A guest post from Greg G. out of Somerset, WI
“In the early 80’s my older brother brought home a copy of The Buzzcock’s Singles Going Steady. Like other bands that filtered through my ears in my adolescence, this album grabbed me, shook me and kicked me across the street away from the preppies, the jocks, the kind of people that I couldn’t seem to understand. I was a BMXer, and a skater. Those things made sense to me. They were single pursuits. Skating and riding a bike gave me the freedom and outlet I needed to wrestle through the confusion of early teendom.
My love of the simplicity of the single speed began with a Mongoose Supergoose. It was the beginning of a 30 year love affair with bikes. It was only natural that I would rediscover the single speed in the 1990s thanks to Gene-O and the rest of the Minneapolis Mafia misfits. While I still have a stable of geared bikes, my Niner Sir 9 and T6 Dark Horse have claimed my affections the last two years.
With the gravel season in bloom here in the upper Middle West, its time to start stacking miles. The Hungry Bear in Hayward and Almanzo are visibly on the horizon. Before we get to those events however, we need some tune-ups…some big hours in the saddle. Knowing the Mammoth Classic is in a few weeks I called Frank Lundeen of CyclovaXC Bike Shop fame to see if he was up for a recon ride. Frank and I have enjoyed many long days in the saddle, so I figured he would be ready to make sure his cue sheets were accurate. Frank has chosen his All-City Nature Boy in the past, so I chose my TwinSix Dark Horse single speed. I’ve stacked plenty of miles on this bike, but never a century. I was both excited and concerned knowing the course offers deep sand sections that has dismantled many in the past.
When I got to Frank’s house in St. Croix Falls I was greeted by a box of donuts and three other riders; two of which have never ridden 100 miles let alone on gravel. Nate, Jason, and mega-miles vet Keith were on board for a great day. The ride started at 35 degrees, forecasted to top off at 60. The first section of gravel is called the “sample platter”. It offers you a glimpse of what the rest of the course will serve you up…gravel, sand, rollers and flats. We rode north through The Barrons, famous for its isolation and bears, to Grantsburg enjoying a light pace knowing we had many miles to go. The 6 mile sandy section sucked a lot out of the tank, but the sandwiches in Grantsburg gave us the needed energy for the Crex Meadows. The Crex is an amazing natural area, famous as an aviary and wildlife refuge. We saw swan, blue heron, an otter and many unidentified water fowl. The single speed was serving well. My 39×18 gearing allowed me to spin out the flats, take pulls in the headwinds, yet power through the more challenging sections.
At the 70 mile mark, it was time to turn it home. The return route is a 30 mile straightaway on the Gandy Dancer State Trail back to St. Croix Falls. We picked it up in Siren, Wisconsin and headed south encouraged by a tailwind. With the frost just coming out, we were a little concerned about trail damage, so we rode the first section keeping an eye on our tracks. I could feel my wheels sinking a bit, but upon inspection, it was not causing any damage…to the trail that is…
After about 4 miles averaging under 10 miles an hour I started to get that sinking feeling. With a slight rise to the trail on a soft surface I was starting to struggle. It started to feel like riding through caramel. I began to question my ride choice while trying to fight off the Dark Passenger that seems to get into your head as you suffer towards the impending bonk. Frank and I rode side by side for several miles. I looked over my shoulder and our mates were no where to be found. About 10 minutes later Frank received a text…they abandoned the trail for the Hwy. I told Frank I was prepared to ride the Gandy due largely to my commitment to my first Cup ‘O Dirt century. The highway was not an option.
The 9 mile ride from Siren to Frederick was a soul sucking experience. All I could do was keep my head down while trying to ignore the 8.9 mph taunting me on my Garmin. The gradual rise of the trail coupled with the soft surface was getting the best of me…I would’ve traded anything for a few gears at this point. I finally stopped…just for a minute to stretch out my back and legs. I was out of water and needed to get to Frederick 2 miles up the trail before the darkness took over. I know Frank was in the pain cave with me. We rode for miles in silence. The sound of his cassette grabbing gears was a cruel reminder of my early decision to ride my single speed.
We got to Frederick, loaded up, sat in the sun for a few minutes and jumped back on. I was feeling better, though our slow pace and 20+ miles to go meant at least another 1.5 hours on the tacky trail. Frank’s cassette was starting to collect the sticky dirt and clay causing his chain to skip. I looked down at my freewheel and smiled. Nothing to worry about here! Maybe this wasn’t a bad idea after all. Just past Frederick the trail starts to slope down a bit. All of a sudden we were going 13 mph. I never thought that would feel like a gift, but given the conditions, I was accepting all offerings. We rode past our favorite stop on the trail, Cafe Wren, in favor of getting home. I was starting to sink again, both literally and psychologically and I needed to get off my bike soon before the Dark Passenger returned. With about 6 miles to go I looked at Frank and said, “I hate you…in loving way.” You see I wasn’t actually planning to ride the full century course that day. It is too early in the season for me to tackle that kind of mileage. On top of it, I was dressed for 30-40 degree weather anticipating being done before the sun jumped up to the low 60s. Over worked, over heated, out of gas and tired of fighting the demons I let Frank know how I felt….wait…wasn’t this recon ride my idea?
We rode the trail into St. Croix Falls, turning off on Fair Grounds Rd. The last 2 miles serves you a ripping downhill into town. We coasted most of the way letting gravity take us home. Upon arrival, I clipped out of my pedals, crawled off my bike and smiled. One hundred miles. One speed. And at the end of the day, no regrets.”