Saturday March 4, 2017 marked the third running of the Dirt(y) Pecan, a free event beginning and ending in Monticello, Florida. Riders faced the first world problems of choosing between 60, 100 or 150 mile routes containing dirt, gravel and clay roads, and a wee small amount of paved roads – or bitumen as we call them in Australia.
The Gravel Cyclist crew of yours truly and Dr. Pain chose the 150 mile /242 km event – the DP150 unofficially kicked off my Dirty Kanza 200 training for 2017. More about what I’m doing for that in a later post. Call it a loosely formed training plan…
The scenery in this area of Florida / Georgia is beautiful – the ride crosses over the state line a couple of times. Grand southern plantations, oak canopies, farmland and pecan orchards on red clay and dirt. Marvelous! The promoters did a great job keeping pavement along the route to an absolute minimum.
The promoters were also very clear about the nature of the ride:
“This is an UNSUPPORTED ride: there is NO support, NO sag stops, NOR support vehicles. The course will NOT be marked, and there will be NO printouts prior to the ride. YOU are 100% responsible for YOU, YOUR equipment, YOUR navigation, and YOUR own food and drink. If you need a juice box and a hug every 20 miles, this is not the ride for you, please stay home.”
The riding plan for this year was different. Last year, the pace during the first 60 miles was quite frenetic. In the company of Dr. Pain, K-Dogg, Pfaff Daddy and later, our good friend from Clermont, Florida, Tic Bowen, we set about following the fast guys on the 100 mile route. Playing follow the leader with the short-timer group isn’t exactly wise riding. Nor is refusing to get off the front as you drag your mates around for 20 or so miles afterwards in the name of “solid training”… I paid dearly for those early efforts later in the day.
But 2017 is a new year and with it comes lessons learned and the desire to ride this year’s DP150 at a more reasonable tempo. Thus, I made that announcement on the event’s Facebook official page a few days earlier, and had the promoter announce the same over the PA system – “anyone wishing to join the Gravel Cyclist crew for 150 miles – they are riding it at reasonable tempo speed”.
You’d think such a polite invitation would instill the hordes to come out and join our friendly crew, right? Fifteeen riders were confirmed for the 150 miler but initially, nobody was interested in joining Dr. Pain and me. Curses! Resigned to the fact we’d be riding a two man team time trial for 150 miles, we set off at 8am, rolling with the mass start of over 140 riders for the 2017 DP150. The early miles were a lovely neutral pace. Dr. Pain and I cruised around close to the front, which is a good tactic for filming and staying out of trouble.
During these early miles of “neutral” on pavement, I spotted a very fit and lean looking fellow astride a very Pink Trek cyclocross bike. I introduced myself – Bryce (aka the Bearded Bike Doctor) was his name, and he was down for the 150. Nice, Dr Pain and I now had some company! Bryce indicated this was his first real gravel event. With a background in time trialing, I figured Bryce would have no problems adapting to this genre – steady tempo was the order of the day.
The assembled group of riders made the right turn onto the first dirt and gravel road – Lake Road. Those riding the 60 or 100 miler distances didn’t waste any time in bumping up the pace. Dr. Pain, Bryce and I wisely sat on the tail of the group, but eventually “sat up” in the best interests of preserving our legs for the long haul ahead. Conditions on the day were very dry compared to 2016’s event. There were quite a few loose and sandy spots during the early miles, and this spelled trouble for some riders. Dr. Pain and I were rolling our well proven Schwalbe Furious Fred 29’er x 2″ tyres on our respective bikes.
The Doc was aboard his reasonably new Raleigh Roker with Shimano’s Di2 electronic drivetrain and hydraulic brakes, while I was rolling the Lynskey GR250 review bike, equipped with the same groupset. Our tyres laughed at the sandy spots while others went sideways. Such are the virtues of big tyres, low air pressure and frames that are capable of fitting such tyres. Gravel bike manufacturers, take note of this… we’ve been extolling the virtues of wider tyres for years… so make them fit! Mountain bikers, they know all about this too 😉
Our trio was riding a comfortable tempo, riding long turns on the front, swapping off and resting on the back. Our tempo soon became a quintet, when we were joined by Jason Ottinger and a bloke aboard a mountain bike fitted with a small pair of clip on aero bars – unfortunately, I don’t recall his name. Jason joined us for much of last year’s 150 mile haul and was a welcome edition. These lads chipped in their fair share of the workload.
For 2017, I wasn’t going to repeat the error of staying on the front forever and jamming out tempo that was above my comfort zone. Nobody was impressed by last year’s display, and even less so when I cracked at around mile 126… when they had to wait for me. It wasn’t pretty.
We picked up another rider for company approximately 40 miles into the ride, Wess, from the Orlando, Florida area. It turned out he had gotten detached from the 100 mile group, but was a little confused about the route… or maybe I got that wrong. Despite him stinging my legs a little on the roller hills whenever he took a turn on the front, his presence was very welcome.
