appeared. The assembled group agreed to stop long enough for refreshments. One rider didn’t get the memo and kept rolling. He was later caught by a sweaty, angry mob and spat unceremoniously out the back. After 20 minutes of lounging and overeating, half of the racers got antsy to roll while others appeared to be napping in the lawn chairs. “We are leaving in 60 seconds!” I announced, possibly a bit too loud.
Once the group got underway again, it seemed the hills got bigger and my legs smaller. I stopped taking even token pulls at the front. As Austin Powers said in the movie, “It’s survival baby!” The pack was down to three 60ish year olds and three much younger riders.
Sometime after the Bombing Range on the course (no joke), the hills got even bigger and my legs began whining.
Matt aboard the MTB began sneaking off the front… 50′ ahead… 75′ ahead… 100′ ahead. This triggered the Diesel to come around me. I could have easily jumped on his wheel. “It’s too hard… someone else will reel in the leaders” said my legs. “Never close a gap… there is always someone younger or more stupid to do that for you” said a wise cyclist I know. The Belgian Diesel seemed to make it across the gap. Soon, another younger guy launched across the gap. To my dismay so did teammate Dr. Pain. “Not yet!” whined my legs. “They will be back! Just you wait.”
They never came back.
Nolan (from Ocala) and I chased a few miles but then gave up when the four of them closed ranks for good. My legs were happier now that we could ease up. “We are still in TRAINING season… NOT RACING season” my legs said smugly. But I was proud of Dr. Pain and the Diesel. Pretty impressive for a couple sexagenarians – look that one up 🙂
The gritty miles rolled on and on.
I was delighted to “block” from the rear but looking behind, there was nobody in sight. You could almost hear that lonely whistling soundtrack from a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western.
I was even happier when Nolan, my sole traveling companion, used his Ocala tribal knowledge of this delightful forest. He ignored a major GPS mapping snafu that routed the race up an unridable “sandpit of despair” zone. Nobody, including “Sandmaster” Dr. Pain was able to ride any of it. Apparently one of his group tried to swim it. He was not successful either. We took the road lest travelled and that had made all the difference.
Soon we came upon a less than delighted Belgian Diesel at the confluence of Easy Street and Purgatory Place. His face was pale, his glasses sandy, smeared and askew. He looked like a panting powdered donut. But once back on a real road, the big Belgian revved his diesel back up to a hard pace and towed Nolan and I most of the way to the finish line.
Dr. Pain was waiting at the finish line with congrats all around. He had managed to hang onto several racers half his age. Chapeau my good Dr. Pain!
Thanks to Rusty the promoter and the wonderful volunteers for organizing the day and keeping us all safe and wearily happy.
Don’t forget to check out the Big Scrub Gravel Buzz race video!