G’day trendsetters, a decent amount of time has passed since I’ve written a ride or race report of any kind. Long-time followers of this O.G. (original gravel) website may have noticed my subtle shift from written media to one focused mostly around video. I haven’t completely dropped my bundle and sub-par writing skills altogether, they can still be spotted malingering in product reviews, and inside the customized Facebook posts to the Gravel Cyclist Facebook page. Words and photos can and do convey my message well, but I prefer telling my story in the three-dimensional beauty of 4k video circa 2020. What’s not to love about me rambling on camera and drone footage high above the gravelly landscape? 🙂
The first quarter of 2020 has taken all of humanity to a place much of us would only read about in a science fiction novel. I’m not going to bang on in detail about the global pandemic that is the Coronavirus Covid-19, because quite frankly, I’m sick to effin’ death of reading about it on social media. It’s bad enough spotting wannabe journalists whinging online about the scene at the local Mega Store, bursting into tears in the checkout line, squawking about the “hardships” and first world problems of life in America. When I last checked, nobody in the US of A is under stay-at-home orders to the point you’re not allowed to ride your bike, go for a walk, visit the grocery store, or conduct important business using your motor vehicle. Our friends across the pond in countries such as Spain are locked down and isolated completely for all but trips to the grocery store and vital business. No cycling outdoors, no joking around.
March 8 to 12, 2020, inclusive, I was in Spain to cover a new bike launch. Much fanfare will be made of that launch on the website sometime in April, but without going into great detail, I shortened my stay to exit Spain just before their lockdown went into place. The resulting two-week self-quarantine from my regular gig and the local community was in the best interest of all concerned, which essentially was extended by the local county as a stay-at-home order in this part of Florida. The President announced that social distancing will continue until the end of April 2020, which likely sees the current stay-at-home order remaining in place?
The isolation from my local friends is a bummer, but phone calls and emails have done the trick, as has riding my bike, alone. If you ride your bike at the time of this article, please ride it alone, group riding is ill-advised due to the risk of spreading or contracting Coronavirus.
Honestly, I feel for businesses classified as non-essential, and anyone involved in the restaurant, hospitality or travel industry. What a total effing financial disaster, particularly for those folks who are now unemployed. I consider our local stay-at-home order aka plan “B” to be quite lenient, but wonder if the local authorities and possibly every other part of the USA, may increase the severity of stay-at-home orders to plan “A”, aka total lockdown, something akin to what is happening in Spain?
With those thoughts in mind and newfound spare time from all of the event cancellations, March 21, 2020 was a good time to attempt the JOM XL 405. 405 miles / 648kms of mixed-surface roads along a route departing Gainesville, Florida, over to the state capital of Tallahassee, into Georgia and through the towns of Thomasville and Valdosta, before returning to Gainesville, Florida. Until now, 207 miles of the 2018 Dirty Kanza 200 had been the ceiling of my endurance efforts. My 2019 Dirty Kanza 200 was a total disaster, cut short at just over 150 miles, ruined by sickness, heat and the inability to hold down food. Early 2020 saw me roll some pleasant miles / kilometres in my Aussie homeland, but none of it was serious training, and the longest ride was somewhere around 80ish miles / 130 – 140 kilometres. Hardly groundbreaking stuff, but fortune favors the bold!
Let’s go ride 405 miles with no training and bugger all preparation!
- Do I have a bike for the job? Yes! My bike reviews aren’t conducted in parking lots or mamby pamby land, the Niner MCR 9 RDO full-suspension gravel bike was screaming to be ridden over the long haul! FSE’s G40/30X review wheelset would also be joining me, along with a fresh set of Panaracer Gravelking SK tyres in 700c x 38mm, Olive / Brown sidewall, complimented by Orange Seal Endurance Formula sealant.
- Do I have suitable bags to carry food, batteries to charge my phone, Ravemen PR1600 light (you can charge and run this light simultaneously), a spare cycling kit and essentials such as a vest, lightweight jacket, fresh socks, and chamois cream? Yes! I have a cobbled-together collection of bags by Revelate Designs, Dark Speed Works and Kai Adventure Bags. I planned to pack those suckers to the gills.
