The second annual Big Scrub Gravel Buzz occurred on March 11, 2017. This event, in addition to being an excellent ride through Ocala National Forest and environs thereabout, benefits the “American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Ocala.” And there was beer… provided by Infinite Ale Works, the starting and ending point of the rides. Two rides were on offer, the “Whole Hawg” of 95 miles and the “Hog Leg” of 58 miles. Both routes planned, plotted, and scouted by Gravel Cyclist’s one and only Rusty, who was unable to ride as a result of a recent injury. He did manage to do some mud running in his SUV to provide support and take pictures.
From Rusty’s description of the ride: “The ride will venture into the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub. Riders will experience paved, chipseal, lime rock, grass, red dirt roads, and a bit of gravel here and there as they pass by the Ocklawaha River, wet prairies, swamps, and dense hammocks of palms, long-leaf pine and live oaks.”
In attendance from Gravel Cyclist were, K-Dogg, Mrs Dogg, Dr. Pain, and honorary member Lambert, aka the “Belgian Diesel”. The day looked to be nearly perfect for a bike ride. Sunny, warm, not too hot, not too humid. Both rides started together with a neutral rollout of approximately 10 miles to the first dirt sector. Last year was an ugly affair for the good Dr. Pain. Due to some bad science, Dr. Pain cracked spectacularly with 20 miles, or maybe it was 200 miles to go. It was so bad that several of the Ocala crew actually remembered it, and made surprisingly supportive comments about it at the start of this year’s version. So, before recounting the shenanigans of the ride, I thought it prudent to provide the context of my goals for this year’s ride.
- Don’t die, either through excessive effort, or by the jaws of a bear.
- Don’t get hurt, by crashing, or by the jaws of a bear.
- Don’t crack spectacularly enough that somebody remembers it.
- Don’t finish last.
- Anything else is a bonus and success!
“All plans are subject to revision.” The plan, for maybe the first time ever, was to sit in the pack and stay out of the wind, and off the front more than usual. I tend to have too much fun too early in the ride, paying dearly for it later. Everybody knows that the hero in the first half of the ride is only a hero if the performance is repeatable for the second half of the ride. As K-Dogg once said “There is always somebody younger or dumber to close that gap.” Noted. I’m not young, so don’t be dumb.
My plan fell apart at approximately mile one. While rolling along in the neutral section, I noticed my front derailleur didn’t work. It’s one of those fancy electric Di2 things. A quick appraisal led to the conclusion that the wire to the front junction box was unplugged. I had backed out of the drive with the bike in the bed of the pickup truck and scraped through the bushes that hang into the drive… just enough to pull the plug. Note to self… that bush must die… or be severely trimmed.
I pulled to the side, jumped off and frantically tried and failed to reconnect the wire. The Belgian Diesel was the only person who stopped with me. He’s a diesel like creature and had the strength to get the wire connected. Presto! Front derailleur. I’ve always said “One way to find out who your friends are is to roll off the front or off the back of the group.”
Lambert was apparently my only friend. By this time, the group was out of sight. We did a 2-man time trial for seven or eight miles, flat out to get back on. 25-27 mph into the wind on 2” tires is hard work, even when drafting the Belgian Diesel. We were thwarted by two or three stop lights that would add a minute or so to the gap each time got close to the group. We finally resorted to some curb jumping, sidewalk riding nonsense to aid in getting to the group. Got there right before the first dirt sector. One large match burned. Thank you Lambert… never would have gotten back on without you. Somehow that rollout was not so neutral.
Back to Plan A. The pace was nice and steady for the first section of limerock / gravel as we all settled into a long ride. At this point, it was not clear who was on the 95 mile ride and who might turn off for the Hawg Leg 58 mile event. I would estimate there were probably 25-30 riders in the group at this point. Notable at the front were Matt Dockins, Darrin Dewey, John Schwab, Nolan Galloway, and a fellow in Brick City kit whose name I have forgotten. The GC crew were also taking turns, though I was watching that sneaky K-Dogg for cues about shorter turns… Plan A and all that.
Somewhere around the dam we had a short section of grass that might have actually been the dam or a dike or something. Anyway, Mr. Brick City took a hard turn at the front and the group thinned to about 10 or 12 people. Somewhere shortly after this Mrs. K-Dogg dangled off the back and settled into her own pace. That left Darla Woodall as the only woman in the group and the odds on favorite for the Ocala World Championship jersey.
