Sometime on Thursday May 12, 2016, I received a phone call from esteemed 60yo Gravel Cyclist teammate, K-Dogg. It went something like this:
JOM, “What’s news?”
K-Dogg, “We need to ride a $hit ton of miles this weekend. It’s the final chance for big miles before Dirty Kanza, and we need to test our gear”.
JOM, “Hang on, my bloody knee is still knackered from that crash I had at Cedar Cross“. Admittedly, my knee had been healing well, far beyond my expectations, possibly helped by the complete period of rest since the race and the lengthy drive home to my USA base of Gainesville, Florida.
K-Dogg, “Well, Mrs Dogg and I are heading out for some big miles, you’re welcome to join us”.
Later that Thursday, I grabbed a road bike and surfed the back of one of the fast local road rides, to get a sense of my overall well-being. My knee felt tight, but the bruising and associated pain was greatly reduced, instilling some hope that I could ride during the coming weekend. Unfortunately, I had to cancel my trip to Almanzo 100 in Minnesota, scheduled for May 14, 2016. Obviously the knee injury didn’t help matters, but the thought of driving over 2,400 miles round trip with a dodgy knee covered liberally by an ice bag, made my decision a bit easier. Stay local, see how the knee goes, and ride some big miles on Saturday.
Saturday’s weather forecast was for warmth at 87 temperatures degrees Fahrenheit / 30.5 degrees Celcius with a pile of humidity. I came up with a route that measured a tad over 175 miles with plenty of hydration options along the way – the perfect finale to end our Dirty Kanza 200 (miles) preparation.
The ride was an opportunity for me to test some new equipment and parts I am reviewing for Gravel Cyclist – the Revelate Designs Gas Tank and Jerry Can bags (thanks to one of our readers, Moose, for this suggestion!), and American Classic’s Argent Disc Brake wheelset – along with more big miles on Parlee’s Chebacco gravel bike. Expect reviews of these products in the near future!
Our crew of three assembled at the agreed meeting point on Saturday, primed and ready to ride 175ish miles. The route would take us from Gainesville, Florida, to the quaint town of Live Oak, Florida and return, on as many dirt, gravel, limerock and sand roads as possible. Like me, Mr and Mrs K-Dogg were testing equipment of their own too; extended batteries, frame bags, assorted bollocks and jersey pockets stuffed with food.
From the first turn of our cranksets, the tough wind out of the north / northwest became readily apparent. This was not going to be an easy day. We chugged along at a steady pace, taking lengthy turns at the front and sharing the workload evenly. Any gravel cyclist with some decent experience under their belt knows that rainfall plays a huge role determining the overall conditions of dirt and gravel roads. The weekend before at the Tour of the Quilt Country III in nearby Trenton, Florida, attendees experienced some very dry and sandy conditions in certain locations. While some rain had fallen in Gainesville a few days prior, none of had fallen along our intended course. In fact, it hadn’t rained along the course for weeks.
At the first of the day’s many dirt and gravel sectors, we realised this day was going to be much more difficult than envisaged. Roads that we had ridden three weeks prior – in near perfect condition at that time – were loose, and in some spots, veritable sandpits that sounded the death knell for anyone riding 40mm tyres or less. Imagine sinking into semi-deep sand, struggling to turn over your lowest gear, while you fight to keep the bike upright and in a straight line. Great power and technique training, but mostly an exercise in excessive perspiration and sand sprayed all over the place.
But it wasn’t all bad. This route is scenic with virtually no cars to be seen anywhere and plenty of tree cover, something we are blessed with in this part of Florida. We rolled into the first planned rest stop for the day at 60 miles / 92 kilometres into the route. Everyone’s respective hydration was depleted – two bottles on each bike – refills were in order. We had eschewed riding with products like the Platypus Softbottle, a handy and collapsible bottle that holds half a litre of water stashed into one’s jersey pocket – because we had so many options to stop.
After a reasonably quick stop, we pressed on. It wasn’t long before Mrs K-Dogg experienced the first of several mechanical issues relating to her front derailleur. K-Dogg’s rear derailleur was playing up too, hanging around on the wrong cog between gear shifts and generally driving me insane with its commotion.
Around five and a half hours into the ride, just outside the bustling metropolis of Wellborn, Florida, my body unkindly informed me it wasn’t feeling good. While my left knee was doing superbly and my legs generally felt good, a general feeling of malaise had set in all over my body, along with a ticked off stomach. None of the food in my stash was appealing, and the Gatorade in one of my bottles was of little interest. Water in the second bottle was the best option, so between that and a forced imbibing of caffeine-laced Gu gels, I went quiet and concentrated on pedaling.
