Kevin K. Tackles some Florida gravel…
“Having an invite to visit my sister in Miami Beach this winter, I looked for a gravel ride in the area and was lucky to find the Everglades 100k, Battle on the Gravel, hosted by Gravelers Bicycle Group.
Training through a New Hampshire winter for a long ride in spring or summer like conditions was a little challenging…on the weekend before the event I rode back-to-back 50k rides with temps ranging from the low 30s to upper teens. (The weekend I got back I rode 50k in temperatures falling to 5 degrees. What a wide range of conditions over the course of two weeks!)
Never having shipped my bike to an event before added to the anxiety I felt over the event. Therefore, I likely over packed my brand new Salsa Cycles Fargo. The last thing I wanted was to travel all that way and find a broken bike when I arrived. I shipped the bike with BikeFlights.com, to avoid the hassle of bringing it along with us on the flights (connecting through BWI in Baltimore Maryland.
Unpacking the Fargo showed me there was no need to worry, as the bike and packing materials looked exactly as I remembered them. I had the bike reassembled in a couple of hours, and took a short ride around my sister’s neighborhood to test things out. Shifting and braking were fine, and my position seemed correct so I was good to go in the morning.
The route presented little navigational difficulties and promised to be quite flat, which is very different from my usual routes in New Hampshire. Nevertheless, I was excited to be traveling to an event and riding someplace new.
I started at the back of the pack, my usual strategy as I don’t really want to mix it up with the faster riders, and not knowing anything about the course and conditions, I wanted to be free to choose my own path. I was soon alone, riding through the wide open spaces on a somewhat rough double-track on top of the levees. As it turned out, the entire ride was on top of the levees.
The first 24 miles went by rather quickly. I traded places with a couple of riders for a few miles, but then had some mechanicals as the continual pounding of the rough surface took its toll on my equipment. First a bottle was ejected from its cage on the suspension fork. Fortunately, it remained on the levee and didn’t drop down into the water, where I would have probably left it, fearing an alligator encounter (although I never did see one). First one, then the other bottle cage worked loose on the fork stanchions, threatening to rotate into my front wheel. That would be a very bad thing. I was thankful to be riding in 68-degree weather (instead of the below freezing temperatures I left behind in New Hampshire) which allowed me to wear a cycling jersey, which allowed me to carry the bottles in my pockets and take the load off the bottle cages.
Reaching the southern-most section of the route, the double-track turned into smooth hard-packed gravel. I got into a nice rhythm, passed a few more riders and started feeling really good.
Thirty-five miles in, I reached the more-or-less midway checkpoint and rest stop, which also served as an alternate starting point. The checkpoint was at the site of the ValuJet Flight 592 Memorial, in honor of the 110 passengers and crew who lost their lives in a crash on May 11, 1996.
I leaned my bike up against the monument and got a PB&J sandwich and refilled my bottles, all courtesy of the friendly volunteers at the stop.
Twenty minutes later, I set off on the final leg, heading north east back to the start. I quickly noticed the headwind, and realized the second half of the ride was going to be much harder the first. To make matters worse, the track turned quite rough, and with no turns or hills to climb, the next twenty miles were not going to be a lot of fun.
The constant pounding was really taking a toll on me, even with a suspension fork and 2.2 inch tires. I ran them tubed; I won’t experiment with a tubeless setup until winter is over. I also pumped them up to around 40 psi, to protect against flats. That worked, but I’m sure that contributed to the harsh ride. If I do to this ride again, maybe a tubeless setup, with lower pressures, and maybe even a 27.5+ rear wheel will make it more enjoyable.
It got to the point that I focused on getting through the next five miles, at which point I’d take a short break. Taking some pictures was a good excuse, but I really just wanted the pounding to stop for a while.
I passed a couple of riders, and another couple passed me, riding cross bikes. The rough track seemed like it would never end, running off into the distance seemingly forever.
Over the last five miles, the track thankfully smoothed out a bit, and my speed increase and my spirits improved. I passed another pair of riders, joined by a short rope. As I passed, the lead rider smiled and said the other guy was bonking. A good friend there, helping his hurting buddy make it home.
The last couple of miles returned over the same levee we started on, so I recognized that the end was near. Finally, there it was, the gate through we passed at the start. I was one of the last finishers, and the organizers were closing up the finish as I got there. Rather anti-climactic, but it was a small event and I wasn’t really expecting much.
All things considered, I was happy to have completed my first destination gravel event. 100k of gravel grinding in 4:45, on a bike that was new to me. As long as my bike makes it back home safely (it did) I’ll consider this a successful trip, with a few lessons learned and many things to think about.
This is my first ride in pursuit of the Cup O’ Dirt Challenge in 2016, and I can’t wait to get out there and grind some more. Maybe I’ll see you out there, somewhere.”