A little before our first scheduled stop at Boston, Georgia, 105 kilometres / 65 miles into the ride, we encountered a couple of locals strolling along a canopy lined dirt road. They yelled something to us which I interpreted as “holes in the road!” Fair enough I thought, just another crappy gravel road to deal with, no worries. At the following T-junction intersection, another local standing around on the road indicated there were “bulls on the road!” What? Err…
Many parts of Florida and Georgia are cattle country, and this area was no exception to that rule. A herd of about eight bulls had gotten loose! They were peaceful, their only interests were dining on roadside grass and evading capture. Who wants to be hemmed in and sent back to a pasture? No way! In addition to living free, these bulls had no interest in hanging around a group of lycra clad entities astride strange and unwieldly contraptions. Our appearance was a sign to get moving, albeit at a relatively calm gallop parallel to the adjacent fence line to graze elsewhere.
My companions and I wisely chose to exit our bikes, hoping this would present less of a threat to our bovine friends. Nope! They still didn’t want anything to do with us. Idea – clamor up an embankment directly across from the herd to create a buffer zone. The simplest solutions are sometimes the best!
Definitely not a healthy option, but those salt laden carbohydrates would be burned in good time. It was here that we bid Wess farewell, and our quintet pressed on towards the next stop in Cherry Lake, Florida.
The section of course between Boston and Cherry Lake, Florida, was almost entirely in Georgia. It was punctuated with plenty of hills of the short and punchy variety. They aren’t big by any means, but over the space of 150 miles, 1,300 metres / 4,300 feet is enough to feel it. The weather was cool and crisp for the early miles, in the low 40’s Fahrenheit / sub 7 degrees Celcius. Later, it warmed up to high 60’s Fahrenheit / 20 degrees Celcius. I am pretty certain Dr. Pain and I were dressed near perfectly – knee, arm warmers and a base layer for me while the Doc was wearing the same except for full leg warmers. Bryce was running a leaner setup, but dressing for a ride this long with nowhere to stash clothes, other than to carry them, is always a challenge. Some people overdress, and for ride of this length, that can lead to excessive perspiration and premature fatigue. A fine line.
Somewhere along this stretch, we bid farewell to our friend on the MTB. He had been lurking near the back and from what I recall, he cut the ride short. Jason would ride strongly on the front, sometimes gapping the group on the endless climbs, but then dangle off the back of the group at other times. Bryce, Dr. Pain and I generally stuck together. Jason finally dropped off the back with about five miles before the second and final stop of the day in Cherry Lake. This was almost exactly the same place that he dropped off the back last year.
Recollecting the 2016 edition, I knew there were at least two sandy sectors and a tough set of hills within the final 40 miles – they really gave me trouble last year. By this time, everyone was feeling the pinch, including Jason, who had rejoined us at the store stop. Bryce’s travel partner from Orlando had ridden the 60 mile route earlier, and driven out to meet him, with goodies such as fresh chain lube and from what I recall, some good food stuffs. Dr. Pain and I stuffed our faces with somewhat fresh pizza, hot out of the store oven. We were pretty desperate for calories, and pizza contains all of the important food groups – salt, fat and a savory taste, a break from the Gu energy gels and drinks we had been consuming. The low quality video below sums up my thoughts at the time…
Rick Ashton and Mark Wheeler rolled into the stop as we sat around – these lads began their ride at 6am, keen to get a head start but roll a more reasonable tempo. I was still sleeping at 6am… I understand Rick is training for the Tour Divide this year – good luck!
40 miles remaining.
I began the final leg feeling good, but it didn’t take very long before the same feelings of fatigue that I experienced in 2016, began stirring up again. Huh? I thought I’d ridden more conservatively this year, and was on top of my hydration. This was a little perplexing. It all came undone for me in 2016 on Gum Swamp Road, which is usually a sandpit of despair, but this year, it was well hard packed… that was until Gum Swamp changed direction and became NW 85th Avenue.
Over two miles of deep and unrelenting sand. Dr. Pain used his big tyres to roar ahead, and while I was on the same tyres, I rolled along conservatively, saving my energy for the short and steep hills that were soon to follow. This was one sector that gave Bryce trouble. Due to a lack of skill or the inadequacy of 40mm tyres in deep sand, it took him a while to slog through and rejoin us.
A series of tough hills followed, and I went through a temporary rough patch, out of my comfort zone with Bryce’s pace setting. Thankfully, he and Dr. Pain were kind enough to slow, allowing me to rejoin.
Just a few miles later, I felt a-m-a-z-i-n-g. I cannot attribute what had me feeling so great – perhaps it was the caffeine in the Gu drink mix that I generously chugged, or that the barn was drawing ever closer? Whatever it was, the final miles / kilometres ticked down quickly, and judging from the position of the sun, we were on schedule to arrive home faster than last year.
I seldom upload my riding exploits to Strava, but it appeared we were over 22 minutes faster than the year before! You can see 2017’s workout HERE. It was a long and tiring day, but I was generally pleased with how I fared. But more than that, I was once again impressed with the quality of this event which included free entry – with an optional donation to benefit the Jefferson County 4-H club. Thank you promoters and volunteers! I am already looking forward to the 2018 event!