- Do I have any idea of how I would sleep during this long journey? Not really! Let’s say the plan was to wing it, meaning, find a cozy and secluded spot to lay out flat, using my small backpack with its spare clothes inside as a pillow. I’m one of these weirdos who can sleep quite well on a hard surface, flat on my back.
- Did I tell anyone I might be riding for a very long time? Yes! My friends K-Dogg and Dr Pain were notified of my silly idea, but my contact was limited. I didn’t need anyone trying to convince me this was a very dumb idea.
- Did I really think I could ride this distance sans training, with the only support options being convenience stores and petrol stations? 50% chance.
- Did I have a backup plan if the ride goes belly up? Yes! Turn around as soon as I start feeling like $hite, because getting a ride home circa 2020 Covid isn’t going to happen. Or, assuming I made it to Tallahassee feeling like crap, arrange for a one-way rental car, hoping rental car agencies were open for business.
What could possibly go wrong?
I made a point of splitting this mega route into two routes / files for my Garmin 1030. Simply put, the number of plot points and time for the device to calculate the route takes a lot less time. Additionally, I had the luxury of a backup Garmin 830 computer, in the event the 1030 misbehaved. Also joining the ride was the Garmin Charge Power Pack, an essential item if you ride big miles, anything over 150 miles definitely qualifies. This device is an external battery that locks into place beneath an out-front Garmin mount, lengthening the device’s running life considerably. Looks and works much nicer than an external battery lashed to one’s stem.
Unlike parts of the United States that are seeing frigid cold and snow, North Central Florida is basking in sunshine and heat. The high temperature on this ride was 85 degrees Fahrenheit, or 29.5 degrees Celcius, if you’re of the metric persuasion. Sorry folks, I’ll take the sunshine and heat any day over miserable cold, rain and snow!
During the early miles of the ride, I felt A-M-A-Z-I-N-G… until my legs began to feel the effects of the strong block headwind blowing out of the West. Considering a huge chunk of this journey was West-bound, it would have been wiser to have reversed the JOM XL 405 route, and head Northward first. However, in the world of ride events and races, you cannot coerce a promoter into reversing the course to satisfy your need for a tailwind on the way home. Ride on!
Pictured above is the Fox AX suspension fork on the Niner MCR 9 RDO, which did a brilliant job of mitigating all of the pothole hits along the route. The same can be said for the bike’s rear suspension. My long-term review of this bike will reveal a lot more, be sure to watch this space!
The route wasn’t all shady tree tunnels, there were many miles of open terrain for the sun to bake and the wind to fight against.
Above, a typical farm road in North Florida. Due to recent watering, this road was quick to ride, but ordinarily, a sandpit of despair, torn to heck by farm tractors going back and forth.
Another view of the FOX AX fork doing its job (including proper rebound control) over the long haul, way better than a goofy looking pogo stick.
Around here is where my effort reached its peak. Approximately 95 miles in, I felt my legs, the heat and the realization there was no effin way I could bluff another 300+ miles of mixed-surface roads.
I called my good friend Dr Pain to confirm turning around was the best idea.
“G’day guv, how are things back in Gainesville?”, I said.
The Doc replied, “So, you did leave for your crazy expedition, how’s it going?”
Me, “well, to be completely honest, I’m not cracked, but I’m pretty knackered and I’m thinking I’ll be in a bad way if I keep pushing on to Tallahassee.”
The Doc, “There’s no way I can pick you up for a ride home, you may be diseased, so you may want to turn around.” *
* = or something like that
Heeding the good advice of Dr. Pain, I turned around and made for home, improvising my route to take new and different mixed-surface roads, as well as some out-of-the-way paved roads that see little to no traffic. After struggling for hours into the wind, the newfound tailwind was sublime.
In all, I rode for about 14 hours including three stops, and arrived home at around 11pm at night. It was quite the day, good memories for sure.
Did I have any regrets? No. Will I attempt the JOM XL 405 in the future? Yes! Although, I’ll likely try it towards the end of the year when temperatures simmer down, and ideally in the company of one or two friends, with a possible motel stop along the way.
Thanks for reading!