What followed were endless rolling hills, a little bit of sand, lots of sun and mostly steady tempo. At some point in the first 20 miles, John Schwab decided to roll off the front… ’cause he could, I guess. He dangled out there alone for a few miles, while the group decided that staying off the front alone for 70 miles was not likely… even for John who is very strong. He was reeled back in and the pace remained steady as we rolled over hill and dale. As reported last year, there is an active Navy bombing range in the middle of the forest, and we approached in a few miles before the 50-mile refueling station.
This year the bombing range was in a different spot in the route, and we turned the opposite direction, completely negating my tribal knowledge from the year before. It’s just as well, because the memories shortly after last year’s bomb range sighting were not good, and the thought of being eaten by bears if I got off the bike were the only motivation keeping me riding. Best not to dwell on those thoughts this year.
At approximately mile 50 we found Brad, Rusty, a tent, and cold drinks! And we thought there was no support on this ride. Bravo. It was hot enough that the refreshments were most welcome. After some time, some of the group got antsy to get on with it, and rolled slowly away, sure that this would be an obvious clue to the others that they needed to get going. They did, but needed a short chase to reconnect as we rolled on to the next sector. The pace began to increase and soon we were down to riders Matt, Darrin, John, Dr. Pain, Lambert, K-Dogg, Nolan, Mr. Brick City, and Darla… apologies if I have forgotten someone. A few miles later, Mr. Brick City and Darla seemed to have slipped back.
John, Matt, and Darrin were taking some hard pulls at the front, with the rest of us being more modest with our remaining watts. On one innocuous looking uphill, Matt leisurely opened a gap, and the group hesitated to bring it back. It appeared that most of us were waiting for someone else to close that gap.
Finally, Darrin, and then Lambert jumped across to him. I was shamelessly sitting on John’s wheel expecting him to close the gap. When he finally ramped it up, the gap was substantial. We chased hard… ”we” meaning John took pulls measured in miles, and I took pulls measured in seconds. Anything wrong with that?
It was a brutal chase that finally brought back Lambert who joined us for a couple miles, then sat up. Darrin was next to be caught, and he joined us for the rest of the ride and did lots of work. We never caught Matt. He held off the three us for another 10-15 miles.
It was during this chase of Matt that we encountered a section of “road” that can only be described as the “sand pit of despair”. Apparently, though our Garmins all had us taking the right fork in to doom, the correct course (taken by Matt) continued left onto blessed hard packed limerock.
We floundered in the sand. John was aboard an MTB with the biggest tires I have ever seen not on a fatbike. I was on 2” tires. Darrin had room for a tractor tire in his drop bar MTB, but for some reason was riding 35’s or something. In that bike they looked like 18mm road tires of old.
There was much fishtailing, rooster tailing, and finally an exquisite endo by John (completely unhurt by falling into pillow-like sugar sand). Darrin and I were secretly gleeful that John would also have to walk, which allowed all of us to exit the sector together.
By this time, and by virtue of taking slightly different courses, Matt was out of sight. There were another 10 miles or so to the “finish” and 20 or so back to the beer. I was done. The World Championship jersey was out of reach for all of us… there was nothing else, no podium, no great honor, no news coverage.
So, why were John and Darrin riding so dang hard?! After hanging by a thread for what seemed like a thousand miles, Darrin finally shamed the good Dr. Pain in to taking a few turns… I think it was actually 2 or 3 total. As we rolled onto the final dirt sector, I saw Darrin adjusting his shoe tension… a sure sign he was still going to sprint… for something.
Thinking it would be ungentlemanly to sit on for as long as I did and then sprint, I rolled to the front and waited for them to sprint by for 2nd and 3rd. Besides, if I had stood up to sprint, it would have been a wobbly, cramping, wholly undignified end to a great ride.
A few minutes later, Lambert, K-Dogg, and Nolan rolled in, with Lambert and Nolan sprinting, for some reason. Overall, a fantastic ride, great route, great people, good beer.
Thanks to Rusty for putting it together, and we hope he gets to actually ride it with us at some point. There is a ride video coming… stay tuned.
Photos by Rusty and Dr. Pain.