Funk Bottoms Gravel Race

“Finished 100 miler #8 this past weekend. Here’s the skinny on the Funk Bottoms Gravel Race out of Big Prairie, OH.

By mid-June, I had completed 7 of the 6 rides necessary to meet the Cup O’ Dirt Challenge.  I was feeling fairly accomplished and also fairly tired, but there was still an event on my calendar that I knew I’d regret if I missed, the Funk Bottoms Gravel Race in Big Prairie, OH.  The event is put on by a small crew using the principles established by the Pirate Cycling League of Gravel Worlds fame.  In fact, the FBG crew was bestowed the honor of becoming the East Coast Chapter of the PCL  for their efforts to make this event a reality and the distinction is not taken lightly.  These guys put on a crazy tough race with an impossibly small crew.  Its well-marked, well communicated, and it’s absolutely free to race (but donations are warmly received and highly appreciated). So once again, longtime friend Jordan Caverly and I rose well before daybreak, loaded the car with bikes and whatever gear our now race-addled brains could remember to pack, and we headed towards Ohio. It’s important to note that Big Prairie is just about a 15 minute drive from Loudonville; home of the Mohican 100 ultra-endurance MTB race. There’s no connection between the two events, but both courses make excruciatingly wonderful use of the local topography.  Anyone looking for a break from riding endless miles in the flatlands should mark FBG on their calendars.

Here’s a quick rundown of the event: Racers have the option of a 100K or 200K distance; one lap or two. The 66-ish mile course stitches the regions hilliest gravel roads together into a single loop with well over 7,000 feet of climbing. The course was designed so that the first 9 miles are the same as the last; heading due south on the way out, and north on the way back. This gave 200K racers an intriguing opportunity to gauge their position in the field as they approached the finish of lap one and again as they headed out for lap 2. Out of 150 total registrations, only 14 signed up for two laps. 2 women, 8 men, and 4 kooks hoping to tackle well over 14,000 feet of climbing on a onespeed. On race day, only 6 would end up attempting more than one lap.  It’s tough.

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The race kicked off at 8:00 AM with a short neutral rollout.  A few freshly graded sections made for a few squirrely moments early on but the majority of the course is hard packed. There’s a little more pavement involved in this event than in others I’ve attended this year, but don’t let that fool you into believing this course is easier to ride. The paved sections offer little relief to racers as flat ground is all but absent in the region. I’ll do my best to not ramble on about the hills here, but it’s the one course feature that’s consistently painful from start to finish. If you’re not struggling to keep your bike computer from auto-pausing on the way up a hill, you’re busy contemplating an exhaustive list of worst case scenarios as you plummet down twisty, white knuckle descents. Well-functioning brakes are a must here.

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My first lap was tough, but I still felt okay with a handful of miles still to go.  The course changes from year to year, but having attended FBG last year helped out as I knew what should be expected. I was truly blown away by all the relentless climbing last year. I felt better prepared this year, at least for a while anyway.  Heading back north at the end of lap one, I saw the first geared racer on his way out for lap 2. He was miles ahead of me which was to be expected, but I wasn’t expecting to see fellow onespeeder, Jordan Caverly, hot on his heels a short distance back.  I rolled into the finish area, navigated an awkward finish line chute to get my number checked off by the FBG crew. I then set to preparing for lap 2 with a quick text to loved ones back home, a top off on liquids, and a restock of bars and gummies.

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Lap 2 was met with far less enthusiasm. It felt like I had burned far too many matches in the first half. I’d left myself nothing for the remaining 66 miles.  By my count, I was the 3rd person to head out for lap 2 and I was confident that I could hold the position even at the snail’s pace I’d settled into. Endless hills were met with endless walking.  I stopped for photos a number of times but I failed to get what would have been the best shot of the day…  It was early afternoon and the chance of rain increased to around 10% for the next couple hours.  It had been hot and sunny earlier so I welcomed the cloud cover and cooler temps. Thunder rumbled in the near distance and the winds picked up. I was about 45 miles into the second lap at the base of a long and steep gravel climb when the sky opened up with heavy rainfall. The hill in front of me turned into torrential brown waterfall. I was already walking so my progress was more or less unimpeded but I couldn’t convince myself that my phone/camera would truly be up to the task of continued function after documenting the course conditions. It would have been a really great shot but this is a self-supported race in a sparsely populated area and the ability to call for help shouldn’t be squandered for a few cool shots of runoff coming down the hill.

The rain continued for another 20 minutes or so before returning to overcast, but clearing conditions.  Within the hour the sky would clear and the roads would dry completely. I hadn’t seen anyone on the horizon in either direction for hours so I knew if I could finish, I’d be in a good position to secure 2nd onespeeder for two years in a row. I’d eventually reach the last 9 mile section heading back north towards the finish. I hoofed it up one last hill before reaching the final descent into the park that hosted the event.  The finish line was wide open as the majority of single lap racers departed hours ago. Only the FBG event crew, a handful 100K finishers, and 1st place onespeeder Jordan Caverly remained on site. A cold beer was put in my hand as I was congratulated by the FBG crew for finishing dead fucking last in the onespeeders category two years in a row (the other two onespeeders dropped to the 100K). All in all, 5 of the 6 racers attempting the 200K finished the race; top finishers in the women’s and men’s overall categories were rewarded with a free entry into this year’s Gravel Worlds.

The sun was close to setting as we packed our things and headed back towards home.  3 dollars in tolls, a fish sandwich, and a handful of hours later we were welcomed home by the dystopian sights of the Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s flare stacks burning brightly against the night sky as we approached the outskirts of Detroit.”

-Chris S.

 

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Jim

Cup O'Dirt Admin

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