K-Dogg was feeling “amazing”, and made a point to tell me several times. He wasn’t feeling amazing at all, but was messing with me psychologically. This sort of behaviour is normal practice on the average Gravel Cyclist training ride… all in good fun of course However, I was going through an extended period of silent suffering, and gruffly responded to K-Dogg I was feeling like $hit, and wouldn’t be much fun to talk to for a while. JOM’s stomach was pissing JOM off. Mrs K-Dogg wasn’t feeling great either, and was hanging around the back, also riding along silently. It was going to be a long day…
The sand and washboarded roads in some spots were bad. I alluded to some of the sandy roads earlier, but one in particular, almost a mile long about twenty miles away from Live Oak, took some serious power to get through without falling over sideways. Unfortunately, this road was devoid of tree cover making the effort that much harder as the sun shined overhead. Mrs K-Dogg was overgeared on a 36 x 28 gear, which ordinarily is used to ascend a decently steep climb. She was forced to walk a good portion of this road. Washboard was prevalent along the route too – from Wikipedia, “washboarding or corrugation of roads comprises a series of ripples, which occur with the passage of wheels rolling over unpaved roads at speeds sufficient to cause bouncing of the wheel on the initially unrippled surface. Most studies of washboarding pertain to granular materials, including sand and gravel”. Fun times.
Live Oak, county seat for Suwanee County, couldn’t come around fast enough at around 90 miles / 149 kilometres into the course. Our trio pulled into a quiet convenience store close to downtown, and began raiding their hydration options. I broke from convention, the second weekend in a row, and downed a rather horrendous tallboy of unmentionable beer. For our readers outside the US of A, a tallboy is a can of beer that contains 16 fluid ounces / 454 grams of product. As I focused on the meaning of life, consuming said beer and contemplating a lie-down, my body gave inklings of a respite from feeling like crap. After dawdling a bit too long at the convenience store and fixing K-Dogg’s rear derailleur, our trio pressed on, bound for Gainesville, Florida.
Much of the riding on the return leg was in a south, or south easterly direction and for once, mother nature took a liking to us. The strong winds that blew mostly in our faces on the way out, stayed in the same direction and were mostly supportive, pushing us along. Brilliant!
It didn’t take long before I felt amazing! Maybe not as amazing as K-Dogg, but the body felt great, the legs felt great, and I was extremely motivated to keep pushing on strongly towards the finish. K-Dogg and I began telling jokes to each other and singing very bad renditions of songs like AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. Our teammate Dr. Pain hates our singing and attacks us for punishing his ears… but really, we are very talented.
We made good time towards our third scheduled stop of the day, at the blip town of Beachville, Florida, around mile 125 / kilometre # 202. This town is so small, nobody has bothered to write a Wikipedia entry for it. It’s more like a couple of homes, a petrol station and a blinking light. Readers may be thinking, didn’t you just stop a little while earlier? That may be true, but it was hot, and we were burning through liquid fast. Once again we topped up on fluids, ate a little chow and remounted our steeds.
Unfortunately, Mrs K-Dogg was still feeling under the weather, but considering, riding very well. Mrs K-Dogg is not the type to complain; rather, she soldiers on, knocking out the ride, usually putting riders of the male gender to shame. Endurance is definitely her strong point. Her front derailleur was continuing to give her trouble, now completely unable to shift to the bigger of the two chainrings. On the positive, this was also a shakedown ride for equipment, so better to sort this out now than on race day at Dirty Kanza!
The town of Fort White, Florida rolled by, followed soon after by High Springs, Florida. I was feeling more amazing than K-Dogg – if that was possible – but all three of us were feeling the relentless pounding of washboarded roads, which seemed to get worse as we drew closer and closer to Gainesville, Florida.
One more hit and run stop was required in Alachua, Florida, around 161 miles / 258 kilometres into the course. It is amazing how great a Coke tastes after this many miles have been ridden! We sauntered into Gainesville around 8:15pm, arriving over 12 hours after our original departure. Darkness was beginning to fall, but we’d gotten the job done. No speed records were set, but this ride was about getting in the miles without cracking, and making sure the bikes held together. Despite a few bike problems and my body revolting midway through the ride, I was pleased with how we fared.
Hydration is key at any time of the year, but more so when the temperatures and miles / kilometres increase. I’d consumed a lot of fluid during the ride, but my home scale revealed I had lost between eight and nine pounds / 3.6 kilograms of weight during the ride. Yikes! Consequently I spent Saturday evening and all of Sunday, gorging on food and liquid, getting myself back up to weight.
The Gravel Cyclist crew of Mr and Mrs K-Dogg and JOM is ready for Dirty Kanza 200!
For Dirty Kanza, all three of us will be adopting slightly different names for the event, as a homage to the Wizard of Oz – being in Kansas and all that… and there will probably be a video detailing our journey to Kanza in the future.
- JOM = The Wizard of Oz – Australia is Oz, and that’s where JOM’s from.
- K-Dogg = Toto, because K-Dogg is a dogg.
- Mrs K-Dogg = The Good Witch of the North… or Dorothy.
Moving on from this silliness, you can check out my Strava data for this ride HERE if you feel so inclined.
As always, thanks for reading, see you at 2016 Dirty Kanza! Don’t be shy, say hi!